Trials and Triumphs
The last AFM race weekend of the year brought some of the biggest challenges of the year. I met these challenges head on and both posted my personal best lap time and placed 3rd in 600 Superbike.
Over the course of the year I have made great strides in improving my riding. However one area that I have needed the most improvement is my braking. A lack of confidence was driving me to brake to early and slow down too much. I was near the end of my current pads so I of course took the most expensive and difficult path to replacing them. I figured that if I completely changed the brake system that I would then have to re-learn my braking points and really focus on braking better. It’s not that my old pads were not capable of performing well. I realize that at this stage a large majority of my improvement is mental and not equipment. Long story even longer, I purchased a set of OEM Brembo calipers off of a newer model GSX-R. These are theoretically better calipers, however the real advantage is that being current-issue I had a wider range of pad choices over the ones from 2007. Once these came in I found that the lines I had would not work due to the different location of the banjo. And despite the best laid plans of fools and racers, I found myself without brake lines on Monday before the race weekend. I was able to order and fit-up some lines by Wednesday by building a line set out of pre-fabbed AN brake lines and banjo adaptors thanks to Summit Racing. I was leaving the house Thursday morning so I of course was going to miss the delivery of the correct Spiegler lines that were due to arrive on Friday. With all the fires put out I go to load the bike and find that it won’t start. Turns out despite having it on a charger the fancy light weight lithium Ion battery does not like getting discharged and now would not charge past 8v. This will end up haunting me for the rest of the weekend.
On Thursday Laura and I got to ride the Project Livewire demo bikes and experience Harley’s idea of an electric bike. More on that here. This was fun and all but by the time we get to Sacramento for our overnight stop before heading up to Thunderhill in the morning my ‘trusty’ old truck starts making some very un-nerving sounds. I went through the list of all the parts that could be making the whining-grinding noises and I narrowed it down to the rear-end or the transmission. All the fluids were still good so at 5am I limped him the remaining 90 miles up I-5. The trip took a little longer do to me sticking to the speed limit or less but around time for the riders meeting we rolled into the pits to start our day with Z2. This was much improved over a year earlier when for my first race ever with a new-to-me bike I lost an entire wheel and axle while on the freeway. But I have yet to let a catastrophic mechanical failure keep me from getting to the track.
So at the track, late, and with a sick truck and a non-starting bike I got to work. After finding that the battery would not charge at all I ran some wire from the terminals, out the tail and taped them to the exhaust hanger. With the battery from the truck and a set of jumper cables I gave my bike the jolt of life to get it started …every …single …time I went out for a session. I had forgone the first four sessions to diagnose and make a work-around for the bike I also took a look at the truck. To my relief the problem sound was a disintegrated drive shaft support. I called the local Willows Napa and they even had the right part in stock. So I drove over and picked that up. On the way back I stopped at Wal-Mart to grab a few supplies and low and behold they had a small enough motorcycle battery that might fit. See the problem with custom making a sub-frame to fit a very small and non-stock battery is that if no one has that battery and a stock one won’t fit you are kind of SOL. So I grab the $25 ‘AGM’ battery and bolt. Well of course me being in a hurry and it being wal mart. The battery turned out to be missing the acid/electrolyte and was yet another useless brick. At this point I had also started replacing the drive shaft support so I could not go to try to get it replaced.
Friday – warm up and bed brakes
Saturday starts early as always. Despite the ever looming fear that I would stall the bike or have a red-flagged session and not be able to re-start I soldiered on. This is first time that I rode T-hill with a non-slipping clutch. The front end wanted to lift over 9 far easier than ever before. And the new-found brake power gave me nothing but confidence. With both of these I quickly dropped back to my previous best even in practice.
First race: Clubman Middleweight
One word, clusterfuck. There is something about the combination of novices fighting for championship points mixed with novices who are at their first race ever that seems to never go well. Our race was red-flagged twice and the second time was past half way so it was called as-is. My first start was decent and I had a great run up to turn 9 with the leaders only breaths away. However a bad crash in ClbHvy got the race stopped before we even made one lap. I get to pull into the pits thankfully. However with no radiator fan and coming off a very hot lap the bike begins to boil over after I shut it off. This continues for a while until we start pouring water over the radiator to cool it off. (Mental note: I need a pit-fan) With the race restart imminent I am stripping the belly pan off to empty it out and get it back on so I can join the re-start. After I hear the very last call I go to join the warm up lap as close to the cut-off as possible. I cannot afford an overheat now. The flag drops and I get a terrible start. This is a shame because we only made it three laps into a 5 lap race. This time I got the red flag on the front side of the course and had to turn off the bike. Once we get the motion to head to the pits I get to push in full leathers back to the pit lane. My first thought is that Laura is about to go out for her inogural race and hasn’t seen hide or hair of me since the red. So I dump my bike at the wall and jog over to catch her on her way to the grid. On my way back a fellow racer offers to help me bump the bike. Three tries in and we get it lit. I race back to the pit and sprint up to just barely catch the start of Clubman Lightweight. She’s off!
Timing Troubles – did she make it?
Laura’s race was uneventful and she ran with Max Klein for the majority of the race. This helped give her a target and get the fire inside burning. The deed was done and I met her back in the pits for proper congratulations. The problem was that there was a timing issue and no times were posted until the next morning. Laura really wanted to know if she qualified for her 250 race. This was nerve wracking and painful to sit and wonder. Fortunately a little birdie was able to find out and sure enough she made the mark by a few seconds! At this point much sleep was needed and rest for Sunday.
Sunday: Things get better
Finding a grinder: for my list of tools that I need to start bringing to races is an angle grinder. For the drive shaft support bearing, in the absence of a press I needed to cut off the old bearing. Finally I found one to borrow and got the old bearing off in a shower of sparks and debris. I was able to get the driveshaft back on the truck without a press so that I could at least make the return trip home.
Saturday did not get off to a great start. There were red flags and delays all through practice including an unfortunate helicopter lift from turn 1. Once races started there was an incident with oil dropped in between 13 and 14. Due to a tight leading pack, 11 bikes were collected by the oil.
F1 – The schedule this weekend had my first race of the day after lunch. The downside is that I’ve been sitting around and I am not up to speed like my competitors. Also since I am. Not super competitive in F1 it’s a good race for me to find my groove.
600sb – This race is my most evenly matched class and I have the best standing points wise. I get a decent start and I am hanging with the front row as I come up turn 8. I am getting excited that I might have on of the best races yet when at the top of 9 I see a red flag waving… not again! So I pull into the pits and turn the bike off. As I am getting water and cooling myself off the bike starts boiling over. Without a cool down lap the heat soaking was too much for the system. I empty out the belly pan and get back on track for the 5 lap restart. I am nervous not only about not having a battery to start the bike but also worry about overheating. For the restart I don’t get as good of a launch as the first start but not bad. After some battling I was able to slip into 4th then run down Fernando. I put pressure on him for a few laps until at the top of 5 his rear tire slips a little and he is forced to back off. I see this and know it may be my only chance so I hammer the throttle down the back side of 5 and see him in my peripheral vision. He is not going to make this easy! I hold the inside going into 6 and hope I can hold him off for the remaining laps. This time I am not getting out-braked into 14 and keep the position for my second podium with a new personal best lap time of 1:58!
750sb -I made it to the grid amazingly enough. at this point it’s late in the day and I am exhausted. The upside is some of the riders I am up against have been out there all day. We are all running slower by now. Throughout the race I start reeling in a pack of riders that got away from me at the start. However due to yet another red flag I was unable to pass any of the three riders in that pack. I survived the whole weekend and rounded out the final race of the year in 5th.
Unfortunately I got the red flag at turn 3 and pulled off past 5. We did not get waved in immediately so I had to shut the bike off to avoid over heating. Without a battery I had to push the bike all the way back to the pits. I was panting and sweating and exhausted. I realize that Laura is about to head out for her race so I drop the bike and run over to let her know that I am OK because she hadn’t seen me come in. I get back and a fellow racer helped me push start the bike. It took three times but I ran it over to the pits, leaned it agains the truck and made it to the start like to catch the start of Laura’s race.
250sb – are we done yet?
More red flags push the already last race of the day even later. Finally she gets underway and gets a official race in the books.
2014 season is a wrap and we can begin to plan for 2015, see you all at the banquet.