One of the most under-appreciated things in life is comfort, or at least until you don’t have it. Everyone knows comfort in some way. You know that old baseball hat you have, the really old one. That hat that has seen more adventure than Indiana Jones. The way it just sits on your head in that perfect spot, and has a the perfect bend to the bill (it’s something us old guys did growing up). Comfort comes in more forms than just an old hat or the favorite sweatshirt you have had since college. Sometimes it is just a smell or a feeling you get. I don’t really like sweets, but a kitchen with the smell of fresh baked cookies has a special place in my heart. It is a comforting smell that makes me feel, that for a little while, everything is going to be ok.
Round 2 was a nice weekend at Infineon, oops I mean Sears, uhhh Sonoma Raceway. Friday practice wasn’t available, so it was the old show and go. Jenn and I took a much deserved vacation to Greece and had not tested since round 1 at BW. No problem, they’re almost the exact same track, right? My Saturday was going to be super busy and my attention was split; I had a super bike which I would be racing in 3 classes on Sunday and a production bike that would only be raced in one. I hadn’t seen the track in almost 7 months and neither of my bikes had baseline settings to start from. My comfort level is very low at this point, I felt like I had a brand new hat and only 5 minutes to break it in. I know this analogy may be lost on some, but hang tuff.
I suppose you could break comfort down a few ways for the purpose of this story;
#1 Perfect- this term is used when nothing can be done to improve your current situation. Probably a lot like Ben Spies felt when kicking the crap out of the WSBK field a few years back.
#2 Good- when you feel good about your chances, but not everything is perfect. Rossi on the Yamaha is coming to mind. Sure the bike is good, he is good, but they are not perfect yet.
#3 Making Adjustments- that thing a racer says either about the bike or himself between races. They are searching for perfect, but would settle for good. Sometimes you make the wrong adjustment and end up with a number 4.
# *#!@#! - Yes the good old number 4. Usually not spoken around women or children, these words can often be found in the company of sailors. No amount of anything seems like it is going to make things better. Probably what everyone at Ducati feels like since Stoner left.
Yes, my comfort was at a good old number 4. Luckily for me, the next few things helped me out of a #4 and into a much more pleasant #3. Ben Kautt is our team mechanic for the year. He had been to one race prior to Saturday, but is already picking things up and taking an enormous weight off my shoulders. So if you are need of a boost in the old comfort department, run right out and get yourself a Ben. Don’t ask me where I got mine, he was the last one on the shelf and they are sold out.
Already in a better place than before, life got even better when we rolled some tires down to Pirelli. CT Racing’s, Chris McGuire informed me that they had a new spec tire for me to run. “Expect greatness,” Chris said. A better tire and help in the pits was making me feel like I had a chance. Sitting there with both bikes being prepped by Ben, my wife can see the look in my eyes; she is always calming and talks to me until, like a true genius, she gets me to talk through my issues. Somehow I walk away feeling like I have a plan for the day, thanks to Ken Hill Coaching this is something she has made a routine. Now she makes it mine too.
Saturday was not to be a total loss and practice was going pretty well… until a near high side made me pull off track. I somehow managed to sprain my ankle, and pretty bad at that. Just as my comfort level started to slip away again, another new addition to our program stopped by our pit, KFG Racing’s Barry Wressel. He and his wife, April, have become a big part my racing support this year. Barry stopped by to check on things after my near high side, he said he was on the wall and watched me have my moment. I was exiting turn 9 when it happened and Barry’s view was mostly blocked by the wall, so the fact that he saw it reinforced the feeling that my superman to face plant on the bike was as big as I thought. Regardless, he worked some KFG magic and I was then able to spend the rest of my sessions just getting comfortable with the track. Comfort level restored to a 3.
Sunday, like always, was busy. When I am not racing, Jenn is, and if neither of us are on track, it must be lunch. My day started well with a hard fought win in race #4 - Open Production. Race #6 was Open Superbike, “the pre-Formula Pacific,” with all the top FP contenders lining up. The race started off good, but my pace was not what I needed to stay up front. I finished in 6th place behind the usual suspects. Race #9 - the real FP got going great with me starting out lap one in a strong 4th position, but a red flag would have us start over again. The restart was so bad, so so so so bad. Siglin came over on me after a bit of a wheelie off the start, with my own front end floating in the air I was forced to shut it down so I wouldn’t end up riding both bikes. Unable to latch on to the leaders after that, my pace dwindled and mistakes a plenty started. Coming over the crest of turn 3A the bike did what it could to stay upright, despite my intentions to crash us both out. Right about the time my back wheel left the curbing, I thought it best to just sit up and use that fancy T4 runoff. I watched nearly the entire field of 30 riders pass me as I tried to rejoin the race. I rode as hard as possible, while trying to be safe with passing, and managed to salvage a 12th place finish. My last race of the day, Open GP, went better and I ended up with a 4th place finish.
Jenn was able to find a higher level of comfort than I was over the weekend. She started off Saturday by matching her previous personal best lap time at Sonoma in the AFemme race and giving a good chase to Joy and Krystyna on their liter bikes. Barry freshened up her suspension Saturday night and after Sunday morning practice she had a higher level of confidence in her bike. When she told Greg and I she intended to drop 2 more seconds we shrugged it off just a little, because once you get below the 1:50 lap pace, 2 second drops don't come that easy. But Jenn must have really found that comfort... in the 600 Production race she dropped a full second and dipped into the 1:48's and in her last race, 600 Superbike, she dropped another full second to achieve a new personal best dipping into the 1:47's. All this on the same Pirelli tires she ran in the two previous races and on a colder track after the lunch time rain shower.
It is nearly a month later and as I sit here typing this, I feel a bit like Rossi. GOOD, is my current level of comfort. How did I increase my level of comfort? It’s funny to sit here and type it out, but it started by finding a leak on my superbike this past Sunday night, only a week before the race. Monday was supposed to be spent at the track testing a few things on the super bike, but I was only able to get the production bike ready to go. Due to my job this year, track testing time has been hard to come by, and with one bike down my testing plan would have to be modified. Oh and lets throw in some rain and see if we can make this day a real winner. Fortunately, the rain held off and we were able to get some quality laps in on a mostly dry, but very cold track.
Have you ever watched pro racer interviews in the middle of winter? Yeah, me too. I love to see what the pro’s do to train, test, eat, and their general state of mind during the off-months. There was a particular interview about a test day I recall, a factory rider was at the track and was being interviewed. Keep in mind he had a whole crew with him for support; mechanics, suspension guys, the whole lot. When he was asked how the day went, he replied, “great! We found a seat.” The interviewer seemed perplexed, “Well, did you find anything for next year?” Again the rider replied, “yeah, we found a seat.” With thousands of dollars, tires, mechanics, engines, software and other goodies the rider was still stoked about a seat. “It’s simple,” he said, “I can’t go fast if I am not comfortable.” Let that rattle around your head for a second.
Well, with some work in the gym and a few minor changes with my bike and my body position, I am getting more comfortable on my bike. It has been difficult for me to find “comfortable” on the 1000. My R6 was like my favorite hat or that sweatshirt you refuse to throw out. I may have finally found a new hat and have now had ample time to break it in! So you want advice on how to be faster racer, spend the next track day on whatever it is you need to get comfortable. Maybe it is working on that turn you previously crashed in, or maybe it is as simple as an alteration to your suit. This wise man told me once, your fastest laps will feel so slow. It has taken me 6 years to figure it out. The fast laps feel slow because you are so comfortable and not rushing anything. Now, what will make you more comfortable next weekend?
Open Production – P1 1:43.480
Open GP – P4 1:42.288
Open Superbike – P6 1:42.000
Formula Pacific – P12 1:42.068
AFemme - P3 1:48.922
600 Production – P20 1:48.928
600 Superbike – P19 1:47.972
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