The Quest for the Stars
“As the Earth steadily turned on its annual journeys round the Sun, men for centuries insisted that everything in the sky - Sun, moon, stars, planets - was subservient to them. Man they argued, being the most intelligent creature they had encountered, must occupy the center of the universe. But, for all his demonstrations of his own importance, even early man clearly saw that he could not control the heat of the Sun, nor those rare but terrifying days when it was eclipsed by the Moon, turning the daytime sky black.”
Saturday night; Greg, Mikey, Sam, Jason and I sat in the courtyard of our pit area after a very busy practice/race day and talked about racing, life, cracking jokes at one another’s expense, and looked into the brilliant night sky. The boys tolerated my pointing out the constellations and shooting stars amid their “manly talk.” Staring into the vast, dark night sky at Thunderhill Raceway, away from the city lights, the universe seems enormous and can make one feel small, yet powerful. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if man really could control the universe? I would pick out the most important days on the calendar... that’s right, race weekends, and set them as number one priority. I would not have allowed the winds to blow at 40 mph across Thunderhill at Round 4, I would not have let the temperatures reach 99 degrees with 80% humidity at Round 5. I say nay, nay. The sun would rise early to ensure a warm track for first practice, with the air temperature getting to a high of 75 degrees, with a light breeze blowing at my back down the front straight, oh and the back straight. Why not, I can control the winds, right? The sky would be overcast to provide enough shading of the brilliant Sun to prevent any blinding moments heading into turn 7/8. The core of the earth would be somewhat warmer so the track surface temperature would rise to 130 degrees to provide perfect traction for my Pirelli SC1 tires to grip solidly, but without tearing. And the stars would align in such a way to help me navigate my way around Thill on the fastest line. But alas, in 1543 it was confounded by Copernicus… I cannot control the Universe. So I guess I’ll work with what I can control. Me.
AFM Round 4 - June 12/13 at Thunderhill
Round 4 started off with a bang! Well, literally it was more of a clickity, clickity, clickity through T2 and T3 progressing to a thumpity, thumpity, thumpity in T7/T8 by the time I figured out it was a mechanical problem and not a loose zip tie or something. It was the last session of Friday practice and I found myself pushing Hasi back to the pits from Turn 9 with what I now realized was a fatal engine problem. One of the biggest reasons I switched to an R6 was to get away from all the annoying little SV problems that come with the territory of owning an older bike that has been completely modified and pushed to the limits for racing. R6’s are made for racing and have a solid platform…. BUT… I had Jason’s old engine with two seasons of racing already on it, (the reason for that is a long story in itself, so we’ll skip over that.) Fortunately for me, I had, just two days prior to the race weekend, sold my SV to Pete Leist and purchased his 2009 street prepped R6, for Jason and I to build into a back-up bike. So it’s Friday night, anyone up for a quick engine swap? Jason led the charge with Greg and Sam pitching in a hand to get it done. I can’t thank them enough. Jason was not in the best mood at having to swap out an engine that he had just put in, who could blame him for that, but Greg and Sam are true friends for sticking it out with Jason and I. Four hours later the stock engine had been installed, drilled, safety wired, coolant drained, water wetter in, oil changed and bodywork secured, the bike was all ready for my early practice on Saturday morning as if nothing had happened.
Saturday practice went off relatively uneventful, aside from a brief moment in Turn 10 where Sam decided to see if he could take me out of the competition by making an inside, sideways, last ditch effort, of a pass nearly clipping my head with his rear wheel. He says the winds down into T10 threw him off his brake markers, I guess I’ll let it slide. haha Being my second round on the R6, I signed up for my “now” standard classes; Formula Afemme, 600 Production and 750 Production. I also signed up for the AFM Inaugural Tag Team Race scheduled for the end of the day. I will have a separate race report to talk about the VK Vixens wild ride.
Formula Afemme was up first on Saturday, I gridded up with 8 other AFM ladies looking to have some fun dicing with each other in the all women class. I got a great start off the line and followed Joy and Christie to Turn 5, where Zoe snuck up the inside line and relegated me to 4th. I worked hard at trying to hold onto the top 3 in the first two laps turning 2:04 lap times, matching my best on the SV, before losing touch and dropping off the pace a bit. I started 4th and I finished 4th.
Sunday I had my 600 Production Race just before the lunch break and my 750 Production Race was the last race of the day. I went out for morning practice then paced around the pits for the remainder of the morning waiting for my first race. Finally it was time… the winds were still blowing at 30-40 mph and it was hot. I rolled out to my improved grid position since I scored a few points in the class at Round 3. I am gridded 27th of 32 on the start, on the outside of the 7th row.
As the green flag waves, I launch Hasi into the pack, we move into the left towards the inside of Turn 1. I pick up a couple spots through T1 as I see some familiar leathers, “Scooby” who just jumped from his SV to the 600 class as well, comes past me on the right, I drop into the gap he has opened up into T2 and pick up a few more positions. Then I get pinched off into Turn 3 and give up a few spots, this goes on throughout the first lap and by the time I cross the checkers I have moved up to 25th. I was working on chasing after Shane Muntean, when Noel Garcia caught up with me on the 3rd lap, we had a fun dice for the last three laps with me besting him in T14 with an inside pass, holding onto the drive to beat him to the checkers and finishing 22nd. For my 750 Production race, I am gridded 24th of the 26 starters. Another good launch picks me up a few positions into the first lap, Shane Muntean caught me on lap 3 and made the pass stick and I followed him through the completion of the race, finishing 22nd again.
At the end of the Round 4 weekend I was pretty pumped up by how well I have been adapting to the R6, being only my second race weekend on it I had managed to match my personal best lap times from last year while I was still on the SV. Racing helps me identify my weak areas on the track relative to others riding at my pace, and gives me focus for my plan to get faster through the season.
Already, as we were on the road home from Thunderhill, I had shifted my focus back to my training program to get ready for Round 5. We had 3 weeks off between the races with only one track weekend planned in the time off at Buttonwillow 4th of July weekend. I was on my bicycle at least 3 times a week and in the gym working out on the other days, along with working at that silly little hobby of mine that pays the bills… Yeah, my job. Tuesday night, the week leading up to Round 5, Jason and I rolled up our street towards our house at the completion of our 30 mile pedal, when 400 feet from my driveway I had a moment on my bicycle and high-sided at 14 mph on our freshly paved street. I used my head to break the fall, no literally... used my head, breaking my bicycle helmet through on the right temple, luckily my head was fine, but the road rash on my right ankle, knee, elbow and shoulder, plus the huge bruise/contusion on my right hip were going to be torture inside my leathers. I decided it would be best to back out of the Tag Team race at round 5 and spare myself the additional 30-40 minutes in my leathers. Also... I was suddenly fine with having no Friday practice. Instead, Jason, David, Sam and I spent Friday morning at the lake swimming, paddling and playing with the dogs.
AFM Round 5 - July 10/11
We headed up to Thunderhill early on Friday and we had unloaded and set-up our pits by 8:00. It was a mellow night and I was off to bed at 10:00, I think playing at the lake that morning had worn me out a bit. My focus was on performing well in my classes and getting a good night sleep was definitely part of my plan.
Despite my early to bed program, Saturday practice did not go as I had planned, I was WAY off my pace and extremely frustrated… what the heck was I doing different from 3 weeks ago that had me so far off the pace? I worked on braking and using my clutch to control the engine braking, but it seemed obnoxious how much the bike was engine braking, specifically into turns 3, 10, and 11. With some feed back from Shawn Reilly I decided to change my line in T3 to help me deal with the issue. The only problem was I had no practice sessions left. I figured what’s the harm, with the pace I was running in practice, Formula Afemme was going to be nothing but another practice session for me anyway. I went out in the warm up lap for the Clubman Race 1 to take T3 slow and get a look at the reference points and I decided to go ahead and make the change for the race. Time to grid up, again I am on the outside of the front row. I had already set my mind to this race being nothing more than practice, but as I looked up the empty track into turn 1, a wild little thought crept into my head, I want this holeshot! I looked up at the 2 Board and dropped my Suomy visor, saying out loud to no one, “That’s my carrot!” 1 Board and I put my bike in gear, brought the revs up. Sideways, I rev a little higher, letting the clutch out a bit until I feel the rear tire grab and I start to see Phil’s elbow twitch as the bike creeps forward, come on green flag…. No, he holds it for a second, I grab the brake and the green flag flies. I let the brake out as quickly as I had grabbed it and I was off. That brake grab cost me in hesitation and I entered T1 in 2nd behind Joy.
Christie was flying and charged around me on the outside of T2. I latched onto Joy and Christie to T6 where they destroyed me on the drive out and dropped me in T7/8. Zoe found the same drive as the ladies in front of me and passed me on the exit of 8 as we headed up the hill to Turn 9. I held onto 4th position through the race, but wasn’t able to match my lap time from Round 4. At the end of the race, Shawn stopped by my trailer to let me know I had jumped the start, apparently my rear tire had made it onto the grid number before the green flag flew and I was docked a lap putting me back to an 8th place finish of 9 starters. I had a feeling it was close so I wasn’t surprised to hear it. I was bummed, but I also know exactly what I did wrong (and what I did right) so I planned to nail my starts in the Sunday races.
After a bit more extensive discussions with Greg and Jason about my engine braking problems, it occurred to us that during the engine swap last month, we had never adjusted the slipper clutch tension. Following the Afemme race, Jason pulled the clutch cover and made the adjustment, a quick fix that should make things a lot better for me in the morning.
At dusk, when most people in the paddock had left to take shelter from the heat in the comfort of their air conditioned hotel rooms, RV’s or instead were off cooling their body systems with icy beverages, we decided it would be fun to throw on full leathers again and head up to Turn 5 to take team photos. Craig Sanders set up the professional photo shoot for us and we got some great pictures despite having to dab the sweat beads, no... streams off our faces between shots.
On Sunday, I had a similar schedule to last round with 750 Production right after lunch and 600 Production near the end of the day. I had considered not even suiting up for practice, to spare the road rash from more rubbing inside my leathers, but then remembered I had modified my slipper clutch and needed to take it out for a test run. My lap times didn’t show improvement, but the slipper clutch was a 1000X better. I was happy and ready to race.
750 Production was race 6 immediately after lunch and from our pits, Jason and Sam would join me on the grid. Jason on the 2nd spot on the front row. Me, on what seemed like a mile behind him, the 24th spot of the 6th row, and Sam on the inside of the same row as me. Determined to beat Sam on the start again and learning from my mistake on Saturday, I make a good start and go up two rows… Only, as we enter turn 1 I backed off, for no good reason, just a momentary lapse of aggression and I am back to where I started. I spent the rest of the race battling it out with Paul Johnson, fellow Ken Hill coached racer, so I know, he knows, what I know. LOL! I had his number in T2 and he had me on the brakes in T14. We went back and forth like this until the last lap, when I out drove him into 9, ran the inside line and took it out wide hoping to kill his drive just enough to get a break-away and it worked, he couldn’t get back to the inside of me on T 14 and I beat him to the line to finish 21st of 26 starters, picking up 3 spots from my start position.
We had a long down time until Race 11 – 600 Production so I headed up to the announcer booth to watch some of the afternoon races. It was a different perspective from up there and I managed to pick up a few new things to try on my next track day. My 600 race ended up being de ja vu of the 750 race with me battling it out with PJ, him up the inside on 14 and me round the outside in T2, back and forth, only this time PJ got the better of me by getting the inside line into T14, I knew he would be coming for it there, yet I decided not to use a defensive line, mistake number one. I was faster through 14-15, but decided to wait to pass on the drive out, but I go to close to him into 15 and had to back off killing my drive, mistake number 2. As we pulled onto the front straight, with the checkers in the distance I was still close enough to tuck into the draft, but as he shifted he rolled off the throttle and I had to pull out from the draft to avoid hitting his rear tire (crap, he doesn’t have a quick shifter I thought) but, I pulled back into the draft thinking it was my best shot at getting him at the line… each time he made a shift I had to back off to avid contact, mistake number 3. I should have just tucked and gone for the pass rather than playing the draft game. We crossed the finish line with PJ in front of me by 8/100ths of a second.While I was exhausted from my races, it seemed my bike, Hasi was eager to go out for one last hurrah for the weekend. She begged Woody McGillicutty (AKA Greg) to pilot her for his last race of the day, 750 Superbike, and Woody managed to take her round the track at 1:56 lap times to salvage points in his battle for the 750 SB Class Championship.
Finally Hasi gets to stretch her legs and prove that even with completely stock suspension and… well, stock everything, and zero set-up for Greg the R6 is the best race platform bike for anyone. Now if I can just learn to ride as well as Greg, or Jason… or I would be happy riding as well as David or Sam. In time… my dear, in time, I will get there. I may not be able to control the universe, but with hard work and perseverance I can still become a faster racer. I can meet my goals and I can beat you! (well, depending on who you are…) Reach for the Stars!
One of the three well-known California road racing clubs; AFM offers a place where you can participate in races, watch as a spectator, or even take part as a turn-worker on the course. There are competition classes for almost all motorcycles; you can race what you own, build a bike specifically for racing, or maybe even pick up a pre-set-up bike through member want ads. Competing in expert club racing can be used to qualify for a pro racing license. Explore the website for further information.
Women race with the men?
Yes, races are structured by bike size. Women race in the same classes as men that have the same sized bike. However, there is a growing interest among women in racing , so many racing clubs have added a women’s class to encourage the ladies to give it a try.
Formed in 2001, SMUSA is now the premier Pro/Am supermoto series in the country. Many of the well known American road racers such as Bobby Fong, Joey Pascarella, Cameron Beaubier, Elena Myers, Tyler O'Hara, Garrett Willis and others all competed in Supermoto USA's Nor Cal Championship where they developed their skills.
PC Dirt Track in Sacramento, Ca holds a series of the oldest and most traditional type of motorcycle racing, flat track - sometimes referred to as “dirt track” racing. A uniquely American type of motorcycle racing. Riders finesse their machines sideways through the turns, just inches apart from each other.
Since 1924, the AMA has protected the future of motorcycling and promoted the motorcycle lifestyle. AMA members come from all walks of life, and they navigate many different routes on their journey to the same destination: freedom on two wheels. The AMA sanctions more motorsports competition and motorcycle recreational events than any other organization in the world. No one who has ever seen an AMA Pro motorcycle race ever forgets it.