Maybe I should start out this race report with a little (modified) song lyric from Eminem…That song certainly suited my mood heading into the weekend, I was so excited to FINALLY get back to racing again after having to take off the last 8 months to recover from surgery on my right shoulder. I was released from my doctor to start riding again on February 3rd and without much delay I was back on the track February 8th, kicking off my season by getting schooled by Ken Hill.
"Guess who’s back, back again, Jennie’s back, tell a friend, nah nah nanahna"
I managed to squeeze in a total of 5 track days in February and March, hoping to get enough riding that I would feel fully prepared for AFM Round 1. On Monday of the week leading up to the races, we had a phenomenal, open track day with Z2 at Thunderhill. The weather was perfect for riding and the open format was just what we needed for test and tune. This was my last day of practice before racing and I still did not feel confident with my riding nor my bike set-up and my lap times were proving it. Near the end of the day, I asked my smoking hot, fast husband to come out and ride some laps with me to try to tow me down to a decent lap time. After turning a couple laps with him I managed to shave a couple seconds off my lap times, but it was hard work and I felt I was at my limit. When we came in he commented that I didn’t approach the corners with confidence… I replied, “Yeah, I can’t get my bike to hold a line, I feel like it is going to come out from under me.” He took the bike out for a lap, came in and twiddled some knobs, ride and repeat a few times and finally around 4:15 PM, he gives me my bike back and tells me to take it for a spin. I do 8 laps consistently 3 seconds faster than I had been able to manage all day, but I was still well above where I needed to be. I was completely exhausted, my shoulder was screaming in pain and the track day was over…. Would I be able to get it all together at the races?
I decided not to practice on Friday, I didn’t think my shoulder could handle 3 days of riding in a row. I am still uncertain if this decision was a mistake; I definitely would have had more shoulder pain on Sunday if I had ridden Friday, but I could have used that extra day at BW to make sure my bike was set-up correctly for the track. I took full advantage of all my practice sessions on Saturday, focusing on a very specific plan to get ready for the Afemme race coming up in the afternoon… still… my lap times were not where I expected to be and I was working far to hard to get the lousy times I was managing.
I gridded up for Afemme, in position 5, second row on the inside. My start routine came back to me like a bad habit. 2 board - visor down, 1 board - bike in gear and start bring the revs up, sideways… and as the green flag waved I was on the throttle. Pinned. Shift. Shift. Charging into turn one on the inside I was in the third spot behind Joy and Zoe, Christy came around the outside and had the wheel on me, I receded the position. Then my frustrations began… the three of them began pulling away, then Deb came by me at the entrance to the Cotton Corners, like a pocket rocket on her 125. I tried to keep them in my sights, but just could not push it any harder. The entire time on track I am analyzing my body position, my use of the throttle and brakes, my lines, my apexes… WHY the HELL can’t I go any faster? I finish the race in fifth, the same position I started in. Not bad, but I was disappointed in my lap times more than anything.
Sunday morning, it’s a new day. We have one morning practice, then I run race 3 before lunch and race 9, towards the end of the day. I gear up and head out for my morning practice with the intent to stretch and warm-up. I leave pre-grid onto the track and before I even make it to turn 2 the bike is cutting out and stalls. Ah, I know this problem, the SV’s are certainly useful for expanding your mechanical knowledge. What feels like your bike is running out of gas, but you know it has a full tank? I’ll take electrical problems for $400, Alex. Of course, but figuring out where the short is could be a long and frustrating process. I push my bike from turn 2 back to the pits, and the Z2 race team support steps in to rescue me. Jason and Tom begin diagnosing my problem until we find it is a faulty diode. Not too worry, we have spares. Tom fixes it up, as Jason heads out for his practice, and I begin to stress about not getting a practice session before my race.
Race 3 - I take my grid position on the inside of the 9th row, this is 22nd position for my class, there are a few faster guys gridded behind me who lacked points from the previous season and I expect them to get by me, but I get a fanastic start, up the inside deep into the pack and I hold my own through turns one and two… then I proceed to give spots away as I still can’t manage a lap time below a 2:10. I settle into 20th by the 1st lap past the start finish line and this is where I sit, turning consistent 2:10’s for the duration of the race.
Race 9 - I kick this race off with a quick panic as I’m out on the warm up lap and coming through the esses a bee flies up into my helmet and is buzzing around trapped inside my visor. Oye, I swell up like Violet Beauregard when I get stung by a bee. This could ruin my race… do I flip up my visor and hope it swoops out the top or will it get blown straight into my face and sting me, I wait until I have made the last corner onto the front straight and flip up the visor slowly, it seems to have gone. My heart rate is now fully elevated. Suddenly. Green flag! And again I get a great start, rounding turn one mid-pack, I look up and the yellow flag is waving hard at the entry to turn 2... Glance through the corner and there is a USGPRU bike and kid lying in the middle of Turn 2 with a pack of 22 crazy SV racers coming at him. I hold my position and count 7 racers pass me under the waving yellow. I was pissed. Not only at the fact that they passed me, but at the fact that they decided that gaining that position was more important than the safety of the kid lying in the corner. A red flag came out as we entered the bus stop and we were brought back in for a restart. And here comes my final meltdown….
One more great start, I am off the line and up into the pack heading into turn one… I am riding hard and hold my position, then they just start picking me off, I try to stick with Ben Swiggett as he comes by me at the beginning of the second lap and I manage a 2:09 lap time… but still I continue to lose positions. I am trying to stick to my own plan and ride my own race, but a couple of sketchy passes from my competitors get me rattled. What was I even doing giving them the opportunity to make those passes… its no ones fault but my own. The more frustrated I got the more little mistakes I made and the more my lap times dropped off. I had lost my focus and wasn’t riding to the potential I knew I possessed. Then on the last lap, I made the mistake that put me in DFL and still today makes me extremely frustrated with myself, I looked back. I looked back while I was still mid-exit of turn 2, where I should have been looking up and down the track, where I should have been pinned and making an upshift, me… the person who constantly points out to my teammates the downfalls of looking back. I looked back and I gave up the last two positions I had been managing to hold off up to this point. And I knew they were there, what on earth was I looking back for? I finished that last lap completely frustrated and disappointed in myself. I went straight back to my pit hoping to pout in solitude in my trailer when I noticed the Z2 crew was out there pulling a clutch on Jason’s back-up bike…. Suck it up buttercup and go see what is going on… his story is here.
"Hey! You’re playing with my delirium
And the longer I wait the harder I’m gonna fall.
Stop playing with my delirium
‘Cause I’m out of my head and out of my self control"
I lost my head in my races and let my brain over process and slow me down. Sometimes you just gotta ride. I had two goals going into this weekend; one was to get good starts and I was extremely pleased with how I did, second, was to turn at least 2:08’s. I realized I had some set-up and confidence issues starting the weekend so I set a reasonable goal of 2:08’s and only managed to get 2:10’s pretty consistently with one 2:09. I’ve got some work to do before round 2, but I am so, so, so happy to be racing again.
"Still hanging on - for what
Can’t operate - fired up
I won’t eat and I won't sleep for you yeah
No rest till I get through
‘Cause I’m holding out - for you
Am I the only one who’s insane"
See ya at Infineon for Round 2.
Wow, my round 1 this year is definitely not the same as last year. To give a quick recap of last year, I raced in the 600 class and did not finish that well. That was followed up with a dismantling of my bike and ego in the 750 race. We trucked that bike home in pieces and I was less than thrilled with my start to the year. Nothing impresses your new team like crashing out in round 1. So after that start to the year, it was hard to go anywhere but up.
Thursday night we did our regular pilgrimage down to Buttonwillow for Friday practice. We have been working very hard to get everything done, but the trailer was loaded with what seemed to be more things not done than done. This is not unusual for a first round race, but we had hoped to make one of the earlier WERA races for sorting things out, but were unable to squeeze one into the schedule. Anyway, due to a rough off season, my to do list was long and my brain let me know it.
Friday started out the same as most do, getting your mind up to speed and your bike and body warmed up. The bike was not acting the way I had hoped, so I put on an used soft Pirelli race tire from last year to see if that would change my fortunes. The tire stuck and the lap times came down, but something just wasn’t clicking. Feeling as though it was a rider issue, my mind tried to diagnose the problems. Wanting to go fast is not enough, there is a point where you have step it up as a rider. Trying to find the spot where the bike and I are working at the same level is tough. Off season changes had helped, but to what point?
This last off season Chris Van Andel of Motion Pro & Race Image Graphics became our new crew chief. With a phone call he got us a new sponsor, Fastbikes Industries, they sell and tune suspension components. Our experience so far has been great and they have been very professional. My suspension was shipped off in a box and sent back to me fast enough to test at some Z2 Trackdays, prior to the season. Most companies can accomplish this, but the amount of personalized service was great. Over several conversations, each lasting 45 minutes or more, we made the decision on how to make the suspension fit me and my riding style. Installing the suspension right out of the box, it was amazing. I only had one issue, how hard could I ride it. Turns out, as hard as I liked.
Up until this point pushing the bike had not been my agenda, and this was about to change. Friday afternoon was set on seeing if there was a limit to the front end traction of the bike. It took a colossal screw up on my part to find the limit and the bike still stayed up on two wheels. Then the laps just clicked off. One after another my confidence grew in my new found glory. Trust is huge for me, and to have people and equipment you trust is by far the most important thing to me. Horsepower is great, but who cares if it never makes it to the ground.
Saturday was a make sure everything is ok day for me. We made some small changes in the morning, but after that I just wanted to ride. Saturday afternoon was spent watching my wife take a 5th place in the new Afemme class, as well as watching other riders start their season. An early night for me was in order, so I would be rested for Sunday. Sorry no wacky stories of pit bikes put on top of trailers or goofy pit parties.
Race day was finally here and everyone looked ready to race. I signed up for both 600 production and super bike as well as both 750 classes. With a full day ahead of me patience would be key. Strict orders from the team owners to survive the weekend and finish were at the top of every ones mind, but it is hard not to let the little race demon inside take over. That said, finish ,finish, finish, finish had to be my plan.
The first race for us was just before lunch and if you want to know what it is like sitting on the grid, it’s like seeing flashing red lights behind you when your doing 75mph in a 65 zone. Then the cop blows right past you for someone else. That is the moment where adrenaline is shooting through the body and your heart wants to come out of your chest. With my heart pounding the green flag dropped and my season was underway. My team mate got his line cut off and with a slightly better jump he took my line, I was forced to relinquish the spot. As we accelerated towards turn 1, the usual suspects were in front of me. By turn 2 my position improved, for about 1 corner. Just like in football, defense is the name of the game and my lack of defense cost me 3 more spots. Settling down after a few laps I picked my way past a few more riders to bring home a 6th place finish in 600 super bike. Not what I had hoped for, but it was a finish.
After lunch the second race was a go. A much better start got me out of the worst of the traffic and again we were racing. This race was odd for me, because I felt exhausted from all of the earlier shots of adrenaline. It turned out ok though as the focus came even easier as I was too tired to be anxious. Most of my race was spent trying to get around a few riders. On the last 2 laps Wyatt King passed Liko Miles and started leaving the both of us. Desperation is what you feel when someone leaves you like that. I set up and made my pass on Liko and was so far behind 3rd it seemed out of reach. Sticking to my plan and riding my race Wyatt slowly came back to me. The sweeper was my best section compared to Wyatt, so I planned to pass there. Last lap, 3 corners to go and in position I was primed to strike. Ooops, Wyatt locked the front end shuffled across the track and forced me to take avoiding action. He just stayed on two wheels and led me to the line for a 4th place finish. Happy and disappointed were the feelings coming back to the pits. Just a few feet away from a podium is a hard thing to swallow.
The bike had been working great all day and my mind was ready for the next race. Wanting some clear track, I made sure I was first out of the gate. Let the clutch out give it some gas and vroom the engine over revs to 15k rpm. Instantly my mind evaluates the engine and realizes the clutch is slipping. Pressing a warm up lap like never before I get back to the line first, screaming over the pit wall as I take my grid position, “Guys, get the clutch out of the other bike!” They looked puzzled for about 2 seconds then it set in, I was in real trouble here. Sitting in my grid spot desperately trying to slow my breathing the green flag flew and backwards I went. Going into turn one frantically trying to make up the 20 plus spots lost on the start my mind was processing faster than a super computer. How long can I make this clutch last, how many positions can I get back, shift or don’t shift, should I pull in now and save the engine. Being a mechanic has it’s drawbacks and this was one of them. Surely the clutch could get me to the line 5 more times right? As I down shifted and turned the bike in there was a vague feeling from the back of the machine. Nothing would happen for what felt like years. Then slowly the engine speed would start to match the rpm and the bike would start to accelerate. This is the most helpless feeling in the world as you watch racers pass you with ease as your heart is breaking with every pass.
My cool down lap would also hit the record books as my pace was almost as fast a during the race. Blowing by riders casually waving at corner workers my mind was already in the pits. Trying so hard not to do a 100mph through the pits I pulled in where my entire team attacked my bike like a pack of hungry wolves. Taking turns burning themselves on the smoldering hot engine, out came the clutch and in went the back up. Why such a hurry? We only have 15 minutes or so before the next race. Even Greg in his leathers is there to help my cause. Chris, Tom, Jen, David, Mikey, Lollipop, Sam, and Greg all did what ever they could to make sure I would be on that grid. If you ever wonder what a team can do, stop by our pits and meet some of the most incredible people I have ever met. Thank you for all of your help.
Still breathing heavy we just make the next race. On the line my best grid position of the day, second to Lenny Hale. Settle down and just race your own race, shoots through my mind. The green flag drops and the new clutch launches me like a rocket into the lead. HOLESHOT, this has been a long time coming. Knowing Lenny is running a faster pace my mind immediately is focused on my lines and pace. Six corners in and Lenny gets by, my hearty sky rockets again. Like a greyhound I chase the rabbit, but I am making silly mistakes which cause me to loose more time. Finally my heart settles down and my race becomes my own again. Pace is important and using most of my adrenaline early on cost me some energy in the following few laps. Riding in second, my wife is at the pit wall with a gap signal. The next lap even a smaller gap was signaled and that brought my head right back in it. Relax and ride smart, I kept telling my self. Control your gap and you can bring this home.
I have had a problem looking behind me for as long as I can remember. Coming down the straight for the last time resisting the urge to turn and look, my head was pinned to the tank and my heart in my stomach. Did I do enough, or will the draft give this second place to someone else. Across the line it was mine, my best finish ever on a 600. That was the best cool down lap I can remember. When I came into the pits, Shawn, one of the team owners was there to greet us. Bringing home a solid finish for the team felt great. I ran around like a ten year old who just got a pony for the next twenty minutes or so. My heart has been pounding in my chest just typing these last few paragraphs, that is how much it means to me.
Again this is a huge team effort and I would be selfish to think it was just me who got those results. So bear with me while I gush for a minute. To the entire Z2 Trackdays Staff, Z2 Race Team, Yamaha, David at Fastbikes Ind., Pirelli /CT Racing, Yamalube Products, Motion Pro, Race Image Graphics, Leo Vince, Helimot, Soumy, Factory Body Works , Igartua, 4 The Riders, Sidi, Tech Spec, Ink Monkey, GP Frame & Wheel, CRG Levers, Graves Motorsports, Mach 1, and Ken Hill Coaching. I hope to keep working with such great sponsors who have helped me become a better racer.
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.