2014 AFM Round 3 – Thunderhill Raceway 2014 AFM Round 4 – Thunderhill Raceway 2014 AFM Round 5 – Thunderhill Raceway 2014 AFM Round 6 – Sonoma Raceway
Racing is a mental game as much as it is physical, this sport has been a journey for me. I am combining the last 4 race rounds in one race report, because as a journey, each weekend in on it's own does not tell the complete story. This is about the mental side of racing for me, this is not about "I passed so and so in turns X and Y." There have been good moments and there have been moments where I question why I participate in this sport. Does the reward truly outweigh the risk? And will I race again in 2015?
I want to take a step back in time, because sometimes we have to look back to take note in how far we have come. Last year, 2013, I was rising through the ranks. Dirt tracking with Brok McAllister, Gage McAllister and Garrett Willis had opened my eyes, and my feel for the bike, in ways I hadn't imagined possible. This acquired skill transferred to my road racing and my times started dropping by 2 to 3 seconds at every track, every time I got on track. I was on fire and I was bragging (I should have knocked on wood) about how my times were falling and I wasn't. I hadn't suffered a road race crash in three years and I was getting faster. I credit much of this with the skills I learned over the years from Ken Hill Coaching (check out FasterSafer.com). But alas, at 2013 Round 4 my crash free run came tumbling down, down the hill from my low-side at the top of turn 5. I was going for an inside pass which ended with a DNF in 600SB.
I came back strong at Round 5 and finished inside the Top 10 in both my 600/750 races. Then came Round 6 at Sonoma, where it all came crashing down… again! I was having a great weekend, I had dropped my lap times from a previous best of 1:49 down to 1:46.1 and I was feeling great! I decided to run F1, a class I hadn't been running that season. I saw that I had an opportunity to get on the podium in F1, but I would have to start from the back of the grid which meant the start was everything and I got a killer start! Unfortunately another rider crashed from the inside of the track, I didn't see him as I came around the outside of another rider and then there he was right in front of me. We ended up in a 4 bike crash and I found myself in a helicopter with a collapsed lung, concussion and separated shoulder. The end of my chance at a podium in F1, the end of my season, the end of my goal of finishing inside the Top 10 overall in my 600 classes, I was crushed mentally as much as I was broken physically. We find solace in saying to ourselves… "Next year, I'll do it next year."
I recovered over the winter and I was back for the 2014 season. I started the season strong, like I had never been away. I set a new personal best at the first round at Buttonwillow dropping my times, yes again, by another 3 seconds. Joy and I battled in AFemme, her getting the better of me, but I took pride in the fact that I gave her a run for her money on her liter bike with me on my 600. I hate to use that as an excuse for coming in 2nd, but at Buttonwillow and Thunderhill, no one can deny that the 1000's have an advantage with the long straights and fast sections.
Sonoma though, that track favors the 600's. Sonoma is tight and technical; there are only 3 sections on track where horsepower has the advantage, but the other 9 sections favor the light and nimble 600's. Plus, I now had a Built By Jesse Koeller motor in my 600 which I knew would give me just a bit more HP to hang in those 3 sections. AFM Round 2 at Sonoma was a breakthrough performance for me, the rise. I won AFemme in a tight battle with Joy, my lap times that weekend matched my best from last year with 1:46.1, but now I was consistent in the 46-47 range. I had great battles in my 600P, 750P and F1 races and I left that weekend feeling accomplished and proud of how far I have come. I was feeling legitimately fast!
At AFM Round 3 came the stumble, I couldn't bring myself to write a race report at the time because I struggled with my set-back. I beat Joy in AFemme, but it wasn't a satisfying win and here is why… We had a red flag from the warm up lap, and when we retook the grid Joy wasn't there. I was stupid, there is no other way to say it… I rode the first 2 laps goofing off, lacking concentration, I was practicing, not racing. I was caught by surprise when I came down the front straight and saw Ben giving me the closing gap signal, I had thought Joy wasn't out there and when she passed me in turn 6 I realized how foolish I had been wasting those first 2 laps of the race where I could have been opening a gap. Joy and I had a pretty fun battle, swapping positions, but with the insane lap traffic from the 250 grid it was pretty sketchy at moments and neither of us ran to our potential. On the last lap I came out of T15 onto the finish straight in front, I tucked and pinned for all my might, Joy passed me by an inch at the line. I thought I had lost to her, but it turned out she was a full lap down so I took the victory. I had to immediately retake the grid for my Formula 40 race. With the adrenaline from AFemme and no 250's on the track I was able to run a better pace, only a second off my personal best and I finished 5th in F40.
Saturday night I sat down to take a look at my track data, Jason and I had added XT Racing systems to our bikes, we can see when and how much we are getting on the throttle, the brakes, we can see speed at any point on the track as well as our lines, but the best part is I can overlay and compare my data with his, or any other person with the system. This is a great tool, but what I learned this weekend was that it also has the potential of breaking your mental game. Looking at the data Saturday night, we discovered a significant weakness in my use of the brakes. I went out and sat on the bike and tried to practice a technique that Jason and Greg use, but in hindsight trying to change my braking habit on Saturday night probably was not my best idea. With only one practice session Sunday morning I went on track to give it a try while moving. My data showed slight improvement in my braking, but it had also had an adverse effect on my acceleration and we all know that you make up more time under acceleration than you do on the brakes. J My times on Sunday dropped off from my personal best by 2 to 3 seconds, it seemed everything I had gained over the last 2 years was lost in a day. I was suffering, but I think you all would agree this was all in my head. I hadn't changed a thing on my bike set-up. 750P was my first race of the day and I got beat up on the start, shuffling back from 9th on the grid to the back of the field. I was desperate to get back up to where I felt I belonged and on the very first lap, I made the same mistake I had made last year, going for an inside pass which ended with me low-siding at the Top of T5.
This was Race 3, my team and my friends came together to help me get my bike fixed up and re-teched so I could make my 600P race 20 minutes later. I am so thankful for their help, but I felt like I had let them down. Again I got duffed up on the start, and then I was stuck in traffic and not wanting to make any dicey passes that would put me in the dirt I ran 3 seconds slower than my pace and finished down the order in 17th. This was not a weekend I wanted to write about, the hardest part is knowing you have the skills and the equipment to ride better, but being so wrapped up in your own head that you hold yourself back. This is the side of racing that no one likes to talk about, but even the best in the world have bad mental days, the key is finding a way to break out of it.
Round 4 was back at Thunderhill and I was just still wrapped up mentally going into the weekend. My husband was riding better and better as he started to come to terms with his ZX-10 and his success gave me some inspiration. I managed to pull my lap times down from the last round by 1 second, Joy and I had another fun battle in AFemme with her using the 250 lap traffic better and beating me to the line. I also finished top 10 in both my 600P/750P classes, but I was not up in the battle where I knew I could be, where I felt I should be and again I left the race weekend feeling pretty disappointed.
At Round 5, again at Thunderhill came the fall. THill is my favorite track, but AFM is doing their best to wear me out on it with 3 races in a row there… I felt like I needed a change in scenery to help revive my racing, but here we were again. I came into this weekend with a plan that I hoped would help me learn about my bike and also break my mental funk. Pacific Track Time (PTT) decided to run a unique and quality track day for the racers on Friday. With the new Thunderhill West Track, they were able to split the clientele and put track day riders on the West Track and racers on our East Track. Then they gave us full 30 minute sessions, which are perfect for real testing. My husband gave up the first ½ of the track day to help me build my vocabulary of feel on my bike. Jason does a pretty good job of setting up a 600 and I've always just run his set-up. Last year we started working with KFG Racing at the track, I switched from Ohlins to GP Suspension in my forks and Barry gave me a baseline set-up to start with. He has been helping me with minor adjustments based on my feedback, but I REALLY lacked confidence in the feedback I was giving him. So this day was a day of exposure, we made swinging changes to my set up so that I could definitively feel the difference it made in the bike handling. I have never done this before and it was incredibly helpful as I learned some things about my baseline set-up that I now thought I could improve on. I had intended to end Friday practice and put my bike back to my baseline, but I had discovered a change that I thought made the handling better for my riding style. It is hard to believe that it took me 7 years of racing to decide to learn this, but the faster you go the more important it is to get your set-up dialed in to your preferences for comfort and style. KFG (Barry) is the first suspension person I personally have worked with, I've always just copied what Jason or Greg had and I was able to go fast enough for the skills I had at the time, but they are no longer on 600's and I am now at a different pace and without their input. Soooo…. How did this work out for me? Let me say first that I am glad I did it, because without change you can't learn.
Saturday AFemme was a nightmare, this really had nothing to do with my set-up, but more with traffic. Joy and I both know that if you are out front you get an advantage in going through the 250 2nd wave of racers, their grid has grown to a significant presence on track and the closing speeds are insane with better than a 10 second lap time difference between them and us. I got a horrible start wheeling off the line. Kate got a rocket launch and she followed Joy through the first several turns, I wasn't able to get by Kate until turn 5 to 6 and I had to sacrifice my drive to make the pass stick. Joy pulled a gap that would be difficult to draw back in, I was hoping lap traffic would somehow work in my favor, but it was quite the opposite. We caught lap traffic on the 2nd lap and the 250 grid had multiple battles on the track. I found myself zig-zagging through 4 of them from turns 6 to 8, which if you've raced THill you know is a risky section to pass. With each corner came another risky pass and surviving the race became my primary goal to trying to catch Joy. It was a disaster. I was thankful for the open track in F40 and I was pleased with my riding, my times came back down to within 1 second of my personal best and I finished the race in 4th with a fun battle with Brett Nelson all the way to the line. I was feeling positive for what Sunday had in store for me.
But…. Now I have this new vocabulary and experience with bike set-up and I still felt there was a way to make the bike handle a little better for me. I was determined to try a change and despite Barry's best attempts to caution me we made a set-up change for Sunday. We're going to digress to talk about the mental side of racing for a minute… it is typical for a racer to want to make a set-up change when they start going backwards with their riding and I am no exception. Even though I knew that the set-up was not what had made me start going slower in the first place I was holding onto hope that a set-up change would be just the thing to springboard me out of this slump. My first race was 750P and it was a tough race, I struggled to manage holding onto a lap time slower than I had done the previous day and I felt like the front end was going to tuck on the exit of every corner. Throughout the race, I was frustrated and falling back. I came in and talked to Sage about it, we decided to make a little more of a change to try to address the tucking feeling on the exits. The next race started out good, I felt better through the first few turns and my confidence started to build. As we came over turn 9 I made a mistake and Andrew Lee came right past me. I stayed on his rear wheel as we round the back half of the track and still felt good with my bike, but Turn 14 is a different type of corner, hard braking off the straight and a tighter corner than most on the track. I came in strong on the brakes, stronger than I had all weekend, and my suspension loaded, as I let off the brakes, I felt it happening and there was nothing I could do, I had let off the lever too fast, the front end rebounded and lost traction. My elbows hit the pavement and my bike and I slid in parallel for a moment until me feet came free and I was flipped onto my back. I slid away from the corner looking back at the inside of the track and then I felt the impact in my low back/butt. I had hit something, it felt like a wall, it stopped all my sliding momentum and spun me like a break dancer on the pavement. As it turned out Max had these pics showing I had hit the pylon cone. What the heck was it even doing there?
I came to a stop, throbbing and unable to move my right leg… I rolled until I felt the dirt. I laid there completely aware of what had just happened, except I could not figure out what I had hit, T14 is wide open, people low side there all the time and walk away. And here I was red flagging the race, I tried to convince myself it was just a deep bruise but when the medic felt my hips he confirmed instability, we knew something was broken the initial thought was it was my femur at the hip joint, but it turned out I had broken my pelvis in the back near the tailbone and I had a couple compression fractures in the front. As they were cutting off my leathers I made sure Glenn (our loyal crash truck driver/corner worker) went and told Jason that I was fine and that I wanted him to stay and race. His first race of the day was right after the one I had just crashed in and I didn't want to ruin his season again, like I had last year. Jason had a quick opportunity to talk to me as they loaded me into the heli, I tried my best to convince him it was a bruise and the medics were just being precautionary, but Jason knows my looks and he knew I was broken. I demanded that he stay and race, it takes several hours to get through Truama and he wouldn't be able to see me until then anyway so he stayed. He got to the hospital just before I came out of surgery and he told me how hard it was to concentrate on his racing, but he managed to salvage decent points and by his last race he rode faster and took 2nd. I think he rode in a hurry, thinking that the faster he rode the sooner the race would be over and he could get out of there. Love.
So here I am broken and disappointed with how my season ended. I felt like I had a real chance of winning AFemme again at Sonoma which would have tied us again in the points. I was also in Overall Top 10 contention again for my 600/750 classes. I am also sitting tied in 4th overall in F40MID, but I will drop to at least 6th after the final round… Is there Next Year? Will I try again next year? I'd be lying if I said I haven't considered retiring. That first week after my surgery every time I tried to go to the bathroom with a broken pelvis, the pain was unbearable and I thought I was done.
So now I climb, racing has brought me so much, a group of friends that really are a second family, a confidence in myself that has brought me out of my shell, a sense of accomplishment, and a realization that I can "ride like a girl" and girl's can ride as fast as guys. And this is why I decided that if I couldn't race the last two rounds of AFM, I was going to help other girls get out there and help them see what they can accomplish.
AFM Round 6 I had the opportunity to sponsor and help Laura Llovet in passing her New Racer School and getting out there and racing. Laura has been a turn worker for the AFM and given so much for the club, she has a passion for racing and it was a pleasure to be able to help her achieve her dream of being on the track racing. I also had the pleasure of sponsoring a new racer from WA, Brisa White, in coming down to the AFM. Brisa had little racing experience and she learned a new track (Sonoma is tough) and gave Kate a run for her money for the win in Novice AFemme. Unfortunately she had a crash on the last lap of the race, but we learn and we move on, she fixed up her bike and raced 600P Novice the next day.
It sucks to not be out there racing, but it is a joy to be able to help others get out there and experience why we love racing so much.
I will be at Round 7 sponsoring and helping Marisa Johnson as she takes her New Racer School and grids up for her first time. And next year…there's always next year.
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.
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