AFM round 1, 2014 – RACING PEOPLE
March 20, 2014
Used to be I couldn’t walk through a restaurant without blood rushing to my face in horrified despair. People were watching, people were judging. I didn’t go to parties, proms, or football games. I couldn’t, I had locked myself in my own prison. Surely I got this from my Dad, he was just the same but he never made it out. Luckily I escaped but you never escape entirely, I still remember. Racing helped me through it more than anything. People would come over to my pit – sometimes to cheer, other times to challenge. But they always came over. It was a comical paradox actually; some expected I was conceded by purposefully staying apart from the rest, while I consistently tried but failed to ever fit in. Lucky for me the more these forces clashed over time, the less either of them seemed to matter.People are fascinating, we all have our things..
Late Friday night, maybe 3am, an otherwise numbingly mild-mannered Keith shot up noisily from his bed in Buttonwillow, shouting desperate commands to what surely must have been his crew. I didn’t understand a word of what he said but I could easily identify its urgency. Keith was, at that moment, a great and courageous Captain of a Viking warship. I know this. I watched him as he pointed, as he commanded, even aiming with his eyes at times. Somewhere on the other side of our nappy hotel room, even though I couldn’t see them with my own eyes, lurked the Viking enemy. Perhaps right behind the TV. I wiped my tired eyes in disbelief, how could I not see this. Either way, whether I could see them or not, I knew the shit was about to hit the fan. A fight was upon us, or we were about to sink. Could have been a sea monster for all I know, either way I was riveted. Then as sudden as he rose up with the confidence of a great Captain at sea, he laid back down in that ever so quiet, bashful nature that is Keith. I sat there alone again, staring back at a blank tv in a strange dark room, left to ponder yet another one of life’s cruel tricks. There really was no ship; there really was no captain. ….or was there
Maybe each of us are two people, I think. There is who we are, and there is who we are afraid to be. Most times we are one, seldom are we the other, almost never are we both. …Except maybe in racing. Racing is one of the rare and special places I have found where we can be all of ourselves. From the Captain of a Viking war ship, to the guy who solves the chatter, to the hero of a last turn pass for position – the racetrack is where it all happens. Sure, I get to ride our RC8R out there on track, but that lasts just fifteen minutes. I don’t get to build the thing. I don’t get to design it’s new pistons. I don’t get to have that feeling from the pit wall, that none of this could happen without me. When our bike’s front tire pulls up for the sky as we power onto the front straight, it’s not me who remembers the slippery sense of a con-rod receiving it’s pin. I can’t feel the gears of a transmission in my hands, and I definitely don’t deserve the credit when one works. When I come in from practice Keith always asks me about the bike – how does it feel, what does it sound like, how does it shift. Yes I’m sure he asks for technical reasons, but I think there’s more to it. I think our RC8R is in fact his war ship, and in this case he definitely, appropriately, even though he seems bashful about it, takes pride in being its Captain.
I need to thank Keith right now, he built the shit out of our RC8R this winter. I need to thank Calmoto’s commander and chief Mike Meissner, he took some chances since last August. We couldn’t get the parts we needed from KTM, no matter how long we waited. So Mike had to out-source some pretty special stuff. Which brings me to Greg Spears, of Spears Racing. For some reason none of us can make sense of, Greg took it upon himself over the last year to design and build 2mm overbore pistons for the RC8R. Since we didn’t have the cams, the pistons, or any of the superbike kit from KTM to work with, we put our trust in Greg’s parts. Keith assembled the results of this union into what is now the most powerful RC8R we have raced.
After Friday’s first practices, which were the first times we ran the new motor, we were in great shape mechanically. Interestingly that shifted the mother-load of weight onto my shoulders. It had been seven months since I rolled our blown motor into the grass at T-hill. I hadn’t ridden a motorcycle since. So now I am old, and I am rusty. Shit
Never mind. Two practices in and already I broke my promise to not talk about setup. I have to say it felt so good to be back. I was not fast, I was not even trying to be fast. But I was riding again, I was free again – to push or to wait, to try or to back off. Finally again it was my choice.
By Saturday the Captain and I had found a moderate pace. Alex of Fastline helped us decide not to use hot gas, as we still don’t have a way of programming maps. We were too lean, he put us on pump gas to be safe. Something strange about the ECU that came on this version of this RC8R – we can’t break into it. I didn’t care about gas, I would have run the bike on milk. I didn’t care about lap times either. In fact any time someone asked if I knew our pace I told them to stuff it. Two things I don’t do anymore – scales or stop-watches. My plan was to work back into racing gradually, maybe we’d go for laptimes come June, but not until. This lax Saturday attitude came back to bite us in the ass for Formula Pacific, but I’ll get to that..
Three things I struggled with out there which I didn’t expect; the bump before Riverside, the bumps after Riverside, and the turns. Other than those three problems the bike was monstrously faster than it has ever been. We went up, we went down, we went sideways quite a bit with setup – until once again we hit on our solutions. We picked up right where we left off as far as working out setup issues. Really good stuff.
I felt the back hit those bumps too sharp. I could feel the rear land again too far out of line, that would get everything twisted and bucking, which sucked going into Riverside. Then once it settled down and my balls dropped back from my throat, I felt the front turn in too much at full lean. The tire changed its shape, the bars turned in – then it would snap back straight and start all over again. We softened the rear, sped up the rebound, Barry went up a spring-rate in the front and we put 1.5lbs in the tire. Bam, Sunday morning we were faster, the bike was calmer, but I still had a hard time zipping my leathers shut. Fucking Girl Scout cookies…
Open Twins: We started on the front row, which wasn’t hard to do – there was only one row. WTF happened to Open Twins? Brendan Walsh nailed the jump – dam I miss dry clutches – but I managed to stay in it longer and we charged for turn one in the lead. From that point on I waited for something that never happened. Tiger Boy and his small country of a motorcycle never came by. Not on the straight, not on the brakes after a straight. I fully expected him to, but it never happened. I guess we sorted our bike better than I realized. I was nervous about the race. Couldn’t sleep the night before, couldn’t eat that morning, felt like throwing up before the race. Alex asked what tire did I want, all I could say was soft. Buttonwillow is easy on tires, I figured I’d take the chance. I needed all the help I could get. I ran like a scared cat, watched Tracy’s sexy pit signals get wider and wider, and then it was over. I saw the checker as we left the last turn, alone, and let the new Spears pistons stretch their legs a bit. That wheelie didn’t land until we passed the flag. What a feeling, what a surprise. I still didn’t want to know lap times but once back in our pit they told me we’d done low 50s all alone. I guess that’s good, it’s like three seconds faster than we went last year.
Formula Pacific: Maybe, if I read anything the AFM sends in emails, I would have known practices would be timed this year to make the grid for FP. Great idea, I was just oblivious to it. In practice we went just mid-54s supposedly, which put us tenth on the grid. I get it. I’m a moron. Bears are slow when they first leave winter’s den… I pictured taking an outside line to make up for it, around some bikes through turn one. No idea why I thought that, I’d rather be on the inside. The flag dropped and instantly an opening appeared – to the outside. WTF, there I went like a mouse after cheese. The group bunched up, just like I pictured it, and around them I headed. Just then though someone made a mistake, a bike came up from it’s lean and body slammed our fairing. Left a good mark. I adjusted, stood our bike up and headed for the dirt outside turn one. They adjusted back, so I followed as well, only now I was dancing between the dirt and the aprin. Total hair-ball shit, as I watched the entire group pass by like I took the wrong exit ramp. Whatever, my goal was top ten and from what I could tell it looked like nine guys were in front of us. I felt comfortable, even slow in the group we ended up tangling with, but I struggled to get past. Maybe we had two more seconds in us with clear track, but I lacked the confidence to push through. Yes I should have taken Alex’s advice and put a new Michelin rear on, after all the softs are only meant to run one race. And yes, I felt it losing grip through hard rights, but that’s not what made us slowest. Our main problem was me. Maybe muscle memory got me back up to speed so soon, but lap times aren’t racing. Racing is crafty shit. It takes gobs of confidence, and a fair bit of skill throwing a 400lb motorcycle under three guys all going fast as they can through any turn out there. I watched, I waited, I followed. Not very noble of me, not very exciting. But it was smart. I wasn’t ready and I knew it. By the last lap I was basically breathing Jason Lorentzen’s Kawi exhaust through my left nostril. I thought maybe if he heard me he might make a mistake, so I parked us on his inside through the Mazda turn in the back. He did make a mistake, I watched his bike fall from him for an instant mid-turn, but he recovered right quick. He closed any chance I had back up. I followed him through the esses but I couldn’t see the dam curbs with is ass and elbows in the way. That totally psyched me out. The last chance we had to pass him for 9th was to run up his inside braking for the last turn. Even though I wasn’t ready I tried, but half heartedly. We got close, but close is not what racing is about. You either choose to do something out there, or you don’t. And on this day I chose not to choose, which ended us up right were we belonged – 10th. I am not proud of the position, but I am proud of the process.
Thank you Captain, thank you Catfish, thank you Alex and thank you Tracy. Next round look for the CalMoto RC8R to continue it’s journey forward, and please do come along.