Chapter – 1 “The Dark Side”
I was born a fortunate kid. I excelled at almost everything. I could jump higher, run faster, and endlessly imagine. There was this one thing though that stopped me dead in my tracks. I couldn’t learn. My mind didn’t work like the other kids around me. If it were today people would understand my dyslexia, but this was half a century ago in a public school with segregated lunch rooms. They shuffled me to special classes, to forgotten groups. My best friends became the other shuffled kids – the legally blind kid and the short angry chick who fought everybody but me, every day. I taught the blind kid to ride a bicycle, which put him in the hospital, and I never told a soul the fighter had no parents. Once back in my neighborhood I’d blend back in with my regular friends but there was always, and will always be I guess, another side of me. A darker side. A place where I struggled, where I failed at everything laid before me. Where I just, couldn’t, get it. When my friends all went away to college they left my neighborhood, and me, empty. This was crap timing, the last breath of my parents marriage came that same fall. In the span of a few months my whole life had changed, and none of it was my doing. I’d been working since I was twelve so I had money, but dreams hadn’t occurred to me yet. Well, any dreams that is other than Suzuki’s new GS550E.
There was a rule in my house, no doubt designed for me, that anyone caught on a motorcycle, ever, would be met by the wrath of my father’s most fearful promise, “I will fry your ass.” But with his clothes my father also packed his rules the day he left. I bought that motorcycle, literally, the next morning. It had to be delivered because, well, I still had yet to sit on a motorcycle. That took me a whole nother day to accomplish. My dad was a powerful guy. Wikipedia says “A vehicle is a mechanical means of conveyance, a carriage or transport.” To me that bike was definitely a transport, but there was nothing mechanical about it. That bike was all emotion. It took me places I never imagined, and I imagined a lot. School was out for me by now, but I never shook my dark side. Instead it just changed shape.
I met a guy named “Horse”. He was big into bikes. One of his hands was larger than two of mine. Horse introduced me to the town’s local legend, Markie. Markie raced both dirt and pavement, but that’s not where his legend status came from. Billy Joel gave him that when he wrote a song about being beat up by some stranger in a bar. There were others (most of whom will remain nameless to protect the guilty). These guys were rough around the edges, a perfect fit for the dark side of me.
Chapter – 2 “Historic Influence”
We ran with AHRMA Thursday and Friday because I still need time on a bike. Those were two fascinating days – I love old bikes. Oddly though, old bikes aren’t what made the days unique. From the center of their riders meeting Thursday afternoon I thought I noticed someone familiar. It wasn’t this guys face, for sure I was too far away. Wasn’t his eyes, he wore sunglasses. Something in how he hung his head, how he motioned with his hands when he spoke. Same bushy mustache, about the same height – that can’t be him twenty six years later can it? Slowly I walked over, through a crowd of old strangers, then I called out a name I haven’t spoken in decades. “Crawler.” The instant that name dropped everything stopped. He turned his head with just his eyes, looking up motionless like a field mouse standing frozen underneath a circling hawk. I smiled with joy as he smiled back in relief. “You bastid” he quietly responded. Then wearing a coy smile he whispered, “nobody calls me that name around here…” I laughed out loud and hugged a man who helped get me started in racing so many years ago. We all have our dark sides. When I asked what he was doing here he said “I see you’re still as dumb as ever. I’m racing of course..” I answered ” Pardon me, idiot, I mean HERE” while motioning toward his KTM patches and leathers. “I work for KTM”. Just then I squinted my eyes while scratching my head like I’d suddenly been swarmed by Locusts. ….”you mean all these years I’ve been emailing KTM’s bottomless inbox begging for help when all this time I could have just called you?” He answered, “Yup, you’re just as dumb as ever.”
When I left NY I left far more than I realized at the time. It’s one thing changing places, that can be big, but changing people is biblical. Crawler introduced Keith and I to Mitch Hansen, to Chris Fillmore, and to HMC’s head mechanic “Uli”. In just five minutes time history had come out of mothballs to get my back, again. Keith and I learned some new things, and confirmed a few we’d already been considering. Such valuable days.
Chapter – 3 “Night to Day”
I can find my way, it just takes different paths for me than it does you. Mostly I use feel. In our first laps Thursday I felt good and bad. Good that we were at the track, but bad on it. The changes we made while wrestling Buttonwillow to the ground felt all wrong for Sears. Mostly our front springs were too soft – it would bottom on the brakes sending the rear tire wagging skyward, and mid-turn at full lean the rear tire would suddenly snap out of line. We figured it’s too much weight on the front. Barry Wressle wasn’t due track-side until Friday evening, so we band-aid-fixed it by winding our soft front springs tighter. This helped a bit on the brakes but now the front chattered in fast turns, and the rear still came around a little mid-turn. That’s where Crawler came through big time. Keith and I had been mulling over an idea to change our wheelbase pretty drastic – like three quarters of an inch forward – to get more weight on the rear. But we felt as much doubt about our new idea as we did confidence, so Crawler brought us into the garage to take some notes on Fillmore’s RC8R. Turns out his rear axle was exactly where we’d been wanting to put ours. That felt so great, to be reassured finally about our bike’s setup. Until now we’ve had no one to talk to or with. Don’t get me wrong, I have asked. I just never got an answer before. From this point forward our bike completely changed. Gone is it’s long lazy feel, it’s tendency to fight my input, it’s lack of confidence entering turns and it’s tendency to kick out the rear mid-turn. Now our bike feels nimble, quick, like it wants more not less. Really it’s night and day different. So exciting to ride fast.Chapter – 4 “Formula Pacific”
I never go out with the pack in practices. Rather be alone, but not for reasons you’d expect. For me it’s confidence, or lack thereof. I see guys like Siglin, Corey, even Earnest who I know isn’t up to speed yet, as being on another level. It’s that dark side of me coming out again, I know it. That part where I’ll fail again, where I’ll never get it. Some say you are forever who you were at twelve. Sometimes that’s true for me, so my twelve year old waits way in the back by myself. It’s really hard to shake. But suddenly our bike’s new setup pushed me right up in the line of riders waiting at the gate to practice. From the moment we all took off I worked my way through, rider after rider, pass after pass. This was good, I really needed to finally not struggle, on our bike, at Sears. But this was also bad because once again I’d fallen ignorant to the AFM’s new timed practice/qualifying for FP deal. Our best time in traffic put us 18th on the FP grid. In a way that was exciting to me, I like starts. But I was disappointed in myself.From the 5th row I watched the one board slowly turn. It’s easier to see from the fifth row, you don’t have to look up AND straight ahead at the same time. But shit there were so many bikes in front of us. We made a drastic change to our gearing as well this weekend, first gear is now shorter so I really pushed my chest up over the bars for the launch. It worked, our bike didn’t wheelie, we cleared quite a few off the line. I snuck up the inside of someone in two, then fought Jeff Tigert all the way to turn 3a. I like Jeff, a lot, but I wasn’t backing down and he knew it – he backed off as we ripped through one of the most awesome sections of track around. That dip down to turn 3a followed instantly by the turning rise of the wheelie crest is an amazing sequence to never take for granted. Somehow in all this time, with all the practice, the adjustments and the passes, we ended right up where we left off at Buttonwillow – on Jason Lorentzen’s back tire. But this time I felt more comfortable. There were differences in how we got around the track; Jason was better on his initial drives, we were better in and entering turns. For the first few laps I simply felt my way around his bike. Whatever we lost on him I could quickly get back, but once again I couldn’t make the pass. Or, I didn’t make the pass. I could say I didn’t try because each time we’d come from too far behind after losing the drive to him, but really that’s not why. I didn’t try for the pass because I lacked the confidence. It’s a process for me, and a slow one at that. I had a few looks up his inside on the brakes but I never had the balls to let go of the lever long enough to own the entrance. To bully my way next to him and take the turn for ours. Instead I rehearsed a few times. I learned I could come from as many as five lengths back just on the brakes. This was good but it wasn’t enough. Then I got myself in trouble. I came in for turn eleven like an angry bulldog, which put us on a perfect course to take out his rear caliper. Instead I stood up and went straight past our turn-in point. That hurt us a lot. I had tons to make back up. This changed my goal from passing Jason to at least making it back up to him by race end. I focused on entrance, I focused on drive, I focused on standing the bike up out of turns but this is where I failed. I drove and drove as hard as I could, leaned over everywhere which completely melted my next failure – my decision to run a soft rear. Looking back now it is so clear to see, 3pm on a hot day at Sears is not a good time to run a soft. Greed got the best of me I guess. The Michelin softs are such a fun tires to go fast on – just not for ten laps in the heat. As we lost grip we also lost two positions. I went wide a few times, almost off the track once, but we hung in there regardless. We finished only one length from the very positions we’d chased all race long, and left the track with the confidence it will take to get the job done next round.Chapter – 5 “Open Twins”
Some moments from life you remember forever, without ever realizing you will. Others you just know. When I checked the grid for Open Twins Sunday morning, and saw Chris Fillmore’s name entered in our AFM race, I knew. It’s not like I felt we could beat him. I’m not an idiot. But the energy would be there. The opportunity. And I had every intention to run with it. Racing alone makes you stale, getting beat makes you faster – but you have to get close enough. If nothing else I wanted the hole-shot. Just lead to turn two, then maybe I’d follow until he disappeared into the sunset. That was my hope. We did take the hole-shot, then instantly my dream advanced. I didn’t want him to pass. As we headed for the bridge I felt the rev-limiter kick in. Shit I need more gear, so I upshifted where I never do off the start. This put us into turn 2, one gear too high. With no chance to downshift, being leaned over so far, I just ran with it – powered our way like a farm tractor to turn 3a in 4th gear at just 6,000rpm. Shit. Up the hill and over turn 3 we still held the lead, and finally I had my shot to get back in the proper gear. Two awkward downshifts for turn 4 and we were almost back up to speed. Just then Fillmore came up our inside on the brakes. I’m sorry but I still really wanted to lead. We went around that apex side by side, I powered hard around him and we re-took the lead heading for turn 5.