AFM round 3, 2014 – DESTINATION – JOURNEY
May 30, 2014
Looking back – tracing the events, the decisions, the moments in life all tied in a line to end us where we are today, is fascinating. Almost never is it one decision that does it, it’s a chain of them. You’re probably not homeless today because you showed up late for work a week ago, once. Right? And you’re not the CEO of your own company today because you won your little league game by crushing a grand slam. …but I’ll bet it played a part. So where does it begin, I wonder. I mean, if you could trace it all back somehow through a great big looking glass of life, what was the first link in the chain that got you headed where you are today?
I felt so good at Sears. Best in many years. It’s amazing how vital your feel of the front-end is, to everything in racing. But in the end I landed on my head, because of the rear, which banged our scooter up good. Parts needed ordering, metal needed bending and fiberglass needed patching. All those processes started the following Monday morning, which is typical when race-energy is high, but then something stalled it. It was just one event, but like Dominos – when one tiny piece falls into one other tiny piece, and then it happens again and again – the culmination of events this past month has effectively spilled our whole race program out on the floor. It’s one thing getting sick; it’s another spending days in the hospital. It’s one thing losing something valuable, it’s another being robbed. And by robbed, I don’t just mean someone stole your iphone. I mean total paramilitary James Bond dropping through ceilings on cables with a five-man crew and trucks type stuff. Tuesday Mike called me, sounding scattered. His outstanding list of things between us and racing was staggering. I did my best to listen to what he was saying, but especially I focused on what he didn’t have the heart to say.
Tuesday I called Vanson with crap news. No need for two-day shipping on our leathers repair, we aren’t making round 3. I called Chris VanAndel straight after. He was building us our new MotionPro throttle by Thursday night. “No need for the rush, brother, we dropped out.” Shocked as everyone was, they all supported our decision. All that is, but Alex. “Dude, Michelin needs us out there. Tigerboy is selling his old 1198RS, let’s buy it and race him with his own bike. We can even leave his stripes on it!” He’s big and he’s ugly but I definitely love that moose. Who thinks like this?
Tuesday I was accepting, even a little proud. It was about respect, my agreeing to withdraw. But when I told Tracy about us dropping out that night she gave a shocking response. “This is bullshit. This is NOT why we race. This is not HOW we race. Since when did we start quitting? Quitters don’t make champions – you’re the one who taught me that!” Wednesday came and I was sad, considering doubt. Thursday came and I was devastated, consumed with doubt. …and then something interesting happened. Chris VanAndel showed up with not only one, but two MotionPro throttle assemblies made special for our RC8R. I thanked him over and over, but he had no idea what for. That one thing Chris did, even though he didn’t have to, ignited something in me. That one decision he made not only solved our broken throttle problem; it also turned devastation into hope. My mind was already at the track, but we need so many parts that you can’t just buy anywhere. No way could we get them in time at this point. And then it occurred to me… Sam Coates still owns his race prepped RC8R, and we talk all the time. I texted him, “Dude, I need your help. I need to buy, borrow, rape or steel some parts off your bike.” Instantly Sam responded, “I got your back bro, but I’m in Dubai right now…” “Shit Sam, if I start driving now can I get to Dubai by morning?”
It’s 15hrs later and we’ve got all but one part. Still it’s most likely we won’t make it by Sunday, but I’d rather fail trying than give up. Just one, final link in the chain to get us there Sunday remains – permission to intervene, to turn everything upside down, to go against final decisions already made, and race our RC8R anyway.
It’s one thing looking back at life, figuring out after the fact how you got here.
It’s another plotting your way forward.
*let’s hope there’s a chapter 2 to this story
Chapter 2: 5/30/14
Somehow you just knew there’d be a chapter 2. …Racing, and racers. Both can be selfish, tenacious, and even sometimes rude. Ready or not, these weekends march their way straight through us. You get no credits, no special treatment, no mulligans. It can be haunting, it can be defining, it almost always makes you one huge pain in the ass to those around you. With the latter of these three points in mind I texted, rather than called, Mike yesterday. “I know we pulled out of this round, but… some key people rallied. We have most of the parts. If I build the bike myself Saturday can we run the bike Sunday, just for points?”
I felt two unsettling things; One, the fact that I texted this. Two, the fact that Mike never responded.
Two hours, and a few more parts later, I emailed Mike. I told him what, I told him why, and then I asked again.
I felt two unsettling things; One, the fact that I emailed this. Two, the fact that Mike never responded.
Fuck… We’re gonna throw the whole year away. Doesn’t sound like it, those aren’t the words being used, but that’s exactly what’s happening. Get any result possible; last, mid-pack, crash, get hurt – sponsors roll with the punches. It’s racing after all. But don’t show up? We’ve been over this, it is the steamroller that is racing – nobody cares why you weren’t there. Just that you weren’t.
I got in my truck, drove straight to CalMoto, walked straight to Mike’s office – east coast style. Nothing felt unsettling anymore, until he looked up at me as I walked through the door. Man did that face say it all. He was my old girlfriend after I told her I wouldn’t be at the family reunion, because I’d be racing. He was my mom, any of the many years she asked if I’d retire soon, twenty years ago. And now he was our team owner, obviously thinking out loud, “What, in the middle of this epic storm of shit, do YOU want now…?!!”
You gotta love racing. Really. What else drives us to so blatantly abuse our favorite people?
Three sentences in, Mike looked back up from his hands full of his face and said, “You are right. We need to do this. We won’t give up.”
Permission, granted. Build, begins.
Chapter 3: 6/2/2014
Keith and I made it rain at the shop all day Saturday. Come 7pm we had an RC8R to race. Wasn’t handsome but it was together. Just before first practice Sunday morning, our first and only practice at T-hill since last August, I pictured the adversity we’d seen our way through to get here. Each link in the chain was do-able but considering the whole chain at once was overwhelming. Life is like this sometimes, I get why Mike pulled us out of this round. But quietly I suspect there is even more to this than the robbery, the hospital stuff or the whirlwind that is managing not only one CalMoto motorcycle dealership, but two. I think it’s that I crashed last round. I think it’s that my crashing gained us zero points in Open Twins. I think it’s that Mike knows zero is an impossible number to recover from in AFM Championship runs. Best we can finish now, even if we win every race for the rest of the year, is second place – the first loser. And maybe second just isn’t sexy enough.
….which brings one life-long question to mind, that I hope this story begs you always to consider; What are you about, the journey or the destination?
Keith used a wrench to get us past our last and ironically greatest challenge of the weekend – zipping me into my old leathers. What used to be one trivial symbol of pride for me, that I could actually see my abs, has now gone pear-shaped. I’ve gained weight, which means the distance around my mid-section is now inches greater than the distance around the mid-section of my leathers. We did finally wedge my body into them but I couldn’t crouch, I couldn’t reach, I couldn’t breathe. Maybe you laugh because you expect I exaggerate. I don’t…
Sunday’s practice is brief; it’s not for learning, it’s not for working out your problems. It’s a warm-up. We knew we’d get five laps tops, for everything. Not enough time for reacquainting myself to our bike after being launched at Sears. That’s not enough time for reacquainting myself to Thunderhill after not running there in almost a year, choosing our gearing for this more powerful motor, or for getting mentally prepped for racing speed VS driving my cargo van to the dump with two tons of concrete bending the axles. I have never felt worse on a motorcycle. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe. I looked right on our third run down the front straight, at Tiger Boy’s mechanic Brian. He was watching me, with his stop-watch in hand. How embarrassing. A Blue Jay could have flown past me on the straight and I wouldn’t have been shocked. I never made it to the end of this short practice. I couldn’t hold my breath that long. We were in bad shape for racing, but decent enough shape to avoid another zero. And that was our goal.
In the small window between practice and the Open Twins race we mounted Michelin’s new slicks front and rear (yes, medium rear this time), I cut the wrap-around kidney sections off my Knox back protector to shorten the distance around the globe that is now my belly, and I completely soaked my leathers wet with a garden hose. After half an hour of gasping & dripping stretches, we were ready to race. I could move again. In my helmet, lined up on the outside of that sharp sounding front row, I kept a clear view of our challenges and our goals. I knew where we were, I knew where we belonged – today those were two very different places. But at the same time, we were here. Up in that tower was a green flag waiting to ignite us all into battle. How could I not try… We took the hole-shot, our KTM commanded turn one and we flew out of there in surprising fashion – most of all to me. With such little practice I didn’t even have shift points set. I knew nothing about the new pavement patches, or if our gearing estimate would even be close. But there we were, leading the race I never expected we could.
photo by: Max Klein, Oxymoron Photography
I rode poorly, clumsy, missing shift-points and turn-in points everywhere, but we managed to go fast enough to hold onto the lead for the first run up the front straight. I saw Keith’s pit signal, it showed two fists about a foot apart. For us that means maintain, the bike behind is not close enough to pass. And then Tigerboy shot past. I thought WTF was that about! Then I realized Keith wasn’t giving me signals to win the race, he was giving me signals to finish the race. Keith Rodrigues; one of the best I’ve raced with…
I stalked Tigerboy’s Panigale Superbike with surprising patience. I didn’t expect that we could match his pace so soon, so I sat us there getting comfortable and developed a rhythm. I learned the bike and track again. He made a mistake entering turn 13 wide, so I shot us up under him. Not because I had to though, I wasn’t racing in a panicked rush. I was relaxed. This time up the front straight Keith’s signal was two fists on top of one another. That meant two things – he wanted me to race, and Tigerboy was about to fly by like a nuclear missile. I embraced both signals, and kept us closer this lap after he passed. He’s a good rider and his Panigale is state-of-the-art fast, but our RC8R has come a long way this year. By lap four we gave “stalking” a new look. There is no point passing him anywhere before a straight, he’ll just motor back by. You have to pass him where it’s technical, where he doesn’t expect it. Someplace where you can build enough gap that horsepower can’t negate it. My plan was turn three, lap 5, but we’d have to stay close until then. We motored out of turn six, matching paces, then as we bent the bikes down into turn seven I heard him miss an upshift. His Ducati motor shakes the ground at normal revvs, but suddenly it cracked these violently loud rushes of rpm as the rev limiter tried desperately to keep his motor together. He picked it up, looking for the right gear as we charged for turn eight. In an instant my turn three next lap plan transformed into a braking pass into turn nine, this lap, because I knew he’d ruined his typical strong drive up the hill out of eight. I moved to his inside on the exit of eight, thankfully, as he struggled to regain speed. Our bike quickly passed his and I set us off on the angriest pace to the flag that I could manage. I never checked Keith’s signals again; I knew he was behind us, I knew I had to ride my ass off
I haven’t lifted a leaning front tire off the ground coming onto the front straight at Thunderhill in years and years. Since our old Ducati days. Doing this takes three things – excellent grip, raw power and a perfect line. When I felt our front tire get light as I watched the checkered flag waiting all the way down that long front straight, I knew that we as a team, on this day, of this round, had done everything we could with all that we had. I tucked behind our screen, pulled my arms and legs in tight, and clicked off gear after gear – waiting, for what felt like eternity. And he never came by. We won the very same Open Twins race that I was, at one time, positive we never could.
I wanted to jump off our bike and put on the maddest display of celebration ever witnessed in the AFM. We had just, in the span of two days, replaced one big fat zero, with one relatively fat hero.
….which brings one life-long question, back to mind, that I hope this story begs you always to consider; What are you about, the journey or the destination?
Thank you Mike, for trusting me. Thank you Sam Coates, for getting my back (all the way from Dubai). Thank you Keith, for being someone that I can trust. Thank you Tracy, for being bold. And thank you Alex, for being such a freaking moose.
Formula Pacific is gridded by timed practices from Saturday. We were at the shop Saturday. They started us 27th on the grid – dead last. Our goal was top ten. We got a decent start but lost our brakes – first going into the Cyclone on the first lap, then everywhere else from then on. It was hard battling like that, brakes are slightly important out there.. The race was red-flagged going into the fifth lap, while we were in 14th going only backwards. Maybe it was a blessing, could have been a curse. A second red flag prompted the AFM to post pone FP until later in the afternoon, which gave us time to put new brake pads in. The third re-start we did even better. I headed us way outside and around quite a few going into turn one. By turn three I saw our way past Tigerboy, around his outside through that new sketchy stretch of pavement. I’ll say it again but I hope no other racers read this – Michelin’s new race tires rule.
FP was shortened due to all the red-flags so we only had six laps to make it into the top ten. By lap five we had made it to 9th, with too much of a gap to 8th to make up in one lap. I settled in a grove to bring it home when suddenly mid-way through turn 2, a long U-shaped sweeping left hander that we take in 3rd gear, our bike lost it’s chain. I guessed it broke when our motor suddenly revved freely toward redline. At full speed/full lean still, I cracked the throttle off so it didn’t over-rev and instantly met the new challenge of managing a bike at full speed with no motor to control it. Then half a heartbeat later the transmission KLUNKED back into gear with no warning or input from me at all. No clutch, no shifter input, no time to react. Instantly the bike lurched sideways and launched me to Jupiter. I remember everything. Every blow, every tumble. High-siding at that speed, from that lean angle, there in that turn felt like being beaten by a bag of wrenches. My head crashed to the ground, my shoulders rolled, my face saw pavement drag and tumble and drag again. I got hit by our bike, it landed on my hand I think. Crushed it actually, and dragged it through the dirt. My right glove was filled with dirt and grass all the way to the fingers. Once everything stopped I curled up in a fetal position, on my knees, and took it all in. I was very far off the track by now, out of danger, and reeling in pain. I knew my hand was the worst, and feared adrenalin was shielding me from the critical bone crushing impact I most surely endured. I didn’t want to take my glove off. My fingers tingled, the tips hurt, my wrist felt tight and surely someone had hit the back of my hand with a 28oz framing hammer, multiple times. Tim Scarrott picked me up and rode me back in. I felt like a wet bag of potatoes. I spent yesterday at the doctors. X-rays say regardless of the scary size of my right paw now, not one bone is broken. How awesome is that. I now owe a call to Alpinestars Gloves. The knuckle armor got crushed so hard that it cut my skin. That’s pressure. They did their job and more. Thank you, thank you – Alpinestars.
Keith did some research Monday. His discovery is discouraging; apparently this haunted transmission falling in and out of gear on it’s own is a known trait. Known of course by others, not us. Apparently there is even a special part that has been designed by KTM, and updated a number of times, which has been designed to avoid this happening. It’s a special order race part. At this point I think an intervention is in order. Perhaps it’s time to request a list of any other “special parts” we may be needing before the season is out…
So the right paw hurts, it’s big as a boxing glove and round 3 ended on a low. But that’s not what I’m taking from this weekend. I choose instead to focus on the positive. No, sorry, not the positive, the unbelievable. Not only did we dodge a zero in Open Twins, but Tigerboy gained one. That puts the season’s tally at two wins for us, one win and a second for them – which basically evens the playing field again. At this point I think Brendan Walsh is in the points lead. Run fast Brendan!
I’m no math genius but I’d say our decision to NOT quit, was the right one…