October 13, 2014
I went into this year with a goal, to beat myself. In the past I have done good things but I don’t feel I have achieved my actual best, at anything. I have raced my hardest, but always through compromise. I have tried my best, but always just with what’s before me. Where I fail is aligning things before me. When I close my eyes, when I search those places I tend to hide from, I am disappointed in myself. Two times this weekend, two separate people told me the same thing – “you do your best when the odds are against you, when you’ve got problems.” On the outside I liked hearing this, it sounds like a compliment. But on the inside, in my dark place, the arrows of blame twist and spiral round until ultimately they end up staring no place other than straight back at me. I know my shortcomings define our problems. I know that the odds are against us because I make them that way. I know that when things are still broken it’s because I didn’t fix them soon enough – because I wasn’t dedicated enough, smart enough or early enough. I didn’t work hard enough. So really my goal this year, in beating myself, ironically has very little to do with those I line up to race against. My goal is effectively to reshape me; to mend my weakest traits, to learn things I don’t yet know and to fix those that I know I still have wrong.
Alex lasted about half of round 4 as our race mechanic. We are far too disorganized for him; between our bent triple clamp surprise Saturday and our clutch wearing out Sunday, I could sense a wrench ending up in the back of my head if I didn’t make a change for round 5. Its’ a scary proposition, change, most avoid it or fight it. I am a master at seeing change positively. This comes with practice of course, my world changes like a gypsy’s. Change doesn’t always work out positive but for round 5 it took on the intriguing new shape of a man named Jeremy Cleland. I’ve known Jeremy for years. We’ve worked together on some fascinating projects but we’ve never raced together. To say I was in for a surprise is a glorious understatement. Actually I was in for a constant stream of surprises. Jeremy called me last week to be sure I brought my clip-board, so we can take notes all weekend long about temperatures, pressures, settings and the like. While I do understand notes are important, people have tried to get me to take them forever (since I was 12 actually, starting with a cash log my Dad gave me). In reality I don’t even own a clipboard. Dark place. Disappointment. But the plus side here is Jeremy does have a clipboard, Jeremy does take notes, and Jeremy is organized.
Once back from our first practice Jeremy took some time to talk with me. Apparently he saw something in my words about rear traction, in our tire about wear, and in our pressures about too much heat. Remember I take to change like a gypsy does to moving before dawn. You give me one reason to change and I’ll consider it. You give me three and I’ll change it. But Jeremy didn’t want to change our RC8R. Jeremy wanted to change me. Instantly I was intrigued.
I spent the remainder of the day’s practices working on my feet of all things; their position on the pegs, where I force my weight, and when. This improved our rear traction so drastically that my shift points now were coming sooner, which ultimately resulted in my brake markers now being too deep. I’m no linguistics major but I’m pretty sure that’s Motorcycle language for “You are now going faster”. This was super exciting for all of us but it was hard for me to get it all in sync. Going fast relates a lot to rhythm, and timing. Suddenly I had two and three different tunes playing in my head at once out there. These changes will take me days to nail down but I welcome the differences they are making already.
I buried my head in my hands a few times before Open Twins. All these years and I still get nervous like an eleven-year-old schoolgirl. It’s about pressure I think. It’s about Calmoto Livermore. It’s about Mike’s wife Anya – the accountant, it’s about Alex, Michelin, it’s about us not having any spares and the fact that we can’t afford mistakes. But most of all it’s about my faith in my own abilities, and how they measure up to those around me. I just don’t know. After all these years, I still don’t know. And this is where Tracy comes in. Jeremy had the bike covered, the riding, the physics of it all. Tracy had my heart and my head. If only I were as confident in me as she is.
I took it easy on our clutch at the launch. Usually I drag it longer as I push my chest over the bars, but longer means hotter, and hotter on this day could have been the end of us. I let it fully engage sooner this launch, so up came our front but not until second gear so I could still stay in it. Tiger showed his front wheel on the outside going into turn one so I let our bike go like I’d just set free a wild stallion. It shook and bucked and kicked a bit but I knew as long as I didn’t fight it back it would find it’s way through, which it did. I focused on my feet of all things. I pushed but not wildly. With Saturday practice under our belt I felt we deserved to be there in the lead, so I rode. Typically Tiger drives past us with ease on the front straight. When he didn’t this time I knew this weekend we’d made a difference. But at the end of the second lap I met a roadblock of a lapped rider right in the ever-critical 180-degree turn 14-15 combination. The line I chose around him put us waaaaaaay out on the outside of that right hander which is lined first with paint, next with alligator teeth. Funny thing those alligator teeth, I never gave the name much thought. Never that is until they bit me in the ass right then and there. I was irresponsible, I was anxious – I spun the throttle up anyway to drive back onto my chosen line and the rear stepped out something violent. I gathered it back though, thankfully, and spun that Motion Pro throttle to its stop the instant I landed back on the seat. Tiger boy got some enjoyment out of that I’m sure, as well as a killer drive behind us. He shot by on this run up the front straight with ease. Suddenly I was completely relaxed. I knew we had his best and then some. As soon as you figure my mind out please clue me in – nervous while leading, relaxed while losing…
Tiger and I battle hard and battle often. Open Twins must be a great race to watch; I think we swapped the lead six times in round 4. Always he passes us going straight; always we pass him turning. This race felt different though. Jeremy’s changes brought with them a new opportunity for us to run taller gearing. This gave us more mph on the straight, which inspired my thoughts to make our first statement pass – on the front straight, which is something our bike has never been able to do to his. We got the better drive out of 15 (one of these days people are going to catch on to these Michelins we run), I tucked tight as I could from the open air and hid in his draft as we both charged forward. I pulled us out of his draft at the flag station and held the throttle open until our front tire was in front of his. Great pass, now I just needed to make the turn. Once through I rode hard and consistent all the way to the checkered flag. This win puts us in the Open Twins championship lead, which I hope everyone is proud of. Keith, Mike, Tracy, Jeremy, Alex, Gerry, Michelin, Paolo and everyone at Calmoto. Great job guys, never surrender.
Again with the mind that makes no sense, I wasn’t worried about Forumla Pacific. Even though to some degree the AFM – FP race represents what in baseball they call “The Show”, to us it’s a throw away class. If Chris Siglin and I rolled onto the front straight side by side in the same gear at the same speed, he’d get to the end ten bike lengths in front of us. So what’s the point? Why even run FP? Because you don’t get faster by winning.
We started 9th on the grid, one spot in front of Michael Earnest. I haven’t been in front of Michael Earnest since AMA Superbike at Sears 05. Apparently he was ill during Saturday’s timed qualifying practices. Learning that later was a buzz killer, thanks Michael. We got off the line real good, things tightened up in turn one but the FP crew rides pretty righteous, it all worked out by turn two. In less than one lap I found our old friend – Jason Lauritzen’s rear tire again. I was happy to finally be here again but the smile turned to fear pretty quick. I haven’t spent a lot of time racing Jason but I’ve seen him out there enough – he’s a talented rider and he’s super determined. Today was a special day for him though; he must have been riding through some problems with his bike, his electrics or his tires. Something was off I felt bad for him. He had great acceleration and he was strong on the brakes in all the wrong turns for us. He would gap us with his power, I would get us back to him on the brakes. That was fine it’s a typical scenario for us, but there was far more going on here than a horsepower difference. Jason almost hi-sided himself going down the hill out of turn 9. Not only have I never seen that, but I’ve never felt that. In fact it’s even hard for me to imagine how it could happen – that’s why I say electrics, maybe his bike was cutting out. Our KTM is far from the fastest of bikes in FP, but it turns like it’s possessed and it loves the high speed leaned on it’s side stuff. Turn 8 is one of the places where we make up time on faster bikes, which as it turns out almost wrecked us on more than one occasion following Jason in FP.
I approach turn 8, an ultra fast left handed dog-leg sweeping turn that leads up a hill, by very briefly backing off throttle, touching the front brake with one finger to settle the front while still straight up and down, then I turn in aimed for the apex and start my roll straight back on the gas – hard to the stop just past the apex. It sounds simple enough, and it feels amazing, but on this day following Jason it presented a problem. Far as I could tell he was still trail braking near the apex and not rolling back into the throttle until much past it. That destroyed me. It was all I could do not to run straight into him. A few times I tried timing our differences, I tried turning in later so we could power up the hill inside him. But shit, his bike is so quick I could never get us by. I followed and followed, always off his line to either his outside or inside because I knew he was having problems. For sure one of these problems would present an opportunity to pass, as long as I wasn’t directly behind him. About midway through the race I tried to out-brake him going into turn nine. I could feel the heat from riders behind me, we were all being held up. That’s a place where you need to commit – either you’re going for it or you’re not, and so far in three races chasing Jason I have never gone for it. I drove up his inside and held our throttle to the stop until we were next to him. It was the perfect block pass, only I couldn’t stop in the short distance I needed to in order to block him. Jason is good on the brakes into turn 9. I shot straight past the apex and all the way off line – just a foot or so from the outside of the track. I didn’t fight it though. I did yell like a schoolgirl, but I let the front push until it got itself aimed back up and over the crest. We lost a second, maybe two. With one clear run through turn one on the next lap we were right back to him, but I couldn’t get us by. I felt bad, I know Tracy and Jeremy were waiting for a move somewhere, but I need more time. I need to run at this pace for more laps than we do. I need to practice as mid-50s or lower if we want 49s in races.
On the last lap our fortune finally turned. Thankfully I had stuck to my plan of never following straight behind Jason because his bike suddenly stalled in a crazy technical spot of turn 11. We shot by and took the checker in 7th.
All in all round 5 was a fantastic weekend for us; a huge success, a lot of learning and a ton more potential discovered on our horizon. I believe things are turning for us. What has at times this year felt like we were slowing falling, is now beginning to feel like we are growing.
Special thanks to my wife Tracy for not only coming to the races again, but for sliding herself rather nicely into a role never before realized. Growth is a beautiful thing, and so is she. Special thanks as well to Jeremy Cleland. I am much impressed. You have not only redefined a race weekend for me, but you have inspired change where I’ve not ever considered it. Thank you. And Mike, thank you for staying strong this year and not giving up. Calmoto deserves race weekends like this, and better.
Thanks for reading everyone, stay safe,