Two Wheel Season Opener

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Me. Number reflects my birth year and coincidently, my current age. Clever, eh?

Preface:

I had really intended to walk away from motorcycle road racing. Its been great. Had a few moments of glory, got to spray champagne on a podium or two, had my 15 minutes of fame–boxes checked. But then my motor builder found new power in my little Yamaha R3’s engine. And the shock manufacturer modified what I had on the bike to an additional level of customization just for me. And looking back on last year’s performance, it was not the way I wanted my motorcycle road racing “career” to end. Yes the race car is probably safer, suits my skill set and courage levels a little better, and is more than totally engrossing. But there’s just something about being at a motorcycle road race. Some great people to race with, some pretty darn good tracks to race on, and some pretty good adventures still out there, waiting to be catalogued.

And so with that in mind, a few words about my most recent motorcycle road race. Perhaps the last I’ll do, but perhaps not. Unpredictable variables will dictate my future on two wheels.

——————————————————————————

There are a lot of ways to fall off a motorcycle and a lot of things that can cause one to fall off a motorcycle. Fortunately, the manner in which I fell of my motorcycle during the season opener of the Midwest Cafe Racing Association’s season opener at Putnam Park Raceway was arguably the best way. And the cause of the crash, one of the least embarrassing ones as it was quite simply, a minor misjudgment on my part. Midway through turn 9, a 70+ mph right hander, the front tire simply lost grip and out from under me the bike went. I thought it, the front tire, had more to offer. Once leaned over, in mid-corner, knee-slider grazing the pavement as bike and I arced through the turn, there isn’t far to fall, just a couple of feet, if that, so a low side crash, where the bike simply slips out from under you, is the best way to come off if coming off is inevitable. But damn it, damn it, damn it! I’ve fallen off. It happens. If you are going to push, race, seek podium glory, limits must be teased, sometimes exceeded.

I slid on my right hip for a short time, in a stable position, on pavement, before exiting the track, tangentially to the originally intended path, as one might imagine. Once smooth pavement became bumpy dirt and grass, I began tumbling ass over tea kettle for what seemed like an unreasonably long time. Enough already! Stop! Such is the inertia of a 180 pound mass traveling at 70 mph, I guess. After one last roll, silence, save for the noises of bikes still on track, still racing. I popped up to my feet fairly quickly to assess the damage–to me, not the bike. First things first, after all.

Thankfully, no damage to me. Two thumbs up to course workers heading my way to render aid. None needed. A few bruises to both hips, my right shoulder, and left wrist would appear come Monday, but nothing of consequence. I would argue that my general fitness regimen, to include a little weight training from time to time, has given me a little extra mass and bone density that adds resilience to crash damage. Who knows? Perhaps I was just lucky.

The bike was only almost as lucky. Very little damage to the bodywork. The exhaust pipe (expensive) was ok, and no damage to the frame or other critical, expensive areas. The bike, unlike yours truly, just slid. It did not tumble. The right clip-on was broken in two, however, from the initial fall. The clip on is a stout chunk of aluminum that holds the handlebar to the fork, so it’s breaking rendered the bike unrideable–no jumping back on the horse to heroically rejoin the battle. Shameless plug: Thanks Woodcraft, for the great rear sets, sliders, and clip-ons (yes, one broke, but that’s to be expected under the circumstances) and the sponsorship!

Twice before at that same corner the bike had warned me I was pushing too hard, the front wheel chattering and sliding up to but not beyond its ability to manage the corner. I wasn’t listening. My hair (what little I have) was on fire and I was seduced into a false confidence from the newly paved, marble smooth, track surface. After a decent start I found myself in second place. First place, Adam Rolfes, a hundred feet ahead, the gap stable. I was determined to at least catch Adam, if not pass him, and wasn’t paying attention to what the bike was telling me.

No parts to repair the bike before Sunday’s race but I stuck around to watch events unfold during the Sunday race I should have been in. Great fun to be around some really great guys and gals. Not so much fun to only watch. Many thanks to Jones Honda for offering me the use of a spare bike they had–a well prepared Honda CBR300. Would have been good to get some points, but riding an unfamiliar bike with no nature in me to just circulate to accrue just a few championship points, I thought it best to decline the offer, lest I crash a second bike in one weekend. A class move by Jones Honda of Columbia, MO, to offer me, one of their competitors, a bike upon which to race against them. Thanks for that, guys!

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Setin West and Cameron Jones on Ultralight GT bikes, similar to my R3. Wish I could look so good!

Adam Rolfes won Saturday’s race, and then crashed, much as I did, in Sunday’s race. Cameron Jones (Jones Honda) took the win Sunday. Well deserved, though he commented he didn’t want his win to be the result of Adam’s crash. A stand-up guy, Cameron is. He has truly become a stellar rider, and regardless of Adam’s miscue, was truly deserving of the glory.

Reflecting on the day, and the crash, I’m beginning to recognize the importance of focus. Teaching the new racer clinic as I do can be both fun and rewarding. No complaints on being offered that task. But going straight from the clinic classroom to my race bike, jumping on for a few practice laps, then back to class, then back on the bike for the race, leaves little time for pre-race preparation. I’m not one to seek isolation, need pre-race rituals, or music induced amperage, but after the fall, clearly some pre-race contemplation, and focus, is critical. Improvement only follows change. Perhaps small change, but change nonetheless. A moment before the race, be it on two wheels of four, to visualize what’s to come, to think about events soon to unfold, and to focus, will be a greater priority before the next green flag is waved.

For the next few weeks, the bike must be a lesser priority than the car. Just a month to go before the next car race. Much to be done to be ready. Car prep, trailer prep, mental prep, focus. New track, many changes to the car, added resolve to figure this racing thing out–and focus! I’ll punch out a few words after it’s all said and done.

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