TV Shoot With Jesse James Complete
Well I’m alive. Our racing organization was contacted about a new TV show featuring Jesse James. He will be attempting different feats in the motorsports world, and one of them is racing a sidecar. Yours truly was picked as passenger.
We showed up at 6am at the Streets of Willow course. It gave me mixed feelings because this would be my last time racing on this track in an organized event; the WSMC “Streets Series” was cancelled and our races will be conducted on the big track in 2009. I’ll miss racing the Streets course.
Jesse arrived at 730am and things stayed at a fairly good pace from then on. The “hurry up and wait” often found in TV production was barely evidenced by one or two hiccups; I was impressed. I was also impressed with Jesse James, who already knew a bit about sidecar racing and was genuinely interested in the construction of the bikes and their history.
With the chit-chat over we took to the track for two practice sessions. I spent most of my time tripping over a camera bag full of batteries and such that was mounted in the chair with me. I also had a helluva time with a helmet mounted camera. Although I was used to the weight, the cable leading to a fanny pack kept coming loose and fluttering like crazy. We managd to sort things out with all that and went right into the first race.
We were gridded on the front (inverted grids are pretty common in the SRA when there are new drivers, my first race as driver being no exception). Unfortunately Jesse stalled on the start. It was obvious he was used to the big-inch twins and V-8s of the bikes and cars he normally races. These Japanese 4-cyl engines need a lot more revs to launch from a stand-still, especially with the extra traction of sidecar tires.
Needing a good TV shoot they wisely red flagged the start and gridded us up again. This time Jesse still bogged the engine but did not stall. We recovered well and were in 4th place. The race was hectic to be sure; every time I looked back there was a different sidecar behind us. We were passed and then re-passed a couple cars, but it was mostly a blur to me. Jesse was carrying the chair over the turns in expert manner, but he failed to leave time for me to transition for the next turn, and I was scrambling. If we had more time I could have made the transition while the chair was floating in the air, but that takes practice and communication. My frantic style was upsetting the car, but it didn’t seem to phase Jesse. We got a solid finish (can’t tell you which position, watch the show) and he was genuinely smiling when he took his helmet off. Yeah, he got what sidecar racing was all about.
Race two saw us with a MUCH IMPROVED start. I thought we might actually lead, and for all I know we did. I was looking back at the sidecars all around us going into turn 1 and 2. Jesse was still cautious on the brakes, so although we made killer drives out of the turns, the other cars would stack up behind us going into the turns. It worked to our advantage though, since everyone got in each other’s way. Wade went by us and took off immediately. We had a fight with Matt and Rhonda as well as just about every other car on the track. I remember diving inside of Bill Becker in turn 1, knowing there wasn’t room for the two of us. Then I remember Matt and Rhonda coming up the outside at turn 3 and missing them by INCHES, then having someone else dive up the inside. It was a bar-room brawl behind us the whole time. I kept thinking I was going to get hit but I never felt anything brush against me as I hung out for left turns.
I did almost come off the car once, though. I had many close calls throughout the day, but this one was genuinely close. We were going through the esses of turn 5 and Jesse was carrying the chair through the left portion. I needed to move over for the right but with the chair that high I was worrying about picking us up onto the sidewalls of the tires and spinning us out of control. In the very last instant I leapt for the right side of the car, but was miles off getting a handhold. I was clinging to the paint with my fingertips and the handgrip with my left hand. The acceleration forces started pulling me off the back. We hit the ripple-bumps on the exit and I slid the the very edge of the chair. Expecting my feet to catch the ground and suck me off at any instant I thought, “this is going to be exactly what they see before cutting to commercials… I’m going to be in the commercials leading up to this show, rolling through the dirt at 90mph.” Just then Jesse missed an upshift and I flew forward. I got in position and made the hand-sign for “just inches away” to the sidecar behind me. They must have seen how close it was.
Suddenly Wade was slow on the back straight and we blew by him. We were well up the running order at this point, but half a lap later Wade passed us back and took off. At this point we were closing on the checkered flag and I was partly glad to have it over with and partly sad we couldn’t do one more race.
With the day wrapping up we handled our final interviews and loaded up the bikes. Jesse was a stand up dude off camera, asking me about Iraq and chatting about Isle of Man. If he ever decides to race a sidecar at the Isle of Man TT races, I hope he gives me a call; I’d ride passenger for him any time.
Check for the show on SpikeTV, called “Jesse James is a Dead Man” airing it’s first episode in February