This was a big weekend with a lot to talk about. Round 3 for the Sidecar Racers takes place at the same place it has the last two rounds, but with a different organization. AHRMA is a vintage racing organization, and thus they draw a crowd that has an appreciation for quirky motorbikes… thus they have a love for sidecars (even modern ones).
We came to the track with some modifications to the bike and had a terrible first practice. The wind was forcefully gusting and it was hard to even go in a straight line. I simply had to slow down, which actually makes the bike harder to control. Our second practice session felt better, but we ran off the track at low speed in turn 5, so we still felt a little awkward to say the least. But race time was coming so we decided to concentrate on what was good and forget about our earlier miscues.
We started on the second row somehow despite the inverted start (being 4th in points we should have been gridded further back), and I managed a good launch from a standstill. The fast guys must have got trapped in turn 1 because I exited in 2nd place behind Mike Jones in the #3 machine. As he set up for turn 2 there was a lot of room on the inside so I dove in to take the lead. With the fast guys coming I figured I’d hold them off as long as possible. To my surprise no one managed to pass me as we exited turn 2. I set up in the middle of the track for turn 3 and braked as late as possible, slamming the throttle open and rocketing up the hill. I saw the nose of Lucky 13 Racing’s bike on the inside, but they were holding back, not wanting a collision. I drove as hard as I dared back down the hill to turn 5 and made sure not to over-cook the corner. I got a good drive out and thought to myself, “no one has passed me yet, and if they pass me after turn 6, they did it with horsepower.” Sure enough, as we entered turn 7 (not really a turn, but a bend you take flat-out) the Lucky 12 bike went around the outside of me and off into the distance. “I did it!”, I thought to myself, then suddenly the #75 RGM machine came past as well.
I tried to stay in their draft but I simply wasn’t able to… partly from my smaller engine, partly from the sketchy feeling the front end gives me through fast-approaching turn 9. The remaining “fast guys” of Becker Moto Works and Subculture racing passed and I was quickly alone again. With the heavy winds I saw no reason to test limits and drove the rest of the race fast but safe. We had a few moments where I was on the brakes too hard and went wide, but nothing serious.
Happy with our results but wishing for it to be a bit easier, we settled in at the end of the race happy with a 5th place finish, but wanting a way to get faster. We managed to stay close to the leaders for over 1 full lap, despite our massive horsepower deficit. Was there a way to get even closer? The problem wouldn’t be solved this weekend, that’s for sure. Sunday morning though would be another chance to try.
Sunday practice saw the wind gone and we only did 2 laps of pracitce. Suddenly the bike wasn’t daring around the track, my lines were good, and it didn’t feel like the engine was over-geared. We set up for the race feeling good and preparing for a run to the front of the pack (now from the 3rd row).
My start was ok, launching me on a good line and ready to take the lead going into turn 1. Lucky 13 ducked inside though and immediately got on the gas. Remembering the power difference, I rolled on full throttle and actually matched them on the exit. They pulled slightly away before slowing for turn 2. This is a fast, sweeping, uphill right-hander, and is very hard to do on the F2 bikes both I and Lucky 13 were on. I didn’t hear anyone behind us and decided to launch out of turn 2 and position myself for a look on the inside of turn 3 while on the brakes. I was stunned at my drive and moved out to come along side. No such luck as I began to fall a little behind. I was close enough to strike though and prepared myself for the craziest braking duel of my life… until I saw the red flag.
Red flags mean something happend on the track that is serious enough to stop all racing. Everyone slows down and exits the track. I chanced a glance to the right and saw a bike of sidecars in turn 1… and the ambulance driving to them. I rode around the track at near-race speed and got to the pits. Climbing out of my machine, I began to run to the end of the track, looking to see if anyone was on the ground. Sarah Finley- racer for team Bad Cat who was not running in the event- came to say she saw what happened. A huge pile up occurred while everyone began braking for turn 1. When the fast guys are gridded in the back, they end up carrying much more speed than the people in the front. If the fast bikes aren’t around the slower machines by then, there is a big speed difference as the slower drivers begin to brake for the corner. This appeared to have caught Bill Murray- driver of the #75 Team RGM machine- out and sent him into the back of another bike. Being a flying wedge, the machine chose to go over instead of under, flipping the RGM bike in the process. Passenger Bill Murray was sent art-wheeling through the air and landed very heavily in the dirt. This caused a pinball effect that left a total of 4 machines damaged with another barely missing the fracas.
I looked on tensely, but saw the other races involved talking and moving in a fairly casual manner, and decided that it couldn’t be too bad. We waited for about 20 minutes for the track to be cleared and gridded up for a restart.
Staring at the giant blank spot of in front of me made it a little hard to push out the wondering feeling I had… people I cared about were going to the hospital as I sat on the grid. A deep breath cleared my mind and I concentrated on nothing but the starting flag. My launch was good but sure as hell someone else had a better one. This time it was Roy James in the Team Makena F1 machine I passengered on with Jesse James. As I set up on the outside of turn 1 the fast guys began to fly past, minus the RGM machine of course.
I ended up in 4th place right behind the leaders and actually stayed right with them through the slow half of the track. As we entered the fast turn 8 area I began to fall behind. “Just dont close the throttle,” I said to myself. I didn’t, and it worked. The bike was weaving and shuddering quite a bit, but with no wind I felt secure. We drifted a little to wide as we approached wicked turn 9, but it actually set me up better. I got right up on the lead bikes and saw all three of them use three different lines. I took a fast line and came out within just a few lenghts of them, and watched them walk away down the front straight.
I can tell you I will probably never get turn 1 at Willow Springs any better than I got it this time. I nailed the apex and was at full throttle so early I didn’t know how I would make the entrance to turn 2!!! This gave me several lengths back and I dove into turn 2 with a vengeance. I noticed the leaders were slowing each other down as they fought a 3-way battle for the lead. I swept up to them in turn 2 but was still about 10 length back. I gained in the slow stuff and then lost a few lengths in the downhill section.
Back on to the fast end of the track and the gap got quite large. At this point I couldn’t believe I was even this close, and was determined to stay near them, in case one of them made a mistake. My plan to catch them in turn 1 almost sent me off the track. Carrying too much speed, the chair lifted in this banked, fast left. I dug into the rear brake but the chair floated higher. I released the brakes and the chair came down, but the front was sliding. I edged up to the last 18 inches of pavement, still scrubbing speed. Then I downshifted and pinned the throttle.
Fighting to stay with the leaders was futile, and my arm began to go numb from steering and working the throttle at the same time. I looked behind me and had a huge gap, so I slowed a bit the save myself, mainly taking the right turns slower.
I managed a 4th place finish, which unofficially puts me 3rd overall in points. This is personally thrilling for me since I am using such an outdated engine. Our next meet is with WSMC, again at the big track. The dates are May 16-17. Team RGM will not be attending due to the damage to the machine. I will update Bill Murray’s condition when I hear more. After the race it sounded like a hip injury and a broken ankle, though it was a heavy landing. I have much more to update people about since this weekend was so big, but I’ll leave that all for another time. Tune in to the official blog at http://www.johnnykillmore.com (click on “news”) for updates as they happen.
This weekend offered great sights, great racing, great food, and intense drama on the track. Team Johnny Killmore wishes Team RGM and the other injured passengers the easiest of recoveries and we hope to see you at the track again soon.