For a map of Portland Raceway click here. The track runs clockwise and the “Festival Chicane” (turns 1,2, and 3) are not used. This means you need to subtract 3 from each corner number to reference the corner I am describing
Portland International Raceway featured some of the smoothest pavement I’ve ever run on, and stereotypical northwest weather. After a day on the road I settled in at the track and met a fellow named Chris Rizzo. He was an former Ducati racer and was interested in a passenger slot. Without my regular passenger Vanessa McClure, I had just the seat for him. Our first practice on Saturday was cloudy with drops of water scattering on my faceshield. I like to practice at a higher speed than most and quickly got to the front of the field. With all the fast crowd following me, I made my way into turn 4, a 1st gear hairpin with a very wide entrance and a tight exit. A little too much rear brake and I found myself in almost a 90 degree skid. Whoops!
Well it was easy enough to recover from at those slow speeds and I carried on. My newfound passenger Chris was a little slow on the transitions, but I hardly gave him any warm up time. He asked all the right questions and seemed to get a really good idea for how things should work. Our second session can during a drizzle, and the slower speeds enabled Chris to work more on his form and process the information, instead of just trying to hang on. Unfortunately after about 2 laps I ran out of fuel. DOH! We got a push in from the crash truck and topped off the tank, already thinking about our upcoming race.
RACE 1: SATURDAY
We were gridded off of points so I sat in the 2nd row. I can’t remember much about the start except for getting into 3rd place and having the leaders slowly pull away on the straights. After 2 laps I saw Team Bad Cat’s machine way to close for comfort behind me and put my head down, charging hard. After two more laps of the 7 lap race I was waved the black flag. This normally means your machine has a loose part or is leaking fluid, but Portland has a sound issue. With the track being in a city park the neighbors have a bit of clout. My machine was definitely loud, but I was stunned to have not gotten the black flag during practice.
Nevertheless I pulled into the pits to confirm my suspicions. The flag marshal told me I was way too loud. I pleaded to go back out and just short shift the engine for the last lap. The difference between being last and being disqualified was huge. To my surprise he agreed. Out I went as the spots of rain turned into a drizzle. I was practically coasting, looking over my shoulder constantly. No one was behind me. No one in front. No one had passed me during my time in the pits. Where was everyone? I crawled to the checkers and ended up in 4th place; the same position I was in when I entered the pits.
After coming in and talking with fellow racers I found out that Bad Cat had a serious engine failure, which turned out to be a broken cam chain. This bent most the valves, rendering the engine unrepairable while trackside. Bill Becker managed to find an engine- in Portland– for a SCREAMING price. I was a little pissed to hear the engine was going for about half what it normally would. This is the same engine I covet so badly for my own machine, and am left with my anemic 750cc engine.
Nevertheless I conjured up the club racer spirit and helped haul the new engine into the Bad Cat machine. Slipping on a tarp doused with oil and water made if hard. Not having the engine line up quite right made it a mission. By 1am in was installed however, and I was exhausted. It blew the time I had to catch up with my friend Heidi who lives in Portland and had come to the track to see me. But no one asked for a blown motor, and I would have wanted the help if it was me.
RACE 2: SUNDAY
My passenger Chris had really come along during the Saturday race. We did one more practice session and noticed just one problem. Bad Cat’s new engine was obviously more powerful than the one they pulled out last night.
Portland Raceway has a front straight that’s not quite a mile long, but the track is only 1.9 miles in total length. Bad Cat’s new engine, combined with my old one, meant I was in an impossible situation. Nevertheless I got a good start and began ringing the neck of that 750cc engine. It made little difference, and I was in 6th place of the 8 bikes on the grid when we entered turn 1. I set in behind Bad Cat and began to look for an opening. Turn 2 showed an opening and I dove in and took off. I used that bike for everything it was worth and then some.
To avoid the dreaded black flag due to noise I had to exit the final turn with a tight line, short-shifting the engine and avoiding the sound meter. This utterly killed my drive onto the long front straight. Sure enough, Bad Cat’s 2002 Becker F1 machine blew by me with enough speed to suck the paint off my fairings. I made it up on the brakes into turn 1, but didn’t have room to pass until the turn 4 hairpin. I went in there with the bike almost out of control, but made the turn. I drove hard out and managed to hang on to 5th place until the front straight. This time when Bad Cat went by they were carrying more than 15mph. The drove off into the distance with alarming speed. “What the hell am I supposed to do about this?”, I thought to myself.
Screaming into turn 1 I reeled in almost 20 bike lengths. This turn is fast and narrow with a tire wall only a few hundred feet through wet grass separating it from the pavement. The rear was sliding and I closed to within about 5 lengths. I could see Bad Cat’s driver- Mike Jones- struggling to get the power down. The machine squirmed and slid as we went into turn 3. I sat just out of striking distance as we went through the turn 4 hairpin. With rain drops beginning to pelt my faceshield I followed them down the back straight. This isn’t actually straight; it curves to the right with a wall right against the edge of the inside radius. I began to fall behind but knew I could close on the brakes. I left myself about 3 bike lengths as we went through the left-right kink. This let me set up a line that had me inside and at full throttle. I braked hard for the final right onto the back straight. Taking back 5th spot I rolled out at full throttle and hoped I had slowed Mike’s drive enough to stay close. Not a chance.
By the end of the front straight they were a small blotch with two helmets poking out the top. I held my breath a little and blitzed through turn 1 faster than last lap, despite the increasing amount of precipitation. I rocketed through turn 2 and almost lost control of the front wheel, but set myself up right behind them in turn 3. This is a flat left-hander that widens on the exit and promptly dumps you into the turn 4 hairpin.
ABOUT TO CRASH
By carrying a wide line I have more speed on the exit. This also means I’m sitting on the inside of turn 4, requiring me to slow more to make it. As Mike set up on the outside of turn 4 I dove in on the brakes. The rear brakes had already over-heated at this point and I relied heavily on the front brake; so much so that I lifted the rear wheel off the ground. This caused me to accidentally shift into neutral. Now I’m floating up on two wheels, scrambling to find a gear, and attempting to round the hairpin. I actually puled it off in a very sloppy matter. It was more like a motocross “check pass” where I practically park the bike in the middle of Mike’s way, and attempt to accelerate away before he can come around me. As I let off the brake and turned the machine to the right, the side-load caused the rear tire to loft back into the air. The machine is capable, if ridden carelessly, of pivoting over the front- left and flipping. I had never dealt with this condition and simply plopped the machine back down on all 3 wheels.The motor was in the wrong gear and I pinned the throttle in hopes of chasing after Bad Cat as they went around.
At this point my sloppy entry turned into a huge mistake. I thought the machine would be able to find grip as the chair wheel rolled up onto the painted rumble-strip at track’s edge. Unfortunately it was wet and I was wrong. I slid off into the grass and immediately started to go sideways.
I kept on the throttle trying to stop it from digging in and spinning back the other way. We continued to slide until we came back onto the pavement almost 90 degrees from straight. As the machine got traction it literally spit us up into the air, pirouetting about 180 degrees in the other direction and depositing us on the grass on the other side of the track. At this point I had little control and held the throttle open in hopes of not digging in. This time we were sliding right-side-first; with all weight on the right of the machine. If was only a few yards before the rear wheel dug in and we flipped over.
I looked at the machine coming up over me and thought about how much it weighed. I thought about my passenger Chris, who had met me only a day prior and was looking to have some weekend fun on a sidecar. I thought about the amount of time I had put into prepping the bike and making it look presentable. Like a true racer, I thought about my points lead fading away.
WHAM! It was quiet and soft and there was a huge pressure on me as the chest piece landed on my head. I still had the bars in my hands and pushed hard away as it bounced back off me, almost weightless in the air. We had lost most our speed and the bike slid upside-down for only a few yards. Laying next to it I looked over and saw Chris pinned underneath, unmoving. In a panic I jumped up and took a moment to debate moving the bike. I could worsen a spinal injury or save him from burning on a hot brake rotor. Without any immediate hand signal I decided to flip the rig off him. He rolled up onto his feet and turned to face me. I could see through his helmet; his eyes were smiling. “Are you ok?” I ask. His reply was along the lines of, ‘Yeah. Holy shit that was awesome!” I couldn’t believe the guy. Of course, as a racer myself, I immediately looked at the bike to decide about remounting and chasing after Bad Cat. I noticed some leaking fuel and thought about accidentally dumping fluids on a wet racetrack. Then I remembered other organization’s rules about not re-entering a race after a crash. Then I saw the exhaust bent up and over itself.
We watched the rest of the race from the tire wall and what a show it was. Native “Redneck Racing” was in a huge fight with points leader Wade Boyd of Team Subculture. Bill Becker sat in 3rd with passenger Tamara Teller, returning after a long hiatus from racing. They looked impeccably fast and they all made a helluva show, with Bill Becker making a BIG MOVE on the brakes into turn 4. The other two machines scrambled after him but eventually settled into Becker, Redneck, and Subculture in that order on the podium. The points spread still has Subculture in the lead, with Becker Moto Works closing the gap as we head into our next race in July, back at Portland Raceway.
The wreck left me with really bruised forearms and a sore neck. I haven’t yet gotten a damage report from Chris, but I’m sure he must be sore. The bike has quite a bit of body damage, though most of it is minor; there’s just a lot of it. The biggest problem is the bent exhaust. Sidecars have a hand built exhaust due to their unique shape in comparison to the motorcycles that donate their engines. Chris Rizzo volunteered to try and fix it; a terrific gesture considering a I rolled my machine over him only an hour before. He also made a unique baffle to try and help us with the black flag situation that almost ruined our Saturday race.
I will be heading up there the weekend after I race Pike’s Peak to repair my sidecar (left up there with friends) and attempt to defend my narrowing points lead. I’m determined to hold 3rd in points in this- my first full year as driver. Bat Cat has a wicked camera mount that caught a lot of the race and some of my wreck. Look for it posted up here in the coming days and at The Bad Blog.
Check back here for updates as I prepare for Pikes Peak and ‘ forget to DONATE to the cause; I’m still about $300 short on funds.
Lots of action is coming up so check back often!