Las Vegas Race: Saturday Summary

This was a stunning weekend personally for me. The Sidecar Racers West went to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this past weekend for the penultimate round of the 2010 series. Our host club was WERA, who had not hosted out club before. The format left us two practice sessions each day with a race to follow. We set straight to it, with Vanessa and I sliding around the tight race course. The 1.75 mile course actually had us using 1st gear in 3 corners, something motorcycle transmissions are not happy with. The course was primarily right hand turns, but some extremely slow left-handers were causing serious problems for us. We made some improvements in the second practice session but we would still be guessing when the race started.

And what a start. A 14 bike grid was behind us as we sat on the front row next to Becker Moto Works. Normally we get the best start on the grid but this time the short run to turn 1 gave a slight edge to Becker. It was partly my own fault; not only was I trying to be easy on the engine, but I didn’t drift to the outside of the turn to fight for the spot. Instead I was very tight to the inside and had to scrub off more speed  to enter. However this also left me in a good position exiting turn 2, and Becker caught a big slide, slowing him for a moment. We were  right on their tail going into turn 3, which proved to be our nemesis all weekend. This turn is a 1st r left, meaning the chair is in the air. It jogs to the right just before you enter, so there’s no easy way to enter it. We wobbled around the turn and I hammered the gas, breaking the rear tire lose, which points the nose inside and helps set the chair down. It worked okay but I was losing ground to Becker. I was stunned to still be near him down the back stretch and into the next 1st gear hairpin, this time a right turn. We closed in on the brakes, but again lost ground on the exit. Into another tight left and it was obvious we were losing ground. Wheelspin onto the front straight had the gap built up, and I actually reeled things in for a second on the brakes into turn 1. This is amazing, a we were getting a tremendous shake on the bike when braking into this turn, causing us to overshoot several times in practice. We were out of striking distance for sure as we entered turn 3, but again I lost time while the chair floated in the air. I have gone around the pits and grabbed other sidecars by the chair-side and lifted up. Ours is undoubtedly the lightest, and some kind of ballast is in order. It is not just my driving style that has the chair up; the high center of gravity and right-side weight bias is killing our exit to slow speed left turns.

With Becker starting to draw away I took a glance in the mirror, and saw that Team Brahma was behind me. This team is extremely fast, despite only making one or two events each year. For the first time though, I didn’t have a feeling like I didn’t belong here. I had battled a whole lap and was only slightly afar from the leader. I was not about to let anyone by. I kept charging as hard as I could, hoping I could keep Becker in sight. This was an 8 lap race opposed to the normal 6. so perhaps his brakes would fade? It took until lap 3 for Brahma to get by me in one of the left turns. Team Excalibur came by in a mad scramble and shortly after came Subculture Racing. This team of Wade Boyd and Christine Blunk had significance to me. They were on and older machine similar to ours. They had almost the exact same engine as ours. They had consistently been able to beat us. I put my head down for a charge.

They passed us on the front straight and we were right on them into turn 1. They slowed for turn 2 and now I definitely was looking for a place to pass. When we got into turn 3 their chair came up almost as bad as ours and I thought for sure I could set up a pass. Not to be. They found traction and pulled several bike lengths. I was really disappointed to see the gap growing. We could make time up in the faster stuff, but this track really only has 1 fast turn on it! We lost a huge amount of time on the brakes. The headshake was extremely violent. This starts as a wiggle in the handlebars and turns into a violent  shake that tries to pull the grip from your hands. All the while you have to keep trying to reduce speed and not panic. Even though you haven’t really slowed down enough you have to open the throttle and turn in. The bike will slide and protest; for a split second you don’t really have any control. The headshake goes away though and the slide scrubs off the extra speed, so you just try to accelerate like nothing happened. This was tiring me out, but we were also only sitting 7 bike lengths back after 6 laps. If they made a big enough mistake, we’d be there to capitalize. Suddenly coming onto the front straight I became aware of a huge dust cloud in the distance. At first I thought it was a dust devil, but it quickly became obvious someone had left the track at speed.

I looked out into the distance to see who it was. I knew from the early laps that Team Brahma had passed Becker Moto Works before the disappeared, so I knew the leaders were battling in front of me somewhere. I was totally stunned to see the bright red and yellow paint scheme of Becker’s machine WAY OUT in the run off, contrasting sharply with the dull brown desert. What had happened? Although Becker is who everyone has their sights on (myself included), he is a bit of a mentor to me and I’ve always admired his driving style. He is very “on the edge” but the bike always looks very composed. Consistency is something he has in spades. Suddenly I realize I am about to drive right off the outside of turn 2 and I put my mind back on the race. However it’s of no use, and we finish about 150 feet behind Wade and Christine.

Entering the pits I see Becker’s machine with a huge amount of damage on the chair. It turns out his brakes had suddenly boiled over and as he entered turn 1 behind Team Brahma. Becker turned to the inside, hoping to shoot across the track before Brahma entered the corner, but there wasn’t enough room. They made contact hard and both bikes went off the track. This meant Team Excalibur was handed the win, Subculture took 2nd, and Vanessa and I slotted in 3rd. Not the best way to get a trophy, but the points were appreciated. I suddenly sat only 12 points distant from the points leader, defending champion Becker Moto Works. Sunday would be another round of practice and racing, but that’s a story to be told shortly….

-Johnny K-

Thanks to Sinful Flesh, Becker Moto Works, and Victorville Motorcycle Center.

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