The morning was packed with activity and we just made it to first practice. On the out-lap I spun up the rear on the throttle coming out of turn 4. The cold tire instantly broke loose and we were sideways. When a sidecar spins “chair away” it’s bad news. That’s how you flip over. as the chair started to come up and my right toe started dragging on the ground I knew this was going to be bad. We were barely going 30mph at this point and we were a breath away from flipping over onto the asphalt. I gave one last twist of the throttle in the hopes I could break the rear loose enough to go a full 180 degrees. At the same moment Vanessa slid inboard to stop from being sling-shot out of the bike as it went around. That was enough to help break the rear tire loose and put a little “whip” into the spin, sending us around backwards. I got some rear brake on which- now travelling backwards- took enough weight off the front tire that we whipped around again, making it a full 360. In the mirror I saw Vanessa tumbling on the asphalt, so I coasted over to the edge of the track and looked back to see if she was okay. Oddly, she was already standing beside me by then. “Sorry about that, cold tires. You okay?”, I said. She seemed all smiles and said she was okay, and was ready to finish the practice session. What a trooper.
The rest of the session was uneventful. We worked on our line through the last few corners and I concentrated on loosening my arms up while braking, hoping it would reduce the amount of shaking as we slowed. There was little left to do other than add fuel and wait for our race.
This time from the start I used a little more revs and worked the clutch. We were screaming toward turn 1 with Becker Moto Works right beside us. We had the inside line and it was a game of who would brake last. Wisely Becker got things slowed down early and we took the lead into turn 1. I had a little more speed than I knew what to do with and the cold tires let go as I opened the throttle. The slide was a bit spooky but more importantly is scrubbed speed off, bunching everyone up behind us. I got a decent run through the short-chute to turn 3-4, but I remembered spinning on those cold tires and took it easy. Becker whooped right by on the inside and I set off after him. The next turn saw Team RGM come by. The semi-retired former champ (Rick Murray) was running a rookie passenger but didn’t seem to be affected by it. I charged hard and was stunned to see we were keeping up with him. We gained ground on the brakes by starting to brake first, but also getting off the brakes first. I was able to sneak our nose up tantalizingly close in the slow turns, but didn’t have the drive to get around. On lap 2 as I set up a wide entrance to the hairpin at the end of the back straight, Team Excalibur dove inside and blocked my entrance. They managed to get by Team RGM in short order as well, and this gave them a little incentive to sneak away from me. Team Brahma also came by and began to get away. I saw the Wood brothers behind me after that (no relation to me).
They had been fairly close on Saturday’s race but faded near the end, so I wasn’t really concerned. However, today’s race was six laps instead of eight, and they seemed bound and determined to catch up. The would gain ground on the brakes, but not enough to strike. So it went for a few laps until I caught a wicked headshake and almost blew turn 1. I gathered it up but not only were they right behind, but so was Team Subculture. This duo of Wade Boyd and Christine Blunk are veterans, and had managed to yard us in Saturday’ s race, and every other race for that matter. The fight was on.
We stumbled again in turn 4 and I could hear both bikes right behind me. We caught a rear wheel slide exiting and were carrying a lot of speed into turn 5. I braked a little early so as not to invite the persistent headshake and saw Team Subcuture’s nose on the inside. They didn’t have it far enough inside to take the spot, but just as I was about to turn in, the Wood Brothers came right in between the pair of us! The move was banzai and as they dove into the turn they caught a slide and both Subculture and I had to chop the throttle for a second to avoid contact. The Wood’s were already on the gas and simply released the brakes, catching an awesome drive out of the turn and onto the back straight. Subcluture took off after them but Vanessa and I were stuck on the far outside and couldn’t get the front tire to stick. We charged hard after them both and started gaining.
We were behind Subculture, and they were reeling in the Woods, so things were going to get interesting. Now on lap 5 of 6 we got a good drive onto the back straight. I went into the high-speed right- hander without touching the brakes and gained huge ground on Subculture. They were holding a tight line and it left room for us to carry out momentum and drive around the outside of them. The hairpin at the end of this turn was where I expected them to pass us back but I never saw them. the Wood’s were getting around lap traffic and caught a break; we were stuck behind them in a slow turn leading onto the front straight. We picked up the white flag and only had this last lap to catch them. I took a big chunk out of their lead through turn 2 but they squeaked past lap traffic before tight turn 4. There wasn’t a lot of room and I actually almost hit the lapper as we went around the outside. This made Vanessa have to tuck in as she was hanging out for the left. With the chair floating and driving around the outside I got a terrible drive. In half a lap we had gone from striking distance to almost 10 bike lengths distant.
Our drive onto the back straight was again hampered by poor traction and what little ground we gained on the Wood Brothers was not going to be enough. We had to settle for 6th place today. However, this was an awesome race for Team Johnny Killmore. We had manage to come in ahead of Team Subculture, who have a similar set up to us. Their bike is very old, but has modern engine, suspension, and brakes. Our bike is a little newer, but still has older suspension and brakes, making them very comparable. It was also hard not to be happy for the Wood Brothers. They took a sidecar that had sat for eight years and dealt with fuel pumps and blown engines and brakes that caught on fire. They were unable to even finish a race their first 4-5 tries. To see the bike running strong, and to see the genuine smiles on their faces was great. I actually met driver Chris Wood when I bought an Aprilia street bike from him. When I sold the bike a year later, he saw it on ebay and we began chatting again. Next thing you know they are pulling their sidecar out of mothballs and coming to the races. Besides having the same last name, we share an interest in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, supermoto racing, and two-wheeled racing in general. To also share a passion for sidecar racing is stunning to say the least!
Of course, as a racer, we have every intention of beating them this weekend when the SRA-West series returns to Willow Springs Raceway for our season finale. Vanessa already has the passenger points locked up with a solid second place, and mathematically I should have second in the driver standings. The only driver with a mathematical chance of pushing back to third- Rick Murray- won’t be attending the final race, basically handing me second in the standings. Personally I consider it quite a triumph for a team with only 2 years under their belt and a bike with more engine than the frame of brakes can handle, and more traction than the suspension was ever meant to cope with.
Stay tuned for our final race report for 2010 and our thoughts on the 2011 championship. Seeing how the budget plays out will determine if we can put any more modifications into the bike, and we are of course still looking for sponsors to help push us closer to the front. To win with the machine we have would be an amazing feat, but with some geometry changes and simple upgrades to the brakes and suspension, the bike would easily knock over a second off our lap time.
Stay tuned for more,