So much to say and no time to say it. With another race in just a few days, I have to put my head down and get the bike ready without falling behind in normal life. However, I had to let people know the first round of our 2017 season was filled with ups and downs.
With three passengers trading seat time, we didn’t get enough practice in, but Jamie, Sean, and Mike dug deep anyways and helped get us near our normal race pace. Friday everyone got some seat time in the chair but the chain broke in the afternoon, sending me 100 miles to get a replacement sprocket cover and chain. We missed two of the three morning practice sessions repairing the bike, but at least managed to stretch the new chain and verify the problem was solved before the day’s race.
Saturday I got a flying start from 11th on the grid and ended up leading by turn 2. Unfortunately I pushed too hard, too early, and Sean wasn’t able to go the 8 lap distance. We still finished 4th which was a bit of a let down, but a good reminder not to make someone struggle early on in a race. Sean can still brag of the two consecutive 1:37.2 laps we put in (including from a standing start), which is less than 2 seconds from my own record time, set last year with Matt Blank (and my fastest lap of the weekend).
Learning from that mistake, Mike suggested that for Sunday’s 6-lap race, we take a gradual approach. Sprint racing doesn’t allow for gradual anything, but I saw his point. We got a flyer from the 1st row and ended up leading, but I lifted a bit in order to drop to 2nd place. From there we ran quick enough to keep the leader in sight, but with enough of a gap to seem comfortably distant. We had speed to spare in a couple of sections where I could reel in a lot of time.
Managing the gap, we then suffered an overheating rear tire and were struggling, but still kept our time up. That is, until lap 4. We caught a massive slide in Turn 2 and I played the throttle too much to stop the bike from hooking back up too suddenly. We had been drifting through there already, so I must have been desensitized by how big the slides were.
We recovered before going backwards totally though, going off the inside of the turn. In a stroke of luck, this put us so far out of sight that the leaders backed off, with their driver having hit his toe on a curb (don’t laugh, at 100+mph that is more than just stubbing your toe). This meant we reeled him in within a lap, but in the process our skid plate/belly pan flew off the bike. It had hit the ground hard when we re-entered the track from our spin. The wind at top speed got into the gap made from it bending, ripping it loose. We almost hit it the next lap as it lay on the extreme inside of Turn 8, but at least it didn’t get sucked under our rear wheel and caught there.
The real shame was me mistaking Mike’s hand signal for “doing so-so on energy” for him “tapping out.” We had a thumbs up/down signal set up each lap to tell me if the pace was okay or not. The “so-so” signal was hard to recognize at speed and as we hit bumps on the front straight it caused Mike’s hand to bounce off the bodywork, looking like the “I’m done, we have to slow down” signal.
We had reeled in the leaders at this point perfectly. It was going to be a one lap dogfight. Reluctantly, I lifted up my pace and looked for 3rd place to manage the gap behind. They came screaming after us on the last lap, but had their rear suspension break just a few turns from the finish. This was good because there was a big crash in turn 8 from a lapper. I saw the dust cloud, lifted, and went to the inside, fearing oil on the track. I surely would have lost 2nd place from that move, but safety first when it comes to oil.
We took second and on the cool down lap we had to stop and help the wrecked sidecar. The crash truck was not there yet and I saw the passenger holding the bike up, the driver nowhere to be seen. Mike Leapt off before we even stopped and we ran up to see the driver face down, pinned under the bike.
Having see this before, I knew that didn’t mean he was necessarily hurt. The passenger yelled that his driver’s foot was caught. I remembered this exact situation from 3 years ago with another incident. I made sure the driver was conscious and not in major pain, and that his foot didn’t feel broken. Then I went in and unhooked his foot, burning myself only slightly on the hot exhaust (should have left my gloves on, it was right on my wrist where the gauntlet would have protected me).
He climbed out on his own and the crash truck and ambulance arrived. He will be sore and should get some xrays, but crashes in Turn 8 can end careers, and even lives. What a crazy end to three days of breaking, sliding, and surviving Willow Springs Raceway.
Big thanks to AHRMA and the SRA-West, and to the BASE Jumping world for lending me three smart and determined co-pilots. Jamie and I will take on Sonoma Raceway this Thursday/Friday (April 27-28). I need to get the belly pan fixed and reinstalled, plus swap some tires, but it will be a fun few days racing in my new home-turf, after racing down south on my old home turf. I’d also like to thank Moto Guild for getting me access to parts, tools, and the tire machine I need to make things doable. They are a huge resource for the community of motorcyclists and fabricators, and are building a new machine shop to increase the ways they can support riders and racers.
Sign up for my weekly mailing to keep up with the action, straight to your inbox. And on that note, I will leave you with a quick shot of the spin we had in Turn 2. Sadly, the angle doesn’t do it justice, but if you look at the tire smoke in the background it will give you an idea of the speed. Also, watching the background will show you the other side of the track, indicating we went about 90° around. Watch it a few times and enjoy the ride!