This month's preparations started early, weeks before the event itself. We're on an enduring quest to figure out why one mostly stock bike makes significantly more power than another mostly stock bike. I got the bikes ready to go and basically done on Wednesday. On Thursday, I was about to load up the bikes and wiped them down and noticed that the fender on Zina's bike was rubbing on the fork leg, so I decided to take it off and shave back the material. Well, one of the screws didn't want to comply. It just didn't budge.
Oh to deal with noncompliant screws. That must be the mechanic's absolute favorite nightmare. OK, we get the 3mm socket and the hand held, hammer type impact and a good dead blow hammer. Well that was fun; it broke off the bit. Mercy shined upon me as the bit was easy enough to remove from the head of the screw. OK, so I got a good sized drill bit and drilled off the head of the screw so I could remove the fender. At this point, Zina took pity upon me and subjected herself to the fiberglass inhaling task of trimming the trailing edge of the fender's front supports. I then unsuccessfully tried out a Snap-On screw extractor. The kind that has the posts with 4 ridges on them… you drill a hole, hammer it in, slide the driving lug over the post and turn the lug and screw. NOT. It stripped out the driving lug. Now about 90 minutes have passed. I go out for a drive to get gas cans and run a few errands so I can calm down some. Got back, put the fork in the mill and drove a ¼" carbide end mill down through where the screw once lived. This allows for the insertion of a M6 helicoil. I would have used an M5 helicoil, but I didn't have any. =)
Got the bikes and gear loaded and we're good to go. Hitched up the trailer and van on Friday and we hit the road at 8. We got up to Rosamond at the reasonable hour of 11pm. A couple miles from the track, we drive over something which produces a tremendous sound. I didn't see anything amiss in the rear view mirrors and the van's handling didn't suffer. Then. A few minutes later, I slowed down and braked for the track entrance and the van started wallowing. I came almost to a stop to make the turn and could feel and hear that the left rear tire of the van was flat. I pulled the right wheels off the pavement and turned on the flashers. Yup, it's flat. So I opened up the trailer and grabbed the air compressor… pumping the air compressor's reservoir into the tire raised it a couple of inches. Then the tire simply deflated. Not good. OK, busted out the generator… ran the compressor and tried to inflate with it running, so as to limp in to the track. No go at all. Alright, so out comes the halogen light and Zina fetches the air impact and digs out the jack and readies the spare as I loosen the lug nuts and raise the axle. Kudos to Ford for making the spare tire an exact replica of the 4 main tires. That let me not have to find a new tire during Saturday practice! And thanks to the powers that be that the trailer wasn't hit, as we don't (yet) have a spare for it!
We pulled into the track at midnight and found that our friends from Montana were there and saved us some room. Thanks Eric and Crystal!! We unhitched and parked the van and laid down for the night. It was a pretty good night's sleep though someone with a loud twin woke us up with some obnoxious revving right outside the van. I cornered the usual suspects but never did find the guilty party. We eventually got up and got going with our day. Nothing remarkable other than that the day was very nice. Not cold, not hot, not windy, just nice. We got tech'd, got the warmers on, but missed the second practice session because I was too busy jibber-jabbering with people and just didn't get ready in time.
Susanna showed up with a rental GMC pickup and pitted with us again. She's always fun to have as a neighbor with that LA/New York Schick attitude. When ever I need to release some steam, I ask her to go off with some expletives and that always makes me laugh.
The new Pirelli Supercorsa rear tire felt really strange. It's a super soft compound 160. And it just didn't bed in nicely at all. In fact, it felt like a D207GP that's got about 10 laps too many. There was OK feedback, so after several laps, I start stepping up the pace and going into 2, the bike literally fell onto my knee. I wasn't sure if it was a more rapid than usual turn in or what. The bike had a weave going through 3, but my suspicions were confirmed going into 5 when the bike again fell onto my knee, only the left one this time. It was pretty bad… I'm sure all that held it up was my fat ass and large strong-ish legs. I pulled in a little before the checkered flag and the tire was about 145 degrees. The Pirelli dudes said to make the tire 175, so I dropped the pressure a pound. On the next outing, the feel was better, but it pretty much fragged the tire. It looked miserable and was 158 degrees. I talked to a few other racers and someone said that it took like a whole practice session to get the tires bedded in. So I added the 1 psi of air and tried it again in the third session. That seemed to work out well. I was really starting to worry if the near rear tire was going to work for this race weekend!
One interesting thing to note is that so many 651-open bikes were in practice that WSMC ("the Club") decided to split open practice into odd and even numbered sessions. Good move on their part to help keep things sane out there!
Meanwhile, our Montana pit neighbor Eric was having some problems, too. He put together this insane XR650 powered GSXR750 hybrid. Light and loud… but without R&D or a tach, I think he make an almost successful attempt to blow it up. But he and his dad worked on it some and determined that it would be OK as long as they kept an eye on the crank breather tube so they kept at it. They figured one of the oil control rings was stuck and allowing oil to get into the combustion chamber. Later in the day, his dad was helping push start Eric and his bike and the bike did something funny and he took a tumble. He had a gash on his hand so they went to the hospital. We found out the next day via a note that he broke his hand and elbow so they left early!! Get well soon, Eric's dad!!!
Saturday was a kind of busy day of riding and getting in track time. I never felt super comfortable on the bike, but as the day wore on, my ability to step up the pace here and there improved as did my times. As the day wound down, we got in our last session, packed up and walked the track with the doggies. The breeze had rolled in so we wore pants and a layer or two.
Dinner saw us at the Golden Cantina in the bar area with the Cleff crew. Jump, Cleff, Hector, and Stuman were as bad as ever. Poor Ryan had to get up and use the restroom. Well, Kevin was all thinking about messing with his salad and ended up accidentally getting a lettuce leaf in Ryan's soda, making quote the outburst of laughter at our table. All of this wasn't nearly as entertaining as the late night last shenanigans with Cleff, Z, Steve M, and Gayathri. Trubble!!!
Our night at the Desert Inn was nice enough, even though they didn't save us the room we requested…
The riders meeting came and went. The usual stern lecturing went on about how many people seem to forget how to enter and exit the racetrack as well as how not to pass during a waving yellow. I can understand how they feel, as most folks I know all seem to know and remember the rules. I really appreciate that the Club staff cares so much about these fundamental issues. It's our butts they're trying to protect!
Later on, we started getting ready… gas in the bikes, oil in the bikes, clean windscreens, etc. Our first race was #5, but there was a pretty good delay on one of the previous races. While waiting around, we had new fans come and introduce themselves! Ngoli and his lady Cindi. Ngoli had e-mailed me a few times threatening to show up and meet us and he finally did. Our usual cheering section, Jamie and Mark, didn't show up, so it was good to have more fans on hand!
Our race neared, so I got my usual can of Whoop Ass and the race face was on... and we start the bikes to get some heat in them. I kept thinking about not being a puss into turn 1 and keeping the gas on into 2. Never mind that I don't have the highest amount of confidence in the tires given how the rear feels weird and the front tries to push. I'm suited up as race 4 starts and I disconnect the string thingies on the Graves warmers. 3rd lap, crossed flags, and we get 1st call. Helmet and gloves on. Standing by for 2nd call. It comes with the white flag on the 5th lap and I turn off the warmers' power strips as Z goes to kill the generator. I pull the front warmers and stands then get the rear stands. Z's on her bike and I pull its rear stand. I get my own and we're rolling to the grid. I do a quasi-practice start out of the hot pit onto the warm up lap. Everything feels good… but I think I'm a little more pumped up than usual.
I'm ranked 3rd in the class points, so I'm gridded the same. Sitting there with Zina next to me, I'm more nervous than usual. Craig Hubert does his starter's dance and something goes wrong on my part. My bike bogged and everyone goes by me! F-------ck! I clutch up and go again and everyone's basically gone. I catch up to Zina in 2 and just pin the throttle as I near the turn's exit. The bike runs wide across the track behind Z, gaining on her. I keep on it, hoping to out brake her going into 3. She lets off and I pull alongside and concentrate on getting through there cleanly. Over the top of 4 and the gas is on … I see the 3 bikes of Quentin, Ryan, and Tim K going into 5. Man, that's a ways off! I work on concentrating on the turn ahead of the one I'm in so as to keep a groove on while I steadily gain on that pack of three. They're all up on each other and I remark to myself at the axe murdering posture I see. Well, on the third lap, I see someone leave the track exiting one. Hmmmm… well, I'm watching this instead of really keeping focused and I see it's my bud Ryan. I watch him get along in the dirt at track's edge and realize that he's about to shoot out on the track in front of me, so I totally let up… and instead of blazing back onto the track, he bins it under the 2 barrel. It didn't look too bad, so I try to avoid the rocks and get through 2. The next lap around, I see Ryan is OK, so I feel a lot better. I know I'm 4th and I know that the leaders are out of touch now, so I sort of cruise on in. I looked around at some point and didn't see anyone (Zina) so knew I was reasonably safe in my situation.
Back in the pits, check the tires, and put the warmers on them to slow their cool down and delay the impact of the heat cycles and I start thinking about things. What we do is really dangerous stuff… and I've watched Ryan "grow" as a racer. He's got a lot of passion… and youth. So I think about how badly I've wanted to be up with Tim K and them. And I'm really close. Well, I decided that I'll stick to my slow and careful incremental improvements rather than simply go huge and risk crashing. I've got all the rest of this year and many more to come to improve my riding. And it will happen. =) I went and talked to Ryan to make sure he was OK (he was) and him and his bud (Marko) came over to our pit so we could put a new swingarm spool/slider on his bike. Other than some ugly new affects to Ryan's new paint and the spool, his bike was good to go.
Race 10, 550 Superbike, wasn't too far off and we got ready with the same preparations as the last race, can o Whoop Ass and all. The calls for the race came and we did the same routine to get out. This time, I'm gridded 4th. I'm not 4th in the class, but of the folks who entered the race, I'm 4th ranked. It shows how being consistent gets you points. I got a much better start and there was some serious axe murdering in this race. People trying to cut in here, there, everywhere. I got shown a couple wheels, but didn't see whole bikes, so I kept the gas on and did my lines. Eventually those who could, passed me, and I passed those who I could. By the 3rd lap, I think the race was basically settled. I got stuck behind this SV650 in all the turns (literally) and he'd blast away on the straights. I was able to easily pass him in 8, but he'd use all the 650's power to get me by the start finish line. By the way, why are 650cc bikes allowed in 550 Superbike?? =) Then it seemed there was a fuggin train of people queued up behind this SV and me. A couple people would wedge up underneath me to have their go at the SV dude. One guy just started shaking his head. He was able to eventually get by. Curtis Adams got under me but his single ran out of breath in turn 7… the SV would walk and I'd ease by going into 8. Curtis was very consistent about not weaving around, so I'd pull up close to him on his right to block the wind and try to give him some draft going into 8. I don't know if we went back and forth 2 or 3 times, but that was pretty fun. SV dude had enough straight line speed on me that I wasn't able to mount anything for the last lap. I think I'll need to generate some more aggression on this guy next month… pass him some place where I can get my head down and get some space in.
After the race was R&D time. I dyno'd Zina's bike to get a baseline and then returned to the pits. Zina was an awesome pit crew and helped swap the pipes between the bikes, helping accomplish the task in amazing time. I needed to prove that the horsepower disparity between the bikes wasn't directly because of the pipes. When we went over to the dyno, there was a huge crash in turn 9. Turns out a couple bikes came together during an overtaking maneuver and they both went off. The guy being passed seemed to be the worse for wear and had to be airlifted. It's been over a week and it seems like he's going to be ok, though still in the hospital. Well, we spent $60 (that's 10 Baja Fresh dinners!) to find out that Arrow and Jolly Moto pipes are close enough to be considered the same.
All the late in the day futzing about caused us to miss out on our yummy Sizzler, too. But, we got some very very good pizza in Corona.