Rookie Race/Race Report #319 Novice (really, really long)

Short version:  Didn’t wad up the bike, wasn’t DFL, exceeded all of my goals and expectations, and am way more hooked than I thought I’d be, which is really saying something.  Got into the 1:39’s on Sunday with a smoked clutch. 

Long version:   

I went into the weekend with what I considered to be reasonable expectations.

1)      Don’t wad up the bike in the rookie race

2)      Don’t be dangerously slow in the rookie race

3)      Get under 2 minutes by the end of the weekend 

Then CEO threw in another:  Don’t be DFL in the rookie race.  Initially I was thinking that wouldn’t be too hard, since there were some really slow guys in class.  Then we got the grid.  A couple of the slowest guys were not doing the rookie race.  I was third wave, very last row.  I was also, by far, on the slowest bike out there.  Meeting CEO’s criteria wasn’t looking so good.  I had a bunch of people tell me not to worry about DFL, just finish the race safely, and knew I had to keep that my #1 goal.  Still, I really didn’t want to be DFL, but with most of the bikes getting a 20 second head start due to being 2nd wave (first wave is just an expert rider, to get everyone used to being a different wave) I didn’t have many people to realistically catch.  I put “no DFL” on the back shelf, but didn’t completely forget about it. 

Thursday night:  Got to track.  Borrowed a rear stand to get the bike set up in the garage, hung out for a bit, and tried on the helmet I was going to buy from my teammate Smokin’ Joe.  Unfortunately it was a bit too big, but another teammate, Brendan, loaned me his backup.  It fit perfect.  Score.  (sidenote:  Brendan is new to these helmets, and over the course of the weekend had fogging issues.  He sold me the helmet I borrowed at the end of the weekend, although I have yet to pay him for it.  Sweet…  new helmet).  Went to bed without too much craziness, wanting to be ready for Penguin in the morning. 

Friday:  Woke up tired and behind schedule.  For whatever reason I didn’t sleep all that well in the tramper.  I was probably just subconsciously anxious about Penguin, even though I didn’t really feel it.  BJ fiddled with the throttle on my bike and got it through tech for me so it was ready to go by the time I needed it.  (Thanks BJ!)  Penguin was cool, informative, and fun.  I learned quite a bit.  I felt slow as hell on the track, and was sure I was running 2 min plus.  This was my first time ever on a track, and first time ever on this bike, so it was to be expected.  I knew what I needed to fix in a lot of ways, but was having trouble putting it together.  Later on in the day we went over to the Owens photos setup, and we were able to see pics of ourselves and discuss form with the instructors.  This was a HUGE help for me, and during our last practice things finally started to click.  I was disappointed to have to get off the track after that last practice, since I was finally getting comfortable.   

I came into T3 too hot a couple times, one of which was WAY too hot.  I’d been following BJ for a couple laps so he could show me lines and form, and he waved me by to lead a lap or two so he could see my form/lines/etc.  I got a better drive into 3 than I was used to, and had already decided to move my brake marker back (which turned out to be a bad idea overall, not just this once).  Apparently BJ was behind me thinking “pop up, pop up!  This isn’t good” long before I knew I’d blown the turn.  I got to the point where I had to commit to the turn, assessed it, decided I couldn’t make it, stood the bike up straight pointed at the runoff chute in the T3 wall and grabbed a full handful of brake.  I was able to check myself up before the wall, and pulled along the tires while the pack went by and came back onto the track in first gear.  The next lap or two were uncomfortable, and I came into 3 too hot again, although not quite as bad.  Pitted out and took a few to regroup and clear my head, and all was well again. By the end of the day I was feeling decent.  Still not fast, but at least a lot smoother.   Friday night we all hung out in the garages a bit, Harrison (the #1 guy in my class, taking 9 lap races by 16 seconds over the #2 guy) helped me safety wire my water pump drain bolt, and I popped the throttle and fixed it for good.  Then it was get some sleep time. 

Saturday:  Again a bit late on the start.  I’m going to need an air mattress for that tramper.  Strolled on up to registration to turn in my race license application and register for the races.  Lines were a bit long by then, but no big deal.  Started to rain while I was there, and I got about 20 seconds into the walk back before DB rolled by in his truck and gave me a ride.  That saved a few minutes and kept me dry, thanks DB!  Jumped on the bike, breezed through tech, and had plenty of time to gear up and whatnot before practice.  I felt pretty good in practice, was working on my form and trying to get somewhat consistent.  I blew T3 again, not nearly as bad, but had to take a wide line over by the beach.  Apparently BJ, DB, and a few others were watching in the stands and there was a collective cringe as I came in too hot.  That was the final straw for me:  From that point on I was working on consistency.  Since it had been raining on and off, first practice was open.  I got passed at one point on the inside of T8 by something big and fast as I was wide open coming into T8 with no more than inches between us, and no more than inches between him and the end of the track on his right.  The speed differential was insane, I was sure we were going to collide but he was going fast enough to put his bike through that tiny space between me and the edge of T8 in the fraction of a second he had before I occupied that space.  I rolled off the throttle, but couldn’t have braked without crashing.  It was a rush, and interesting to see the skill level and speed differential.  Overall I didn’t feel very fast in practice, but I was getting more consistent and smooth, so I was happy.  Later on Harrison told me that “…turned a 1:42 in practice”, but I didn’t hear the start.

“Who did?”, I asked.

“You did.”

“Really!?  No shit!  So I guess I got that under 2 minutes thing down, now all I need to do is not bin my bike in the rookie race and I’m golden.” 

At 10:55 AM, after practice, we had our rookie riders meeting.  All of a sudden, I was nervous.  I’d been calm all weekend, now suddenly I’m nervous.  Damnit!  Gotta keep myself calm and collected, loose and smooth.  Swung by the infield restaurant for a sandwich, more for something to do than because I was hungry.  Managed to eat most of it, before realizing I wasn’t hungry and it wasn’t helping.  Binned the rest of the sandwich and went to gear up for the race.  Figured being suited up and ready would help me calm down.  No dice.  

Rookie race starts.  I’m somewhat calmed down, but still way too tense.  I know it, and I’m trying to calm myself down.  I want to sing one of my current favorite songs in my helmet to distract me, but I can’t remember how it goes.  Nevermind, doesn’t matter, there goes second wave.  7000RPM, in gear, hold it, flag goes.  Come out of the clutch, start to go, and the bike in front of me and off to the left a hair points for the clouds and walks sideways.  He rolls off, recovers, and is still on front of me.  He rolls on again, and he’s pointed at the sky again, rolling into my path.  I roll off.  This is the rookie race, I don’t have enough power to pass him on the straight anyway, and if he takes me out 5 seconds into the race I’m not going to get my license.  Start is blown, but whatever.  Ride smooth and consistent.  Oh, and don’t get DFL.  Damnit!  I’m on the slowest bike on the track, I blew my start, and I started last wave, last row.  How the hell am I going to do that?  I know, I’m not.  I’m going to try to ride smooth and consistent, and not crash.  The hell with everything else.  Yellow flag, rider down.  Shit.  I see the bike off the outside of the track.  He’s not in my line, good, screw it, just ride my line.  Coming out of the bowl, did I just hear a bike behind me?  Holy shit, I’m ahead of someone besides the guy that crashed?  When did that happen?  Oh yeah, he braked early into T1.  Must have been in my wave.  Well, I don’t want to give it away, do I?  Forget it, ride my line, ride smooth and at race pace, do NOT take any stupid chances trying to hold off a faster bike.  Is there even another bike behind me?  Doesn’t matter, focus on my line.  White flag.  Wow, already?  Ride my line.  I’m forgetting something, what?  Doesn’t matter, just ride consistent.  Checkered flag, race is over.  Sweet.  I didn’t crash, and I don’t think I was “dangerously slow”.  I should be fine.  Relax.  Now what was I forgetting?  Oh yeah, form…  I was supposed to be getting off the bike!  Damnit!  Oh well.  Pit in, back to the garages.  Congrats all around.  Apparently there was another bike behind me.  Of my wave of 6 (I think?) I was 4th.  One crashed, one I held off, 3 that beat me.  And, of course, everyone in wave 1.  Whatever, cool, I’ll take it.  I wonder what my lap times were?  Go check.  Wait, what?!  I ran a 1:42?  Is this right?  My form was terrible, is it possible I actually just matched my best time?  Holy crap! 

Unwinding from the rookie race, there were congrats all around.  Started to relax.  OK, that’s over, I rode WAY too tense, and still ran a 1:42.  Matched my fastest time in practice.  Good news.

 2nd Call, Race 5, PTwins.  Brendan’s bike is leaking oil.  Crap!  Instantly the 3 novices in the garage offer him our bikes.  Mine’s the only one with suspension.  He’s not sure about taking it, fresh paint and whatnot.  I tell him not to worry about it, it’s a racebike, it’s running good, it’s got the suspension, go get em!  All of us working to swap the #’s and  transponders in a hurry.  We get him out just in time, tires barely warmed.  His race is over, he brings the bike back.  Bad news, my clutch is slipping.  After some discussion we come to the conclusion that what I thought was occasional tire slip earlier was clutch slip.  Doesn’t matter, minutes to my race.  Need to get out there and deal with it. 

The good news is now I feel like I have something to work with.  If I can run that consistent I can improve.  The bad news is my clutch is gone.  It’s starting to slip earlier, and more consistently.  I am noticing it on every lap, especially on the big straight into T1.  Helped out with the corner worker’s BBQ Saturday night, good times.  A brutal squall came in right after the BBQ.  Ruined all sorts of stuff from tents to awnings on campers.  Rolled unchocked bike trailers.  It was interesting, to say the least.  As soon as it was over, there was a full 180 degree DOUBLE rainbow.  One was extremely clear and pronounced, the second was about normal, but seemed rather dim in comparison to the brighter one.  It was quite a sight, BJ got pictures and video of it.

 We found the clutch was misadjusted and fixed that, hoped it’d be enough for practice the next day.

 Sunday:  Practice #1, track was cold, with zero rubber on it thanks to the rain.  Harrison told me to take 3 laps to warm my tires.  That only left me with 2 to actually work on corner speed.  Clutch was 100% gone.  It’s was now slipping in 3rd, 4th and 5th, every time, as early as 6000RPM, which is about where the bike starts to make power.  Fastest lap was a 1:45.  Damnit! 

Practice #2, almost didn’t even go out.  Clutch was so far gone it felt like an exercise in futility.  Decided to go out anyway, to work on corner speed if nothing else.  Smokin’ Joe was kind enough to lend me a set of tire warmers so I didn’t have to waste any laps warming up the tires.  The clutch is now slipping on every straight section above 2nd gear.  Coming out of 2 into 3 can’t even get a good run.  I know I’m going to be hopelessly slow, and focus on carrying speed through the turns.  I’m chasing Alex, who finished ahead of me in the race on Saturday.  I don’t have a prayer on the straights, but I’m reeling him in on all the turns.  I’m feeling pretty good and thinking I’d turn a good lap time if I didn’t have a smoked clutch.  Managed to keep Alex in sight for the entire 5 laps, even without a clutch.  I couldn’t do that in the races, but this is practice, and I know he’s not riding all out.  Got back in, changed, chatted for a bit and wandered over to check the times.  Wait, am I reading that right?  Check again.  Holy crap!  I dipped into the 1:39’s, with a smoked clutch!!  BJ said he was going to get me into the 39’s today, but with the clutch so far gone I figured it was a lost cause.  All of my goals and expectations have been exceeded.  Watched the races, hung out for the rest of the day and went home with a huge smile on my face and feeling awesome about the weekend.  Next race weekend can’t come fast enough!  Dana was kind enough to hook me up with a new clutch for $20, can’t wait to see what I can do with a little power to be had in the straights!

 Huge thanks to BJ, Brendan, Smokin Joe, Harrison, Alex & Dana for all the help.  Big thanks to Kurlon, DB, Oreo, and everyone else for all the support and congrats on the rookie race and getting out there. 

 I’ll have a bunch more pictures in days to come, but not much is up/around yet.  Here’s a couple for now.

Coming into T3:

Setting up for the bowl:

T2 Approach:

T2 Apex:

Hill into T5:


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