That's what this weekend was… it was as close to "work" as we could get while racing. The forecast for the weekend included wind and rain. We hoped that the weather would be nice.
New keyword for this month is sponsorship! Zina and I were both picked up by Maxima Racing Oils and Zina is now being sponsored by racersden.com who make bodywork! This worked out great, as we had been using Maxima already. They're from Santee, near San Diego, and have great oil. So now we're getting a great break on the cost. After we learned about cold tires (and hard compounds) the hard way, Zina's bike could really use some new clothes. Well, the racersden.com bodywork arrived and looks great! They supplied a red front fender, which accents the bike nicely. Note that the bodywork is unfinished from racersden.com ... that shiney black and sharp red is the plain fiberglass!
This month's preparations lagged a bit and I was behind getting the bikes prepped and our trailer loaded. Our goal was to leave San Diego at 8pm and we were ˝ hour late. Traffic was OK and we rolled into Willow Springs at 12:30. Not bad considering we stopped for dinner at Baja Fresh! Pulled in to our pit, unhitched and settled in for the night. To help save money, we thought we'd try sleeping at the track. We also figured it would save sleep since we're already at the track and don't have to get up early just to drive in.
Zina and I got in some good sessions, though the "breeze" did make things challenging. At least the wind was consistent and not gusty. The direction was along the front straight, which made the 8-9 transition and subsequent entrance into turn 9 tricky. The entrance into turn 2 was also a bit tricky. It was hard motivating ourselves to get out and practice when all our spare time is spent sitting the shelter of the van. It was too cold to even hang out in the trailer! I dare say this month's weather was the worst this year! Oh, did I mention the snow? A couple times during the day, there was a light condensation. But rather than rain drops, the water would come down as snow flakes - and immediately melt. It looked like ash fallout from a nearby fire.
We got in our laps and the day closed. Concerned about freezing, we parked Susanna's RS250 in the trailer with our own. We were supposed to meet up with 17 other racers and chow down at the Golden Cantina, but they were more busy than I have ever seen before. Absolutely packed! So we bailed out to go to Zuma's. They were packed, too! The group broke into smaller parts and we got Indian cuisine down in Lancaster. I'm normally pretty afraid of Indian, but Gayathri was there and kept me out of trouble - and I really enjoyed my meal. After our eats, we went to bed at Desert Inn, as always.
Once in the pits, I decide to change the plugs on the bikes. Good move, as the tab that holds on the gas tank on my bike was about to fall off. One of the screws fell out last month and the other had only a few threads left. Got about ˝ done with that and went to the rider's meeting. There we learned that one of the racers involved in the huge Turn 8 crash late Saturday had passed away. Major bummer. The two riders were on "Open" bikes… 651cc and up. From what I recall, one was a GSXR-750 and the other a Yamaha R1 (1000cc). Those bikes go through T8 over 150 mph as riders' lap times approach 1:30. And the breeze acts to push you off the track.
After the riders' meeting, I went to the Snack Bar to get two cans of Whoop Ass energy drink and ran into Mark there. He comes to the track with Jamie most every month and they lend support to Zina and I. It's really great to have "fans" come out and lend moral support. Thanks guys!!
Back to the pits and I finish the spark plug change. We anxiously awaited race #7, the Pro Italia sponsored Aprilia Challenge. As time neared, we readied the bikes… fired up the generator, turned on the warmers, and fired up the bikes to get heat in the radiators and engines. Mark helped out revving my bike while I got in my leathers. I was gridded 3rd, but seeing VJB, Andre Castanos, and Quentin Wilson out in the first warmup told me a podium finish this month would be unlikely. The three aforementioned riders, along with Tim Knutson, simply out class my skill level. And never mind that I've got a gnawing fear that new kid Ryan Hoffman will be there to bug me…
All this is going through my mind as I'm downing my energy drink. 1st call … then 2nd call, and Zina and I go into action as the well oiled machine. Power strips for the warmers off, Zina runs to turn off the generator while I strip the warmers off the rear wheels. We'll both get the fronts and she'll put the warmers in the trailer while I pull the front stands. She's on her bike and I lift off her rear stand and I get my own and mount up. And we're both putting through the pits to the grid.
Out on the sighting lap and I'm acquainted with the new wind direction. It is more typical today, blowing gently across turn 1. As I go through, I feel the rear wheel slip as I cross the patch in the pavement. This gets logged in my mind, but not of true concern… the rest of the lap is pretty good and I pull around to my grid spot. Unfortunately, I feel my concentration and focus start to fade as the starter gets ready to do his shuffle. I know this is not good… I get a pretty good start, but am behind Tim K and Andre going into turn 1. VJB and Quentin are through me before the end of Turn 2. Dang… oh well, this is expected. I keep riding around and try to keep my focus on. I'm not hitting 5 right… don't even get my knee down. And on the next lap, Ryan gets through on me as well. Suckssssss. OK, so I figure that the two of us are reasonably alone so I hang out behind Ryan. He's gets a few seconds on me and I see him look back on the front straight the lap after we get the crossed flags. OK, 4 laps down, two to go. I start getting my head down.
The focus comes back. I go in a little deeper in all the turns… I hold on the gas a little longer into 1, tap the brakes more gently and keep on the power through the turn. Going into 2, I'm not even letting off. My bike and I slam into the 2 dips and launch through them OK. Throttle pinned as my right knee skims the pavement. Looking for the second corner workers' barrel, marking the end of the turn… ease off the pressure on the bars, letting the bike drift out on the exit across another bit of gnarly pavement and the bike shakes some. I kind of suck through 3, so I'm just careful not to blow the entrance and keep the gas on up the hill. Catch the curbing on the entrance to 4a and drift out then back down on the curbing for 4b and the throttle again pinned going down the hill. Tap the brake, bend into 5 and throttle pinned as my left knee puck buries into the pavement with loud scraping. Upright, still on the gas, upshift as I go into 6 and right knee scrapes the curbing on the top of T6. Under the bubble, not even able to look forward… shift light and up into 5th as I go through T7. Look up for T8 and into 6th gear and still flat out I lean to the right and hope the wind doesn't make me get out of the gas. As T8 becomes T9, I go down into 5th but keep the gas pinned. Knee down through 9 and change to 4th to keep the speed up as the bike drifts for the dirt… just miss the desert sand (and rocks) as my speed carries me and the bike deep into the pit entrance. We keep the turn going to get back onto the main straight before the large cone someone put on the gore point to keep me out of the dirt there. White flag. This is it. Last chance.
Ryan looms closer. I go insanely deep into 1 and now I'm on him. I get closer in 2 then back off some so as not to be too close up over the omega. I get great drive coming down the hill and maintain form as we go through 5. I near Ryan at the top of 6 and he misses a shift! I yell out "shit!" as I about ram him and check up. We both recover and get going again, but I've lost most of my killer drive. I break his wind as we charge towards 7 and 8 and am just able to pull alongside before we go into 8. I keep the throttle on its stop and we fly through 8. I simply tried to hit my marks through 9 the best I could and hope Ryan doesn't get drive enough to draft me to the line. Knee buried in 9 and I repeat the "perfect lap" of previous and head out to the dirt, only this time I try to keep a little room out there in case Ryan is on my outside. 4th gear pulls me out of 9 and I'm into 5th. I don't want Ryan on my right, so I do the one draft breaking weave you're allowed and gently pull to the right, leaving enough room in case he's already there. Revving out 5th, head under the bubble, the finish line draws near. I cross and Ryan immediately thereafter slingshots by me out of my draft! Phew! That was an awesome duel! Well, awesome for me, right? Mad props to Ryan. He ran a great race and I think we were both safe. I think we're both kind of bummed to be fighting for 5th, but that's racing... and at least *we* had fun.
After the race, he came by our pits and we BS'ed for a good while about the race. The picture here is after the Aprilia race... Zina drew smiley faces on her pucks to see where she was getting them down. At the bottom, apparently. Our next race is #12 - 550 Superbike, sponsored by Wood-Ease hand cleaners - and as it drew near, Ryan went back to his pits as we all got ready. I'm gridded 4th in 550 Superbike, which is quite unusual, as I never finish well. With my "beginner" skill, I don't typically finish the race in good standing competing against the more powerful 4 strokes that have more displacement and more torque. But a lot of the regular 550SBK folks haven't been consistent about racing the class and me showing my ugly mug every month has (had) me ranked 4th. The race got started and like 4 or 5 folks are in front of me going into 1. A bunch of the SV650s and VJB snuck by, too. Going into 2 and another pack of 4 or 5 goes by and I'm thinking "OK, there's all the fast movers!" and the race should settle out nicely. On the second lap, I can hear someone on me. Hmmm. It sounded like a 4cyl 4 stroke, so it's probably a FZR400. I keep my head down and start putting in some good laps and ignore him. He eventually went away. As the race wears on, I start catching up to one of the guys that passed me. That turned on the Red Mist. Did I mention that I opened up another can of Whoop Ass before this race, too? =) Then, going around Turn 2, which is a 95~100 mph 190 degree right sweeper, I feel the rear wheel start to hang out. Crap, my rear tire is starting to go off. I try to ignore it the best I can as the bike still feels pretty solid. As we circulate on the 3rd or 4th lap, we run across a lapped rider. We both get by pretty cleanly, so no advantage for either of us. Head down and now I'm really on this guy. Going into 8, I simply don't want to slow down for him… I'd like to stalk him and skunk him on the last lap, but I'm afraid of the carnivores behind me. So I pin the throttle and run up underneath this guy between 8 and 9, hoping that we don't see saw due to the draft. I get good drive out of 9 and blast down the straight for all that I'm worth and totally go huge into 1. I don't see or hear him, so I work on my focus and get around the track. Pulling around 8 and 9, there's a yellow flag. I don't see anyone, so I don't back off. There's a huge smoke cloud in 9… hmmm, someone blew a motor! My line through 9 is unusually tight, so I hope that I'll be OK and keep the gas on. I get through the turn OK and make it across the stripe in whatever position I had retaken - within sight of the next guy in front of me, too. Then I see Scott Cleff pulled off the left of the track. Damn. Major bummer. His SV650 has been really strong and he's been winning races like mad on that thing. I ended up getting 9th out of a field of 18.
After the race, I dyno'd the bikes for R&D, got some of that famous Tri Tip sandwich, started loading up, and helped Susanna get ready for her race. During that time, there seemed to be a TON of crashes. The H/W Novice race was particularly bad, though thankfully, most folks were "just" running off the track rather than actually crashing. It started lightly raining as we finished packing up. Zina walked the dogs in the track infield, we gathered up the beacon, and headed for San Diego. There was serious rain on the way down… but the awesome service at Lake Elsinore's Sizzler made the rain go away.
Looking forward to next month… hoping for better weather, better lap times, and better finishes!