So, you want to Race?
After a seemingly endless layoff, along came a big sport tourer with a loud exhaust and full fairings. With the best tires money could buy (they make good 16" tires?) I set out on a mission to drag toes and knees at every chance. I soon realized it would not be happening on that bike and moved to a YZF1000, Suzuki TL1000, and a ZRX (almost all at the same time!).
Enter, Andrea G, an RTI teaching colleague, "fusion in a coffee cup"! Andrea asked me to accompany her to the Vintage Festival at Mosport about 6 years ago. We walked the outside and inside of most every corner talking lines and braking points. On our way around the outside of turn 3, I saw 2 CB350's, handlebar to handlebar at full boil and I was hooked. First stop, www.vrra.ca to sign up and start lurking. Second stop, the "for sale" forum. Got to have a bike to race, right?
Flashback 20 years. Had I entertained racing of any sort then, I would have been focused on the bike, latest and greatest please. I would have ended up with a bike in the driveway and then gone, OK, now what. Only to discover that you now need a car with a hitch, a trailer to attach to the hitch, a ramp to roll the bike up, acceptable gear to put on when you roll the bike off the trailer, some sort of stand to lean a "legless" race bike on or against, a VRRA membership, a racing license, a machine eligibility form, entry to the event, and a transponder rental.
Back to the future, or at least the present. My years of lurking paid off. Karma brought me a car with a hitch, a donated but dilapidated trailer, and a race prepared (with that crazy left side kick) Suzuki T500.
The important part of that sentence is "race prepared". Racing numbers do not a race bike make, and while I won't go into how to meld an ordinary bike into a race bike, suffice it to say it would be the dedication of a winter's work I am sure. Now with a new to me, "weed whacker on steroids" (said T500) sitting in the driveway along side the dilapidated trailer, with most of the gear, the end (or the beginning) was in sight.
Now to join the VRRA, sign up for the race school, enter the Shannonville race (what class does this thing run in, what races am I eligible for), submit a transponder rental agreement, oh yes and volunteer to help with what ever I could do.
A few hours in a monstrous truck, towing a monstrous trailer convinced my friend I was worthy of piloting 50 feet of testosterone to Shannonville (dilapidated trailer issue solved). I'm off!
Arriving at Shannonville at 8:30 pm on Thursday I was in a rig with graphics galore, a dish, HD receiver and TV, generator, microwave, coffee maker, and a toaster. First order of business, apologize, I am a rookie after all!
Best plan, talk to everyone on the way in. Most know the routine, or something close to it. Where to park 50 feet of mechanical bliss, where is tech, when is it open, what do I need to bring, where is race school?
Thankfully, now in my 5th decade, I have learned that there is a script to everything, and lots of "pros" to guide you along the way. Early in the weekend I met Stan Nicholson, Michael Vinten, Carl Ratsep, Bonnie McEwan and a host of others (including Andrea as I wandered through the pits calling "Andrea, Andrea" in my best Willy Loman impression.
Off to Race school, capitalized, as it is put on by Chris Chappelle of the Race organization. Trying to memorize all the flags, then out on the track, first time on Nelson, first time on this bike to be shown "the" racing line by Don Gosen. It was such an artificial experience to ride the racing line at what felt like 20 km/h, but made more sense as the pace picked up. Thanks Don!
Oh yeah, get the bike, helmet and back protector to tech. Gosh it is hard to push all that around, so ratchet the helmet to the top of the tank, stick the back protector under your shirt and off you go!
Of course stay up late not remembering the old adage "early to bed, early to rise". Wake up at about 3:00 am seeing your breath (Shannonville in June!). What does Saturday hold – 2 practices, and two races, interspersed with volunteering at pit in checking bikes for oil and obvious mechanical issues. They say there is no such thing as a free lunch. Volunteers would dispute that as you are treated to a nicely catered fare for your small donation of time.
Keep you ear on the PA, make sure you are in the pits prior to your practice or race, don't count on the schedule being the bible.
Well, after all the other fun stuff, it seems a bit anti-climactic actually hitting the track for your first practice. After all, there are a few track days under my belt, how different can it be? You know the lines... only to be passed up the inside going into turn 2 at your speed plus about 30? Damn, why don't I just do that! I guess if it was that easy we would all do it. Each practice is an opportunity to focus on a new turn, faster, deeper, turn in stronger. Damn, still being passed on the inside – why don't I do that! I struggle my way to 1:23 laps... sigh!
First race, first race start. On with the equipment, well most of it, off comes the helmet for a quick dry heave behind the trailer! Don't be a fool Bob, grid yourself at the back. The flag goes up, the flag goes down, look at the starter. Up goes the flag and in his best 50's drag race style, the wave. Slip it, slip it, more gas, pass a couple. This isn't so hard! Passed up the inside into 2 by those same people, damn, why don't I just do that! Off the carousel onto the straight for the first time, planning a wave to the crowds (surely they know its ME!) and, blahhhhhhhhhhh, the bike quits less than a lap into it!. Coast to a halt, lean it against the inside wall and wait for the pick up at the end of the race. What, to close to the pits, push it myself? Thanks, will do! All the way to the pits to discover a disconnected battery lead, not good on a bike that runs total loss ignition from the battery. Oh well, an easy fix ensuring me of success in the second race?!?
The second race, the Vintage Challenge seemed like I had changed classes. Everyone left me for dead at the start. Luckily I was only lapped once, but, the lap times have fallen considerably to 1:18's. I might catch on to this after all.
I finished the race up 1 place from my start, with only 2 oh no moments. A front end push going into the front straight and my fastest entry into turn 1 yet. Back to basics, look lean, push steer and we are back on line.
Saturday evening was spent wandering the pits, buying parts (ssshhhh, don't tell my wife!) and helping other racers with odds and ends (loaning parts, tools, and pushing bikes).
Sunday we awoke to the great equalizer, a wet track! Another first, oh well, wheel out the mantra, 5 decades, 5 decades... 3 laps in, there's a red flag, rider down in turn 5, practice over. Doh, please be a dry race, please be a dry race!
More inspections at pit in, find an exhaust clamp shaken loose, note to self, check the weed whacker for loose exhaust (missing rivets on one side and mounting bolt on the other!), a well catered lunch and my final race.
I felt like I was beginning to find my groove, and although the knee didn't touch, my toe did, just about the time the front end started to push out of the final turn onto the straightaway. Times did improve – by .15 seconds. The learning curve is starting to look more like straight line on a slight tilt. So it's off to Youtube for some instruction on body position for more effective hanging off – new mantra – "bite the mirror, don't counter-rotate the hips!"
At the end of the last race on Sunday it's back to the pits to pack and, hoping to find a few people pulled out so I can wrestle the 50 footer out of the camping spot – whew, deserted enough that I will not be paying the deductible.
Burning question number 1? Which way is longer - to the track or home? HOME!
Burning question number 2? How can I pass all this on to the better half to get her out to Mosport? She's not a camper, stay tuned!
Burning question number 3? what speed parts do I need to buy to loose 12 seconds a lap (leaders are at 1:06's)? None, just go harder, go deeper and get on it earlier! (Well maybe tires and some gearing, come on it can't all be me...).
What have I learned so far, because it really is all about the learning. As Lance Armstrong said, "it's not about the bike". Or more accurately, it is, but not as much as it is about everything. Every niche is full of those who have struggled, learned, and are willing to share. I've always struggled, learned and shared, so, I guess I am "on the right track"!
Bob Smith, VRRA racing number 910
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