Thursday, July 20, 2017

Race Report AFM Round 4, 2017 Thunderhill Raceway

Going into this weekend my life had been fairly rushed, but, for the most part, things were clicking in to place and I felt ready to head out for what was looking like a rather warm weekend up at Thunderhill. This was going to be my first time riding the bike without some medical thing causing concerns – no fresh surgeries, no PICC line, no crazy med schedule. My leg wasn’t giving me any major issues, so that excuse was finally no longer valid.

On Friday, Pacific Track Time had a trackday, which a number of racers were making use of. All morning I handled the C group as I usually do, with plans to head out to some faster groups in the afternoon. I went out for the B group after lunch, and traffic was fairly light in that group, so decided to just stick with that. I was feeling out the respring on the bike’s suspension, and was very happy with the improvements, but now my brain needed to catch up. Since I had gotten the bike I hadn’t been very confident on the brakes, and now it was pretty obvious why, but I had already programmed myself not to trust what it could do. Oh boy, fix a problem with the bike, find a problem with me.

The heat was adding to the day, and I didn’t want to wear myself out for the upcoming weekend, so I wasn’t out setting any new records on Friday. I set up for the weekend, had some dinner with friends, then headed back to where I was staying to try to get a good night’s sleep.

Saturday dawned bright and promised to get nice and toasty. My teammate had arrived, and we got set up for the day. Due to the heat and my lack of fitness, I planned to only do two practice sessions in an effort to keep some energy in reserve for my AFemme race that afternoon. I was also going to be racing on take off tires I had picked up at Laguna, but they were in good shape, so I wasn’t too worried. My couple practice sessions went fine, and while I was still going way slower than I should be, I was feeling better on the bike, but something was still missing. I realized I wanted more feedback from the tires, and thought that, perhaps, the TC was being a bit too intrusive, so I moved it to the lowest setting and headed out for my race.

I was wanting to pull another win out of this, but my practice times were showing that my pace just wasn’t where it would need to be to make that an “easy” thing to do. Jennifer and I had been running very similar paces at the last round, and I figured she’d be right there this weekend too, but I hoped some of the changes would work to my advantage and I’d find something I was missing. Instead, I fubared my start by getting a nice wheelie. The only good thing is that the bike does have wheelie control, so it didn’t loop despite my desperate clinging to it. Since it wasn’t coming over, I just hung on, kept it moving, and (it had to be amusing to watch) spun my feet in attempts to get them back on the footpegs since I was nearly sitting on the tail of the bike.

That start let Jen hold her front position, and off we went. There were a couple sections where I was stronger than her, and I was able to make up a fair bit of ground on her in those sections, but they were areas where passing would be sketchier, so I was hoping to hang long enough to make a pass in a better spot. She was stronger in those places, however, so she managed to hold her lead for the race, leaving me holding Daniella off to keep 2nd place. Since Valentine didn’t make this round, at this point that will bump me up to 2nd for the championship.

That wrapped up our Saturday, and I wanted to hit Sunday with some ambition. I was much happier having more feedback from the bike and tires with the TC turned down, and I was starting to play around with some braking aspects since the respring had the bike responding much closer to what I would have expected. 

Sunday dawned warm. Really warm. It was going to get HOT. I went out for my practice session just to turn on my brain and body. I planned to swap tires after that and as I was putting on the “new” tires, I noticed my front brake pads were nearly gone. Dang, that seemed pretty darn fast for a set of brake pads to disappear! I ran over to Hustle Hard Racing who had some Vesrah pads to use. I’ve never used Vesrah as they didn’t make pads for the 675, so when I went out for my Open GP race I was going to be dealing with getting used to a new type of pad. Oh well, that’s racing for you!

Open GP came up, and Jen also runs this class, so I knew I’d at least have someone to race against. I got a much better start this time, and was feeling better on the bike. My lack of fitness was proving to be a major issue, and I was just doing my best to manage my endurance even in these short races. Nearing the end I put my head down and put down my best lap of the weekend, but I knew Jen was right there with me. I knew where I was better than her, but all I could do was hope to put enough gap between us that she couldn’t manage a pass near the end which seems to be her MO. I couldn’t put enough space between us, and she managed the pass in turn 14 just before the checkered. I wasn’t going to make up the gap since I was really struggling with the 14/15 combo and she had a nice advantage getting onto the straight.

I didn’t have another race until the afternoon, so relaxed until it came time for my Open Superstock race. There was a small grid this weekend, so I was sitting on the second row. I had a decent start again, but pretty soon the field left me. In the Formula Pacific race just 2 races earlier, someone had blown oil from turn 14 through the start of turn 1….since it was getting rather hot and I was only racing against myself I ended up just playing around with a couple of the things I was trying out and not really worrying about times. This reflected in my race times, but I wanted to go home in one piece with an intact bike, which I did.

We packed up and headed home, sweaty, gritty, and worn out. The heat took a big toll on all of us, and while I felt like I managed my hydration/electrolytes well, my lack of fitness from not working out the past 8 months was taking a lot out of me. By the time I left the track I was dreading unloading at home, but thankfully that wasn’t too bad – probably helped it was about 30 degrees cooler there than it had been at the track!

Special thanks to all of my sponsors, and especially those who helped make this weekend happen. I’m not meeting my expectations for myself, but that being said, I gained a lot of confidence in the bike and my ability to ride it (with a bit more fitness needed). That is actually a huge thing for me, by the end of the weekend, I wasn’t really feeling intimidated by the bike at all – and that will go a long way towards my willingness to start pushing things a bit more again.

Special thanks this round to:

DareDevil Motorsports for getting this bike set up, and keeping up with all the little changes and adjustments we’re having to make, dealing with the phone calls, ordering, schedules, etc.
RiderzLaw for helping make the races happen and for the tires to run this weekend.
Ken Hill Coaching for the homework and specific things to work on so my time on track is productive.
Dunlop for the tires themselves.
BARF Racing for the support in so many areas, including some special photos by Oxymoron Photography that are coming soon.
Skratch Labs for keeping me well hydrated.
And of course to all my sponsors who help me make this happen: Roseville Yamaha-Kawasaki;  Motion Pro; Woodcraft; Ace Custom Graphics; Pacific Track Time.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Race Report, AFM Round 3, 2017 Thunderhill Raceway

Going into this round, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew my leg was feeling better overall, but it was still weak and stiff, and I was also dealing with this PICC line and the antibiotics schedule that was throwing a major wrench into my day to day life. Despite all of that, I was looking forward to getting out to my favorite track and putting down some laps.

I arrived Thursday evening to set up and claim some space, and prep for the trackday on Friday. I only had a few sessions on this bike on this track, so I knew I needed some serious seat time. Friday dawned cool and nice, and I headed out early on to utilize the time I had. 

Throughout the day, things were going okay, but as I was riding it was becoming obvious some changes were needed. I kept thinking “this line worked great on the Daytona, but it does NOT work on this bike!” The biggest issue, however, is I wasn’t sure what I needed to change/fix….while I had previously been given some very general information (“square off the corners more”) I’m a bit thick sometimes and need more detailed information to actually implement.

Thankfully, Ken Hill had talked to one of his instructors, Pat Farrand, who was there working with another racer for the day. Pat ended up with a free session the end of the day and offered it up to me – which I gladly jumped on. This was invaluable – while it was the very last session of the day, he pinpointed my issue(s) and I had an action plan for Saturday on things I could work on implementing. 

Friday Trackday, photo by
Saturday looked to be another great day, and I headed out for early practices knowing I’d be missing most of the afternoon due to tire changes and med schedules. Implementing the changes definitely required that I back off my pace a bit, but it seemed to be helping out. I was having to rethink the track and change how I saw it, so there were some major mental changes, and some physical inputs I had to change up as well. It was a lot to take in, and while my pace suffered, I felt like I was starting to “get” it towards the end of the day.

I had one race on Saturday, and while my times were still sad, I knew that the AFemme class was my best chance at a trophy. If I kept myself together, I may even be able to pull a win out of it. We headed out for our warm up lap and then gridded up. I was going to be racing against Valentine Welch, who’s racing MotoAmerica, on her GSXR600, and Jennifer Lauritzen on her ZX10R. I knew neither of them would be willing to “give away” anything as they are both fierce competitors. 

We launched and Valentine got the hole shot. I was able to keep up with her, and followed her the first couple laps, noticing a few places where I could out power her and realizing I could keep her behind me in the areas where the 600 would be a bit stronger. On our 3rd lap I passed her going up the hill into turn 9, and from there it was a battle to be sure she and Jen both stayed behind me. We were also hitting lap traffic about this time, so slicing and dicing through the 250’s became a factor. The closing speeds on this bike vs my Daytona were proving to be interesting as I would accelerate a lot faster now. I managed to keep the other two behind and crossed the finish line in the lead. 

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

My laptimes weren’t great, but my best of the weekend and similar to what I was doing at this time last year – not great, but not terrible all things considered. I also saw a lot of places where I could make up a lot of time as I get dialed into the bike. This marked my first win as an expert in the AFemme class, and it was well earned with the other gals not handing it to me!

Saturday night was fairly laid back, and I eventually wandered off to bed after my evening meds (seriously this is a royal PITA). Sunday came upon us a bit warmer and promising to cause some interesting things in terms of playing games with temperatures and tire pressures. I had two races, race 4 and race 6. For some reason, however, I just couldn’t get my head in the game and “go-mode” just couldn’t be drummed up. Later on I realized I was WAY more exhausted – both physically and mentally – than I realized. Knowing I wasn’t in go-mode, I decided to take my time and focus on continuing to hit my marks and making sure I was on the right line, implementing the changes from Friday’s session with Pat.

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

Both races had a pretty similar outcome. In Open Superstock I completely botched my start – maybe my worst race start to date. This put me in the back of the pack and a few faster novices were with me before turn 1. I still couldn’t turn on the fight-mode, so I just focused on my fundamentals. My times reflected this as I wasn’t breaking any records for me or the weekend, but at least I felt like I was accomplishing my goal of hitting most of my marks more often than not. Jennifer was right with me in both races, but managed to pass me on the last lap in both of them, getting her revenge for the previous day LOL. 

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

Once I was done racing I started puttering around with packing up, although I planned to stay through the end of my teammates races to ensure everyone could make it home safe n sound. As the afternoon waned on, I was packed up, and upon the completion of their races and some goodbyes, I headed home to unload and try to relax. The exhaustion started to hit pretty hard, and I was glad I was heading out and looked forward to a good night’s sleep.

Overall, the weekend was productive. Of course, I still hoped for more out of myself, but that being said, all things considered, it was still useful and I feel like what I learned will pay off in dividends as the summer progresses. I now know how I need to “see” the track for the bigger bike vs the smaller bike, and I also have a better idea of what I need to do physically to make that happen. Still bummed I’m having to go through this process now rather than back in Jan/Feb/Mar, but it is what it is, so dealing with the cards I’ve been dealt. 

Nicky Hayden Memorial Lap: Photo by Oxymoron Photography

Next round is in late July back at Thunderhill. I’ll have a couple trackdays on the east course before then, so hopefully I can be pretty well prepared. My fitness loss is a definite issue and something I need to be making a priority despite the leg and med schedules. Looking forward to getting back on the beasty and continuing the process of getting used to it and figuring out how to ride it!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Loss of an American Hero

Today marks a tragic day in the history of motorcycle racing, especially for those of us here in the US. Nicky Hayden, the most recent American to race in MotoGP and who was currently in the World Superbike series, has passed away due to injuries sustained in an accident while riding his bicycle in Italy. 

While I never met Nicky in person, this is affecting me more than I would have thought. He was one of our own, one of only a handful of Americans competing at the international level. One of the "good old boys," he was never involved in drama, and was well liked by everyone who met him. A genuinely nice guy, who was also an amazing rider.

Life is so short. We are never promised tomorrow, and this is one of those instances when it becomes so abundantly clear. Someone who has spent his life competing at the top levels of a sport that is known for it's dangers, and he's lost to us due to an everyday activity that almost no one would consider a "dangerous" thing to do. 

The loss is not only hard from the standpoint of being a racer, but also from being a human. Seeing both sides of this, we racers all accept that there are risks with our sport. Having someone so talented taken in such a mundane way makes you realize that life has no promises. 

I challenge readers to live your life. Even if other people think it's dangerous - or boring - or crazy - or stupid - if it makes you happy and you have a smile on your face at the end of the day, then go live your life.  As long as your joy doesn't come at other people's direct expense, then do what you love to do. None of us are getting out of this life alive, and none of us are promised tomorrow. 

Nicky was living his life to the fullest. I can only imagine the pain that his family and fiance are going through right now having him torn from their lives, but I would hope that they can take a small consolation in the fact that he was someone who chased his dreams, and inspired thousands if not millions in the process. He will live on in the hearts of his fans, rivals, and many who never even met him. 

Ride in Peace Nicky.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

AFM Round 2, 2017 Sonoma Raceway - Back at it!

As many know, my saga with this broken leg over the winter has been an ongoing thing. Recovery was longer than I had originally hoped (although still quick for what it was apparently), and things seemed to be going well until two weeks before I was scheduled to be at Sonoma Raceway. Some excess inflammation and pain over the tibia plate turned out to be an infection getting started, and surgery was scheduled for the next day once I managed to see my ortho. This was Thursday, a week and 2 days before I was supposed to be racing.

Doc was able to leave the hardware in for the time being, however, so my plan was to keep moving forward toward showing up to the races – if nothing else, be there, turn some laps and get to know my bike in that kind of environment. I was on crutches and cane for the better part of a week post op, but was managing to get back on the street bike the last couple weekdays before the races, so figured I could muddle through racing, even if I was slow.

I arrived Friday night and met my friends and garage mates and got my pit area and camp set up. DareDevil Motorsports would be arriving the next morning with the bike and pit help for the day. Everyone hung out for awhile on Friday, then headed off to bed to get some sleep for Saturday. 

The weather was looking amazing, and I was excited to get on the bike, but also knew I had my work cut out for me. I had basically only ever ridden the bike once, and that was at Thunderhill, and was my first time back on track since breaking my leg. I hadn’t ridden this bike on a dry day at Sonoma – heck, I had only ever ridden a liter bike there twice – ever, one of those being my second track day ever. There was a lot for me to process, so I decided to just take it easy and focus on fundamentals and being confident in what I was doing.

There was a huge learning curve. The bike is a completely different beast – absolutely amazing, but totally different. My brain was a bit overwhelmed with all of it. My leg was adding another level of complications by making downshifting really problematic – which was also causing a lot of corner entry issues as what should have been a short process was getting drug out into multiple steps. Autoblip helped, but I couldn’t make as good of a use of it since the leg wasn’t allowing me to use it like it could be.We were fighting a brake issue as well, that we determined was probably the master cylinder, so I'm already looking at upgrading that. DareDevil did a great job of trying to keep it functioning as best we could, and I never ran out of brakes on track.

We made it through practice with pretty sad times, getting into the 2:01s – pretty pathetic for Sonoma. I had one race on Saturday, Formula AFemme. Under normal circumstances I was pretty sure I’d have a good shot at winning, but with the way the day was going, I didn’t figure I’d be there – which proved to be the case. I had a decent start (at least I didn’t lose that skill), but within a few corners Jennifer and Daniela both managed to take off, leaving me to try to unsuccessfully reel them back in. While I found a couple more seconds, it was still almost 10 seconds a lap slower than I had been doing on my Daytona last year. I got a 3rd place by default since there was no one else in the class – my participation trophy LOL.

Daniela didn't stay back there for long LOL

I knew Sunday was still in front of me, and that would be racing with the other liter bikes…my laptimes were pathetic, but I hoped a night of sleep would help me process everything. Saturday evening was enjoyable, if a bit quiet, and I headed to bed at a decent time finding myself pretty tired. 

The morning dawned bright and sunny, and we headed out for morning practice followed by the rider’s meeting. My first race would be race 5, Open GP gridded with the Super Dino bikes. I knew some of the novices in the front of their grid were putting down way better laptimes than I was this weekend, so figured that’s who I’d be seeing passing me since I was near the back of the Expert grid. Sure enough, within time, a few of them started to come through. The race was over halfway done, and I was mostly racing my own race, with 2 experts still behind me – my goal was not last, and that was still within grasp.

     I was heading down into turn 9, taking the line I was finding I liked on the bike. Due to the leg, however, I had to start the slow down process earlier than I would like, but I knew I could still carry the corner/roll speed and use my trail braking skills to scrub the last speed going into it – in fact, other than where I had to start my braking, this was a corner I felt like I was getting into pretty darn well, really using that awesome suspension the ZX10R has to maximize that turn-in braking. My line was a little wider out, and then I would dive in heavy on the brakes – unfortunately, there was a novice coming up who thought he could out brake me – unfortunately he misjudged what my entry speed would be. I went for my apex, and just as I’m about to hit my mark I see the bike out of the corner of my eye. He hit my exhaust and the end of my tail, moving my rear end quite a ways. I was lucky and managed to keep the bike upright, ran over the dirt through the corner and nearly off the other side of the track before I had good control again but I stayed upright at least. He was not so lucky and ended up crashing. The race ended up getting red flagged, and it was called. I had found a few more seconds down into the 1:56s, but still was about 6 seconds slower than I had been on the 675 – but I wasn’t last, there were a couple other experts still behind me!

I had one more race that day, race 11, Open Superstock. I knew this race would be interesting as it was the Open SS and Open Twins – all big bikes – which meant that the fast guys would have less traffic to work through. My times were bad enough that there was a chance I’d get lapped. When I headed out I knew I was getting fatigued – the winter and spring spent recovering had taken a toll on my fitness, so I just wanted to, again, focus on being smooth and confident in the things I was doing. The fatigue issues were giving me problems with downshifting, and I was regularly missing downshifts. Other than that, though, this race was pretty drama free, I was mostly alone other than some faster riders getting through, and finally towards the end I got lapped by the front of the Open SS who were going about 18 seconds a lap faster than I was. Oh well, at least I was out there, and again, I wasn’t dead last – almost, but not quite lol.

Overall, the weekend was generally a success in that I was out there, I got a feel for the bike, and I got it around what is probably the most difficult track in North America. My times were sad, but I was consistent and gained some more confidence in the new bike. I started to get really confident in the front end on the brakes, which, with a little more seat time, will translate to some significant improvements in laptimes. As the leg heals and improves its range of motion, downshifting won’t be the issue it was this weekend, and I will be able to really utilize the features of this bike. I also got a little braver on the throttle, but there is a LOT of improvement in that department to make – I was still twisting it pretty gingerly, and I definitely need to get used to that bike’s massive acceleration, learn to have fun with the wheelies it wants to do, and just the “scoot” it has. I have a couple trackdays between now and the next race, and the next race is at my strongest track (Thunderhill), so I will focus on continuing to improve, making use of the seat time I have, and work on getting my lost fitness back as best I can in the time I have.

Huge shout outs to my sponsors this year, and thanks for hanging in there as I recover! I know there’s still a lot of good stuff in store, and I’m looking forward to where I’ll be come the end of the year. All of these companies have products and services I truly believe in!

·         DareDevil Motorsports

·         Roseville Kawasaki

·         RiderzLaw

·         Kawasaki USA

·         Dunlop Race Tires

·         BARF Racing
·        Pacific Track Time

·         Ace Custom Graphics

·         Ken Hill Coaching

·         Motion Pro

·         Woodcraft/Amour Bodies

·         Skratch Labs
·         PUSH Smart Guage

Baby wheelie - really need to get used to these getting a little bigger!