Tuesday, October 23, 2018

AFM Round 7, 2018 - End of a Season

If you’ve followed my race reports at all, you know there have been some struggles. If you’ve talked to me in person, you probably have a better feel of just how much of a struggle things have been since I decided to move on the ZX10R. Between my leg and mechanical issues, it’s been a rough two years.

Things were finally sorted out, at least for the time being. The leg is what it is at this point, and I’m familiar enough with its shortcomings that it’s not much of an excuse anymore. The bike is running well and is no longer actively trying to kill me, so that excuse has taken a hike. The last part was bike set up. On these big bikes it just really seems like proper set up makes a massive difference, and little things that are unknown or missed just crush (at least my) confidence. This has finally started to get moved in the right direction, and with a quick re-spring on the front this weekend, I felt like things were finally “getting there.”

Coming into the weekend was a rush – I had a big conference related to work in San Diego, I wouldn’t be flying back until Friday afternoon, then would have to load up and head to the track to get set up for Saturday. My bike had started the lovely “Kawasaki rattle” aka a cam chain tensioner taking a dump, so DareDevil rush ordered me a manual one so we could install it on Saturday morning. Additionally, Fuzzy was going to be bringing some lighter springs so we could try that to see if we could get the bike more manageable for me.

Saturday morning the guys all got to work on stuff, and the bike ran great, so I headed out for the second practice session of the day to test out the suspension so we could hopefully get him dialed in before the races. I immediately noticed the bike was diving into corners pretty strongly – so bad, in fact, that going into turn 2 it dove right into the inside of the corner! I was a bit shocked by this (I mean, who the hell crashes on the INSIDE of the corner?!?) but managed to keep the round black things facing the right direction and worked to adjust for the super quick turning I was getting. 

As I got on the bike for the next practice session, I looked down, and quickly realized why the bike may have been diving in – my upper triple bolts on both forks hadn’t been retightened after we did the springs! We quickly clamped those down and threw a wrench on the others to be sure nothing else was loose and I headed out. Much better this time around, bike was far more predictable and handling better than it ever has.

Photo by 4theRiders.com

Throughout the day we made a few more tweaks, and then eventually it was time to head out for the first race of the weekend, AFemme. My times were down to some of my best track day times, but still  not quite where I was hoping, so I looked forward to a race to really help me push things a little bit more. We gridded up, and due to the size of the Clubman races, there were 50+ bikes in front of us! Oh boy, traffic was going to be a problem!

As usual, Shelina got ahead pretty quickly, and I was again determined to try to hang as long as I could. She wasn’t walking away as quickly as earlier in the year, but we hit traffic on the first lap, and she worked through the first couple riders way better than I did, and that was pretty much the last of what I saw of her. In the meantime, however, Valentine was right on my tail, and started showing me a wheel, eventually making a pass using her great entries and corner speed. I, however, had the horsepower and drive to get her back on the exits and faster sections, so we went back and forth several times throughout the race, but my horsepower advantage let me get by and hold the lead in the end, which meant taking home 2nd place. It was a fun race, and we had some great battles while working through the Clubman field.

The Snuggling Sequence: Photo by Oxymoron Photography

The Snuggling Sequence: Photo by Oxymoron Photography

The Snuggling Sequence: Photo by Oxymoron Photography

That evening was hanging out with friends and seeing people I know I will miss dearly over the next couple months, eventually tucking off to bed for a good night’s sleep. I wanted to have a great Sunday, my Saturday had gone well, the bike was feeling good, and I felt like things were moving in a really good direction – finally.

I headed out for a quick warm up on Sunday, then prepped for my first race, Open Superbike. I knew my bike was working pretty well for me, and I wanted to get my head in the right space, so picked a couple things to focus on and tried to set the rest aside. We gridded up and I got a pretty decent start, but I’m still struggling with the “intimidation” factor in the first few corners, so a lot of bikes were around me before we were even to turn 6. I started to get into a rhythm after that, however, and soon found a couple novices who I know and trust who made it up to me, so I settled in to working on giving some chase. I knew from my laptimer I was already setting a new personal best on this bike, and came in from the race to find that I had finally dipped back into the sub-2 minute category. Not by much, and only one lap, but lots of 2 flats along with it. I felt like I had more to go, and got ready for Open GP.

Photo by 4theRiders.com

We headed out for Open GP, started the race, and on our second lap, got a red flag. Came back into the pits, and got sent back out fairly quickly. Another restart, and off we went. My starts were pretty decent both times, but again fell victim to that initial intimidation. I then realized that the slightly increased pace compared to what I’ve been doing was taking a noticeable hit on my endurance. I was getting tired, and just worked to maintain what I was doing. Some more 2 minute laps, but definitely a bit slower than my SB race. All of my normal “battle buddies” had missed the weekend, so I was instead finding myself with a few of the faster novices part way through. At least had some bikes around me and people to chase.

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

One more tweak to the bike as I came in from that race, and then I had time to rest and relax before Open Superstock at the end of the day. With that being my favorite race, I really wanted to be sure I was ready and did everything I could to recover and prepare. Eventually it was time to get out there, and we headed out. The bike felt great on the warm up, and because of people who weren’t there, I had a front row grid spot. Final start was decent as well, and I did my best to hang with the pack a little longer this race. I had some fun chasing the guys a bit, and then some of my novice “friends” came up and the carrot was out there. I finished the race dropping a bit more time off my earlier PB, and some additional sub-2 laps. The bike felt great, I didn’t feel like I was riding on the ragged edge, and lots of places where I now feel confident enough to start chipping away at things – again - finally.

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

So, I ended the season feeling – satisfied with my final races. I can’t quite say “proud” as I still would have liked to have seen a new PB overall, but taking 2 seconds off my best times (ever) on this bike is still a major improvement – especially when I see SO many places I can work on improving as the confidence continues to return. This weekend felt like a bit of a redemption as well. There was finally measurable, repeated, forward progress in the right direction. To be honest, pre-breaking my leg, this is about where I had imagined I would be in the first half of 2017, instead of the tail end of 2018, but a lot took place in there that no one could have predicted.

In the end, it’s coming back, I’m not as stagnant as I was starting to feel, and maybe – just maybe – that sheer stubbornness is starting to pay off a teensy bit. I’ve been out here, turning laps, chasing problems, adjusting everything from my riding to my bike, learning a completely new platform, and this was the first weekend where I feel like the better part of 2 years of sweat, blood, tears, and no small amount of money finally showed some positive progress. It’s a better kick off for the next year, and while not “brag worthy” it’s still a big step I was finally able to take.

I cannot thank my sponsors, friends, and teammates enough for everything this past year. Without your help, support, cheers, and candid talk this wouldn’t have happened. 

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

The support from RiderzLaw has been instrumental in helping me achieve the means to get out there, get this bike set up, and sort out the issues. They are seriously the best in the business of motorcycle injury attorneys, and they have taken care of several of my friends, far better than any other law firm would have.

Roseville Motorsports has some of the best customer service of a dealership I have ever found, and they support the sport which is getting harder and harder to find these days. Ali has always been a top-notch representative of RM, and he takes care of his customers even years after leaving with your bike.

DareDevil Motorsports are a passionate team of riders, racers, coaches, and mechanics, who will take care of you, your bike, and any other moto needs you may have.

BARF Racing – what I can I say. Ultimately, my BARF connections are what led me to where I am, and the community is one that cannot compare. Proud to be a part of the team!

Catalyst Reaction Suspension Tuning has helped me throughout the years with getting my bikes headed in the right direction, and they are always helpful and patient with all of my questions and concerns, from suspension to mechanical, they can take care of it.

Dunlop tires keep my bike the shiny side up, and the crew over there are just awesome. Friendly, fun, and hey, they throw the best parties in the paddock!

Dainese Store in San Francisco carries more gear than any other bay area store, the highest quality gear, in nearly every size they make. My D-air has saved my bacon a couple times, and has more than earned its value.

Pacific Track Time – what can I say. Hands down the best track day org out there! Fast riders with a passion for the sport.

Oxymoron Photography makes me at least look like I’m going fast, even if I’m not! Great photos, even better people.

Hustle Hard Racing seems to have those needed parts and pieces when you are most desperate, and are a presence in the paddock.

O2 Creations did some amazing graphics and vinyl work.

Fast Frank Racing has those little parts like captive spacers and brackets that are life savers at the track.

Skratch Labs keeps my hydrated and feeling great even on the hottest of days.

Chicken Hawk Racing tire warmers keep my Dunlops warm and sticky.

Motion Pro makes the best tire gauges, tools, and other items that make your life easier every day.

A special thanks to my Curve Unit sisters for supporting my racing habit and just being a wonderful group of women who I still blame for my addiction!

My coach this past year, Tyler O’Hara, has been instrumental in helping keep the 6” between my ears from exploding. Not only is he a great coach on track, but his understanding of the mental aspects of the sport is unparalleled. He cares about his students and is a phenomenal rider to boot.

Last but not least, Fuzzy, for helping me finally get this beast tamed and rideable – the confidence boosts from a properly working bike are already paying off in very measurable seconds.

Huge thank you to all of our corner workers, volunteers, board members, and everyone else who keeps this club and races running smoothly!

To all of my teammates, pit mates, racing, and track friends – thank you for making 2018 a memorable year despite “everything.” This community is the best one anywhere, and even a bad weekend can seem pretty great with such an awesome group of folks around you!

Here’s to 2019!

Photo by Oxymoron Photography

Thursday, September 6, 2018

AFM Round 6, 2018 Sonoma Raceway – Disappointed to be Sure

All photos by Oxymoron Photography
To say that the last couple years of “racing” (I’ll use the term loosely) have been frustrating would be an understatement. First, there was the broken leg saga that lasted nearly all of last year (still hasn’t even been a year since my last surgery), trying to adjust to the new, completely different bike, and then the bike problems. Oh, the bike problems!

After the last round, when the bike really started to act up, I decided to go and pull the transmission out myself (after arguing with everyone about what was the problem and finally replacing nearly the entire electrical system) only to find it destroyed. Good thing was I pulled it before it tried really, really, hard to kill me, although I’m still fairly certain that was the primary cause of my highside back at round 2.

I ordered parts, and one gear was on backorder, and since I wanted to rebuild this right I decided to gut my street bike and put that transmission and clutch into the race bike for the time being. All of that had some interesting stories and fiascos that I won’t get into here, but end result was I eventually got everything installed, bike ran, and after all my issue chasing, I now had a legitimate race bike with the kit ECU and harness too.

I got one chance to ride the bike prior to round 6, and things went well enough that day. Bike ran beautifully, and I started to get over the mental hang ups I knew existed after riding around the problems for so long. I looked forward to getting out to Sonoma – it’s my least favorite track, but the one where, last year, my times were closest to what I had previously been doing, and I had high hopes that the bike running right would give me a chance to finally break into a new personal best and be able to move past constantly comparing myself to myself.

I failed miserably in that regard.

I couldn’t afford to ride on Friday, so that meant Saturday would be my one chance to try to get back into the groove and get the bike set up. I had only ridden here once this year, and that was back in February when it was like 50 degrees outside and was my first time on the new suspension. There was no baseline set up to even start from, and losing Friday really hurt me in that regard. Practices went well enough, but I started out slow, just making sure things were still working and remembering which way the track went. I had a plan of attack from my coach, Tyler O’Hara, so I was trying to stay focused on that.

After my first session, things were off on the set up, so I went over to Jim at Catalyst Reaction who I’ve been working with for years now, and we made adjustments. I went out, and dropped some time, and found something else that wasn’t working. We adjusted that, and then I went out and dropped 4 more seconds, and now something else wasn’t working. My entire Saturday went that way, and while I was finally enjoying my bike a bit (and more than a few wheelies), my times weren’t where I wanted them.

It was suggested to try a different TC setting prior to my race that afternoon, and I didn’t see an issue with giving it a shot, figuring the worst thing that would happen would be that the bike would be a bit underpowered. Oh boy, was I wrong.

I headed out to AFemme, with hopes of finding a couple more seconds off my practice times. We gridded up, and launched. My start was okay, but Valentine and Shelina took off, and then on our second lap, we got a red flag. Okay, my chance for redemption. We gridded up for the restart, and I had a great launch – woohoo! Aaaand, that didn’t last long. Valentine and Shelina again took off, as I began to realize that my bike was severely acting up. I was getting really bad “pump” coming out of pretty much every corner, and the bike was sliding badly due to it. I rode the race that way, fighting with Jennifer for 3rd place, but I wasn’t able to make my passes stick, and she took the checkered with me right on her tail. 

As I was rolling back to the pits, I realized how stupid I had been – I could have changed the TC back during the race – that could have been changed on the fly, I didn’t need to keep riding the bike that way! ARGH! Oh well, was what it was, race was in the books, and I learned another lesson about my “fancy” modern bike. The evening was spent hanging and chatting with friends, then heading off for a relaxing evening and some sleep.

Sunday I had moved the TC back – even if I couldn’t keep the front wheel on the ground (not that I really wanted to as I was kinda having fun with all the wheelies) – at least the bike was stable and predictable. The first race up was Open SB, my least favorite race of the weekend. It tends to be a meat grinder class, and it’s early in the day. We headed out, I rolled up to my grid spot and started to get focused on what was ahead of me – only to get bumped by someone screaming I was in his spot. I look over and my friend, Adli, who I’m always gridded in front of, is in front of me. I check my mark on my tank, I’m where that says, but see an open spot on the other side two rows up = probably about where I’m supposed to be. I roll out of the other guy’s way only to see the flagger moving forward to the 2 board, so I’m like “crap, guess I’m starting from right here between spots, better get a good start…..”

My start was good, so at least I knew I wasn’t going to hold anyone up behind me, and off we went. As usual the main part of the group takes off, but I knew at least one or two people were behind me, and I wanted to keep it that way. My times were still right where they had been, but I kept a few bikes from making passes and managed to finish the race in not last place. After the race I got called up to Race Direction where I got in trouble for my grid spot and found out the guy who’s spot I had been in threw a complete fit - like yelling and screaming and just in general a complete fit. Took my punishment, and found out my crew had given me the grid spot for Open GP, not Open SB, and I hadn’t looked close enough myself, either. They apologized to the guy who’s spot I was in on my behalf (I would have myself but to be honest, someone THAT upset over something like that had me a bit scared….).

After that, we had Open GP, where I’ve had a few friends I’ve been duking it out with, and I wanted to put in a good performance. I had a great start, and some fun battles, and I knew a few of my friends were back there, and I was determined to keep it that way. I put in my best lap times of the weekend, but still was over a second off from my old personal best, and that was really keeping an overcast to my day as I had high hopes of finally redeeming myself.

I had time to rest and relax before the final race of the day, Open Superstock, which was going to be my last chance to prove myself to myself. A couple of my Curve Unit “sisters” had shown up to support me, and I wanted to give them a good showing too. We gridded up, and instead of a great showing, I had my worst start of the weekend, and possibly since I tried using the launch control. Oh well, race was still on, and I still had bikes back there to keep behind me. My times were consistent, but near the end I knew there was a group behind me and I decided it was going to stay that way, dropping over a second off what I had been doing the rest of the race. Traction was starting to drop off by that point though, and my times were still slower than they had been earlier in the day.

Ultimately, I can’t lie, I was very disappointed with my performance over the weekend. Lots of folks working to help me get things sorted and the bike working the way it should, but I couldn’t seem to pull anything new out of myself. I had come in with high hopes that a properly running bike would be enough to propel me past whatever hang up is there, but it didn’t. I had fun hanging out with everyone, had a few fun battles, enjoyed many wheelies, and for once I wasn’t scared of my bike – just couldn’t seem to translate any of that into actually going faster.

There’s some time between now and the last round of the year, so I’m trying to focus on getting the bike set up the way it should be. There are a few track days, and I have some things I need to adjust/change on the bike, both electronically and on set up before then. I know I should just “trust the process” but that gets hard when time and races are ticking past, and things still seem stagnant. The bike is getting there, now I need to get with it too.