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!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Long Awaited Return

On March 15th I was released for weight bearing by my doctor. Up until that point, I had been at zero weight bearing status, or “toe-touch” only. Needless to say, after nearly 4 months of being on crutches, I wasn’t exactly going to be dancing out of the office, no matter how much I wished I could. Along with weight bearing, however, he also released me to ride as long as I was comfortable holding the bike up, which was news that made me very happy. This meant I was likely going to be able to ride that brand new Roseville Kawasaki ZX10R I had been building all winter at the next scheduled track day on April 9th and 10th with Pacific Track Time.
The day was rapidly approaching, and DareDevil Motorsports started to wrap up the bike, however, it had a leak in the water pump. They had double checked it, but it was going to need parts, so I decided to make use of that warranty at get it in to a dealer, however, this was the of the trackdays, and I was really nervous about getting it ready in time if they needed parts. First they tried replacing the seals, however, that didn’t seem to solve the problem and it was still leaking pretty bad. By the time all of this was found it, it was now Thursday afternoon. We left for the track on Saturday, and it was past order cut off time on Thursday.
Thankfully Roseville pulled some strings and got the parts overnight and they were able to get it working without leaking. I got that call at 2pm Saturday afternoon. There was a scramble up in Sacramento to get the bike, the parts I’d need from the shop, and wrapping her up, but everything arrived at the track and it looked like I might get to ride her once we finished up a few little things.
Half Naked but Ready to Ride!

During lunch DareDevil got the bike ride-able so I was able to get on it that afternoon. Now, I hadn’t ridden this bike, so it was a maiden voyage. I also hadn’t been on track at any speed with the leg, so I wanted to take things nice and slow to be sure everything was working out okay. I started out by taking it out in C group and that session seemed to go fine, so I went ahead and headed out with the next B group session. Despite everything, that was still feeling pretty slow, so I decided to jump out into A  group, even if I was the slowest one out there.

I was feeling pretty decent, starting to try to get a feel for the bike, finally got my tires warmed up, and about the 3rd lap decided I could try adding a little more speed. I went rolling into turn 1, but I couldn’t find my shift lever! Argh! Okay, foot had been giving me some little issues, so just rolled through 1 in 6th gear, figuring I’d get it going into 2 – um, no, still couldn’t find the lever. My foot wasn’t THAT bad, so between turns 2 and 3 I got a look – my lever was still there, but really low, and it looked like my quickshifter sensor was dangling – okay, something broken. Rode it in to the pits in 6th gear and took a look.
Turns out, when I put on the rearsets, I apparently didn’t put the shift rod on properly, and the whole thing fell off somewhere. Explains why I couldn’t find my lever! That was pretty much the end of my afternoon, but I was getting tired so that was okay. I managed to source a rod from a fellow coach, and DareDevil finished wrapping the bike up that evening. I was all set for a full day of riding on Monday!
All morning I’m tied up with C group, both classroom and instruction, so my first couple sessions out were just puttering around in the C group. I rolled my bike up to the classroom for our body positioning segment, and when I looked at the bike, noticed there was oil on the side. UGH, WTH. Not another leak! I walked over and started looking to see if I could locate the leak, which didn’t take much time at all – my oil fill cap was missing! My boot and bike were both oiled, but the bike didn’t seem low on oil so it didn’t seem like I really oiled the track or anything major (plus, A group had already been out for about 5 minutes at this point and I wasn’t hearing of any issues). Still unsure if the cap backed out or was stolen, but it wasn’t there. I wiped the bike down and after the class we pushed it back to the pits. Luckily the OEM cap was in the bag o’ bolts that were taken off the bike, so I was able to use that. 
Maiden Voyage
The rest of the day, the bike seemed to be in pretty good shape. I decided to jump out into A group and start getting to know my new beasty and see how we’d get along. There was a lot for my brain to process, which I knew would be the case.
1.       This bike scoots. I mean, you twist the throttle and it GOES somewhere. Really quickly. And I never did get to using the throttle like I should be, mostly due to not trusting the electronics just yet.
2.       Auto blip is the bomb, but boy do I have to readjust my thinking. I keep braking WAY to early thinking I’ve got to do this whole process, and I don’t. I brake, and I hit the lever. That’s it. Hit it a few times if I need to. No clutch, no waiting for things to engage, no having to think about what my left hand is doing.
3.       Decent suspension is, well, trustworthy. Good geometry + good suspension means that bike is planted. It’s there, and it’s going to be there. With a number of corners, especially, as an example, turn 3, I go into it expecting to be fighting to keep the front wheel on the ground. This is not an issue with this bike, the thing is planted. But my mind keeps saying the front wants to wash out because that’s what I’ve been dealing with the past 2 ½ years. I swear, every single time I went through turn 3 I kept thinking that I could have been coming in soooo much faster.
4.       Overall, I just need to learn to trust the bike and what it will do. I know that a little seat time will help with that, and hopefully the fundamentals I’ve built the past year or so will help that process move along a little faster.
Learning To Trust
There was a moment during one of the A group sessions when the bike and I had a “moment.” Not a bad moment, but a good one. Just the lap prior I had been trying to push my braking a little bit to see what the bike could do and was hard enough on the brakes to have the rear wheel in the air. That was good in that the bike never got squirrely outside of that fact, and while it was harder than I had been willing to brake on my previous bike, it was good on this one. As I’m continuing around the track, I’m going back through turn 3, recognizing how the bike is just “there.” We had a moment right then, and my brain managed to process that I can, indeed, trust the bike. For the rest of the day that was with me – while my reactions were still bad based off previous experience I knew I could trust this bike. It wasn’t going to let me down, despite being a complete beast!
Learning to Trust
I still have a long ways to go, and I still need to re-train my reactions to things, but overall I became really, really happy with my choice in bike. By the end of the day, despite my leg starting to fatigue really badly, I felt like the bike and I were starting to jive just a little bit. I still wasn’t carrying the corner speed I can, and I was still braking way too early most of the time, and I definitely wasn’t twisting the throttle like I can, but we were picking up the pace and feeling confident each step of the way.
I’m really looking forward to the remainder of the year as I reprogram my brain and learn to ride this machine like it’s designed for. I’m super stoked on what we’ve done to it as far as set up at this point, and I’m especially glad I chose this bike when I was buying. Looking forward to the continued progress!
I Think I'm in Love


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Plans In Motion

Things finally took a more positive turn on March 15th when I finally got released for weight bearing on the broken leg. Getting to that point was a long process - nearly 4 months since I broke it, 2 surgeries, 1 external fixator, 2 plates, and 18 screws later, and I'm able to start moving forward with my 2017 plans, albeit with the winter set backs leaving me behind the power curve. 

Despite all that, along with my mechanical sponsor, DareDevil Motorsports, we've been able to get my 2017 ZX10R from Roseville Kawasaki ready to go without a rush. Jesus of DareDevil is pretty detailed on his work, and the bike will be tip top with his set up, some Dunlop tires, and I'll make my debut ride on April 9th with Pacific Track Time. Of course, coming off the broken leg (let's just say atrophy is a bitch) I'm trying to keep my expectations low - but to be honest, I'm guessing I'll still be sorely disappointed in my performance as the reality is that I know my expectations are really higher than I'm likely to accomplish.

I've been back on the street bike for about a week now, and each ride gets slightly easier and I struggle a little less each time. Ankle flexibility and muscle endurance are definitely the biggest issues, but overall riding is proving to be a little easier than I expected - at least in the street environment. Not the same as trying to navigate a track with a new liter bike after riding my little 675 the past 2 years. 

I'm still excited to finally begin my season. After auditing the YCRS at Buttonwillow Raceway for a day earlier in March, I'm looking forward to the chance to execute my "fundamentals" on the new bike. My primary goal is to focus on those, and specifically, eyes and brakes at turn in. Even if I'm slow, I want to be working on those things specifically so that as my speed returns the fundamentals are becoming habitual rather than always having to think of them!

At this point I'm having to harness my inner Honey Badger, every single step hurts at least a little bit, sometimes a lot, and I will be racing in a month on one of the most technical tracks out there (Sonoma Raceway). I've got a few track days between now and then, but I still have a lot of work in front of me. I'm also trying to readjust to my "normal" schedule again now that I'm back on the bike. I need to be getting to the gym again, but still suffer from a) being more tired than normal and b) my leg getting plain old worn out prematurely. Ugh. It's a mix of doing enough but not doing too much. Hard to find that balance, too....

...but the good news is I'll be back out there soon, and can't wait to get on the new bike and turn some laps on it finally! Even if it's slow and easy, at least we'll be out there together - finally! 

With help from RiderzLaw and BARF Racing, despite the medical bills, I'll be able to be out at Round 2 and riding - hopefully not feeling too held up by my lack of winter training!!