(written July 30, 2003)
AFM round 5 is in the history books. What a weekend: excessively hot weather, a live concert, a crash fest on Sunday, my own crash on Saturday, Brian Bartlow saves the day, a Soap Opera like circular protest in 450 Superbike, someone knocks over my race bike in the pits, and my truck over heats on the way home. That's just too much in one weekend.
Pre-Race Preparation - the 450 gets parked
After some track days and two weekends racing the 450cc VFR with great results, we did some inspections and found detonation on the spark plugs. That, coupled with some issues regarding the the titanium rods, caused us to park the 450 and race the 400cc "B" bike this weekend. The 450cc motor is still under development and G-Force planned to do a tear down about mid season anyway to inspect the parts. But, given what we saw, we decided it wasn't worth risking a DNF this weekend or destruction of the custom pistons, crank, etc. if something let go, so we parked it. My lap times on the 400cc bike were still very competitive, so I was looking forward to the challenge of racing with the less powerful bike.
The main down side with racing the 400 is the 450's suspension works better than the 400. After riding both bikes back to back in the same day, I realized the 400's suspension needed some work. The difference was so apparent that it was kind of depressing. I really dreaded riding the 400. It just didn't inspire the same confidence I got from the 450's suspension. I had to force myself to not worry about it, but instead remember that whatever was wrong, I should be able to fix it. I just needed to keep trying things until I found a solution.
After some inspection, two main issues were apparent. The 400's rear spring is the wrong stiffness, and the fork bushings were shot. I rebuilt the forks, which helped a lot, but I didn't get time to replace the shock spring. Penske ships their shocks with an 850 lbs spring for people in my weight range. The 400's 950 lbs spring was for a much larger rider. I have the original 850 lbs spring, but unfortunately, I didn't get time to swap it in. So, I raced the weekend with the 950 lbs spring. Fixing the forks, however, seemed to make a pretty big difference, so I at least felt comfortable on the 400 again.
As for the 450 motor, it comes out of the bike this week for disassembly, but we are pretty sure what the result will be. The side surfaces on the titanium rod big ends are being gouged by the crank. This was seen in two other motors using rods from the same rod maker (Paul Yoshimune's 450cc VFR400 and one of the 1000cc motors G-Force built using similar rods from the same machinist). G-Force may end up working the issues out with the TI rod maker, but for now, we made the decision to nix the TI rods and go with a rod maker with a proven track record, Carrillo.
The new rods won't be titanium, but they will be the same basic design (speced by G-Force) and stronger as well compared to Titanium. Carrillo's years of experience should net us a reliable product the first time. Of course, since they are a new design for Carrillo, it will be many weeks before we get them, so once again, the 450 will be on hold waiting for promised parts.
Last year, when we started this process, we wanted titanium rods, so Mike Norman approached Crower (another well known rod maker who specializes in TI rods). But they were very expensive and Crower couldn't deliver them in time.
Next, Mike approached a relatively unknown company who could also make TI rods. Working with a relative unknown was a gamble, but all early discussions with them indicated it was worth the risk. They could do it for reasonably cheap and fast enough to meet our schedule. As things progressed, however, there were big delays. Mike had to hold their hands through much of the design process, sending the rods back to them for several revisions. He also had to deal with sending the rods to other shops for coatings and extra machining, pushing the total cost to be equal with what it would have cost to get rods from Crower. In the end, they still failed to perform as desired. Mike says he's going back to his cardinal rule or always sticking with known makers of performance parts. The crank mods, nikisil cylinders, and the pistons in my engine were all designed and machined by people Mike knows and trusts. The rods were the only gamble.
Sears Point Track Day
Knowing it was going to be HOT at Thunderhill this weekend, I signed up for a Sears Point Track day (through Keigwin's @ the Track) on Tuesday before the race weekend. It was much cooler than running the the Friday practice day at Thunderhill. I made a good choice. Temperatures on Friday at Thunderhill were in the 108+ range. I wouldn't have gained much benefit from such a day other than burning gas, destroying tires, and exhausting myself. Sears Point, however, had perfect weather at about 90-95 degrees.
We ran the AMA turn 9/9a and turn 1 configurations, but the AFM turn 11. I really liked the AMA turn 9/9a. I missed the high speed corners this took away, but the challenge of the fast, hard right/left transition of 9/9a and the much safer speed through 10 was fun.
I rode the 400 all day at Sears and found that racing the more powerful 450 at Thunderhill the previous two race weekends helped me a lot regarding confidence and cornering speed. The 450 makes about 10-15 more HP than the 400, and some how riding a faster bike improved my lap times on the slower bike. I managed to get the suspension setup better (more close to the 450), so I was was ready for the race at Thunderhill.
AFM Thunderhill Race Weekend
Saturday practice was a short day due to the New Rider's School. We got only 4 sessions out of the day. Thunderhill is my best track. I always come up to speed very quickly here. Four sessions was plenty of time to get comfortable with the track again. When I had a clear track I got several 2:03 lap times, matching my previous best on the 400 when I raced it here last year. This confirmed that the suspension work was a step in the right direction.
The last session of the day, I came up on Brian Bartlow (#29) on his Aprilia 250. Being a friend and an old 250 Production racer, I had to go dice with him. I came around him on the outside of Turn 3 and got far enough past him that I could no longer see him to my right while heading into 4. Then, as I started the turn in for 4, he came back by, cutting across in front of me. Fearing I was going to T-bone him, I grabbed for the brakes, but I pulled too hard and down I went.
We all expect to crash if we race, so we know the bike and gear won't look perfect forever. But this was the first time down on my new body work, new leathers from last year, I hit my helmet, and I had just mounted new rearsets from TCM. All of it got scoffed up or broken. Oh well.
I talked to Brian afterwards. He is a really nice guy, and I knew he didn't intend to cut me off. It turns out, he was trying to leave me a space so that we could go side by side through 4, but a combination of him not leaving as much space as he thought, and me not compensating to use the space I had and down I went.
I was fine, and the damage was pretty minimal, mostly cosmetic (see here). It could have been worse. I came within inches of actually hitting Brian. I'm glad it wasn't a 2 bike pileup.
The TCM rearsets and the clip-on did an excellent job of preventing serious damage to the bike. The tank and tail section were untouched (except for a 1 cm scratch on the tank), and the exhaust canister received only minor scrapes and some bending to the header pipes. The side panel (upper and lower) got scraped up, but remained intact. The wind screen completely popped off (due to the use of plastic windscreen screws from Lockhart Philips) and was undamaged (normally wind screens seem to shatter in crashes). The only things I had to replace were the shift lever/rod on the rear set and the clutch lever. The rear set mounts didn't even budge or bend from the impact. I was impressed. TCM did a good job with these rearsets, to survive a crash like that so well and to protect the bike. I guess I should mount crash guard spools on the side of the bike, though. Between spools and the rear sets, it probably would have saved the body work completely.
Let the Fun Begin!
Much thanks to my pit mate, Dave Crone, for helping me fix the bike. With his help I was able to get the bike fixed in time to sit back and enjoy the concert that night put on at the "Raab Paviliion", with our host, the mix master, Mike Raab literally running around keeping everyone's cups full with margarita mix. Pretty cool guys! Thanks for the music and spirits. Later, after the concert, I went down to Red Spider Video's tent to watch the on track videos they were projecting onto the side wall of their EZ-UP.
The whole evening seemed to have a carnival feeling to it. It reminded me how much this whole racing thing is supposed to be about having fun (which is exactly what Raab, et. al. was trying to do - put the fun back into the AFM). Unfortunately, the next day so completely overshadowed Sat. evening's festivities that I completely forgot about the concert until sitting down to write this report. Wow, I guess that puts it in perspective the irony of Saturday night's fun vs. Sunday's soap opera. Some people are just taking this club racing way too seriously. I'll say more on this below.
It was supposed to be a little cooler Sunday. I'm not sure it actually was. I was signed up for 450 Superbike (race 3), Formula I (race 6) and Formula Pacific (race 8). Given the temperature, I already had a pretty good idea I would be skipping Formula Pacific.
The heat, or something, must have been taking its toll. Race 1 had multiple crashes (turns 2, 3 and 11 involving 6 or 7 bikes on just the first lap), and race 2 had a big pile up down the back straight, all requiring a long delay, and also a serious injury in the race 2 crash. The rider was unconscious and not breathing. Brian Bartlow was the hero of the day. Brian works as an EMT on a helicopter crew normally. After riding past the incident and coming into the pits, he ran back out to the track to help the rider. I'm not going to get into all the details here because I don't know them, but the issue was the response time by the ambulance was a little slow, and Brian also took actions that I was told the ambulance crew wasn't trained for, or capable of. The actions saved the rider's life.
450 Superbike - Race 3
After a long delay due to the race 2 crash, we finally headed out for the warm up lap. The front row was, in order, Ross Wells (#32), myself (#177) (both of us tied in points for 1st place), Dave Mones (#696), and Phil Douglas (#695) (3rd and 4th in points respectively).
On Saturday, Dave came over to my pit to say hello and mentioned he had a new 450cc motor (making 86 HP) in his FZR400, built by Kenny Augustine (a somewhat well known and successful FZR400 engine builder). I've been saying all season that if Dave got some motor, then the 2 way battle for 1st place would turn into a 3 way battle. Dave made a point of saying the bike wasn't acting like it would survive the weekend, and besides, the suspension was giving him fits and he expected I would still easily beat him. Hmm. By Sunday morning, Ross Wells was telling me that he had a pretty good idea Dave was running an illegal motor. Hmm. I took a wait and see attitude. Lots of people say "so and so is cheating." I normally just ignore it and move on. I would decide later what I thought after I had a chance to see the motor in action.
Because I had to park the 450, I was running my 68 HP 400 vs. Ross' 73-78 HP FZR, [the number keeps changing ;-) ], and Dave's "86 HP" new motor. The unknown about Dave's motor (just that I had no idea what to expect from it) at a time when I didn't have my best motor on track was not the situation I envisioned coming into this weekend. But, what ever would be, I was going to have fun. I knew regardless, neither Dave or Ross would walk away from me.
Green Flag!! I got a horrible start, going through turn 1 in 6th. Dave got the hole shot I believe, followed by Ross, Phil Douglas, Bobby Broussard, and someone else which I don't remember. I passed Bobby and the other rider going into turn 2 and started looking for an opening. Phil was taking a really wide line, and he was going wider....and....wider... - OK, Phil's in trouble. Ross was clear up the inside, and Dave was ahead of them, exiting the turn. As Phil headed out into the grease sweep along the outside edge of the track (from the race 1 pile-up), I squirted past Ross and Phil and tucked in behind Dave as we headed into turn 3.
I followed Dave, unable to find a pass, so I prepared to do what I did last month, take him on the inside going into 9. Apparently, Ross had other plans. He blew by me going into 8. Damn, Ross is good at doing that kind of stuff. So much for my turn 9 plans.
Ross passed Dave going into turn 14, out braking him down the back straight (I think that's when he did it - it might have been turn 10). Through turn 15 we went, onto the long straight and I would finally get a chance to see the motor difference. Slowly, they got further and further away. Yup, they both have motor.
Through turn 1, and headed into turn 2, I closed the gap and decided I could probably make an outside pass into 3. As we were getting on the gas about half way through 2, I crossed over behind Dave to tighten my line (to get a better angle for the entrance into 3). At about 2/3rd's through 2, Dave chopped the throttle and I had to swing out wide to his outside to avoid hitting him (I was right behind him when he did it). "Whoa!! That was close." This blew my drive for a pass in 3.
Over the Cyclone, through 5 and into 6... Once again, Dave chopped the throttle mid corner, right at the apex, when he should have been getting on the gas. Once again, I had to take evasive action - but not as bad this time. Maybe this was the suspension issues he was talking about, I don't know, but it was getting dangerous, and it killed my drive coming out of the corner. Luckily, this whole time, Ross wasn't getting away from us.
Around the track to turn 14, and on the short section between 14 and 15, Dave nearly high sided right in front of me accelerating out of 14. Before I could go "Oh shit!" it was over. He lost all his drive and I passed him on the outside before 15. If he had actually lost it, he would have taken both of us out. At this point, I was starting to get annoyed with these near misses. That was 3 times in 2 laps that Dave and I almost came together. But, he was behind me now, and I set my sights on Ross. I gave Dave a "Whew!" hand wave as we entered the front straight, just glad to see that nobody crashed.
About halfway up the front straight, Dave flew past me. "Wow!" Where did all that power come from. "Something isn't right here." I thought. I could see him catching back up and maybe passing at the end of the front straight with a reasonable motor difference, but doing it halfway up the straight, after losing so much drive before turn 15 was very strange.
Through turn 1, and into 2, I setup a line that would allow me to pass Dave around the outside. I made the pass and set my sights on Ross again while headed into 3. Ross wasn't very far away, and I was up with him by the time we exited turn 6. It remained this way, up and over 9. Then, as Ross and I were braking into 10, Dave came flying up to my right side, slamming on the brakes as he came side by side with me. Once again he showed some amazing power that seemed suspect. But, I had already initiated my turn in, plus there was a yellow flag in turn 10. Even if the door had been open, Dave couldn't use it.
As we came through 11, 12, 13 (the esses), there was a massive crash down the back straight. A bike was laying in the middle of the track, and between the incident and us, there were four open twins riders poking along past the crash. Ross and I had to slow way down because we weren't allowed to pass the slower riders. We were WFO immediately right after the incident. But, the damage was done. Dave had it timed better and barely had to slow down past the incident. He passed me right after the downed bike. I tried to out brake him up the inside into turn 14, but due to the grease sweep and oil that was spilled there earlier in the day, I just didn't have the confidence to go for it. Even worse, I got tangled back in with a couple of the open twins riders who were still riding slow. They must have been thinking the race was going to be flagged. But, until those black and red flags fly, you need to be racing. They weren't. By the time I got out of turn 14 and 15, Ross and Dave had a pretty good lead going up the straight.
Once again, I made up the gap going through turns 1 through 3 and we were in a tight group headed out of 6. But, one last time, Dave cut his throttle in 6, forcing me to take evasive action to avoid hitting him, and losing my drive in the process. You would think I would learn. I won't be sticking myself that close to Dave in the future, and I made a note that we needed to talk after the race.
As we crested the hill in 9, I saw a black flag in 10. They flagged the race. It was over. Since we were on the 4th lap, the race was complete, and the scoring reverted back to when we last crossed the finish line. Hence, it was Ross, Dave, and then me.
I was pretty disappointed about the race. Falling back to 3rd place due to a yellow flag incident was bad enough, but Dave's riding, the race ending early, and the question about Dave's engine were the bigger causes of the disappointment.
A half hour after the race, I was still sucking down the gatorade, trying to cool off and regain my energy, when Tom Dorsey came by to tell us someone had protested Ross Wells. He wanted to know if it was me. "No." I said, while trying to pick my jaw up off the ground. I was astounded. "It must have been Dave."
I went down to see Ross and I found him in his pits stripping the bike down in preparation for the inspection. He had been protested for illegal displacement, and it was confirmed that Dave Mones lodged the protest.
Ross is very good rider, and his bike makes some pretty good power, but what I saw on track was Dave had the most powerful motor between the three of us. I had already been discussing the prospect of protesting Dave with my pit mates before learning about Ross being protested. If Dave protested Ross thinking Ross' motor was illegal, that pretty well confirmed that Dave's motor must be illegal.
A protest costs $150 for a top end teardown and inspection, or $200 for a top and bottom inspection. If you are wrong about the protest, the person who is protested keeps the money (to try and offset the cost of putting their engine back together). If you are right, you get the money back and the protested person is disqualified from the race. Problem is, a protest requires cash (no checks accepted). While still in Ross' pit, I realized I didn't have the cash. It was ironic that Ross' did, and offered to spot me the bills. Note to self: Always bring a couple hundred dollars to the track beyond normal spending money. You never know when you'll need it for a protest.
I didn't really like lodging a protest. I was pretty sure Dave's motor was illegal, but there's always that chance of being wrong, losing the money and looking like an idiot. Joe Montoya's comment, as I got the protest form from him, didn't help. "So, we're doing circular protests now, uh?" It sure didn't look good. I turned the money and form into tech and could only sit back and wait for the result.
What happened next is one of the most amazing turn of events I have seen in 6 years of racing the AFM. Tech came over to tell me that Dave started stripping the bike for the inspection, but halfway through stopped and disqualified himself. I couldn't believe it. All kinds of possibilities ran through my mind.
Later, I got most of the story. Apparently, there was some confusion as to what parts were used to build Dave's engine, and part way through stripping the bike down, they (Dave and his pit mates) came to the realization that his motor was in fact illegal. It had been built using an FZR600 crank, but using FZR400 pistons, giving the motor a very long stroke and something near 550 cc of displacement. Uh, ya, that explains the massive power I saw during the race.
Several hours later, Ross' motor was found to be legal, by the way. There wasn't much of a surprise there. I have never had a reason to believe that Ross' engine was illegal. Ross' motor is well built, but he is also a very good rider and knows how to make that thing go.
There are a lot of opinions as to what really went on here, and things got pretty ugly between a few people, including some perhaps poorly placed words, a threat of a law suit between Dave and another AFM rider (due to the poorly placed words), a lengthy discussion about the cost of a protest and comments about "How the hell can you put a motor together with the wrong crank and not know it?" Most people had pretty harsh things to say about a guy that protests another rider while having an illegal motor himself. That, and you can't put an FZR600 crank in an FZR400 motor without doing specific things to the parts to make them fit and work. Dave maintains that he didn't know he had built the motor that way. If that really is true.... Well, either way, it doesn't look good. I also find it strange that he originally told me Kenny Augustine built the motor, but after the protest, all comments have been that Dave assembled it. There's more to the story than Dave is saying
Publicly, I have tried to stay out of this (it isn't easy), and even here, I am simply trying to state the facts as I know them. I have a very adverse opinion of cheating, though. My opinions stem mostly from the world of online computer gaming where cheating runs rampant and has almost totally ruined many popular games. Because of that experience, I have no tolerance for cheating.
In club motorcycle racing, things are far better than online gaming, so I don't take it quite so adversely, but it is still a problem. Last weekend was the second time this year an illegal bike has come between Ross and I. Earlier, at the second Sears Point race, Craig McLean (AFM #501) entered a Ducati Supermono in 450 SB, passed his way up from the back of the pack, got between Ross and I for about a lap, and eventually passed Ross for the lead. A lap later, he pulled off the track, presumably because he knew he was on an illegal bike (Ducati Supermono's are Formula only machines - not legal in Superbike) and was either trying to avoid the wrath of a protest, or he thought he was being the good guy and pulled off so as to not mess with our points. But, he wasn't a good guy. Craig shouldn't have even been there, he did affect our race, and yes, it is possible that I might have passed Ross if Craig hadn't been there. Now, a similar situation has occurred with Dave, sticking his illegal motor between Ross and I for the better part of the race.
Woulda, shoulda, ya, I know. Even without the influence of the Ducati in the mix that day, Ross was most likely to win. It would have been a long shot for me to beat him, but the long shot wouldn't have been so far off without the Ducati dicing with us. Well, last weekend at Thunderhill, I have to turn that around. The previous two race weekends at Thunderhill, I walked away with the victory, doing a best lap time of 2:01.6 and a consistent 2:02 on the 450cc motor. Thunderhill is my best track, and it shows in my results. This weekend, on the 400cc motor, I ran several 2:02's in Formula I (race 6, later in the day), with an easy string of 2:03's both in the race and in practice all weekend. Ross' best time in the 450 SB race was a 2:04, with a 2:03 as his best overall this year at Thunderhill. It is reasonable to consider that if I had gotten the chance to pass Ross in the 450SB race, I might have been able to get away from him and win the race. Would Ross have sped up had I been dicing with him? Absolutely. Maybe both of us would have been doing 2:02's in the race. The point is, because of an illegal motor, Ross and I never got the chance to find out what could have been. As it is, our best times in 450SB were in the 2:04 range. It wasn't my or Ross' best showing. What a disappointment.
Formula I, Race #6
I was gridded on the outside of the third row, I got left in the dust by everyone on their big bore bikes headed into turn 1, I ran my best, had fun and turned some 2:02's (2:02.5, 2:02.6) before the race was over. This was the high point of my day. Now, my best lap times on the 68 HP 400cc VFR are within 8/10ths of a second of my best times on the 450cc (80-85 HP) VFR. Improved lap times is what I most want to see, and getting some 2:02's on the 400 was all the trophy I needed for the weekend.
Formula Pacific, Race #8
It was so hot that I just wasn't up for an 8 lap FP race, especially after the 6 lap Formula I race had fried my brain. Instead, I enjoyed watching it from the top of turn 9.
The End of the Day
As if the day's drama wasn't enough, as I was packing up my stuff, someone backed into my 450cc VFR and knocked it over, cracking the fairing upper, bending the instrument cluster bracket and a few other minor things. Now, both my bikes had crash damage. Ugh! He was very sorry for the accident, and agreed to take care of the damage. It is kind of a pain to deal with, but after the events of the day, all I could do was laugh. On the bright side, the TCM rearset's stout peg and the clip on once again saved the majority of the side of the bike, preventing any scoffs or scratches from occurring to the tail section, the RLR exhaust and much of the side of the bike. I guess I'm pretty happy with the rear sets.
But wait, there's more. On the way home, my truck over heated. The heater core cracked, and steam was coming through my dash vents. I wasn't sure if it was smoke or what at first, but I started frantically turning off stuff (the stereo, etc.) while I headed for the next freeway exit. It was steam, and in fact, the entire system had evacuated and the engine was very hot. It wasn't happy when I came to a stop. I had terrible visions of an expensive engine rebuild on my truck. After a long wait, I was able to add water to the engine, start the engine and see that it was OK. I was able to get home, but there was water dripping on my foot the whole way. What a pain.
There was way too much drama this weekend. The worst part about it is, the drama started last year. This weekend was just a culmination of a problem that has been brewing since then and doesn't seem to show signs of settling down either. As I have gotten better, and started winning trophies, I have become a target in a multitude of ways, not just on the track, but in the pits and on the email lists. I have been verbally attacked several times, both anonymously and to my face by people that keep trying to bring me down or hype themselves up. Perhaps people have mistaken my excitement regarding my own improvements and my race program as boasting. It isn't intended as such. Perhaps my improvements represent a threat to some people's egos. Well, there's not much I can do about that.
Is club racing really so important people feel the need to put civility aside and start attacking each other over who's the fastest, who spent the most money, who is likely to beat who, and who's been winning the class too long? Does it really matter? I thought this was supposed to be about having fun. I have since learned that isn't the case for some people.
I do what I do for one reason only, because I'm having fun doing it. I don't care if I win or not. I only care about setting personal goals that challenge myself, and beating as many of those goals as I can. I'm not perfect, and I'm sure my ego comes through every now and then, but it isn't because I'm trying to say "I'm better than you." like a child on a pre-school playground. I compete with myself. If you can learn to compete against yourself, you'll do better in most things in life. This is a lesson I learn doing track and field in high school. It is one of the most important lessons I have learned in life. It is sad to see, however, that too many people waste so much time comparing themselves to others when instead, they should be focusing on themselves.
Cheating is just one example of the wrong mentality, but unfortunately, it isn't the worst example of poor sportsmanship that I have been exposed to in the last year. I guess I have to reset my expectations about people, grow a thicker skin and just move on, remembering that I do this because it's fun, and I'm not going to let people who misunderstand that ruin it for me.
Official Results for all races