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AFM/GAME Race Report - Las Vegas Motor Speedway
- September 19-21, 2003

(written September 29, 2003)

This weekend was the AFM race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS), part of the big GAME event including multiple motorcycle events (road racing, drag racing, motocross, extreme motocross, dirt track, and others). AFM has never had an event in Las Vegas, and the distance (9 hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area) required different planning for the trip. The race weekend schedule was also different. Practice was all day Friday, instead of Saturday as is normal for the AFM. Then, whereas normally we do all the races on Sunday, at Vegas, racing was on both Saturday and Sunday, providing a more relaxed race day schedule, two practices in the morning instead of just one, and they held side car races on Saturday as well. All and all, an enjoyable weekend given the relaxed nature.

One of many decreasing raduis corners at LVMS
(click on image for larger version)
© 2003 Dito Millian /

Pre Race and VFR400 Bike Prep

450cc Motor Inspection and Rebuild

As previous race reports noted, my 450cc VFR engine was parked a while ago because of concerns about the titanium rods. At least two other engines using rods by the same manufacturer had shown signs of gouging on the sides of the rod big end, and our external look (through the clutch cover) at the TI rods in my own engine seemed to indicate a similar issue occurring. Rather than risk destroying the engine, we parked it and I raced the last two races (Thunderhill and Buttonwillow) on the 400cc bike.

As a replacement for the titanium rods, Mike Norman at G-Force was able to convince Carillo to make some rods. Carillo had never made rods this small, but they are one of the premiere rod manufactures in the world, and Mike knew their quality would be top rate, even on a new design. The 450 motor was torn down and inspected while we waited for the new rods. Everything looked great, even, to our surprise, the titanium rods. There was no gouging on the sides of the rods, and they showed no bad signs otherwise. We considered maybe re-using them.

The Carillo rods arrived. After ogling over them for a bit, we weighed them. They were supposed to weight the same as stock, or a little less. Mike put a stock rod on the scale and zeroed it. Then he weighed the Carillo rod. It showed 22 grams over stock. The disappointment was pretty severe as it seemed that once again, we just received a box of useless parts.

Mike got on the phone with Carillo and immediately learned why Carillo is a world class company, and why the small shop that made our original rods is not. Carillo apologized profusely, said send them back right away and they would get it right or refund the money. On top of that, later conversations with Carillo led to some even better options, including the opportunity to try out two different designs that Carillo wants to make, and maybe even a titanium rod made by Carillo. More on that later when things are more solidified.

Now we were faced with leaving the 450 motor apart for several months waiting for the new rods, or re-assembling it with the old titanium rods. They looked fine, but they still concerned us regarding issues seen on the other engines. We decided it was reasonably safe to re-use the TI rods and put the motor back together. My motor had lasted a long time with no sign of issue, so we felt it would be OK. I would use it for the Vegas and Sears Point events, and then tear it down again when the Carillo rods were ready. I was pretty happy to have my 450 motor back.

Between my two bikes (the 400cc bike and the 450cc bike), I have only one set of carburetors setup in the NC30 HRC style (open airbox, HRC jet kit, etc.). I have another set, but there is something wrong with them, and I can't get them to tune right. While the 450cc motor was parked, the good HRC carbs were on the 400cc engine. But, those carbs were transferred back to the 450 engine, leaving me to use my spare stock RVF carbs once again on the 400cc engine. With little time to mess with it, I just installed the carbs, packed up and headed home to get ready for my trip. At least I had two operating motorcycle again.

Trip to Vegas

Going all the way to Las Vegas for a race is pretty expensive and a little hard to justify. But, my wife's sister lives in Las Vegas, and it was a good excuse to visit family. So, I loaded up the Dodge Dakota Quad cab with all my race stuff in the back of the truck, the bikes on the trailer and the four of us in the cab. For a mid-sized four door truck, it handled the 7500 lbs of weight, two kids, wife and all our crap pretty comfortably. But, hey, that's why I bought it. We left Thursday afternoon and arrived in Vegas at about 3am. Thanks to my empeg MP3 player for providing unlimited tunes for the 9 hour trip (does your car stereo run Linux?). Long drives in my truck are the best time to listen to music, even if I couldn't crank it because the family was sleeping.

AFM/GAME Race Weekend

As stated above, instead of having practice all day on Saturday and racing on Sunday, this time, Practice was all day Friday with racing on Saturday and Sunday. Most of us had never seen the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS). On top of that, AFM was running the track backwards, so those few that had seen it had never run it in this directly. Needless to say, there were a lot of people going pretty slow at the start of practice. See the track map below for turn numbers as AFM labeled them.

Friday Practice

LVMS Track Map
AFM ran in the reverse direction
(click on image for larger version)
picture by Jack Walshe
Having two bikes, I was able to sign up for two practice sessions. It was great to get 2X the practice time, and it paid off as I was comfortable with the track by lunch time, and was able to start bringing the lap times down significantly by the end of the day.

Running in the opposite direction, the track was odd. The end of the front straight ended in an S bend. There wouldn't be much out braking into turn 1. Also, half the corners were decreasing radius, tight corners (turns 3, 5, 6, and 7). The fun factor was high, but passing sucked, especially as the pucker factor was pretty high for lots of people. I had to be on my toes as so many people couldn't figure out how to late apex the corners. Lines were all over the place. It got much better as the day wore on. It was clear passing opportunities would be slim.

My VFR400 During Friday Practice
LVMS Turn 2
(click on image for larger version)
© 2003 Mike La Putt /
Just in time for our event, LVMS had added and paved a new section of track, increasing the length to 1.9 miles (turns 7 and 8 on the map). The new asphalt was pretty slippery Friday morning, causing much consternation. It was like riding on cold tires at Sears Point on a 65 degree morning. Nobody wanted to push it through there. By the end of Friday, we had made a reasonably sticky line through it, and the only sliding I experienced was during the morning.

By the end of the day Friday, my best time on the 400 was 1:41.4, and on the 450, it was a 1:37.7. Good references points, but I knew things would speed up in the races. I set a goal of 1:35 by the end of the weekend, a realistic goal provided I could get a clean track.

Saturday Racing

I had only one race on Saturday, Formula I. Plus, we had two practices in the morning. With a long gap between my practice and the race, I hoped I would get some time to visit some of the other motorcycle events of the weekend as there was so much going on. Transportation was the problem. It was too far to walk to the other events. I should have brought my kick stand for my race bike. I could have used it as a pit bike and rode to the other events.

It was pretty common to see someone ride over to our track on their lowered and extended drag race bike or other race bikes, or to see people driving around the facility in their NASCAR race cars. One NASCAR type car even pulled out of the facility and drove down the highway. Maybe he was headed to McDonalds for lunch. And I thought that stuff only happened in TV ads.

Side Cars

AFM Sidecar Racing
(click on image for larger version)
© 2003 Dito Millian /
AFM doesn't normally run side cars, but they have side car rules in the rule book for exhibition events like the GAME event. With a two day race, there was plenty of time to allow side car racing, and they ran on Saturday. If you haven't seen side car racing before, it is rather interesting. Being a team effort, it's probably a lot of fun. The passenger certainly gets a work out. Often, side car teams will invite motorcycle racers to go along as the passenger when they are short a member. John Fosgate, our race announcer and sometimes bike racer was invited to be a passenger. I know he had a lot of fun. Side cars are a regular event at CCS race weekends, but it was nice to see them at an AFM event for once. Most AFM racers don't do CCS, and it was probably the first time they had ever seen side cars.

Formula I

It seemed that about 1/3 the normal crowd showed up for the Vegas weekend (about 125-150 racers I estimate). In Formula I, the smaller grids were a good thing for me, being on an underpowered bike vs. the 600's and 750's. It's easier to pass the bigger bikes one at a time. There were 32 finishers (don't remember the number of starters), approximately 10 of which were "lightweight" bikes like SV650s and 400 fours.

Z-Powered SV650s Everywhere
Kevin Crowther - AFM #50
(click on image for larger version)
© 2003 Dito Millian /
The green flag dropped, and off we went. Things sorted out during the first lap, and it seemed all I saw was yellow. Zoran's yellow "Z-Powered" SV650 team members were everywhere. I picked off several of them, but they just kept showing up. Well, at least until I reached a point where I couldn't pass them any more.

It was the most fun I've had in Formula I all year. I was racing mostly with bikes of a similar power range as opposed to passing big bore bikes in the corners, only to be passed back on the straights. Normally, that's how Formula I goes for me. There was a proposal to create a "Lightweight" class in the AFM that would include the bikes from 450 Superbike, Formula 650 Twins, 250 Superbike, etc. I got a feeling for what that class would be like in the Vegas Formula I race. It would be great if the AFM could find a way to work it in. Maybe some day.

By race's end, my best time was 1:37.5 with a 15th place finish. Not the 1:36 I was hoping for on Saturday, but I was still figuring out the track. I knew what I had to do, but it's hard to make it happen consistently when the track is still new and I didn't totally trust the new pavement yet. Later that day, in 650 Twins, Jeff Tigert turned a 1:34 on his SV650. Clearly, he had the track figured out. But, he's a step ahead of the rest of us too.

With my day over, I did some minor work on the bikes, packed up and headed out for a night of visiting family, dinner, and a walk down the Vegas strip.

Sunday Racing

We started the day with two practices in the morning, followed by a long delay before my two races, which were back to back - 450 Superbike first, followed by Formula Pacific.

Chris McGrail AFM #886
Chris borrowed my 400cc B bike to race 450 Superbike
(click on image for larger version)
© 2003 Dito Millian /
Because Chris McGrail would be racing with me in the AFM 4-hour event at Sears Point, I wanted to give him practice time on the 400cc VFR. He ran morning practice and would race in 450 Superbike on my 400cc bike later that day. He figured the bike out quickly, turning 1:40's in morning practice. Not bad Chris.

For myself, I always put the hammer down and turn some of my best lap times in morning practice on Sunday. Today was no exception, turning a 1:36.002 on regular pump gas, 1.5 seconds faster than Saturday. Now I knew a 1:35 was possible, and expected the intensity of the race, and the "go fast" gas would bring it out of me. Time to go racing.

450 Superbike

We were gridded with Open Twins (as usual), with about 15 bikes in 450 Superbike gridded as the second wave.

Sideways.... Green Flag! I got a decent start and was ahead of Ross and leading the race by the exit of turn 3. My weak spot was coming, though. It was the entrance to Turn 5. If I touched the brakes too soon, Ross would shoot right past me. Sure enough, I wimped out and pretty much gave it to Ross. No problem, I thought. With 9 laps in the race, I would have several chances to get around him. Ross had a different plan.

Ross was riding rather strangely. He was all over the track. At first, I thought he was just letting the first lap jitters get to him, but he continued to ride that way, lap after lap. It didn't take long to realize he was riding a blocking line on purpose. Remember, I said this is a really hard track to pass on. I was saying that about people taking the normal fast and predictable lines. Ross wasn't taking the fast lines. He was taking erratic and unpredictable lines, making it not only hard to pass, but nearly impossible. As the laps wound down, I tried one tactic and found it didn't work, then another. Attempt after attempt, corner after corner, whatever I tried was thwarted by his lines. I would back off and try to get a run up on him, I would try out braking him, I would try to get a better drive out of a corner on him. A couple times, he almost ran me off into the dirt, though that wasn't on purpose. It was just his lines made it dagerous to attempt passing in many instances. In all cases, I kept seeing that to make the pass, I would have to either run off into the dirt, or brush fairings with him. I wasn't prepared to do that.

The worst thing was he would often chop the throttle right at the apex in the decreasing radius corners, then immediately run wide to the outside edge of the track. I could understand the blocking lines. I might think it's a cheesy tactic, but hey, if it works, it's hard to blame him for it. But purposely chopping the throttle was just dangerous. I almost rear ended him twice, which likely would have put both of us on the ground.

Ross Wells, #32
I'm hot on his tail, but couldn't make the pass
(click on image for larger version)
© 2003 Mike La Putt /
In the end, it didn't matter. As I was headed into turn 2 on the last lap, so close to Ross I could read the lettering on his back wheel, trying to maintain momentum so I could pass him on the outside of 3, I saw a meat ball flag at the apex, pointed at us. "Me or him!?" I thought. We were so close together through turns 1, 2 and 3 that I couldn't tell who they were pointing at. Into turn 3 and another meat ball flag. I still couldn't tell who they were pointing at. Then I looked at my temperature gauge. "Crap, it's me." The needle was buried in the red. My bike was overheating and must have been blowing water.

I pulled far to the left exiting turn 3, slowed down a little to let Ross gain a gap and finally saw for sure they were pointing the meat ball flag at me, not Ross. Up goes my hand and I coast off the track at the far end of the back straight.

It was bad enough to see what Ross did during the race. Then, to get meat balled on the last lap, when I had one more passing strategy to try that I hadn't tried yet. It was pretty disappointing. After the race ended, my bike was cooled down enough to ride again. I started it and rode it into the pits, all the while thinking the race had been a complete waste of time.

The bike had run warm all weekend, but never showed a sign of overheating. It was hot, and Las Vegas is in dry desert air at high altitude, which can cause things to run hotter. I knew the bike was already a little lean, but I didn't think it was enough to worry about. I think switching to the good race fuel (VP MR-1) is what pushed it over the limit. MR-1 is highly oxygenated, which has the effect of adding more oxygen in the combustion chamber and leaning the mixture out a little. It's kind of like a mild turbo effect. I probably would have completed the race if I had run it on regular pump gas.

Later, I saw my lap times were mostly high '37's and '38's, the best being a 1:37.2 on my last lap before I was meat balled. These times were pretty much determined by Ross' lap times. I never got the chance to try for a '35.

Richard K. Moore, AFM #766
First Second Place Finish - Congrats!
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© 2003 Mike La Putt /
Ok, it's racing, and sometimes stuff like this happens. It wasn't over heating and not finishing the race that bothered me. It wasn't even the erratic, blocking lines Ross chose to use that bothered me. It was his chopping the throttle at the apex of the corners that bothered me. Ross is a long time AFM racer. He knows how to ride, and he certainly knew what he was doing at Vegas. I had followed him earlier that weekend in practice where he had run normal lines and did not go around chopping the throttle at the apexes. I concluded that he did it on purpose to kill my drive. This bothered me because what may have seemed like a race strategy to him almost turned into a disaster for both of us when I almost rear ended him twice.

I decided I wasn't going to let that happen again. I realized that my cornering skills and lap times were plenty good enough to beat Ross. I have shown many times that I can run faster lap times than him, even on my 400cc bike. What I now need to do is work on passing. That would have to become my main goal for the next race at Sears. If Ross wants to use cheesy lines to win, I would have to show him it won't work anymore.

My DNF turned out good for others, of course. Richard Moore, #766, got his first second place finish on his FZR400RRsp, and Chris McGrail came in 4th on my 400cc VFR400. Pretty good for starting near the back of the pack and racing a new bike, Chris. Good job guys.

Needless to say, I did not race Formula Pacific as it was right after the 450 SB race, and my bike was not up to the task.

Weekend Conclusion

Through the new Asphalt, Turn 7
It was plenty sticky by the end of the weekend.

(click on image for larger version)
© 2003 Mike La Putt /
I wish I could say I enjoyed the weekend. Well, mostly I did. The Formula I race was fantastic, it was great to see my wife's sister and my nieces, I do enjoy long drives when I get a chance to do them, and it was a lot of fun doing a new and different track. Failing to finish 450 SB didn't really matter because this was a throw away race. I lost a chance for contingency money and prize money, but oh well. Unfortunately, though, the events of the 450 SB race put a big damper on the whole weekend, mainly because of the danger factor. I always say, I do this for a hobby, but I still have to go to work on Monday morning. It isn't worth getting hurt over a plastic trophy, or even to win a few hundred dollars in prize and contingency money. Unfortunately, what the weekend showed me is even at the top of the class, I'm going to run into people willing to do anything to win a race. Like I said, I just need to get better at passing so that it never happens again. When people do something dangerous in front of me, it tends to push me to put those people behind me so I no longer have to worry about them. Going into the AFM season finale at Sears Point in two weeks, that will be the main thing on my mind.

Photo Album

(click on image for larger version)

It's nice to have both bikes running again.
The 400cc VFR400, with the 450cc VFR in the background.
John Prelock working on his EX250.
Chris McGrail preparing to add the good juice to his fuel tank.
Our pits at LVMS.
Preparing to go out for the 250 Production race - Asaf Chibi (721) and others.
Joe Rust headed out for 450 Production (on track along with the 250 Production class).
Jay Kinberger (854) strategizes on how he's going to beat Chris.
Jay still strategizing before the warm up lap. Time to go guys.
450 Production Start - Terry Cheney (90), Craig Sanders (615), and Ross Wells (32).
Into turn 2. Ross gets the hole shot.
250 Production Start. Chris McGrail (886) and Jay (854).
More of the 250 Production start - Chris & Jay, with David Crone (731) and Tom Hicks (449).
John Prelock (357) and Asaf.
Most the 250P grid headed into turn 1 at the start.
Chris gets the hole shot, followed by Jay and David.
Mid race - Chris sets up Jay for an outside pass in turn 6.
Amazingly, he makes the pass. It was a pretty exciting race.

Last Updated: Mon, Oct 13, 2003

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