AFM round 6, 2009
Infineon, Sonoma California
Alright I’m going out on a limb here. I have no pride. I’ve heard about it all my life, even dreamt about it, but I don’t know… What the hell is this thing? Great as it sounds, hard as I’ve tried, I can’t find this dam G-Spot. So I looked it up and here’s what I got:
G-Spot : An area considered by some specialists to be highly erogenous, but whose existence is doubted by others, due to insufficient objective evidence.
To me that definition sounds like some of us just get it, while the rest of us are left swinging at nothing. That’s not an answer, so I google-earthed it. Nothing.. Guess I’m left in the dark on this one, still - which I hate. I mean what’s worse than knowing something you want is right there, within your reach, but you just can’t put your finger on it?
Take our KTM Super Duke for instance. From the first time I rode this bike I could tell “IT” was there. You know the “IT” I mean right? That something special a bike either has or hasn’t? That something elusive, which sets it apart from the average two wheeler? Like a woman who did all her homework, who stands on her own, who dresses so fine and likes what you like.. But without that “IT”, it’s just not gonna’ happen.
When I looked up to answer Mike and Kari, of Tri Valley Moto, with a “yes” that fateful day in September of last year, this is what I meant. I knew “IT” was there, somewhere deep inside the Super Duke’s chassis, and I knew it was within reach. What I didn’t know was whether or not “we” could reach it. But that’s what racing is all about. That’s what life is all about. It’s about doing something you know you can’t. It’s about swinging for something you’ll surely miss. It’s about reaching for something, you just can’t put your finger on.
We had a breakthrough the weekend before Laguna. What had made no sense at all to us, and lead to all our crashing, finally began to. So we went through with that weekend and in the end our Superduke did pretty well out there. But looking back now, I don’t think Laguna is a difficult track to set a bike up for. It’s pretty smooth I find, and not overly aggressive. The following weekend we headed up for T-hill. It was my idea to go actually, because our Laguna experience had sparked so much enthusiasm to make the last two AMA rounds - VIR and NJ, that we came close to dropping out of the AFM all together. But for once, I knew better than most. After all, dreams like AMA come with lots of contingencies – many of which have a bad habit of falling through. So we showed up to T-hill with a skeleton crew. Any suspension changes the bike would need up there, too bad. No Phil of Aftershocks, meant no suspension changes. So I manned up and rode over some serious shimmies and warbles. We came out of that weekend pretty well too. I never wrote about it because Dean Adams of Superbikeplanet made me feel like a putz for even existing, never mind racing a Superduke in the AMA. Funny, this week he’s hosting a story about how great the Superduke is.. Whatever, maybe he finally discovered the G-Spot himself.
In Saturday’s first practice our bike felt strong and tight. Scott, Tri Valley Moto’s head tech, had gone through our motor for the first time all year, the previous week. He gave our power house a clean bill of health, and it showed out there on track. The other great improvement came from my old east coast buddy Fred Renz, of Yoyodyne. His new quickshifter, mounted on our bike, made for one hell of a step up the ladder of progress in getting around a race track quicker. And easier.. In just the first practice, with our thoroughly used Michelin rubber from Thunderhill’s three races, we were within half a second of our previous best times at Infineon. All this felt really good, but we weren’t there yet. Our bike was still very unsteady under hard acceleration. Head shake, tail wiggle, bouncing, bucking, whatever you want to call it. I would hold my breath until we got to the wheelie bump in turn eight, just to get the front wheel in the air and calmed down – for even just a second. Each time we came off the track I was spent. My arms were pumped, sweat poured off my forehead, and my tongue hung out of my mouth like Alex’s Labrador Retriever.
I knew we were close. I could feel it. But hard as we tried we still struggled to find “IT”. We went harder up front, we went stiffer on high speed, we tried lowering it in the rear. I even got advice from my old pal Dave Moss, “Try moving your weight forward. Put more force up front. And don’t hold on so tight. When things start gyrating, don’t fight it. Think of it like it’s a woman.” Well holy shit right then I knew I was screwed. These days you just say the word “woman” to me and I’m completely confused. Thanks Dave..
But then an odd thing happened out there on the track. Matt Green powered by us on our way out of pit lane. Kind of aggressively, like maybe to make a point. It didn’t bother me so much. Ken Hill used to do that too. I stayed quiet behind him and followed on his out-lap.
It’s funny I think, racing. Everyone focuses so much on lap times. When it comes down to it though, unless there’s a huge difference in pace, lap times don’t win races. Racing does. I quietly used Matt as a gauge, to see where we stood against… well… Matt. After all at Infineon, he sets the Open Twins bar. After about the third lap of stalking him, surprisingly we were still right there. He would surely gap us with hp in places, but we always made it back into his wake. Then we got by him in traffic out of the Carousel. He shot back by up the hill. But he went into turn seven pretty deep, and real wide. If there’s one thing our bike does well, when it’s in a good groove, it corners like a cat. So with Matt way out on the Nascar pavement outside of seven, I made an executive decision to answer his pit lane call – and jumped at the final apex before he got there. He was spooked by the move, I could tell. But it was as clean as it was aggressive.
Image by Ozzie Fregoso (GotblueMilk.com)
Once back in our pit Matt rode by on his scooter. He never got off. Instead he just looked at me. I told him in a playful banter, “Hey, you’re the one who went out there..”. His slightly annoyed response was a very simple, “It’s practice man. It’s practice..” Then he rode away. And as he rode away, for the very first time in almost three years, I got this special feeling inside that maybe… possibly… If all the stars lined up just right tomorrow… we might actually have a chance at a win. Why would I get this out of that? Because apparently, we were in his head. And that, is racing.
We tried harder, Phil, Jason Hauns, and myself, to work out our wallowing, bucking gremlins all the way up until the last practice Sunday. No dice. We only made them worse. So we all decided to compromise. We would run our fastest setup of the weekend so far. To Phil and Jason this meant we could run 44.5s in the race. To me it meant we were in for a hell ride. I asked Alex Florea for his softest Michelin rear, and told Mike not to shake my hand on the way out. We needed to save all the bar-gripping power that we could.
From the second row we were third through turn one. Nick Hayman won the hole-shot. That was great to see for two reasons. One, I was happy for Nick. Two, maybe he would slow Matt down.. Those two tied each other up getting through turn two just enough to give us a run on Nick toward turn three. Now it was “On”. It was just Matt up ahead as we went over the hill of 3a. It wasn’t half a lap yet and he was already a few bike lengths ahead.
I short-shift into turn 5, which sets up a peaceful moment through there. With the motor gone quiet I watched Matt up ahead and thought about our crew. Thought about our year. Thought about how faith somehow had survived this long – when so many times we all quietly considered giving up. I even thought of Donnie Schmidt. I was wearing our third Suomy helmet of the year. It’s been a hard year, for everyone. We have all been chasing that special spot which only the lucky ones seem to be able to find.. and so far we hadn’t.
But this race was different. Matt’s rear tire grew closer, rather than farther. As we both searched for a quicker way around the Carousel, I began to realize we actually did have a chance. He gapped us up the hill but we worked our way back, on the brakes into nine. I get us through turn nine now like we’re racing on ice, so on our first run up the front straight Matt had a decent lead. It took a few laps but we found enough pace to stay on his ass. As we shot out of the Carousel I wondered what our backs must look like from the bleachers. By now we weren’t exiting behind him anymore. We were running up his inside, front axel to rear axel.
Although I have helped many other racers figure things out faster than they might have on their own, I have never mentored anyone. But if I ever do, one of the things I will surely teach them is this: If you can stalk them, you can beat them. In the next peaceful short-shifting moment through turn 5, I made an epic team decisions without calling Derek Lafontaine first. We were going to pass Matt on the inside, mid race, while cresting the rise into the Carousel. Up until that point I planned to wait for a turn 7 pass on the last lap. I didn’t really want to piss Matt off early. But minus the bucking, our bike felt strong and wanted to go. And so we did.
We lead the next lap until we got into traffic. At this point I remembered some of the emails Matt and I had exchanged over the past seasons while we haven’t been out there racing. One question he asked was how to beat Tom Montano in traffic. I know Tom, and I know how he handles traffic – like hand grenades thrown over his shoulder. So that’s exactly what I did, all the way out of the last turn and onto the front straight. I looked for the checkered flag on our last lap, but all I really saw was race control, standing in their whites, clapping, and smiling ear to ear. We finally did it. We won an AFM Open Twins race on our KTM Super Duke.
Image by Donnie Schmidt (SuomyUSA.com)
Image by Donnie Schmidt (SuomyUSA.com)
Long after the hugs were all embraced, we decided to try our latest suspension idea for the final two races of the day. After all we are in no points races. In fact our whole year is basically practice. In the hopes of calming our sometimes violent wallowing in Open Twins, we changed our front spring rate to a decent jump softer. Our plan was to see if the bike has mostly just been out of balance. My job was to run slow enough to see how well the new spring rate worked in F1, then we’d pick up pace for 750 Superbike. In Open Twins we ran mid 43s. So once in mix of F1, I settled us into a pace about two seconds slower – mid 45s. That’s being a good boy right? I was real gentle on the brakes everywhere, because I knew the softer spring rate could get us compressing so low up front we could lose our happy trail numbers. As we all ran over turn two I think we were fifth or sixth in the pack. It was a comfortable pace, and for the first time ever, our bike was stable as we gassed it hard. Even when the front wheel lofted just a hair off the ground, it didn’t shake it’s head. It was remarkable, it was steady, it was a race bike. But as we ran around the Carousel, exactly on line, exactly on our scheduled pace, at about the ¾ point as I began to roll into the throttle – the front fell into the ground like suddenly the skies had opened up and poured rain on nobody’s tire but ours.
As I slid across the ground I could feel the pavement trying to burn through the Vanson leathers wrapped around my body. I rolled to my back as we rushed down the hill and across the drag strip. Our Super Duke came to rest on it’s side, half way up the dirty hill on the north side of the quarter mile track. I came to rest a few feet short of that, wearing an oddly comfortable smile. Yes, we had just crashed out of F1. And yes, our great weekend had just ended early. But it wasn’t in vein. We had just learned something invaluable about our setup. Our bucking and wallowing was finally, completely gone. And also finally, one of our crashes made sense!
Image by Donnie Schmidt (SuomyUSA.com)
It’s definitely a bummer to leave a race weekend dirty from a crash. And for us, on this weekend, it was very easy to leave feeling torn. To go from such a high-high, to such a low-low as a crash, it was easy to leave feeling numb. But racers rarely choose the easy choices. And racers rarely ever surrender. And that’s how I know that one day, not only will we have this Super Duke set-up nailed, but I will also nail that mystifying spot called “G”.
Until next time brothers and sisters, keep reaching..
Image by Eric Gulbransen