Win it, or bin it. ..…Or
AFM round 2, Buttonwillow Ca.
Even though we visited her constantly, my Nana died in a nursing home. Homes like that can be rough on people but oddly, not so much for kids. I didn’t seem affected by the smells, or feel so much the distant cries for mercy. Instead I simply saw the people for who they were today, and who they were yesterday. I never forgot one simple lesson a special old woman taught me from her bed, just days before she died. In fact I bet I never will - “Make the little decisions with your head, son. Make the big ones with your heart.”
It’s funny, the lessons that stick. They’re impossible to predict. I remember fifteen years ago during an AMA National at Loudon, a man wearing a half-moon scar on his bald head told me while lying on his back, from under my bike, as he struggled to adjust an experimental Koni shock which I’d been asked to (unsuccessfully) develop – “GoGo?” ….long pause…. “I’ve been around a while now. Seen a lot of things, met a lot of good racers.” ….another long pause…. “Some sponsorships can make careers. Others can break them straight in half.” With that he stood back up, brushed the dirt from his shoulder, and strangely walked away. I remember thinking to myself, “Hey is this one of those moments?”
Jim Lindeman is a fascinating man. He never tells you everything he’s thinking, with words. But he always tells you everything he’s thinking. At a decade and a half ago, and likely thousands of racers since, he only knows who I am today. The me of yesterday apparently left little impression. But I remember him, almost daily, and in the end he was right. Some sponsorships have opened doors for me, while others have shut them straight in my face. Few even threatened my life.
I posted a story here on Barf, back in 05, just after the AMA National. A bent shift fork on a 999R had just put an early, and rather exciting end to our Superbike race. It was a great story, full of heart. The bike had been coming out of gear in the early laps, it even locked up and put us in the dirt once. But I soldiered on like a (retard) champ, and ultimately put us straight into the wall outside of turn ten. Most people responded with support, but one guy (I can’t remember who) pm’d me. “GoGo, I’m just curious, cause I want to learn. And I mean no disrespect, but… Why didn’t you just give up?”
I remember coming up with all these noble reasons. I had a big list of them and they all sounded great. But I never wrote the guy back. They were all bullshit. Really, the more I have thought of that day since, the dumber I have felt about soldiering on.
For sure we have come a long way with our program since last year. What a lot of work it’s been. But like the lessons I have tried to teach others - hard work doesn’t make a difference, smart work does. These thoughts were the ones haunting me as I drove our program through the Infineon gate Saturday. After all, Infineon was our biggest challenge last year. Buttonwillow may be bumpy, but it’s got good traction. So does T-hill. But we were all over the road last year at Infineon. So my unspoken goal this weekend was survival. Just keep it upright. I don’t think I made one pass for position out there. I saw the openings, I felt the drive, but each time I opted out instead. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Two fifths and a forth is not what I go racing for. Losing positions is not in my nature. I’d rather chew on sandpaper. But in the end we broke the curse. Even if it all goes to shit tomorrow, we’ve already proved to ourselves we are better in 2010 than we were in 09. That our theories are correct, our setup – not our bike our tires or our abilities - was our problem.
So I can’t write about racing passion tonight. And thanks to Dannyboy’s great work as a race team manager, I can’t write about drama. Instead I’ll write about our learning. After all there’s two ways to learn from someone – watch them do it right, or watch them do it wrong.
Our forks now move “more” freely, which is great. Trust me on this – pouring concrete in your forks (no matter the brand) is not the hot setup. After extensive testing in this department I can confidently report; the less movement you have, the less feel you get. The less feel you have, the less warning you get. The less warning you have, the more often you will hit the deck. But that’s at the extreme end of stiff, which we have finally found our way away from. By the second lap of Saturday’s practice I had rather happily learned our new challenges were more appropriate to motorcycles, than heavy farm equipment. It used to be the only way I could compress our forks, to change the attitude of our chassis, was with HEAVY braking. Tough to do that mid turn, or while trail braking. Now, simply rolling out of the throttle gets it done. But movement is a fascinating thing – one should be careful what they ask for. By the end of practice #1 we simply had too much movement – effectively arriving us at the other end of the farm equipment spectrum.
I often wonder why top riders only report that they “made some changes”. It seems impossibly rare that they ever divulge exactly what those changes were. Colin Edwards comes the closest. Maybe it’s competition that keeps them quiet. I don’t know. But I have no secrets. I like to set a bike up to move under me. I like a chassis attitude I can manipulate with body position, throttle input, and trail braking. I think a lot of times people confuse the term “Trail braking” to simply mean gently dragging the front brake as you enter a turn. That’s only half right – the dragging of the brakes. The other half is what you are doing to your “Trail” by “Braking”. Remember, steep rake (with trail like a tricycle) helps you turn. A tall front end (“Raked” out, like a chopper) helps you go straight. Our problems Saturday morning were related to exactly this. I could set the front just right going in by trail braking, but as I eased up on the brake feeding in more lean angle – trying to maintain that steep rake and tight turning ability, our front end would jump right back up. The turning forces (G-forces) themselves couldn’t hold the bike down, so we would go wide everywhere the instant I let go of the brake.
Jason and I went back and forth all morning long with fork settings. Nothing seemed to help - faster slower harder stiffer. But then I had what the guys at Tri Valley Moto call an “Alex” moment. Alex is the head (mechanical genius) tech at Tri Valley. He solves all the riddles the rest of us can’t. After three sessions I suggested to Jason, “Maybe it’s not the front at all. Maybe the rear rebound is too slow?” It’s amazing how that works sometimes. Problems you feel on one end of the bike actually begin at the other. We sped up the rear to keep it from packing (absorbing energy but never releasing it, therefore getting lower and lower – which was effectively “raising” our front) and bam, no more “popping back up at the front.” The bike would now stay on the line I set it for. …almost
The rest of Saturday went just as well. Slowly we progressed our way through one issue to the next. But we were starting from ground zero so while we made progress, we actually need a lot more.
For Sunday I woke with one main goal – don’t crash. Now we all know I have woken with that goal before and everything ended up going to hell in a hand basket. So really, I was actually pretty nervous. It’s just not in my biology to go backwards in a race, to not go faster and faster with each practice, to settle for position. But that’s what we did. We are still not where I know we can be. Still our mid-corner attitude is too long and too slow to turn. We need to lower our nose another 5mm but we can’t just yet because we are now regularly dragging that beautiful bellypan that I fabricated in the He-Man Woman Haters Clubhouse. I have to change the shape of it’s nose, make it more triangular. Then we can go lower, then we’ll be able to turn at the same arc, but at a faster pace. Until then though, this bike needed to be ridden by the more gentle me.
Berto came under me in one race. That was like my ultimate test of self-control. It’s not that he doesn’t have a nice ass, it’s more I just don’t need to be looking at it. He seems to be riding better this year. That’s nice. He even complimented my riding once back in the pits. That’s nice too. But I still felt like throwing up.
Then there was Open Twins, which is a new class now. Siglin was right when he wrote after round 1, it won’t be like the past. But he was wrong when suggested it might ever have been easy to win. I don’t think any championship is easy to win. But the stakes are higher now. The lead bikes are much stronger. We will have very hard times keeping up at Thunderhill. We ran our bike on Doug Chandler’s dyno last week. Man does it run well. It’s fuel map is spot on, thanks to the Tuneboy system we are now using. Also our new ram-air airbox, that helps us too. But when it comes down to it, our motor is bone stock. It tops the chart at 122hp. And after all the work we have done on suspension, where we have finally ended up a year and a half later is right where we should have started – bone stock.
So on two of some of the most vital elements of a race program’s potential, we are nowhere as far as development. And nowhere, lined up next to some of these animals running here in the AFM, is not gonna get us to the front.
I had a meeting with Mike yesterday, after our round II, at Tri Valley Moto. Mid conversation, from his office on the second floor, I had to stop myself mid-thought. I just couldn’t get the annoying tinny sound of something barely resembling music coming from a pc on the sales floor behind me. I said, “Not for nothing Mike, but if they’re gonna play music on the floor, get them a proper stereo. Either do it right, or don’t do it at all. The sound coming from that pc makes me wanna fire a shotgun through the monitor.” As I turned back to a laughing Mike, we both kind of paused and thought about our race program…
I don’t know. Two fifths and a forth. Racing with all brains and no heart. Staring at Berto’s ass instead of at least trying to kick it. This is just not me. Hopefully soon we can elevate this Superduke race program to the next level. Because after all, racing to me is not “A little decision”. I think we need more heart for next round. Maybe do the old lady some justice..