Seatbelts please; this could read like a rabid dog.
Back east I ran Michelins, 92 through 99. Rare few in the east did back then, I felt special. And I had a deal with the supplier, Sto Smead of Motorace, (as it turned out…). In all that time I never bought one. But my deal was neither defined nor predictable. Race after race, weekend after weekend, I lived in a constant fear it would all suddenly come crashing down, in the form of a huge tire bill landing in my lap. One day in a meeting at Koni shocks in Kentucky, while doing development work for the very same sponsor, I watched as Sto negotiated with Koni’s head of marketing. The subject was price-point for their shock we’d been testing, market share, and the long-standing relationship between them. In a rare dose of reality, as the meeting wore on and on and on with not one compromise, I was pushed back in my chair by Sto firing three cold words across their bow, “Nothing, lasts, forever..” Sto is such a gentle man that if not for the glance he also gave me just after delivering that blow, it may not have made the lasting impression that it has on me. But it did, and I am a better man for it.
I consider my deal with Tri Valley Moto one of the luckiest I’ve been offered. I was old at the time, hadn’t raced in two years, and apparently I had a bad reputation in the AFM. Not racing in two years pissed me off, and being old baffled me. But ironically, the bad reputation thing didn’t bother me at all. I have learned that sometimes people simply choose targets to fire their own stuff at. I know this because I sleep very well I have found, without a bed, a blanket, or even (apparently) a pillow.
For two years I have done my absolute best, for Tri Valley Moto and for KTM. But to be honest, my best has not always been that great. Those were very confusing times the first year. But that’s not us this year, is it? In fact we’re actually tearing ass out there. And now that we finally are I honestly feel a little guilty. After all I took you on our baffling journey through question, I should share with you our resolution. Turns out it wasn’t the wide bars, too much leverage, a bump in the Carousel or me simply pushing too hard too fast that put us on the ground so much last year. It wasn’t our tires, our pressures, or me losing something I may once have had regardless of the fact that “nothing lasts forever”. It was quite simply our setup - plain as that. And in the end it took one man, one night, to completely re-direct our momentum. His name is James Lee. And for the record, each time we’ve had a pow-wow about setup, James has come up with our solution. I sat with James, who is an old friend from back east, for a while, talked my way through what I did out there, how I did it, why I did it, and then told him what I couldn’t do. But here’s the thing, and this is why communication is so vital to setup – it’s a partnership. While I could fill his head with what was going out there, and where, I could only listen for the “why” it was doing it, or not. It’s a two way street, a relationship – communication brings resolution. He trusted my data. I trusted his solution. And our results have been phenomenal.
I had always lacked confidence in our front end. It had no feel. The bike would just fall to the ground with no warning. So James took our forks apart, measured at least a hundred shims from his crates, and built us a shim stack based solely on my feedback. Now I have more feel than I ever have. But I’m not telling you this so you can go get James working on your bike. In fact that’s the last thing I want, especially if you run F-1 or Open Twins. Just hit the back button and move on. …..please?
I have to say, in all the time I’ve spent pondering setup I am still completely fascinated by the process. Just figure it for a second: Guy #1 rides motorcycle fast, scares the crap out of himself, tries his best to remember what it felt like, explains it to guy #2. Guy #2 interprets that babbled garble and builds a mechanical solution for it based on his own gut instinct, out of a stack of washers, installs it into a fork half full of oil, and off you go to try and ride faster? What the HELL is that all about…
So that’s suspension, but what about our motor? After all we left last round without one. As it turns out one of our oil rings was broken, we had a cracked case, two gears in our tranny were toast, and our shift forks looked like a dinosaur at them. Being typical me I figured great, now that we have a setup, while we have the motor apart let’s also dig up some horsepower. Well this bike isn’t like yours. There just does not exist a laundry list of modifications, parts, or even advice on how or where to get more power. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just it’s not possible for us – especially in the time frame we had before this round. Plus budget, economy, survival mode – it all added up to one short answer “Stock rebuild”. Which brings us to the next most interesting element of round 5 - the newest member of our Tri Valley Moto team, Jason Wachter. Jason just moved from chief of parts, to tech at Tri Valley. He was about two weeks into his new position when the news of our entire rebuild landed on his virgin bench. I know Jason from spending so much time there building our bikes this spring. We laugh, we joke, we’ve even had a meal or two while drooling over the waitresses at AppleBees. But he’s never shown an interest in our program. He’s a motocross guy, and typically they think roadracing is, well, “gentle.” So when I heard he was the chosen soldier for our rebuild, I nearly shit myself. After all, no one gets paid on this team. This whole program is built on blood sweat and tears. So how the hell was this gonna work?
All I can say is thank you, Jason Wachter. Come this past Friday night, at 9pm, against a schedule closing in on us like a huge garbage compactor - with Danny, Alex, Sonny, Jason Hauns and myself all crossing our fingers and toes in prayer, that Superduke motor fired up like the heavyweight prizefighter it was never meant to be. I wish you could have seen the pressure ease from Jason’s face with each new healthy revolution that LC8 twin pulsed out. He actually laughed out loud in a sigh of relief after admitting, “OK, I’m coming this Sunday..!”
We ran around T-hill Saturday nice and calm, in practice group 3. Our plan was motor break-in, gradually, all day. And I stuck to it. Friday night after we dumped the break-in oil we sat down to talk. It was a very interesting day. I have never ridden that calmly, for so many rounds. It really gave me time to think. I don’t know about you but I’m always trying to go faster, quicker, and harder. OK deeper too, what the hell. But by finally not doing that I could focus better on how our bike reacts out there. Suddenly I was brought right back to the last F-1 race, when we chased the lead group. I remembered entering turn six, throwing the bike down on it’s side and feeling it rock front to back as it settled in. I remembered how hard it was to counter steer over the hill in 9 with our front wheel in the air so early. And I remembered the rear squatting under full throttle through those bumps out of eleven. We all came to the same conclusion – more preload on our rear spring. Our poor Superduke R has been taken apart so many times by now all Sonny and Jason have to do is look at it and it falls to the floor in a pile of parts.
While our bike came apart I pondered lap times. Tiger Boy had gone a second faster than us last round, and we really need to beat him. We ended last round with a fastest time of 54:5, so this weekend’s target was to better that. I remember telling the boys, “I don’t know… I’d like to think maybe, by the end of the year, we might get to high 53:9s. Maybe…” The next thing I knew it was tomorrow already, and Amanda (our team’s guiding light of nutritional pleasures) was handing me a cup of Pedialyte as they gave the third call for Open Twins!
I have to say it’s been an honor lining up next to Randolph on his RC8R, and Siglin on his 1098R. Even Tiger Boy on his 1198S. I feel like the orange cheddar cheese in the middle of a fire breathing horsepower sandwich propped up next to them. I gave Tiger the nod, wedged my left toe up into our swingarm spool, and pushed my shoulders as far over the bars as I could. I didn’t nail the holeshot, but we were clear of Metz going into turn one at least. At this point we had one mission – run and hide as long as possible. I was surprised to be so close to Siggy and Randolph coming out of turn two. I know that sounds ridiculous, it’s like a quarter mile, but those guys are on a speed train headed for another galaxy. We all went through three together, four, and then five. I thought of Joe, hoping he had a camera on this. Just one shot, for the history books, then we could fade into the distance like the Superduke team we’re supposed to be. Once we headed out of six I knew we were toast, but what the hell I gave it everything we had anyway. And then the strangest thing happened. Going into nine, on the brakes and over the hill we actually made it back to them. Now I thought of killing Joe if he didn’t catch this moment of historical idiocracy. I felt like Alex Criville back in the days of him stalking Doohan like a Xerox machine on steroids. We all went into turn ten, us just a click off Randolph’s hiney, as I wished we’d left the horn mounted. I so would have loved one of those “honk if you love Superdukes” moments.. Once they checked out under the bridge I figured we may have just gapped Tiger Boy, which we had. So I kept at it, best I could, railing around the tightest, smoothest, quickest lines we could muster. And that’s where I screwed up, again.. It’s always something with me, what the hell.
I’m figuring out finally, you can’t ride this KTM like a superbike. It’s simply not a point and shoot motorcycle. You really can’t separate tasks to individual portions of your tire – turning on it’s edge, and driving up in the middle. The bike just isn’t fast enough. The fastest way around a track on this bike is to multi-task. You have to drive as you turn, brake as you enter, and roll through the apex with a good twist on the grip. But unfortunately, and maybe it’s this bike’s weight, or the torque, but this really destroys our rear tire. We made it all the way to the end of lap three, then lost rear grip, and time, pretty drastically. Of course this dangled a carrot for Tiger Boy who was busy back there setting, yet again, a new personal best as he did his own impression of Alex Criville. I guess that’s Karma, what goes around comes around. While we shockingly set a personal best well over a second faster than our previous best, of course Metz found time too – dipping into the high 52s. He yarded us straight up and down, again. And to add more insult to more injury, Blackburn did the same damn thing a lap later on the final run up to the bridge. I thought of shooting under him mid way through the last turn onto the front straight, but I kind of like Pat. Plus he would have passed us by the flag anyway. So be it, our ability to drive hard out of turns was done. We lost third place in the championship..
For F-1 Sonny and Jason made some interesting changes, once again inspired by the creative thinking of good old fashioned teamwork. James offered up his nitrogen bottle, which they filled the tires with instead of air – to control the rise in temperature. Then we actually dropped pressure three lbs. That’s a pretty bold move for anyone to make, other than Alex Florea himself. And so we did. At the start I had the honor of lining up next to another group of idiots all dying to smash our hopes like a frog crossing 101 during rush hour. Only difference was this time, for the first time since our first run on a Superduke, we nailed the holeshot. That was a happy moment which lasted all of a quarter mile, and fourteen feet. Then Lenny Hale forced his way under us for turn three. We held P-2 till somewhere on the first run down the front straight when Berto shot by without even drafting. For the rest of the race we did my least favorite thing, lost one position after another, one at a time, all while straight up and down. Let me tell you, being underpowered is annoying as hell. We ended fifth. But this is a thousand times better than finishing eleventh like last year - or maybe not finishing at all and having to pick weeds out of our airbox on the way home. And by the way the nitrogen experiment worked. We maintained traction, and lap times all in the mid-53s, throughout the entire race.
So things keep getting better this year. It’s been an honor running for these guys, and on this bike. I think my favorite part of 2010 so far is at our effort’s core; we identified our problems, we respectfully and honorably addressed them, and now we are moving forward. That’s an uncomfortable thing to do sometimes, moving forward, or moving on. Sometimes it means your old buddy might walk by you looking at the floor instead of up in your eyes. Sometimes it means your phone won’t ever ring, or you’ll come home to a house emptied of furniture, without so much as a pillow to rest your head. But it’s ok, life is in motion -
and nothing, lasts, forever.