- AFM 2005 round 7, Infineon California -

I was born in the sixties, but grew up in the seventies, on a lake, in a beautiful house, with brothers all around me. My Dad raised us with two key ideas: Always be your best, and always tell the truth. He was pretty tough. No bullshit. Drove a tank through Germany in World War II. In fact, now that I look back, he pretty much drove a tank through his entire life. He urged us to run track in high school. And when I say “Urged” I mean he drove a car behind us as we ran through the streets each night. That was a long time ago. And even though he died a few years back, I still feel him behind me when I run at night. And even though I never convinced him to come to a race, I still sense him when I’m on the grid. I think it’s because I’m at my best when I’m racing. Or at least I’m trying my best.

It never fails, each race weekend I remember my father mostly during our national anthem. I stand up straight, put my hand over my heart, and find an American flag to watch as someone sings that proud song over the p.a. During the recent US Moto GP version of our anthem, I wasn’t so proud. How do you forget the words to your own anthem? But this Sunday morning? I didn’t know what to say. Someone in the AFM knew a guy who knew a girl who just so happened to sing. And sing she did. What she did with our anthem brought a tear to my eye. She was amazing.

That was Sunday morning. By Sunday night I felt another tear coming on, but I’ll get to that…

This weekend was the first time we’ve had two horses in the stable for some time. I have gotten so comfortable on the 749R, being our main bike for three weekends in a row, that most of this weekend the big bike just sat there, staring me down, with bull sized horns for bars, and smoke coming out of its air runners. I'd usually look away, and then of course Mike would fire it up. You guys would hear a bullish twin coming to life. All I'd hear is hell, taunting “Come on boy. Let’s see what you got..”

Mike re-built the 749R for this race, so we had to break the motor in on Saturday morning, after missing Friday practice because it was just getting finished up. This left us no time to ride the bull. Part of me was upset about that, and another part of me was fine with it. We put it off till Sunday morning. This meant, effectively, that we’d get one practice on the bike for Formula Pacific, since following it into the wall during the Infineon national after the tranny went south. How long ago was that!?? Saturday break-in went well. Leo Vince finally got their hands on the system for our bike, so we eagerly installed it on Friday. Their systems go together real nice. No need for a sledge hammer to install them, like the systems we’ve had before. And the fit of it is real nice as well. A Ducati exhaust is complicated to run, because the rear cylinder is so far back, and the front is so far forward. You need to make each cylinders exhaust pipe length the same, so the rear pipe has to actually go down and under the bike, like a snake, before it comes back up and under the seat. All this bending, and welding, and fabricating, opens up many doors for short cuts and problems. Leo Vince took none, and created none. It’s a real nice system. And holy mother of horsepower! Suddenly there’s more of it to use, and we haven’t even dyno’d it yet. It pulls much harder up top, and seems to give more mid-range as well. We’re really looking forward to tuning it, now.

Open Twins went very well. I enjoyed Bud Anderson beating us off the line. He really nailed the holeshot. Then of course the bastid squeezed me into the wall going into one. Power move. I love that kind of shit. I don’t remember where we passed him, but we did, somewhere around mid lap. The 749R is a hungry bike. It loves pavement to no end. Always wants more, so it’s tough to listen to pit signals when they say “Take it easy, retard!” And that’s what they said from about lap three, on. I thought we only had three signals, but Mike seems to have found a fourth, Hands out, flapping like a bird, while he jumps up and down cursing? I got the idea to slow down, but still we were only a half second off our personal best lap times. We won, ultimately, and that was great. Only crappy part of winning the race was having to pull off and park the bike. I love riding that Ducati. Mike did a great job putting it together.

Formula Pacific was a bit more of a challenge. Not only are these bikes faster, but our 999R gave me a threatening hint that I was about to endure a hell ride off the line. I did one practice hole-shot just before our warm up lap, like I usually do, and it was ugly. A slipper clutch needs a specific stack height to launch well (all the plates, friction and fiber, piled on top of each other need to measure 35mm to 36mm on ours). Apparently our stack height was off, because when I tried a practice launch it just locked up. Imagine trying to launch your bike with not a clutch, but instead a huge circuit breaker. If you can imagine big red letters reading “ON” and big black letters reading “OFF” then you can imagine what I suddenly knew we’d be up against once the flag dropped. That bike went backwards, up and down, and sideways all the way through first gear. It was hell for sure. I think we went into turn two in sixteenth place, after starting on the front row. And this 999R usually launches well! After that I just kept “Ten Laps” on my mind. We picked off one guy at a time. I made a few mistakes trying to go too deep. We shot by Whitlock under the brakes into turn seven, and almost made it to the supermotard track. He came back by. Then a few laps later he checked out the supermotard track, and we came by instead. One time coming up the front straight I missed an upshift. Then another. First thought was, “Oh holy shit, here we go again, we’re back at the national.” But this time it wasn’t coming out of gear. It was just missing upshifts. I hung with it. I saw Kim up there. He was going good. Apparently he was at a new pace about a second under his previous best. We got by under the brakes in eleven. Clean pass, no problems. But then it wouldn’t hit clean shifts again. Missed two in a row, and Kim shot back by at start finish. We followed him around for a bit and I noticed he was leaving an opening going down the hill into 4. I had a pass planned for just that spot. I chased him up the hill into turn 2, got a good drive out and we both headed for 3. Passing someone who is flying is all about timing, and I had this pass timed perfectly. But then Kim went through 3 off his pace, by his own admission, which totally shot my plan to hell. Instead of heading up his inside, I had to go to his outside to avoid his rear tire, and my shoulder got tangled on the outside of his bike. I don’t know what it was, maybe his foot, or foot peg, he said he felt something, but when it was time to flick right for turn 3A, I couldn’t move. It was only an instant, but that was all the time we had to make that turn together. I did manage to turn it a bit, but much too late. The apex flowed by and our bikes collided. It was game over, into the wall.

It sucks crashing with someone. Either way you look at it, you take one guy out of the equation and neither guy would have crashed. So no one feels good about it, ever. I certainly didn’t, and neither did Kim. We both took it like men, though. I didn’t cry at all…… till later.

So the weekend was good. Tough, but good, with a real crappy ending. And I hate crappy endings.

Except, of course, for the ending of that national anthem.

Ho - Le - Hotness, that was good.

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Eric "GoGo" Gulbransen, Tracy Gulbransen, Matthew Pilla, Motorcycle racing, AFM, Ducati 749R, 999R, race story, MotoItaliano