7/15-16/06, AFM round 5
Willows, California


"The English Teacher"




Mrs. Rey was my English teacher in high school. She had black hair, a crooked hand, thick eye glasses, and man did she hate me. I remember one day she called each one of us up to her desk, one at a time, to hand in the paper we had worked on at home all week. Most of the girls had them ready. Some of the guys did as well. But each of the guys who didn't have them came up with one crazy excuse after another as to why they didn't. Each one of them broke out in a cold sweat as they told their story. I was one of the ones who didn't have a paper to turn in. But when Mrs. Rey called on me, with her crooked one eyed squinting grimace (almost as if she expected another wild story), I just told her straight out "I don't have it cause I didn't do it."

She paused as she glared at me with a look that set a new standard for anger lightly salted with a hint of curiosity. I knew I was doomed. But at the very least I was going down facing it, rather than hiding from it.

It was good seeing my Mom again so soon in the principle's office later that day. We had a nice talk. And then later on that night, after I had waited with great enthusiasm for my Dad to finally come home, we also had a nice talk. Although my Dad was not Italian, he really did speak with his hands a lot.

In the end I learned a much more valuable lesson to me than if I would have written about the fall of the Roman Empire that week. Instead I learned something about accountability. Although I wish I could say I've always been on time since then, I actually cannot. But I can say that I regularly accept responsibility for my faults.

Now finally we get to our last AFM event... Let's title it "Enough of this crap already!"

We left round four knowing two things: One, we could still go like hell at Thunderhill. Two, we had some major cooling problems. So the guys at MotoItaliano put their heads together in the weeks previous to this weekend and came up with a much better way to handle any overflow from the radiators (read - "maybe this time no crashing?"). They even looked into new radiators for our bikes (read - "Maybe this time no overheating?"). But in this case, "Bigger and Better" radiators only meant "Farther and farther" out of our budget's reach. So we went into round five with our fingers crossed, hoping that all the special bleeding and flushing and re-routing of the coolant and lines would get us back to normal temperature ranges again.

STRIKE ONE! In three practice laps the little wonder read 250 degrees, and the big dog wasn't far behind. Basically both bikes were unrideable. So we came up with some hair brained scheme that Jason would mount an extra radiator on the side of the bike in the hopes that at the very least, we'd last the race without exploding. STRIKE TWO! By 9am Sunday, the extra radiator idea had been abandoned. Simply not enough room for it, no matter how we twisted it around. First practice Sunday we made it three laps and the temp was pinned at 260 degrees. STRIKE THREE! We went into our first race, Open Twins, with just about no practice in a month's time. It's not ever ideal to race with no practice/set-up time.

Still, though, we were hungry for a win and that is what we got. We lead the Open Twins field flag to flag. Each run down the front straight my eyes were glued to Tracy, awaiting her signals which tell us how much of a gap we have. Our goal was to win the race while going as slow as possible to get the job done, because the harder we would push, the hotter our motor would run. As it turns out Scotty's remarkable idea to replace the coolant with a pressurized garden hose (in the hopes of removing any air pockets that were trapped in there from overheating) WORKED! We came in from that race at 230 degrees. Not at all good, but not nearly as bad as we had seen.. This win increases our winning streak to five out of five for 2006!

photos by: Mike Chervenak
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So now we had F1 in our cross hairs. The front was pushing quite a lot in Open Twins, so I had Dave make a change about thirteen seconds before our race. Turns out that was a bad idea. We started F1 from about 20th on the grid. Unlike Infineon, the site of our first F1 win of 06, Thunderhill is not a very physical track. It IS technical, but in a very different way. Infineon is aggressive, tight, full of challenging braking zones and full of opportunities to pass. But Thunderhill is fast and flowing. Some areas offer only one fast line, so passing is not as easy. We worked hard to charge toward the front, and by the third lap we had made it all the way to the leaders rear tire. I felt very comfortable there, and had our route to the lead already worked out in my head. But on our third pass over the Cyclone the front simply dropped away as we crested its peak. No trail braking, no throttle, no missed lines at all. We were spot on, just like we usually hit that turn, but suddenly I found myself bouncing off the curb on my back. The bike went top-side, got the tank crushed, was leaking fuel all over me, bars were bent, upper was munched, etc. etc. Not good at all. It needed the truck. I walked back, letting off steam and re-grouping. Thankfully we got all collected and back to the paddock for the victory celebration. Those guys did well and deserved a good hand. I was sorry we couldn't be up there with them.

photos by: Mike Chervenakagdd

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So the boys went crazy on the big dog, with just about no time to get the job done. Their goal was to make the FP race WITH THIS SAME BIKE. On the last call they fired the bike up and I jumped on (curiously pondering the outside chance that this thing hadn't revealed ALL it's issues to the naked eye).

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When I grabbed a fist full of brakes on the hot pit, something didn't quite feel right. It also didn't quite sound right. My view of the field being waved on by Barbara, for the warm-up lap, while I had opted to "sit this one out to be safe," was like watching the sexiest girl of your dreams do an Egyptian belly dance for you from the 36th floor balcony of a building four hundred yards away....

As the field lined up on the grid awaiting the drop of the green flag, there I was in full tuck - dressed in full leathers - helmet and gloves on - but with no bike beneath me. Any racer who is forced to watch a race they should instead have been in, is always left questioning where they would have finished,"If only....." I can't answer that question accurately of course, but I will say we felt pretty good going in to this weekend, and especially going into that race.

To me this moment marked the end of the weekend. There simply was no time to build another machine for the 600sb race, which was scheduled to run in 40 minutes time. But when I looked up Jason and Scotty were already gone. They had run back to our pit and were busy getting the job done.

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And get the job done they did. We started the 600 race about 18th. I blew the launch so we had our work cut-out for us. By the third lap we had made our way to fifth and the front was still in sight. We followed Tim Kamholtz and another rider up toward the Cyclone and at the VERY last instant this other rider stuffed his bike under Kamholtz and just about knocked Tim's teeth out. Both riders immedietly headed off track from the apex. We were about two to three bike lengths behind and I figured our safest way past the madness was to stay on line - because they were now WAY off line. I did just that, but just at that moment BOTH Tim and the other rider collected their bikes on the edge of the outside curbing (almost using the curbing as a burm) and then headed right back on to the only line there IS through there... Neither one of them looked back, and surely they had no idea they were about to be introduced to an 05 749R in the worst kind of ways possible. My line was about to put me somewhere in between Tim's upper fairing and the other guys hip (they overlapped each other), so I did my best to avoid all of that by dragging on the front brake at JUST the place no one ever wants to drag their front brake at Thunderhill - OVER the crest of the hill.

Needless to say we went down in another blaze of glory. You could say it was a noble move. You could even say it was brave. But in reality I was scared shitless and didn't want Tim's handlebar jammed inside my kidney, or this other guys rear sprocket gnawing away at my knee cap. In the end we avoided contact with everyone and I went down protecting myself.

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When I arrived back at our pit I found tools everywhere, bikes half apart, jugs of coolant, fans running, tire warmers draped over tool boxes, Scotty moped in a chair, and Jason lying on the floor in a state of absolute exhaustion. Just then I remembered Mrs. Rey. I remembered that class. I remembered that moment. Then I thought to myself, "Is there some assignment we neglected here? Is there some big box of balls that we all dropped in the weeks before this race? Is there something that we could have done, that we would have done, but we just didn't do? Then I looked back at our pit and the answer was obvious. "Sometimes shit just happens, and when it does you find out pretty quick just who the champions are." I consider myself one lucky bastard cause this is the best damn team I've ever been a part of."

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