10/1/06, AFM round 7
Sonoma, California
"The Muppett Show"

We went into round 7 as strangers to racing. I'm not even sure if I can explain it. My focus has been pretty intense on work lately, and the guys at MotoItaliano have had a crazy busy September. I think we spoke twice that entire month. Work even caused us to miss the special Friday practice the AFM held this weekend, which took place so they could run their annual four hour endurance race on Saturday. I hate missing practice when I know everyone else is out there getting faster. I'm usually at home swinging a framing hammer, all the while feeling those first laps slipping out of our reach. Still, though, I figured we'd be OK because we had been invited to ride the MojoTown Ducati 999s for a leg of the endurance race. Any time you get to ride someone else's bike, it's an experience. You usually get off the bike after a few laps thinking to yourself, "How in the hell does this guy ride this thing?" We got to ride the bike for two laps of practice on Saturday morning. That was all the time we would get. I knew right away the bars were too far in, the footpegs were too high, and the seat was way too far forward - "for me" - but after all there were three of us slotted to ride the four hours - Craig McClean, Michael Aron, and us. In the end we adjusted the shifter. Then we "raced" it.

Photos by: Mike Chervenak

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How did it go? Let's just say that after my eight lap I had tears in my eyes from the pain. My knees were numb, I couldn't feel my toes, and my wrists kept warning me we had about another three laps in us. I don't know how we lasted an hour out there. But what I do know is that I loved the different perspective. I was out there getting absolutely smoked by some of our Ducati competitors that we rarely get to ride with. I was proud of guys like Simon Williams, and Lance Williams on their 996RS, Michael rode well, Craig rode like an animal, and even Dave Sadowski's rising star of a son did better on the Ducati 999 he was riding than I did. They all smoked me like a piece of grizzle on a barbque. I cried the whole time, like a baby in a high chair, and as soon as it was all over Tracy dragged me by my ankles into the car and took us home. I don't even remember the drive.. only the Motrin.

Sunday morning was to be a different deal all together. Finally we'd be on our own bikes again, and our sights were set on dominating. We only had time for one practice session, with one bike. The 999R we hadn't ridden since our last AFM round, and the 749R we hadn't ridden since our trip back east. We chose the 999R to practice on because the guys at MotoItaliano had just sent our shock and forks to Joey Israel, back east, to get some Ohlins love. I knew the bike was gunna be all cracked out without any setup time, so I rolled it over to Dave Moss, of Catalyst Reaction Suspension Tuning, and begged him to get us in the ballpark in time for our only chance to practice. He wound up the spring to set sag, jumped up and down on it to set compression and rebound, and sent me out with a cock-eyed smile and a slap on my ass. In half a lap I felt like we'd never left our last weekend there. The only issue was a front end chatter going through the carousel. I took her back to Dave after the end of our second lap and told him what was up. He threw a screw driver at it and sent us back out through the pits. Half a lap later I knew we were good to go. Either Dave knows his stuff, or he really knows me.
My bet is it's both...

Photo by: Mike Chervenak

We started Open Twins from pole. Can I say it enough times? "I HATE POLE" at Infineon. The flag dropped and instantly Craig McClean and his 749R threatened to land their suddenly sideways wheelie right on my right shoulder. We had, to our left, a nice long concrete wall colored in a vibrant, bone chilling pale white.. To our right, a neatly painted blue and white Ducati 749R with "Animal," (the drummer from the Muppett Show) dressed in black leather and hanging from it's clip-ons. Needless to say, when Animal is rubbing up on my shoulder with his brake caliper, and all I see is concrete to the left, I back off. We were fourth into turn one. Immediately I figured fourth was Brian Pariots territory, since he's been charging hard lately and was coming from the third row. When somebody's on a charge from behind, you can't afford to lollygag around for even a second. And we WERE! So I immediately considered shorting the battery terminals with my inner thigh to get myself with the program again. Thankfully I didn't have to. By lap two we we had made it to P-1. Bud Andersen was riding well, and so was Craig McClean, but our 999R is a strong bike to stay in front of. We were putting one flying lap in after another, gapping the field.

Photos by: Robert Redmond



Now, and I mean "Right now" I'm feeling the need to give you some insight into "Superstition"
I've played a lot of ball in my day, on teams stacked with all sorts of players. Some of these guys were serious players. And when it came to baseball, just about every one of these guys were superstitious. No one talked about it, but if you paid attention long enough you might have noticed how our left fielder never stepped on the foul line. Ever. Or how our greatest hitter always warmed up with three swings. And I mean, always. Never two, never four. Just about everybody knows baseball players are superstitious. We've all seen pitchers wearing sweaty old hats that desperately need a wash that they'll never get. But how about racers? I've heard Pascal Picotte wore the same socks for almost a complete season. I know I always wink at my girl as I head out on the bike. And I read a great story once, about Colin Edwards during his world superbike championship run in 2000. Supposedly his crew chief always wore the same cowboy hat for each race that entire season, but no one ever mentioned it. Apparently their whole team, including Colin himself, had rituals that year that they all repeated, but never mentioned. The list goes on and on...

So one week before this race weekend, which was the seventh out of eight rounds, a good friend and sponsor of ours who runs a popular Italian bike forum called Kneeriders.com, put up a post about the AFM's only undefeated team, to date, in 2006 - our TagTeamDucati, MotoItaliano race team.

The poll asked a simple question. "Who thinks GoGo's gunna make it?"
The instant I read that post I knew the most basic rule in baseball had just been violated.. "Never utter the words 'No Hitter,' during a no hitter, until the last out of the game is already in the books,"
I knew, from the moment I read that post - forward, that we were doomed.

Photo by: Robert Redmond

Question: How long do you think it's been since THIS hat got washed?

 

 

Answer: Since Dunlop handed it to us in the winners circle at the beginning of the season..

 

Yu think we're superstitious too?

So there we are, mid way through lap three with the bike rocketing up the dragstrip out of the carousel with a good gap back to the rest of the Open Twins field, when suddenly, the instant I cracked off the throttle to get into the brakes, the rear tire began to drag and started coming around. I thought, "WTF? I'm not going in THAT hard." So I yanked the clutch back in and instantly the motor died. We passed the first apex of seven while I pumped the throttle and gently let out the clutch to bump the motor back to life. Once it started we took off out of turn seven for the esses, but suddenly this motor was not being my best friend anymore. "Elvis" had left the building.... We went through eight, a turn that our bike usually wheelies over, at 11,000rpm but the front wheel never even got light, and the revs just stuck there, flat. I knew we were done. I drew the clutch in, stuck out my hand, and put her to bed in the tires.
Our team's great win streak had come to an end, just nine laps from the completion of a perfect season.

Photo by : Mike Chervenak


Photo by: Robert Redmond

Ducati brass surprised us with a visit this weekend. "Perfect timing" I thought to myself. "Of all the weekends to show how effectively I can blow up a motor, I had to pick this one?" Thankfully they didn't break my chops too bad... Our only chance to revive the weekend now was Formula One. And now we had to use our underdog 749R instead of our big dog 999R, which usually dominates this race. "It's gunna be a tough race," someone shouted into my helmet as we headed out, "Combs' bike is worked!" Or at least that's what I think I heard them shout (our 749R is little, but it's pretty damn loud). After I warned the rest of the guys on the front row what bike we were on, we did actually manage to get the hole shot - thank the lord. I knew that was our only chance to keep with these guys. "KEEP THEM BEHIND US." That was our only strategy. Oh, yeah, and "RUN LIKE HELL" was the other.. Whoever shouted "whatever" into my helmet was right, as it turned out. Combs shot by us going up towards 7 on the second lap, and we had nothing for him in return. Next lap I saw Robert Campbell's front tire in almost the same place. "Oh crap this is gunna be tough" I thought. We fought back hard by blocking every brake zone, and powering out as hard as we could everywhere. We ran like a jack rabbit through the tight stuff. All the while I was thinking of our friends from Ducati, as they watched and hoped we could cling to second place at least.. And somehow, remarkably again for our amazing 749R, we brought it home in second... Campbell in third. That little 749R will be remembered forever. If you ever get a chance to ride one, DO IT.


Thanks to Chris Bogosian, we actually have the Formula One race for you here, in Quicktime video format. Just push the play button and Enjoy...

Formula One, round 7, Infineon


Until next round, good luck and stay safe

 

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