- 2006 -
"The Year In Review"

In school, report card day was a day I'd have to watch my back extra close. This was a day the shit always seemed to hit the fan the hardest. In college it's finals. At work it's your review that gets you looking back at your year with a slide rule and a calculator. For racers there's a day like this as well. Only this day lasts an entire season for some. And this season,"The Silly Season," can make a racer, or break one.

Just like a bad report card used to be able to get you grounded, a bad season can do just the same. And bad race season's are tough to avoid sometimes.

In September of 2005 I was invited to attend a special Ducati North America trackday. No one was there but DNA employees, and all we had to do was ride. While the relaxed atmosphere was very much appreciated at a racetrack that would otherwise have been saturated in stress, I remember I wasn't as relaxed as most... It was still early that September afternoon when I found myself perched in a lawn chair sitting right next to the big man himself, Michael Lock. As we both sat there in our leathers, Mike Harmon, our crew chief in 2005, came right out and asked Michael directly, "So, Michael..... are you happy with what we've done for you and Ducati this year?"

I was shocked with the question's blunt nature and immediately sunk down in my chair while I pulled the brim of my Dunlop cap down over my eyes... You see, 2005 was a year our team spent most of it's energy searching for momentum, rather than racing with it. Although at that moment we were doing quite well on our Ducati 749R in Open Twins, we had been floundering in Formula Pacific on what should have been a highly competitive 999R... Michael looked back at both of us and fired his also blunt, honest, and quite respectful answer right back at us - "I'm very happy with some of what you've accomplished. None of us expected GoGo to win. We hoped he would win, but we didn't expect it." Right then I rose back up in my chair in relief. I raised my cap's brim until the sun found my face again and thought to myself, "We might actually make it through this." Then Michael continued, "However there are some things that we did expect. Things that were promised, but have not been realized."

I knew what he was referring to, and I knew the aim of his focus was not something I had control of. But in the end, what gets you through the Silly Season is not excuses. It's results. And no matter the reason your team falters or triumphs, when the sliderule stretches across that page it's your name that gets the red number below it, or the green... And let me tell you, math takes no prisoners.

So as you can imagine, as a result of all the floundering of 05, going into the 2006 season was a little sketchy for me last winter.

As a racer it is often pointed out to me that I rarely actually say "I", or even "Me" for that matter. There's good reason for this. That reason is teamwork. I learned a long time ago that a racer isn't worth a dime without his team. That's why I always say "We." But going into the winter of 06 there was no "We" anymore. And while I knew where I'd just left, I had no idea where I was going to go.

. Then a good friend of mine, Chris VanAndel, from MotionPro, suggested I call down to SantaCruz and have a talk with Jason Putris, of MotoItaliano. I wish I had video of our first talks about racing. Jason was definitely interested in racing together, but it was painfully obvious that he had no idea what he was getting his MotoItaliano Ducati dealership into.

In the first meeting we had, Jason sat himself down in our small office in Mountainview - headquarters of who at that time were the last remaining members of our 05 race effort - and faced head on what ultimately turned out to be somewhat of an "unwelcome" to racing. Let me tell you, these guys were angry. Not at any one thing, mind you, and perhaps anger isn't the best word to use. But they were definitely on the offensive toward anyone who might represent a possible future for us in racing. I guess it's fair to say it wasn't just Michael Lock who was disappointed in 05. I don't know who was more uncomfortable in that meeting, Jason, or myself. But it was obvious that when he and I left that meeting, we left together, and we left looking forward...

From that point forward it was crunch time. Numbers time. Basically, it was time to imagine how far we thought we could stretch the all-mighty dollar - to go racing. Questions like, "Will we run one bike or two? Can we be competitive with a stock 999R against the inlines? Can we even get a 999R to race with? I had learned a few valuable lessons in 05, so when Jason asked me if I thought we should get into hot-rodding a 999R motor my head snapped back at him so fast that I never actually had to speak. Soon as he saw my look he quickly answered, "Yeah I think we'll leave it stock!"

Our first round together was at Buttonwillow. I love Buttonwillow. Most racers I know hate it. It's tough to learn. There are no visible markers to use as reference points so it's tough to be consistent. It's tough to build on your lap times, to consistently progress, and it's a real bitch to pass. Add to that the fact that Scotty Rumple, who had positioned himself to eventually grow into somewhat of a team manager, had absolutely no idea how life at the race track worked. Not how to safety wire, not how to go through tech, or even which side to mount a tire warmer on. He kept looking at me that first weekend like he was waiting for orders. The only one I gave him was, "Let's rock and roll." Somehow he figured out what that mean in time for us to line up on the grid for our first race together, Open Twins.

As the story's been told to me by Tracy, Scotty almost fell off the wall as he watched us run off with what turned out to be not only our first race together, but our first win together as well. And that win couldn't have come at a better time because Nick McCabe, who had also just upped his workload at Ducati, showed up to give us a boost of good luck in person. And thankfully he did, because we hadn't figured out how to get a big bike just yet, so that little 749R's work was only half done for the weekend. Now we had to take on the fastest bikes in the west with it, in the AFM's premier class, Formula Pacific. It's funny. The entire grid was filled with angry 1000cc inlines, and we knew we were about to get beat down pretty bad, but all of us very quietly clung to the hope that we might still be able to beat the team that had recently become our arch nemesis. It was our old team, and they weren't even running Ducati superbikes anymore. They'd switched to MV, and hired none other than Chuck Sorenson to ride the bikes...

All I can say is we squeezed every ounce we could out of that tenacious 749R all race long. Going into the last lap I saw Chuck's front wheel heading under us as we leaned in for turn one. I was shocked it was him, but at the same time I was happy he was still behind us - mostly anyway. I figured this was one of those moments where men stayed men, and boys went home. We let go of the lever, tipped her in there and then snapped the throttle back wide open for just about the entire last lap. I couldn't see our new team as we went through the checker, but I couldn't see the MV either, and that's all that mattered.

We left that race weekend on cloud nine. But "I" left that weekend pondering an age old question that had been bugging me since the beginning of the previous year.. "I wonder if we'll ever get to see how well this 749R can do against the best 600s in the west?"


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