AFM 4hr Endurance Race 2007

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BACK IN THE SADDLE
9/29/07
Infineon Raceway, Sonoma California

Lance WIlliams and Eric GoGo Gulbransen embrace

Some say you can't really measure friendship without a crisis. 2007 for me has been all about crisis - from confusion to contradiction, and conflict to reclusion - I have lost many friends throughout this struggle. But the interesting thing is, I have made a few as well. You know who you are and you know where you live. From Germany to New Zealand, the Bay Area to Orange County, and from California to New Hampshire - because of your most generous support we are all in "This" together now. And I am happy as hell to finally report to you that "This," has finally landed on it's feet again! No, we are not ABOUT to race again. We just DID race again...

I haven't said anything about this up until now because, well, you know, every time I've said anything about the future this year it's fallen apart quicker than Cheerios go soft in milk..

I got a call a few weeks ago from a friend of mine who used to run against us in the Open Twins Ducati days, Lance Williams. Lance has become a unique friend during this very unusual time. He's definitely a "glass is half full" type of person - which is just the type of attitude that I always strive to have, but sometimes fall short of.

Eric GoGo Gulbransen stretches stiff hands
Lance was offered an opportunity to ride a 2007 Yamaha R1 for UrbanMoto in the AFM's annual 4hour endurance race this past weekend. Four hours is a long time for one rider to bounce a 165hp motorcycle off Infineon Raceway's barrier walls, so the AFM requires that you pair-up in teams. Our UrbanMoto team would consist of the league minimum - two riders, plus a pit crew full of characters from UrbanMoto and beyond. I knew going in that regardless of this entire effort's experience or potential, I was sure to be the weakest link in the bunch.

I've kept myself in decent general shape during this "off season" but no amount of miles on a stationary cycle can keep me in racing shape. My biggest fear was my hands and forearms. Each first race weekend of the year finds me stretching my hands in all sorts of unnatural ways just to get feeling back. When I'm rusty I simply grip the bars too tight. I think it's nerves. Best I can ever manage right off the bat is eight laps, then I can't feel anything. It's so bad I might as well be gripping the bars with my framing hammer.

I wasn't afraid of riding an inline again. I wasn't afraid of the power, the weight, or the competition. I was afraid of my paws not lasting.

In our first practice session on Friday everything felt foreign except the track. I knew where to bend it in, but I no longer knew how hard to push. I knew when to get on the gas, but not how much. I wanted to throw it on it's side through the chicane, but nothing felt natural anymore. The bike had standard shift, which I'm not used to, but it didn't matter much because I couldn't reach the damn thing anyway. New boots too big, shifter too low, too many months driving my van. I came in after about six laps - It felt more like twenty.

Lance had all these great ideas about set-up. He'd run to Dave Stanton to pick his brain, we'd talk about suspension theories, ride heights, and shift patterns. My grandmother would have said "Oh bless his heart," but in all honesty I didn't care about any of it. I knew none of it would matter to me, or should I say, I wouldn't matter to any of it, until I got my act together out there. And getting my act together out there wasn't gonna come from three millimeters of sag, or a 1.0 spring instead of a 1.5.

In our second session Friday we did marginally better. I began to hear the bike calling me out in the carousel - a 180 degree downhill sweeping turn. It's funny how some bikes don't give you one clue as to how much traction you have in a turn, while others tell you so much you almost feel foolish for going so slow. The Yamaha R1 is definitely in the latter group (now finally I understand why Haga doesn't fall down when it looks like he should). On what turned out to be our last lap of the day I noticed a huge plume of brown dirt rising just ahead as we shot through the S-turns in eight. Someone lost it exiting the left, just before the right - which meant he and his fallen bike were about to careen across a track full of bikes like a bowling ball on ABC's Wide World of Sports. Wouldn't you know it we were in a pack of six bikes at the time too. All five ahead of me shot off the track in either direction, trying to avoid the death defying mysteries surely hidden inside the quickly flowing plume of dust. I instantly thought back to a Nascar race I bumped into a while back where a spotter called out for his driver to "head high" even though "high" looked like the worst place to be at the time. Sure enough, by the time the driver got there the track was clear. So in keeping with the spirit of Nascar, I actually headed straight for the plume and stayed on track because at our rate of speed I figured, "dirt + turn + barrier wall + high rate of speed = Bad things"

Thankfully it all turned out fine except for one thing - the huge rock that shot through the radiator... Our day of practice ended about four hours shy of our chance for finding that special place we all strive for out there.

Urban Moto Yamaha R1 Radiator hole

Lance Williams fixes the punctured UrbanMoto Yamaha R1

All credit goes to the ever resourceful Lance for getting the radiator patched up Friday night in Berkeley. We missed yet another practice Saturday morning because I lost our only key the night before. Don't even ask... But after two hours of searching I felt like making a deal with the devil - "OK listen you demented freak, haven't I had enough trouble to make you happy this year? WTF? I don't even want the damn key anymore. Just tell me where on this twisted planet the freeking thing went!!"

I got no answer as usual, and as a result we went into our first leg of the 4hour with a grand total of nineteen practice laps riddled with rust, doubt, and a general lack of modern-day inline experience. About half an hour before the race Lance asked me if I thought we should give the rear three more millimeters of ride height. I simply didn't know what to say. Lance and I were not only on a different page, we were on a different chapter..

Lance started the race dead last I think. I found comfort in one of the last things he said to me before he took off, "I hope my hands don't cramp up." At least I wasn't alone I thought. At about the 40 minute mark he came in because our transponder wasn't transponding. I had made a deal with Tracy that my goal was to ride relaxed instead of to win.

I have this problem when I sit on a bike. The throttle only goes one way - to the stop. Typically this works out OK on racetracks, but today was not a typical day so I set out on a moderate pace. Then what happens.... Of course.... On my out-lap as I head for the rise to the Carousel no one other than the same ball breaking devil who stole the R1 key rockets by me dressed as Ken Hill on a GSXR1000. If I was Fred Flintstone you would have seen my legs jump down and start peddling in a blur of bare feet and cartoon smoke. I put my head down and gave chase, ever so gradually re-introducing my new self - to my old self.

By our second lap Ken was going into turn seven while we were still coming out of the Carousel. Typically I would have crushed the fuel tank between my knee caps for getting gapped so quick, but I wasn't down about it because I could feel the transition happening. It's not like I thought about it a lot, it just happened. Where I used to shift twice, now I held one gear longer. Dangerous high-side spots which I had carefully charted in blood over the past decade, I now began to move farther up the track. Where I used to snap the throttle all the way off, suddenly now I stopped at half way. I started short shifting in places I never have before and I stopped dragging a finger to plant the front through eight. Where the rear tire used to squat itself into a broad pulsing footprint, now it pushed sideways and spun.

- photo by Joe Seppes -
(image will open his site in a new browser window)


As I looked up ahead I saw very welcome sight. It was the devil in the red dress gradually drawing nearer again. I also saw a shimmer of light coming from just over his shoulders. We were learning how to ride an inline again after nine years on twins. On about our tenth lap out there Ken turned around to see just who it was he thought he heard as he exited turn two. It was us, about ten feet off his rear tire. A few minutes after that moment though, my gladness would turn to panic because here came the hammer hands again. After Ken pulled off we only lasted a few more laps. While he was on automatic pilot out there, and finishing his hour stint, we were basically running an FX race. Five minutes after his hour he was walking around in street clothes. Five minutes after our half hour, I was looking for a nurse...

I felt bad for Lance. After all our big plan was for each of us to ride full hour stints. Now he was out there again and we were basically just beginning the second hour of the race. He rode strong and consistent. In fact he rode a little bit like an alien. When he came in he was barely breathing, and he never broke a sweat. At one point in the race I turned to his girlfriend Christina with a perplexed look on my face and said, "Listen. Girl. Not for nothin' but I'm glad I'm not you..." Instantly she cracked up in a moment somewhere in between laughter, and embarrasment.

Lance Williams Predator
photo by Joe Seppes
Lance Williams on the UrbanMoto Yamaha R1

We did a much better job during our next stint. I rode much more relaxed, yet still maintained a good clip. There was huge traffic and I had no idea who we were passing. This time we were on schedule to run the tank dry. Thought maybe I'd throw a little Terminator in the mix, since apparently we had the Predator on our team. But on my seventeenth lap we came out of the carousel to the gnarly site of a fallen rider taking an afternoon nap up on the rise just outside of the Carousel. I hope he made out well. When we came to a stop in turn seven Kim Nakashima tapped me on the leg and thanked me for dangling a carrot in front of him. He said it helped him go faster. I thought, "Oh crap thank the lord I didn't know he was there!" Surely I would have gotten myself all twisted doing a Fred Flintstone again.

After the red flag delay Lance took over and wouldn't give up until the checkered flag flew. On the next long drive to Daytona, I'm going with HIM! Hell I'll probably only have to drive two hours..

We ended up finishing fourth in our class, despite my rusty no-endurance for the endurance race effort. Even though I knew I'd struggle with the hammer hands thing, I still felt bad for letting the team down a bit. But the UrbanMoto crew were nothing but overly happy with both our efforts, and we ended the night by celebrating our new friendship over a meal. As a result of our successful day it looks like we might even get the chance to get some of our race reports put into print for UrbanMoto's monthly newspaper! How cool would THAT be? MORE INK!

-Tracy Gulbransen's photo gallery from the weekend-

Tracy GUlbransen


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