CAMEL’S BACK
AFM round 2, 2011

My apologies in advance – this story starts with me, naked.

I am beat up.  My body and my spirit.  I hurt like we wrecked Sunday, but we never touched the ground.  My calves, my shoulders, my neck and my arms.  I can hardly move.  In the shower this morning as I ran soap over my shoulders and back, every muscle felt swollen and tight.  Saturday night Alex Florea (our Michelin man) showed me how to tell a steak is cooked to rare – touch your pointer finger to the muscle below your thumb on the same hand – “That’s rare.”  I can’t cook for shit so I took notes, but what I should have asked him is what it means when you can’t touch the muscle below your thumb with your pointer finger because your arm doesn’t work.   Twenty-seven hours later, the agony of Formula Pacific is still trapped in my forearms.

I hate to admit this but I think I am Colin Edwards in MGP – good enough to make the show, but not good enough to win it anymore.  Yeah I’ve won a lot of races, but winning really only means you beat who showed up that day. Truth is even when I’m at my best I’ve always been at least a second off the elite – this coast or the other.  I am good, but I am not great.  I’ve always been conscious of this.  Corey Call (one of the AFM’s fastest) once mocked me on a cool-down lap at Thunderhill.  As I stood on the pegs of our Superduke, shouting for joy into my windscreen – pumping my fists to the cornerworkers in turn eleven, he did the same right next to me, while staring back at me like I am an idiot.  He had just won his race, I had just lost ours.  It’s pretty funny looking back at it now, I guess I expect less of myself.

I told you I spend time with an ancient Ewok therapist once a week.  She’s helping me sift through the wreckage of my favorite umbrella girl marriage.  It’s a pretty cool process actually.  The more I learn about my failures in marriage, the more I learn about myself – and the more I realize how little I actually know about either one of them.  To me, beautiful women are about as confusing as finding a good race set-up on an exotic motorcycle.  You rub them, you love them, you think about them constantly, you even buy them shiny things – and what do they do?   They try to rip your arms off your shoulders and beat you senseless with them.

I have to tell you I am so proud of the guys at Tri Valley Moto.  Never before have I been so fortunate to ride a better-prepared motorcycle.  Every detail, every request, every deadline – all met on, or ahead of schedule.  These guys are the best I have ever raced for.  What’s our problem then?  Why am I in pain after our weekend of racing?  Why couldn’t I ever once hold our RC8R’s throttle wide open from the Carousel turn to turn 7 (a critically important quarter mile stretch of basically straight pavement)?  And why on each run down the hill towards turn 4 did my ass end up on the tail section?  To be honest this weekend left me staring at one cold reality – the problem is me.  I’m pretty good at some things out there on the track, I’m really good at a few, but I completely suck at the most important element that any great racer needs, to be great.  I can come in from just two laps and write a book about what the bike is doing, and where.  I can break seconds down to minutes.  I can feel things that surprise even me.  But the buck stops right there.  From that point forward, I am a complete idiot.  I honestly don’t know how to fix setup problems.  Turn my rebound three clicks in, I can talk about the differences it made for an hour.  But ask me what turning my rebound three clicks in will do, before I go out?  I am completely lost.

Thankfully Dannyboy hooked up with John Starks the Tuesday after round 1, to modify the custom triple clamps john had made for us.  Now instead of being committed to such a radical off-set which we ( I ) originally chose, we now have a library of various off-set options (from 24 to 32mm, in 1mm increments) which we can easily change at any time during any weekend.  Imagine that…  These guys have really stepped up.  Plus now Mike (owner of Tri Valley Moto) made the decision to send Keith Rodrigues, the chief race mechanic at Tri Valley Moto, to the track with us.  This has, and will, create some vital differences in our program.  It was funny talking to Dannyboy about all this last week.  His idea was, “Let’s do ALL the prep work before hand, so once we’re at the track we can just relax.”  Holy shit, I thought to myself.  “If racing only worked like that in reality….”  Keith was left with the more realistic idea by Sunday evening, after working two days nonstop on our RC8R, that racing actually doesn’t work anything like that.

Our first run on Saturday showed great progress from round-1 at Buttonwillow.  Our chosen offset for Infineon was 27mm, 3mm up from the radical 24 that nearly shook me off the bike through Riverside, during round 1.  This did calm the bike significantly.  Still though, we were all over the road on set-up from Saturday’s first practice – onward at Infineon.  But at least we were all over the road, and not all over the dirt too.  We spent most of Saturday chasing a very basic problem, which felt a lot like this photo.  Do you remember those old fat shaking machines?

Fat shaker

It took some time figuring out which end of the bike our problem was coming from, but Jason eventually fixed it by slowing the rebound down in our forks.  It felt great to finally be making forward progress with this bike…  What a dream.  But still left hanging out there was one final mystery.  I hate to sound high-maintenance but I think you will all agree with me here, since it’s pretty important in racing;  Our KTM was beginning to feel better just about everywhere, except for those rare and special times when I needed to twist it’s throttle.  What did it do you might ask?  Well every time I tapped into that raw twin cylinder power, the bike was very mean to me.  Every time I ran it up out of the Carousel toward turn 7, it wallowed side to side so hard it scared the life out of me.  Every time I sent it through the S turns and powered toward the wheelie bump, it threatened to beat me with my own limbs, and every time I entered the Carousel, I did it sideways.  What was that like you might ask?  What did it feel like pushing a bike that mad past a place it definitely didn’t want to be?  Well imagine you’re twelve years old, you’re scared of the dark, you’re in the basement one night rummaging through the dryer for socks, and suddenly you hear the door at the top of the stairs, lock.  And then the lights go out:

T-rex

No shit.  Every lap, that’s how I felt going through eight (very fast series of S-turns which end with you doing a wheelie over the crest of a hill), running out of the Carousel, ripping over the hill in 3a, out of 2, and through turn 10 (high speed right-hander).

I am not a religious person but I found myself one Sunday (female) listening to a sermon about patience being a curse, instead of a virtue.  This girl was pretty hot and I knew I’d be quizzed about the sermon by breakfast, so I hung with the story as best I could.  Funny how some things stick with you – I can’t remember the girl’s name to save my life, but the lesson I never forgot, “If you want something in life go get it, cause the only guarantee waiting for it gives you, is waiting for it.”

Somewhere between that dinosaur’s jaws and the obvious fact that the KTM RC8R is a very competent motorcycle, my Camel’s Back broke this weekend.  Racing should be hard.  Anything in life worth living is.  But it shouldn’t be this hard.  At one point during this weekend I came in from being beat up out there and curled my body into the smallest shape I could, almost as if to hide from it all.  I thought back to the days I raced Ducati Superbikes.  You know something, I have to say this and I’m sorry for anyone I piss off in the process.  Those bikes were dam good motorcycles.  I miss the days so desperately now, when I could just focus on riding.  When I could actually see brake markers as they approached, instead of trying to decipher my way through desperate shaking blurs.  When I could work on lines, and focus on technique.  When I could claw for tenths of seconds, rather than hope for whole ones.  To be honest it’s been years since I’ve been able to do that out there.  Literally.   And I am dog-tired of waiting for that to come back.

It was five O’clock Saturday when something in me finally snapped.  I think a few people could tell actually.  Maybe it was the camel’s broken back, I don’t know.  But I picked up on some major differences not just in myself, but in how people perceived me.  At one point Chris Siglin (another of the AFM’s fastest racers) maintained a good bit of focus on specifically helping me work things out.  Or at least figure things out.  Dave Stanton (likely THE AFM’s fastest – he’s an x factory rider) helped too – and not just once in a passing conversation soon to be forgotten.  These guys really wanted to help us.  I remember thinking at one point, why.  Then one random point occurred to me, they no longer see me as a threat.  I was both happy about that, and sad.  But since I am the ultimate optimist, I stuck with happy about it and focused back on the task at hand.  I wish I filmed those conversations.  It felt like sticking my head into a swarm of bees – with numbers and shapes and funny shaped faces all bouncing around just begging to be sorted.  I knew at least parts of our answers were flying around in there, I just didn’t know how to put the jig-saw-puzzle of an answer together.  Corey Sarros came by our pit a half hour later.  I’ve known Corey a long time.  He’s from the east coast originally, like me, so while we are actually very different people, we do speak the same language.  He could tell in a NY minute I was defeated so he asked if he could push on our bike.  He put two hands on the seat, raised his shoulders, then lunged downward to get a feel for the shock.  Our bike barely moved.  He only pushed once, then looked up at me without ever moving his hands from the seat and spoke the following words, “I have to go piss.  I can’t get into this right now.  I’ll be back though.”  And off he went..

I didn’t know how to take that.  I know “Taking a piss” means something very different to the British, but Corey isn’t anything close to English.  He’s more junk-yard dog than anything else.  It all came much clearer when he got back though – “Dude you’re f-cked.  That shock is just wrong for this bike.  You can’t ride this bike like this.”

I knew exactly where we were as far as setup so I looked back at Corey and asked, “Ok, what would you do if you had to race this bike tomorrow?”  In less than thirty minutes time, with our shock on the bench in his trailer, he determined that our shock had only 2lbs of nitrogen in it, that our spring had too much installed preload, and that the valving was all wrong for a KTM RC8R.  He was right actually, Dan Kyle (Ohlins dealer) didn’t have any RC8R shocks in stock when we rushed to buy ours last October – so he sold us a CBR1000RR shock since the bodies are very similar.  Dan actually did change the valving before he gave it to us because he knew it would be different, so it’s not him who dropped the ball.  It’s me who dropped it, because I couldn’t tell sooner it was wrong.   I could only tell something was wrong.  And that my friends is one of the greatest differences between a good racer, and a great racer.

Corey helped us fix two of our problems, but nothing could be done about spring-rate or valving for Sunday.  I would have to bone-up and ride the monster, regardless of it’s attitude.

In Open Twins I did my best.  I rode my hardest, I rode my smartest.  The wallowing up to seven was a bit of a balancing act – I couldn’t move my body, give bar inputs, or open the throttle to the stop without our bike crying.  Steve Metz (Tiger Boy) shot by into seven pretty early on.  I almost jammed back under him for the second apex but I knew he had more speed than us.  Instead I planned to keep his rear tire in site in the hopes I could find a way around our issues by the end of the race.   On the next lap he high-sided/low sided right in front of us coming out of turn nine.  Jesus, I thought, here we go again.  He and his bike kept sliding into my line like either or both of them just wanted to be run over.  I would adjust wider, aiming for the edge of pavement to get around him – he would just keep sliding farther onto my line.  I wished for a second he would separate from his bike already so I could split the two of them, but he never let go of the bars.  I remember his broken windscreen tumbling between he and his bike as it all panned out.  I thought, “WTF this is like a fifteen foot wide heat seeking device just dying to take me down with it.”  Thankfully his body finally slowed down so we squeaked by and got back to work.  The rest of the race was pretty quiet, minus my personal struggles with dinosaurs, swarming bees, and alligator teeth all flying at me.  I had no idea where anyone else was in our race, but regardless of that fact I was still trying my best.  For the hell of it I took a protective line going into the last run through 11, which I screwed up so it put me wide as hell on the exit.  To my surprise, suddenly there was a blue Ducati firing up my inside toward the checkered flag.  Honestly my first thought was, “Who the hell is this?  I think I’m about to be mad as hell at myself.”  As I tucked in behind that tail section toward the flag I realized after all, it was Bud Anderson.  I have to tell you honestly, I think that was the happiest part of our entire weekend – being beat, fair and square, by AFMBud.  We shook hands about twelve times on that cool-down lap.  He’s one of my favorite people.

We’ve never run Open GP before so they started us 26th on the grid.  I actually liked starting that far back; it took the pressure off.  Nothing expected of you coming from 26th.  By mid race we’d shook and bucked our way up to ninth I think, but then a modification made to our shifter on Saturday, failed.  We were stuck in third gear with parts dangling on the ground so I had to pull us out.

Formula Pacific is another race I haven’t run in a dog’s age.  We started way back again.  By this time I was feeling pretty beat up but that didn’t slow us down.  Being slow did.  I am curious if any of you were in the stands for FP.  We ran solo most of the way so it’s possible our struggles were more obvious than if we were in a group.  If anyone noticed me standing on the pegs over the hill in 3a, or completely losing control over the wheelie bump almost every lap, or dragging the rear tire sideways into nine, no I am not retarded – our setup is.  And we don’t have a slipper clutch yet.  For the record, if you ever get a chance to race a big bore twin without a slipper clutch, go fishing instead.  May not be as exciting, but at least you’ll get a meal out of it.

For anyone still reading, here’s this weekend’s lessons in a barrel:
1 – If your bike bucks like wild as you carry your front wheel four inches off the pavement over the hill out of turn 3a, the problem isn’t your forks.
2 – If you want another racer’s help, stay like seven seconds off their pace.
3 – If you are sponsored by both Alex Florea AND Dan Kyle (they hate each other), keep extra Kyleracing stickers in your spares bin – they tend to come “un-glued” quite randomly.
4 – If you’ve got something important to say to someone you’ve worked for, worked with, and even lived with, and you’re parked fifteen feet from their truck, don’t say it in a text message.
Today marks the first day in the rest of my racing career.  Maybe it’ll be short, maybe it’ll be slow.  But it doesn’t have to be either, if I don’t want it to be.  Patience IS a virtue I think, but it can also be a curse.  It’s a scary thing, change.  But it’s vital sometimes in order to create progress.  Our team today is left again facing change – a change in our crew, a change in our approach, and a change in my willingness to accept “good enough” for good.  So I called upon an old sponsor of mine from the east coast today, to see if we can cut through all this bullshit and get to the heart of our issues. He’s listed on this site as a sponsor, he’s on our leathers, so it’s time to put his ass to work. Fred Renz, of YOYODYNE, is now back on the job. He is sourcing for us, a proper KTM RC8R Ohlins TTX shock, straight from the factory.

Enough, is enough. It’s time to do this NY style..

Don’t sweat it brothers and sisters, we will sort this beast out.
After all that twelve-year-old kid locked in the basement was me, so I’ve made my way past angry dinosaurs before.

GoGo

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