AFM round 1, 2011 – HONESTY

Posted: 20th May 2011 by GoGo in RACE STORIES - 2011

AFM round 1, 2011

Last night a well known racer looked up at me from a table at a restaurant in Buttonwillow Ca. and said “Good job out there today GoGo.  ….So how’d that RC8R feel?”  Instantly I answered, “I have no idea, my eyes were closed the whole way.”  He laughed along with the rest of the table, as I walked out wondering if even I realized how truthful I had just been.  I have said this before and I will likely say it again; there are three types of people in this world – those that watch things happen, those that make things happen, and those that are left to wonder “What in the name of hell just happened…”

I titled this story “HONESTY” for good reason.  At times I am all three of those people.

The KTM RC8R is the fastest motorcycle I have ever raced.  I learned a long time ago to respect powerful things like this, by not respecting them enough.  Yet there I found myself again this Saturday, on the grid of Open Twins, facing a dark and ominous sky, just a stark few feet from some of the angriest sounding twin cylinder machines in all of Calilfornia.  I wish everyone could experience an Open Twins grid.  Believe me it’s memorable.  Open-class twins idle like demons live inside them.  They feel like trains crashing beneath you.   And when you twist their throttles to the stop, they claw forward in a pulsing rush that ignites the blood in your veins.
AFM Open Twins grid

Typically I come to life in a scene like this past Saturday.  Some might even say I live for it.  But I didn’t live for it yesterday.  Truth is I wasn’t prepared.  It’s been weeks now the guys at Tri Valley Moto have been on a tear to prep our RC8R.  In fact their efforts have re-defined our entire program.  When I picked our bike up Friday morning, I hadn’t turned a screw on it all year– yet it was done.  All the typical race-prep details so easily forgotten, were on – were tight – were filled – and were bled.  Then when they read me the list of things they’d done that I couldn’t see, I didn’t know what to say.  But I do now…  For the first time, in a very long time, I represented the weakest link in our chain.  Not the bike, not our lack of horsepower or prep, not any reasons other than simply ME.

Let’s give some props to the people that make up racing – from corner workers to mechanics to class champions, and everyone in-between, these are some dedicated people.  We all show up, come hell or high water, and make things happen.  But let’s be honest, some of us are more dedicated than others.  And you can add on top of that, a strange few of us who are insanely dedicated.  This is one of my problems I think – some of the racers I choose to race are of the last group.  And to be honest, yesterday, I was not on their level.

To start our year right I paid Tiger Boy, one of our greatest rivals of 2010, a visit when we arrivedat the track for round 1 late Friday afternoon.  I did this to get in his head.  When he told me he’d already done five track days this year I realized my plan had just backfired.  The last time I sat on a motorcycle was October…  I left his tiger stripped garage with a pale face.  What’s with these people in California?  Where I come from, winter is winter.  It’s a time for ice-skating, snowplows, and curling up by the fire.  Motorcycles couldn’t be farther from my mind.  And boy did I show I’m from back east this past Saturday morning.

The track felt familiar enough as I labored around it but the bike and me were on opposite ends of the hemisphere.  It violently shook it’s head after the bump into Riverside, I couldn’t make two consecutive up or down-shifts without missing a gear, and any time the front got light I was in for a ride from hell.  I stayed out for six laps regardless of the mechanical issues, because I knew I also had to work on some mental ones.  When I came in Jason and Sonny looked at me for answers, but all I had were questions.  We were in trouble.

With all the talk of rain for Sunday I thought maybe, just maybe, I would luck-out and the whole weekend would get cancelled.  This might give us a chance to do some testing before round 2.  I knew that even with the full practice day Saturday, and also Sunday’s warm-up session, we still wouldn’t even be warm.  Then it happened – the race director came over the speaker calling the rider’s meeting.  When she said Open Twins would now be run a day early, in less than an hour, I looked up at the sky as if to acknowledge, I deserve this punishment.  It’s what you get for not being ready.

We lined up in the number 3 spot for Open Twins, with eight laps of practice under our belt on a brand new bike.  Not a happy place.  I looked over to give #54 James Randolph the thumbs up, but he is not human.  He never responded. I looked over to give Tiger Boy the nod but he was, well, busy being a tiger.  To my right I finally found a friend, Nick Hayman (who we rode for in 2005, but has now morphed into a racer himself).  He smiled back like he wanted to kill me.  What the hell I have no friends anymore!  I knew before the flag even dropped I would wheelie the start.  The stock clutch in this bike grabs real bad.  We got off the line pretty quick but just as I knew I would have to, I had to back out for a second to bring it back down.  That gave my next apparent enemy, Pat Blackburn, the opportunity to not only pass us, but to choose a line right across my tachometer for turn one.  Did I unknowingly have sex with his girlfriend or something?  Next by was Tiger Boy, BEFORE turn one.
Eric GoGo Gulbransen

You see what I mean yet?  While making things happen, I am watching things happen –all along wondering “What in the hell is happening..?”

Being off like I was I knew we couldn’t let anyone go for more than a turn or our goose was cooked.  Tiger Boy went into turn two like a Cheetah, but went through it like a Tree Sloth.  We clipped him mid-turn and headed for revenge on Pat.  In the only chance Jason Hauns got to make an improvement on our terrible first practice, he hit on something with our setup.  We were nowhere near perfect, but I could suddenly ride.  As Pat wheelied over the bump out of the Grape Vine I figured an inside pass through Club Corner would return the favor to him quite nicely, and so we did.  Please no one ever try that pass on me, unless I actually do have sex with your girlfriend.

From this point our race likely looked boring until the last lap.  Trust me it was nothing like that.  Our RC8R was so wild to hold on to at some points of the track, I was actually too afraid to shift gears.  Instead I would just hold throttle and hang on tight as I could.  It would shimmy and shake so bad out of Lost Hills I had to drag the rear brake to settle it.  I’m not sure if that worked, but it sure slowed us down.  Alex (our Michelin rep) told me before the start, we had four good laps in the rear tire I chose.  After that things could get interesting.  So when I saw him smashing his two fists together as we took the white flag I figured holy shit, I’m a Gazelle right now and you know who is three feet off my heels.   I couldn’t believe we were still in second place.  And truthfully, after this many laps with the bit in my teeth, I wasn’t handing second to anyone.  You’d have to rip it from my grip.   I lost the rear out of two on the last lap, which made me panic about our last run through Riverside, but we went through there well.  Lost Hills was terrible though, especially leaving it.  And then there he was..  On our inside, going into the Mazda turn (a 240 degree long lasting right hander).  Crap, Tiger Boy owned the turn, we were out in the marbles.  The next three seconds would define us, I could feel it.

Who remembers first dates?  New girls, or guys – you’ve got all these ideas in your head.  She’s sexy, he’s smiling, I think it’s going well but I don’t know, she just laughed out-loud but was it real?  It’s so hard to know where you stand in the beginning.  It usually takes a while but once you know each other, once you’ve run a few Iron Mans together, you don’t ask questions like that anymore.  You just know…

Going into the Mazda turn out in the marbles, with Tiger Boy jammed up our inside, I really didn’t “know”.  But I had a feeling, so I stuck it out.  Once we settled into the turn side by side, I could tell he knew he had the upper hand.  He was in command, so he made his move forward.  He didn’t get far before I fought him back to even.  When he surged a second time, again I answered back to even but time was running low – the final apex was approaching so I stayed in it.  I put all trust in Michelin’s new front slick, which not only rolled faster, but turned tighter – which got us to the final apex first.  I spent the last few stretches of that final lap thanking the horsepower Gods above for finally blessing us with the arm stretching power we have so longed for.

I hope to spend some time before AFM round 2, getting to know this twin cylinder steed.  Maybe training harder, backing off the apple pie, and stepping up the commitment.   I can tell the potential is there in this RC8R.  Especially with some of the special things Dannyboy, John Starks, and Keith Rodrigues have done to it.  It’s pretty cool what these guys have done.  I am definitely now, the weakest link in this chain.

Dannyboy (Tri Valley Moto service manager) & Keith Rodrigues (Chief  mechanic, Tri Valley Moto Racing)

Keith Ramires

John Starks (triple clamp fabricator)

John Starks

Mike Meissner, owner of Tri Valley Moto

Mike MeissnerJason Hauns, suspension tech
Jason Hauns

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