THE PERFECT STORM
6/15/2011

One day, long ago, at an infamous east coast track called Loudon, for the very last time I pitched BCM’s Ducati 748 into a fast and sweeping turn that crests a hill, at redline. The turn was surrounded by walls, one of which use to scare the life out of me. But every time I went through there, race after race, year after year, somehow it all worked out. Until this one day…

Legend has it I lost the front, the bike fell on it’s side, I fell on my chest – and we both slid at speed toward certain doom. I hit the wall first, that four hundred pound 748 followed directly behind me. As my days typically go, this one was very bad. That wall I hit was lined with tires before the wreck. It was lined with tires, crushed pieces of motorcycle, and one broken human after. I’ve been told they had to dig me out of it. That I was unconscious at first, found snoring, and that the first thing I said when I finally came-to was, “Oh my balls!!!”

In ten years of remembering the six empty hours I have never been able to fill since that wreck, all I have come up with is a very peaceful sense of laying that drifting front tire on it’s side – and then me gently falling into the softest bed I can imagine being in, but I never actually land on it. Then it all goes black.

What you do today, shapes your tomorrow. What I did that day, shaped the rest of my life. It was a very bad situation that has taken me every day, ever since, to work my way out of. That work has been a journey of sorts, the likes of which I can’t say has made me a different person, but which definitely has made more thoughtful, and surely more determined. The good in being more thoughtful and determined is apparently championships. Before that day I had never won any. Since that day I have won many. The bad in being more thoughtful and determined is when something big is on your mind, it completely dominates you. When you choose a goal, you can’t give up. And when something big gets you down, it destroys you.

Since our first race on KTM’s RC8R, which we lost, not much has made sense to me. And believe me I have given it great thought. Always it seems this bike reacts in a language I don’t speak. It protests things that shouldn’t be problems, refuses my inputs, and angrily shakes me from it’s back. Most racers go out on a bike to compete against other racers. We go out to compete against our RC8R. And every time so far, we lose. I tell you the devil must have a sense of humor because the irony in all of this is stupendous. For two seasons we raced a KTM Superduke, which is an entirely inappropriate motorcycle to roadrace against open-class bikes. We came off that Superduke to race an RC8R, which is a completely appropriate motorcycle to race against open-class bikes. We actually did damned well on our Superduke. We actually completely suck on our RC8R. So you see, the Devil does have a sense of humor. And we have done a pretty good job of playing along with his jokes. Sometimes you are the bat in life, other times you are the ball. I get that. But recently our long string of lackluster results finally broke something in me. I decided “good enough”, wasn’t good enough anymore. Right then a very daunting element of life entered our race program – Change.

Change takes change. Some people embrace the opportunity in it, others avoid it like it’s the plague. I do both. Most likely due to life having torn every last stitch of self-confidence I once had sewn into me, for the past few years I have shied away from change. Yet somehow, mid-way through round-2, my foot finally found its way to the floor. Our first change was my approach. Instead of following I began to lead. Almost instantly, as a result of this our second change came upon us – mutiny. In the middle of round 2, somewhere between my decision to look into our Ohlins TTX shock, and Corey Sarros discovering it basically had no nitrogen in it, Jason Hauns jumped ship. That was his call. The next call was my own. Our bucking, fading, and mismatched Ohlins shock finally took a walk on the plank, at gunpoint, after failing us for the third consecutive weekend in round 2. We replaced it with a Penske, which sent us into round 3 with a hopeful attitude. After all if change takes change, it makes sense that change creates change. Yet there we were, four laps into the round 3 Open Twins race, and the Devil was yanking our bars again. WTF… Once again we suffered from the same wallowing, the same bucking, and the same worthless lap times. So one week after round 3, with an amped up attitude for progress, we tried a very special test during a Pacific Track Time day at Infineon. Our Michelin tires came off, replaced for the day with Dunlops. After all we’d already run the gamut on compression settings, rebound, ride heights, and spring preloads. You name it we tried it. Yet nothing lead us from the darkness. So our idea was to do a race simulation. To compare the differences Dunlops created for us in as close a race simulation as possible – same track, bike, rider, and settings. Everything felt decent out there with the Dunlops, similar to the beginnings of our races in round 3, until lap four. …Again. Then, you know who showed up. He wasn’t dressed exactly the same, but he was just as determined to keep us from going anywhere fast. It was the Devil, still hard at work playing his jokes on us. Only by this time I was tired of playing along. Looking back at myself in that moment, in the pits just after completing yet another failed test, I give myself credit for not riding our bike straight into a dumpster. What was left to change that we had not already changed? Well I’ll tell you what – apparently A LOT.

GoGo, Dannyboy, Keith - up in arms with KTM's RC8R

Michael Earnest came by our pit after following me for a few laps out there in our test.  He suggested I was either riding our bike like someone out of control-insane, or that I was simply insane to be riding a bike that out of control.  My response didn’t matter to Michael; he took me by the shirt collar and dragged me to his suspension guy – Barry “Mr. Wiggles” Wressel, of KFG Racing.  Barry pushed on our shock, once, and instantly said he could solve it’s fading problem.  He pushed on our forks, once, and told us something was wrong with them.  To a desperately lost racer searching for answers in a place where none seem to exist, Barry’s words took the shape of new hope.  No one, in all the suspension people whom I had asked just the same questions to, in just the same ways, ever offered such clarity in their response.  In less than an hour’s time Sonny had our Penske shock off, completely rebuilt by Barry, and back on our RC8R ready for the afternoon’s runs.   At first the bike felt just the same, which made me curious.  But after lap four, when remarkably it still felt just the same, my curiosity turned to joy.  Our Penske shock was now consistent, from lap one to lap eight.  Finally, change was producing something good for us.

Our bike has been plagued by three major problems since our first race with it last October (well, four if you count horsepower).  On acceleration the rear oscillated, bucked, and wallowed side to side.  On the brakes the forks bottomed, no matter the compression setting, no matter the preload installed.  In the turns the front pumped up and down – which grabbed for traction, and release, grabbed for traction, and released.  And then on top of those three problems was the aforementioned lack of horsepower, which, let’s not even get into right now..

We left the Infineon test with one of our major problems solved – the rear shock.  Mr. Wiggles came through with flying colors.  What did he do you might ask?  Well, let’s not forget who’s writing this blog.  There’s not much I won’t tell.  Barry amped up the shims in our compression stack, then used THINNER oil when he put it back together.  WTF you might ask, “Thinner?”  Barry explained it like this:  Picture two glasses on a table – one filled with honey, the other with water.  Now imagine air bubbles rising from the bottoms of both.  ….I am sure you see now what I suddenly did then too, thinner oil gets rid of air quicker.  Thicker oil traps it, which causes cavitations, which results in fade.

So one out of three (4) isn’t bad for a start, but when it comes to bike setup – the majority rules.  We still had two strikes against us.  With our front still bottoming and pumping, which caused more problems than I am even writing here, we were still slow and every one of use knew it.  But at least now we were moving, and we had a plan.  Barry offered to meet us early at Thunderhill for the upcoming round 4, to get into our forks before Saturday practice.

Being that the AFM completely melts at the first sign of raindrops, Round 4 was a bit of a downer.  This perplexing year of late season rain in California parked a storm over Thunderhill that soaked us Saturday morning all the way till mid-Sunday – which was too late to race.  This wrecked everyone’s plans.  Instead of chasing rooster tails down Thunderhill’s front straight, as we all battled our way through the wrath of that Perfect storm, we turned to doing things like….  fishing from it?

GoGo, Sonny P, Keith - Fishing on Thunderhill's front straight

So there was no racing to be had during round 4.  Neither were there any fish.  But still we had our most successful weekend to date.  How can that be you might ask?  Well, here is where this story is about to get tricky…

When things go right around you, it’s your job as a racer to tell everyone that the world is now a better place simply because your motorcycle exists – that your gloves give you Kung-Fu grip, your helmet makes you smarter, and your tires help you get girls.  When things go sideways in racing, it’s your job to tell the world you’ll get em’ next time.  But when things go wrong around you, it’s your job as a racer to tell the world,  ….nothing.  You take the punches on your chin, you bite your tongue so hard it bleeds, and you lick your wounds in solitary confinement.  Some racers are better at this than others.  All are better than me.  As a result of this trait of mine, or lack thereof, it’s appropriate I think that some people in racing just don’t like me.  Others consider me to be a loaded gun, which might just fire at them if that’s how things pan out.  Consider me however you want.  Approve of me or don’t.  But no one can call me a liar.

Barry Wressel looked into our forks on Friday, just like he promised he would.  He confirmed something was definitely wrong with them, just like he promised there might be.   But judging by his expression when he watched them fall apart from themselves and into his drain bucket, even he never expected they would be as wrong as they were.

No one on this earth has ever uncorked our forks without me hovering over them every second of the way.  Not because I don’t trust people.  Lord knows I do that far too much.  I watch because I am fascinated by how things work.  I watch because I want to learn.  And what I learned at that moment is Michael Earnest was right.  Not only have I been riding out of control-insane, but it is highly likely that I actually AM insane for even trying to ride something which was that far out of control – never mind raced…

What Barry discovered about our Ohlins forks is that since a time which none of us can determine exactly,  we have been riding, and racing our RC8R, with the internals of BOTH our fork legs (the cartridges) completely separated from the fork bottoms.  We have confirmed with great confidence that since we first ran this RC8R – 10/2010, to present, 6/2011, at least one fork leg’s cartridge had come entirely unscrewed, and remained unscrewed, from it’s fork lower.  It is the second cartridge that we do not know the timing of its failure.  Basically this means two things; we raced with no compression dampening, and from the point that both cartridges became unscrewed at the same time, at any point our forks could have come apart from themselves while we were out there at speed.

Sonny P.  “But…..  why?

Sonny P. asking But why?

I have learned a great deal about forks in the past weeks.  I understand enough now in fact to be able to explain exactly what all this means, how it affected us, and what catastrophically epic failures could have occurred as a result.  Instead I will say the following:

1 – We all missed the blatantly obvious signs that something about our forks was very wrong.  The clues, the questions, the waving flags of caution – they were all there, they were all missed.
2 – Ohlins is currently looking into what/how/and why this happened.  If they deem it necessary, Dan Kyle tells me they will, because they have in the past, issue a re-call.
3 – I owe not only the credit for discovering this problem, but perhaps even my life, to Barry Wressel of KFG Racing.
4 – Barry Wressel of KFG Racing is now, and will forever be as long as it is in my control, our suspension guy.

Thank you, Mr. Wiggles

Barry Wressel, KFG Racing

 

So what does all this mean?  This means the hammer won.  We now have a proper KTM RC8R to not only ride, but to race.  Our next goal, which is already well under way, is horsepower.  Stay tuned brothers and sisters, change is upon us.

GoGo

  1. mikew says:

    Glad you found some solution to your issues you did’t look like you where having fun at that track day.
    If you need help in the pits let me know I am sure Sonny would appriciate it.

  2. JP says:

    Great writing! Barry is the bomb and did the same exact thing with my forks. No one noticed anything wrong. Barry pushed on it, “yup it’s messed up” and an hour later I was going faster than I ever had.

    You made some good changes, we’ll be watching round 5!

    • GoGo says:

      Yea JP, although suspension is mysterious, it’s not brain surgery. Maybe the finest adjustments can, and even should be elusive, but basic things like your forks almost falling off… Those problems shouldn’t go unnoticed.

      Thanks for reading. Our next installment will be about tuning this RC8R. We are embarrassingly still running with a stock map. That will be very different for round 5 as well.

  3. Donny says:

    I already know the story, so I’ll just comment on the photos (which are great, BTW). I look at Sonny’s dog and wonder if he is thinking “Ok, did you get the photo? Can I get out of the rain yet?”.

    Best of luck at the next round guys!

    • GoGo says:

      Ten minutes after that pic was taken, “Buddy” (Sonny’s other dasterdly dog), ate my Snap-On work chair, AND my roll-up bed. So really, “Betty” (the dog in this pic) made out ok hangin’ out in the rain. Obviously Buddy was pissed not to be included in the shot…

  4. Ben says:

    Hey Gogo,

    finally you got your head around creating a blog. Good stuff!

    And thanks for sharing the story.

    Pushing my thumbs for the next round.

    Best wishes from Germany,

    Ben

    • GoGo says:

      It was YOUR idea Ben. OK that was about a thousand years ago, I admit, but I told you I’M A CARPENTER!!

      Seriously Ben, thank you.

      GoGo

  5. Ben says:

    we´re waiting Gogo…

  6. Matt says:

    So, 2nd in Open Twins, but the best lap noted in the results shows you down by 2 seconds to JR and one to Metz. HP? Is the chassis working now?

    Update, please.

    • GoGo says:

      Matt Green. You are missed. . . answers to your questions are all just a click away.

      Round 5 is up. Lots more drama, some spitting, superpowers, and a chick with a skirt the size of my wallett…

      enjoy,

      :-)

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