What can you do, other than your best…
AFM round 6
The most challenging times in your life come when adversity goes viral. When it renders your will powerless, your skill meaningless. These times, painful as they are, are the times that define you. When you look back up from the floor, broken, at this ugly and tenacious beast you do it facing choice – “Do I quit or do I stand again before this thing?”
It happened mid-way through practice 3, when the ever-building momentum we’ve harnessed this year hit a wall and fell to it’s knees. Our bike was all wrong Saturday, but the day was marching forward, with us or without. We pressed onward with no other choice, through the shakes and past the slides, until the apex of turn one. I like to think we have control out there. We know what to expect when we push harder. We know where it’ll go pear shaped if we get greedy – going in on the brakes, driving hard on the gas, maybe making a pass where we shouldn’t. So risk is manageable. Or so I thought. Then mid-way through a turn I’ve taken a thousand times before, in just the same way I always have, suddenly I was staring at the list of sponsors on our belly pan just before being fired from the barrel of a canon toward the pavement before me.
I consider myself lucky to have racing in my life. It makes me push. I purposefully lost eight pounds for this round. I rode my bicycle every day, I worked out, I cut portions in half, I gave up ice cream – talk about sacrifice. Why so much work for this round you might ask?
It doesn’t make sense we’ve been going this fast, doing this well, being this consistent. Not to me it doesn’t, because I know I’m not this good. Keeping Lenny Hale in sight all the way to the end of the Formula Pacific race last round lit a fire in my soul. Feeling that great on a bike again was inspiring. Our RC8R simply worked at Thunderhill. It went where I asked, and rarely put a wheel out of place. The rest was up to me – which is a perspective I rarely take. Typically my goals are “our” goals. WE do, and WE face, everything together as a team. Never is there blame or credit given to just one of us. Together we triumph, and together we fail. But in the weeks leading up to this round, at Infineon, I fought a personal battle all on my own. If I could just make me better, I thought. Maybe if I could be lighter, leaner, and stronger that might make up our deficit. And so I did.
I could barely roll our broken RC8R down the hill to Keith after the wreck. Of all the places to hit the pavement, I did it square in the middle of a water-skiing injury I got early last month. It took me a week to lift my left arm to chest-height after that hard splash. Quite impressively though my body bounced back strong. In three weeks of rehabilitation, on the Friday before this round 6, I pressed out 4 sets of 50 pushups. My left shoulder was a non-issue before our crash in turn one. But after our crash it was done. I couldn’t then, and I still can’t now, lift my arm to my chest. Racing Sunday therefore was suddenly just about out of the question.
As questionable as I was for Sunday, our bike was even worse. Keith stared at it with a pale face. We tossed a coin for which one of us would call Mike with the bad news. I lost. Mike answered the phone like he already knew something bad had happened. That confirmed for me the fact that we both had been secretly sharing a daunting feeling that good luck only lasts so long. Now it was time to dig deep into our character bag and see what we could pull out. And here is where you will learn why in all the teams I have raced with over the years Cal Moto Livermore is the team I race with, now. Mike Meissner left his family, got in his truck, stole last round’s ill-ordered 2012 KTM RC8R Track from the shop, and drove to Infineon. Once there he and Keith began a surgery that would last through the night until mid-way through Sunday morning, working to revive our race proven war horse in time for Sunday’s races.
Together the boys turned two bikes into one. By eleven o’clock we were ready to run again. Only one thing we had to do first – PASS TECHNICAL INSPECTION.
We missed all practice sessions, but did manage to sneak out for two warmup laps in the races before our Formula Pacific race. The bike felt exactly how it did before our crash Saturday, which is nothing short of amazing. Huge credit goes to Mike, Keith, & Dannyboy of our great CalMoto Livermore. Special thanks also to Alex, Andy, Barry at KFGracing.com, Paolo and Tucker of ForTheTrack.com, and everyone we borrowed tools from to get all this work done in time for the races. THANK YOU EVERYBODY
FORMULA PACIFIC: While I do dream, I am also a realist. Every time we line up with the FP field I expect to get an ass whooping. But lining up this time, with only one good arm, on an oddly (it was so great at Thunderhill, I just don’t get why it was so bad here) and quite particularly ill-handling bike that’s just been revived from the viral depths of adversity, I expected even more than a good ass whooping. My goal was simply to survive. We got a decent start, but I was not my typical self. I gave up positions without any fight. I struggled to control the bike at speed. I couldn’t counter-steer, I couldn’t muscle the bike down into turns, and I had such little strength switching direction through the “S” turns in 8, 9, 3 and 3-A, etc. Then on top of all that the viral demons added insult to injury by continuing our bike’s on-going struggle to maintain it’s composure while charging up the back straight at full throttle.
At this point it’s time I think I delve into exactly what I mean by our bike’s “struggle to maintain it’s composure while charging up the back straight.” We all love dogs right? I trust we’ve all been around them when they get wet? Well have you ever wondered what it feels like, to them, when they shake like only dogs can shake?
…OK then, that’s what our bike feels like going up the back straight.
I did my best to hang on, I did my best to keep the throttle pinned straight through the madness. It didn’t matter, we lost positions almost every run up that back straight. Still though, we were doing what needed to be done. We were surviving.
…Until just after the half-way point when suddenly it sounded like the viral demon of adversity set off a bomb in our exhaust pipe. In one instant our bike’s sound was transformed from an elite twin cylinder superbike, to an angrily explosive NHRA Top Fuel Dragster. Instantly I thought back to a crash I witnessed back at Loudon, in New Hampshire. It was Gerald Rothman on his Yoshimura Suzuki, I watched his exhaust come apart then wedge under his bike in the next turn and launch him skyward into a glorious wreck he likely still feels today. Instantly I put my hand up and rode off track to retire our bike behind a barrier wall.
After all the work the guys put forth, after all the hours, the creativity, the tenacity and the determination. To have it all fall apart due to some freak muffler failure completely unrelated to our crash on Saturday, was heart breaking. To make matters even more tragic, pulling out of that FP race also pulled us out of our hard fought battle for not only fourth place in the Formula Pacific championship, but now most likely even fifth as well.
When we got the bike back to the pits we discovered that the end cap on our huge muffler had tore it’s rivets off and fell into our belly-pan. End of story. So Dannyboy rustled up some rivets from Alex at Fastline Cycles and put our muffler back together for the Open Twins race. All was well again..
OPEN TWINS: We started the OT race from pole position. Again I was not myself, we lost our fight for the hole-shot to Ducati’s #101 Brendan Walsh. This opened the door for a dramatic pass going into turn 2, which just so happened to be populated this weekend by my cousin Mark (who ended his imperfect record of never coming to see us race), my genius buddy Steve, and our old tire-warmer jockey Matthew with his new girl Emile. Thinking of all those guys in the stands I jammed our bike up Brendan’s inside going into the rise over turn 2, and put my nose to the grinding wheel as best I could. My plan was to escape as best I could while adrenalin gave me the strength to push through the pain. The plan was working well until we came out onto the front straight for the second time – and our exhaust blew up for the second time. WTF!!! This time though I had a much better idea what the problem was, and I was confident that other than going deaf, we were not in danger. So much for that idea, the first time I threw the bike on it’s side for a hard left turn the loose muffler end-cap somehow wedged itself under our bodywork and launched our bike’s ass in the air – ala Gerald Rothman. Luckily though we did not crash. I lifted the bike up out of the turn, checked the belly pan for parts hanging out, and then pushed forward again. In the following turns ahead I leaned in gradually, one inch at a time, waiting for the pipe to touch down again. It never did, so after a lap of ginger tests in each turn I started to press again.
One of the things I love most about racing Open Twins is the sound of the bikes. Like no other bikes on the racing grid, big twins really wake the dead with their thunderous pistons growling out RPMs like prehistoric dinosaur battles of a land before time. I’ve raced more than a few different big twins by now, they all sound special. But let me tell you, an RC8R with a WIDE OPEN megaphone for a muffler is just about the loudest thing I have ever experienced in my life. Imagine walking up to the biggest amp you can find at a rage nightclub and sticking your head inside it – I imagine that’s about as loud as our RC8R was with a megaphone for a silencer.
As I leaned our now wounded bike, with my now wounded body, into hard left handers especially – I could feel sound waves exploding back up at my chest from the pavement. Literally I could feel my leathers vibrating. But this time, unlike the FP race, I decided I would keep racing as long as the AFM did not black-flag me for a sound violation. Each run up the front straight, still somehow leading the race, I watched for the meatball flag. To my astonishment it never flew for us, so I pressed on. Already down on power from our greatest rival in Open Twins, Steve “Tiger Boy” Metz, and now with even less power due to our broken exhaust, I expected him to rocket by sooner than later – which he eventually did. Where might you ask did he pass us? Where else other than our Achilles heel – any one of our shaking, bucking, demonic runs up the back straight. The first time he shot by we were close enough to squeeze back under him in turn seven. We held the lead that lap until, you guessed it, our next possessed run up the back straight. This time Tiger Boy shot by us earlier on the back straight. We were not close enough to pass him back in seven, so I sat tight behind him and waited for an opportunity to present itself. By this time not only was I growing weaker, but – what the hell let’s throw another torrential problem into the mix – we were losing rear traction just about everywhere. I lost the rear in turn one again, which was more than just scary. I lost it out of turn two, into and out of turn three, four, five, seven, eight, nine and ten. Why not every turn on the track you might ask? Because apparently that would even be too much for the viral monster of adversity to stomach.
We survived out there, racing as smart as I know how. I heard Tracy’s voice especially, ringing somehow remarkably louder than our broken exhaust – telling me time and again “You don’t need to win this race, GoGo. Second will do this time.” I listened well, until I saw lappers up ahead of Tiger Boy on the white flag lap. Just in case these lappers got in Tiger’s way I figured it wise to get back up close to him again, which I did. Ironically, going into turn seven there we were again nose to tail. He had one lapper in front of him, I was parked just behind him. I saw a very small window of opportunity, which likely would have gotten me kicked out of the AFM if I screwed it up. If I wanted Tiger Boy, I would have to take the both of them at the same time in that turn. It wasn’t an impossible move, for me, on some other day. But on this day it was too much. I backed us out of the fight and settled for second place. Enough was enough, we needed to crush our virus with a vengeance. And so we did. Mathematically I believe our lead in the Open Twins championship is now too great to be overcome by anyone else with just one round remaining.
….I do believe congratulations is in order. Against all odds and even more adversity, while our viral weekend from hell was strong enough to knock us down – it was not strong enough to keep us down. Ladies and gentlemen, we all just won the 2012 AFM Open Twins Championship!!!
Thank you to everyone for reading, and for all of your support. …We’re nothing without you,