It has been a busy past few weeks for me. This is very long so you might want to take it a few paragraphs at a sitting...
July 11 - WERA North Central Region - Nelson Ledges Race Report
In early April I was playing basketball and completely tore the ACL in my left knee. It took a good 4-5 weeks before the soreness went out of my leg and I had any strength in it. That prevented me from running the first few races of the season. I didn't even get out on the race bike until the end of May for a track day at Beaver Run. All of that makes this my first race report of the season.
Nelson Ledges is a really fast track with only a few turns. Most of the track is ran in 3rd and 4th gear with only a single turn requiring the downshift into 2nd. This past winter saw the track receive several much needed improvements, including some new pavement through turns 1 and 2 and the entire 2nd half of the carousel. I had only raced at Nelson Ledges on time and that had been last year during a 3-hour endurance race. I was curious how I would do at the track since I had gotten in a little more racing since the last vist to Nelsons and wanted to see if I could bring my lap times down. During practice I was able to match my race times of last year so that was a good sign.
My first race for the day was Formula 1 Novice. Being the first race of my season I had no points in the WERA North Central region. That meant I got to start dead last. I had never started at the back of the pack and it was definitely an eye opener for me. The green flag dropped and I managed to get an ok start. I went around a couple of people on the main straight and folded into the pack for turn 1. Racing around the track I kept getting caught off guard by people going much slower in the turns than I was. I would continually run right up on the rear tire of people much faster than I had anticipated which prevented me from planning for it and getting around them quickly. I would set them up for the next turn but by then the lead group was getting farther and farther away. I was able to make pretty good progress still and managed to pass at least 1 person each lap but the best I could muster was a 7th place finish. My best lap times had me up as far as 5th if I could have gotten around people a little easier. As it was I still managed to drop about 1.5 seconds off of my times from last year.
The next race was B Superbike Novice. Again, I was gridded at the back of the pack and again I got an ok start. I was able to pass a couple of people on the green flag and beat them into turn 1. Again, however, I kept getting surprised by my closing speed in some of the turns. I would be right on someones tail expecting them to slow down a little bit for a turn when they would all of a sudden clamp on the brakes. That caused me to have to do the same to avoid hitting them which ruined my drive around them. There were a couple of close calls in this race, with one incident leaving me pretty sure I was going to T-bone another rider. The person in front of him and done something that caused the rider in front of me to run really wide through turn 1. I was still catching up to them and had a big gap to make up, but I also had a lot more corner speed on both of them and was going to go under them with 10 feet to spare between them and me. Unfortunately the guy who went wide finally got things under control and pointed the bike back across the track to the inside of the turn right about the time I was going to start passing him. My 10 feet of clear space suddenly became 0. I had to hit the front brake so hard that I lightened the rear wheel while I was still cranked over. The rear end started coming around so I had to let off the brakes a little. When the rear settled down a bit I had to grab them a bit harder to slow down some more which caused the rear to step out again. This process repeated itself several times over the course of about 1.5 seconds, during which time I was sure I was going to tuck the front and lowside into the other person or eventually T-bone them. Somehow, though, I was able to miss the bike in front of me by a few inches, not tuck the front, and not high-side myself into oblivion. I passed the guy 2 turns later when I came to the conclusion that if I didn't get around him then I was probably going to end up crashing trying to avoid him in the turns. I was able to pick off 1-2 other racers each lap for the most part but by then I had come so close to rearending people that I sat back and settled for 8th place. My lap times that race had increased by half a second over the previous race but most of that was again due to being held up so much.
The last race of the day was B Superstock Novice. Yep, you guessed it, back of the pack again. I didn't get so luck on the start this time though. Everyone got away clean for the most part and jammed into turn 1. Not wishing to get taken out by some guy with something to prove I just backed off and let the dust settle as we cleared turn 1. As the bikes started stringing out going through turn 2 I started to go to work by picking people off here and there. I was able to get by 1-2 people each lap until about 3 laps into things. I got stuck behind 2 guys and just couldn't get around. After following them around for a few laps I finally was able to pick both of them off and started looking for more people to pass. On the 7th lap I got behind Jim Gibbs who I already knew from track days. I followed him around for the rest of the race looking for a good place to pass. Coming into turn 12 I was a bit faster than Jim and thought it would be a good place to pass next time around. I keep trying on the last lap but no other spots presented themselves so as we passed through the high speed kink (bike is at full lean in 6th gear pretty much wide open) I committed myself to making some sort of last minute move. Jim did a good job of protecting the inside line going into 12 so I darted to the outside and tried taking him on the brakes. Everything was going to plan until Jim started swinging my way to set up for turn 12. I was still trying to get past him, he was getting closer and closer, and I was running out of track. Jim was looking at the inside of the turn and had no idea I was right next to him until my bike brushed up against his leg. It was a good thing that happened because another half second of him coming over and I was going to run out of track resulting at best in an offroad excursion, and at worst a brief tumble through the grass. In trying to avoid Jim I had totally lost any drive and the best I could do was to hang on his tail through the turn and hope nobody came past us. I finished the race in 9th place. This time I was able to knock some more time off of my best lap times but I was still frustrated knowing that if I hadn't had to come from the back row then I could have placed much better. My lap times put me in at a solid 5th place compared to the rest of the racer's best times. If I would have been able to get a clearer track then I am sure I could have gone even faster but that is racing.
I came away from the weekend having gotten my first race of the season under the belt and reducing my lap times by 2 seconds. I also gained some valuable points in the WERA North Central region which should help me move up in the grids and give me a better shot and being up front as the season goes on. Additionally, I know where I can make up some additional time and maybe make a run for a podium position when we return in a month.
July 20-21 AMA Grand National - Mid-Ohio Race Report
I ran these races last year (they were the only sprints I had ever done, and only the 2nd race I had ever been in). I had done pretty well last year and initially had high expectations. My race the previous week at Nelson Ledges, however, had given me a good taste of racing and of what it is like when things don't fall exactly into place. While I had done well the previous week by dropping lap times, having to pass the entire field was more than I could handle and hampered my efforts. I knew coming into these races that starts and getting past slower people quickly was going to be extremely important if I was going to stay within reach of the lead group and have a shot at doing well.
The first race up on day 1 was Heavyweight SuperStock Novice. The grid sheets had us out there with the experts as well. Most of us thought this was going to be a 2-wave start. When the green flag dropped 3 guys from the novices took off. Immediately I am laughing in my helmet at the meatball flag they are all going to get when they come around. About 5 seconds go by and the guy is still waving the green flag (he never stopped) and that is when I first started suspecting that something was wrong. When they all started waving with their hands for us to take off was when I realized that this was *not* a 2-wave start and that we all should have left about 10 seconds ago. I take off which wakes everyone else up and off we go. Having a 10 second deficit to 3 guys in my class coming through the first turn was not the way I wanted to start the weekend. Needless to say I was cursing in my helmet through the first several turns. After that I settled down knowing I had to put my head down and make up time. I was able to get around all 3 guys in my class who left on time at the start, but in the process I was passed by someone behind me. I set my sights on him realizing I was currently in 2nd and was going for 1st. We came upon a group of 3 experts. The person in front of me in my class, Bill Drake, got around all of them in a fairly bold pass through the chicane. I wasn't quite as brave and bided my time. Coming into turn 6 off of the front straight I passed one of the experts on the brakes. I stayed in that spot for the next 2 laps finally picking off another of the experts only to get held up by the first one. I followed him around for the next couple of laps showing him a wheel and trying to make a pass. On the last lap I came up along side him going into turn 14 when he failed to protect the inside line. I was right next to him on the inside but he didn't much care and came over on me anyway. Given the choice of holding my ground and hoping we didn't both crash or backing off a bit and letting someone in front of me who would have no bearing on the outcome of my standings at this point, I opted to just let him get back in front. I finished the race in 2nd place but again was held up by slower riders just like at Nelson Ledges. My lap times showed it as well since I was running a full second faster in practice than what I had done in the race. That was when I committed myself to getting the job done the rest of the race weekend. I had played way too nice for too long and wasn't getting the results I had expected because of it.
My 2nd race of the day was Heavyweight Solo Novice. I had a pretty good grid position and was determined to get a decent start and not lose any spots right away. I was able to accomplish that and exited turn 1 in 6th place. I was right behind Scott Collins who had been doing well so far during the day. I latched onto his rear tire and wasn't about to let go. Scott came up on Chris Courtney and they started doing battle. I sat behind them and watched, showing a wheel here and there to whoever happened to be immediately in front of me. Scott made a pass on Chris but was only able to make it stick for a lap. I don't know what Chris in his motor, but it pulled strong and he was able to get back around Scott the next time we came down the back straight. He started putting a little distance between himself and Scott and that is when I decided it was time I get around Scott for fear of losing distance on Chris. I made a pass on Scott on the brakes the next time we came around the back straight and started pushing hard to make up the gap to Chris. I followed him for a lap and was able to get around him in one of the turns moving me into 4th place. By this time we were over halfway finished with the race and all of the shuffling and pushing had me getting a little tired. I put my head down and tried to keep the pace up knowing that Chris had more motor than me on the straight. Unfortunately it wasn't enough and as I was staring at the top of my gas tank trying to be as small as possible going down the back straight Chris zipped bast me and got a few bike lengths on me. As soon as we hit the turns again I was back on his rear tire. I knew if I passed him again then he would just get me in the straight so I decided to sit behind him until the last lap. I had already followed him for a couple of laps and knew I was a good bit faster in a couple of turns and had a better than 75% shot at getting around him. Unfortunately on the 9th lap 2 riders came together and our race was red flagged. I ended up 4th for the day. I was upset that I didn't have a chance to make the pass on Chris, but had the red flag not come out I would have still gotten 4th since the crash occurred with racers who were in front of us at the time.
My 3rd and final race of day 1 was to be Superstock Novice. My grid position wasn't bad and since this race pays points for WERA I wanted to do well in it to help move me up in the grids for the rest of the season. The green flag dropped and my start wasn't the best so I shuffled in behind everyone jamming into turn 1 knowing I had 8 laps to pick people off. I managed to pass a couple of people on the brakes going into turn 6 off the back straight. I came up on Brian Moore who also runs WERA North Central region and knew I needed to get around him to pick up points agains him in WERA. We came into turn 11 which dumps you down into Thunder Alley. Brian went really wide to set up for 11 like most people do. I had already followed him for a lap and had picked this spot to pass him already if another opportunity didn't present itself before then so I had already built up some additional speed coming off the hump and into turn 10. As Brian started going wide I squared off my turn through 10 and aimed the bike squarely for turn 11. I beat Brian to the turn, grabbed as much brake as I could before turning the bike sharply into 11 and taking away Brian's line. At this point he was either going to have to check up a bit to prevent hitting me or he was going to have to alter his line to the outside to get around me. I squared off turn 11 and laid into the gas as hard as I could to get some momentum again, hoping I didn't see Brian's bike coming up along side me at the exit. I held him off and started setting my sights on the leaders. I could see Scott Collins and Calvin Barnett entering the Keyhole as I came out of turn 1. I put my head down for a few laps to see how much ground I could make up on them. They didn't seem to be any closer after a couple of laps and I didn't hear anyone behind me so I put my head down and tried to run consistent laps to prevent being passed. I was able to hold on to 3rd place.
Day 2 would prove to be much more eventful. My first race of the day was Formula Xtreme Novice. I had taken my winnings from the Solo race the previous day, added some cash to it, and entered this race at the last minute. The grid was full and I was way back on the 10th row. I knew the start and the first few turns were going to be critical to placing well in this race. I was lined up on the left most position for the start. When the green flag fell everyone in front of me moved to the middle of the track for some reason. It was like Moses parting the seas and I took full advantage of it. I moved a little further to the left along the concrete wall and pegged the gas hard. I was able to charge all the way into turn 1 without having to dodge any bikes. I got into a 3 way tangle with 2 other guys as we passed each other back and forth on the short section between turn 1 and 2. Going into 2 with its tight chicane I laid it all on the line and blew past 1 person on the inside of the entrance. I brought the bike back over to the left now on the outside of everyone and hit the gas. 2 more people were coasting through that section and I was able to beat them to the Keyhole. I fell in line for the keyhole and concentrated on getting a good drive out of it onto the back straight. I tucked in behind someone and started going through the gears. As we approached turn 6 at the back of the straight I swung right while everyone else went left to set up for the right handed turn 6 and went past 2 people on the brakes. I had waited until the absolute last minute to brake and now had guys coming across me for turn 6. I pulled the brake lever hard floating the rear tire in the process trying to slow down enough to make the turn and not go shooting off into the gravel or T-bone someone. I made it and found myself in 7th place as we came across the start/finish line for the first lap. I picked off a couple more guys over the next few laps and was closing in on Chris Courtney again. I could get up on his tail in the turns but he would gap me everytime on the straight. To make matters worse I was discovering that 4 practice sessions and 3 races was about all my rear tire was good for. This race was asking a lot of it and it was starting to give out on me. I came out of the keyhole trying to get a good drive on Chris when the rear spun up and then reconnected sending me into a pretty good tank slapper. I got it back under control but was really feeling the rear end spin up in the turns anytime I tried to get a good exit. I was currently in 4th place and figured that was better than trying for 3rd and maybe crashing in the process so I stuck it out where I was at. If I had changed tires then I know I could have passed Chris Courtney for 3rd but that is another lesson learned in my race career thus far. As it was I ran my best times in this race and was able to get down into times that the 1st and 2nd place guys were running. Plus, this race also paid points for WERA so getting 4th really helped me out for the rest of the season with grid positions.
The 2nd, and last, race of day 2 was Superbike Novice. This was another WERA points paying race and again I wanted to do well. My start was decent and I set off trying to stay with the lead group. Scott Collins and Calvin Barnett were out in front and were not about to be passed. Both of them were turning 1:36 lap times which would have almost been good enough to qualify them for the AMA Superbike races a few days later. As it was I came through the first couple of laps in 7th place. I had gotten a 5th or better every race all weekend long and wasn't about to let things change on this race. In an effort to not go bankrupt though I had opted to continue running my already worn out tires rather than spend another $320 on a new set. Going around the circuit the rear end was getting worse every lap with the rear now sliding in just about every turn. To make matters worse I was feeling the front start to go off as well. I put my head down and tried to run as hard as I could without pushing the tires so hard that I crashed. In lap 3 I actually dropped a position and wasn't too happy about that. What made it worse was it was Chris Courtney and his monster 750 motor on the straights. On the very next lap I got back around Chris and we came up on another rider ahead of us. I quickly passed the other guy hoping he would hold up Chris long enough for me to get some room on him. I set my sights on the next 3 guys and was determined to catch up with them and pass them since I still had 3 laps left to get the job done. I was gaining on them but as I came out of the Carousel turn I heard a scraping noise. I looked ahead of me in time to see Dan Sheehan tuck the front and go down. Michael Phillips was right behind him when it happened and the crash left him nowhere to go but off the track. I tightened up my line and went past both of them hoping they were both ok. Bill Drake was now a few seconds ahead of me and I seemed to be gaining on him already. Passing him would put me in 3rd place and I was liking the sound of that. Unfortunately the crash that I had witnessed had left bikes too close to the track to be safe and they had to red flag the race. I ended up in 5th place when the went back to the previous lap but was still happy considering my tires were completely shot.
All in all it was a very good 2 days. I was able to bring my lap times down another 3 seconds over my previous best from last year with room to improve. Plus I got a lot of experience at passing which I had been struggling with the previous weekend. I am looking forward to the rest of the races in the WERA North Central region and am hoping that I can do well enough to get invited down to the WERA GNF at Road Atlanta this fall.