The 2017 race season is now at a close, lamentably, but I’d like to hop in the wayback machine and back it up to Round 3 of the 2017 SOAR Endurance series in the GTU class (which is for older dirt-bag bikes like our “beautiful on the inside” 2003 R6). There are four riders on the team: three of which are very talented and myself, who at best, avoids humiliation. I am definitely the donkey among the race horses in this particular group.
Prior to the race, my prep included a set of wheels for mounting up rain tires. This involved replacing the bearings in the rear, and straightening out a bit of a bend in the front rim. The rear R6 wheel has an odd extra bearing in the hub of the wheel. This extra bearing is a very slim needle roller that runs on a machined spacer, and that extra spacer butts up against the usual bearing spacer sleeve. The manual calls for the use of a special bearing extractor tool, which I don’t have. I do have punches and hammers, though!.. This didn’t work. All I succeeded in doing was smashing the lip of the bearing into oblivion and firing needle rollers all over my work bench… At 11pm at night… On a work night… In a one billion degree garage. So, at midnight, having smashed the lip of the bearing completely off, to the point where there was no longer anything to beat on, I withdrew that beloved butcher tool: the die grinder, and equipped it with the butcheriest option: the abrasive cone bit. Thankfully, I was able to cut through the outer race of the bearing with minimal scarring to the wheel. From there, the All Balls wheel bearing kit went in nicely. On to the rest of the prep; straightening the front wheel, cleaning up the front rotors, replacing the slipper clutch (after it tried to kill me by not slipping in the hardest braking zone of the track during round 2).
It’s a good thing I had those wheels ready, because we got the rain tires mounted under gloomy skies as the green flag, that relentless harbinger, was quickly approaching. It started to spit as we were setting up the grid. SOAR uses a Le Mans style start for endurance, so the crews set up the bikes on the warmers on the grid and leave them on until the last possible second. Then the starting rider clomps his way across the track and throws a leg over the seat, roundhouse kicking the starting crewman, before speeding off to glory. A light rain is not enough to run rain tires, you need honest-to-goodness standing water, not just greasiness. If there isn’t enough water, the mega-soft rains will burn down rapidly. Not a big deal with a big budget, but for us dirtbags that means no more rains for the rest of the season… and next season… Maybe the one after that too. So, we put the slicks on and the warmers, and turned our nervous little faces to the sky. The heavens reciprocated by raining harder, then lighter, then much harder, then a little lighter… Then much, much harder. With about 15 minutes to go, teams started frantically showing up to the grid with rains and making the swap. Our starting rider, Mike Doody (aka “Superdoody”) and I started over-thinking. We checked the radar on my phone, we ran multiple theoretical simulations. We did fingertip statistical calculations, then we started running to our pit to get out rains. We realized with 5 minutes to go, we didn’t have enough time to make the swap, procrastination and postulation had made the decision for us. We would start the race on slicks in the rain, and we would be the only team to do so. Ken, the SOAR Grand Poobah, predicted our imminent crash as Doody rolled off the line carefully.
Happily, Ken’s prediction did not come true. Doody rolled around as if he had pockets full of nitroglycerin and kept the bike on two wheels. The other teams with rain tires or DOTs passed us left and right and we fell back lap after lap, until the rain stopped and the racing line started to dry. As a dry line emerged we picked up the pace. A second here, a second there, and before long we were running at a competitive pace. Now, just as we agonized over being on slicks in the wet, our competitors started to agonize over being on wets in the dry. They started to pit to make the swap, every minute they were in the pits swapping tires, we were out there banging in the laps. By the time all our GTU competitors had swapped, we were back in contention or even a lap ahead of some teams! Our tire gamble (or f***-up, depending on your perspective) had paid off.
We were now up and running. Doody finished his stint, I took mine, then Neil went out and rocked the house. All the while Nick was diligently recording laps and tracking our progress with the MyLaps transponder app. As the three-hour race was winding down, Doody was on his final stint and pounding in lap after awesome lap. We were running in third, and making time fast, we were about 20 seconds back but making up four seconds per lap. At that pace we would overtake the 2nd place bike within 5 laps with 15 minutes to go. Unfortunately, our excited predictions were maybe a little too loud… We were pitted next to the team we were chasing, and Kyle “Smackdown” Newman overheard, yanked on his helmet and stomped out to signal his rider to come in. A lap later, Smackdown pulls his teammate (Marc LePlant) off the bike and blasting out of the pit with visible rage lines trailing behind him. He entered the track right behind Mike at a 4 second deficit and turned it up to 11. Doody was caught about three laps later. Of course, once Kyle overtook him, that just lit the wick on our man too. Now these guys; long time convivial rivals were locked in a grudge match, just like the good old days where they chased each other to the max as sprint race competitors.
With Newman to chase, Mike dug deeper and somehow found another second per lap, then another and another! Now Doody is chasing Newman at full sprint racing speed, and Newman ain’t playing. The two of them sliced through slower lap traffic like bullets through butter then, on the very last lap, Doody managed a clean overtake and held off Kyle to the tune of 0.2 seconds. Half the paddock was on their feet, but I can’t say for sure, because I jumped about 47 feet into the air when Doody crossed the finish first. After 3 hour of racing, two fuel stops, and radically different tire choices, the race came down the last lap and 0.2 seconds… Unbelievable. This is exactly why I love racing! Racing gives us all a chance to be heroes. You might work the line during the week, or lay tile, or push meaningless papers around but under your helmet you can do heroic things. You can be a legend, even if only in the minds of your closest friends & family; who frankly, are the ones who matter the most anyhow.