I wrote up my horrible performance at round one of the AFM season under the guise of having some sort of motivation to continue racing, but going into the second round any part of me that believed that bullshit was not in the van on the drive to Buttonwillow. The more astute reader will notice that I didn't write up round 2...Or round 3. I chose to not formally document the somehow progressively more dismal displays of motorcycle ineptitude that I was producing as the season advanced. It was so much of a disaster that I thought about offering a clinic on how to be a rolling back-marker chicane, but it turns out there is no market for that.
I thought I might be able to just ignore those rounds and jump into a round 4 report, but enough people have bugged me about why I was back to "normal" that I have to address the "abnormal". Cue the flashback.
I had not replaced my race rubber since somewhere mid 2019, and didn't ride at all in 2020. Visually those 2019 tires were just fine in 2021, but deep down inside they had given up. A year of heat-cycling in the van began the degradation process, and my lackadaisical pace at rounds 1 and 2 continued the abuse. By the time I got to round 3, these tires were just plain pissed off... at me. These poor tires.
At round 3 they put up with me doing a couple of practice sessions, but drew the line when I didn't put the warmers on right away, instead waiting until after lunch. Come lap 2 of my race they channeled their inner Dixie Chicks and told me "Goodbye, Earl". Much like Earl, I deserved it. Every two wheel slide, every almost-tucked front, every rear wheel spin-up was earned given the way I treated those tires. Fortunately for me the race was shortened to 5 laps, I was 15 seconds a lap off pace, and getting passed by the heavyweight wave on lap 2 meant I only had to limp around for 2 more. I stayed upright despite the tires best efforts to (deservedly) put me on the ground.
I pitted in safely and decided to do the next available track day, which turned out to be with Z2 the Sunday before Round 3.
I arrived Saturday night so I could have Chris from CT Racing spoon on a fresh set of Pirelli slicks, and got there just in time. Chris let me know that they did not make the 180/55 rear anymore, so he put on the new 180/60, a just slightly taller profile. This resulted in me needing a longer chain, so fortunately for me Catalyst Reaction was set up right next to where I pitted and Jim was nice enough to loan me his chain tool. I had not done a track day since 2019, and my plan was to just try and enjoy myself while getting acclimated for the extreme temperatures that were predicted for round 4. The problem was that since I had not done a track day in over a year and my race pace this season had been forgettable at best, I was a touch on the nervous side. NOBODY wants to be the slowest person in A group, especially if they have expert plates on their machine. This made for a restless attempt at sleep.
I did what I do most nights that z's are hard to come by, and started to do mental laps of Thunderhill.
Normally, I fall asleep around turn 3 of the first lap, but that night? That night I found myself completing lap after lap after lap. I decided that since I was awake, I would start timing my mental laps to see how close I was to my physical times. 1:58.4, 1:58.2, 1:58.8... For the record I have never been close to breaking 2 minutes, so I was intrigued by not only my consistency but my speed in these visualizations. I finally drifted off to dreamland about 2 hours before I had to be up to go through tech.
Right before I went out for my first session, I thought about those visualizations. I focused on the areas where I seemed to be quicker than reality and noticed that I was visualizing getting on the gas sooner and with more vigor in turns 3 and 5. I figured I would start there and see where it took me. I decided to not run my lap timer as I knew that if I felt fast and went slow I would not be encouraged to ride more, which in turn would make me slower. I didn't need a lap timer to know that the fresh Pirelli's were basically magic. By the second lap I was dragging knee on accident, where so far this season I had tried to get a knee down with no luck. By lap 3 I felt myself driving out of turn 5, not just letting gravity do most of the work. I was passing people in places I normally don't have the drive, and I stayed out for the full 20 minutes for the hottest two sessions of the day. Round 4 was going to be awesome.
Race day came and I decided that I would go out for the second practice session of the day, do three laps or so and check my times. Then, I would decide if I was going to go back out and work on some things or save my energy for the race that was predicted to be 112 degrees. I pitted in, put my tire warmers on and opened up Race Hero. My out lap was faster than my best lap in the race at round 3, and I dropped 13 seconds from there on the second lap. Round 4 was already awesome.
I chose to sit out the rest of the day until my race to save energy. After all, I am not used to doing all six laps, and with the heat predicted to be about 111 degrees I was going to need all the strength I could reserve.
When it came time to grid up I knew that I could hang with my friend and arch rival Lee Simmons if I could get a good start.
Yeah, about that.
I wish I had a valid excuse for just how bad this start was. The green dropped and I watched everyone pull away like I was in reverse. I caught up to the pack as they muddled their way through turn two, and I considered a ballsy move around the outside in three, but wisely thought better of it. I thought I was dead last going up into five but I got passed by what I assumed was a yellow plate.
That bike got away from me as well, but lap two I noticed that he was not disappearing into the horizon. Lap three he was closer still, and I found myself gaining ground from turns one through six, losing a bit six through eight, and then reeling him back in from 10 through 14. Lap four I was right on his rear wheel on the brakes into 14, a corner I absolutely suck at. I was so much better on the brakes there than he was that I ended up along side him on the outside - which would have been great if he turned in where I wanted to - but instead I was stuck waiting for him to lead the way. I ended up getting by him and keeping him behind me until the final lap...
Remember how I suck at turn 14? I was so far away from the apex people must have thought I owed it money. Fortunately for me the guy behind me thought I knew what I was doing and followed me to Chico before turning. Unfortunately for me he was on a Gixxer 750, which if you were wondering will pull a bone stock CBR 600RR down the front straight every day of the week, Saturdays included.
I didn't give up though and was less than a bike length behind him across the line.
Checking my times after the race, I was blown away in how consistent I was. 2:12.5 from a standing start, followed by 2:10.82, 2:10.15, 2:10.05, 2:10.12, and when I was most exhausted I dropped almost a full second from the lap before to a 2:09.14.
I also noticed while checking lap times that the novice I was battling was actually expert Joseph Lavallee, who I towed into the 2:08's on the last lap. Pretty sure that is the first time anyone has gotten faster by following me. You're welcome, Joseph.
In addition to those mentioned above, huge thanks to James "Koi" Carr for taking pics while I sat in front of a misting fan and/or air conditioning on Saturday, VNM Sport for the awesome base layers, and Pedro Point Brewing for my victory beer, which tasted just like beer. Also huge thanks to the workers who sweat it out for two days so we can race motorcycles.
I still have a ton of work to do, but I am finally having fun on a motorcycle again.