The first race of my rookie season deserves a race report, so here it is.
Since any athletic event has a good nutrition plan, I thought it appropriate to begin my inaugural race weekend with an inaugural Cinnabon and a giant inaugural cup of diuretic coffee. On the way out to High Plains Raceway, I briefly reflected on all it had taken just to get to this point…buying a track bike; getting back on a bike at all after a bad crash in the canyons last October; trying to get it ready in time (at one point I was going to borrow, just for the weekend, a wheel from someone I hadn’t met); buying gear to replace everything that had been cut off me in the crash; going to race school to get a race license; and joining the Legion of Speed Race Team.
I spent last year riding with the Legion of Speed Canyon Carver guys, and I met the race team when I was out at HPR for track days. They seemed friendly enough, though serious. I was interested in affiliating, but I missed the new riders meeting in the fall due to the crash. Now that it was spring and the season was about to begin, the team wasn’t accepting any more riders. Whatever; I wasn’t really feeling very Of Speed anyway. Was there a B team, Legion of Somewhat Less Speed? Hi, I’m here to ride with Legion of Not Really Very Much Speed. Don’t call us we’ll call you? Ok cool.
After continuing to pop out of bushes wherever the LoS tent appeared, the team captain, Coop DeVille, finally gave up after one of the Legion riders didn’t return for the season and let me sneak in under the tent. I was grateful, but now I had to keep anyone from noticing that I wasn’t Of very much Speed.
Friday 5/10 was a track day, in preparation for Saturday’s races. Track days are really weird in Colorado, but that’s a story for another time. It was cold, so the morning session was canceled. I got three good sessions in during the afternoon, but my attempts to remain invisible to everyone Of Speed were somewhat complicated by the fact that my bike was bright shiny gold—unforgettable to anyone Of Speed as they were passing it. At any rate, I didn’t crash, although Dave Stiefvater, one of the other rookies, was hit by Crazybike during the final session but managed to keep it upright as he flew right off the track. Good show! Day over. Since I hate The Cold, except when I’m on my snowboard, Dave & I retired to the Longhorn Motel in Byers for a good night’s sleep.
HPR was already bumping as we pulled into the paddock at 7:15am. Bikes were coming off trailers, riders and their families were making breakfast, and tools were clattering on the ground as settings were adjusted. After the rider’s meeting, I learned that the real races aren’t the 7- or 9-lap sprints around the track. The real races happen in your pit as you attempt to get ready for whatever’s next. Tire warmers. Check tire pressure. Safety wire something. Go get your pre-grid spots written down. Take a leak. Drink water. Help your buddy adjust suspension or change a wheel. Take fairing off; go through technical inspection. Put fairing back on. What’s the announcer saying over the unintelligible PA system? First call for practice. No matter how quickly I gear up after first call, suddenly it’s 3rd call and I’m still trying to get my tire warmers off. Somehow 15 minutes disappeared, just like in the Bermuda Triangle.
Practice goes well if I can follow someone (Dave Stiefvater) in order to shake off my nerves. After 3 practice sessions, the “opening ceremonies” are held. These consist of a nice prayer tailored to racers and the National Anthem, sung a cappella by one of the HPR employees with a generic southern/country/western accent found in all current country music. Then it’s time for my first race. This would be Novice GTU (GTU, I think, is the abbreviation for GT (Gran Turismo) Racing, displacement Under 640cc.
When I was trying to decide what classes (races) to sign up for, Christopher Jaech and Kevin Madden said, “just sign up for them all!” Since I was eligible for 6 classes, I signed up for all 6. Was this a good idea? I didn’t know. They both continue to be a good influence as of this printing.
Racers’ positions at the starting line (grid numbers) are posted on a bulletin board before the race, and if you forget it, you get sent to the back of the grid. This resulted in a constant state of anxiety about whether I had written down the number (really a letter and a number) correctly, which in turn led me to constantly go back to the bulletin board to make sure I’d gotten it right. As I walked back to the Legion pit after checking for the 3rd time, a car right in front of me honked. James Hornung and Sarah had surprised me for my first race, including bringing Chik-fil-A. Best surprise ever. Sarah touched everything in the pit that she shouldn’t, and then she toddled off with Papa to the stands.
Unbelievably, when I rode around the track and up to the starting line, there was the spot, and there was no one else in it! I felt like I’d won the race already.
A race starts, and I think this is weird, when a red light above the starting line first lights up and then goes out. One must wait until the light goes out before going, though, or one is penalized. This is just as intuitive as time travel, as evidenced by the fact that someone always goes early when the light goes on. Today it’s a guy in (luckily) the front row. While most start jumpers just hop forward a few feet and then guiltily stop and try to pretend it didn’t happen, this guy unapologetically zoomed off the starting line without even looking back. He disappeared moments later around Turn 1. That’s right, own it. I felt proud of him.
Then the red light went out, and everyone jumped off the starting line.
I’ve never considered myself competitive, but at that moment I kind of lost my mind. All I knew was the distance to the next guy in front of me. The anxiety and self-criticism during all those track days about body position, race lines, apexes, and looking through corners vanished as I powered through each turn, knee puck silently ablating on asphalt. I could brake harder and turn quicker than I could in practice. The adrenaline was powerful. I passed a few people and a few people passed me, and then it was over. This must be what heroin is like, but faster. All that money and time spent getting ready for this seemed like nothing. I needed to do it again. Now.
Luckily I had 5 more races, so it wasn’t a problem. Some were better than others. Next was Formula 40, for anyone over 40. My time wasn’t so good, and these old guys sure can go. After that was a lunch break, and James and Sarah and I wandered around and met people. Then we walked behind the paddock to fly a kite, which Sarah found interesting for exactly 4 minutes before she wandered off to play on piles of mine tailings or whatever they were. When the kite crashed into someone’s trailer and Sarah was done rolling in lead, they said goodbye and headed off home.
After lunch was Novice Open (any engine size). My time was down just a little bit here, but it was for others as well. Then came Middleweight/Open Endurance. I loved this one, because I got to just keep going around and around. My time was better here and seemed to improve for the other Legion rookies as well.
After Endurance the day was over. As it turns out, the best part of the day was only beginning. Superstreet, essentially an introduction to racing for street riders, was a class that had been going on periodically during the day. After the races were over, the Superstreet riders got to practice their newfound skills in an informal race. I had done this a few times last season. This, however, was about to be the best Superstreet ever.
The practice launches started with a rider looping someone else’s race bike, breaking the tail right off and wadding up the back end. The rider just stood there. Awkward! When the mock race began, riders immediately did everything imaginable. Some zipped right off the line; some stalled. Some wondered if it was time to go. By the time the back straight was in sight, one or two had run off the track. One rider inexplicably slowed to a crawl with his arm up, as if he’d been red-flagged. Everyone else promptly followed suit, and it was the Superstreet Parade. Some riders who had managed to outrun the Parade also went down. When the Parade finally made it back to the front straight, they all exited the track into the Hot Lane, where the track marshals tried to signal that this was a race, and that they should go back out on the track and then go fast. Some did; one guy stopped. Around the track several separate plumes of dust were rising as bikes ran off in the dirt or fully slid on their sides (Joe Macauley). The crash cart was running from here to there, unsure how to prioritize. More riders exited into the Hot Lane, assuming that all the chaos must total at least one red flag. The marshals hurried them out again. The announcer then said over the PA, “Attention in the Paddock. Attention in the Paddock. If you are not watching the Superstreet race right now, you are really missing out.” The race (finally) ended; the one guy who had continued racing around and around with great conviction was recognized as the obvious if informal winner.
After this sh*t show came the paddock bike race. These were any kind of little bike guys use to ride from here to there around the paddock, including smaller dirt bikes as well as what looked to me like toddler motorcycles. Team member Phillip Y Takahashi raced in just such a fashion, winning slowest pit bike by perhaps 2 laps. The engine quit two times, but he restarted it; when the bike refused to continue coming out of Turn 11 on the 2nd lap, he got off and ran it up the hill before jumping on and continuing at the previous 3 mph. Who won? Who cares!
After it was all over, racers retired to their pits and proceeded to BBQ dinner and settle in for beers. I had rented a room some 15 miles away at the Longhorn Motel (!), which looked as though it had dropped right out 1957. The next morning as I was leaving, I saw a young rider whose tire had blown out on the interstate. He was trying to get from Topeka to Cali to see his daughter, who was in the hospital. He’d landed in the right spot! I went back to the track, got my trailer, went back, picked up his R6, and took it to the races. Trusty Michelin Man Dennis Stowers replaced his tire while he watched the races, and he was back on the road.
Sunday was slightly more relaxing, since I only had 2 races. Amateur GTU and Amateur GTO comprised a lot of fast racers, and I was passed unforgivingly over and over. But it was fun! The last race was my fastest time of the weekend. After that, everyone seemed to instantly pack up and disappear. I loaded up my bike in my tiny trailer and drove it off in my tiny Honda Civic. Show over.
Thanks to all the Legion of Speed Race Team for all your help and advice. Next Round will be a track I’ve never even seen. How’s that gonna go?
-Mike Daugherty, #974 Rookie