Round 2, or “The Radiator Round.”
Prologue. While at Yamaha Champions Riding School on Memorial Day, my radiator blew halfway through the day. The bike possibly didn’t like the “pointy end of the cone” exercise, where one has to re-draw the race line based on where little orange cones are pointing. I myself enjoyed it, at least until I returned to the pit trailing a cloud of rusty steam. Cooper: “Whaddya got going on here. What’s wrong. I think you better check that out.” Goodbye, afternoon of riding. Removing the fairing revealed The Oldest Radiator Ever Made; it looked like one of the steam radiators from our ancient house in Iowa had attached itself to my bike. Ah, maybe that’s why I was going so slow all this time. Rusty water trickled out of a hole. Dave: “Did you even check or flush the coolant when you got it?” Well YES, I checked the reservoir, looked fine, let’s ride! Dave: “That’s bad practice.” Ok, Dave.
The coolant looked like muddy rusty water. Like, Gold King abandoned mine runoff. It was actually my bike in that mine. It’s just out of sight there, spewing yellow water. The mine itself is totally clean.
My pre-race week was now Project Radiator. The used replacement I finally found and purchased at Steele’s on Tuesday proved to be Slightly Too Small on Wednesday. Chris Jaech: “Are you sure you have it right side up?” By Thursday night, in desperation, I rinsed out the old radiator, applied JB Weld liberally, filled it back up and stuck it back on. It looked great. I am a MECHANIC.
Saturday dawned blue and clear over Pikes Peak International Raceway. A former NASCAR track, it had been purchased and shut down by another track owner to eliminate competition. This seems like a dick move to me, but maybe it would make more sense if I were rich. In any case, the sort-of-abandoned, probably haunted track now had a longer circuit with turns built into its infield. I appreciated this, as it meant I wouldn’t have to spend the weekend going around in a counterclockwise circle and maybe throwing up in my helmet. The rookies helped set up air fences, big inflatable walls placed strategically in areas where there might be crashes. They looked old, as though they’d once kept out-of-control chariots from being dashed against the walls of the Coliseum. Casual inspection later Saturday afternoon showed that one had definitely deflated. I carefully noted its position so as to avoid it should I crash.
A potential problem arose during practice when I confused my coolant jug with my water jug and drank down about 8 oz of coolant. Although it was a non-glycol-based substitute for regular coolant, it was unlikely that it would have a positive effect on my racecraft, which was questionable on a good day anyway. I drank some non-coolant water and did my best to forget about the bitter taste in my mouth. How bad could it be?
I found this track to be difficult. The angles seemed strange, and I couldn’t get the turns very well. Worse, it exposed my bad body position. This happens when a racer effectively hangs his rear end off to the side of the bike in a turn but fails to push his head out to that side as well. Thus, instead of being a parallel line to the left or right of the bike, his body points into it at an angle. Nobody can do this like I can. It’s actually remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that everyone remarks about it. I listen dutifully to my mates and faithfully try to reproduce their advice, but my head just stays right there on the gas tank. Maybe next round? Tires also seem to evaporate; in this case, the left side of mine disappeared before the races even began. Could we flip it? Dennis, eyeing tire critically: “Well, you do have another session left on the right side. Except that you’re negative two sessions on the left side. So no.”
New tire procured, my first race was Novice GTU. My launch off the starting line wasn’t bad. I gradually became a little more comfortable with each passing lap, but I remained scared of Turns 3 and 7. These were tough left-hand turns that regularly caused my rear wheel to spin out from under me; I nearly high-sided trying to recover from one such slide in Turn 3. Turn 7 led out of the infield course back onto the main oval. Tar snakes everywhere in this turn also scared me. My hesitation in both these turns cost me time on the turn exits. All the same I finished 8th of 24, not bad. My best lap time was just a hair slower than in practice, at 1:04.5. This race was a good show for the team: Chris Jaech took 2nd, Nate Morales took 3rd, and Mike O’Donnell took 4th. We took a hit, however, when Cody Wright went down after a low-side fall in turn 6 a few laps after a spectacular full wheelie during launch. I was pleased with his aggressive riding, and he was ok, but he would likely have been top 10 as well had he finished the race.
After a quick pit-in, it was back out for Formula 40. This sprint was again fine and fun, but my time went up to 1:04.9, and I finished 20th of 32. Not so great. Legion mates Chris Jaech and Kevin Madden finished just ahead of me, Dave Stiefy finished just behind. I really want to get better in this class.
After lunch we went out for Novice GTO. This was another good showing for the team, with 3 of our guys (O’Donnell, Morales, Jaech) in the top 10 of 33. I and Brandon Blanding came in at 11th and 12th. My time here was better, 1:03.4. I was pleased to get below 1:04. I was generally being consistent. Turns 3 and 6 remained a problem.
Despite the hot day and black leathers, I felt fine. Maybe the coolant was lowering my body temperature! Should I drink more? Then I noticed my temp light on as I returned to the pit. The radiator had blown again. Anger and disappointment squeezed my chest as I realized I would be missing my two favorite endurance races in the afternoon segment. Typically predisposed to feeling sorry for my predicament when things break or don’t go as expected, I had been warned against this by Jaech: “Things are going to break and you’re going to crash. What are you going to do? Most of the time you’ll be able to fix it if you work hard and race the next day, but you have to get over it. Go find people who can help and figure out how to fix what’s broken. You have to really want it.” Suddenly I became very thankful to be on this team. Erik Maxwell helped me take the radiator off. Morales knew a guy who could fix the radiator, but he needed a torch. Zach Vasquez had the torch. By 6pm the radiator was patched, and by 8pm it was back on the bike. I fell into my sleeping bag exhausted. Every time I felt myself falling asleep, I would briefly dream I was low-siding in Turn 3 and jerk awake just as the bike slid out from under me and my left side hit the ground. This happened 3 or 4 times before I finally fell asleep.
Sunday was another fine day. Morning practice came and went, and the radiator was holding. The first race, and one of the biggest of the weekend, was Amateur GTU. This race happened faster than usual, and I don’t remember much of it. My time here was still sub-1:04 at 1:03.5, so I wasn’t too disappointed. And anyway, the team did very well- Matt Neuberger won, and Phil Takahashi got 3rd. Blanding gave us our 3rd top 10 placement. Nate wasn’t far behind (12th), and I came in at 14th of 34, followed by Maxwell, Pratt Wellman, and Stiefvater.
The last race of the day was Amateur GTO. This race was disappointing for me. I got passed multiple times and lost 3 slots, finishing 18th overall with a best time of 1:03.9. I wished greatly that I had been in Saturday’s endurance races, and I feel that that extra practice might have helped my game on Sunday. My mates are very helpful with guidance, and I listen carefully to everyone’s advice. I have to thank Phil in particular for taking us on a walk around the track to show us his lines. But I have a lot of trouble applying what I learn, and then I get very frustrated. I think my 2 biggest problems are my body position and turn exits. I was a little down as I ONCE AGAIN took off the radiator to give back to Denny Burke, who had kindly offered to permanently fix it during the coming week. Dave cheered me up as usual: “We didn’t crash! Awesome weekend!” *high five*
Until Round 3 at Pueblo Motorsports Park… *wolf howl*