Pebbles vs. Boulders
Ed–This is the third in a five part series bringing readers the story of our sophomore racer Hot Karl Rehpohl. This issue finds Karl in a mid-season struggle to cut his lap times as his competition raises the ante.
by Karl Rehpohl–CRA #80
Hello race fans. This month we’re back at crazy fast BIR. If not the fastest, one of the fastest tracks in North America and it’s right in our backyard. This weekend my competition is cutting better times but I still manage a win once in a while by the hair on my chin. I need to produce the goods and carry them to the store quicker. Quicker. How do I do that? I do that by carrying more speed around the track. How do I carry more speed? Stay on the gas, duh.
Turn one at BIR is easy because after barreling down the mile long straight you simply keep the throttle pinned through the banked corner. You’re near redline in 6th gear and as the bike gets on the side of the tire you gain a couple hundred rpm and come out just as fast as you went in. Sure, some riders roll off a little, but on an SV650 you shouldn’t have to. The bigger bikes, that’s a whole other story I don’t know.
Turn two is different. It isn’t banked and it’s tighter than turn one. Some say you can take it full throttle on an SV. That’s what separates the men with boulders for testicles from the men with pebbles. I possess pebbles and roll off because it scares the snot out of me. You’re coming into this corner where you can’t see the majority of the turn with the bike topped out at 145mph. You have four tasks to balance in order to make it in one piece and not get a visit from your friendly neighborhood corner worker or medic.
First, hang a butt cheek off your seat to decrease the amount of weight and lean angle your bike has to deal with while cornering. You don’t want to hang off too far because of number two (see below).
Second, keep your upper body and head tucked in behind the windscreen. It helps keep your speed up with increased aerodynamics and cuts down on the abuse your head and body take from the wind. Ever put your arm out the car window and fight the wind at 65mph? Double that speed and stand on the hood and you’ll know what it feels like to hang full off in corner two.
Third, set your speed entering the turn. This obviously only applies to us mortals outfitted with pebbles who roll off. You don’t want to roll off in the middle of the turn because that will weight the front tire and make you drift wide at the exit. If you’re going to roll off you want to do so before the turn and get back into the throttle while going through the corner to make sure that rear wheel is weighted and happy.
Fourth is most important. Stay loose. Don’t lock your elbows. Don’t wrestle the bars. Don’t move around. Aim the bike into the turn and let it do its job of dealing with the bumps, tar snakes, and the speed. It’s like the trust building exercise where you cross your arms over your chest, close your eyes, and fall backwards to be caught by someone else. But if your bike fails you through two you don’t end up with a small bruise on the back of your noggin. You end up skipping across the pavement and heading for the trees at a speed you don’t want to think about. In my nightmares I think of how far I would travel if I crashed in turn two. Funny how my first thought is how sorry I would feel for the corner worker who has to run a city block to reach me. You’d skip a loooong ways at that speed. Rumor has it there are bike parts still lost in the woods from turn two crashes over the years.
Onto the first race of the weekend. Saturday morning, it’s chilly at 60 degrees and pulling out onto the track I feel nervous. It always feels reassuring to get the first race out of the way. To convince yourself that you can do this, that you aren’t completely suicidal.
Head out for the warm up or sighting lap and remind myself that turn 4, being the first left-hand turn, is usually slippery. Tell myself that the start is crucial. I can’t let the competition get a lead on me or I’ll have a bitch of a time catching up. I don’t want to catch up. I want them to chase me.
We come around the last corner and grid up in our starting positions.
The timing board goes sideways, green flag flies, and the engines erupt down the straightaway like hungry dogs chasing the last live rabbit on Earth. After some darting around searching for a tail in front of me to draft behind, we come into turn one and it’s crowded. Riders are adjusting to avoid hitting one another while trying not to give up track position. It’s like playing chicken but side to side rather then head on.
I see two yellow plates in front of me amidst a sea of white plate experts. One is #929 and the other is #93. I manage to outbrake an expert and 929 into turn three and cuddle right up on the rear tire of 93. I need to get in front of him to put some distance between me and 929 who I know is my nemesis this weekend. I see a yellow flag in turn four meaning an expert has gone down or off the track. 93 holds off way late on the brakes drifting wide and onto the candy stripes on the outside of the corner. I’m forced to roll off the throttle a little to allow him back on to the track without side-swiping him. Through corner five I remain on his tail knowing that 929 is on mine. I can’t wait to pass much longer or he’ll find a way around both of us. Braking for turn six and 93 is pulling away from me in the braking zone. I know I’m not a complete wimp on the brakes but he pulls a bike length on me with his late braking attempt. The physics of his actions don’t compute and as soon as he starts to apply throttle his front tire gives up and washes out. The bike flops to the left and then spins in a break dance move. The rider lands on his side behind the bike and together they noisily slide across the pavement scraping and grinding. I again must roll off throttle and tighten my turn to avoid colliding with him and his bike as they voyage off the outside of the track into the dirt.
It’s really difficult not to watch and be fascinated with someone crashing in front of you. Your National Enquirer raised brain wants to see the wreckage, watch the pretty sparks, bouncing bike, and careening rider. But if you do you’re in trouble, for your body and bike will go where your eyes lead them and you definitely don’t want to go where that other bike and rider are heading.
Now that I’m in the lead I feel better, less pressure. That soon ends when it seems every corner has a bike down. Every corner station is holding a yellow caution flag and there are corner workers running every which way. Dust clouds hang in the air where other riders made a poor decision and conducted some involuntary Saturday afternoon landscaping.
The race was scheduled for 8 laps but by lap 5 the amount of crashes has stretched the corner worker ranks thin and a red flag is thrown ending the race. Not my best riding, but a win is a win in my book.
None of the front runners race the trophy dash that afternoon so I take a win with the slowest times I’ve ever posted. It’s a pathetic win, but read on and learn why I’ll cherish it none the less.
Sunday morning and it’s time to rumble with the SuperTwins race, which is the largest Lightweight grid of the weekend totaling 40 bikes. Another 13 bikes for Sportsman class will be joining us after the second wave is started. I get a great start and pull up through the expert lines leading the novices. It feels like a rampaging herd of cattle there are so many bikes out here fighting for spots. I keep the lead through the first lap until we come around to the main straight. As expected an RC51 and an Aprilia Mille pass me like I’m stuck in quicksand. What was I saying about turn two earlier? That I suck at it! My nemesis 929 comes right on by with enough extra drive to put 10 bike lengths on me before turn three. I’m able to catch him thru the next couple corners and we both manage to grab the tails of the liter bikes by turn eight. The leader of our train hits the brakes way early for turn nine and I decide to be brave (sometimes interchangeable with stupid).
Nine is the tightest turn on the circuit and not one of my strong points. I hesitate on the brakes and start passing. First comes 929, then I consider tucking back in line before the turn. Nope, still more room to negotiate. The Mille goes by next, still room to go. I now hit brakes and immediately feel the front tire go squirrelly and don’t know if I’m going to make it or take everyone in the turn with me in a blaze of glory.
Finally I pass the RC51 currently leading the novices. Wouldn’t you know it they’re all held up by an expert who broke really, really early. I’ve pushed my luck far enough as is and release the brakes and turn the bike into the corner. One corner, 3 bikes, on the brakes and I’m back in the lead. Kick ass! But it’s awfully short lived. With the amount of speed I had to scrub in order to make the corner I can’t accelerate out strong and they all pass me back by turn ten. All that pucker power for nothing!
The rest of the race the three leaders keep putting more and more distance between us, especially down the long straight where they carry higher speeds then I can muster. Luck strikes on my side when the Mille can’t brake enough for turn nine on the 7th lap and has to use the run off area. Third place and feeling outgunned.
The last two races of the weekend #929 checks out and drops some serious time from his laps. I finish 2nd in both races, but it’s not even close. July is going to be a lot of work to win races.
Will the competition continue to clean Karl’s clock or will he conjure up some cunning stunts to keep him on top? Check back next month to find out!