A Tale of Two Rookies
(Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Track)
Ed—MMM again follows a pair rookie riders during their first season of roadracing with the CRA. What will this year hold for our heroes and heroines? In our first installment we find our fresh faced racers going through their New Riders School.
by Bryan “Ace” Bandage
Okay, I admit it. I finally got bit by the racing bug. Hard. I’ve always thought I was a pretty fast street rider…until I spent a day out at DCTC. One day on a closed course showed me that I was a total wanker for riding like I do on the street. I swore off scraping pegs and speeding tickets and signed up for the CRA new rider school: no cars, no sand, no cops, no speed limit.
I gave myself permission to try this for a year if I did it on the cheap. On the advice fellow racer Tony “Poon” Marcks, who took me under his wing in the CRA Adopt-A-Newbie program, I ditched the idea of using my 600RR, bought a set of race leathers, boots, gloves, and helmet, then spent what was left on a beat-to-hell Suzuki GS500. It’s a piece of crap, but mechanically sound and legal for ultralight. I had to drop a quick $300 on a fresh set of race tires, but Poon assures me they will last the entire season.
Still, I giggle to myself when I go out and see that two-cylinder turdbasket leaned up against the wall. It’s already pleading with me: “Don’t do it, Ace! I’m old and weak! I can’t handle that kind of treatment!” I assure the awful little creature that we’re only going on “weekend rides,” even though I have every intention of beating it like a rented mule. “What’s the safety wire for, Ace?” It asks with a nervous laugh. “Where you going with that speedometer, Ace?” (Garbage) “What’s with the belly pan?” “Hey, where’s my kickstand?” I tell him “Shut yer gas-hole and get in the trailer.”
The first order of business was the CRA New Rider’s School (NRS). This is an afternoon classroom and a day on the track—plus a new rider’s race. The classroom was primarily riding gear, bike prep, rules and flags, and basic track procedure like registration, pits, paddock, camping, etc. There were about twenty dudes there, all sizing each other up, and even a couple girls who were going to give it a try; go figure. One of the girls was wearing a GSXR jacket, cracking jokes, and distracting everybody. There’s something about a girl on a sport bike….
The track portion of the NRS came in late April, held during the CRA Friday practice the first race weekend at Mid-America Motorplex (MAM, near Omaha). The twisty, 2.2 mile course was wet and puddly (it rained ALL day), but if we stayed off the race line, traction was okay. If you went off the track, the Iowa mud was like freaking GLUE. Let’s redub it “Mud” America Motorplex.
The instructors and control riders––cool guys and very fast––led us around, then followed us, giving us pointers and advice. They showed us some lines, body positioning techniques, how to corner (WAY different from the way we corner on the street,) and how to use brake markers (way WAY different). Since this was also Friday practice, when we weren’t on the track we could warm the bleachers in our rain gear and watch the experts working out the kinks. They don’t look so fast from up here….
First track session: I’ve always thought I was a pretty fast DCTC rider…until MAM. A few minutes on a real course showed me DCTC is more of a “gateway drug” (you said it first, Tex!) than a track. In fact, there is no comparison. Running a race bike on this track was the thrill of a lifetime—I didn’t even notice it was raining! Ripping it up to light speed on the straightaways, then braking like hell and throwing it into tight corners at Mach 2 was unbelievable fun. Street riding and DCTC was NEVER like this. Man, why did I wait so long?
My little shitbox 500 ran like a champ, and I was picking off slower guys on bigger bikes in the tight corners. Holy crap, if I can pass 600s on my little GS, I am going to totally clean house in ultralight, where I’ll race against guys running the same equipment!
Both the girls showed up for the track sessions, too. They were really going to race. Jinnie Gannon looked great in her leathers on her Ducati, especially from behind. In fact, both of them looked pretty good. And I have to admit, they weren’t bad riders, either, ha ha. Neither one made a whole lot of mistakes, even in the rain. I think Jinnie will be racing in ultralight with me. Cool.
At the end of the school day was the new rider’s race and “final exam”: to finish a race without crashing. I was gridded in the back row of the newbies, right next to Jinnie (turns out her nickname is “Jinx”?!?) with about a half a dozen instructors (experts) behind us to mix it up and make it seem like a real race.
Okay, here we go, looking through drops of rain on my face shield, run the GS up to about 8,000 rpm and get ready to dump the clutch. The green flag drops and we’re gone. I got a great start, rear tire spinning on the slippery asphalt, and fell in behind a line of 600s approaching Turn 1. Everybody pooched it and started braking way too early, so I was able to pick off three of them before the first turn. Yeeeeehaaaa!!! Over the next two laps, I picked off one, two, three more bikes, outbraking them into sharp corners, and the fourth (and last) bike by using a late turn-in and getting the drive on him at the Turn 14 exit. Suddenly I was winning!
Four more laps in the wet, riding my ass off, slipping and sliding, when suddenly, on the next-to-last lap coming into Turn 2, somebody showed me a wheel. I heard him before I actually saw him. This totally freaked me and I screwed up Turn 3 and he got by me—an expert instructor on a 600—and absolutely roared into Turn 4, leaving me in the spray of his big rooster tail. I chased him as hard as I could and made up time on the brakes in Turn 5, then nearly caught him in the Turn 6-7 double apex.
Coming into the first chicane, I went way wide and then threw it in hard to take him on the inside, but he had the better position and I had to brake really hard just to stay on the track. Somehow I managed to stay with him. My face shield was cloudy from his tire spray, but I got a lock on him when he slowed too much for the last turn and I took him on the outside of 14. I tucked in and wrung that 500’s neck for a whole lap, with this instructor trying to get past me, showing me a wheel left, showing me one right, but I held him off and crossed the finish line—first place, beating out the whole new rider field and a half dozen expert instructors!
I’d accomplished what I wanted to accomplish—finishing the new rider’s school and the new rider’s race without crashing. Which was good, because I was out of money. I was content to take my new rider victory home with me and come back in June and kick some ass up at Brainerd, home of the fastest turn in North America.
For the rest of the weekend, I worked corners. The Chief of F&C (flagging and communication) was thrilled to have another body to help with track safety, and told me she would put me out “where the action is,” which turned out to be an understatement. My corner captain, Kyle (who everyone else referred to as “Kyleamari”) said “I’m a shit magnet. Get ready.” But he was a cool cat, taught me everything I needed to know in about 15 minutes, and was obviously glad to have my help out there.
And he wasn’t kidding about being a sh!t magnet. We were pulling bikes out of the weeds left and right. Within about an hour I was absolutely covered with mud, my shoes weighed about 20 lbs apiece, and I was soaking wet. But I was having a ball, helping downed riders, and watching the good riders do their thing. (One guy even yelled “Woohoo!” like Homer Simpson when he fell off his bike and went skipping through the mud like Superman. They were having a fantastic time.) It was cool watching the different lines everybody took…and a total thrill to be right there trackside when people made risky maneuvers and crashed, or made spectacular passes to get ahead and win.
I’ve got to tell you, racing is cool. All of it. Whether I’m in new rider school, racing, or working, the track is a whole different motorcycling experience. It’s intense, and you’re surrounded by a whole lot of people who are just as interested in riding as you are. Come on out and check it out at Brainerd International Raceway June 16-18. Whether you’re just there to watch, volunteer, or if you decide to try racing, I promise you’ll be glad you did.