A Tale of Two Rookies
(Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Take the Plunge)
Ed—MMM again follows a pair rookie riders during their first season of roadracing with the CRA. This is the fourth installment.
by Bryan “Ace” Bandage
She said YES! For the final race weekend of 2003 and the legendary endurance race, I planned to find a teammate and ride my hell-bent GS500 Suzuki for five hours straight. Not only that, but I asked Jinx if she wanted to ride with me, and she did! We were to be a two-man…er, two person team for the grand finale.
We spent Friday sharing the bike in practice so she could get used to it. In the last practice session, I was starting to turn some hot laps and felt pretty good, so I backed off after seeing the end-of-session, checkered flag in Turn 9. Third gear.
RAAAAATATATATATATTTTTATATATATATCHUNKACHUNKACHCHCHCHCHKKKKKK! Then, nothing. The bike was ominously quiet as I coasted in all the way into the pits. “Uh, I think I broke it.” The hole in the piston was probably 2.5 inches and edges were all melted. Chunks of metal in the intake port. My race weekend (and my five-hour date with Jinx) was over. Another team immediately scooped her up to race a 600.
Knowing full well that it was a bad idea, but without any real responsibilities for the remainder of the weekend, I decided to accompany Poon and the gang and to see what was going on at Zorba’s Friday night. [Editor’s Note: unsavory booty references, heroic intake of beers, random spankings, and general fratboy mayhem has been edited out in an effort to spare the worst offenders the burden of written proof.] It would be a horrific understatement to say that the ladies at Zorba’s now have a soft spot for roadracers.
Since I had planned to spend the whole weekend at BIR, I worked corners Saturday. If you want to see some free races, try volunteering for the CRA to work corners. It’s fun, you get fed, and you get to see all the racing action from very close up. I spent the morning on Turn 2A, watching the fast guys like Poon come ripping through, knee over the paint, at about 150 mph! After lunch I moved to Turn 10, where most of the race-winning, last minute passes are made as they whack the throttle open and scream towards the checkered flag.
I wandered over to the pits during an afternoon break and Poon asked if I wanted to ride with him, Vespadaddy, and Kyleamari on his R6. Whoa. Cool. But I SUCK! These guys are fast. Why in the hell would they want a slowbie like me, who’s never even ran an endurance race, to join them? I wanted desperately to race, so I hopped on.
Sunday, the five-hour endurance race was the only race of the day. There were about 25 bikes on the grid. Flag goes down and they’re off. Vespadaddy took the first session and got a good start: I counted 14 bikes behind him, including Jinx’s team, which was pitted right next to us. VD proceeded to wick it up and get us going with a whole bunch of 1:53s.
The pit crew was amazing. VD pulled in, Poon’s girlfriend grabbed the bike from the front. VD hopped off, Poon steps up with a quick fill gas can. Sploosh! In goes the gas, they wipe it off, and somehow without me even realizing it, I’m on the bike with my toe on the lever. VD and Poon simultaneously slap me on the butt and I’m gone, wringing the thing through one, two, and three, through the hot pit lane, grab four, and trying to get back on the track before Jinx’ s team catches up.
I take it easy the first lap to get reacquainted (I’d only got about ten laps on this bike in practice.) Everything the first lap goes well, so I wick it up a bit. More cornering speed, later braking, later entries. Still feels good. I’m slow as hell, but I’m a lot faster than I would be on my now resting-in-peace GS. What’s this? There’s a lap timer on the bike. Neat! As I hit the straight for the third time, I notice the timer reads 2:05. Hot dog.
After about 20 minutes, I was getting tired. I’d never raced more than eight laps at a time. I was wishing Poon’s girlfriend would hold the sign up so I know when to come in. But every time I rode past, she’d just smile at me. Damn. My legs felt like Jell-O. My arms were taking over. Am I in control? I can’t tell. I watched the lap timer and was amazed every lap as the times kept getting lower and lower. 2:04. 2:02. 2:01! Holy smokes!
Just as I’m thinking this (and not thinking about riding the bike), I’m driving into Turn 9 hard in fourth. Nine is a very slow, maybe 30 or 40 mph, 90-degree right hander with a huge curb on the inside and a concrete candystriped berm on the outside. Poon goes off on this corner one in every twenty times he rides it. It’s like tradition. And here I am, late braking in Poon’s Corner, with tired arms and legs, surprised it came up so fast. I kick it down a gear, release, snap my head over to look at the bridge, throw the bike into the turn, and head for the apex at full lean.
JEEZEY PETES! There’s a 600 just about to hit the same apex, pointed at least thirty degrees to the left of my line. There is no WAY the two of us will be able to share this corner. LOOK OUT! I had to make a quick decision: straighten it up, over the berm, into the grass, slow, slow, slow, coast, coast, slow, slow, then turn it around and point it back at Turn 10. The corner workers gave me a congratulatory wave, then VaRoom I was gone. Catastrophe averted, and I got the Turn 9 blues out of the way for Poon for the day.
Poon’s girlfriend, working the pit wall, said later that when I was ten seconds late for my next lap, they started worrying. Twenty seconds went by and oh crap, where’s Ace? Then about 25 seconds later here I come, my big shot at crashing the bike averted and now pouring on steam.
Finally, after what seemed like at least an hour, Poon’s girlfriend gave me the PIT NOW sign. I gave her the thumbs up, turned one more good lap, pulling from what reserves I had for one last burst of energy and making a couple more passes before hanging my left arm out in 10 and racing for the pits. I jumped off, they gassed the bike, and off went Poon. I could actually hear him grinning as he wrung that 600 out of the pits.
I almost couldn’t make it over the 24-inch-or-so pit wall I was so exhausted. I felt like throwing up. My helmet was soaking wet and steamed up inside from the effort. I was gasping for breath and my mouth was dry. FUN!
Poon got out there and whooped it up for forty minutes, turning solid 1:50s, then switched with our buddy, Kyle. Kyleamari started crunching good lap times, but came in early. After about a half hour his hand cramped up and he was losing concentration out there. VD quickly suited up, grabbed the bike and was gone. But because Kyle surprised everyone by coming in early, we weren’t ready and lost time in the pits. So Jinx’s team passed us. But it wasn’t all fun and games over there, either. Jinx’s team was falling apart at the seams. One dude’s knee is hurting him too badly to race, so he’s done. This other dude has bad arm pump (I don’t know what that is, but it sounds like it sucks) and he is done riding for the day. A third rider had an injury that was affecting him too, so the race was really up to Jinx. How many hours did you ride, Jinx? I couldn’t believe she kept going out there and turning 2:03s (I asked). Damn, she must be like Superman or something.
I was really tired when my last session came up, and my legs and butt were stiff and sore. I was soon to the point where I started holding on to the bike with my hands. Every time I noticed that, I’d stop it and grip with my legs again, but it was painful and I was tired. Fortunately, my lap times were right back in the same range again, starting in the 2:05 range and slowly clicking down to 2:02s and 2:01s.
About halfway through my session, I spotted Jinx, up ahead of me. We were both on 600s, and she is slightly faster than I am, but I was running hot today and I knew I could catch her. I put my head down and started making up distance on her. Every lap I’d reel her in a little more. After about six laps, I had her in my sights, maybe three bike lengths.
WHAT? Poon’s girlfriend was holding the sign up for me to pit. How did that happen? I hardly felt tired even. I ignored her signal and instead gave her a peace sign––I’d take two more laps and then pit—I wasn’t gonna let Jinx squirm out of this one. And sure enough, on that lap, I got her in Turn 8. (Turns 7-8 are a fast left-right combination, and if you get a good position coming out of seven, you can sweep across the inside of eight and outgun the early apexers—which is exactly what I did.) I yelled with joy inside my helmet.
When I next passed Poon’s girlfriend, I gave her the thumbs up. She was cheering for me, knowing I passed my arch-nemesis. I pitted, hopped off, slapped Poon on the ass, and he was gone.
Now off went Ironman Poon. His plan was to ride the rest of the race. I think I hopped off at about 4 p.m. The race was going until 5. His girlfriend was to give him the board at 40 minutes and he would give us the thumbs up at that point if he needed to quit.
At 40 minutes, Poon, the other Ironman rider out there, is about 30 seconds behind Jinx, who’s still out there because she didn’t have any teammates left. His girlfriend gives him the PIT NOW board, and Poon gives the big, exaggerated, thumbs DOWN. He was going to finish the race, and he now had a target—it was Jinx’s team and ours for second place. For the next six or seven laps, Poon gained three or four seconds a lap on Jinx. Slowly but surely he kept chasing her down. When they waved the white flag (one lap to go) Poon was about four seconds behind her. We watched breathlessly as the checkered flag dropped and bikes came roaring by with their riders’ arms in the air. And as we all watched, Poon and Jinx came by, Poon a second or so in front of Jinx. He had taken her in Turn 10.
Poor Jinx must have been pissed. But she was a great sport and damn, she must have been tired––she rode right behind me for most of my second session and throughout all of Poon’s second, 53-minute session. Good racin’ with ya, Jinnie.
The result? Our team took second place in our class, Jinx’s got third. We each pulled 150 laps in five hours. Best of all, next year’s only eight months away!