Alexey's Log
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
NHIS 4/30/2006 (belated race report)

First of all, I'd like to apologize for such a long wait on this write-up, but that's because I was hoping to post this with official results announced, but I'm still waiting.

Alix and I got there kinda late Thursday night. We had some problems with the hooks I bought to tie down the bike in the trailer. They were the type normally used to hang bicycles -- certainly not designed to hold a motorcycle in place. I don't know what I was thinking. One of the hooks began to straighten itself out and let go of the tie-down, which allowed the bike to tip over. Luckily, it wasn't a very long way down because it just ended up resting against the toolbox, but some paint got scratched off the tank. My first fancy paintjob and it gets ruined in the trailer -- damn. We replaced the bad hook, but it was still nerve-wrecking driving and not knowing if the bike was upright or not.

Next morning, we arrived at the track only to find out the morning was taken up by the new riders' school and we'd get on the track around 3 pm. That was actually okay by me since I knew the tires weren't new and it was nice to not have the morning rush of activity. So we were able to unload, set the canopy, check tire pressures, buy and install proper eyelets for tie-downs instead of the stupid bicycle hooks and walk around the pits a little bit.

In the afternoon, we passed tech and shortly after 3 finally got on the track. Due to the 3 classes of riders (novice, amature, and expert), they let amatures (moi) out with experts in same sessions, which was pretty cool. It allowed me to spot some good passing places, something I didn't do much of 4 years ago when I rode there as a total newbie. Every pass by an expert was close and clean -- a lot of fun in my book. Unfortunately my riding was leaving a lot to be desired. I kept finding myself getting tired and riding sloppy way too early in the game and certainly off the pace. Alix was able to point out a few things that didn't look right in my riding. I kept putting too much weight on my arms, not using my stomach and knees against the tank and just generally not relaxing enough. At one point my left foot slid off the peg going into a corner, which resulted in entirely too much drama for my liking. I sat and thought a bit. I kept thinking about the basics and making sure I was doing them right. It was like I was my own coach following myself doing laps and talking to myself on the radio, "Get your body down on the tank, set your entry speed, flick it in quick, start rolling on the gas, pick it up, more throttle, let it run out to the edge..." and so on. Eventually things seemed to be getting better. I ended up making one brake lever adjustment which helped, but I was still getting arm pump. I decided to not do the endurance race and just concentrate on getting my bike and riding sorted out Saturday morning and seeing what the sprint races would bring.

As it tends to happen for me, after "sleeping on it", my riding immediately got better in the morning. For whatever reason, I just felt way more comfortable doing laps and without giving it a whole lot of thought I started keeping pace with a few experts. That definitely felt good. We had 2 practice sessions and I made the best of them, still not quite setting the track on fire, but at least now I was looking forward to the races more. My first race was heavyweight superbike, which was mostly populated by other 600's. Loudon is technical enough that it makes big horsepower almost obsolete. The race went how I hoped it wouldn't. I got a terrible start (still getting used to the bike) and ran in last place the entire race. Lost touch with everyone early on and just felt mentally defeated. I rolled into the pits and got the "the important thing is to have fun" comments racers give each other, which are euphemisms for "you suck, but at least you didn't crash". Ah, what can you do. One thing did occur to me and that my right arm was required to do too much movement during hard braking due to too much slack in the throttle cable. I tightened it up and waited for the next one.

Next up was unlimited superbike -- pretty much the same crowd. It's still a bit of a mystery to me how it works, but I perform best when I'm beaten down into the corner. I was lucky enough to be gridded on the outside of the first row. My plan was to get a decent start and see if I could follow the guys gridded to my inside, as I was sure they'd beat me into turn 1. After some confusion with the expert race wave in front of us, we got our start and to my disbelief I found no bikes in front of me upon reaching the first corner. It didn't feel like I was pushing it and for a split second I thought maybe I got confused and jumped the start. I kept my head down and tried to hit my reference points and as I came around for another lap, there was no "meatball" flag pointed at me -- whew! -- I didn't do anything wrong. Just keep going man, you're in the lead! Another lap and things were just great. On lap 3, I got challenged for turn 1 on the brakes and I let the guy go, he was alone. I figured it was probably someone much faster than me who finally worked his way up to the front. To my surprise, I didn't lose him. I stuck with him and figured I'd make my move on him after learning his weak points better. Suddenly, a red flag in turn 3. We both raised our hands and slowed down. Strangely, I couldn't see any other red flags anywhere else on the track as we made our way to the pits. But a red flag is not something you wanna mess around with. As we pulled into the hot pits, I saw out of the corner of my eye other bikes behind us continuing onto the start/finish straight for another lap. It had to be a case of mass madness, either me and the leader and a couple of slower expert riders or everyone else. Then my heart sank -- the marshalls in the pits, instead of showing us where to stop, were frantically waving us to go back out. They screwed up the flag! I couldn't believe it. After allowing a thousandth of a second for frustration, everyone headed back out. I'm very thankful that everyone realized it was a botched race and did not go balls out through the ridiculously narrow pit exit. After finishing something like 6th, I was rolling through the pits still trying to comprehend the fact that I just had a shot at my first win and it was taken away by some idiot who took the wrong flag out of the bag or whatever the problem was. I went to the timing and scoring office and they were already getting yelled at by the experts. I told them what I saw and then decided to go back to my spot and just wait for the final decision later. What will be will be I suppose. It was still satisfying to have led for the first time.

After that I had one race left in the day: middleweight GP. After the rollercoaster that was the day up to that point, it went somewhat uneventfully. I rode okay and finished somewhere midpack. I'm still waiting for the official results to be posted. We set up the stuff for the night and went to dinner.

Another good night's sleep and another jump in speed, although not quite as dramatic as the one before. Sunday morning, in the first session I felt good and kept pace with more people than previously and in the second session really went to work. At one point, I waited a little too long to get back on the gas in the bowl (turn 5), which is a positively cambered (banked) turn with pretty good pavement. As I reached the apex, I heard the familiar scratching sound. I knew that sound from 2 types of scenarios: crashing and dragging bodywork on my old EX500. Since I wasn't crashing, I figured I managed to be dragging the plastics. At that point I wasn't happy with myself, since it was such a nice paintjob and I knew I didn't have to be doing it if I only hung off more and picked up on the gas earlier. After the session, I looked for the rashes in the plastics, but to my surprise there were none. Instead there was a nice smooth mark on the alternator cover. I actually managed to drag the engine, which could have easily ended in tears.

I had 2 races scheduled on Sunday, but it was announced that race 10 from Saturday (the one that got screwed up) was going to be rerun for amatures only. I guess they figured enough experts got by the erroneous red flag that it didn't affect the top spots. It was to be the first race of the day. Unfortunately I got another so-so start and was able to get around only a couple of people. I believe I finished 4th. Bike felt good though and I kept on steadily finding another 10th of a second here and there.

Next race was unlimited GP. It was getting pretty hot and I applied some sun screen, which proved to be a bit of a mistake. As the race started, I was running somewhere midpack. I passed 1 or 2 motards that were off the pace and caught up to what looked and felt like another 600. As I was figuring out a way around him, my glasses decided to take a slide down off my face, which my sun screen-covered nose happily accomodated. I wasn't sure what to do at that point, but I knew there was no safe way to fix the glasses. At first it freaked me out, but then I realized that I usually play pool looking over my glasses anyway and I decided to take another lap and see how it felt before making the final decision on whether I was gonna pull out. It turned out to be not so bad. I basically was lacking my 3D vision, given that my left eye became that much more dominant with the glasses off. Luckily, I was able to use the bike in front of me for extra reference. I knew I was faster than him, but I just didn't want to do anything stupid. Seeing that there was already a good gap between him and the next group, I decided to see if I could get around him safely and use every lap of the race to spot his mistakes. Sure enough, I was getting a much better drive off turn 2 and checked his inside on the brakes for turn 3 a couple of times. Finally, we got the white flag and it was now or never. I hung back through turns 1 and 2 and gave myself plenty of room to start an extra early drive out of 2. It worked perfectly, I was almost rearending him out of there and we were side by side on the brakes, which I had already practiced a few times before and it was no biggie. After that, I protected my line for a couple of corners and the only worry was the final turn leading to the start/finish straight, where it seemed like he was able to get a better drive than me. I didn't look back to see how far he was and just figured I'd do my thing and let the chips fall where they may. I went by the checkered flag and maintained my position. I looked back and saw that there was a fairly sizable gap.

And finally, middleweight superbike. It was getting late in the day and I was a bit worried about the "last race issues," both mentally and physically. I was gridded on the 2 out of 3 rows. At the start, I got a reasonable launch, but someone behind me was definitely cooking with gas. A bike came up next to me and we happened to be going for the same patch of asphalt. My front wheel had just landed and there wasn't much time, his bike brushed mine and I felt the bars wobbling. I saw pieces of blue plastic (his) flying, but there didn't seem to be any damage that I could feel on my bike. I got my head down, but the group ahead of me was far. At the exit of turn 4, as I crested the hill, I heard the rpm's suddenly rise, immediately followed by the rear end stepping out. I thought about what it would be like highsiding at the top of the hill and then Keith Code's voice seemed to say, "don't chop the throttle." I didn't give it more gas, just kind of stayed on it, maybe closing it a wee bit, and soon enough the bike righted itself, but now the gap was really bad. I was a little hesitant on a few more corner exits after that, knowing the tire wasn't up to temperature yet and allowed the gap to stay until lap 2. Then I figured it was time to get back into it. I tried to ride hard without getting the bike out of shape and indeed I was getting closer and closer, but for the first time that weekend, the laps were ticking away quicker than I wanted them to and I wasn't able to gain any positions. I believe I came in 2nd to last in that one. The important thing is to have fun, right? :)

Due to a number of unforeseen obstacles, we're sitting out the upcoming event and instead will focus on getting ready for Loudon Classic, which should be fun. Jerry Wood said there'd be more purse money and that there would be a real supermotard event with a dirt section. Stay tuned for updates.
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