Dec 23, 2012
Last Place is First Place
With a fuel filter between my gas tank and the carburetor, pure clean high octane race gas and caster oil based Blendzall is pumping through my engine and it’s running great! I’m suited up in my leathers, with my steel shoe strapped to my boot about to head out for the open-practice prior to tonight’s long, long awaited racing.
I’m a bit confused as to which group I’m supposed to practice with. Some of the world’s best and fastest professionals have shown up and 99% of the remaining racers are undoubtedly way faster than me, so can’t I go out with some of the smaller children and avoid getting run over? It’s noisy, and the rules are not clear. There’s a lady at the starting gate with headphones and microphone who’s in charge of grouping packs of 5 to 8 riders, sending them out to ‘practice’ for about 12 laps. I’ve been watching. This ‘practice’ looks more like a cut-throat race than a practice. The guys are fierce with one another. Bar-to-bar, sideways drifting through the turns only inches apart from one another. And fast! I have been on this track only twice before. Once earlier in the day, during a controlled tutorial session, and once last year on a borrowed bike – sent out there all by myself for 6 laps of initial trial. I grab the starter-lady’s ear, letting her know I need to go out with the ‘slower’ people and she nods, pointing to a guy about my age on a vintage 650 Yamaha. He’s kinda like me, so I stick by him. Now it’s our turn. He and I, along with about 4 other riders hit the track and within a couple of seconds, they’re a half a turn ahead of me. I blast after them, reveling in the whole huge bunch of sensations. I’m on the race track, with my race bike. The tires are sticking to the clay like glue! I can go faster through the turns, leaned over further than I ever would have dreamed! What a thrill!
Then Bam! Two riders pass me on the outside, leaving themselves inches between me and the concrete wall – at a speed that seems just crazy! My god! It’s Joe Kopp and Brad Baker! Two racers who’ve both won national events this year. How in the heck do they possibly get their bikes turned at that speed?! Before another second goes by, two more pass me. One one the inside and one on the outside – and this is in the middle of the turn! Obviously… I’m out with the wrong group. I immediately exit the track. If I had hair, it would have been standing straight up!
Catching my breath, I ask some folks how this is supposed to work, and no, I wasn’t out with the wrong group. There’s only two classes for practice – bikes less than 150cc and bike bigger bikes (that’s me – and the pros – gulp !
OK, I’ve already used up one of my two practice tickets going one and a half laps. I really don’t want to get run over or be in anyone’s way – but all the veterans tell me “Just get out there – we’ll stay out of your way” so I do. This time I really try to go out with a slower group and keep an eye out for people coming up from behind me – but when I’m getting passed I have no idea if I’m supposed to pull to the inside or drift to the outside. Despite all this worry, and trying to figure out brake into the corner? Use the compression release into the corner? How fast can I comfortably accelerate out of the corner? and all the while my mind is yelling “Holy crap, this is fun! Holy crap, this is fun!”
Now it’s race time. There are 20 classes on tonight’s schedule – some quads – and a bunch of different classes of motorcycles. I am in Race 14. Six riders – Three in Open Knobby, Two in Vintage Two-Stroke and me, all by myself in Vintage 50+ – First every class runs a heat race, and then once the 20 classes have run, the whole sequence starts over for the Main Events.
I line up with my group in the staging area, we watch the checkered flag drop for the class ahead of us and then it’s our turn to make our way to the starting line – in the middle of the straightaway. They put me on the outside, the starter guy walks backwards towards the infield and we wait for the light to turn green. It does! Off they go. My bike is stalled. I push it to the infield and get it started, wait for them to pass and then take after them! What a dope! But what a thrill! I can see one or two of the slower ones up a head of me, but they’re pulling away. I’m trying to concentrate on just operating my bike and then they begin to pass me. It’s only a 12 lap race and I’m getting lapped. And then as soon as it starts – It’s over. Checkered flag, off the track we go, so the next group can line up. Man that was fun!
Sooner than expected we are lined up again for our main event. I don’t want to stall it, and I don’t even care if I get tangled up in the middle of the first turn. I want to do better this time and that’s all I am thinking about. Green light – off we go! I get off the same as them, but too much. I pull a small wheelie and have to shut it down to get going again. Already blew it, they’re all ahead of me. Oh well. I run my race – I come in last place – but like I said, I’m the only one in my class and that means I am in 1st place and I get a trophy! A trophy even though I came in last place! I’m so proud, I stop someone who’s leaving at the end of the evening and ask them to take my picture.