Backmarker Racing's season starts with a slight stumble

March 23, 2005

Back in Febuary, the team's hopes for a good season were kind of pumped up at the first event of the season at Oak Hill Raceway in Henderson, TX. Even though a endurance race was not held during this event, two of the BMR boys got to do a little sprint racing in preparation for the team's first endurance race to be held in Cresson, TX at The Motorsports Ranch. The weather at Oak Hill was pretty crappy and the rains made for several wet spots on the track. There was many debates in the paddocks as if it would be best to run the rain tires or not for most of the morning. Jonathan on his '02 R6 chose to stay with the Superstock spec'ed DOT race tires and it seems that decision paid off. He ended up with a sixth (out of 39 riders) in Superstock B and after getting a bad start, scored an 11th (out of 40) in Superstock C. Not to bad considering he stared in the second wave of riders in both races. It just wasn't to be for him in Superbike C since he just held his own in mid pack of 29 riders and finished 19th. Pierson is still trying to get a handle on his '95 TZ250, but still turned in a respectable 8th (out of 19) in Formula 2, considering that all the bikes ahead of him were SV650s. Formula 1 was not as kind to him since he finished 15th (out of 17). Of course, I've never expected a TZ 250 to fair that well against heavily modified 600s, 750s and liter bikes.

Since we had no luck in selling our '99 R6 endurance bike during the off season, mostly due to taking so long to getting it all put back together, it became a mad rush to do a frame up going over of the bike prior to our first endurance race. Like most folks doing the club racing scene on a shoestring budget, it wasn't until the last minute that the bike finally came together. We finally got around to having the shock rebuilt and it had turned out that it had never been touched since the previous owner put it on the bike almost four years ago. Oh well, it least it was in tip top shape for last weekend's endurance race. I had also completely gone over every part of the motor and frame. I had to be pleased to see that a 5 year old motor could still crank out over 100 RWHP without having ever doing a much as removing the head. Having installed all the "consumables" (clutch, chain, sprockets, pads, etc.) and adjusting/lubricating every cable and bearing, I declared the bike formally known as the "Rat Bike" (now referred to as the "E.B." - for endurance bike) ready to race. Still, to keep in the humor of racing a bike that borderlines the vintage class, the paint scheme for our Yamaha was Kawasaki green and black. To make it even more laughable, our upper fairing was AirTech on the left side and Sharkskin on the right. This gave the air intake a noticeable "harelip" since the halves did not quite match up. Ah, but what ever works and more importantly, saves money. After drilling a few extra holes to get the lower to go on, we were ready to go.

We were going to be two riders short for this event, due to work and previous commitments, but that was okay since it was just a 4 hour race (the shortest one of the season). We were not going to make enough pit stops for everyone to get a chance to ride anyway. I figured three stops at the most. Not only did we have our two most experienced riders going, but we had also signed up our "ringer". Like last year, our fifth rider on the team is not a "full member" of BMR, but considered (a far as the contracts go) to be a "guest rider". Unlike last year, when Billy, our guest rider, was just a second or so a lap faster than the team's fastest rider, our new "guest rider" was a seasoned expert class rider who had numerous podium finishes with riders of the likes of Ty Howard and Michael Sanchez. Not only was our new rider, Carlo fast, but had a reputation of NOT being a "crasher". Something that meant a lot to us and our budget.

Also, unlike last year, there have been three new teams from Arkansas have jumped into the CMRA endurance series and all of them, though thankful of all of BMR's help and assistance in getting them started, would love nothing more than to beat us. They were not that concerned on how the placed in their class... just as long as it was ahead of us. It's kinda understandable since most of us are all longtime friends... until the green flag drops. This lead to a brief debated over how we were going to schedule our riders order. Since Carlo had never endurance raced (only sprints), I was wanting him to ride last as "clean up". The other guys wanted him to ride first. Their logic was that some these other teams from Arkansas had also enlisted the help of a "ringer" or two and they were planning on having them ride first. By having Carlo ride first, it would "put them in their place", as it was obvious that as far as "ringers" goes, none of the other teams' "ringers" could hold a candle to Carlo. If anything, it would force the other teams' "ringers" into trying to play "catch up" with Carlo and that would likely result in either them making a mistake (hopefully not crashing... seriously) or just flat wearing them out in short order. It was hard to argue with their logic since I had felt like I had a target painted on my back ever since we got there and I don't even ride the damn bike.

We got down to MSR a day early for an open track day that Friday and felt it would be a good opportunity to do a few shake down tests on the E.B., as well as give us time to take the bike over to Marcus at Racing Performance Services and have him finish the suspension work on the forks and have the Dunlop guy throw on a fresh set of tires (we're switching over to Bridgestone for the rest of the season due to the fact they pay better contingency money) prior to the race on Saturday afternoon. During testing on Friday, a rider that had agreed to sign with us and later backed out, had a huge endo crash that pushed the ball of his hip joint completely through the socket. He won't be released from the hospital in Ft. Worth until this Friday at the earliest. It really sucks, but I guess I have to be glad that he did back out of signing with us. That is because CMRA rules state that once you fill your five rider roster, your stuck with it for the whole season. You would have to lose four of the five riders on the roster before you would be allowed to add another rider. Since we already had four and he would have been the fifth, we would have be stuck with just two riders for the event on Saturday. Not a major problem seeing as how short the race was going to be, but still a major inconvenience for the rest of the season since some of the four riders already on the roster will have conflicts with some of the other races as well and will not be able to attend all of the events.

As far as our testing went, everything looked good after the track day and looked even better after testing the new suspension and tires during the Saturday morning practices. Carlo had done a practice session on the bike, and said he felt comfortable with it. I had wished he had spent a little more time on it since he raced a '04 GSXR in the Superbike Expert classes (our '99 R6 is in the Superstock Novice class), but there just was not enough time. That being the case, I still had a small amount of pre-race jitters, but still felt confident that we were going to do well after the green flag dropped at 2:00 that afternoon. I spent most of that morning hauling all our stuff over to our pit and trying to get everything exactly where I wanted it. If I had learned anything from last season it was that races were not won by having the best lap times, but by having the fewest and quickest pit times. To make sure that the riders can see me through the sea of other pit board holding folks, I wear a true neon greenish yellow shirt that one could recognize a 1/2 mile away. It might look weird, but one can not miss it and it has proven to be very effective. Jonathan and Pierson spent their lunch time going over our pit signals with Carlo and even though he can barely speak English (he's Italian and it's like talking to an older version of Valentino Rossi), he seemed to understand how our system of hand and pit board signals worked. They also tried to emphasize the fact that this is an endurance race and not a sprint race. He just needed to find a comfortable pace an stick to it. None of us cared if it was a 1:33 or a 1:26, just as long as he was comfortable.

When the green flag dropped, it only took a couple of laps to realize that Carlo was not comfortable with anything between those times. By the sixth lap, he had already picked off over 30 of the 59 total riders in the field and that was after starting at the back end of the second wave (due to our late registration). After about 12 laps, he had already lapped countless other riders and was headed to the front of the pack. He was turning consistent low 1:24s laps and heading towards high 1:23s, which would be almost a second faster than the pace of the leaders in the Superbike class on R1s, GSXR 750s and CBR1000s. Not bad for a six year old Superstock 600 and a rider in his forties. By lap 18, he had us well into the top 10 overall and maybe even as high as the top six. That would have put us either in second or third place in class at the time and he wasn't even half way through with his stint. I couldn't tell for sure since I was out next to the track with the pit board and couldn't to see the timing monitor over by the scoring tower.

I started getting concerned over his blistering pace since we had not planned on doing a tire change and was wondering if he had indeed realized that this was not a sprint race. Since the rest of our riders are more of the 1:26 to 1:30 endurance lap time type, we never have thought of a hand signal to indicate to the rider that they needed to SLOW DOWN! Jonathan and Pierson were just tickled pink over Carlo's times. He had already put 15 bikes between him and the nearest Arkansas team and the guys' rider order logic was showing it's worth. The "ringers" that had started off for the other Arkansas teams were making costly mistakes and starting to ride over their heads in an attempt to even keep Carlo in sight. It was to no avail. Not only had they lost sight of him, but he was slowly coming up behind them to put them a lap down!

Sadly, it turned out that my concerns were not ill founded. On lap 20, while exiting a off camber corner, the rear end broke loose on Carlo and sent him into a highside off the bike. I later found out from other riders that Carlo was riding wickedly fast through that corner (known as the "Ricochet") and that the rear end would just be hopping though the exit. A move that might work in a sprint race, if you can hold on for eight laps, but not too wise of a move when doing 40 or more laps. Eventually, he was going to get bit and indeed, that is what happened. Because he was standing and both he and the bike were well off the track, they did not throw out a red flag. That was good in the aspect that we would not be penalized for it, but was bad in the sense that it would be a while before the course workers got the bike back to us. The first words we were hearing was that Carlo had hurt his shoulder and ankle, but they were not sure how badly. We also heard that the bike had suffered some serious damage and might not be repairable to reenter the race.

When they brought Carlo in, we convinced him to go ahead and go to the hospital. Luckily, it turned out that nothing was broken, but both his shoulder and ankle were seriously bruised and very, very sore. The bike did not fair as well. The forks were bent and one of the stops was sheared off the lower triple clamp. Since points are scored by the number of laps completed, we immediately started taking the forks off of Jonathan's R6 and swapping them with the E.B. in hopes of at least getting a few more laps in. It was good to see some of the other riders from the Arkansas teams jump in and help. After getting the forks on, it became obvious that the lower triple clamp was also tweaked. The front wheel would barely turn since the calipers were tweaked and dragging on the rotors. Swapping axles and wheels did not help much. Still, it was enough to duct tape up what remained of the bodywork and at least go out and run in the last 30 minutes of the race.

After about three laps, Pierson came in and said he smelled something burning. Because the instrument cluster was trashed, the tach didn't work and the oil light was on. Knowing that the R6 oil light just reads oil level and not pressure, as well as knowing that there was plenty of oil in the bike, I figured that it was not oil he was smelling. I walked up to the front of the bike and could see that the front tire was slightly rubbing on the bottom of the lower fairing. Not good, but not bad enough to be concerned about. I spit on one of the front rotors and it just boiled right off. I told him that is what he was smelling and to get back out on the track. Though he eventually cut :08 off his lap times, they were still in the low 1:40s. Hardly competitive with the leaders, but still a pace that kept him ahead of all the provisional novices that were out there that afternoon. Interestingly enough, we did not finish last in class. We were 19th out of 20. Overall, we finished 56th out of 59th.

Hardly anything to write home about, but the upside is that this event was just 4 of the 46 total endurance racing hours this season. Even though we only got in 32 laps out of a likely 160 or so, there is still about 870 laps total for all the remaining events combined. In other words, plenty of opportunity to make up the lost ground. It was not like we did not have problems last year and there was a couple of races that we DNF'ed and still ended up fifth in class out of 26 and 20th overall out of 94. The only down side is that this will be the costliest crash we have experienced so far. After we got back, we swapped the complete front end from Jonathan's bike onto the E.B. to make a seat of the leathers determination on wether the frame or steering head had been tweaked as well. We really have no other way of telling since GMD wanted $720 to check it out (not counting the cost of transporting the bike from Little Rock, AR to Dallas and back). Initial testing seems to indicate that we'll should be able to get away with just forks and a lower triple clamp. We've already got a line on a set of '03 forks, triple clamps and axle for a more than reasonable price. We just got to hope the calipers and wheel will work with it.

As for our "harelipped" bodywork, well, it's safe to say that at least the upper fairing and windscreen are toast ("what windscreen?"). The tail section will need some serious fiberglass work. I now wished I had taken a few pictures of the bike with its Kawasaki paint job and my decal work (mostly to cover the over spray spots of our "homemade" paint job). The front master cylinder might be salvageable, but if not, we already have a spare. We also lost one of the rearsets, but we already had a set from Votex on order since the ones we had were two different brands anyway. The tank, clip-ons and various other parts seemed to have survived quite well, all considering. Oh yeah, one of the frame sliders got toasted, naturally.

I guess that why they say... "That's racing", eh? If you want to play, you gotta pay.

Sunday's sprints turned out to be a day one would be just happy to survive. Morning practices on Sunday had two red flags and countless yellow flags. Prov-Novs all over the track doing really stupid shit. Ambulances taking riders off in droves and bikes in the dirt on every other turn. When the sprit races finally did get started, it was a meat grinder from the very first race and did not let up as the day wore one. On more than one occasion, it wasn't just one bike crashing, but two or three tangling up. Even in the Superbike A Expert race. When it came to Superstock C Novice, 54 riders grided up in THREE WAVES. Remember, this is a eight lap SPRINT RACE, mind you! There must have been at least 20 "yellow shirts" (provisional novices trying to get their racing licenses). I knew it was going to be ugly and sure enough, there were just about as many yellow flags as yellow shirts on the track. They were shooting off into the dirt in just about every corner during the longest eight lap race I have ever witnessed that didn't have a red flag. The hospital in Granbury, TX had more ER patients than if the area had been under nuclear attack. If they didn't know how to treat a broken collar bone before, they do now. One of the other riders from Arkansas thought it better to just go back to the trailer after getting run off the track twice in a single race.

Still, after two events, two of our riders seem to be holding their own in the sprint classes. So far, it stacks up like this for our boys:

Superstock B Novice - 7th (out of 54)
Superstock C Novice - 20th (out of 58 - went in at 12th in class but dropped down by missing the starting grid at MSR, due to me working on our trailer's track announcement monitoring system)
Formula 1 Novice - 11th (out of 38 )
Formula 2 Novice - 9th (out of 24)
Heavyweight Twins Novice - 7th (out of 13)

As far as I am concerned, it is a "start" (not a "finish") that I can easily accept and be very proud of both of them. We are all hoping that Carlo will be well soon as we will have the FULL team (all five if Carlo is ready) for the EIGHT HOUR race on the 2.9 mile high banks of Texas World Speedway in College Station, TX on April 23-24.

Wish us luck (and prayers), 'cuz it looks like we'll need all the help we can get.


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