Motorcycling16 Jun 2008 09:55 am

Hmmm, lessee….choices, choices.

Maybe Return of The Sandbagger

Or, how about Sandbagger, the Sequel

Maybe Hi, My name is Jonathan and I’m a sandbagger?

Regardless, I’ve fessed up immediately, thus taking away some of the sting I’m sure Cra1g has for me.  I stand by my reasoning though, which is a looonnnggg read away from here.

At the last two track days, I had a nagging feeling of stangancy (yes that is a word.  No forward progress, not even a little.  Just hitting up against an invisible wall.  Actually the wall isn’t sooooo invisible.  Being the sole source of income, a father/husband and having considerable community responsibilities is enough to quell too much “win-it-or-bin-it” mentality.  Oh, did I mention age too?  Yep, already things haven’t felt like they used to for a long time.  No lil blue pills though, woot woot.

So in talking separately with Cra1g and Lance, I decided to wheel-n-deal up some funds for another Keigwins At The Track two-day intermediate course.  I wish so much that they’d do it somewhere other than Thunderhill, but they won’t.  It could have been worse – Buttonwillow (farther and at minimum equally hot); Reno-Fernley (see Buttonwillow), etc.  It just so happens that the one intermediate school is again within a day of a three day convention I attended.  Up early every day for a new job, up early every day for the convention, up early one day for work, then up earlier for a 125 mile drive to Willows.  Well earlier in planning at least.  The reality was “huh?” <snooze> button…….shift around a bit…..contemplate losing mad money and staying home…..wishing more people I knew would get involved……doze a bit more…..rationalize that the bodywork and tires are alreary done so not much to load….doze a bit more…….dang – too much ambient daylight coming in the window.  Hustle into the garage and start kicking myself that despite my rationalizing, I had a lot still to get packed.  Eventually I got on the road, foregoing the Chai tea latte I’d wanted, and settled in for 2+ hours of driving.

After thanking my radar detector for multiple legit alerts and hating my truck’s pitiable gas mileage (no trailer at that), I arrive at the front gate.  Something was nagging at my periphery but I couldn’t place it until a young blond girl comes out of the booth to have me sign the waiver.  Her hair is blowing so hard she could have been a purple mutant and I wouldn’t have known.  I roll down the window and gale force winds blow my hair about too (LOL).!

I drive on into the pits and am amazed to discover that though late, there’s still plenty of pit space under the permanent large metal canopy.  The relative absence of humans and activity tells me the rider’s meeting has either just started or is about to.  As I get out of the truck, off in the distance I spot a unique-looking, very familiar metal trailer.  Could Steve be here?  I sure hope so.  It can be rare these days to actually view it as a privilege to know someone.  Steve is one of those people it is a pleasure and privilege to know.  He is just the most awesome gentleman.  Lays complete and total waste to any and everything that can be said about aging (though only my mind accepts that at the moment, the body resists in favor of a barcalounger somewhere in the near future).  Anyhow, rather than unload, I just walk way friggin far to the rider’s lounge; the meeting started about 10 minutes ago.  I spot Mike K but knew from the rider’s list that he would be there.  I was disappointed though that I never got the expected last minute call from Francisco that’d he’d be coming afterall. 

After the meeting Mike shows me that he too is under the metal canopy and there was room right next to him so I moved over a few slots to pit with him.  I unload and get on down to registration, then tech, and back.  And taa-daa, here’s Steve!!  Just as healthy as ever for …. well I won’t say cause that’d be rude, but Steve has lived a long, full and likely very interesting life.  In fact, what I was soon about to ask him made me feel really bad, but I had no choice.   You see, circumstances dictated that while some would camp at the track (like Steve), other’s have Madden-esque motorcoaches to stay in (Keigwins) and other’s would drive 7 minutes to a cumfy-wumfy roachtel, I was dragging my sorry behind 125 miles BACK home to get up too early again and another 125……yes dangnabbit, over 500 miles in two day.  That’s just in the truck!!!!!  At 3.7 city blocks per gallon!

So, adjusting my panties a little bit, I whine to Steve about maybe just possibly letting my bike spend the night with his two immaculate R6’s.  I couldn’t finish the whiny excuses before he’d already said “yes no problem”.   Whew.  Make that 4.9 city blocks per gallon going home and coming back the next morning, woo-hoo.

The intermediate class assumes that you know things like …… how to turn the bike on, where the brakes are, etc.  You should be comfortable with riding, have experience, etc.  This class has way more structure than an open track day.  Actual classroom sessions on specific topics, demonstrations of topics (such as Dave Moss’ 675 being wheeled into the class so instructors can demonstrate how to use one’s legs in various ways to 1) support the body weight and keep it off the arms, minimizing/eliminating transferring bad stuff into the front end and going BOOM and 2) to get your upper body down low more effectively for cornering).  Then nice long sessions to put into practice what was discussed…..or work on something else.  Instructors are available all day for you to sign up with for one-on-one sessions so you can discuss what you’re afraid of or feel deficient at, and they observe and then commend/counsel as well as demonstrate….at speed.  Having ridden with all these instructors before and knowing how blindingly fast they are, it was painful to sometime watch them plodding along behind, or towing a really slow person.  But that was their job for the day and they did it admirably!!  If I remember correctly, they get to cut loose a lil bit at the end of the day, but I wasn’t around long enough to confirm that.

So this wind is blowing something terrible, just terrible.  And Thunderhill is a quite fast track.  I thought “no way I’m going in A group.  I need all my faculties to not get run over by these guys on a good day, I won’t have enough braincells to cope with this wind too”.  I backed off to the B+ (just A and B+).  I suited up and went out for a 3 lap follow-an-instructor sighting session, it was wierd.  The instructor I got paired with took off faster than I wanted to go into turn one, then when we got there and turned left, the southward hurricane said “hey, wanna go way up on the hill by that water tower?  I’ll help you.  The view is great up there”.  No dang-it, I wanna stay on pavement.  Turn 2 – more problems.  The first part of the turn was hard to drive at an angle into the wind, mid corner was head-on into the wind, then the last third of the turn if you blinked an eye you’d made a complete U-turn and were headed backward against traffic.  Turn 5a was tough.  The approach to 9, 10 and the front straight were like having a Titan II strapped to your back.  Approaching 14, you could have literally disconnected your brakes and left them at home, not needed (this turn plays a key role later).

So day one is very tentative.  I worked first on trying to relearn the track with this new variable affecting things.  Despite the wind, it was still warm so I guess it would have been really warm/hot without.  I signed up for a one-on-one with Paul Y., told him I felt deficient in my current cornering and braking abilities.  He said lets go out and after a couple laps he’d have me lead.  He said he wasn’t like others on the out-lap, he preferred to go slower than others.  He wasn’t kidding.  So as I walked along side his bike into turn one….LOL.  After a little bit of leading him, he brought me in to advise that I’m not getting my butt off the seat enough and upper body is staying too high.  I need to get the edge of the seat into the buttcrack and the upper body lower.  He also said while my lines were good and smooth, I was braking too early and needed to trailbrake more.  That would enable me to stay on the gas longer vs the safer line of braking earlier.  I knew he was right, but was afraid.  There, I said it.  I was afraid.  Truthfully I knew already I don’t get off the bike enough.  It always, always feels like I do but when I look at pictures later I’m thinking “what’s this garbage?”  So I commit to working on both these things.  We do some more laps.  Then it’s back to class.  Paul also deadpans that I should definitely be in the A group.  <:-/

Then things got ugly.  We’re in the class and I subliminally notice it’s gotten too quiet outside.  As we’re going out of the classroom I’m walking with Mike and I hear a helicopter much too close for comfort.  I say “uh-oh, that can’t be good, he’s too close”.  Sure enough, as we walk out into the sunlight, a bright red Reach copter is coming down into the 11/12 esses.   I ventured close enough to watch (partially because I’m fascinated with flight and the desire to be a pilot) but not so close as to look like an insensitive anus.  Sonia comes and stands with me and explains the medical reasons why it’s taking so long for the copter to leave (very informative), we banter about how small craft get tossed around quite a bit and what a heck of a ride this was guy in for when that copter lifted off.  Eventually it did and we went about our ways.  I found out later he got into 9 too fast and went on a not-fantastic voyage.

We had a nice tri-tip lunch and good comraderie with Cra1g and Steve and Michael L, then it was back to class and track.  Too much food equals sleepy time.  I don’t know how many instructors caught me eyes-closed, but I couldn’t help it.  Hopes that the wind would let off in the afternoon were wasted hopes, the wind stayed very strong all day.  Garbage barrels rolled like tumbleweeds at times.  So did my mind.  So much to absorb, so much to try to work on.  It seemed too much.  I hoped that sleeping on it all would make a difference for day two. 

Mike talked me into staying a little longer than I wanted at the end of the day but the reward was a Heineken and 3 slices of delicious pizza for the road (pizza for the road, not the Heineken).  After stashing the GSXR at Steve’s spot and giving him the key, iPod and I head for the long drive home.  I get home and the family is happy to see me.  I’m happy to see them too, but truthfully bristled at seeing 250 additional miles driven.  Ah well, the things we do.

Day 2.  More rationalizing about why I don’t need to get up so early.  Loading up is much shorter.  No bike.  No generator or tire warmers.  No pop-up canopy.  Loading goes very quickly but the time saved is wasted getting that Chai tea latte. Tracy Jordan and 30 Rock make the just-as-windy-as-yesterday drive to Thunderhill tolerable.  I arrive, retrieve the GSXR from Steve’s location and get prepped for the day.   But this time something is different, something I’d hoped for.  What seemed confusing and overwhelming yesterday was making sense today.  It seemed like things were coming together.   The late braking, egg method of handling turn 2, more body off the bike and lower, stronger drive off the turns was all making a lot more sense.  This had happened back in 2006’s intermediate school.  Also on single trackdays, I always see the previous day’s events more clearly afterward.  So today I had high hopes.  They panned out well.

I worked harder on my objectives and less on worrying about the wind, strangely it seemed to have diminished some.  That isn’t really true, what really happened was my concentration was elsewhere.  Today I signed up to have a one-on-one with Cra1g (who BTW also presented me with a beautiful 11×14 portrait of Colin Edwards aboard the Camel Yamaha M1.  THANKS CRAIG!!!  Long live 2001 WSB!!).  His method was a little different then Paul’s but the same advise mostly – get off the bike more.  The visual he gave me was to try to put my chin on my knee.  Just what I needed, a mental picture to shoot for.  Too bad infringing leathers and lacking dexterity hampered that effort a bit.  It was a funny feel too, I felt too close to the ground at times, it was more windy about my head and chest, and my leg muscles started protesting immediately.  Nevertheless I commit to continue the effort.

There was a purple-leathers-clad woman there that carries quite a story.  Remind me and I’ll tell you in person some time.  She was riding the A group and from the pits it seemed she could carry a fair pace.  I was intrigued and Mike and I decided we’d go out the next A session to see her pace.  But alas, the schedule says something else – time for the warm up lap/2 practice start/3-lap sprint event.  I had looked forward to this with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.  Mike and I step out to the fence to watch the A group proceedings.  We’d spent more than our fair share of time hiking all over the pit areas because of our base location so walking even further to get into the hot pit area wasn’t all that appealing.  In the preceeding classroom session “intro to racing”, the instructors had told us how to handle a failed start (engine failure, stalled motor, etc).  Of course no one wants to see that happen because of the potential impact(s), however thats exactly what we saw one Ducati do on a practice start.  Thankfully everyone managed to get around him.  The second practice start took place, and then the A group 3 lap race.  I wanted to know what kind of pace the leader(s) would carry so I had my phone’s timer running.  The leading 2-3 guys stayed pretty close to each other the whole time, the “winner” running a 2:07.00 on the last lap.   At this point I had an urge to run to my bike.  I think it was just nerves manifesting themselves.  As Mike and I walk away, Cra1g is yelling something or the other at us.  Sounded like “go gettum you sandbagger” or something like that.  Yeah yeah.

We suit up and head out onto the grid and initially it looks like only 7-8 guys are coming out.  But really it was either a matter of a lot of people wanting someone else to go out first, or they were just taking time to show up.  Finally there was a decent sized grid and it’s off for a warm-up lap.  Coming in from the warm up lap I place myself on the 4th row.  There appears a sudden urge to check everything three times over – brake lever, clutch lever, rearsets, brakes, throttle, so on and so forth.  I figure a launch around 6500 should get me away without stalling, not fry the clutch, yet not wheelie into the hillside.  Flag drops and off we putter into turn one.  Hand up approaching turn 2 to show we’re slowing down.  Take the shortcut just before turn 6 to get back on the grid and do practice start two.  My first start and handling of turn 1 results in being on the 3rd row for this next start.  This time I figure “let’s see if we can pass a few people before or in turn one and get up a little farther”.  Sure, there is no trophy for a win nor is there any money.  It’s only 3 laps………But it’s still a 3-lap sprint complete with number boards, flags, a real start, and the potential for victory and fame within one’s own head.  Now a combination of things start to take place all at once.  Everything that we’d been told in class started to become clearer.  Paul’s and Cra1g’s personal recommendations were seen with clarity.  The trailbraking into turn 2 meets with my approval, with an egg-shaped approach seeming a viable option if needed.  Late apexing 4 for a better run up to 5.  Don’t finish turn 9, let velocity and the distant water tower take the bike right onto the desired line.  Late apex 11 so as to straighten (as much as possible, e.g. less swoopy) the 12/13 esses for a better drive onto the back straight.  Let the wind help you slow for 14, trailbraking if necessary. Suddenly there was no wind.  Yes there was wind just as strong as before but the mind wasn’t acknowledging it anymore.  The 2nd practice start and run through turn 1 has put me on the front grid with another GSXR750 and an RC51.  For some reason the grid managers put the RC51 on the outside of the row even though he was first back to the grid, the other GSXR750 is placed in the middle, and I am given the inside.  I’d think that is considered pole, but maybe not.  But the time is now here.  I’ve completely forgotten doing this same routine two years ago.  I don’t know what to expect, and I don’t expect it to be easy.

The two board is showing and I close my visor, fighting the strange urge to lower my sidestand and do a comprehensive triple-check of my entire bike.  Two board rotates to a one board and I reach to close my visor, discovering it is already closed and explaining why the helmet seemed a little stuffy.  Nothing like recycled bad breath.  I decide to keep my left foot on the ground and cover the rear brake with the right, just in case it is needed to quell a horn mono.  I adjust my hand placement on the throttle and blip a couple of times because some primal urge said to do so.  One board starts to tilt sideways, at any second the starter could throw the green.  Revs up to a steady 6500.  He twitches……and I wait.   Time has slowed matrix style.  The arm reveals a green flag……and I still wait.  Why am I not going?  For some reason an inexplicable desire to be polite hinders my start.  In reality it lasted probably a nano-second, but it did happen.  

We’re off !!!  I’m stretched over the front end so my weight can help the front stay down.  Peripheral vision shows the other GSXR750 and myself running about even, the RC51 has used his low-end torque to get ahead.  I’m not liking the prospect of entering turn 1 with a tight line, however I realize the other GSXR is outside of me and unless he’s got the bigger “set”, he’s gonna have to fall in line behind.  He does.  I now notice that the RC51 has held nothing back it appears and he’s going away.  I spend all my time up till turn 14 observing this RC51.  He’s running what I feel is a good pace, his lines look OK, he’s handling the bike well.  His body placement looks good too, a good reminder to me about mine.  His approach to turn 14 though catches my attention for a different reason – a passing opportunity.  I close the gap some on the brakes that I’d held steady up till that point.  

2nd lap.  I’m listening for signs of someone behind me while using working on a strategy to get by the RC51.  Some attempts at late-braking yield modest results but my brain says to use a safer strategy – not in a corner.  I’m nice and close to the RC51 as we come into turn 14.  The bridge comes to us and he shuts down.   Just what he’d done before.  I understand too, I do not like this turn at all.  It’s not natural to go barreling full-throttle under a bridge and over a slight crest only to find a slow 110-degree blind right-hander.  But today the wind is helping anyone who wants to go in faster, deeper (careful now, family friendly) and later, you just have to want it.  I do.  I pass.  I (feel like) I fudge turn 14, get out onto the tiger’s teeth a little but am happy with managing turn 15.  Front straight.  The GSXR is running heavenly.  The screaming engine sounds so true, so…..right.  All is right with the world.

Lap 3, final lap.  I’m hearing myself breath, I actually sigh as I exit turn 2 and talk to myself a little bit.  Getting on the gas harder exiting turn 2, that what Paul said to do and it feels good.  Listening for the thunderous sound of a mad vtwin.  Turn 5/5a is a fun turn.  If you show a little faith, you can reap some rewards.  I love to zip up the hill real fast, late apex the crest and flick the bike hard left.  Do it right and when you flick back to the right, you’ll scare yourself lifting the front wheel momentarily but also get a nice line down the hill.  I do, but must have stayed a little too tight as my boot, kneepuck, bottom bodywork and just a sneeze of my exhaust (I later discover) touch down thanks to the dip at the bottom.  I’m concentrating, trying to use everything I know and have been told.  The fast 6/7/8 section flies by.  The front wheel shimmies over 9, upper body already over the tank to keep things at no more than a shimmy.  I want to glance back.  Should I glance back?  The back straight leading to turn 14 and I steal a quick partial glance to the left.  But he’s there, I just know that RC51 just chose to be on my right.  He hasn’t taken my line though as I tip into 14.  15 comes and goes and I’m tucked in as tight as I can manage, banging away the gears.  I think I’m gonna pull this off.  Regardless, there are staff and instructors and A-group rider lining the straight.  I know Cra1g is there too and I stick a small thumbs up into the windblast approaching the checkers.  It is accomplished. 

No trophy.  No money.  No champagne.  No contract offers.  No TV cameras.  No interviews.  But an immense sense of satisfaction, a huge adrenalin rush.  I sit up but keep my pace brisk, wanting to get back to the pits.  Suddenly I feel withdrawn and shy, not wanting a bunch of attention or anything.  Guess I don’t need contracts and TV and interviews.  I get off the bike, pause and take a few deep breaths, then pull off my helmet and gloves and put them in the truck lest the ever-present wind blow something away.  Up comes a rider.  Initially it doesn’t register as I walk over to him, wondering what he wants.   His smile and direct eye contact make everything register suddenly, he’s the RC51.  We shake hands and chat.  He asks if I’d been stalking him or had to catch him.  I tell him he got a great start and a gap that I had to close.  He is very friendly and happy, congratulating me and asking which GSXR I have.  I tell him I knew I was in for a challenge, having had an RC51 myself.  He leaves as Mike comes over to see how it went.  We chat as we remove leathers and head for lunch. 

Lunch consists of a great time with Cra1g, Steve, Mike and Jeff Viets (, plug plug).  They tell me how things looked from a spectator’s perspective.  I listen but then try to change the subject, never wanting to be arrogant or cocky about anything.  See Mladin, Biaggi or Fogarty for reasons why.  Instead I get Jeff to talking about how his business came about and is succeeding, and other chit chat with the guys; it’s a great lunch.  Afterward I feel I’ve gotten all I want out of two days, and decide I’m gonna pack it in.  It’ll be nice to get home and unpacked sooner than 730pm. 

As Mike and I walk back to our bikes, Steve catches up to us (he’s riding this gorgeous Cannondale roadbike with carbon fiber this and Ti that, just gorgeous paint and everything).  He say’s he’s spoken highly of me to Lance.  I thank him, it’s nice to know people think well of you.  How cool would it be to instruct for K@TT !!!  Alas I know I can’t make every event and so it’ll probably never happen.  Mike decides to call it too so we get all packed up (he a little faster with a UHaul trailer vs me with a Joe Hauler) and chat with each other and a few more people.  Mike leaves, I look unsuccessfully for Cra1g and Lance but do find Linda.  She gives me a nice tshirt and I thank her for a great two days.  I depart Thunderhill to the sounds of vtwins, triples and inline 4s doing what they do best – moving their operators lap after lap at the desired pace.  Minds concentrating.  Bodies exerting.  Goals being set, accomplished and reset. 

The wind still blows terribly.  My gas mileage stinks.  A misread freeway exit reaps a splash of gas and some nasty Wendy’s fries.  But the sun is out, co-pilot “30 Rock” keeps me company, and the miles tick away.  I have learned and experienced much, and will again.  Yes, all is good.

P.S. 2:04:50 best lap time.  Should have been in A group.