Crashville, Tennessee. GP racing on the NASCAR track
Paying for my “racing junky fixes" is something I do by buying the old junker Hondas, fixing them up for street riding, and reselling them. This particular trip to Nashville Superspeedway was going to include a slight detour to a small town north of Chattanooga. So, loaded up for a solo run (since Keith is lightening his race schedule this year) I headed out with all my race gear, tools and a CB350 recently resurrected. “Travis” is as close to naming the bike as I got. Using the future owner’s name made it both easy to name and easy to remember who the bike was designated for.
A half day at work was followed by a post lunch Friday exodus from Atlanta-proper with all the other north bound early birds. The further I put the perimeter behind me, the thinner traffic became. About an hour in to the first leg of my trip, I was on the "B" side of a good book on tape. Oblivious to any recognizable traffic, I found myself trapped behind a semi. I am usually good about my relative navigation and the flow of traffic. So I was quite surprised when this extended cab Dodge truck not only came at me from a blind spot, but slowed down to trap me behind the semi.
As "Red Hot" my little Ford Ranger has no power, I have to maintain my momentum where ever I go. In this situation, the semi headed up hill was slowing me down while the Dodge trapped me in place. I turned to see the driver of the Dodge giving me the finger, like I had done him wrong. Then I saw the smile. Doug "Wise Guy" Bowie recognized me on the road and decided to play games. He motioned the cell phone in his hands and mouthed the name "Charlie" to whom he was telling of his latest gag, live. It took me four miles to catch up with Doug as he was exiting to meet Mr. Young at their rendezvous point. Fare well, Wise Guy.
An hour later, I was crossing into Tennessee and on the phone with Travis. He was leaving the office as I called and we would meet at his place twenty minutes later. Travis is a young guy who was wise enough to take a motorcycle safety course before buying a motorcycle. With that experience under his belt, he then began to hunt for a vintage bike and found the CB350 that I had picked up just four weeks earlier.
Unloading and describing the details of the resurrection went quickly. Travis already had all my contact information and was strongly encouraged to contact me with any questions. A pleasurable turnover of the bike and I was on my way toward racing in Nashville.
Rain was in the forecast, so when Charlie made his third offer for me to inflate my air mattress and plop on the floor of his and Doug’s motel room, I took the offer. I appreciate not having to set up the tent when avoidable. We grabbed dinner at Outback and ate at the bar. There were no delays getting beers refilled. A couple sitting next to us included a younger racer of modern bikes. He and his girlfriend made our dinner more enjoyable and probably a little less outlandishly behaved.
After our dinner was done, we moved to Charly and Max’s table. They had arrived just minutes before we finished, so we did a good job of bothering their waitress and delaying their order. More beers had to be consumed due to "delay of game" issues. I did get a chance to thank Charly for the bundle of Cycle and other vintage magazines he sent me on 305 Superhawk performance reports and racing stories. What a guy. Charly was also the source for information on what became my CB350 rearset rear brake lever assembly. His strait scoop led to a truly functional brake system that I appreciated each time I scuffed off the momentum at turn two. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Having left most of our stuff in our trucks at the track, Charlie and I were being chauffeured around by Doug who was the designated driver. That meant we followed Doug when it was time to head back to the motel. A little more racer banter and we began to hear about Charlie’s snoring. Doug thinks he has it bad bunking with Charlie. I’d like to see how Keith versus Charlie in the snoring runoffs would work out. But then again I already know having bunked with both simultaneously. Imagine thanking God for a bad ear. The heart attack comes when I rollover, exposing my good ear in the midst of an unconscious battle of log sawing. I have been awaked to shock and horror from the Young/Bennett "Sleeping Beauties" symphony. My ears are still ringing from that experience. Just kidding, I have tinnitus, my sleep saving grace.
It was a wet morning. Drizzle and fog started the day. Sleepy guys got up and started moving as if in auto-pilot. “Start your human engines”, gentlemen! Let’s burn this rain away. All the positive vibes were in the air, but they like the racers were slow to move.
The first practice session for most racers was a wet mist to light rain that smeared their helmet visors. The first vintage 1-4 practice session saw a wet track with a drying weather pattern. "Slow and safe" for practice was the motto for the first run, reminding ourselves that the track sure would be clean for the races later in the day.
Not much to wrench with after the first session. My intermittent problem seems to have been resolved at Summit Point. So cleaning and adjusting was all there was to do between practices. The rain had continued for other practice groups. But as the vintage racers sped around the track, the drizzle faded to a mist followed by a dry cool breeze. We had seen our last rain for the day. I knew inside, this would be a good day to race. The track began to dry out in patches as we finished our second set of practice laps and into the pits for lunch.
Ed Bargy ran the Rider’s Meeting. He tossed in a chunk of race track humor when he announced that the schedule was going to have a rarely seen twist on this particular race day. There would be no changes. Race groups would actually run as the schedule had been posted. That caught everyone’s funny-bone that had been to three or more WERA races. It was the first time that I remembered such an occurrence.
Then it was time for Chuck “The Track Master” to take the floor. "Hay-ohhhhh". After a survey of newbies that had not raced under his starts before, he ran through the flag phases. He also noted that there were going to be NO two wave races. So nobody should be waiting for the second flag. With a Super Chuck smile and a big thumbs up, he sent us on our way with his traditional “ride safe and have fun”.
Filling up the fuel tank during the Minis race, I heard the familiar sound of "first call for GP350, V1, and Formula 500". Seems like only last weekend I had done the same thing in the far off land of Summit, West Virginia. With smiles around the pit area, we began to finish suiting up for the race.
Doug had tested two bikes during practice session, but had chosen the older motored Ducati. He said although the newer motor machine had a bit more power, he was opting for the more nimble handling bike. Superior suspension system won out over raw power for Doug’s preference. A pit neighbor hopped in Charlie’s truck, which was on one rear wheel and jacked up for a starter roller configuration. Doug and Charlie both used the starter rollers and I pushed off and hopped on with the choke enabled. All three bikes from our pit area were running and we were off to the races.
During the warm up lap, with grid positions taped to the tank, we bobbed and weaved around the track heading for our starting positions. Without sign of mechanical difficulties, I propped my legs behind my foot pegs and assumed the "launch" position. As Chucked stared us down (his indication that its time to “pop it in gear, hold still in place”, and get ready to race) the count went smooth and consistently toward the green flag. It was a clean start. Faster bikes sped past while slower bikes were overtaken. Turn1, the long sweeping lean to the left had begun.
From the pit road starting point, turn one becomes a sweeping 180 left turn over a broad span of the Superspeedway. But as you get to turn two, you have about a 40 foot radius and a 200 degree tight left turn followed by a slightly more relaxed right hand 160. It can get real busy really quickly there. This is where the ambitious step up and the polite make way.
Winding through an accelerating left turn quickly develops into a right-left zigzag, over the rumple strips, and back onto the main drag. Turns 2 through 6 constitute the first of the Superspeedway’s two chicanes sets that turns a NASCAR “all left turns” race oval into a very technical GP Road Race track never to be enjoyed by the NASCAR racers or their fans.
The pack began to lean out through turn one’s long banked sweeping turn, but bunched up again at turn two’s tight, decreasing radius and slow speed requirements. Breaking away from the jam is a matter of navigating around the turn two, then turn three and turn four and into the switch backs of turns five and six.
While standing on the foot pegs in a crouched position pivoting the bike under you allows you switch back from the right hander of three to the left hander of four and even more rapidly the right and left of turns five and six. This dumps you back on a short stretch of the Superspeedway back section for a chance to power up through two gears and in time to hit the breaks again.
Breaking just enough to make the second chicane navigable, you lean left into the chicane, pivot the bike underneath you for a right hander while going over a hump. (This can give you the “loosing your stomach” effect of weightlessness for a moment.) During the crest of the hump you are already back into another right hand turn (where I had a low-side crash last year). You are now set up for a quick “switch back” right, then left turn that sweeps you into the Superspeedway’s final left banking turn before the front straight way. From there it’s nothing but “tuck and run”. Planted against the tank with your elbows tucked in at your sides, you make the smallest profile in the wind for maximum speed.
That describes the track in general. But the next cycle through that sequence threw me for a slip slide of “rib aching” proportion. Turn one was a thrill this second pass through as this time it’s at max speed. Now, it’s more a matter of coming down off the high bank. In the process. You have to cross from pavement, across concrete and painted lines, back to pavement at a different angle while banking left and maintaining speed. Braking only when you are on top of turn two requires both front and rear brakes while almost upright. Then the quick, knee dragging, left turn lines you up for turn three, …where I did a “number two”.
Leaving my hand on the front brake turned out to be a bad idea when engine braking was the best option into the turn. As the turn got tighter, it seems I was still applying some breaking on a tire that was at its maximum lean angle and I went to the pavement. Sliding and rolling, I was able to get momentary glimpses of the traffic behind me. Mike Wells, on his 305 Honda Superhawk, must have been hot on my tail. He found an open hole between me and my bike and took it smoothly.
Chuck came up behind me next and the gap between me and my bike must have closed. He had no such easy way out. He decided to hit the brakes hard and barely taped my back with his front tire, just as I stopped my tumble. I immediately jumped up, apologized for blocking his way and waived him forward. What I did not notice was the he had stalled. Had I known that, I would have given him a push start first, before running to my bike and jump starting it.
My next mission was to get in and out of technical inspection ASAP. I came in hot and was encouraged to do so, until I got really close. This was my first competitive “Hot Pit” quick tech.
I stopped on the dime right between the two inspectors. I immediately popped the transmission into neutral to free up my hands to assist with inspection and any on the fly repairs that might be required. Inspectors looked everywhere, grabbed brakes, flicked the throttle and patted me on the back to go.
Just like the start of the race, I had to make the tighter turn one sweeper. Except this time I had to merge with race traffic at speed. Traffic was thin and there was a wide, perfect opening for me to smoothly merge into.
There was a noticeable improvement in the performance of my bike after the crash. It was behaving “scary good”. Unlike the “loaner motor” that Keith and I swapped out one evening after blowing it at Kershaw in July of 06, it wanted to run in the yellow zone and rev to redline. I was actually able to attain high RPMs and keep them for the first time since the motor swap.
With the adrenaline flowing, I stared to get use to the new gearing capabilities of the new power band. It was a matter of pulling harder out of turns and relearning the track at the new shifting points. It became more and more comfortable. I noticed myself smiling and getting anxious for a close competitor.
Three laps into the new performance learning curve, I had a heart dropping wave of nausea come over me as the motor lost one cylinder. There were no mechanical sounds of destruction. There was just a “one cylinder running” power loss.
I immediately pulled over at a point that would be easy to get back on the track before the second chicane entrance. Leaving the motor running, I put it in neutral and rev the carburetors individually. The left carb responded, but not the right. So, I checked and firmed the connections of the ignition wires, inspected the fuel lines, and tried to rev the right side again. First pass was a quick twist with no results. The next try was a slow rise of the throttle and at one point, the second cylinder fired up and the bike revved again.
That was it. Something was causing the fuel to get to that plug to fast (So I thought.). I had to nurse the throttle and lead the motor with ease. Then all I would have to do is keep the RPMs high. Sounds easy enough…
Back on the track and into the chicane. Learning the throttle pace and keeping it lean. I was back up to 90% from my estimates and running a race, rather than being a total obstacle. The rest of the race would continue on like that. No competition and no obstruction. After a lap of 90%, I began to feel the results of my crash. 90% power output didn’t seem like a bad idea after all.
With my now semi-disabled race bike, I really had to do some magic to salute and blow kisses to my heroes on the track. CORNER WORKERS ROCK! After each race, we get a chance to thank them for volunteering to protect us at each of the turns on the track. They are armed with radios, flags, fire extinguishers, sharp wits and reflexes. They pull us out from under our bikes when we don’t have the strength or consciousness required to do so. They get the ambulance there STAT when needed. They even try to let us know that we should stay down on the ground and catch our breath before trying to stand up after coming back to consciousness. They’re also the ones closest to you during your cool down and victory lap. Thumbs up and waves from the corner workers are your first positive feedback for a race well run. Or for a race actually completed when difficulties plagued you.
Trouble shooting left me dumbfounded. Nobody on the track ever saw a green speckled welding of the outer electrode to the center conductor before. It was easy to see that I was a little lean in my carburetor setting, so even richer jets were required.
Difficulties came up when for the second race weekend in a row, I sheared the o-rings on one of the quick disconnects for my fuel line. Seems the manufacturer designed the female connector with a sharp 90 degree angled edge that was great, if you wanted to cut rubber o-rings. The only saving grace was that the male connector could be used as a pass through coupler for the fuel line. After those minor details were covered, I was ready for the next race.
Charlie had some issues with his clutch plate adjustment and was working out the kinks. Doug was ready to go. He has been refining his bike, now a V1 suped up motor with future refinements on the way. Charlie started the season in V1 with a GP350 bike, knowing that he was going to be punching out the motor to the 362cc mark. Mikuni carbs, electronic ignition, and Progressive shocks are just a few of the modifications completed so far. He still plans to rebuild the head and install the trick cam and springs as well as a valve job. When that happens, look out world, Charlie is on his way!
Charly and Max came by to check out the spark plug weld. While he was there, Charlie had the wisdom to ask Charly if he had any 120 jets for the stock Honda carbs. Since he did, I swapped out one step higher on the leaner burning side of the motor, for safety sake.
Wrapping up my tech session just in time to wash up and drink some nice cold GCT, first call was just sounding. Starting procedures for our bikes, Charlie and I headed toward the warm up coral. When NASCAR is at the track, there is no unused space in the pits. For WERA races, there is a large parking are that is totally unpopulated near the “pit out” area. While waiting for the sign to enter the track, I like to weave left and right to scuff and warm my tires before a race. It also eliminates any anxiety from sitting still in the “ready to go” mode.
We entered pit lane and proceeded to warm up the bikes on the way around to the grids. The bike seemed to be behaving well, but I did not push it. Lining up with the other racers, I parked at my spot on the track. Looking around, I noticed a fairly decent contingent of racers on the track. There would be a good group of riders to find a match.
Chuck was his ever vigilant self and had a consistently paced countdown. Green flag up and we were off to race. The GP500/V2 race is interesting in that most of the racers on the track are in their “bump up” class. So, it’s pretty much the same group of riders from the GP350, V1 race earlier in the day. From the start, bikes began to spread out and come from behind. Many racers have close ration gearing transmissions. This is great for all the race speed shifting. But, they tend to be at a disadvantage for starts. Later in the race it pays off many times over. There is only one start in a race. But, there are many shifting points throughout the race.
Turn one was more familiar by the end of the day and I had refined my approach to turn two. Taking it easy while in turn three came naturally (apprehensively). As we thinned out, I could tell who would be in my way and who would pull away from me. We continued to thin out by the second lap. I had nobody close by to play tag with, but I was hearing some noise from behind me. I had a race and was about to be passed.
Entering the main high bank for the third time, I decided to take it low. The finish line was getting closer when I was passed on the outside (right) by a powerful bike and a light rider. It pulled away easily. Leaving the throttle wide open while making the transition from high bank to turn one, I found a very comfortable line that maintained speed and set me up nicely for turn two. As I leaned into turn two, there in front of me was my race. Making up time in the turns and staying on the throttle longer, before braking, has been advantageous for me. In this case, it kept me in my competitive spirit.
Now the problem was becoming apparent. I was going to run out of steam in the high bank and be passed, every time I was to get in front of him in the turns. That would normally be a most exciting race, but the risk versus reward factor was upside down. This was a V1 bike and not n my race class. By the fourth lap, my theory was verified. I would catch up at turn two, be riding with an obstacle in my way through the chicanes, only to have him pull away in the straits. Now it was time to asses my situation.
While crossing the start/finish line at the end of the fourth lap, I noticed there was nobody behind me as far as I could see. I was racing with a V1 bike and had all the margin I could want. Having run hard to get there and having crashed earlier in the day, I just eased off. Looking ahead of me, I saw no other GP500 bikes that were identifiable as such. I was in the lead. I wanted to finish that way. I was beginning to feel the pain in my ribs from the crash earlier that day. I had to just finish the race.
With the enjoyable “cruising time” I had remaining, I began to assess the bike. It had behaved fair in this race. It pulled okay when I romped on the throttle. It just wasn’t feeling lean and mean. I went the last two laps without any threats from behind. The V1 racers began to pull ahead and thoughts of Barber, the next weekend, began to fill my mind. I had some work to do and troubles to figure out. Right now, it’s time for the finish line…
We wrapped up our supplies into our trucks till it was time for the awards ceremony. There, Dave Hurst did give me a loud acknowledgment when he accepted his third place trophy for the GP350. He mentioned that he could not have won it if I had not crashed so gracefully in the first race. When the GP500 awards came around, I finally got the podium, for the first time this year, and was able to thank my sponsor Sirius Consolidated Inc. “the Keyster Carb Kit Capital of the World”. I got to mention their presence on eBay is dwindling while there better prices can be found at eparts.us or even better at their home page.
Nashville now completed meant 2 out of 3 in a row were under my belt. It was beginning to take its toll. However, Barber is an inspirational track. I took my second Ed Bargy Race School there on the Norton. I really like the layout and the campus. So I am looking forward to being there with my partner Keith, Charlie, Doug, Dean, Brad, and all the AHRMA guys that join us for some fun in the sun.