This run to the Talladega GP was going to be like no other. Keith’s daughter is a phenomenal fast pitch softball pitcher. This year, like many years before, she has made it to the All-Star team for her league. With many exciting games to her credit, she had games on Friday afternoon and evening that kept her folks busy late into the evening.
The plan was to load up Keith’s truck after the ball game, get some sleep at his place, and head out to Talladega early Saturday morning. Two out of three ain’t bad. Of course we ended up staying up and bench racing till the wee hours of the morning. Then after only a few hours of rest, we left Keith’s and headed toward what promised to be a very wet, rainy day of racing. With the 70% chance of rain all day, I brought my rain suit.
As we crossed into Alabama, we noticed the I-20 construction was almost complete. A little fog in the distance and some signs of wet road led us to believe that we missed it by 30 to 40 minutes. Then we saw a dark, ominous cloud hanging over the interstate before us. We drove into it with concern. As we thought we were about to be engulfed into a major storm, patches of blue and sunshine started to show through. That was as close as we got to rain all day long.
Preregistration sure paid off. It took us more time to climb the stairs to the registration line then we stood in it. Unloading with Keith’s big rig required us to stay off on our own at the unloading hump. I leaned my bike against the water pump house or the dumpster to avoid mounting and dismounting my home made race stand. A little prep work and we were ready for tech inspection.
For this particular event, WERA required a complete equipment inspection including: leathers, gloves, helmet, and boots. Not a bad idea for safety sake, but sure is difficult to carry it all with your motorcycle being pushed to tech.
Practice sessions were quite enjoyable. The recent configuration changes are easy to get used to. It was a little disconcerting remembering that the last time here, I did not finish either race. If you recall, it was the oil seal, steering bearings combo that gave me the old "one – two". Today was meant to be different. The tank venting issue had been verified. Everything about the bike was working…
Darn It! I forgot to change my gearing for Tally. AND, the sprockets were in my tool box set up for me running solo in Savannah. Not in the parts kit that I bring when we cram all our stuff into the 3/4 ton big rig. Looks like I was going to be practicing for my next race bike. The CB77 Superhawk known as Dany (named after my sponsor’s fiancé). This meant that most of my race would be third and fourth gears. Maybe an occasional 2nd gear to keep the revs up.
"No problems" I told myself. I usually have a few seconds between me and Keith when everything else is working correctly. I will just build an early lead and leave him behind me. No sweat at all…right?
Keith had other things on his mind. His EX500, V5 bike, had a new rear tire mounted the last time he brought it to the track. This time around he needed to get the only front tire that “Stick Boy” had available for his bike. So, we did prep work between practice sessions. By the time we got to the lunch break, we were ready for the tire swap-out.
Doug, Charlie, Brad and Ed and Davie, were all at the track. They were simply parked further down the tree line and deeper into the shade then we were. So, visiting became a long sweaty walk and an excuse to keep the water consumption up.
Keith’s race schedule was going to be comprised of a Honda, Honda, Kawasaki set. First in line was the GP500 in the Race 1 position. Eight bikes were in the starting grid. Four each for GP500 and V2. As it is our “bump up” class, we are used to having the more competitive bikes that start behind us, take us early in the race. We just don’t want to be lapped and therefore lose a lap of track time. Keith and I along with David Hurst, I believe, started in the front row. That would have left Brad Padgett in the row behind us before a short gap of about 5 rows to the V2 race bikes.
Excitement is always abound when Keith and I start out in the front row, with nobody else in front of us. We can rev it up, dump the clutch, and let it rip. When Chuck Edgeworth began to stare us down, we were playing a game of dueling engine revs. The number board flipped to 1, then on its side, and the green flag followed in sequence. We both had exceptionally good starts and ideally timed. The space between me and the inside track line closed half as fast as the space between Keith and the line. In the middle, I was seeing a nice smooth trek toward the inside of turn one. Keith held with me, shift for shift.
We were identically geared and progressing through the course with the same determination. It was a long way to turn two and we both knew it would be a game of chicken. We both also knew this was the second of about 120 turns in the race. I had the better brakes (and lighter load). Just a split second after Keith hit the brakes; I coasted then slammed on the brakes and leaned into the turn. Our motors made a very noticeable harmonic sound that was the merging of both loud systems.
Note that I am recreating this story a month and a half and four race weekends later…
It was less than a lap into the race when Keith passed me in a daring steep-leaning curve to take the lead. Not just get in front of me, but he took the lead. I remember realizing that at first, I figured it was one of the four V2 bikes behind us that was passing me. But no, it was Keith. We had a race! He had also tightened up the pack in this curve. He took me in a path which gave him the right of way, but also guaranteed we both had to drop some significant speed.
It was close to the end of the third lap when the V2 bikes started to push us for the lead. Charly Perithian finally got past us almost simultaneously as we were also side by side battling it out. Then Thomas Currin, a novice from Marietta Georgia, passed us on his 400 Yamaha. That was not only all that passed us. But those were the only two that finished in front of us. Thomas Currin could pass us on the straits, but we would take him in the curves.
Eventually, Keith and I started using this V2 straggler as something to hide behind. I once passed him in the tight turns, just before the one of the shorter strait sections. By doing so, I was able to stay in front of him into the next set of turns and let him block Keith for me. Twice during the race, Keith had taken the lead in the section we know as Russell’s turn. And, each time I had backed off to avoid collision.
Just like in many of the best played chess moves on the track, I realized that I would be best served giving Keith reason to believe that his maneuver would work one more time. I allowed Keith to take me in the long strait just before Russell’s turn. As he passed in front of me and therefore could no longer see me, I let up, just a bit, to change the timing at the turn. Because he was on the inside, he had a very tight turn to make. Since I had changed the timing, I was able to ride in behind him at the apex of the turn and pass him back in the turn.
When it was all said and done, we had traded places 5 times (6 would have meant a different outcome) and finished in front of half of the V2 class. We had a blast cutting it up and running for the finish line. Keith followed me by less than one half second (basically a bike length behind me).
This also meant that I was able to take advantage of the new incentive my sponsor had put out in front of me. $100 for each first place finish. Thanks Martin. And thank you Sirius Consolidated Inc. New race parts, here I come
The GP350/V1 race was going to be a slightly different story. Keith and I ended up separated by Thomas Currin, #19. Then as the gap had begun to increase, Keith had to deal with the rest of the GP350 and V1 bikes that cluttered his path. Doug Bowie finished in front of everybody but two of the four Formula 500 riders, Jim Henshaw from Hog Mountain, Georgia and Charlie McEwan from Petal, Mississippi. For that run, I noticed the spread that there was between me and my race partner Keith, and I decided to just ensure a finish line crossing in the position I was in.
As for Keith and his V5 race on the EX500, he finished last (of those bikes that started and finished the race) but experienced more EX track time and improved his lap times at Talladega GP.
Catching up with Road Atlanta for the next episode.