The GNF and into 2001
Although we had all but locked the championship at the 24 we wanted to have a good finish at the GNF since we had not finished well at the GNF in years. We have taken to calling this event the “WERA DNF”.
Once the trailer arrived back on the East Coast from the Willow 24 we did an inventory of the crashed and the broken. Tim stripped down the broken motor from the 24 and found that another valve spring retainer had broken. This time we were more fortunate in that the valve and piston survived intact, my ill advised extra laps apparent causing no additional harm after all. This was very fortunate because that particular motor was the culmination of everything we had learned about the pre 2001 GSXR 600 motors and produced a great deal more horsepower than any of our other GSXR 600 motors.
Ben Spies (99) shows off for Melissa (667). (Photo by Brian J.)
The pageantry created by the hundreds of racers at the GNF is always exciting but it also virtually eliminates practice. Fortunately we all know Road A pretty well and put the scant laps of practice that we could scrounge into dialing in the gearing and jetting.
We had anticipated the jetting appropriately but had been pessimistic with the gearing and had to lose a few teeth off the rear sprocket to eliminate time on the rev limiter while going down the hill into turn 10.
The preparations on the track went so smoothly we decided to mix things up in the pits. AOD had won the Middleweight Superbike championship and cemented the second place position overall. NOTB was still in the running for the Middleweight Supersport championship but needed to win the race (which they had never done before) and their chief rival motoheaven.com had to have a poor race for a net gain of 28 points. This was pretty unlikely. Upon learning of this situation Mark Junge suggested that he ride with NOTB instead of AOD and assist in putting NOTB on the podium for the last race of the year. Melissa and Scott where enthusiastic about this plan so I walked down to Ben Spies’ trailer and ask his mom if he could come out and play with AOD on Friday. She said it would depend on whether he had cleaned his room and finished his chores.
Now the NOTB bike had a hard race at the 24 including two crashes. It really wasn’t at it’s best at Road Atlanta. Coupled with the cold track temperatures in the morning practice before the endurance race resulted in Scott getting to experience the staining power of Georgia clay. The bike was not badly hurt but after riding the bike post practice crash Mark decided that discretion was the better part of valor and declined to ride the bike in the race. In a continuation of the season’s struggle, it was going to be up to Melissa and Scott to win the race.
Quality Time. (Photo by Brian J.)
Ben looks so stylish wheelieing the bike into turn one at the start we elected to have him start the race. We knew that this race was going to be close. Road Atlanta typically meant that our bike gets bad mileage and that meant that we would not be able to complete the four hour race with two pit stops while Paramount would be able to complete the race with only two stops. This meant that we would be spotting them an extra twenty seconds or so in the last half-hour of the race. Twenty seconds might not seem like a long time but it can be an eternity if you are trying to make it up from behind.
Ben stretched out a thirty second lead on Paramount’s Joe Temperato. We pitted for me, Paramount pitted for Mike. We were leading at the switch but Mike caught me on the track and slowly pulled away. At one point in my stint I caught up to Melissa who was dicing with her teammate of the 24, Kevin Perkins. They were in perfect synchronization together and I got to enjoy watching them race each other for a few laps as I gained on them.
I pitted for Jim and a new rear tire. Paramount pitted twenty minutes later for Travis and a new rear. Apparently Mike had not been pulling away very far as they had a fast stop and after their final stop (with one remaining for us) they held a twenty second lead.
Equipped with a new rear tire Jim caught Travis, passed him and build up a nine second lead. Travis picked it up and held the nine second gap steady. Nine seconds is not a big lead when your bike is quickly running out of fuel.
We pitted with thirty minutes left in the race, refueled and put Ben back on the bike. He rejoined the race only eleven seconds down on Paramount. I think everyone on both teams was surprised at the speed of our last stop.
Jim tests the ripples in turn 12. (Photo by Brian J.)
Five laps later Ben had passed Travis and was pulling out a small lead. All of this too and fro had worked us into fourth place overall. With twenty minutes left in the race the third place bike pitted for fuel, and we took their spot on the podium.
While our race was progressing with reasonable nail biting tension the only thing at stake was who got to stand on the podium since the championship had already been sealed. The NOTB race provided the real drama.
Melissa and Scott had both been riding well but were a bit demoralized by the practice crash and were running in second place to motoheaven pretty much neck and neck with Team Chicago. Moto-heaven’s Micron exhaust pipe broke. They pitted to fix it but they didn’t have a spare muffler and instead had to kludge together a fix with safety wire. What looked like a relatively simple repair begins to take a long time. Slowly their championship lead was eroding while they try to repair the broken muffler. There is nothing quite like trying to fix a motorcycle with race wire while a championship is slowing slipping through your fingers.
This turn of event has placed NOTB into first place over Team Chicago (with whom everyone had kissed and made up so the race was in good spirits, not spiteful). Melissa had never lead a race and looked positively sick with the notion that they might win the race and, perhaps, the championship. Scott was blissfully unaware of this situation and had been slowly easing off the pace due to the fatigue of an impending head cold.
Melissa was in a panic. She wanted to let Scott know that NOTB was winning and that Team Chicago was close behind and he needed to pick up the pace again to keep the lead intact. In her fervor she had completely forgotten about using the pit board and the pre-arranged pit signals to communicate the situation to Scott. After a few panicked moments the large black board with bright green numbers caught her eye and she put out the 1P +37 1:40 to Scott. He responded by dropping three seconds off his next lap.
You can’t win in the pits, but it’s easy to lose.
(Photo by Brian J.)
Each team still had to make one more pit stop. NOTB pulled off the fuel stop smoothly although Scott looked a little dismayed when Melissa sent him straight back out onto the track to finish the last twenty minutes of the race and to take the checked flag for their first race win as Neighbor of the Beast.
Motoheaven’s pipe fix held and they finished in fifth place in class winning the MWSS championship by 7.2 points.
AOD won it’s second national championship. Winning might not fill us all with a glowing sense of well being but it is more satisfying than being beat. For those of you who are worried that winning back to back championships might ruin our underdog status, fear not.
The most likely candidate for help with the 2001 season responded to our request for support with a frank “not the image that we are looking for” and instead looked at helping two teams whom we had beat regularly but had bright shiny paint on their bikes.
At first this snub stung but then we realized that although intra-sport support would validate our efforts, it would be a set of golden handcuffs that could have unforeseen consequences going into the future. At least that’s what we told ourselves.
Sam and Jim offer Ben ‘Media Training’ on the podium at the GNF. (Photo by Brian J.)
For 2001 Mark Junge has formed a team to contest the Heavy Weight Superbike endurance title. Ben Spies has come of age and will be racing both FUSA and AMA sprints with Team Hammer. NOTB has purchased a new bike and is returning to field another attempt at the Middleweight Supersport title.
AOD is going to defend the Middleweight Superbike title. We have all new bikes (which, while we love the improvement, we fear the unknown). We have Tim Gooding leading the pit crew. Nolan Ballew is going to be backing up Tim again this year and we have managed to mislead a few other enthusiasts from the ‘hood about the excitement and romance of racing. The riding staff will have Jim Williams and myself with the welcome additional of all around nice guy Brian Stokes.
We had the opportunity to test the new bikes at Talladega at the end of February, despite cool temperatures, no corner workers, no ambulance and no competition (since we had rented the track for ourselves) Jim and I were circulating at a pace just slightly faster than during the race at that track earlier in the year. We worried Tim to some degree by not requesting any changes to the bikes for the entire duration of the test. They felt great straight out to the trailer.
Whether they still feel good under the critical glare of competitors in Texas at the end of March is a different question.
(Photo by Brian J.)