2000 – Part Four

The most common question I am asked at the track is "How much are the T-shirts?" The second most common question I am asked is "Why don't you have better-looking paint jobs on the bikes and bodywork that isn't cracked?" The third would probably be prefaced with "Can I borrow a ________?" Then, tapering off into the realm of "Aren't those black leathers hot in the sun? You aren't really devil worshipers, are you? Is Mark riding with you this weekend? Etc." Some of these questions have relatively simple answers where others are much more complex. For instance, the T-shirts are $13 to $15.

Army of Darkness owns a 1997 Ford Diesel van with, at last check, 88,524 miles. This van was purchased used (with 27,000 miles) for $22,500. We have a 24-foot trailer ($5000). We use these two items to transport three bikes, a generator, tools, tires, wheels, food, gear, spares and dump cans to 10 WERA events a year. From Washington DC, that's about 35,000 miles a year. With the current price of diesel, oil, tires and depreciation, it costs about $0.35 a mile.

Making a few approximations about tire usage, engine wear, brake pads, chain life, sprockets, and/or, in Melissa's case, windshields, fairing uppers, and clip-ons, we get to the following:

 
Cost
Multiple
Total
Travel
$0.35
35,000
$12,250
Hotel
$200
10
$ 2,000
Food
$250
10
$ 2,500
Entry Fees
$300
10
$ 3,000
Practice
$100
10
$ 1,000
Tires
$500
10
$ 5,000
Fuel
$100
10
$ 1,000
Bikes
$8,000
2
$16,000
Maintenance
$150
10
$ 1,500
Spares
$150
10
$ 1,500
Miscellaneous
$200
10
$ 2,000
24 – Hour Extras
$4,000
1
$ 4,000
     
$51,750


People respond to these sorts of numbers with various degrees of shock and horror. Some, no doubt, will start to chisel away at them to find a way to save money here and there. Most, however, will simply externalize the cost of racing onto family or crew. For instance, "If I use my dad's pickup truck and I make my brothers pit crew for me and then I make them pay for their own food, they sleep in the car and they pay their own way into the track, it would be a lot less." That is not really true. What you've done is converted your family into something that we alternately refer to as "Sponsors" or more likely "Suckers". You can fool yourself, but you can't fool your checking account. To be honest, we did manage to do a season on a shoestring for about $20,000. But we didn't have tires for practice and the van broke a lot.

There is a silver lining on this black financial cloud. The silver lining is the multiple contingency programs available. A bad weekend is nothing, a good weekend is $2200, and an average weekend is about $750. Working that out against 10 weekends is gross income of about $7500. That gives you a gross loss of about $44,250. In theory you should have two bikes worth about $4000 each at the end of the year. Selling those kicks you down to $36,250.

So, you need about $36,250 from sponsors or, worse, generated from work-related paychecks. You invite the team over for coffee. You put the bills and receipts out on the table. You all stare at them. You split it up between the teammates. You look at each other and you come away with a single crystal-clear guiding tenet: "I'm not going to spend a single dime more than I have to" and therefore, no fancy paint jobs and no new sets of bodywork.

 

Summit Point Raceway
Summit Point, West Virginia
August 5, 2000


Summit Point was once considered our home track where we had a competitive advantage due to our intimate knowledge of Summit's many undulations, caveats and idiosyncrasies. However, since we only race there once a year now (like everyone else on the WERA National circuit) the track has become as mysterious to us as to our competitors. Due to its physical proximity to Washington DC, it is the one race of the year that abundant AOD friends and family are present. Summit also is the home of the Mid-Atlantic club-racing scene. The Mid-Atlantic racing scene is huge, well-attended and has deep and broad talent boosting a rider roster of any number of racers who can skunk Jim and I. And, the race date coincided with a PACE (or whatever they are called now) event so our ringer Mark Junge was not going to be present. Even playing field, lots of talent, ample spectators: A sure recipe for humiliation.

We were curious to see how the much vaunted, new and improved Summit Point paving had changed the track. I am happy to report that Summit is now a real racetrack. The coefficient of friction exiting turn one was still determined by the track temperature and I still had to wait until the third lap of practice before taking turn three with any conviction but the real treacherous nature of the track is now a part of racing history. Summit Point, of course, wouldn't be true to its basic nature if the people who run the track didn't do something weird to the track surface. In the past it has been rain grooves on the racing line, glossy white paint on the apexes and this year, in keeping with tradition, little metal rivets sprinkled throughout some of the corners. Although they had no discernible effect on the handling of the bike, they certainly provided opportunity for severe groin injury when one caught a knee slider on them.

Although reasonably certain that Paramount was going to win this round, we wanted to put on a good show for the hometown fans. We burned the midnight oil for the weeks leading up to the event, building a new hot rod motor to replace the one we lost at IRP. Freshly-ported head, lovingly-assembled top end, new bottom-end bearings, new pistons and rings. This gem of a motor was lovingly installed into the chassis. We had a few hours to spare, so we polished the scratches on the bikes.

Summit has a very long, fast straight. I couldn't tell if it was my imagination or not but our new engine did not seem to pull as well against other bikes as I remembered in the past. I put it down to my lazy/fearful tendency to not charge aggressively off the turns. I made a mental note to redouble my riding efforts and, although we good-naturedly tried a different jetting configuration, the crisp top end typical of a Tim Gooding motor never materialized.

Concerns for the engine tune were put aside by two events: West Virginia late-afternoon thundershowers and the grinding noise emanating from the motor in the NOTB bike while turning left. The coincidence of these events meant only one thing: Changing motors in the gravel pits of Summit Point in the pouring rain.

Since we were all very tired from lack of sleep (see "Scratch Polishing"), we made Melissa do most of it. Long after the rest of us had collapsed into chairs she was still negotiating a demilitarized zone between the bodywork and the exhaust pipe.

On Saturday the rain had blown through and another untypical beautiful mid-Atlantic summer day arrived. Our crowd began to arrive and by race time we had about 35 people to trip over in the pits.

Jim has trouble with memory retention and had forgotten all about my botched start at AMS. He revealed his squirrel-like capacity for recall when he suggested that I start the Summit race. Despite my own misgivings about the last time that I started a race, I accepted his offer. To my surprise, I quickly got in a nice, quick groove. Lizard's Brian Healea and I hooked up for about 13 laps. We were doing a pretty quick pace but I felt that I could go faster. The bike seemed a little sluggish despite our rejetting but the handling was making up for the lack of power. I finally made a pass stick on the Lizard's Kawasaki and started to move forward through traffic. I was feeling confident and, in a certain sense, rather sassy on the bike.

After 90 minutes or so I switched off to Jim and went to check the standings. As anticipated, a passel of fast locals were ahead of us and we were currently running in eighth place, right in the middle of a bunch of other bikes. It was going to be a close race all around.


Rider change and pit stop at Summit Point Raceway, where even quick pit work couldn't
make up for AOD's slow transformation into "non-locals". Photo by Peggy Fleming.

Jim took up the charge right where I left off. Paramount, as we also expected, was one lap ahead but they weren't pulling away from us; of course, we weren't gaining on them, either. To complicate matters, the Semoff Brothers had entered not only their YZF-R1 but also a YZF-R6. The R6 was between us and Paramount, which, if we finished in that order, was going to give Paramount a brief respite in the points battle.

Meanwhile, NOTB was keeping up a steady pace. Melissa was on a tear and her teammate Scott had quickly learned the track. The locals were stomping on them but their main Championship competitors had broken and dropped to 15th place.

It was about that time that NOTB and Team Chicago were involved in an incident.

Of course, the details are a little murky so the following account is an aggregation of various accounts. Scott came up on three bikes coming out of turn nine up the hill to 10. Having the drive on them, he planned to pass all three up the inside into 10. However, the third of the three bikes was not a hapless backmarker but rather, Team Chicago rider Dan Schmidt. Now Dan has his on and his off days but this was one of his on days and he pulled out to pass the two riders in front of him as Scott peeled off to pass all three. That put them three wide into turn 10.

Scott was slightly in front of Dan and figured Dan had seen him, however, Dan was (presumably) paying attention to the two riders on his outside and turned into Scott. The impact knocked Scott off the track and knocked Dan down onto the track. Scott's clutch lever was bent forward at an alarming angle but he escaped without further damage despite having to ride a hundred feet in the sand while lightly brushing the tire wall.

Dan's bike was pretty beat up and worse, Dan's shoulder was separated. Team Chicago got the bike back together and back out on the track. Apparently fulfilling a vendetta Chicago's second rider went out and brushed Scott, powered past him on the straight, pulled back in front of him and chopped the throttle. It was an ugly scene all around. Following on the heels of the yelling in the pits at Gateway, Neighbor of the Beast was beginning to acquire something of an unpopular reputation in the pits of WERA endurance.

The Middleweight Superbikes finished without drama. We ended up a not-very-dramatic third in class and sixth overall. Although our points lead diminished we had counted on some erosion at this race. Our spirits were pretty high because, although we finished third, Paramount had not beaten us badly and we had not had Mark with us. NOTB had mixed morale. Their Championship hopes skyrocketed with their main competition's misfortune (which Scott had absolutely nothing to do with) but the incident with Team Chicago was casting a pall on the evening.

I chatted with WERA's Sean Clark about Neighbor of the Beast's recent (Talladega, Gateway and Summit Point) close encounters. Sean said "Do you want to talk to them or should we?"


As is traditional with any breaking scandal in DC, AOD Commander-In-Chief Sam Fleming 
held a press conference at The White House to respond to allegations of rough riding by
members of his staff. Photo by Melissa Berkoff.

Virginia International Raceway
Alton, Virginia
August 19, 2000

For those of you who do not pour faithfully through the minutiae of motorsports news, VIR is a restored racetrack in the wilds of southern Virginia. Apparently closed in 1974 due to overly exuberant race fans (who burned down a barn on the property) the facility was reopened this year with a "motorsports country club" business plan. Besides being just a little narrow, this track is wonderful. Lots of elevation changes, many, many turns, very fast sections (which are not quite straights) and really nice facilities (albeit, a little sparse on the portacans).

Word on the street is that they have spent $30 million so far with another $30 million in improvement still to come, including an on-site hotel. I, personally, can't wait.

The track can be split into a North section and a South section. We ran the North section while a local sportbike club had rented the South section. At various spots a view is possible from one track to the other. It was a little disorienting to see a bunch of streetbikes up in the distance.

And best of all, the guards were very pleasant. Even though there was aggravating confusion with check-in that required everyone to leave the track and then re-enter, the guards were surprisingly polite (and even apologetic) about the whole thing.

Despite the verdant setting, tensions were a little high in the pits. With Paramount's victory at Summit Point they had some momentum towards making up the considerable points deficit with the three races remaining. That meant that the result at VIR could be a turning point in the season if Paramount won or would make their Championship chances remote if we won. I think we were all aware of that and the mood in the pits was muted.

I ran into Team Chicago's Dan Schmidt at Mark Junge's trailer. I offered my condolences about the sling on his arm. Dan was still visibly irate about the collision at Summit Point. He started telling me that he had a baseball bat and he was going to beat up Melissa's bike if anyone got near him on the track at Willow Springs. Obviously Dan was not in any mood to hear my theory about some degree of shared culpability so I tried not to make eye contact (a sign of aggression, you know) and backed away.

I was a teensy bit nervous about all this tough talk in the pits so I encouraged Scott to restrict his apex passes. As it turned out, Team Chicago comprehensively destroyed their motorcycle numerous times that weekend. Every time it came in on the crash truck I turned and looked at Scott, who would assure me of his non-involvement.

Mark Junge would be sharing his ample riding talents with us this weekend. Being overly sensitive to criticism I am always a little anxious when Mark is going to be riding the AOD bike. And, like at Summit Point, the bike was still feeling just a shade slow. This weekend, when Tim was searching for the top end power in the jetting, I absent-mindedly looked at the filter in the airbox. A few races before we had removed the customary K&N filter after the sealing gasket had dissolved and was starting to allow particulate into the carburetors. We had replaced it with the stock paper filter. The stock paper filter was now reasonably soaked with oil from the engine breather system.

Didn't we feel stupid? Funny how after doing this for 10 years we can still be punished by our own assumptions about the obvious. With a track-fabricated air filter gasket the oil-impervious K&N fabric filter was reinstalled and the Tim Gooding power was restored.

We were not able to determine this until the next day as a late afternoon thunderstorm ended practice early.

Saturday was perfect race weather. Retired endurance racer extraordinaire Darryl Saylor had come to the race. This was the first time many of us had seen him since his terrible accident at the Willow Springs 24-hour in 1999. His presence gave the event more of a festive air and it was particularly gratifying when he got to bear witness to Mark Junge's pronouncement that the bike was "Good". We were so dumbfounded by this that we had to have Mark repeat it in Tim's presence.


The NOTB bike in repose while AOD crew members labor on in anticipation of the 
start
of another 6-hour. Photo courtesy Army Of Darkness Ministry Of Information.

Paramount anted up with Joe Temperato, we countered with Mark Junge and the two of them went at it hammer-and-tongs. Mark was about 15 seconds ahead of Joe on the track but was not pulling away. Mark's forward progress was being inhibited, to some degree, by dicing with the Team Pennzoil GSXR750 and, although he was right on their rear wheel, was not able to make a pass stick for more than a lap. Mark, realizing that he was not going to be able to leave the Pennzoil bike behind, followed it instead. He also stopped drafting the 750 to keep our engine running cooler on the balmy Southern day.

Mark built up a slight lead but I knew that it was not going to be enough to ensure victory. Jim and I were going to have to be at our best to win this one. It is weekends like this when it is the hardest to be the team organizer and a rider. One's mind gets so polluted with tactical and strategic concerns that the riding ends up taking a distant second. This dynamic was concerning me since I knew that I was not going to have the luxury of a substantial lead when I got on the bike.


Mark Junge ponders Mr. Editor Ulrich's moralist observation: Is it right that a bike can look
so bad and feel so good? Photo by Jamie "No FedEx For You" Guffey/Artistic Intensity Photography.

At the first pit stops we substituted Williams for Junge and Paramount replaced Temperato with King. Jim was riding great but so was Travis and, although the lap times slowed a bit from the blistering Junge-Temperato pace, our relative positions on the track were very close.

VIR is narrow, it is tight and it is tiring. It also has some undetermined characteristics that make it easy to crash. Travis King was the first to discover this in the race. He was unhurt but the bike could not be ridden back to the pits and Paramount lost eight laps and four places in the ensuing crash truck ride and repairs.

Travis (who is such a nice guy that I actually felt bad for him) was just the first to discover how easy it is to crash at VIR. In the next four hours every single other Middleweight Superbike fell at least once. I watched the standings in disbelief as Paramount crawled steadily from sixth place all the way back to second as all the other teams took turns falling down.

By the time I was pulling on my leathers I was certain that the track was either built on an ancient Indian burial ground or the TLR that smelled like coolant was dropping something on the track. Needless to say, I rode my stint about as cautiously as one can and still have the motor running. I was not going to be the one who gave the advantage back after being handed an eight-lap lead.

I was so wrapped up in winning our class position (winning the class meant that winning at the 24-hour would nail the Championship) that I paid scant attention to the fact that we had periodically been running first overall and missed second place overall by only a few seconds.

Melissa and Scott performed admirably and the Neighbor of the Beast finished third in class and eighth overall. This left them with Championship aspirations and huge blisters on Melissa's hands.


Arclight team members rejoice in their wearing of blue shorts while AOD operatives sulk
under yellow hats on the podium at Virginia International Raceway. Photo by Melissa Berkoff.

 

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