2000 – Part One

First Person/opinion: The Intentional Destruction
of Laboriously Engineered Artifacts

You'd think after 10 years Jim would be able to drag his knee for a photographer.
Photo by Louis Gagne/In Your Face Photography.













In November 1999, an emergency convention of the best theoretical physicists in the world was called in Munich. This meeting was required to revise the axioms of the universe. The basic physical laws of nature had been called into question because Army Of Darkness, after four years of trying, had won an endurance title.

Attempting to win an endurance Championship is a little like a space shuttle launch. It takes a vast amount of resources that propels the participants with a momentum well beyond their immediate control. That compelling thrust, once removed, creates the disorienting effects of weightlessness and the classic symptoms of vertigo and nausea.

The loss of external gravity created by the push for a Championship affected our team similarly and many of the crew were afflicted with space sickness. Like a missile at the apogee of its flight, there isn't anywhere to go but down.

M. _____, at 43, decided to call it a career and bought a 916. Although the retirement 916 looked like an extremely attractive alternative to driving a van 35,000 miles and monthly reminders of inadequacy, I can never bring myself to quit while ahead. Instead of a leisurely summer of rock climbing and recreational travel, AOD threw down on a new bike.

In 1999 Army of Darkness was graced with the presence of California transplant Melissa Berkoff and her team. She used the 1999 endurance season to audition various riders for the 2000 series. Ultimately deciding on Scott Fisher (a fellow Willow racer from Las Vegas) her team, Neighbor of the Beast (#667, if you don't get it, don't ask) would combine resources with AOD for 2000. Since travel costs are almost half of our budget, this arrangement was very sensible.

It is not easy to maintain underdog status after winning a National Championship. Sometimes being a team of bald, middle-aged hobbyists is just not enough. To ensure that AOD retained its hard-won reputation, we choose the oldest, most antiquated machine available for endurance racing: The GSXR600. Neighbor of the Beast, out of politeness, followed suit.

Whereas AOD had the capital to purchase a new 2000 model for denigration, Melissa had the character-building experience of rebuilding her worn bike from the cases out.

Although the GSXR600 is probably eligible for vintage racing in some parts of the world, our tuner, Tim Gooding, has picked up a few tricks for making these engines perform well beyond their original design. For 2000 he pulled out all the stops and built a motor which produced 20 percent more power than stock while still utilizing our favorite brand of Circle K gasoline.

Previous experience has shown that a fast bike is nothing without a scorer who can keep the team at the front. For 2000 we immediately recruited uber scorer Nancy Junge. Nancy, however, arrived with baggage. She is of kind mid-western stock and was worried that her husband's feelings would be hurt if she abandoned him on race days to join our club. She demanded, as a condition of her participation, that we make space on the rider roster for her husband Mark. After long hours of negotiation, she prevailed and Mark signed 10 WERA entry forms.

Memphis Motorsports Park,
Millington, Tennessee, April 8, 2000

Historically WERA has been the playground for privateers. Most of the teams are similar to ours. Relatively low-buck efforts where the owners are the riders and often the mechanics. But there are, of course, the exceptions that prove the rule.

The most obvious is Arclight Racing with all the trappings of a big professional race team, i.e.. big truck, lots of bikes, hired gun riders and goofy blue shorts. Arclight was the heir apparent when Team Suzuki Endurance left the series in 1997. Arclight was supposed to take over winning the races for Suzuki but a couple of Pennsylvanian brothers with a YZF-R1 showed up to spoil the party. For 1998 and 1999 Arclight had to make due with second place as Semoff Brothers Racing, against all odds, kept stealing the #1 plate from the team favored to win.

Yamaha, for unknown reasons, was not particularly supportive of SBR and so, in 2000, it appeared that Arclight would be unchallenged for the Championship and certainly unchallenged in their class, Heavyweight Superbike.

Arriving at Memphis we discovered that, while Arclight will largely be racing against themselves this year, someone has pointed a very large money gun at us. In the swirling mists of the cold spring day in Tennessee we could see an enormous black trailer disgorging immaculately prepared motorcycles into the hands of young, talented riders: Joe Temperato, Mike Mashewske and Travis King. Completing the impression of intent to deliver a pummeling to our humble efforts included a mobile tool box which probably cost more than our transporter, logoed canopies and, the ultimate thumb in the eye, silk-screened director's chairs. This exercise in conspicuous consumption is called "Paramount Racing."

Although it is intimidating to look upon such a display of firepower, it is also flattering in a weird way that someone thought such measures would be needed to beat our team of miscreants.

Practice revealed some previously hidden truths. Although much shinier, the Paramount Suzuki appeared to be somewhat slower than the AOD Suzuki. Of course, that just means that when they beat us they did it with a slower bike.

Practice also suggested that for their lavish trappings, they had not prepared every aspect of the bike and fuel could be seen spilling out of their gas tank vent hose at the entrance to most turns.

In the AOD pits Jim was consistently faster than me throughout the day and no amount of sabotaging his set-up seemed to reverse that trend. Mark Junge was pretty busy organizing his own fleet of sprint bikes and only elected to ride the AOD bike for a single practice. I had been preparing Tim for the emotional devastation which usually follows a Mark Junge practice session (i.e., "You can't polish a turd" etc.). We were both left speechless when Mark came in and said "I'm not disappointed."

Hired gun at Memphis: Mark Junge takes the AOD GSXR600 into the infamous Tunnel Turn.
Photo by Jamie Guffey/Artistic Intensity Photography.

Race day dawned exceeding cold. Thermal pants and windbreakers were seen throughout the pits and the pre-race bustle was unusually subdued as riders and crew alike sought shelter in trailers and idling trucks.

The previous day's tailwind had been replaced by a headwind that required a finger-numbing regearing of the bike. The unseasonably cold temperatures forced all the teams to face the oldest question in racing: Which tires? The conundrum was: Run softs and hope they grip or run normal tires and hope they are stout enough to prevent premature wear from the cold-track-induced spinning.

At the green flag, Mark put Tim's power to good use and followed two YZF-R1s and a built GSXR750 into turn two. This lead group of four, after a brief first-lap red flag, slowly pulled out a considerable gap on the rest of the field and eventually Mark had a 40-second lead on Paramount's Temperato. A lead of 40 seconds that I was sure would vanish the moment I threw a leg over the bike.

My nerves relaxed markedly when Paramount unexpectedly pulled into the pits to fix the previous day's inadequate gas tank vent line repair.

Jim was signed up for the second stint so we swapped out the ruins of Mark's rear tire and sent Jim out to extend our lead. He did just that which left me with a machinery-conserving stint that took us almost to the end of the race.

Concurrently, Scott Fisher rode the NOTB machine surprisingly fast (putting in a number of laps which were faster than, uh, my fastest laps). A mid-race tire swap gave Melissa a big advantage towards the end of the race against those struggling on worn rubber. It is a weird feeling to watch your girlfriend using the outside pass on other racers in turn one at Memphis.

End result. AOD first in class, third overall, NOTB third in class, 11th overall.

Texas World Speedway, College Station, May 5, 2000

The good thing about a race in Texas is the 30-hour drive from Washington DC. For the compulsive DC residents that make up AOD, a forced 30 hours of inactivity and isolation is extremely therapeutic. The other good thing about the drive to Texas is that the fastest route takes us right through New Orleans.

Melissa did some hard time in New Orleans (it is a little difficult to ascertain exactly how much time she did in New Orleans since she can only remember arriving) and so, had a keen sense of where we could park the van and trailer in the French Quarter at Noon during Jazz Fest. Directly, as it turns out, in front of the Café Du Monde at Jackson Square. There is something delightfully surreal about driving from DC to Texas for the weekend and this feeling is only heightened by a creole lunch on Jackson Square followed by apres-crawfish beignets and café au lait.

Sam and Melissa relish lunch at Jackson Square, en route to Texas. Photo by Jim Williams.

Texas World always has the added challenge of the local endurance teams. Since Texas has its own endurance series the locals usually are sporting some trick equipment and, of course, have the track wired. The split between WERA and CMRA noticeably diminished the participation of the locals but there were still more dry-break quick-fill fittings on pit row than at a usual race.

Texas World has also always been a tough track for AOD. The problems usually manifest as slow riding and mechanical failures. Tim was determined to prevent the latter and, since Mark is always fast, it was going to be up to Jim and I to prevent the former.

We baselined the gearing and the suspension and took turns on the bikes alternating between our "A" bike (which has Drack data acquisition) and our "B" bike (which does not). By comparing the wheel speed lines between the two of us, or even between laps, we could determine which were the important turns and which were not. Sometimes the answers are very surprising. Looking at our data compared to Mark's data was truly scary ("Uh, Mark. How can you have the throttle pinned between two turns that Jim and I brake between?").

However, by comparing Mark's speed through turns with our speed I was able to put together, in theory, a way to drop two seconds off my lap times and get to something that would approximate competitive. The trick was uploading the plan from the computer into my head, then replaying it on the track.

Although the NOTB bike is without DAQ, we found there was a great amount of utility pulling up a lap of a comparable time for Melissa and using it as surrogate data. This exercise, and related conversation, immediately helped Melissa drop two seconds a lap.

MB: "How do I drop two seconds off my times?"
SF: "Let's think about it. Are you braking for this sweeper here?"
MB: "I'm not braking or rolling off for that sweeper." (Long, contemplative pause.)
SF: "Are you, um, you know, keeping the throttle on the stop out of this turn and accelerating all the way up this straight?"
MB: "No way. Then I'd have to brake or shut off for that sweeper."
SF: "I think we just found your two seconds."

People react to stress in a variety of ways. Upon viewing the Drack-documented 
differences between a fast lap and a really quick lap at Texas World: Sam furrows his brow. Melissa picks her cuticles. Scott laughs nervously. Photo by Jim Williams.

And we had.

Texas World always has the added challenge of the local endurance teams. Since Texas has its own endurance series the locals usually are sporting some trick equipment and, of course, have the track wired. The split between WERA and CMRA noticeably diminished the participation of the locals but there were still more dry-break quick-fill fittings on pit row than at a usual race.

Texas World has also always been a tough track for AOD. The problems usually manifest as slow riding and mechanical failures. Tim was determined to prevent the latter and, since Mark is always fast, it was going to be up to Jim and I to prevent the former.


Meanwhile, her teammate Scott was experiencing the downside of flying to races. As the teams travel from DC and Scott lives in Las Vegas he has to find his own way to each track. This sounds glamorous until you find yourself at 4:00 a.m. in Houston with your leathers in Minnesota. Needless to say Melissa and teammate-for-a-weekend Brian Lowe monopolized the NOTB practice while Scott languished in an airport for 10 hours waiting for his leathers. Scott eventually arrived at the track while first call was being given for his last practice of the day. He struggled into his recently reunited leathers and jumped on the bike for some personal instruction following me around the track. Fortunately he is a fast learner.

On race day, and in a marked contrast to Memphis, Texas was hot. Texas is also tiring.

Being Willow racers, Melissa and Scott were having trouble adjusting to a track with lots of left turns. Scott became so excited about this whole "left turn" thing that he promptly cased the engine of the NOTB bike at about the 20-minute mark of the race and tumbled the GSXR600 across the scrub. Considering the three somersaults it did, the bike was remarkably intact and 22 minutes later we had them out of the pits and back on the track. The tumble did drop them from the race for the class lead.

Mark Junge, however, was putting Tim power to good use by stretching out a large lead on the other teams for AOD. Paramount had apparently fixed the gas problem and had better luck with tire choices and was not far behind us.

The heat was oppressive and eventually enough sweat had dried on Mark's glasses to force an early pit stop. We pulled him in, refueled, swapped on a new rear tire and sent Jim out into the giant reflector oven. Unbeknownst to us at the time, one of the rebound adjuster on the fork had been quietly backing itself out. This led, predictably, to a decrease in the amount of fork damping and an alarming tendency for the bike to shake, wallow and shimmy.

Alarming to the extent that Jim started fearing for his as-yet-unborn children and pulled into the pits for an unscheduled increase in the steering damper. The front end trouble thus masked, he returned to the fray a bit behind Paramount who, as yet, seemed more resistant to the heat than ourselves.

Due to the hot and humid conditions in Texas the riders wanted to jet the bike rich so as to force a pit stop for refueling. Due to the hot and humid conditions the tuner wanted to jet the bike lean for more power. Look who won. Photo by Sam Fleming.

Unfortunately we were not going to get any presents from a sloppy Paramount this week, and, when Jim handed off the bike to me, I was going to have to actually try to ride it fast.

With a new rear tire, a full tank of gas and a quick warning about evil handling in my head, my first few laps were less than stellar. On about the fifth lap a familiar shiny yellow and black bike passed me into turn one. Paramount.

My first reaction was one of defeat and self-loathing. However, as I grew accustomed to the self-adjusted front end I found that Mashewske was, much to my surprise, slowly drifting back towards me. As the times on my pit board dropped I realized that the gap was narrowing rapidly and soon the five-second count was down to a few bikelengths.

Ultimately I was able to pull the trigger on Tim's motor and power by on the front straight and retain the position into turn one. The pit board started reading +1, +3 , +5 and before the pit stop indicated +1L; presumably a worn tire and fatigued rider explaining the occurrences of the last few laps.

Lacking the usual CMRA traffic, the track was surprising sparse. Towards the end of my 80 minutes I caught up to Scott Fisher on the NOTB bike. Knowing the "I crashed 16 times in my Novice year" determination that lurks under his low-key demeanor I was sure he would latch onto my tail for a tow. My last 10 laps were some of our mutually fastest times of the race but the screaming pain in my knee and cramped left arm made me more than happy to concede the dual when Tim displayed the red arrow of our "In" board.

Neighbor of the Beast (left) and Army Of Darkness signal crews keeping a 
respectful distance
on the wall at TWS. Note the subversion of the NOTB crew members with apparel graft.
Photo by Jim Williams.

Knowing Mark's affinity for new tires I had gestured at the rear of the bike even though the tire was still feeling fine. Equipped with a new Michelin, Mark quickly took two additional seconds off my fastest times and, 50 minutes later, we had a two-lap gap on Paramount and, more to our amazement, we were in second place overall with a one-lap gap to the Superbike CBR929RR in third place.

At that point it seemed like a steady hand would be all that was needed to match our best finish ever. As bad timing would have it, a lap after Mark pitted to switch off to Jim, a red flag came out. This had the effect of reducing our class lead from two laps to one and our overall lead to none.

We knew that there was very little chance that Paramount could lap us in 30 minutes. We also knew that there was very little chance that we would be able to beat the CBR929RR in a straight-up sprint race. Jim volunteered to go out and run out the clock.

Final results: AOD, first in class, third overall. NOTB, fourth in class, 18th overall. Due to some trouble experienced by NOTB competitors at Texas, NOTB's fourth place was good enough to place them in first place in the Mediumweight Supersport points lead. We are still experiencing the weightlessness of the mid-point missile flight.

Winner's Circle at Texas World: Without death there cannot be life. Without loss there is no victory.
Without a scabby looking scratched black bike there can be no shiny nicely painted ones.
Photo by Melissa Berkoff.

A disintegrated trailer tire briefly interrupted our drive home. Usually a flat tire is not a big deal. You loosen a few lug nuts, jack up the vehicle and are soon on your way. However, when you have a 24-foot trailer full of tools one feels compelled to pull them all out for the task at hand. By the side of the highway we had the air compressor (to adjust the pressure in the spare), the roll-away tool box to get the breaker bar and socket set and, to cool off the five people involved in the fracas, one of the coolers still filled with refreshing iced sodas. Once we were all safely ensconced back in the van, Tim reflected that a flat tire is a delightful way to break up a trip. He would later recant this sentiment.

(To be continued...)



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