2001 – Part Two

Talladega Gran Prix Raceway
May 26, 2001

If we had TV coverage with Grand Prix commentators for the WERA National Endurance Series, they would have mentioned that Talladega is AOD’s test track. AOD had visited Talladega with the new racebikes in late February to shake down the riders and the equipment. Jim and I had both been rewarded with lap times that were faster than the previous year’s race lap times. We were both, perhaps, a little over-confidant about our chances for the Talladega race.

Our confidence was further bolstered by the knowledge that our new teammate, Brian Stokes, was very quick at Talladega and would be comfortable turning quick laps without unduly tiring himself.

Last minute preparation. Photo by Sam Fleming.

It is natural for Novice racers to think that someone, somewhere, has all the answers to racing questions. If only that person could be found and interrogated than all those question about which pilot jets to run and what all the knobs on a shock adjust would be banished forever. Years of experience eventually make such guru notions seem naïve and even seasoned racers will wail and tear their hair in frustration when confronted with chatter or poor power delivery.

We were having a frustrating day. We were going slow. Not slow in an absolute sense in that our lap times were quicker than those of most other teams but slow in that we were unable to match, not only our times from the previous year’s race, but from winter testing.

Sam uses the data logger to confirm that the bike has no rear wheel grip. Photo by Louis Gagne.

Same tires, same suspension, same bikes, same gearing. Slower lap times. At preseason testing we had noticed that our new bikes had a tendency to lay sporty black lines with the rear tire coming off the turns. At the time we thought it demonstrated our full-throttle resolve, but, under the test of race conditions, all it did was prevent us from driving out of the turns.

Early throttle input resulted in a sideways bike. This was consistent between riders, suspension settings and tires. We could not get any rear-wheel grip.

We were also caught in the double bind of group think and time constraints. We were worried about making a drastic change (like spring rate or ride height) which might compound our troubles and we knew that we were using the same set-up we had tested with prior success. We tried small changes to no avail and eventually lined up for the race start still frustrated by the bike.

Despite being old motocrossing buddies, Brian Stokes (99) and Mark Crozier (86)
keep their elbows to themselves. Photo by Jamie Guffey.

Maybe a stickier tire will help.
Photo by Jamie Guffey.

We threw Stokes to the sharks and sat back to see how he could fare with our ill-mannered bike. Brian, embarrassed by the slow-esque lap times that the bike produced, remained composed and did the best he could with the machine. This still kept us in the lead of the Middleweight pack.

Jim replaced Stokes while Tim and I replaced the rear tire vainly hoping that a change in compound would alleviate the slides. It didn’t. With a pit board displaying information that was more of a taunt than helpful, Jim kept his head and only rode to the limits of the bike. He also kept us in the lead of the 600s.

Hearing the lamentations of my teammates did nothing for my nerves before my stint. I found some faint comfort in the knowledge that even at the top levels of our sport the bikes are rarely perfect. I believe Kevin Schwantz once said that he could count the number of times that his 500 was set-up correctly on one hand, and still have fingers left over.

Using the sophisticated variable geometry system, Sam decreased the rake and trail on the
bike before initiating a turn. Photo by Louis Gagne.

I glumly took over the controls and tried to adapt. The bike would not take throttle without spinning. After a few laps I found the best bet was to enter turns hot and try to carry the speed. This strategy meant that I would run wider at the exits that I might otherwise choose and was coming out of the turns slower since I couldn’t square and shoot but, surprisingly, I was still receiving a P 1 on my pit board. Scott Fisher came by me on the NOTB bike and commented in the pits later that he could watch the rear tire squirming through turn two while his was planted.

The race ended with a dejected riding staff and frustrated crew but with a first-place Middleweight Superbike trophy, a fourth-place overall and a lead in the Championship points battle.

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