2001 – Part Six
Everyone has a story about where they were and what they were doing on 9/11/2001. Melissa and I had watched the Tower Two hit on the news in the morning. Jim and I had been exchanging e-mails about the likelihood of DC being the next target. Most of downtown DC is built on the flood plain of the Potomac river. Most roads leading from the North (where we live) into DC slope gradually (or steeply) downhill. Melissa and I were riding our pair of GSX-Rs down one of those roads when my cell phone started ringing. Without even answering the phone I knew somewhere in DC had just been hit.
I started scanning the horizon in front of me and saw a sight that made my heart stop. A massive white airplane was flying very slow and very low over the restricted airspace right above downtown DC. Melissa and I pulled over to the side of the street and watched it with a mixture of horror and fascination as it slowly rolled across the city.
We rode further into the city and could see a low white cloud a couple miles south of us. We both hoped that it was a cloud bank encroaching on the beautiful crisp clear fall day but studying it closely we realized it was highly energized smoke billowing up from the Pentagon.
F-16s were scrambled across the city moments later. The sonic booms they left behind in their wake shook buildings and rattled windows. We had never heard or felt sonic booms in DC before and the phenomena set off widespread reports of car bombs across the city.
The cell phone network crashed shortly thereafter.
Since we have close friends who work in the Capitol, on the Mall, in the Pentagon and various other places in downtown DC there was a flurry of activity on the official AOD e-mail list as we tried to determine the whereabouts and well-being of all parties.
The main person we were concerned for is the wife of one of our pit crew members who worked in the Pentagon in the section that had been hit by the plane. Fortunately her office had been relocated a few weeks before the attack. Unfortunately part of her job became processing the death and injury benefit papers for her friends and associates who were still occupying the office space where she had previously worked.
As it did for everyone else in the country, all of this made it very hard for us to think much, or care much, about road racing.
VIR Double Header
Trying to find a silver lining on the 9/11 cloud would be the visit by John Hopkins and Desiree Crossman. They had been on a flight from Portugal which had to be diverted when all the airports in North America where closed. They finally arrived at Newark a few days later but since many flights in the country were cancelled for an indeterminate period of time and Hopper would be racing at VIR for the AMA Formula Xtreme Championship in two weeks they decided to seek refuge on the east coast until the AMA weekend. East coast refuge took the form of my house and we had a nice time getting to know the future GP star and his gregarious associate.
VIR was going to be a different format from the usual endurance schedule. We had one previous round cancelled due to the track surface being dirt and another round canceled due to the track surface being wet. The series was going to be making up both rounds in a single day at VIR. This meant we were going to have two shorter races of 3.5 hours each.
This was a solution that AOD had advocated but it was also a format that did not play to our strengths. The short race would neutralize, to a large extent, the advantages of a Superbike (big tank, quick-change wheels) over a Supersport bike. We were still short a man since Brian Stokes was still suffering from his broken foot from Summit Point.
There were also a lot of heavy hitters lined up for this event. Lee Acree would be riding in Middleweight Superbike and Thermosman had imported Joe Prussiano to run in Middleweight Supersport. The 600s were going to be tough.
Jim and I actually got a little wistful because, although there was no threat to our class Championship, we had grown a little too comfortable with winning races and the thought of getting second was taking the punchbowl away from our party.
When the going gets tough, AOD gets realistic. We decided to concentrate on running clean races without mistakes and focus on protecting our overall points position which was threatened by the Heavyweight team of Loudoun Motorsports.
The Middleweight Superstock teams of Chaos, Thermosman and Neighbor of the Beast were going to be going at it hammer-and-tongs because they were only separated by a couple points. Each team was seeking to create a gap at VIR for a little breathing room at the GNF.
At the start of the race Jim got a great start and gapped all of the 600s with an impressive lead. He maintained it for the next seven laps but a red flag wasted the effort. The law of averages caught up with him at the next green flag. To average out his great first start, he got a really bad second start.
Although Jim and I both rode well and the crew performed admirably, we still came up short and lost valuable points on Loudoun. We finished seventh overall and second in class, but encouragingly on the same lap as Acree’s team. In the MWSS class, Chaos bested Thermosman and took the lead in the MWSS Championship. Our sister team, Neighbor of the Beast, took themselves out of contention with two crashes. One from Scott that slightly damaged the bike, and another one from Melissa that took them completely out of contention.
Melissa, Nolan, Tim and the rest of the crew tore into the Neighbor bike to ready it for the next race. This was no small task since the impact had torn the sub-frame mounting tabs off of the frame. But two hours later we were all back at it again.
Before the morning’s race, the only other time we were beaten this season was by Velocity Crew Racing with riders Paul Youngman and Perkins. Youngman had ridden with AOD at the last 24-hour and Perkins has ridden with Neighbor so having them beat us sort of kept in all in the family. However, like any sibling rivalry, we wanted to make sure it did not happen again in the second race.
Jim got a lousy start. He was doing a good job making up for lost time but the new brake pad compound we installed during the break between races caught him unaware. The brakes bit hard enough to stopsie the bike over the crest of the hill headed down into turn one and, by the time he had the rear wheel on the ground again he had run out of pavement and took to the grass. He kept the bike off the turf but lost a significant amount of time.
In the meantime, Paul Youngman was riding really well and managed to gap us on the track.
Both teams were running big tanks and we pitted about at the same time for fuel. We both elected to keep the same rear tires. I got on the AOD 600, Kevin Perkins got on the Velocity Crew bike. I was 70 seconds behind.
I quickly realize that not changing the tire was going to hurt me but my goal was to eat away at the VCR gap so that Jim would be in striking distance for the last stint. Each lap my pit board would show me the split. I was steadily eating away at the lead at about a second or two a lap.
I had worked the gap down to –25 seconds during the first half of my stint and was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I was passing two quick riders heading into a sharp uphill right. I was paying a little too much attention to where they were and what they were doing and not quite enough attention to the "not as good as they used to be" Suzuki transmission. I missed a downshift.
I was using the engine braking in that turn and, instead of engine braking I received a cacophony of gear dogs not engaging. I straightened up and headed for the access road to get the bike back into a gear.
I did a u-turn, rejoined the track and, one lap later, my pit board was back at –60. My moment of indiscretion meant I would have to all the hard work again.
My tire was pretty spent but I tried to stay focused and keep the pace
I signaled to the crew that they would need to change the rear at the next pit stop. After the next round of pitstops (Jim for me, Youngman for Perkins) we retook to the track only 20 seconds behind them. Jim had a new rear tire. Paul Youngman did not.
Jim hunted down Paul and caught him with about 20 laps to go. But despite the fact that Jim had motor and a fresh rear tire, Paul was not letting it go without a fight. They spent 10 laps locked fairing-to -tail section. Paul would brake impossibly late into the turns to keep Jim behind him. With most of the other positions pretty well locked up by this point, the announcer began calling this dual on the public address system.
Finally, capitalizing on the fresh tire and the stronger motor, Jim got a good drive onto the front straight and was able to pull a counter-attack-thwarting gap. Paul had been holding Jim up a little in various place and, once through, Jim was able to pull a comfortable gap.
Meanwhile, Loudoun Motorsports had chewed up a rear sprocket and thrown the chain. They did not have another chain or sprocket ready to install, and slowly drifted backwards through the pack. We would finish 10 positions ahead of them for a net increase in points for the double header. Our final result was seventh overall and second in class again.
And in MWSS, Thermosman bested Chaos. They were all set for a major run-off at the GNF.
As we were packing up to leave Barry McMahan, a mechanic for Team Hammer, passed along a message from Josh Hayes. Apparently Josh would be switching teams from Bruce Transportation to Team Hammer and was wondering if we would like him to ride with us at the GNF. He was interested in picking up some more track time on Michelin-shod Suzukis.
We’ve known Josh since 1996 and we decided it would be rude to deny his request. We told him that we would be delighted to have him ride with us at the GNF. We figured that Lee Acree would be riding with Triad again and that Josh could neutralize the Acree threat and we would, therefore, make it a real race with Triad. That was not on my mind when I asked Lee Acree and Chuck Warren for some set-up advice for Melissa’s bike.
Melissa, although strong for her gender and weight (she can, after all, do 10 pull-ups) still has weak arms compared to men. This makes it hard for her to pick a bike up off of one knee and throw it the other direction. She usually sets her bikes up really high in the back and low in the front to make them steer quickly but the 2001 GSX-R600 was not reacting well to this. Warren and Acree gave her a knowledge transfusion to help her get her bike to handle well and give good mid-corner feel. (Co-incidentally, the set up advice they gave her almost perfectly corresponded to the changes that Yamaha made on the new 2002 YZF-R1.)
Unfortunately an unforeseen consequence of the chassis geometry changes was the demise of one of Melissa’s intake valves. Although the motor conveniently died at the very moment Melissa pulled back into the pit at the end of practice, the engine could not be repaired before the next day. NOTB took possession of the AOD ‘B’ bike and began swapping suspension and such between the two bikes.
We typically get the worst mileage of the year at Road Atlanta. Even with our big tank we did not expect to be able to run much longer than an hour. With the addition of Josh to the roster we decided to run four, one-hour-long stints; Brian, Jim, Josh and then me.
Brian Stokes was still feeling pretty rusty from all his injuries and time away from the track and had been struggling with his bikes for most of the practice days. We were hoping that some time on Tim’s AOD endurance bike would boost his confidence for the sprints later in the weekend.
One of the most interesting things about having Josh Hayes ride the bike was to get a good look at his data. The only traces I examined were ones that he made in his first six laps on the bike, ever. He was faster than the rest of us on his third lap. The remarkable thing was that he was not a lot faster in any one turn but he was making little gains everywhere that added up dramatically. He was always being greedy between turns and grabbing every little bit of extra speed for just a little bit longer. And this was just in practice.
I spent a little time with Brian Stokes showing him the places where it looked like he could make the biggest improvements compared to Josh. I pointed out to Jim a couple places where he should definitely not try to get any speed as he was already going through turn 12 faster than Hayes. I think Jim was reassured by all the Air Fence that John Ulrich had arranged to be placed around the track.
Brian started the race. He started a little slow and Acree disappeared into the distance. Brian didn’t get rattled, though, and slowly worked his times down until he had achieved his old form. It was exactly the performance we had been anticipating. Unfortunately a red flag was thrown at the 45 minute mark and it would be about 35 minutes before the race began again.
After the restart, in the fiercely contested Middleweight Superstock class, Team Chaos had a bolt fall out of their shifter, lost two laps fixing it, and handed the MWSS Championship lead to Thermosman.
We were running in fifth overall and second in class at our first pit stop. We were faster in the pits than the other teams and between the time made up in the pits and Jim’s speedy riding we closed the gap on Triad and Loudoun Motorsports. We were all on the same lap and we were only about 50 seconds behind when we pitted for a new rear tire and Josh Hayes.
We nailed the pit stop. Loudoun accidentally pulled their bike off the stand while changing tires and lost precious seconds to us until they rectified the situation. By the time they got out of the pits we were right on their heels. Tim showed Josh a "minus" board and Josh steadily closed on Loudoun and Triad, passing both of them and taking off into the distance, running steady 1:31s
In the meantime, Thermosman, which had the Championship in its grasp, had a rider crash, destroying the master cylinder. They spent 20 minutes in the pits repairing the damage and handed the Championship back to Chaos.
We were solidly in third place overall and first in class but had to make one more pit stop with 20 minutes left in the race. I wanted to ride, our lead was big enough over both teams so we would maintain the positions, but good tactics dictated that we splash-and-go Hayes. I wasn’t sure how Josh was feeling since he probably had not ridden a racebike for that long a period in a few year so I suited up in case he was cramping or tired.
Josh came in for the pit stop. I asked him if he wanted to take the last 20 minutes. He was eager to stay on the bike, so we put him back out to finish the race. He did his fastest laps of the race in that last 20 minutes, running on a three-and-a-half-hour-old front and an hour-old rear. He later said that he was having more fun in that race than he had had in a long time. Tim, of course, was thrilled that Josh liked the bike.
To add some late-race drama, Pennzoil, which had been running in second place overall, ran out of gas in the last laps of the race. It almost cost them second place but we came up half-a-lap short when the checkered flag fell.
The final podium of the season looked just like the final points positions for the season: Vesrah in first, Pennzoil in second and Army Of Darkness in third. We won the Middleweight Class Championship for the third straight year.
We are returning for 2002. Mark Crozier, who rode with Chaos in 2001, will be joining the AOD roster for 2002. Tim has decided to try a few tricks out on the 2002 motors and, responding to popular demand, we bought a black van and trailer.
The rumors are flying in the off-season but it sounds like somebody is gearing up in a big way to try to take the 2002 Middleweight Superbike title away from us. Given the fact that we are all old and slow, it is a wonder that it hasn’t happened yet. We will, however, endeavor to make them work for it.
* The white turbo diesel Ford van and trailer are for sale at armyofdarkness.com.