2002 – Part Four

 

Talladega Grand Prix Raceway
Talladega, Alabama
June 14-15, 2002
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Due to the scheduling of races we only had six days between the utter and complete failure of our engine at Roebling Road and the next event. This led to a fair amount of consternation on our part but, in Tim’s wisdom, we had a back-up engine from last year ready to go. This engine was basically stock and had only about six races on it.

We spent a leisurely afternoon in the garage removing the deceased engine and replacing it with the donor engine. Tim autopsied the diseased one and found that the troubles had started with a galled shift drum which had torn up the shift forks which metastasized through the gears until we suffered catastrophic transmission failure. The resulting metal contamination in the oil took out a connecting rod bearing. Tim started making lists of parts we needed to order while the rest of us finished connecting connectors, filling fluids and fastening fasteners.

Although engine swaps are always an unpleasant and time-consuming endeavor at the end we felt that we had paid our karmic debt through sweat and bloody knuckles, therefore ensuring a mechanical-problem-free weekend.

This sense of bliss lasted all the way until the first gearing change request. In the traditional Talladega drizzle Tim executed his patented "I need your absolute and full attention right now" move which consisted of him firmly placing a single finger on my shoulder.

"The output bearing on this motor has had it," he said while directing my attention to the sprocket on the engine we had just installed a day before.

"When you say ‘Had It’ what exactly do you mean?" I countered

"It’s buggered, it’s shagged, it’s right f--ked."

I let the implications of all of that sink in.

"Are you sure?" I said meekly, knowing full well he was sure.

He showed me that the output bearing, which should have no lateral play, clearly had some detectable play by moving the sprocket with his fingers. We surveyed a few other GSX-R600s around and found that most had none but quite a few had a fair amount. It seemed to us that we would need to add "Output Shaft Bearing" to the list of Suzuki parts which seemed to wear much quicker than in prior years.

This was exactly the type of situation where I particularly hate being the Team Captain. I was standing in a puddle of muddy water in a gravel field in a slight drizzle knowing that we had to do yet another motor swap because we can’t race the B bike because we hadn’t changed the valves in it within the last 15 minutes and if we tried to race it, it was a forgone conclusion that it would instantly break a valve and since that is such a well-known problem and we should have known better we would feel really stupid.

This logic was summed up into a simple, resigned, "f--k".

Of course our spare engine was already in the bike so the first thing we needed to do is to find a low-miles engine we could use. This was tracked down from Billy Ethridge of Team Extreme.

It is now time to introduce a few more characters into the story: Jeff and Stacie Walker. Jeff and Stacie are friends of Mark Crozier’s. Jeff is one of those Novices who show up and makes the Experts feel stupid due to his innate talent and speed; as such he had been recruited to ride for Melissa’s team at a few points in the season. Stacie is his beautiful and talented wife who does not shy away from dirty fingernails. Jeff also builds very fast motorcycle engines and is driven by a fierce work ethic. Once it was determined that we needed to swap engines, Jeff stopped working on his race bikes and began disassembling our bike. Meanwhile, in the trailer, Tim and Stacie drilled and wired bolts and installed exhaust flanges and hard case-covers on our donor engine.



Melissa, Jeff and Jim all forgetting to remedy Suzuki’s shifter assembly issue.
Photo courtesy AOD Ministry Of Information.

As the sun retreated low into the sky, eight of us worked on the project and, since all of us had field-stripped multiple GSX-Rs in the past, we dispatched the task in short order. Motivated by images of catfish and hush puppies, we might have finished the task in a little bit too much of a short order.

Josh Hayes, WERA endurance alumnus and AMA racer, had suffered a terrible hand injury a few months earlier and was looking for a chance to get in some laps before the next AMA round to gauge his level of fitness. We happily offered him the seat on the bike for the second stint of the race.

The race was one of those good news/bad news sort of affairs.

The good news was that we had found a stock engine to run the race.

The bad news was that we were running a stock engine.

The good news was that Talladega is the least-horsepower-requiring track in the series.

The bad news was that we were running a stock engine.

The good news was that Mark Crozier is so fast at Talladega that he was running in second place overall, only seconds behind Tray Batey and that it looked possible for us to win the race overall in a straight-up fight.

The bad news was that we were running a stock Suzuki engine.

The good news was that Vesrah had to pit first and so we were leading the race overall and we had just put Josh Hayes on the bike who was the one guy at the track that day who was capable of riding our bike even faster than Mark Crozier had been riding it.

The bad news was that we were running a stock Suzuki engine which has numerous known weaknesses and we had been too busy, hungry, distracted and tired the evening before to address them all.



Meanwhile, Tim and Stacie are in the trailer forgetting to remedy Suzuki’s shifter assembly
issue. Photo courtesy AOD Ministry Of Information.

The good news was that Josh’s hand wasn’t bothering him a bit and he was completing each successive lap a little faster than the one before.

The bad news was that all eight of us working on the bike the previous night knew that the shifter bolt in the Suzuki transmission needed to be removed, cleaned, and re-tightened with a good thread-locking compound or it was sure to fall out when leading the race. We all forgot. We didn’t. It did.

The good news was that since we fell out of contention when we had to stop and spend 30 minutes addressing Suzuki’s inability to secure a bolt, I let myself ride the bike for a 100-minute stint.

We left Talladega with only a 25-point lead over Vesrah II.

 

Summit Point Raceway
Summit Point, West Virginia
August 3-4, 2002
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With ample time between Talladega and the next round at Summit Point we decided to return our original A-engine to service. It had a trashed transmission and a burned crank. We pulled the transmission out of another engine and sent the crank away to have the journal repaired.

Tim slaved for night-after-night building the engine but after neglecting his girlfriend, losing five pounds sweating in the garage and getting lots of small cuts on his fingers from sharp case flashing, he finished and we had our full AOD-spec 2002 engine back in the frame.

I took the bike out in the first practice at Summit to feel it out. It felt fast in the first practice but in the second practice I felt it tighten up. I got in the clutch and coasted back to the pits with the engine making that awful rogue jackhammer sound they make when the connecting-rod-bearing clearance has recently been increased 10,000 percent.

My fault. I said fix the bad crank instead of replacing it: Pennywise, pound foolish.

It is usually really hot in West Virginia in August. On this particular day it was really hot in West Virginia.

Tim had just finished spending night-after-night building an engine using a bad part that I had supplied to him. I wasn’t going to ask him to build yet another engine at the track in the hot sun in under six hours. I was going to wait for him to volunteer. I waited about 30 seconds.

Tim took a big breath and said: "This motor has got a bad bottom end but a good head with good cams. That motor there has got a good bottom end with a slow head and slow cams. I guess I need to take the head and cams off of this motor and install them on that motor and then install the whole mess back into that frame."

And, in six long, hot, sweaty hours, did just that.



Didn’t we do this last weekend? Photo by Louis Gagne

We did not get a chance to test the new engine during the practice day but on Saturday morning it seemed like it was running really well, perhaps even a little quicker than the Vesrah II 600.

Of our highest concern on the Vesrah II bike was David Yaakov who is a former track-record-holder at Summit Point. When the race started it looked like it would be a repeat of the nose-to-tail nail-biter at VIR but something seemed slightly amiss with the Vesrah bike. All of the riders could ride it really quickly for about 30 minutes, and then kind-of fast for 30 minutes and then really quickly again. Due to the variations in lap times, Mark C was able to pull a 40-second gap in the first stint.

To keep it sporting, though, we messed up the pit stop. Tim had been reworking the fuel can and one of the internal vent lines had been jarred loose in the trailer ride to the track. Even though our fuel guy had held the can on the tank for 10 seconds, the tank had not been filled. We were going to have to take an extra pit stop, exactly the situation that had cost Vesrah II a victory earlier in the season.



When working with engine internals it is imperative to have a clean and orderly
work environment. Photo by Louis Gagne.

Tim fixed the dump can for the next stop but we knew we needed a significant gap if we were to be able to beat Vesrah II with an extra pit stop thrown in.

On the track Jim rode fast and generally was pacing Vesrah’s Brian Stokes and then, Darryl Saylor.

After the next round of pit stops Mark was back on the bike and was able to put Vesrah II a lap down, just the lead we would need to cover the extra pit stop. But Jim would need to be able to maintain that lead for the next session, and the heat was beginning to take its toll.

When Mark C came off the bike I thought "I might be riding today after all." He was beet-red, dehydrated and had huge blisters on his hands. His back, legs and arms were cramping from the lack of water and he glared at me with pure hatred when I suggested to him that he might still have another 45 minutes to ride.

Fortunately we just happened to have brought a massage therapist with us to this race. I put Mark on the table under Liz Brinson’s care and said "see what you can do with him." About 30 minutes and three liters of water later, Mark C announced he was still in the game.

We did a really fast stop and put Crozier back out with a 45-second lead with only 30 minutes left in the race. He put in a couple fast laps to test out the tires (we were still on the same Michelin front that had started the race, while Vesrah II was on a fourth Pirelli) then settled back to cruise around matching the pace of the Vesrah II bike but managing his strength.

We placed third overall, first in class, extending our lead out to 35 points in class with two rounds left in the season.




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