2005 – Chapter Two
May 20, 2005
On the way home from Joliet Tim and I devised a plan for recovering our momentum after blowing up the engine and our disastrous finish. We needed to be 100% ready to race in about ten days. We had one bike with a destroyed motor and another bike with, at this point, unknown reliability.
We decided that when we arrived home Tim would autopsy the motor to determine the cause of the failure. In the meantime I would make sure that we had all the parts inventory that we would need to rebuild the bikes for the next round.
Tim determined that the failure was our fault. In the past we had used exhaust cams with slightly more lift than stock with good result so we had installed them in these 2005 motors. With the new bike’s lighter valve springs and the higher redline the spring was becoming coil bound with the increased lift leading to failure. It was our own damn fault. Strange as it sounds, Tim and I were relieved that it was something we had done because in the past the Suzuki’s have blown up repeatedly just due to shoddy materials and poor design so we were hoping this was not going to happen again.
Working the DC area racer network I was able to track down three motors and arrange pick up and purchase all in one night of driving around Maryland.
Tim spent every non-working but waking moment in the garage either taking apart motors or putting them together again. He built an entire race motor for the A bike and also pulled the motor out of the B bike and put in a stock exhaust cam. With stock cams, stock valves, stock valve seats, stock springs and stock retainer we figured we would be safe from any more valve failures for the season. Tim was putting the last bolts on one bike while I was loading the other into the trailer for the relatively short five hour drive to VIR.
Ben, Scott and I were all enthusiastically anticipating another head to head race with Red Star after losing at Autobahn from the mechanical. Once we arrived at VIR we wasted no time in putting together some tight laps, worked aggressively on a variety of set-up issues and spent a fair amount of time comparing laps on the recorded data on the computer to find every tenth possible. Our laps were not that fast in an absolute sense because repeated rainstorms made the track pretty green but they were fast enough.
Listening for broken valves.
More importantly the valve train stayed together.
On Saturday morning we decide to have Ben Walters start to let him try to run with Redstar’s Ben Thompson.
The Battle of the Bens.
The VIR episode of the Battle of the Ben’s went on just like this for at least 45 minutes.
Thompson set a fast pace but Walters stayed right on his rear wheel through the first forty-five minutes. Walters figured that Thompson’s Pirelli had probably it best life behind it at that point and started showing Thompson a wheel in a few of the turns in attempt to either rattle Thompson or get him to burn the tire harder. Later we would learn that trying to rattle Thompson is a fruitless endeavor and since he is sideways on a new tire it doesn’t matter a bit to him that he is sideways on an old tire. We all thought the race was about to get interesting when, at about the hour mark, a red flag came out stopping the action.
Scott Fisher puts the finishing touches on a multi-million dollar ten year commitment
contract and emails it off before taking his stint in the race.
Doing a bit of math I figured that our best bet was to restart Scott and rest Ben Walters so that Scott could run the next twenty minutes of the gas tank and then we would throw young Walters back on the bike for another eighty-minute stint. Red Star was thinking the same thing so we both restarted with our second string guys to let our Ben’s rest up. With the whole team lined up on the Armco thirty feet away, and on the second row of the grid, Scott had about the worst start I have ever seen. At the launch he missed the right foot peg with his foot and actually got his calf stuck under the peg requiring him to back off the throttle to get his leg unstuck. It is one thing to get a bad start, it is another thing to run over your own foot directly in front of all of your racer friends, it is a third thing to have it recounted in a national magazine.
He lost about ten seconds to Red Star on the start but was able to hold the gap steady until the first round of stops. Our pit stop was slightly longer then theirs because we elected to change the rear Michelin and they did not. This was a tactical error on their part as they were not able to keep pace and we quickly caught, passed and pulled away on the track. When they realized they really needed a new Pirelli they pitted early and switched the rear.
After that pit stop we were about a lap and thirty seconds in the lead.
Another red flag took away the thirty seconds but left us with the one lap lead.
This time it was Ben Walter’s turn to get a bad start. Thompson was able to run with the faster lead group while Walters got stuck behind another group running a slightly slower pace. Once Ben cleared them he was able to hold Thompson at a steady sixty second lead.
We were entering the last hour of the race and we did not know if Red Star would have to pit again although we knew that we would. We did the math and figured that with a perfect fuel stop we could put Scott back on the bike with about a forty second lead and, if he hit his fast times immediately, Thompson would not be able to run him down before the end of the race.
Concentration was high in the pits so we hit the fuel stop perfectly and put Scott out with about a forty five second lead, five seconds more than our most optimistic estimate. Thompson was whittling it down but he was not making up enough time to pull it off before the end of the race. With only a few laps to go Red Star had to make a splash and go fuel stop which bumped us from a twenty-two second lead at the end of the race to a forty four second victory gap.
Scott contemplates the fine print while heading for the checkered flag.
It had been a straight up race. Same number of pit stops, same number of tire changes and we had come out on top. We had regained the initiative in the season. Although they were leading us in the points, we were now two wins to their one and we had won both straight up battles.
Victory by AOD. Winner’s circle by Michelin. Photo:Pat Fleming
Willow Springs, California
June 4, 2005
Yorick as co-pilot while driving across fly-over territory. Photo: Susan Whitney
WERA had scheduled two races in the far western reaches of the USA in 2005. That is just about as far from our HQ and stomping grounds as you can get without a passport. Fortunately the races were scheduled congruently so the plan was that we would drive all the bikes out to California, do the race, drive the rig to Las Vegas and then park it at Scott’s headquarters for three weeks. We would have to perform any maintenance or repairs to the bikes before we left the track in California since most of the team would be flying back East for professional obligations until the Las Vegas round.
As we had done in the past Melissa and I drove the van out west with a few sight seeing friends and we stopped in a couple cities to visit various compatriots on the way west. The rest of the team would fly to Las Vegas, rent a car, drive to Willow, do the race, take the rig back to Vegas and then fly home.
Melissa reveals the secrets of Willow Springs to Tim Gooding, Nolan Ballew,
Bruce Stanford, Derick Keyes, Ben Walters and Stephen Bacon of, at any
one minute, AOD, Dixie Mafia or The Notorious P.I.G.
We had not raced at Willow Springs since the twenty four hour event in 2000 but Scott Fisher and Melissa Berkoff had raced there for years before stepping up to the national WERA Endurance circuit so we had high hopes of getting on pace rapidly in practice and setting it in the race.
Scott’s company designs and builds high end motion automation equipment for movie stunts and theaters. His company is located in 27,000 square feet at the Las Vegas speedway industrial park. Another tenant of that complex is the Freddie Spencer School. The Spencer School also sells Michelin motorcycle tires.
We had pre-ordered a large number of Michelin tires from Walt Schaeffer in the East and had them addressed to be delivered to Scott’s shop at the speedway. The UPS driver never checked the address on the tires and, instead, delivered them to the Spencer School. The folks at the Spencer Scool, familiar with receiving large amounts of Michelins never check the “To” box on the address and, of course, UPS kept insisting that they had delivered the tires without being able to tell us where. Without time to sort out the tire issue at that moment we left Las Vegas and drove to Willow. Once at Willow (about five hours from Las Vegas) we finally determined that our tires were at the Spencer school (good) but still in Las Vegas (bad).
Enter Dale Keiffer. Dale is not only a very fast racer and the Western Michelin rep but is also a very good guy. Dale was having someone from his shop drive half way from Vegas to Willow while Dale was going to drive from Willow and meet halfway. Dale volunteered to have his man bring our tires along but they did not have a truck big enough to carry all the inventory from Vegas or a truck big enough to pick it all up in Barstow. Scott made a call to his shop to get the big FTSI shop truck gassed up and the keys handed to Dale’s man while we emptied out our race trailer and hooked it up to Dale’s truck. A fortuitous convergence of wireless technology and the standardization of trailer hitches later and we had our tires without a ten hour round trip back to Vegas. Dale even threw in some shift points and entrance lines around Willow for good measure.
Pseudo local boy Scott Fisher led the way for us in practice by rapidly getting up to speed leaving Ben and I to look at Scott’s data through turns 2 and 9. We both then had to suck it up and attempt to emulate him. His speed between eight and nine was impressive and left Ben feeling a little put out at not being the fast guy for the weekend. Sometimes it is good to put a little smack on youth and skill with a little age and treachery.
Although we were never able to match Scott’s speed through turn nine we were both able to hit our target times (Ben having a lower lap time target than I do) and felt pretty confident for the race. We had experimented with a couple of rear tires and felt that we had found one that would last eighty minutes and the bike, although giving up some power in the high desert air, was running great.
We started Scott and it was a tight race. Thompson could pull way from Scott with a fresh rear tires but it looked like the Pirelli started to wear and Thompson slowly drifted back to Scott. We were able to keep a fast pace consistently whereas Redstar riders could put in some faster laps but could not maintain that pace. It was a close race until Redstar had longish pit stop to fix some minor problem that gave us a lead that was insurmountable and allowed us to cruise to our third victory with a lap lead.
The real drama occurred after the race in Heavyweight Supersport. The local team of Advanced Kawasaki was running very strong on a ZX-10 but they had chopped the front part of their front fender. One cuts the front fender to facilitate front wheel changes so it is illegal in Supersport to make that modification. They finished second overall but were protested by another heavyweight team and were bumped to fifth. That moved us up from fourth overall to third overall. This rule infraction, protest and penalty created quite a bit of bluster and chest puffing and righteous indignation in the pits from the various teams involved.
AOD and Vesrah use both of the lines through two. Photo: Kent Willer
As the sun settled into the southern California miasma of hydrocarbons and water vapor, Tim changed the oil on the bikes, installed a new chain on the A bike and completed various other maintenance items. We loaded everything back into the trailer and sent it off to Vegas while counting our blessings that we were not stuck out West with a blown engine or a bent frame.
Although STILL behind in the points we had now won three races to their single victory and we were beginning to entertain cautiously optimistic thoughts that we might have a shot at this championship.
Las Vegas, Nevada
June 25, 2005
As was planned the Army of Darkness slowly reconvened in Las Vegas for the fifth race of the year. Scott owns a house in Las Vegas but seems to live in his office or on the road. I was on a lecture tour and arrived in Las Vegas a day before the rest of the team. That night a series of thunderstorms rolled into the valley and the neon glow of the strip was augmented by hundreds of forks of lightening terminating on the mountains surrounding the city.
The next morning the skies were free of clouds but were filled with smoke. The lightening had ignited the hillsides into acres of burning brush filling the air with smoke and falling ash.
The soot filled air was blowing hot and dry; the perfect atmospheric compliment to a race in sin city.
Only a mile from the speedway’s pits, Scott’s shop of wonders was serving as an impromptu garage as some of the teams availed themselves of the cooler temps, shade and lack of sand to work on machinery. Amongst the massive theater gear and metal fabrication equipment (water jet, mill, welders etc) was a variety of endurance and sprint bikes.
Scott was once again immediately on the pace leaving Ben and I to work on lines and shift points while Scott napped in the scant shade. Ben proposed a variety of set-up changes to improve his lap times but eventually accepted the “ride harder” paradigm. He pushed hard, dragged his elbow on a curb, and hit the times we wanted.
Being somewhat close to Lake Elsinore, Roadracing World had brought out a few bikes to run in the practice and sprints for both racing and editorial purposes. A proponent of free markets and free people, Editor Ulrich was a little surprised to see an endurance team sporting the red star symbol that is shared between San Pellegrino and Mao’s China. Perhaps less well known in the US than the atrocities committed under the swastika, China’s Red Guard certainly hold their own in a comparison to the Reich’s SS in a “complete bastards” contest. Of course, Americans are notoriously ignorant of our own history much less that of one of our largest trading partners but Editor Ulrich is not. Ulrich sent a reporter over to ask the Redstar captain William Lindsay “Why they hated America”. The question did not lead to a discussion of American’s (ultimately unsuccessful) defense of China at the start of world war two and the catastrophic consequences of the Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four but instead elicited “I hate America because Sam Fleming lives there.” Presumably somewhat specious, much truth is said in jest.
At the start of the race Ben Thompson jumped out front on the Redstar bike and started to pull away from AOD Ben at about a second a lap. Tim and I had a moment of panic but figured that such a lead could still be overcome with fast pit stops on our part.
After the first hour the overall running order in the race was Vesrah, Redstar and AOD. On the 57th lap of the race Vesrah’s Suzuki fuel pump packed it in and Redstar pitted putting us in the overall lead for the race. A good showing for Scott’s crowd.
As this was Scott’s hometown race many of his employees and friends showed up to watch the race.
But there is a curse.
Scott has a lieutenant named Dana. Dana is a good natured but intimidating looking, pro-wrestler-built guy. Every race Dana has ever attended has corresponded with a crash from one of our teams. I am not going to go attributing causality, but there is certainly correlation.
At the first pit stop we replaced Ben with Scott and the worn rear tire with a new rear tire and re-took the fight in third overall, relinquishing the overall and class lead to Redstar.
Scott held the gap and even seemed to be making up a little ground when, on the 84th lap, the curse kicked the front tire out from under him in turn one and knocking him down on the pavement and sliding into the dirt. Fortunately turn one is just about the slowest turn on the track and Scott immediately picked up the bike, rebooted the ECU until he could get the bike fired, and rode it back into the pits.
The bike was scuffed but relatively undamaged so after a few cable ties and obligatory cursing we threw Ben back out into the fray. With Ben safely inserted back into the race we could turn out attention to quantifying the damage to Scott’s body and our championship hopes.
Historically few west coast teams show up to contest the national endurance races. This being the case even after the crash we were still in second place in class but second place is still ten points behind first place. To make matters worse, Redstar was also leading the overall race which, if they carried that to the flag, would just be salt in Scott’s road rash.
Unbeknownst to all of at that time was that there was another battle of stress, strain, heat, wear and plastic deformation being waged inside the R6 engine of Redstar. On lap 130 entropy declared victory and their Yamaha was placed forlornly on a stand in front of their pits with a box fan optimistically pointed at their radiator. The engine failure dropped Redstar out of the race and put us back into the class lead.
Unfortunately for us this engine failure would drop Redstar from first to second whereas our engine failure at Autobahn dropped us from contesting for the lead to a dismal ninth. We put Scott back out on the bike to finish the race and repair his damaged credibility.
The Heavyweight Superstock race was loaded with animosity from the protest event at Willow. In Las Vegas, Team Velocity beat Advanced Kawasaki by running longer stints and consistently faster laps and took the class and overall wins by two laps.