Intentional Destruction of Laboriously Engineered Artifacts
Part I

By Sam Q Fleming 

2013 was our first year racing BMWs.  More importantly, it was our first year of racing in more than a half-assed part-time last-minute fashion since 2005.  We knew going into 2013 that we had to do something new and different or we just wouldn't have the interest to put in the hours that a full endurance season would require.  As it turned out, there were more than a few times over the year when we would have happily substituted "familiar and functioning" for "new and fickle".

In 2014 the WERA National Endurance series also took a new form.  Since participation in the 2013 endurance season was low, WERA struck an agreement with Texas-based CMRA to form the US National Endurance (USNE) series.  Basically the idea was that CMRA, who had been running a very well attended endurance series based in and around Texas for years, would combine some of their endurance events with some WERA races to try to increase participation and re-ignite interest in the WERA series by bringing together the top WERA teams and the top CMRA teams.

Army Of Darkness is a loosely organized motorsports social cooperative.  The physical manifestation of that 
ethereal 
concept was represented at Texas World Speedway by (from left) Taylor Knapp, Jenny Kylen
Johnson, Anthony Consorte, Tim Gooding, Sam Fleming, Melissa Berkoff, Chris Peris, Ben Walters and
Jenny Schenck.  Tragically not pictured is the aesthetically pleasing and abundantly
talent Jennifer
Peris.  Yes, three Jennifers in one weekend. (Photo by Jennifer Peris)

The net effect for us would be some long van drives to Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana to face well-honed competition on their home turf. CMRA has some fearsome teams, including a well-funded KTM heavyweight team and the scrappy and resourceful Village Idiots. We expected the USNE weekends to be marked by tough competition as well as periods of nostalgia, as Texas World Speedway and Hallet had both been on the WERA national circuit a decade or so ago.  

The AOD van was just about to tick over to 200,000 miles on its venerable 2002 Powerstroke motor but we had already done the usual high mileage Powerstroke work (glow plugs, valve cover injector harness replacements, all new suspension and brakes) so I focused on prepping the trailer with new bearings, brakes, and various hitch pieces that had finally worn out.  Having done what I could to effect more tranquil twenty-eight hour drives, we turned to the bikes.

The tragedy of an unnoticed BMW sprocket carrier bearing spacer length revision from 2010 to 2012. (Photo
by AOD Ministry of Information)

In 2013 we repeatedly ran into fuel capacity and tire longevity issues that cost us results. From a tactical standpoint, the former is easily addressed: build a bigger gas tank.  However, those of you who have ever tried to build or modify an aluminum gas tank know that is a fabrication challenge of a unique nature, combining metallurgical expertise with the zen serenity of a self-immolating monk.

Japan has had a hereditary emperor for 2,674 years.  The "heavenly sovereign" officially renounced divinity in 1946 but up to that point the emperor was officially god as well as the head of the government.  Power struggles in Japan (when not taking the form of civil war) were, therefore, matrimonial in nature.  The emperor couldn't be deposed or assassinated, so aspirational political families would try to marry their way into the divine family so that their progeny would be positioned for political ascension at sometime in the future. 

Island Racing's David Hirsch and Melissa Berkoff inspect wear patterns on Brunhilde's rear slick.  As this
article  
is published Hirsch will be campaigning his restored 80s vintage GSX-R 750 in an Australian
vintage race at
Phillip Island. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

Army of Darkness employs a similar long view approach, so in 2006 we married team son Ben Walters to Courtney.  Although this union had the benefit of bringing two delightful and mischievous offspring into the world, the more salient reason was to leverage the bride's stepfather Anthony Consorte.  Anthony, you see, had been squandering his fabrication skills on the misguided endeavors of building polished & stretched Hayabusas and a drag racer VW Beetle (yes, there is such a thing).  Eight years after the nuptials, Anthony was handed one of our 22 liter tanks and instructed to take it out to 26. 

With the fuel capacity issue sorted for 2014, we turned our attention to the back of the bike.  In 2013 we had switched from our traditional Penske shocks to JRI.  The JRI units are very nicely made and we received great support for the units, including our incessant requests for different springs and damping stacks as we attempted to tame the rear of our gummikuh and its insistence on reducing our rear Michelin to cord.  I had about decided that it was just going to be impossible to get the French tire to make peace with its Germanic overlord when it dawned on me that, like André Maginot (of the infamous Maginot Line), I was employing outdated strategies.

All of our Japanese race bikes, what with the Hello Kitty aesthetic of modern Japan, had geometry that was weighted towards safety and stability.  Therefore, when employing them on a race track, our first order of business was to introduce some instability by raising the rear of the bike for faster steering. We expected the BMWs to be no different, so up went the rear.

Chris Peris searching for smooth pavement. (Photo by Blair Hartsfield Photography)

BMW's patronizing philosophy is to coddle their riders (by and large older white men) with a plethora of electronic rider's aids.  Upon receiving the bikes in 2013 we had, of course, deactivated, removed or replaced virtually all of the BMW rider aid electronics, which, when coupled with the drastic change in geometry, left us with an incredibly stiff and unforgiving chassis.  Throughout 2013 we steadily lowered the rear of the bike until we were back at stock shock heights.  Each time we lowered the bike we increased stability and tire durability, but we ultimately bottomed out the adjustments. 

The BMW ships with a 190/55/17 rear tire.  The Michelin slicks we use are 200/50/17.  In theory, the stock tire would have a profile height of 104.5mm, and the 200 would be 100mm, so the 200 should, in theory, be a shorter tire.  Theory is why engineers always make the worst mechanics.  The Michelin 200 is actually a good deal taller than the stock 190, which meant that even with our shock at stock height, we were still taller than stock in the back.  Once this revelation hit me I asked JRI to make us some shocks that were shorter than stock so we could bring the back of the bike down even further.  We knew the shock change would slow down the steering but the hope was that the upper arm workout the bike demanded would shift from the pumping- and wallowing-induced handle bar death grip to normal steering inputs.

Peris lets Brunhilde stretch out her legs.  However, he 
is probably just about to run off the track. (Photo by 
Blair Hartsfield Photography)

Other than that, over the 2013-2014 winter break our changes to the bike were pretty much limited to new grips and clutches.  Like poor Maginot, we had solved a few problems for 2014 but, in hindsight, left ourselves vulnerable to a few others.

Then there was just the question of the 2014 rider lineup. A decade ago we were endurance racing at Nelson Ledges and we were short a teammate.  We reached out to Fritz Kling.  For Generation Fuel Injection, Kling was a veteran racer who campaigned the factory VR1000 (a bike that no one really cared about) and the Yamamonster, which was a YZF750SP chassis with a tuned up FZR1000R engine shoe horned into it.  That bike was legendary before Yamaha's release of the R1 killed off the need for tuner specials.  Fritz was a unique personality, being a fierce competitor on the track but warm hearted and friendly in the pits.  Due to schedules and commitments we were only able to have Fritz ride with us at that one event.  He left a big hole in the sport when he succumbed to a brain tumor in 2008.  As he was winding down his racing career he was paired on an endurance team with an up and coming rider named Taylor Knapp.  And, through a totally different set of connections, Knapp would be joining AOD for the 2014 season.

Taylor Knapp demonstrates the concept of "looking through the turn" while making up positions at Texas
World Speedway.
(Photo by Blair Hartsfield Photography)

 

Texas World Speedway
March 22, 2014
Eight Hour Race

As our first time back in over a decade, emerging from the tunnel below the racecourse into the pits at Texas World was both familiar and disquieting. However, the CMRA officials and teams really rolled out the red carpet to make sure we were situated and familiar with their routines.  We arrived after dark and our team slowly materialized out of the gloom.  Our East Coast contingent tumbled out of the road-dusted van while Chris Peris and the lovely Jennifer Cartwright (now Peris) emerged from the night from Arizona.  Taylor, the newcomer to the team and fresh from Daytona success, rolled in from Michigan with humility but quiet confidence.  One of Melissa's Texan teammates from ten years earlier, Ty Stranger-Thorsen, turned up to help with pit stops, and about two dozen of Anthony's local family showed up as well.

A condemned control tower complete with busted-out windows looms over crumbing grandstands and a
rotting track surface, in marked contrast to the vibrant racer community at TWS. (Photo by AOD Ministry
of Information)

On Friday morning we set to figuring out how to get our bike to go around the circuit.  I was the only rider on the team who had raced at TWS.  Unfortunately, I think some of the tire marbles we had left on the track in '01 were still intact.  Like many of us, the intervening years had not been kind to the facility.  The looming concrete grandstands had begun to collapse so they had been abandoned and condemned.  This post apocalyptic back drop set the stage for a track surface that was somewhere between "Lunar" and "Shannonville".  There was much discussion in our pits about whether it was faster to ignore the holes and bumps or try to find a line around them.  This argument settled itself when we realized there was no line around them.  The word was that the track was in limbo between being a real estate development and a racing facility and, therefore, it had not received any capital improvements in a long long time. 

That said, CMRA has an enthusiastic and dedicated community that reminded me of motorcycle racing of twenty years ago.  Everyone seemed to be having fun, and there was a huge mix of bikes and talent and terrific camaraderie and good-natured competition all around.

The riders share stories of tire swallowing holes and Alpine pavement ridges while the pit crew hits things
with hammers.  
All is as it should be. (Photo by Jennifer Peris)

 

All the other top teams had local riders and we struggled to learn the track in the compressed practice schedule.  Among the top teams were a KTM on Pirellis, a Suzuki on Dunlops, a Yamaha on Dunlops, and our BMW on Michelins.  Very old school.  With the mix of manufacturers and the absence of a spec tire, it was set to be probably the best head to head racing in the country. 

We started on the front row but that advantage was short lived when Chris ran off the track on the first lap and came back around in ninth.  He had to abandon his "I'll just stick with the fast guys" strategy when the bike was almost swallowed by an enormous hole and, when the earth spat him back into the sunshine, he was headed for the dirt.

Chris settled down and started moving forward but the front couple of bikes with their local hot shoes on them were rolling hard and fast.  He worked us back up to fifth before we pitted just short of the first hour, as we weren’t sure how many laps we could do with the fuel light illuminated on our new tank and we wanted to play it a little safe.  We measured how much fuel we added at the pit stop to calculate how much we were leaving on the table at the bottom of the tank so we could figure out how many more laps we could go for the next stints.

The team attempts to remember how to perform pit stops with efficiency and efficacy by practicing on Friday 
afternoon.  Melissa helpfully suggests beginning with the removal of the rear axle. (Photo by Jennifer Peris)

WERA endurance rules allow pit crew members to work simultaneously, with a limit only on the total number of people working on the bike, while CMRA requires that the pit crew fueland change tires separately.  This seems like a small thing, but it has led some of the CMRA 600 teams (notably Village Idiots) to employ a "run a really hard rear tire and rarely change it" strategy since it gives them about 25 seconds or so each pit stop against the 1000s that pretty much have to change a rear every hour.  That said, our new rear tire and fuel was fast and painless.  Taylor took to the track, moved us up to fourth, and closed down the lead significantly to third.

We stayed in the running and on the lead lap with the other three top teams for the next three hours.  Unfortunately the bike began to develop an electrical issue in one of its two ECUs and we had to power cycle the ignition each lap.  Once the riders figured this out they would turn off the key on a straight, hold on tight, and then turn it back on.  This was costing us some time, but not enough to drop us off the lead lap.

Ben waiting for the sprocket hub to collapse. (Photo by Blair Hartsfield Photography)

In the sixth hour, disaster struck.  Lulled into a false sense of security by years of multi-year compatibility, we had not religiously ensured that all our BMW parts were from the same model year.  The BMW S1000RR was initially released in 2010.  Our bikes were 2012.  BMW did not change too much across those years, mainly just the triple trees and the linkage. However, they also apparently moved the sprocket carrier bearing 5mm.  Now, it should be noted that the bearing, the sprocket carrier, and the wheel all appear to be identical castings, with the only difference being the depth of the carrier bearing.  Since our spare wheels were a mix of donated and purchased parts, we had hit on a combination of sprocket carrier and wheel that were not from the same year.  This resulted in the bearing being side loaded by the tightened axle, and the single row ball bearing seized, melted and collapsed.  The sprocket carrier then slid over and began to mill the swingarm.  How Ben was able to a) not crash; and b) get the bike back to the pits; is a testament to his experience and bike handling skills. 

Ben rode it back to the pits and we swapped the wheel, eyeballed the amount of metal left in the swingarm, refueled, and sent him back out.  Unfortunately, we lost three minutes and the lead lap.

I racked my brain trying to figure out some way to mitigate the damage but, sometimes, in life and in racing, you just have to take your beating.

Having just passed for third place, we only needed the rest of the field to not cause any race ending red flags
for the
next one minute and fifty-one seconds.  Two minutes.  We just needed them to keep it together
for two minutes!  Is that too much to ask, people? (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

To add insult to injury the reigning WERA champions were pitted next to us but, since they don't have any friends, they didn't have enough people to do their pit stops and I was roped in to work the wrench on their axle.  I did two pits stops changing wheels for our direct competitor.  I was briefly lost in a daydream of pulling out their rear axle and just hurling it as far as I could out into the grass, but I snapped out of it and did the best I could. 

In the seventh hour we had recovered back up to fourth place, and the third place Suzuki, the reigning WERA champion bike that I had assisted, started to stutter.  They started losing ten to fifteen seconds a lap to us and eventually pulled into the pits to swap gas tanks, thinking they had a clogged filter or a dying fuel pump.  That didn't fix it, so then they decided to go with cutting the wires to their quickshifter.  We passed them on the track just as they re-entered the race, moving us into third place overall and first WERA bike.

And then a back marker high sided in the back section of the track.

And then a red flag came out. 

And it ended the race.

And because we hadn't made it around to cross the timing and scoring loop, we weren’t credited with the pass.

Sam, Melissa, Tim and Jenny comfort Brunhilde at the end of the race to let her know that the team didn't
hold her responsible for her performance-impeding, but ultimately team-imposed, injuries. (Photo by AOD
Ministry of Information)

Bad wheel combination, bad electronics, not running off on the first lap, throwing their axle when I had it in my hand, it was easy to see what we could have changed so we could have podiumed but, given the cards we were dealt, we played it out as best we could.

We loaded the trailer in the dark under the Walking Dead grandstands, and the dismal ambiance created by the smoke drifting through the scene turned out to be from the high-spirited communal CMRA BBQ, to which we were all invited. But we left to start our 29-hour-drive back to DC, pausing only briefly to replace the now traditional trailer flat.

The obligatory drive home trailer flat tire. (Photo by Jenny Schenk)

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