Intentional Destruction of Laboriously Engineered Artifacts
Part II

By Sam Q. Fleming

After we had recovered from our 28 hour drive home from Texas to DC, we set about doing a post mortem analysis of the race to figure out where we needed to improve.  The low hanging fruit was having a motorcycle that could complete a lap without needing to power cycle the ECUs and having a sprocket carrier that didn't double as a swingarm milling machine.  We then promptly bricked the diagnosis of both of these problems, and, in our state of ignorance, swapped out the Bazazz ECU for a new one and began researching double row sprocket carrier bearings.

With those "repairs" completed, we repacked the trailer and set off for our 19 hour drive to New Orleans with confidence.  The demotivational poster for endurance racing should read: CONFIDENCE - the feeling you have when you don't know the big picture.

NOLA 4/5/2014

Nineteen hours and $449 worth of diesel fuel put our race trailer and about half the team at NOLA Motorsports Park.  New Orleans has always been a mystical city in my life since my father came back from a business trip when I was seven years old and made beignets.  I had never seen or tasted such a perfect food and I could only dream of what sort of city would be the home for such a creation.  I was 18 the first time I made it to the city.  We were on our way home from a cross country motorcycle trip and, after a high speed burn down the elevated highway from Red Stick (chasing a local on a polished CB900F, because this was 1985) we hit the city at midnight and promptly sought out the Cafe Du Monde for dough and powdered sugar.

Don't get confident.  Don't get confident.  Don't get confident. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

Twenty-nine years later the appeal of the French donuts and the seductive culture of the city has not diminished in the slightest, so after laying claim to our pit space we headed to Frenchman Street for lunch and donuts.

For those not familiar with the area, New Orleans and hundreds of miles of the surrounding area are basically made up of silt that has been deposited at the mouth of the Mississippi river first from melting glaciers and then from the erosion of the eastern half of the Rocky Mountains and the western of half the Appalachian Mountains.  That means that the average height of the land ranges between ten feet below sea level to ten feet above sea level, and the water table is amply supplied just below the surface.   Consequently, Gulf Coast race tracks (No Problem Raceway, JenningsGP, NOLA) are not known for their elevation changes or high track temperatures.  Given the hydrodynamics of the geography the track surface is, in effect, water-cooled.  Even when it is not actively raining (this being the Gulf Coast, it is often actively raining) the pavement can never get up to temperature as it is being liquid cooled from underneath.

Fortunately we had been tipped off to this dynamic but, even so, it came as a bit of a shock when Taylor Knapp started cold tearing the hell out of one rear after another in practice.  He could run at a 93% pace without a problem, but three laps at 98% would gut the tire.  We eventually hit on a lower tire pressure that allowed the tire to heat up enough to withstand the abuse and put a choke collar on Taylor so that he couldn't pull the trigger on a lap until the tire had at least three laps to warm up.

With Sketch-Up, Auto-Cad, Emachine and 3-D printing, it has never been easier to translate visions into physical parts.  None of this technology helps you when you are at a race track in New Orleans and you have just realized that some German engineer screwed you when he moved the cush drive bearing 5mm laterally in an identical casting from 2010 to 2011.  Which meant we lost the race at Texas World because we didn't catch the difference in spacers. 

It also meant that we were sitting at the track looking at a race day weather forecast for rain but we didn't have the right combination of cush drives and spacers to complete enough rear wheels to be able to keep both rains and slicks mounted for the race, and really what we needed to do was machine precisely 5mm off the end of an aluminum spacer and have it be perfectly flat at the end of the operation.  One of the very few benefits of having a team consisting of old guys is a skill set built up before the Internet, and so Tim simply broke out a file, a micrometer, and a hack saw, found a piece of the parking lot that was both flat and had the correct grit texture, and simply made us the spacer our wheel required.

Tim Gooding displays post-apocalyptic adaptability with some old school track side fabrication and
achining. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

It rained in the afternoon.  The wind dried portions of the track quickly but the high water table meant that deep persistent puddles flooded many apexes.  This led to Ben Walters and I developing some pretty creative lines as we figured out which puddles could be navigated and which had to be avoided through a nerve wracking process of bow waves, hydroplaning, and feet-off-pegs moments.  After a little injection of fork oil to keep the bike off the stops on the brakes Ben got really comfortable in the mixed conditions, perhaps a little too comfortable as he almost threw one of the girls into a guardrail while running through a puddle on slicks.

Both bikes ran perfectly in practice, giving us confidence that we had solved the electrical problem.  You know what they say about confidence.

Saturday morning dawned cool, windy, and overcast with threatening black skies.  We had mixed conditions for morning endurance practice but the general trend was towards a drying track.

To keep our pit crew occupied (a crew which was augmented for the weekend by the addition of 2008-2011 teammate Brett 'Cajun' Champagne), Taylor asked them to swap shocks between Brunhilde (the race bike) and Eva (the back up bike) in the 60 minutes before the start of the race.

Taylor took the warm up lap (his first test of the different shock) but found the track a little too puddly for his tastes so, to the amazement of all officials, competitors and teammates, he pulled into the pits at the number 2 board.  Ben, who had rightfully wandered off in search of a good vantage point to watch the start of the race, sprinted across the pit lane jamming in earplugs and loudly inquiring as to the status of the moment.  Taylor calmly (he does everything calmly) informed us all that it was the right call and that Ben was better off starting from pit road in these conditions than he would be starting from the front row, and wished Ben a fun next hour.

Although his teammates were skeptical about his unorthodox tactics, Taylor was quickly proven correct.  Starting from pit road after the last bike had cleared pit out, Ben shot up to fourth place on the first lap. Equipped with slicks and adrenaline, Ben put in the best endurance ride of his career.  He caught and passed first the Pirelli-mounted KTM, then the Dunlop-clad Suzuki to take control of first place.   He applied all the lines he had developed in practice and was riding in a class of his own.

Our bigger gas tank saw us past the hour but we were still first to stop for fuel and tires which moved us out of the lead.  With the track dried to his taste, Taylor went out and put us into second place gaining fast on first.  Confidence was running high, and you know what they say about confidence.

Forty minutes into Taylor's stint the bike suddenly lost power, stuttering, smoking and generally running terribly.  He pitted.  We stripped the bike.  We swapped Bazzaz engine control units, gas tanks, the light weight li-ion batteries.  Each successive part swap took us further afield from the realm of the possible and felt more unlikely and more desperate.  As the grim familiar helplessness of mechanical failure began to take root in our psyches, Ben, in a fit of pique, flicked the 3M Scotchlok connector which provided 12v power for the Bazazz unit. 

The wire fell in two.

Quick, find the broken wire! (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

A crimp connector, a flurry of twirling wrenches, and Brunhilde roared again.

With eleven laps lost we were back in last place but Ben and Taylor worked us back up to tenth.

And then the rain came again, we threw on some Michelin rains and Chris Peris, and  Chris proceeded to ride the wheels off the bike.  He was literally putting ten seconds a lap on all other bikes on the track.  It is difficult to describe the level of aggression he was displaying.  Hydroplaning the rear down the front straight meant the bike was visibly oscillating the rear as the traction control, rain tire and water fought it out with each other.  He worked us up to fourth place on the scoring and was on target to see us through to the podium, but a lightning strike on a radio tower in the distance red flagged the race, bringing us to another frustrated late race charge which would not have time to manifest.

Chris had professional obligations that had delayed his arrival at the track, which meant he had missed the rider's meeting.  We tried to brief him but we had forgotten to tell him that there was a 30 second penalty for blowing turn one.  He ended up doing that three times, which dropped us from fourth to sixth overall and second in class.  Including the penalties, we lost 11 laps to the connector and lost the overall race by 9.

Our Bazazz units for the R1 had come with Yamaha-compatible connectors, allowing for secure and weather proof connections. The S1000RR is a bit more of a strange waterfowl so the kits came with Scotchloks.  Like all modern bikes, the BMWs are extremely tightly packaged, making wiring work nerve wracking, so in the two weeks we had to prepare the bikes in 2013 we simply installed the kits as they were delivered and, since the recon often becomes the battle, we never revisited the wiring solution.  History lessons learned:

-Never engage in a land war in Asia.

-Never go in against an Italian when death is on the line.

-Never use Scotchloks on anything you care about.

Although the name eludes me, an author (Humans?) 25 years ago had written in Roadracing World about the false economy of relying on Scotchlok fasteners.  Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.


Round 3
Hallet Motor Racing Circuit
May 16, 2014

Surprisingly the misadventures at NOLA had not demoralized the team.  Ben and Chris each had inspiring rides, we had shown we had the speed to be competitive, and we really just needed to get the bikes to run consistently.  Tim and I stripped the bikes and replaced every Scotchlok fastener on the BMW's unicorn hair thin wires with solid crimp connectors. 

It's a 1,250 mile drive from DC to Hallet. We stopped in Ohio to pick up Taylor and arrived just as the track gates were opening.  Unfortunately Chris couldn't make this race and Ben and Taylor had never laid eyes on the place.  I had last raced there in 2002 and had described something akin to a hare scrambles course.  With the ample talent in the CMRA field coupled with local knowledge and the very tight 600-friendly track, we figured this round would be another lesson in humility and suffering.

We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived to find that, upon walking the track, 75% of it had been repaved, but there were still some big bumps.  Full on bumps.  Like, "Houston we have a problem" sub orbital bumps.

The CMRA racers are a really great crew and even our top competitors for the race shared track tips and even fork tools as we set about trying to match our endurance forks to Taylor's vicious late braking style.

Village Idiots offers pointers to Ben Walters in practice, until his VI teammate took him out.  Insert
obvious joke here. (Photo by Tim Turner)

We had 1.0 and .95 fork springs.  We swapped out the .95 for a 1.05 to stiffen up the fork.  This actually made the fork feel softer because we had previously been hitting the bottom.  The P1 KTM team loaned us both the springs and tools which, since we were racing against them, felt really neighborly.  Taylor approved the fork change although he wanted more damping in both the forks and the shock, but we were too close to the adjustment limits so we agreed to let the revalve go for the weekend.

The new pavement had leveled the playing a field a little as local hero Ty Howard crashed the P1 KTM in practice followed by one of the fast Village Idiots riders actually crashing out his teammate in practice.

After that it looked like Taylor was the fastest bike in practice.  We were getting incredible tire wear on the Michelins, the best wear we had ever seen on the rear.  Our Michelin rep David Hirsh suggested we test the C front (hard) and we found that it wasn't much different at this pace than the B front (medium) we usually ran.  We left one mounted up in case we needed it.

We were using GPS-equipped Android cell phones as lap timers and speed data loggers.  I was able to extract data from the phones and analyze it in Excel to figure out where Ben was losing time on Taylor.  We also shot on-bike video with one bike filming the other to compare lines and acceleration points.

New school data acquisition solution.  The data logging is good but the analytic solutions are not quite
there yet. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

We went to dinner feeling satisfied with a long day of aggressively searching for improvement. 

Saturday we missed the announcer calls and barely made it out for our practice. Fortuitously, we made it out with enough time left to reveal that our beautiful aluminum tank had cracked and started leaking a prodigious amount of fuel.

In another instance of old guard paranoid crew chiefs being the best sorts of crew chiefs, Tim calmly reached into the Hindenbox and pulled out a brand new, still sealed tube of "Instant Gas Tank Repair" epoxy which had been in the box for twelve years waiting for just such a moment, and resealed the tank.  Melissa fabricated rubber supports to absorb the stress of the rider sitting on the tank (our tank is part of the seat a la Motogp bikes) and we were ready to go.

Tim Gooding once again saves the race by careful tool box stocking of a variety of application-specific
epoxies, a decade ago. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

Taylor took the start. The pace was very fast and we were running in third.

Pit stops are slower in CMRA due to rules dictating serial fuel and tire changes instead of the WERA rules of parallel fuel and rubber.  Our first stop was even slower when Tim took the bike off the stand before Ben had his footing on Hallet's cambered hot pit, causing Ben to unceremoniously topple over in the pits.  He started a trend and two other bikes did it after us but that did not prevent the team record book from logging this as Ben's First Endurance Bike Crash. 

Melissa and Tim repurpose tire warmers in the unseasonably cool Oklahoma morning. (Photo by 
AOD Ministry of Information)

We did notice that the 600s were not changing tires and were therefore about 24 seconds faster that us in the pits, although we were a tad faster on the track.  With no place on the track to really unleash the 185bhp, it was a lot of work to keep the pace up on the 1000.

The top four bikes were all on the same lap, with us running in a very close third place.  And then the KTM crashed out while leading. And then the Suzuki broke the shift linkage. And then Village Idiots stopped to change tires.

And we took the lead. 

Walters clicking off fast laps on his run to the victory flag. (Photo by Tim Turner)

Now, the average CMRA racer is a far above average sportsman and competitor.  This means that, although fiercely competitive, they don't forgo camaraderie and sportsmanship, never forgetting that the only people who understand this endeavor are the other people at the track so if you aren't going to commiserate or celebrate with them, there is no one left.  However, statistics are undeniable, meaning that if most of the competitors are above average, the reversion to the mean suggests that there has to be at least one exceptionally ill-tempered and bitter individual to average out all of that Texan good will.  This predictable anomaly was personified by the team owner of a green 600 running in second place behind us. 

Not being familiar with CMRA politics, I had no idea who this random guy was that kept slapping me in the chest and making resentful declarations like "Why don't you guys slow it down a little out there?" or "If we had a big tank we'd see what was what."  It turned out that this same guy couldn't abide that one of the Idiots had beat his son in a prior club sprint race and had therefore issued the first technical protest in CMRA history.  The resulting engine tear down revealed no foul play, but did reveal that little league dads have an aversion to Occam's razor and unfavorable results, which on this day led to a protest of the race scoring.

Mandatory brake lever guard (supplied by Moto-Heaven) saved the Hallet victory. (Photo by
AOD Ministry of Information)

While the officials were sorting out the scoring protest over our victory and the sun was setting over the gently rolling Oklahoma hills, I was left standing on the podium with a mic in my hand and dead air to fill.  To howls of appreciation from the informed audience, I proceeded to question the speed of the Village Idiots 600 endurance bike (which had been dogging or leading us the entire race) and threatened extensive and expensive protests if they ever dared to challenge us in a race again.

Protests abated, AOD logged our first win on the S1000RR and, I believe, BMW's first US national endurance win in history, and Michelin's first overall win since the last time we won one in 2009.

Entering the record books.
From Left (Melissa Berkoff, Tim Gooding, Ben Walters,
Ben Walters Sr, Taylor Knapp, Sam Fleming)
(Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

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