June 17-18th 2012
After my performance at Miller, and a successful test day at Big Willow, I was thrilled to go super fast again, and really see what I can do around the fast 2.5 mile road course.
Willow Springs International Raceway is known as the “Fastest Road in the West” and is actually a Calif State Point of Historical Interest.
Average speeds during one lap exceed 100 mph. The infamous turn eight is known to “separate the men from the boys” in that you’re corning at nearly the top of sixth gear – on a liter bike, that can be 140-160 mph.
It can be a bit of a trip to walk the track and realize just how wide and long turn eight is, because when you’re in it, it is narrow and short!
My previous best around Willow Springs has been consistent 1:29s, with a single lap at a 1:28.7 last year.
Before the track owners resurfaced it, the fastest laps were 1:19-1:20 by the ridiculously fast guys, like Steve Rapp (lap record holder) and Jeremy Toye.
After the resurface, the track has not regained its grip, and these fast guys can only manage 1:22s (maybe a high 1:21 if the conditions are just perfect).
So, while enjoying the June 3rd track day with MotoYard, I was thrilled to have turned several 1:29s while cruising around at about 80% and waving to my pals as I went past.
Saturday June 16th – a Hard Lesson
I opted to enter the Solo 20 – a 20 lap mini endurance race – to get more seat time, with a goal to go out hard and try to hook up with some fast riders, and learn a thing or two.
Practice in the morning went well, running several 29s and 30s. And my suspension was reset to where it had found a sweet spot during the MotoYard track day.
I was gridded on the front row of a pretty large field, that included a lot of really, really fast riders… behind me o_O
I was optimistic I would hold them off for a turn, but sadly, I was swarmed by the apex of turn 1. I get killer launches, I just need to get into the throttle harder I guess =/
So I grabbed on to a few guys in front of me – immediately in front of me was my “old friend” from Miller. I rode like hell trying to find a way around him, but it didn’t take until lap 2 for me to realize something was horribly, horribly wrong with my front end!
About 5 different places on the track – all corner entrances – I thought for sure I was going to lose the front. I firmly believe that if it wasn’t for having a brand new front tire, I would have surely crashed.
The handle bars would literally shake violently in my hands; I was watching in horror as the front tire jack hammered at an angle to the pavement… seemingly bouncing/skipping across the surface rather than rolling.
Several times I swear I could feel the front tuck slightly… the bars turning in my hands with no change in line….
Thankfully, Jason Pridmore’s STAR School has taught me to ride with light hands… and I firmly believe that this riding technique allowed the front end to bounce around, and let physics (and the throttle) take care of the rest.
I went through the check list in my head of what *I* – as a rider – was doing wrong to create this front end problem. I was quite nervous, and riding a bit sloppy – jerky on the brakes. Lap after lap passed, as I put effort into focusing on my own riding styles, none of the usual culprits were causing the front end issue. Due to the predictable nature of the front end chatter and drama, I was quite certain it was nothing I was doing wrong.
My awesome cousin Matt Buanno was out helping me again, and being a stellar crew chief / pit boss / mechanic this weekend. In discussing our Solo strategy, I told him I was only going to pull in if something was horribly wrong…. So when I pulled in, naturally he was a bit concerned.
Wind & Heat Drama
On lap 8 I pulled in to take 2 clicks of rebound out. When I went back out, there was virtually no one left on the track! Most of the fast guys had used it for testing (pretty normal since there’s no points or anything) and a few of the guys still out there in the 100+ deg heat, and 20+mph winds were barely getting around the track at a B Group pace!
I felt considerably slower, but cruised around to feel the front end. The wind provided a few BIG scares going into turn eight!!! The wind was blowing perpendicular to the back straight, so turning into eight would be turning into the wind. A few times my bike literally would NOT turn. Flat out, nearly 160 mph, and it would simply not respond to steering input!!! The first time it happened I literally squealed in my helmet. My initial thought was that something broke and now my bike won’t turn…. For a split second I thought for sure that I was going to go flying off into the dirt. At one instance of this affect, I literally threw myself off the side of the bike, as if hanging waaaaayyy off in a corner, to get the bike to turn. It was pretty funny to think about that, I had my thigh across the seat, and my chest about a foot away from the tank while the bike was going in a straight line… and that alone didn’t even make it turn! It was the combination of me throwing my weight that way, and pushing as hard as I could on the right bar, while pulling on the left bar, and slamming my weight down on the right footpeg… a whole body effort to turn it… and I was off the throttle!
That brief pit stop allowed my engine to crest over 200 deg – which was relatively fine for the engine – just not fine for me as it turns out.
About 5 laps into my second attempt at the Solo I could not keep my feet on the pegs any more. Especially my right foot (due to being near the pavement for long durations, like turn two, and eight/nine). Although I fought through it, and told myself to suck it up and deal with it and finish the race, it finally reached a point of complete distraction that resulted in several errors – so I weighed the options… this was a non race, really, and it was incredibly hot, very hard on my machine (and me!) … so I opted to call it quits rather than slow down and circumvent the track at a slow pace. I do not quit races unless I feel my safety is compromised.
I could barely keep my feet on the pegs as I came in off the track. I nearly threw my bike at Cousin Matty as I hobbled over to strip off my gear and boots… fully expecting to see a blister on my foot! Turns out track temperatures were 140-150 deg F this weekend.
Matty initially thought hot fluid had leaked into or on my boot… he didn’t believe the pegs would be that hot until he touched it with his bare hands! He couldn’t touch it! They were literally as hot as the engine.
I was certainly not the only one whose feet burned up during that race – several other racers commented the same. It was just that damn hot out there!
After calming down a bit, and getting some fluids, I discussed with Matty the horror of my front end. The only thing that had changed since practice was a new tire (on a spare rim)… and that I went 1.5s faster! (more on that in a minute)…
After talking to the fine men of CT Racing, they had me bring my front wheel over for a balance check and inspection. My wheel and tire checked out just fine…. Item #1 – check
Item #2 – call Lenny Albin
After looking at my time sheets I was thrilled to find that 4 of my 7 hot laps were in the 1:28 range!! A good 1.5s faster than I went in practice!
I talked to Lenny about what happened… how I had my compression settings at full hard (fully closed off), and how everything was fine during practice… the bottom line… the fluid flow in the forks was too choked off. The front tire could not respond to the bumps and the loading as it needed too. He provided a suggestion on opening up the compression settings and provided direction on where I could make small changes from there depending on how it felt.
On a side note… the biggest “suspension issue” I have right now is that my riding is improving at an exponential rate right now and taking me into lap time ranges I never dreamed of, therefore, I have no idea how my current suspension settings will handle it, and where to make changes from there. Hence, what just happened during the Solo…
Sunday – An Unforgettable Day
I knew I had to go hard in practice, and try to match my lap times from the Solo if I was going to determine if my suspension was going to work as it needed to.
Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get it done =/ I had a best of a high 29… my bike felt good, and I pushed it hard into some corner entries that gave me a lot of grief, and it handled it well, so… hoping for the best during the races. I had no idea what kind of lap times I was going to turn… I knew I’d likely hit 1:28s again.
Open (A) Superbike (Race #9)
This class is always stacked with the fastest dudes… Jeremy Toye, Corey Sarros, Chris Duran, and former AMA Pro Sbk racer Dean Mizdal to name a few.
My goal was to get a good start, and see how long I could hang onto the fast guys.
Would you believe I hung with those guys through the exit of turn four! My weakest area is exiting turn five and six, with my next weak area being the exit of turn four. The exit of five feeds into the hill top crest of six, which feeds into the super fast back straight – the fastest part of the track starts at the exit of turn five. That’s where the fast guys (who ran 22s/23s) were gone.
I just kept riding hard… I knew those guys would destroy me – I’m not in that league (…yet…)
I was passed by one other rider, a Willow regular on a super built Honda CBR1000. I was determined not to allow anyone else pass me so I just kept the hammer down, and really worked on getting better drives off five, and picking up the throttle more aggressively out of six.
No one else passed me…. When I took the checkered flag I was overcome with emotion… by the time I exited turn two I was bawling and screaming “I was NOT last!!! I was NOT LASSSSTTTTT!” After all the heartbreak last year of finishing so far behind in last place as to not even see my class… to finishing 7th of 11 racers in Open Superbike today at the fastest track… for the first time I was crying tears of joy. Yes… I cried the whole cool down lap… I waved at the corner workers, and enjoyed accepting kudos from the crowd watching up on the hill side overlooking the Omega (turns 3/4/5 make an W).
Open (A) Superstock (Race #11)
Upon looking at the grid for SS, I realized I actually might have a legit shot at the podium!! I couldn’t believe it!
My start was good, again, but… again… I just wasn’t fast enough into the throttle – and I was starting from one of the last rows in the class (Row 3 of 4). I got hung up behind a gentlemen I know quite well on his super fast, super fancy BMW S1000. Now these bikes can make nearly 200 hp with only an exhaust and an ECU! Needless to say, I was thrilled and delighted when my Big Boy was not losing any ground to this BMW!!! Graves Motorsports built me a Superstock engine that has unbelievable performance!! I was getting killer drives out of the corners, and carrying phenomenal corner speed. I was all over the ass of this BMW, and we were a few bike lengths off the 2nd and 3rd place guys! Lap after lap I tried to find a way around this BMW. At one point I showed him a wheel going into turn six, but just didn’t have the guts to pull it off. After that he got more aggressive, and rode more defensive lines. Unfortunately, more often than not I was getting weaker drives off turn nine, and was not usually in a position to make a move in turn one. Although I was carrying more corner speed in one usually, and a few times attempted an outside pass on the exit of one, and going up the inside as we came into turn two…. But again, I wasn’t gutsy enough to make it happen.
On the last lap, the BMW got around the Suzuki GSXR in front of him to take over third, and I nearly had the GSXR in several locations, but couldn’t quite make it happen. I went for the killer drive off turn nine, and nearly had the GSXR at the line… I lost 4th place by 0.0971s!!!!
No matter! 2nd place was about 1 second in front of me!!! I was in the hunt, I was in the battle!!!! I lost a podium because my race craft needs to be developed – not because I was too slow!!! A top five in Open Superstock has been a goal for this year… I count this one as being met. Regardless that there were 7 riders in the class; being part of the podium fight makes it count for sure!
And, would you believe I turned a 1:27.4!!!!! Just one! The remainders were 28s… battling to get around another rider every inch of the race. The best part… I had the fastest lap of the four of us
Women’s Superstock (Race #12)
Immediately after Open SS was Women’s SS, so cousin Matty met me at hot pit in/out with some water and words of encouragement =)
Heavyweight Twins Superbike Expert and Novice was once again gridded up in front of us girls… ugh… 10 … ten twinsie boys….
It was again a single wave start… ugh… and there were considerable entries in the expert class. I was gridded on Row 13, on the outside… a perfect place to get through as many twinsie boys as possible. Navigating through the novice grid and the back of the expert grid upon the drop of the green flag felt like slow motion… it was like lane splitting.
No offense to the girls in my class, but there was honestly no competition – the other fast girl opted not to enter it due to back to back races. The next quickest girl was on an SV650, which she rides really well, but let’s face it – an SV650 vs a liter bike at Big Willow??? The other expert girl was on a 600, but still… vs a liter bike at Big Willow? Plus she had been having heat stroke symptoms anyway, and had commented about how she was unsure about racing (sure enough felt sick and withdrew half way through the race).
As I picked my way gingerly through the twinsie class, I kind of chuckled in my helmet at some of the guys who were unfamiliar with me when they gave me double takes, like “who are you, and why are you up here?!?!”
I was like, “I’m not in your class, now get outta my way!” Ha ha ha!! After the speeds carried in Open Superstock, the opening half of the race felt like it was in slow motion! I was careful to get around the guys clean – they were racing their race, and I was merely passing through. I was not racing them… although one guy thought I was and put up defensive lines and tried to keep me from passing him!
I was able to get clear of most the twinsie pack by the end of lap 2 (6 lap race), and set off after the next twinsie. As I approached, I realized this was the same gentleman who was on the BMW of the previous race…. Hmmmmm….. now on his Ducati for this one.
I nearly had him at several points in the track, but none more securely than going into turn one side by side… only to wimp out and yield… I’m still kicking myself in the butt for doing that!!!! Aarrrggghhhhhhhh….
I nearly had him at the line too, but none of that mattered as I was not racing against him… apparently he did not care, because he picked up the battle as if we were back in Open SS again! He was third place in the twins class, which made me the fourth place finisher over all.
Cousin Matty commented that the announcer kept saying my name as I navigated through the twins field… commenting how I was up into 4th place… “oh wait, she’s leading the Women’s Superstock class!!!” Ha ha ha ha!
In the end, I ran a new personal best of 1:27.0!!!!! An average speed of 103.3 mph… so friggin awesome!!!!!! The two clean laps I had I ran a mid 27, then a low 27… then 28s while stuck behind said Ducati.
The nearest girl was 66s behind me. Niccole “Wha-Bam” Cox rode a phenomenal race and dropped her personal best by 6 seconds!!!!! I am so incredibly proud of her!!!!
During the cool down lap, I blew kisses to the crowd, to the corner workers… It just seems appropriate to blow kisses after winning the Women’s race than any other race! Ha ha ha! A crowd up in Budweiser Balcony who had watched all my races (they were nearly all back to back!) jumped up and down and cheered for me – that was an amazing feeling to see that! And a gentleman parked along the road way, watching from near turn six, pointed at me, and removed his vintage looking cap, the kind of cap you picture a distinguished gentleman wearing, and did that hat tip congratulatory salute – the one where the gentlemen bows his head a bit and does the circular hat tip motion with it in his hand…. That was pretty special. I blew him a kiss =)
Yet again, my feet were so hot I could barely keep them on the pegs during the cooldown lap… my poor bike had gotten pretty hammered! Pulling in after Open SS, and waiting a few minutes for W SS only served to have the coolant sit stagnate and get hot. I spent the warm up lap of the Women’s race trying to get it back under 200 deg. On the grid it hit just under 210 deg, but ran between 214-221 deg F during the Women’s race.
My bike was literally cooking me when I pulled into post tech. I could not keep my feet on the pegs, and I had to get post tech’d as I had won the race. The waiting was agonizing on my feet, and the bike was so hot, I took off my helmet and gloves, and soon I just got off the bike. After she checked my stickers, I started walking back to my pit, pushing my bike, and I could see cousin Matty walking towards me.
But all of a sudden I started feeling dizzy… Greg Nuleman of MotoYard was gracious enough to grab my bike and start pushing it back towards cousin Matty. I was slowly walking, but I realized I was about to just fall to my knees. All the adrenaline, all the heat, all the emotion, and the physical effort expended in 18 race laps, and 24 total laps finally came crashing down, and would have been literally had it not been for Stephen Lim, Corey Lindabury, and couple of girls walking by. SLim (as we call him) and Corey were gracious enough to help me walk back to my pit. Corey happened to be there sending Jeremy Simmons off in the 600 race and put his umbrella over me, as did the girls walking by. Needless to say, I had given it my all out there!
Results – http://roadracingworld.com/news/article/?article=48689
Rocco Horvath was horribly injured in a crash in turn two during the Middleweight Solo 20 on Saturday. Sending positive thoughts your way Rocco!!! Get well soon!!!!
Huge Thank You
To my awesome cousin Matt Buanno for taking incredibly good care of me!!!
To Matt Greenstone for graciously allowing me to use his toy hauler for the weekend so Duke (my Great Dane) and I may have air conditioning and a shower =)
To Corey Neuer and Chris Maguire of CT Racing – Pirelli – for taking incredibly good care of me this weekend!! All three of those sprint races on one rear (soft!) tire, and my fastest lap in the very last race! Did not have a single slide all day Sunday!
To Josh Kent for coming up to watch, cheer me on, and help me pack at the end of the hot day!
To my amazing friends and family who support me, Kellie Auld, my awesome parents, and the Duran’s… thank you… And what a Father’s Day gift for my Pops!!! =)
And finally, my amazing sponsors, without which this would not be possible!!! Thank You!!!
Graves Motorsports (gravesport.com)
EBC Brakes (ebcbrakes.com)
Scorpion Helmet (scorpionusa.com)
Lenny Albin (superbikechassis.com)
Pirelli Tires (CT Racing & Fast Line – Utah based Pirelli)
M Racing (mracingperformance.com)
Five & Dime Tattoo (fiveanddimetattoo.com)
Moonstone Cellars (moonstonecellars.com)
STAR School (starmotorycle.com)
Five-0 Racing (five-0racing.com)
Aussie Body Fitness (aussiebodyfitness.com)
Attack Performance (attackperformance.com)