The short story – A very good weekend. I finished 18th on Saturday and 19th on Sunday.
Slightly longer version:
For whatever reason, of the 34 entrants in Daytona Sportbike, only 31 actually made it out on track.
Friday – Practice and Qualifying
I recall sitting on pit wall and looking out over Barber Motorsports Park. It looked much different than I had ever seen it before – there were thousands of people there. They were there to watch practice – not a race, PRACTICE! This is what racing is supposed to be like.
For practice and qualifying on Friday I spent most of the time learning slightly new lines and much more aggressive throttle control. I was turning in later and faster in many turns and getting to full throttle at rates that were scary to my ZX-10 programmed brain yet still much too slow.
My best time, a 1:34.6, qualified me 26th, was essentially as fast as I'd gone on my ZX-10 and three seconds under the 110% qualifying cut-off but I knew I could do better.
Ray and Todd put on new soft tires on for the morning qualifying session but I didn't go any faster even with the new line through 9 and 10. After ten laps, I pulled into the pits and Stuart asked what I was doing in some turn – I don't remember which one. I know I answered rather dejectedly that I was just being a wuss. I needed to attack more. Go in faster, turn faster, and get the fricken throttle pinned.
So I went out and did just that. Four laps later I had done two of my best ever laps around Barber Motorsports Park. AMA Timing and Scoring had me at a 1:33.3 and a 1:33.13 which qualified me 21st. That was tantalizingly close to my goal of top 20.
Saturday Race – Feels like the first time.
It's all different. I don't really know what I'm doing. The track goes green and I head out for the sighting lap. It's funny watching the BMW pace car push to go fast around the track while I'm sitting up waving at the crowd riding right behind it.
Ray, Todd and Phoenix, my umbrella girl, meet me at the grid. Ray and Todd put the bike on the stands and throw the tire warmers on. Phoenix hands me some Gatorade while she holds the umbrella over head. It's bright and hot out, the shade from the umbrella is actually nice.
A horn sounds and the guys take off the wamers and remove the stands. Another horn sounds and we head out for a warm up lap one row at a time.
Back on the grid, the marshal holding the red flag walks off. The starting lights come on and then flick off. I get a decent start. I don't gain any spots but I don't lose any either.
Two riders get tangled up in turn 1 and one of them goes down hard. The other, a Vesrah bike, manages to get back on track at turn 2. We get around 2, crest the hill and head into turn 5 – the hairpin.
The bike that was off track in turn 1 appears in my peripheral vision as I'm turning in. He's on a dangerously low line and carrying way to much speed to avoid hitting the bikes in front of me. I immediately stand my bike up and narrowly miss getting caught up in the four bike carnage.
That's the good news. The bad news is I'm in the gravel trap. I have the bike spinning at 10k RPM, rear tire throwing gravel in a large rooster tail behind me. I'm slowly walking the bike out. When I get out the red flag has been thrown.
Welcome to the AMA – your first order of business is to survive the first lap.
The restart went fine. I wasn't expecting such a short restart and I was a little slow off the line. I think I finished the first lap in 24th. After taking a couple laps to get comfortable I started picking up my pace and passed some people. Wooohooo! I passed someone!
Then I passed another and another. I thought I was the fastest guy on the track! OK, not really but I was moving pretty good. I eventually made it up to 16th place and leading a pack of four.
Somewhere in there I made a great (if I do say so myself) pass on two riders simultaneously in the turn 13-14 double right hander. I was really strong in that section and the two guys in front of me were battling. The lead rider tried to protect the inside and the guy behind was trying to pass on the outside but just wasn't going to get it done. Me, I kept the throttle open a bit longer, went around the outside then gently squeezed the brakes a bit to slow down for the second right and made the pass. Beautiful!
Later, while going through turn 2 I had a pretty big rear slide that I managed to recover from. Somehow it made me get a really good drive and I unknowingly shifted to 5th gear while accelerating toward turn 5 and misjudged my braking.
Shifting to 5th meant that my usual two downshifts for turn 5 put me in 3rd gear. As I was in turn hot I was already turning in when I realized the problem and couldn't get my big size 12 boot under the shifter to downshift again. Next thing I know, I'm not leading that pack of four, I'm trailing it by half a second or more.
Well, pick up a place here, lose a place there. We were scrapping back and forth then the blue flags were being shown indicating the race leaders were about to lap us.
It was two laps before the leaders actually caught us and we're trying to get out of the way of the non-existent leaders the whole time. We were covertly racing each other. Trying to be considerate of the blue flag rule yet still pass for position. Finally the leaders came by and the white flag was show. Woohooo! I made it to the last lap before getting lapped.
Somehow I got the short end of the blue flag stick and was at the back of the group. Well, two passes later I crossed the finish line in 18th. My first AMA race and I get points and money – WOOOHOOOO!
Sunday Riders Meeting
Sunday was a rainy, wet, overcast, cool day. At the rider's meeting David McGrath, the race director, was explaining that the XR1200 racers were going out first and it was up to us racers to tell him what the track could handle as far as racing in the rain.
"Great," I said jokingly, "we've got Michael Barnes and Jeremy McWilliams checking out a wet track for us."
"No worries mate," says someone standing right next to me, "If it's not safe I'll tell you. And I'm Jeremy McWilliams" Now ain't that a cool way to meet someone who's been paid to race just about everything with two wheels?
Sunday Warm Up
I got to follow Tommy Aquino on his fast lap and had the pleasure of being bumped into in turn 2 by Dane Westby. I finished my four wet laps in 20th, just behind Aquino.
The track was wet with several puddles but the rain had stopped. All of the racers were on full wets. Let me tell you, I've raced in the rain before but 20 bikes in front of you throwing up rooster tails is blinding. Again, I survived the first lap but I was a bit too careful and was in 24th place or so.
Like Saturday, I started getting really comfortable and started going faster. My lap times were only three seconds a lap off the leaders and I passed up to 15th place by lap 11 when the red flag was thrown due three separate crashes.
Gridded on row 4 on the restart I was pretty excited. I was actually doing pretty damn good at this. The track was drying but still damp. Everyone was still on full wets.
Well, on the restart the top 14 were still faster than me but not by much. Over the course of the 9 lap sprint they gradually pulled away – 14th was 1 second a lap faster than me.
On the last lap I got passed by Jodi Christie. I actually thought to let him go, to not risk crashing on the last lap of the race. He pulled about half a second on me through the first half of the track. But in turn 11 and 12, the left /right up the hill, I gained it all back and I knew I could take him in the turn 13-14 double right hander.
Well, Christie knew my line there and stayed wide. I should have ducked underneath him but I was already committed and tried the outside pass anyway. I was right next to him when I had to roll off the throttle to slow down for the second right and the front tire lost traction.
Oh was I cussing up a storm at my stupidity. As I was sliding across the asphalt and into the grass I was yelling out loud. When the bike came to a stop I picked it up immediately and restarted it. There was no real damage and I was back on track. I crossed the finish line in 19th – another top 20 finish! Points and MONEY!
Later I found out that Christie had been a lap down from before the restart. Why, I don't know and neither did he. He thought he was on the current lap and so did I. I didn't have to repass him to finish 15th but that's how it goes sometimes.
Oh well – I finished 19th!
My lap times improved from being 5 seconds off on Friday to 4 seconds off on Saturday to 3 seconds off on Sunday.
I finished in the money in both races. Considering that 33% of the field DID NOT FINISH either race, just finishing an AMA race is an accomplishment. Truly, a lot can happen in 21 laps of Barber.
Thank you to Susan, my wife, who has assisted, helped, cried, fretted, sacrificed for and supported me these past two and a half years so I could get here. Thanks to Ray, Todd, and Stuart for working their asses off so I could go play. Thanks to Phoenix for lending her looks to attract some fans to the far end of the pits so the little guys could get noticed. Thanks to David and Chrissy, the original crew, for helping unselfishly when I really needed it most.
Lastly, again, thank you Susan.