Suzuki Snapshots

Kris (Krash) Larivee

DAYTONA: From Dismay to Despair. Part I: Pregnant Cats and Bloody Knuckles
Posted by Krash on March 7, 2002


I left for Daytona, a passenger in a 25 year old van, with a man I had only met once before and his pregnant cat. My racebike was in Virginia, hopefully all prepped and ready to go. The plan was to get to Zooke's, put the finishing touches on the three Sundial bikes and be off to practice at DeLand FL. Sounds like a simple plan, had I (or Eric) known what we were in for, we both might have stayed at home with our feet propped up and a frosty beverage close by (non-alcoholic in my case), watching re-runs of the Andy Griffith Show and nary a thought to the way things could have been. If only.......
A tense 14 white-knuckle, nail-biting, speedy prayers to my maker, eyes clamped shut, teeth gritted for impact, hours later I arrived in the lovely state of Virginia. My driver was a man with no need for useless conventions such as lane markers, stop signs, signal lights, one way streets, no u-turns, ect. A gentleman who truly believed in using the whole road, breakdown lane, rumble strips, grass median, the space currently occupied by another vehicle and so on, not to mention his pregnant cat that found standing on the dashboard blocking the driver's view the most comfortable spot. One particulary tense moment when the interstate split and we were given the choice of going sharply to the left or to the right, saw our vehicle travelling decidedly straight, into orange barrels and guard rails. Somehow we avoided the barrels and made our way back to the tarmac, but not before I needed a change of shorts. Racing at Daytona would be easy, if I didn't end up a greasy spot on I-81 trying to get there.

I emerged from that rolling tomb a bit shaky, but still intact, at Sundial HQ in Pulaski, VA. Zooke informed me that we had a busy night ahead of us, as he was behind schedule with the bikes. It was a daunting task he had undertaken, preparing three bikes to run the banking at Daytona, but he showed no signs of worry, so I was encouraged. That was until I saw how much work was left to be done. The front end and brakes needed to be assembled on my bike, as well as a plethora of nuts and bolts still to be drilled and wired, fork seals installed, hydraulics bled, calipers assembled. We worked until the night was old, and the dawn rapidly approaching, before retiring for a few brief hours of rest.
We awoke to a cold day, with winds and some snow. Even after living for years in upstate NY, it felt bitter. So much for sunny VA. It was at this point Eric began having trouble with his bike, it wouldn't fire. Suspecting a bad crank, he began the first of what would be at last count four (yes 4) engine swaps, and many trips up and down his driveway in the freezing cold trying to bump start the bike, to no avail. Not once did his enthusiasm or determination waver. I wish I could have said the same for me. Still recovering from the flu, I felt weak and congested. Not the way I would have liked to start off my racing season. In the end, Eric and I finally got all the bikes together and loaded up on the trailer and began the 12 hour trip to Deland. It was 1:30 am, the practice day I had paid $75 for began in 6.5 hours. At least we were on our way.

Part II: From Pissing Gas to Practice Laps

Zooke and I were headed down to Deland in the hours of the night when only the insane are awake. Surely our mental stability was in question at this point, only we were far too exhausted for our brains to function at any measurable output. We were the Driving Dead, our only goal to keep the truck and trailer between the white and yellow lines. Staring unflinchingly ahead into the abyss of blackness before us with burning, blinded eyes. Our shifts of sleeping and driving lasted just twenty minutes, because neither of us could stay awake any longer. I found I could sleep quite nicely while driving, if it wasn't for the tractor trailers passing us and waking me up, usually just in time to yank the truck back onto the road. Even asleep, Zooke and I were better drivers than some people (mentioned in Part I).

At the noon hour, we were rolling into the Deland Airport, where a section of runway had been cordoned off by hay bales, garbage bags filled with something and orange cones, to form some kind of makeshift, ramshackle "racetrack". It looked like the kind of thing some kids might build for a go-cart race, not a prestigious AHRMA event. Team Sundial had arrived, roll out the red carpet!

Practice was already underway, so we quickly unloaded, bought some fuel from "Super" Dave Rosno and fired up the bikes. Or at least tried to.

The second I put gas into my tank, it came pissing out the bloody petcock. A cursory inspection revealed a fiber washer was missing from one of the screws that holds the petcock on the tank. Ever tried to find a fiber fuel valve washer at the racetrack? They're all over the friggin' place, but nobody wants to take one off their tank to give it to you! I stood and watched the $5 a gallon petrol piss and dribble all over the ground, trying to come up with a solution in my already bruised and battered head. All I could do was manage to drool a little bit and grunt. Zookerman to the rescue. In his hand he held a tiny nylon washer used on the Titans to seal the injector lines and banjo bolts. Apparently these things seal out gas as well, because my incontinent tank soon held it's own water (gas?) better than Grandma's Depends. I might get to do a couple of laps today, although I had completely forgotten how to ride a bike. Was it clutch on the left, brake on the right? Four up, one down? How did you get the silly thing to go around corners? Countersteer, what's that, a new kind of beef? Yes boys and girls, Mr. Krash was a little rusty. But never fear, he was determined to put on a display of riding tactics to make even the most idiotic of cage drivers wince. This is how NOT to ride a motorcycle. I managed not to kill anybody in my first few laps. OK, I managed not to kill myself, they're still looking for the riders I put off into the swamp. Alligator bait I suppose. Sorry.

I came back into the pits to find Eric grimacing over his Production bike that was supposed to be raced in just a few short hours. "Bad crank seal," is all he mutters as he puts the bike back on the stand. Without time to swap another engine for today's racing, it looks like Zooke will be sidelined. Frank Melling has arrived from England, with his "tuner", but the GP bike is having some teething problems, suspected fuel starvation and/or jetting glitch that will require further testing to rectify. Zooke is not worried, he has taken the "I will work harder" creed as his own and is sticking to his guns. I am impressed, by now others would have been reduced to tears, valiantly he soldiers own, without heed to his own weariness or frustration. He is the rock that Sundial is built on, the thread that held us all together. I would have thrown at least half a dozen temper tantrums by now, but that's just me.

Just when things aren't looking so hot for Zooke racing that day, OH NO Mr. Bill Vernon shows up and offers his T500 proddie bike to Zooke to race. If I am correct, Zooke built both of Bill's bikes, his T500 and the T350 Bill would be racing. The fight is on and Zooke makes a hell of an effort on Bill's bike, coming in Third in the Historic Production class, despite handling problems and his unfamiliarity with bike. It's a credit to his smooth and careful riding, even on a bumpy, sandy bunghole of a track like Deland, and it pays off with a podium finish, "wood" if you will.

We load up the bikes and drive 90 minutes to Zooke's parents house, where we will be staying, (much cheaper than a hotel). The Kalamajas are extremely gracious, making me feel a member of the family, not just a mere guest. I would have gladly stayed another two weeks with such warm and friendly people like them. Truly their kind of hospitality is rare in this day and age. My hat is off to them, as well as a heartfelt thank you.

I am falling asleep standing up as we exchange greetings with the Kalamajas, and my need for rest is abundantly clear and quickly fufilled, as they offer me the spare room and bed which I am soon sound asleep and snoring louder than the racebike in. Alas, no rest for Zooke, who will spend another late night, swapping the motor in his Production bike for another with hopefully good crank seals. I don't envy him as he plods out to the garage. His hands and knuckles are already swollen and bloody from long nights wrenching, and it appears this one will be no different. I think about this for nearly four seconds before passing out.

Only to be awakened by Zooke way too early in the morning. We must get to Deland. Today, Frank and I will be racing Formula 500, and already the butterflies are swarming in my gut.

Part III: Frightening Finish and Friggin' Fork Seals

For once on this trip, Zooke and I arrive on time and almost prepared. My bike is running well. and the front brakes are just starting to bed in. I might be able to stop if I really yank the lever! Practice goes much smoother than yesterday, but I am still very anxious, and with good reason. Upon inspecting the bike after practicing, it appears the steering damper has puked it's oily guts out all over my front fender. The only thing that saved be from a nasty crash was that skinny piece of fiberglass. I nearly chose not to run a front fender, because we were running short of time and it was a pain in the ass to put on. I will never run without one now.

I think anyone who has raced before will agree that the worst, most anxious time at the racetrack is the period in between practice and your race. Doesn't it always seem that practice ends far to early in the morning and the race is way too late in the afternoon? That's definitely the case as practice wraps up and I begin the long wait for lunch break and the five other races that will occur before my Formula 500 debut on the Sundial GP T500. Plenty of time for the body to stiffen up, the mind to wander and the weariness of the last four days to catch up with me. You can't sleep because your heart won't slow down, you can't eat much because it feels like you're going to vomit your intestines out. I don't like to watch others race before I do, inevitably you will see a crash and the imagination takes over. I must have pissed thirty times before I got into my leathers, and another twenty after. The human body is 70% water, and I'm sure I lost at least 50% of myself down the port-a-pottie. It's always like this for me before a race, only it's amplified due to lack of sleep, a new bike and a long winter. I'd love to know if the other racers feel this way, or if I'm just a candy-ass.

Of course, when the green flag drops, a metamorphasis occurs. The fear is gone and the adrenaline surges. I change from the little girl quaking in his Alpinestars to a full-fledged idiot, capable of the most incredible acts of daring (stupidity?). I run off the track wide open, drag my knee in the mud and flog the bike past it's limits. My brain tells me to slow down, pay attention to the line and be smooth. I kick it in the balls and send it off to some dark corner of my skull. Every so often it will yell from the corner to go easier on the machine and not over-rev it. Another kick sends it yelping back to the depths. If I listened to it I might finish more races and crash less, and even become a better rider. "He will never be a Jedi. He is reckless. Adventure? Excitement? A Jedi craves not these things."

That's exactly how I'm riding out there as my race starts. I get over-eager and come close to jumping the start. I'm away, but the leaders are already into turn one, and I can hear some angry two-strokes chain-sawing up behind me. One of them shows me a wheel and I miss the line in the first turn, and get passed. This thoroughly pisses me off and I rev the snot out of the bike to catch up. If I don't calm down, I'm going to kill someone, or detonate the motor. Two laps into it I get a little better, but I'm having trouble with the power delivery of the engine. It's deader than my grandma below 6 thousand RPMs. If you get out of the power, forget it. Stay in power and it pulls like a freight train. I take my entry speed up a few notches and start feeling the front end going away from me in the corners. I downshift to an insanely low gear to keep the revs up, somewhere around a crankcase bursting 9500 RPMs. I'm sure I could ride this bike well if I had had more time to get used to it, but I can't seem to figure it out here in the middle of the race. I'm still not doing too badly position-wise as we reach the halfway point of the race. I pass an RD by coming into a corner way too fast, hopping the back end on the downshift and blocking his line. It ain't smooth, but it's a clean pass. He hangs with me for another lap and gets by me when I slide the back end getting the power on too early in a tight right hander. Now I have to play catch-up, determined not to lose another position, especially to a friggin' Yamaha. I'm still close to him as we hit the front straight, when a rattling noise comes from the Titan. It sounds like the whole bike is coming apart. I look down and the screw that holds my flip-up gas cap on has come off, and there's race fuel sloshing all over the top of the tank and my legs. Needless to say, this put me off my already sloppy game even further. I have to hold the cap down with one hand going down the straights. In the corners I let the gas go anywhere it pleases. Despite this set-back and my questionable riding style, I finish seventh. Frank retires early, still having problems with his bike. I am exhausted, not pleased with my riding, and upon post-race inspection of the bike it is discovered that the right-hand fork seal has given up the ghost and is vomiting the fork contents all over the lower leg. Great, another problem. And we haven't even made it to Daytona yet.

Frustrated and over-tired, we load the bikes and leave Deland to the airplanes and skydivers. If I have to look at the bright side, I didn't crash, blow up the bike or finish last, and we have two days off before Daytona. Looking at the dark side, I am in desperate need of a fork seal for a late model GT750, tomorrow is Sunday, nary a bike shop within a thousand miles will be open, and Zooke is so busy with Frank's bike that a fork seal is the least of his worries. And the icing on this dung cake is that I don't have anywhere near the seat time on my machine to feel even remotely confident in it, or my riding. Part of me wants to shitcan the whole race and spectate, check out all the cool bikes that will be there. Of course, the maniac part takes over and growls that as long as the bike will move, I will race, even if I have to empty the oil out of both fork legs, or put a girder front end from a '37 Sunbeam on it. There's no way out.

Zooke and I spend a semi-relaxed day running errands, checking on his rental property, and trying not to fret about the bikes. But I know Zooke is concerned about Frank having a good ride and a good showing, having travelled all this way. It doesn't make a very good article to tell about how you didn't race at Daytona, somehow I don't think Classic Bike would pick up Frank's tab for that one. I met a friend of Zooke's that had a GT750 he was using as a streetbike, but I couldn't con him into lending me his fork leg just for a few races. He thinks he might have some seals at home, says he will check and get back to me. I am not holding my breath. I'm starting to wake up to the grim reality that even when they have good intentions, you cannot count on other people. You truly must do it yourself, and leave nothing to chance. A lesson that was soon to be driven home with a sledge hammer. But I am getting ahead of myself.

As I did not here from Zooke's friend about the seal, much of Monday is spent trying to find one at the local bike shops. I might as well have been searching for a head for an AJS Porcupine with all the luck I had. Everybody's willing to order them, but I need them NOW! Frank wants me to drain the one fork leg and fill the other with 50WT oil. His rationale is that the legs are clamped together, and will move together, even if one is empty of oil. That will be my last resort. Others have suggested stuffing paper towels into the leg and duct-taping them in place, sort of a Maxi-pad type deal. One guy even told me to use JB-Weld on the seal, but I think he had spent too much time around uncapped inhalants in his dirt floor garage.

In a final attempt to procure a seal, I checked the box of spare parts I brought with me from NY, what seems like a lifetime ago. Buried in the bottom of the box is a used, grungy, distorted fork seal that I had forgotten to throw away at Zooke's because I couldn't find the garbage can. I knew there was no way this would work, defying all fork seal logic I had ever been taught, but there was nothing to lose. With the front end of my menstrating Titan jacked up on a log, bits spread out all over Zooke's parent's lawn, I began what I assumed would be a fruitless venture.

While I was dissecting my front half, Zooke and Frank were running his bike up and down the street in front of the house (somewhat illegally, I might add) trying to pinpoint the niggling fuel delivery problem that had plagued them for days. Finally Frank suggests swapping out both carburators for the set on the Sundial Production racer. Zooke, at a loss, concedes and the swap begins. Within thirty minutes Frank is tearing up and down the desolate stretch of central Florida backroad at speeds approaching triple digits, a distinctly English grin spreading from ear to ear inside his fiery red Arai brainbucket. Zooke decides to celebrate cowboy style, whooping it up and smacking his hat back and forth on his leg, shouting expletives of happiness and hugging anyone who would come near. You'd have thought he discovered the cure for cancer. I only share partly in their happiness, as I am waiting to see whether my ancient fork seal will stand the test. I sanded the slider with 600 grit wet or dry and used a jewler's file on a nasty gouge that had previously escaped our notice, probably the cause of the first seal failure. Nothing good can come of rushing a project.

I test ride the bike over all the bumps I can find, trying to get the sliders to use their full travel. I dirt track it across the lawn (sorry about the ruts!) and take to the pavement. I jam the front brake several times to compress the suspension. At least the brakes are coming up. So much so that I do a pretty cool "stoppie" and nearly end up on my head! Didn't know vintage bikes could do that! After about fifteen minutes of these shenanigans, I roost back across the lawn to inspect. Nary a drop of fork oil to be seen. I push up and down on the forks, determined to get them to leak, but can't. I am happy. The bike will be ready for the banking at Daytona. The only other question is, will I?

After an excellent dinner cooked by Ma Kalamaja, I head to bed, pre-race jitters already beginning. But I have some hope, and that's a good thing.

The evening before the race at Daytona was the most relaxing time during this crazy trip, by far. Frank Melling, Zooke and I enjoyed a tasty meal prepared by Zooke's Ma. The food was good, the company was great and did much to set our minds at ease. The bikes were running well, tomorrow would be easy, provided you didn't crash or blow up the bike.
I was again awakened by Zooke at some ungodly hour of the morning when only ghosts are stirring. Time to go. We had loaded the bikes and gear last night, so without further ado, we departed for the track. The temperature was in the high 20s, low 30s. The news on the radio was talking about frost, the citrus farmers were covering up their crops. So much for sunny and warm Florida. Ninety minutes later Zooke and I are descending into the tunnel that leads to the pits at Daytona. Immediately we are swarmed upon by a gaggle of annoying creatures known as "Track Nazis", demanding credentials, and barking orders. The only way to be rid of these draconian insectoziods is to appease them. They love subservience from their victims, and this must be feigned at all times. Any hint that you might be disgusted with being told to park on the left, after another one of them told you to park on the right, just moments before another told you to park in the middle can cause them to attack. The sting of a Track Nazi can lead to a sudden rise in blood pressure, red blotchy face, a red veil before the eyes and the uncontrollable urge to rip one of those bastards to shreds and eat his heart for lunch, and spleen for dessert. Be warned.

One of these dreadful nincompoops comes over to the Sundial truck and shouts that we can drop off the trailer inside the paddock, but must return and park the truck in the outside lot, a walk somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 mile. I am about to say something to this silly little man with the badge and walkie-talkie, when Zooke shows me the Zuki Knight Mind Trick. He bows his head and humbly aquiesces to this weaver of red tape webs, promising to bring the tow vehicle out forthwith and stable it in yonder lot. There is not a hint of annoyance in his tone, he sounds as if he's trying to talk a state trooper out of a speeding ticket. The bugman is fooled and we are on our way. Zooke mutters something under his breath about "bring the truck back, my ass". I have so much to learn, Master Zooke.

The sun is out, but the morning is freezing. I am forced to drop a heat range in plugs just to get the bike to fire. Finally it does, billowing forth plumes of two-stroke and 112 octane fumes. Many riders have opted not to head out for the first practice session, due to the cold. Zooke puts his leathers on over all his clothes for added warmth, I will never fit in mine if I do the same. We head out on the track. I have seen Daytona on tv, and listened to the racers talk about the banking, hell I even visited the track once as a kid. But the first time you come out of the infield and head out onto the banking any pre-conceptions you had disappear. The first look down is rather intimidating. A lowside here, would be very low indeed. I can see small specks moving around in the grass on the infield, only to realize they are corner workers. I take a quick look back up at the angled cement wall on top of the banking and can see the tire marks where NASCAR's finest have their red-neck wreckfest. Then I become aware of my speed, somewhere over the ton, and my attention snaps back to what I am doing. I back off the throttle, not wanting to harm the bike before the race. Learn the track, save the motor. Suddenly the wind catches my bike from behind, hits the fairing and pushes me down the banking. I had heard about the wind here, that was scary. I slow for the chicane, trying to find the best line through it, then head back out onto the banking. I give her a little more stick. The bike feels like it's down on power, then I hear the sound that became all too familiar to me last season. It's a fluttering, spluttering sound that can mean only one thing, the headgasket is blown. And if the head gasket is gone, the probable reason is that the head has cracked. I thought when I bought Zooke's specially prepared bike that this head cracking that plagued me last year would be over. Apparently not. I limp the machine back down the banking and to pit-in. I kill the motor to avoid further damage to the top of the cylinder (a lesson hard learned last year when I tried to finish a race with a bad head). I started pushing, and sweating and huffing and puffing in all my gear. Thankfully a young man decides I look utterly pitiful doing this and begins pushing me and the bike. I never got his name, but thanks to him anyways.

Frank, Zooke, and a tuner (whose name has been changed to prevent embarassment and a possible international incident due to circumstances I will later reveal. We'll can him Jim.) listen to the bike. Jim assures me that the head gasket is not gone, and sends me back out to practice again. I don't even get to the banking, the sound is so bad coming from the top end. I putter around in the in-field and begin the long push back to the paddock, this time with no assistance. My anger is starting to rise.

Back at the truck, my friend, and new sponsor (thanks!), Dave, owner of South St. Cycle in Philadelphia, has arrived. Just in time to watch me push the bike he's sponsoring back into the paddock. Inspection reveals what I have known for almost an hour now, the head is cracked, the head gasket is toast. Zooke thankfully has spares of both. Dave and I jump into the job, removing the gas tank and the bad head. It's the right hand side, an annoying first. It's always been the left until now. No one has any definitive answers, just the vague opinion that I am over-revving the motor. If it had any power below 6000 rpm, I wouldn't have to over-rev it by shifting into too low a gear to pull out of the corners. A quick discussion of my riding style (or lack thereof) has me wondering if I am the cause. The bike is re-assembled and I only missed one practice session. Back out on the track, I am trying to change my riding and be easier on the bike. I start using the back brake, planning my downshifts better, just trying to be smoother on the machine. I feel appallingly slow. The bike is running well, but won't pull the over-tall gearing we've got on it, and it still won't pull coming out of corners without a nasty downshift to keep it in the narrow powerband. I decide not going to worry about it any more, just to ride and have as much fun as I can. I know I'll probably get my ass whooped, but I'm here, the bike is going and that will have to do for now.

Practice is over and the wait for the race begins. My prehistoric fork seal is holding, and the motor is running, the Florida sun is shining (still a bit chilly, though) and I'm at one of the most famous race tracks in the world, with a bunch of the greatest guys in the world. Zooke is happy, Frank is happy, I'm starting to become happy. We're just one happy family. Why can't I enjoy it though? Maybe it's a quirk, or a downright personality disorder that keeps me looking for the black cloud on the horizon. Constantly finding the glass not only half empty, but also very likely to crack the moment I pick it up. Call it pessimism, narcissism, whatever, if it's one thing I have learned it's that Murphy's Law is the ONLY LAW. It's a habit I can't kick. Despite smiles in the paddock, my mind is going over all the things that can still go wrong and probably will. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, expecting things to go awry all the time. So much so that a friend of mine once asked me if I truly wanted to win the race or was content to break halfway through and be able to b###h about the bike. My knee jerk answer was of course I wanted to win, that's why I was there. I think I understand what he was saying now. If you really want to win, you find a way, whatever happens. You can't keep throwing obstacles in your own path, like what ifs, should haves and could have beens. The race is half lost already, like that. Failure is practically a guarantee. There are plenty of things to go wrong, without imagining more. That's exactly what I was doing, and using the bike breaking as an excuse. I'd be damned if I was going to do that again. I did want to win, and by hook or by crook I'd learn how. Maybe Daytona wasn't the best place to start, but then again, maybe it was.
My new sponsor, Dave of South St. Cycle, Philadelphia, GO THERE, HE'S THE BEST!!!!!! (is that a good enough plug for the shop?) and I head to start/finish to watch the Great Men, Great Machines Parade Lap. There are some beautifully prepared race machines alongside some real tatty looking buggers. My info is probably wrong, feel free to correct me, but here goes: There's an ex-Cal Rayborn KR Harley, a brutish American machine with high pipes, in somber Halloween orange and black, belting out that v-twin throb, a pair of Yoshimura-tuned Honda CR750s, one of which actually won Daytona in 1972. Gary Nixon will pilot that machine, resplendent in sunshine yellow paint, the other, a more sedate metallic blue will be ridden by "Super" Dave Rosno. There's a couple of snortin' Norton Manxes that you couldn't afford to buy a shift lever for, and some "barn fresh" Indian, freshly coated in rust, smoking profusely, that springs a gas leak before he even gets off the line and a couple of Egli Vincents that don't sound quite right. Photographers and moto-journalists are elbowing each other to get that quote, or perfect shot. Old men stand astride their old machines. Though I hate to say it, the machines look better than the pilots. There are other Great Men there I'm supposed to remember, but you'll have to forgive this whipper-snapper, as I only had eyes for the Yosh Hondas. Possibly the finest in-line four snarl I have ever heard, and when the flag for the parade lap dropped, I was in heaven. Gary Nixon stood that yellow CR up on it's back wheel and wheelied that son of a b###h almost to turn one, Rosno right on his tail. Some could call it a graphic display for a parade lap, but I thought he gave the crowd a great show, lifting his hat (wheel?) to Pops Yoshimura's dynamic tuning. I loved it, trying not to remember that I would race against both of these CRs in my second race of the day.

Back in the paddock, Frank is pulling on his leathers in anticipation of our first Formula 500 race. I follow suit, surprisingly calm. Whatever happens, I can tell people I raced at Daytona. How many hillbillies can say that? I'm not even worried about the bike. To hell with it, it breaks, it breaks. I'm not sure where we're supposed to go for the grid, but I know where I am gridded. In the back, as usual. I follow Frank, trying not to over-heat the clutch on the way. Motor sounds good, everything seems to be attached. Houston, we are ready for launch! The minute board goes sideways, bikes clonk into gear, revs up. I am screaming/laughing into my helmet. The guy next to me must hear, because he glances in my direction. Not for long, because the flagman twitches and I get one hell of a start! The bike is geared too tall to take off like a rocket, but it is like being shot out of a softly sprung catapult. The power kicks in and I am nearing Frank up at the front. Traffic is hellacious as 30 bikes all go for the same line into turn one at the same time. Bars are banging, I can see a wheel on each side of me. Discretion gets the better part of my valour, as I avoid making a couple of brave passes coming into Turn 2. I have had some trouble with this section, a fast right hander, and don't want to do anything stupid. If I'm riding well enough, I will catch them before the banking. I'm smoother, but not smooth enough, as the bikes stay ahead. I'm somewhere in the middle of the pack, not too bad, I think, as I make my way out onto the banking for the first time. Nobody in front to draft, though. A quick look back tells me there are quite a few bikes back there. I know I can't make afford too many mistakes. The straights at Daytona are long, even at speeds well in excess of 100mph. You are going so fast for so long, it stops feeling, well, fast. You can relax a bit, plan strategy, listen to the bike or do like I did, start thinking about an ex-girlfriend (don't ask). I can see the chicane ahead and prepare to dive in. I slow down earlier than I normally would, and downshift carefully. If I screw up and get the motor out of the power now, it's all over. Any second I expect to get passed in the chicane, as I am surely going too slow, but no one comes by. I think I'm about 12th at this point. The next time around the banking I think, not bad for a rookie, at Daytona. The front-runners are so far gone I don't have any plans to catch them, and I'm not worried about it. I am concerned about not letting anybody else by me, though, so I try to ride as well as I can. Not as fast as I can, just as smooth. It seems to be working, because no one comes by, even when I make a few mistakes in the infield. Don't get me wrong, they were there, I could hear them and sometimes see a wheel, but no one came by. I get the crossed halfway flags and realize the bike and I are going to finish this race, and really start having fun, when disaster strikes.

I came out of the infield onto the banking, just two laps to go, upshift, fourth, roll on throttle, upshift fifth, throttle to the stops, nothing. Just a waahh sound, and no power from the motor. I drop back to fourth, open throttle, still no power, just waahh. I figure I cooked it, and in a bad spot. The 33 degree banking is no place for a motor to die. You couldn't walk up or down it, and I know there's many, many angry bikes getting ready to come by me, some at speeds approaching 150 mph. I signal with my arm, I'm coming down, and coast into the infield grass, before the chicane. All the bikes I was so worried about getting past me, continue on without a second glance. The corner workers have noticed me, and are heading in my direction. Strangely, I notice the bike is still running. What the hell? I rev it up a few times and it seems good. I look onto the track, have to wait for some back markers to come by before venturing forth, and dive back into the chicane. So far so good. I know I've lost a good ten spots, but now finishing the race is the only thing

Unfortunately, finishing that race was not in the cards for me. As I left the chicane and hit the banking again, the bike continued with it's waah waah bullshit. It wouldn't run with anything over half throttle. I coasted down the banking, along the pavement skirting the infield and dejectedly rode back to pit-in. I'm not sure of the problem at this point, but I am not ready to give up. There's still one more race, and I aim to finish it.

Everyone is talking to Frank about his tenth place finish when I pull in. Zooke asks what happened and a quick discussion begins. We all agree fuel starvation must be the problem. I quickly unscrew the fuel filter and the friggin' thing seems to be packed with sand? Jim comes over to help, and requests some paper towel. He empties the float bowls and gives us the good news that there's no sand in there. It's between the tank and the filter. The tank has a lousy cross-over line that makes it a pain to remove, but we get it off. There's about four different people including me, working to get the bike ready. Just one race before Formula Vintage, we'll never have the bike done in time. But wait, there's a red flag, the whole race will have to be restarted. The gift of time is given us, will we make it? There's not enough time to clean the brass filter element entirely, so I opt to run without it. Dave recommends pulling the petcock apart, which we do, then drain the tank. I begin replacing the tank when first call is given for my race. Jim tells me to get my helmet on, says he will put the tank back on. I zip up the leathers, fasten my lid and pull on my gloves. There is no way to know if we solved the starvation problem until I get out on the track. Frank is off to the grid. Jim has the tank on just before second call. I start the bike and ride toward the grid, when I notice the odor of race gas. I look down and it's pouring out all over my right leg, from somewhere under the tank. I call Zooke over and he comes running up. I figure it's just a line we forgot to hook up or something dumb, but he can't find the leak. When he finally announces the tank itself has sprung a leak, I lose it. I threw the bike down on the ground and walked away, chucking my helmet and glasses at least twenty yards. Dave (South St. Cycle, go there!) comes over and tells me to calm down, we're not out of it yet. He begins canvassing the whole paddock in search of some miracle gas tank sealant, which he does indeed find, only after my race has started. Heading over to the Sundial trailer, I play punching bag on the aluminum door with my left hand, (sorry about the dents, Zooke). If Dave wasn't there to calm me down, I might have gone for a knockout on the poor, unsuspecting trailer. It wasn't until about five minutes later, that I got really pissed. Dave was still looking at the bike and tank, trying to figure out how it could have started leaking. There was no rust, no bad dents or anything. Finally he asks if I put the tank on last time. When I reply no, he tells me to come have a look at my tank. Dave says, "Whoever put this tank on last, has cross-threaded both the bolts that hold it on in the back. See how cranked down that bracket is? It broke the weld on the tank, which is what caused the leak. They cross-threaded it so badly, it pulled the bracket sideways. See?"

I am livid. Put out of the race by something so dumb. All that money, time and effort, wasted, because of someone else's error. I feel like smashing something, like puking, like crying. I wished I never came to Daytona. And of course, I looked to lay the blame elsewhere. I mean, I didn't cause the tank to leak, it was somebody else. I didn't build the bike, it was somebody else. I didn't cause the fuel filter to get clogged in the first place, it was somebody else. And so on....

In retrospect I realize that kind of blame laying wouldn't get anybody anywhere. It was a tense time before the start of that last race, with a group of people all working feverishly to get me out there. Somebody turned a wrench just a little too much in the wrong direction. It's an easy thing to do, especially if you don't want to be the one blamed when the tank falls off in the middle of a race. So you give it just a half turn more, and something breaks. I could ask, why me?, but then a thousand racers will stand up and tell a story of something even dumber that somebody did (themselves included) that kept them out of a race, or worse yet, from winning it. As long as there is racing, there will be stories of heartbreak, I just wish I didn't have so many to tell this early in my career!

It was a damn good effort on all parts. Zooke built one hell of a bike, and if I ever learn to ride it, I may just win some races, (thanks). Frank kept it entertaining with his racetrack tales and anecdotes. (By the way, if you're in the UK, you've got to go to the Thundersprint that Frank puts on. It's sort of a motorcyle racing carnival, with all sorts of wonderous things. Check it out at thundersprint.com)(is that a good enough plug, Frank?) Of course there's everybody else, Dave at South St. Cycle, Matt Parrow gave me a $3 donation to help out, my friend Phil (without him I never would have seen a racetrack, he also gave me twenty bucks), all the people who helped (or tried to). Thanks. Hope this clears the air.

Frank told me some Isle of Man stories, unloading the bike, firing it up, riding literally 10 feet and having the crank go. Or getting the bike to the line and having the blasted thing sieze right before the start. There were quite a few more. The one thing he kept telling me was to get out while I could. "You're young," he said, "There's still hope for you. Stop this silly racing business and you can still enjoy a normal life. Do you really want to be a daft old bugger like me, riding around with a bunch of other old farts on old bikes? Get out now. Your wallet, your family, your girl and your body will thank you." I knew he had a point that any sane, reasonable person would have taken to heart. That's why I chose to ignore it.
When someone asked Mick Hemmings what it was like to go roadracing he said, "You go to the toilet three times a week and flush all your money away. Then you get on a bus and when it gets up to 60mph you jump off it." I'm beginning to understand exactly what he means.

I eventually made it home from Daytona, my only souvenir an 8.5"x11" AHRMA Participation Certificate and a wallet with nothing but my driver's license in it. This time I drove the 25 year old van most of the way, exhausting but much less stressful than being a passenger. We arrived at my home and unloaded the bike in the middle of a lake effect snowstorm. (The next day, I used a snowbank to load the bike into the back of my pickup, really.) I sprawled out in bed, ever so grateful that I took tomorrow off from work. The only thing I wanted to do was listen to some music and pass out, forgetting about motorcycles for awhile. I put a disc in the CD player, pressed play, nothing. The goddamn CD player didn't work. This wasn't my week.


 

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