2022 Talladega WERA Race 1 Recap: the fun of my first race in decades

Bear with me, y’all, there’s a lot here in this 2022 Talladega WERA Race 1 Recap. It was my first race weekend in decades, and it deserves some reflection.

2022 Talladega WERA Race 1 Recap: TLDR version

Short attention span? Here’s the highlight reel:

  • Holy shit was that fun!
  • Two races, two fourth places.
  • An emotional roller coaster on Saturday as they airlifted a friend from the track.
  • I set a personal best lap time on Sunday.

2022 Talladega WERA Race 1 Recap: arrival

We showed up Friday night and got a room. Saturday morning dawned freezing cold – 28°F. Snagged breakfast and coffee at the local Starbucks and headed for the track. On arrival, finished pit setup and worried about starting the bike for tech inspection at 7:30AM. It had sat all night in below freezing weather.

John racing the 2022 motorcycle in an orange provisional novice T-shirt featured image for 2022 Talladega WERA Race 1 Recap

We’re not allowed antifreeze in the radiator. It was distinctly possible that my coolant was frozen. Ice in the water pump can be a bad thing, as it will snap the fins off the impeller, particularly on bikes with plastic impellers. Desirée (my race bike) has an aluminum impeller, so she’s a little less fragile, but it’s still a danger. I pulled her into the sun to warm up as much as possible before tech.

Tech inspection was slightly fractious, as my throttle doesn’t exactly snap back into place – it rolls. It was determined safe enough, but that’s on my repair list prior to the next race. I don’t want to miss a race for a tech issue.

2022 Talladega WERA Race 1 Recap: practice and waiting

After tech inspection, practice. I was in group 2 for practice, so I had to get straight into my gear to get in a few practice laps. They were calling practice fast and furious, and I only managed to get in 5 laps before the checkered. My neighbors in the paddock asked how I felt, and the answer was “slower than shit.” My lap times showed it. I was a good four seconds off my usual pace. I was braking too early everywhere.

Since it was my first race weekend in years, I didn’t realize I’d have a second practice session. I wasn’t prepared for it at all and missed it completely. Looks like I was going to have to figure out some new brake markers on the fly during the first race.

I was in race #12 for the day, which meant that I had quite a bit of time to wait. I watched a couple races grid up to remind myself about procedure. I watched a few friends race. Overall, I was feeling pretty good. I told a friend that in spite of my lousy practice, I felt I had a chance to place somewhere other than dead last.

2022 Talladega WERA Race 1 Recap: red flags and my friends

Then the C Superstock race got red-flagged. I heard over the intercom two riders had collided in turn 1 and gone off.

Turn 1 at Talladega GP is a lousy place to go off track. It’s a fast banked turn, and if you leave the pavement at the outside, it drops off pretty hard. On the best days it’s a guaranteed yard sale, and on the worst a guaranteed injury.

The entire paddock stands facing turn 1 to see what happens. The crash truck and ambulance both roll, which isn’t all that alarming, since they’ll roll the ambulance as a precaution for a crash that looks bad.

The crash truck rolls into the paddock with one bike on it, no rider. That means the rider has been hurt. I see the bike belongs to Emily Prince, a woman I’ve done a few track days pitted beside, and who I just talked to that morning about camera setups on her bike.

The sirens approach from the street. A fire truck shows up, and another ambulance. That’s worse. The fire truck isn’t a big deal, as many places require a fire truck to be dispatched with an ambulance. The second ambulance, however, usually means someone is getting transported.

The crash truck rolls by again with the other bike. The rider is in the back, so he’s okay.

More sirens. Another ambulance and two more fire trucks arrive. I’m getting really concerned, and also wondering what they’re doing with two more trucks. The two fire trucks position themselves across the track at some distance apart on the straight between turns 1 and 2.

I hear rotors and immediately know what’s happening. Emily’s going to be airlifted. I see the helicopter come in and bank around the track. It becomes clear the fire trucks are there to block off a landing pad for the helicopter. My heart falls.

I start to second guess myself. What have I signed up to do? One of my pit neighbors comes over and says, “You sure you want to come back to racing?” I could have punched him right then, but he was saying what was in my head. We stood there in silence for a few minutes and watched.

I couldn’t do it anymore. I headed for the scoring tower, went into the bathroom, and sat there for a few minutes. I came back to the pits and watched the helicopter take off and all the vehicles leave.

They announced the next race.

Shortly thereafter, I saw the chaplains from Race Line Ministry walking through the pits with Emily’s bag. I asked if they were headed to the hospital to bring it to her. They said they were. What they said to me was reassuring – she was conscious when they took off, though busted up pretty good. She’s going to have a hard recovery, but she’s going to survive.

2022 Talladega WERA Race 1 Recap: decision and race

I went back to my pit, had a drink and something to eat, and decided to press on.

First call for my race comes over the loudspeaker. I pull on my gear, pull the warmers off the tires, drop the bike off the stand, and head out. I’m way too early and end up sitting in the hot pit watching the rest of the prior race, wondering how cold my tires are going to be when I finally go for my warm-up lap. Finally, a bunch more bikes show up, the prior race ends, and they let us out for our warm-up lap.

Another rookie mistake – I come in hot out of the last corner on the warm-up lap, miss my grid marker, and have to ride backward up the course to grid up. When I get there, another racer is in my spot. He’s in the wrong spot – he’s supposed to be seven rows back. The marshal gets him placed.

Green flag, and I get a pretty poor start, getting passed by one or two others before turn 1. I catch up to the pack in turn 2 and make a pass or two there. I end up behind a lime green Kawasaki by the end of lap 2.

I’m faster than this guy in every corner, but I can’t find a way around him. I’m slightly down on horsepower, as I’m the only one in the class riding a 250 – everyone else is on 300s. I get next to him a few times mid-corner, but he’s getting more drive at corner exit.

I can’t get him. I catch him in turn 1. We drag race to turn 2. We’re neck and neck at the brake marker. He has the inside line, and I cede it to him. I spend the rest of the race chasing this guy down, trying to figure out how to get by him, but I don’t make it. The checkered flag waves, and on the out lap he turns around and gives me the thumbs up.

2022 Talladega WERA Race 1 Recap: aftermath

I roll into hot pit giggling like a maniac! I can’t tell you how much fun I had! It was amazing! I just can’t stop laughing. I see the green bike stopped at the hot pit exit, and I pull up next to him. We fist bump after he says how much fun he had dicing it up out there. I can’t speak, I’m still laughing.

I pull into the paddock. There’s a videographer there waiting for my reaction to my first race. I pull up, and he signals to me to pull off my lid. You can hear me laughing on the video the entire time. I get it off, and he asks me how it was. All I can say is “Shit that was fun.” He keeps asking questions and rolling video, but I’m just about speechless. I don’t know how much of it is useable, but I just couldn’t talk.

Not long after that, they posted results, and I was 4th in my class! That was far better than I had anticipated. My best lap also showed that I really was faster than the green bike, and he was racing expert class! Overall, a successful day.

Since this motorcycle race recap has gone quite long, I’m going to break this weekend into two posts.

*Yard sale – a crash that renders your bike into a pile of parts only suitable for a yard sale.

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