2024 Talladega GP WERA Race Recap – great battles, near misses, & a personal best

It’s the first race weekend of the 2024 racing season! This 2024 Talladega GP WERA race recap includes a track day, racing in a new class, battles won and lost, and some general craziness.

2024 Talladega GP WERA Race Recap – the track day

The first race of the WERA season almost always is preceded by a track day, and this year was no exception. Thanks to my lovely daughter, I had a gift certificate for Sportbike Track Time, which I wasted no time spending for Friday’s track day. I got there Thursday night, got set up, and went to bed.

It rained during the night, which didn’t seem a problem until the wind picked up. I spent a fair bit of the night pushing the walls of the tent off of me as the wind tried to knock it down. It held up, but I didn’t get a lot of sleep.

I skipped the first couple sessions the next morning until the track dried up. I ran four sessions and decided to call it a day, since the last session of the day tends to attract crashes as riders tire out and start to make mistakes.

Overnight was dry, but freezing cold. My ancient sleeping bag, once rated at -40°F, wasn’t keeping me warm in at 30°F, and even putting on clothes and sleeping in those inside the bag wasn’t keeping me warm, so once again, not enough sleep.

Saturday’s races

2024 Talladega GP WERA Race Recap - Violet, the FIWOP mascot, in the sun.

Got up the next morning and decided to skip the first practice session on the Ninja 300, as it was still freezing outside, so I got the bikes tech’ed, had breakfast, and did general bike prep until it was time for Mini practice on the Benelli.

This was the first time I’d ridden the little bike on the track, and it was a riot! I spent almost the entire time at wide-open throttle in 5th gear, and never used the brakes. The rev limiter kept the bike at a top speed of 63mph in 5th gear at 10,000RPM. If I laid on the seat with my feet behind me, I gained 3mph of top speed.

The rest of the morning was practice for the Ninja 300, another practice on the Benelli, and then lunch before the first race, which was the Mini race.

2024 Talladega GP WERA Race Recap – Mini race

2024 Talladega GP WERA Race Recap - me and the Benelli

Grid positions in the first race of the season are determined by when you registered, and apparently I was first out the gate because I was on pole in the front row. I got off to a reasonable start, and then started chasing down Kyle Liv, who is on the same bike. There was a 3rd rider in the class, a fast kid on an XR100 supermoto. He just disappeared on launch.

I passed Kyle in a corner in the 2nd lap or so, and just kept him behind me by laying on the seat in the straights and not braking in the corners, pulling 2nd place in the class.

Before I talk about the F Superstock (FSS) Expert race, I want to call something out. A lot of fast novices – Cora Leonhardt, Kyle Wagner, Emma Betters, Justin West – got bumped to expert last season, and Paul Pendergrass decided he was going to run FSS this year, too. Competition in this class is going to be fierce!

2024 Talladega GP WERA Race Recap – F Superstock race

Of the folks I mentioned above, Cora, Kyle, and Paul were on the grid for this first race, along with Leo Sowers, who you may remember from my 2022 crash at Road Atlanta. I was front row left again, but I didn’t stay there long. I got a rough start with a big wheelie, so by turn 1 I was in the back of the pack. Cora and Kyle took off and I never saw them again.

Paul, however, was right in front of me, and I was pretty sure I could get him, since we’re on identical machinery and I’ve turned more laps at Tally than he has. I’m not sure where I passed him the first time, but it was somewhere around the 2nd lap. After that, it was on!

We exchanged leads at least five times, and the gloves were completely off! Paul cut my nose off by inches when I tried to pass him in turn 2. I saw him in my periphery trying to come by me on the right on the front straight, so I just eased to the right so he’d have to either back off or run off track. We went at it hammer and tongs for 9 laps.

When the white flag dropped for the last lap, I had the lead going down the front straight, and there was a slower novice rider, Glenn Wilson, in front of me. I thought that if I could get Glenn between Paul and I it would slow him up trying to get around him.

That plan didn’t work, since Paul came around me and we entered turn 1 three wide – me inside, Glenn in the middle, Paul on the outside. Paul got the drive out of 1 and beat me to 2, but I gained on him in 2 and 3, not a bike length between us as we entered turn 4. At the exit of turn 4, my front wheel was beside his rear wheel, and I was gaining on him. I outbraked him into the farmhouse corner, and all I had to do was beat him on the drag race to the line.

I come out of the corner, grab a gear, and go head down to the line. I’m sure I’ve got him.

Just as I see the line approach, I see a shadow to my right. Paul is right there and coming up fast! We cross the line within inches of each other – neither of us can tell who won! We run the cool down lap and pull into the pits. The officials can’t tell, either! We pit out, and I follow Paul to his pit to see what he thinks.

One of Paul’s friends caught the finish on video, and it looks like Paul got me. I run back to my pit and pull up Race Monitor for the unofficial results.

Paul beat me to the line by .01 seconds, snatching 3rd place.

With that said, if the rest of this season consists of battles like that, I’ll take it! What a rush!

After the trophy presentations, dinner with friends, and a trip to Walmart for a new sleeping bag, I called it a night. I tucked my old sleeping bag into my new sleeping bag, and slept warm and cozy all night, which was good, because it got down to 27°F, and another night without sleep wasn’t going to go well!

Sunday’s races

I woke up about 6:15AM to pee, walked out of my tent and did my business, and decided right then to go back to bed, since there was frost on my tent and it wasn’t above freezing. I didn’t need to register or tech the bike, so I decided to sleep in a little. I didn’t expect to actually get back to sleep, but just lie in the warmth and doze.

I slept straight through until 8AM, when the announcer’s voice on the PA woke me up. At that moment I decided to skip the first rounds of practice and ease into the day.

2024 Talladega GP WERA Race Recap – Mini race

A funny thing happened in the Mini race, but let me put it in context. Kyle Liv has been bench racing with me since the end of last year that he was going to be beat me. He didn’t manage to on Saturday, but he’s learning and gaining every time. On the Minis, size matters. I outweigh Kyle by about 80 pounds, giving him a significant advantage on the straights. He had claimed he was seeing 70mph on the straights, where I was only able to get to 63mph before hitting the rev limiter.

We grid up side by side for the Mini race. The green flag drops and we’re off. I get a better start than Saturday, and we go into turn 1 beside each other. We get to turn 2, and I pass him on the corner entry. It got kinda comical from there. In the first 2 laps, any time there was a straight, he’d end up next to me, and then I’d get him on corner entry.

That banana-looking guy is me.

Then the weirdest thing happened. It was like my bike decided to wake up. All of a sudden I was seeing 70mph at the ends of the straights! Understand something – I hadn’t done anything to the motorcycle at all. It was the same bike that wouldn’t break 63mph the day before.

With the strange extra power, I beat Kyle for the last two laps with no problem, since my bike had somehow erased most of his advantage on the straights. Another 2nd place in the bag.

2024 Talladega GP WERA Race Recap – F Superstock race

I had something to prove going into this one, and I think Paul knew I wasn’t going to make it easy on him. Grid positions had been shifted from when you signed up to where you were on points, putting me in the 2nd row behind the young guy, Kyle, and Paul. I knew I had to get a good start and not let Paul get away.

On the green flag, I got a good start and we all went into turns 1, 2, and 3 in a big pack. At the exit of turn 3 there were two bikes between Paul and I. I thought I was going to have to get through them to get to him, so I just put my head down and focused on catching and passing them. Before I could manage that, they had both passed Paul, leaving me right behind him. I got past him at the exit of turn 4 onto the back straight, and I never saw him again.

Immediately in front of me was Paul McKee (who I will refer to as McKee to reduce confusion). Paul’s in a different class, and I had beaten him pretty easily in past years. Since I didn’t know where Paul Pendergrass was, I decided to try and put McKee between us. This proved harder than I thought it was going to be.

I was right on McKee’s tail for the rest of the race. I showed him a wheel in turn 1 a couple times, and beat him on the drag race to turn 2 once, but he outbraked me on corner entry and took away the inside line. We went at it pretty hard, but I never could get past him.

At the end of the race, I crossed the line 3rd in my class. I ran into Paul later, who said he was never really near me after I passed him, having gone off track a couple times. I also went and gave McKee some props for the move into turn 2.

When I got back to my pit and looked at the times, I discovered I had set another personal best, a 1:11.462, more than second faster than I’d ever run!

I’ll take two 2nds, a 3rd, and a 4th for the first weekend back!

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