Going into this weekend, I had two things on my mind. One was I was two points behind Sarah in the championship, having lost my near-constant 5th place spot to my DNF at Tally. The other was the weather. Here’s the motorcycle race recap that tells all about it.
Luck seems to be on my side
Since Road Atlanta‘s only a little more than an hour from home and this was a single race, I decided not to camp but get up early and get to the track around 7:00AM. This worked out perfectly, and lightened the load since I have two large bins of stuff, not to mention my sleeping bag and clothing, that got left behind.
I got to Road A about 6:45AM and started looking for Paul and Andrew from Purple Haze Racing, with whom I usually pit. I drove through both upper and lower paddocks but couldn’t find them, so I pulled into a spot and started setting up. As I’m about half-done with setup, they pull up. I figure they’re getting ready to tell me where they are, but they pull in and park. I managed to pit next to them without even trying! Luck seemed to be on my side.
Apparently, I was wrong
All the way to the track I’d been driving through a mist. The rising sun revealed wet track. Here’s the problem – the track wasn’t wet enough for rain tires, but wet enough to impact traction, what we call “mixed conditions.” I call it “conditions that suck.”
I registered, got through tech, and headed back to my pit because I had the first practice session of the day. Due to local “quiet time” ordinances, we only were getting one practice. I was due to the conditions and that the schedule only gave my tires about 10 minutes on the warmers, so they weren’t up to temperature. In spite of cold tires and wet track, I figured I’d better get out there and see what we were dealing with, since the forecast didn’t look promising.
Practice was disastrous. I got on track and something felt wrong. I climbed the hill headed into turn 2 and my visor started fogging. I entered the chicane nearly blind. What I could see were small rivers running across the track all the way to turn 5. There seemed to be a dry line through turn 6, but as I entered the corner I saw another rivulets right after the apex. Turn 7 seemed okay. On the back straight I finally realized what was wrong. Race control didn’t notice that my leathers weren’t zipped when I entered the track. I’m rolling down the back straight with unzipped leathers billowing. My left thumb holds my helmet visor open to mitigate the fog. I get through turns 10A/10B and pit in. I pull off in hot pit and zip my leathers. I take my helmet off and make sure the vents are open.
I’m not back onto track entry before my visor starts to fog again. I’m headed into the chicane blind again. I make my way through the twisty part of the track and get onto the back straight. I’m holding my visor open with my left thumb while throttling with my right. I’m shifting without the clutch. The fog clears enough for me to enter turn 10. I get onto the front straight and open my visor with my thumb again.
Normally I don’t brake for turn 1, but I’m feeling really sketchy, so I scrub some speed and enter the corner. I’m not halfway up the hill and I’m blind again. I decide I’ve had enough. I’m going to finish the lap and hope for the best for the race. All I’m really trying to do is survive practice. I get through the chicane and head up the hill into turn 5. Just as I get near the apex of turn 5, the rear tire loses grip and slips about a foot and a half to the outside of the corner. I ease off throttle. It grips again and I manage to make it through the corner and up the hill. If I hadn’t already decided to call practice a wash, that would have done it.
I’ve now got at least five hours until race time, since I had the first practice but was starting race 11. I was prepared. I got out of my gear. I cleaned my visor. I got the bike stowed and ready to race, and went out to watch the North America Talent Cup (NATC) warm up. Then I went to the riders’ meeting, got my grid position, and back to the paddock. I pulled out my laptop and started to watch the MotoGP race. About halfway through I paused to watch the NATC race. I went back to the paddock to finish watching MotoGP, and then watched Paul in race 3, where he came in 3rd. After that, lunch.
Did I mention the weather? After practice it got hot and everything started to dry out. The forecast was showing pretty high possibilities of rain, but there was a pretty good chance my race would start before the rain started.
Not on your life.
It started raining during race 7. Race 8 got delayed due to lightning. If lightning strikes within 6 miles of the track, it’s an automatic 20-minute delay. We had two lightning protocols in a row. The rain kept coming. I was really thinking about saying to hell with it and going home, but Paul convinced me otherwise. He and Andrew helped me swap to rain tires. Just as I was about to put the rear wheel back on, the rain stopped, and it looked like it was about to clear up.
I was really frustrated. If it cleared and started to dry again, I was going to have to swap wheels again. I was ready to give up. I decided to hang out and see what happened. If it cleared and dried up so I couldn’t run the rain tires, I was going to pack it in rather than swap wheels again.
The announcer came back on, declared the track hot again, and that the remaining races were only going to be four laps instead of six. That changed my perspective. Even if the track dried out partially, the rain tires would last four laps. I was all in.
Now for the actual motorcycle race recap
Things kept getting better. It kept raining. Rain tires like wet track. If it’s even partially dry, they get destroyed fast. At 2nd call for my race, it was still raining. I did my warm up lap and got on the grid.
Sarah wasn’t there. She was supposed to be gridded right in front of me. I found out later that she didn’t have rain tires so decided not to risk it. All I really needed to do was finish the race and I’d get 5th place in the championship back.
I got a decent start but got passed by Kyle before the first corner. I fell in behind him and started chasing him down. He was really slow in the chicane. I wasn’t expecting it and couldn’t find a way around him. I kept right behind him through turn 6. I got by him in turn 7, but he powered past me in the straight. We did this for all four laps, changing places a few times, ending with him in 3rd and me in 4th.
I think I could have been faster, as the rain tires had me feeling really planted, but I was also very tentative from having the rear step out on me in practice. This was also the first time I’d ridden this bike on rain tires, so I just didn’t know what to expect.
Unless I get an invite to the Grand National Finals, there’s only one race weekend left, a doubleheader at Roebling Road in November. It’s hard to believe this season is coming to an end soon. It’s been such a thrill!