Take a golf course, drop an exceptional racetrack on it, and fill every imaginable space with art. That’s Barber Motorsports Park. Oh, and there’s a truly stunning museum, too.
But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here for a motorcycle race recap.
It’s summer in the southeast. Summer storms are common. The weather forecast predicted a 50/50 chance of rain both days. I have rain tires but I’m not keen on using them. My last ride at Barber was 2006. A practice day wasn’t offered and track days at Barber are expensive. I was going into this weekend pretty blind.
I was in the first practice Saturday so I was at registration when it opened, followed immediately by tech inspection. I got back to my pit, threw the tire warmers on the bike on their highest setting and dressed out. They called practice at 8:00AM sharp, and I headed out on track.
I was slow. I was learning the track as if I had never been there. I remembered a few parts, but mainly I was blind. My best lap was a 2:07.682, which I knew wasn’t going to work. It was time to find speed.
Second session was significantly better. I knew I could be faster everywhere. I went out to set a lap time that would have me somewhere other than last. I must have been more comfortable, because I cranked out a 1:57.496 – more than 10 seconds faster than first practice.
Of note: turns 2 and 3 form a sweeping right hander where I carry a lot of speed. I’m on my right knee so long I can feel the heat coming through the puck and my leathers. The photo on top of this post is my knee puck after 2nd practice. It’s not just grinding off. It’s melting.
Due to weird scheduling, while I had the first practices of the day, my race was one of the last. I had time to kill. It was so hot I didn’t want to leave the shade, so I hung out with the guys pitted nearby and listened to the races being called.
I hear the announcer call that a race has been red-flagged after the first lap. An armadillo has made its way onto the track! Armadillos have a weird way of dealing with threats. They leap straight up and can clear five or six feet. I found out later the armadillo leapt into the air when bikes came by and hit the tail section of a passing bike. That freaked it out even more. It curled up into a ball in the middle of the track. It was then shoveled up by a track worker and relocated into the woods well off the track.
My race finally comes. My warm up lap feels pretty good, and I grid up. I must have been excited, since I gridded up one row off where I was supposed to be. Once I got that corrected, the race started.
I got a good start, but my friend Leo passed me on the outside going into turn 1. I got him right back in turn 2. We latched onto the back of four riders and that group never broke up. There were a few position changes, but I think we finished in the order we started. Leo tried to get me again on the inside of turn 8, but overshot the curbing entering 9 and went through the grass. I didn’t know until after the race if he’d managed to make turn 9, but he did.
That race was a blast! It’s so fun when you’ve got a tight group like that. I came in 9th with a best lap of 1:58.647, a second slower than I’d been in practice. That can happen when you’re in traffic. While I would have liked a better position, I was thrilled at how much fun we had!
I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the folks in that group and doing some bench racing. After dinner I helped my friend Joe chase down a coolant leak in his SV650, which we weren’t able to fix. I got back to my pit and discovered my air mattress had sprung a leak. I re-inflated, but it didn’t stay that way long. I ended up sleeping on the pavement on top of my sleeping bag. It was also so hot I left the tent flaps open. I still managed to sleep pretty well.
Next morning the track didn’t go hot until 8:30AM and I didn’t have to register or tech. I had a leisurely breakfast, got the bike ready, and hit the track. I got some advice from some faster racers I wanted to test. I felt faster, but my practice times didn’t show it. I ran a 2:02.435 in first practice, and a 1:59.848 in second practice. The only explanation was that I was hot and tired from the prior day.
Again I had a lot of down time between practice and racing. I broke camp as much as I could, got the bike ready, and went to watch a few races. I found an open air-conditioned room on the 2nd floor of the scoring tower. I sat in there and watched until it was time to dress out.
I hit the track on the 4 board, meaning I was one of the last riders to get a warm-up lap. I hit the track hard on the warm up as not to slow the racing schedule much. I was the last racer to enter the grid. As soon as I was lined up the 2 board was shown. I got the revs up. The green flag dropped and we were off.
I thought I got a good start, but was passed by three riders before turn 1. One of them was Leo, who just disappeared. I later found out he gained 6 seconds on his best lap from the day before! I passed a woman on a KTM 390 in turn 2. She got me back on the straight just before turn 5. I followed her into 5, which I shouldn’t have done, because she was really slow through there and I could have passed her easily. I drafted her down the straight, followed her into 8, and passed her on the outside in 9. I put the hammer down, determined I wasn’t going to see her again. I didn’t.
Now I had my friend Sarah 100 yards in front of me, which is a lot of ground to make up during a sprint race when you’re down on power. I spent the next four laps reeling her in. At the end of the race, we crossed the finish line no more than 15 feet apart. If I’d had one more lap, I think I could have got her.
I finished that one 9th, too, but my best lap was a 1:56.974, almost a second faster than my prior best lap.
While a pair of 9th place finishes wasn’t quite what I was after, I had a great weekend! The bike held together, I didn’t crash, I had two really fun races, and I got steadily faster all weekend.