SRA-West Race Report: Sept 5-6 2010

Well things were quite chaotic at Miller Motorsports Park’s East Track in Tooele, UT. The event was a double-header in conjunction with the AHRMA Bonneville GP vintage races. My passenger Vanessa was unable to make Friday practice, so we got straight to it in the morning sessions on Saturday. Immediately I noticed the electrical gremlin that has haunted us all year had gotten worse. Instead of an occasional dropping of one cylinder, the entire engine would cut out, stumbling and bucking while the instrument cluster continually reset itself. It was so bad in slow corners that I was forced to either dip the clutch in and pull away at high revs, or drop into first gear (painful for a race bike) to accelerate away. Vanessa was right up to speed early though so there was one less thing to worry about.

SATURDAY RACE

We gridded on the outside of row one next to Team Becker Moto Works. While they had chosen to re-gear for the tighter track, I had left my gearing the same because I would have needed to buy a new chain if I changed my sprocket sizes. This caused us to labor trying to get off the line, and we ended up 5th going into turn 1. The biggest problem was the ignition cutting out though. Turn 1 is a left, and losing power while turning left causes the chair to pop un into the air. We wobbled to the outside of the turn and tried to get a drive out of the corner but th bike stuttered and refused to accelerate. I slammed it into first gear with a CLUNK and hobbled after the leaders. There was no real chance; they were too fast.

We fell in behind Lucky 13 racing. The pair of Mark Macunga and Bobette Burdick had not been on the bike in over a year. I was hoping to catch them, but I continued to make mistakes, slowly dropping away from them. I was actually surprised to see Bad Cat Racing’s Mike Jones and Cyndi Creech close behind. The were just a few lengths back for the first three laps, then fell back as their brakes started to overheat. I am familiar with the problem, having totally lost my brakes here last year. Things held up for me though, and we finished a lonely 5th place.

SUNDAY RACE

There was nothing I could really do about the electrical problem. I have changed everything I could think of except for a few parts that weren’t onhand. I decided the best thing to do was stay smooth and get a good start on Sunday. That went out the window after about the first 100 ft of the six-lap race. I managed a good start and was 3rd into turn 1. The engine cut out again, but it wasn’t as bad as Saturday and I got a good drive out. I knew there were several bikes stacked up behind me now though, as they were expecting me to crash as they watched the chair floating over a foot off the ground. I was enraged at the engine problem at this point, and went screaming full throttle through the next two turns, determined to catch the leaders on the brakes. Bad move. I out-braked myself into the tight left known as “Gotcha” and did everything I could just to stay on the track. The chair wheel was locked and I just managed to stay on the pavement, falling back to 4th behind Lucky 13 racing again. I calmed myself and went after them, getting right up on their tail. The engine cut out in the double-left complex called “Agony” and “Ecstasy.”  I only lost a few lengths though and stayed focused. A few corners later though I was carrying too much speed and ended up on the rumble strip. Sliding and shaking I clawed back onto the asphalt, now sitting at least 10 lengths behind Lucky 13. It was obvious at this point I needed to ride my own ride. Things settled in and I saw Bad Cat was behind me, but well out of striking distance. Little did I know the Wood brothers, Chris and Steve (no relation to me), were right behind me in their 2-stroke snowmobile engined bike. I would sometimes see a blur in my mirror, but I never caught sight of them, seeing only Bad Cat slowly fading back. On lap 4 though, the Wood brother’s brakes got so hot they finally caught fire and they were forced to pull over and put out the flames. They waited for things to cool and limped across the finish line though.

I was concentrating on staying smooth at this point, and I noticed that if I kept the revs high (above 7000RPM) the engine was far less likely to cut out. I was banging downshifts early and revving the hell out of the engine to pull it off, and on lap 5 I popped a downshift too soon and caused some serious grinding to go on in the transmission. A lap later I lost third gear. It just spun like nothing was there, but I could shift again and pick up fourth gear. This caused the revs to fall though and cut the engine out. At this point I became furious. I wanted to just pull off the track and walk away, never to see a sidecar again. All the time and money and effort and I was stuttering around the racetrack like a stricken animal.

There was only one lap left though so I drove around the track and picked up the checkered. On the cool down lap it was impossible to drive the bike. Without third gear I crawled in 2nd gear, but in the corners the revs would fall and it would stutter terribly. I tried to jump up into fourth gear and the transmission stuck in third. There was no gear here so I coasted to a halt, furiously slamming the gear change and listening to the expensive grinding sounds. As I rolled to a stop the transmission grabbed a gear, stalling the engine and slamming me forward, adding insult to injury. I took a breath and climbed out. Vanessa immediately began questioning me about the first 2 laps, wondering why we were so erratic. She hadn’t noticed the transmission problems. My rage faded into a lethargic trance and I methodically loaded the bike, apologized for holding up half the field at the start, and left the race track.

This was among the most depressing race weekends I’ve ever had. Even when I flipped the sidecar over last year at Portland didn’t compare to this. Bad driving, mechanical issues, and then destroying my transmission in the end. Vanessa was at least happy we finished, but it had to be the most jerky, erratic, frustrating ride she’s ever taken on a sidecar. But she was able to walk away from it and enjoy time with some family that had flown out to meet her. I drove home towing the stricken bike, to have the van itself also brake down on the way home. It was another ghost problem that had surfaced while driving home from Pikes Peak, Colorado in June. It fixes itself after 10 minutes and I have only theories as to why it happens.

Our next race is at the Sreets Of Willow course in Rosamond, CA, October 16-17. This is an even tighter course than Miller, so I HAVE to find the electrical problem; a problem that only surfaces while at the track. I also have to remove the engine (difficult to say the least), replace the transmission, and reinstall everything. On top of that I have to replace the rear tire, which was ground to bits against the chain during all the left hand turns. Along with that, I will need a new chain so I can re-gear the bike, allowing more acceleration and higher revs when at the Streets Of Willow course.

-Johnny

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