After being rained out at our season opener, I was glad to have excellent weather in Las Vegas. Sunny and warm, the wind was a bit rough on Saturday, but nothing I’m not used to. The team is in the middle of a passenger change, with Vanessa McClure being replaced by the 2010 Pikes Peak passenger, Giorgina Gottleib. However, Gina was not able to put everything together in time, and a call was made on the host club’s message board. The first one to respond was Nathan Urbanovsky, who was there racing his SV650 Suzuki. That is a plus in my book (I raced an SV650 before switching to sidecars full time, and still use my former race bike as my main transportation), so I set out to Las Vegas for the double-header weekend hosted by WERA.
Our 2 practice sessions in the morning went well, with Nate figuring things out really fast. The first session left him with some good questions, and he seemed to apply what I told him in the second session. Weighing in at about 180lbs made a big difference alone, with the chair staying much lower. I think we may have to add even more ballast when Gina takes over duties in the chair for round 3.
Race 1 had a big start line crash between Bad Cat Racing #3 and Wood Brothers Racing #49. Bad Cat has some footage on youtube of the incident here:
Wood Brothers is the team that flipped. Driver Chris Wood has some bruising on his shoulders and possibly some ligament damage, and passenger Phil Wood has some broken ribs. In the video you can see Team Johnny Killmore directly in front of the camera bike, with Team Becker Moto Works to the right. A restart happened in short order, with Bad Cat making it to the grid, but Wood Brothers out as well as Team RGM, who had a mechanical issue.
On the restart I bogged just slightly and Becker Moto Works was away. Left hand Turn 4 lost us some ground, then the back straight. We gained ground into the tight right of Turn 7, but fell back again in the successive turns. As lap 2 began, the tires were warm enough and Becker Moto Works pulled away. This was an 8-lap race, but my passenger Nate had to immediately jump onto his solo bike after this race and do a 20 lap event. I had this in mind but also thought that I needed to push hard in case Becker made a mistake or overheated his brakes. By lap 4 the gap was large, and I notched it back a bit, taking a solid 2nd place. Transponders showed us that Becker had run a 1:32 best lap, and us a 1:36. In motorsports anything more than 1 second a lap is considered a very big gap, so I was under no illusion about how far behind we were. I constantly remind myself that the machines we use are drastically different in capabilities, and that Becker has been running the same passenger for a long time, but the truth is I don’t care about reasons. I am just much to far off the pace and I don’t know where I would find 4 seconds a lap with driving alone, and funding to once again re-design the bike is non-existent.
Though the grid shuffled around behind us, the front 2 rows were the same as on Saturday; Becker and us. Nate had really made tremendous progress in morning practice, and he had no races after this one, so it was going to be 6 laps of 100% effort. Becker left the line slowly, and I used the opportunity to sneak into the lead. He was right behind us again in turn 4, and I wanted to se if we could at least pull out a gap into high-speed turn 6. I have no idea if I did because the bike was protesting so much I couldn’t hear or see anything.
We were still leading at least going into the final turn of lap 1, but Becker began coming around quickly. I wasn’t sure if there was room for both of us, but then I missed the downshift from 2nd to 1st gear and it didn’t matter. For non-motorcyclists, the only thing in between 2nd and 1st gear is neutral, which doesn’t do much for driving you forward. Worse yet, you don’t get the anticipated engine-braking effect while decelerating. The end result was me scrambling on the brakes and trying to calmly match the engine speed to the road speed so I could get the transmission back in gear without damaging it.
I got the bike turned but suddenly team RGM shot by and took off after Becker. I decided to give chase, as last year we had a similar pace, at least in the opening laps. No such thing this time, as driver Rick Murray had the rabbit of Becker to chase, and found some extra speed. Head down and hard charing, we put in some good laps, though higher track temperatures made overall grip a little less. Despite our efforts, both of them just eked away. Nate was performing some extremely advanced passenger-ing, managing to break the rear wheel loose to allow us to turn tighter. He was totally at home on the bike, and I was able to give the bike everything I could. On lap 4 the front tire started to feel greasy, and I thought about the cost of
rubber for the upcoming race in California on Easter weekend. We pushed about 90% after that and took a lonely 3rd place.
That wraps it up. Next event is at Willow Springs Raceway with AHRMA, the vintage racing club that always treats us so well. This is a double-header format April 23-24. And speaking of treated well, thanks to WERA for putting on a great event and making us feel weclome in the pits and on the grid. We will return to race with them in Las Vegas once more this year, in November. Passenger Giorgina Gottleib will take over duties at the next event, so stay tuned for word of that. Gina has done some practice laps before, but that was before I ever added ballast weight to the chair. There’s really now telling how we will do, other than knowing Gina is determined to learn and excel in this sport. Being fearless and determined is a great start, but racecraft isn’t something you can fake, nor is it something you can buy. We will have to work as a team, lap by lap, and see what the gods have to offer.
A special get well to Chris and Phil Wood (no relation) who are recovering from their injuries in that start line crash. The bike is a gorgeous machine and a lot of work has to go into getting it back to its pristine condition. See ya both at Willow. Thanks to Becker Moto Works, Liberty Tax Service, http://www.vmcracing.com , and Sinful Flesh Clothing.
Driver/ Passenger, (Chassis/ Engine)
Saturday, April 2, (8-laps):
1. #84 William Becker/ Eric Becker, (Becker/ Suzuki)
2. #187 John Wood/ Nathan Urbanovsky, (Windle/ Suzuki)
3. #284 Michael Troutman/ Heidi Neidhofer, (CSR/ Suzuki)
4. #66 Sean Bakken/ Gary McEwen, (Taylor/ Yamaha)
5. #3 Michael Jones/ Brandon Mathews, (Becker/ Suzuki)
6. #29 Leon VanOrsdale/ Steve Stull, (Baker/ Honda)
7. #321 Don Sayre/ Julie Godman, (Baker/ Suzuki)
8. #175 Rick Murray/ Arthur Morris (DNF), (LCR/ Suzuki)
9. #49 Chris Wood/ Phil Wood (DNF), (ART/ Suzuki)
Sunday, April 3, (6-laps):
1. #84 William Becker/ Eric Becker, (Becker/ Suzuki)
2. #175 Rick Murray/ Arthur Morris, (LCR/ Suzuki)
3. #187 John Wood/ Nathan Urbanovsky, (Windle/ Suzuki)
4. #3 Michael Jones/ Brandon Mathews, (Becker/ Suzuki)
5. #66 Sean Bakken/ Gary McEwen, (Taylor/ Yamaha)
6. #284 Michael Troutman/ Heidi Neidhofer, (CSR/ Suzuki)
7. #49 Chris Wood/ Steve Stull, (ART/ Suzuki)
8. #29 Leon VanOrsdale/ Neil Foreman, (Baker/ Honda)
9. #321 Don Sayre/ Julie Godman, (Baker/ Suzuki)