AFM Round 5, Thunderhill Raceway Park, July 7th and 8th, 2018

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AFM Round 5, Thunderhill Raceway Park July 7th and 8th

Heading to the race event with a forecast of 104F for both days requires a lot of physical preparation. That means 1.5 gallons of water per day starting Tuesday to make sure your body is saturated by Thursday and then a slew of products in liquid form to make up for the energy expenditure and consequent body depletion. After many years of being a competitive athlete, this is nothing new to me at all. Having supplements for food is not unusual as my appetite fails in hot weather so eating is a chore and I refuse the “juice” everything! So, in essence that means a bottle of Pedialite per day, powdered greens, fruits and of course, lots of protein shakes.

Ideal visit to the bathroom is hourly, but I am more comfortable with every 30 minutes.

Why do I care so much? I don’t want to be the liability in any race at any time from dry mouth, loss of focus, headaches or throwing up in my helmet during a race. I need to make sure I am 100% to race well and take care of my fellow competitors.

One change for the weekend with my race bike was the installation of a Translogic quickshifter and auto blip installed by Will Morton of M Works. I wanted to see if I could get along with the auto blip and erase decades of downshifting and blipping to simply braking. Trust me, it is MUCH harder than you think it is and for this weekend it really did not help me with a reduction in braking distances due to having to focus every time I shut the throttle. I had one session on the race bike before the I needed to compete, so I decided to go with deliberately focusing on not blipping. The kill time was way too long so Will corrected it. I went out again and noticed that every time I shifted the check engine light came on and mentioned that to Will. He took off to do some research, but we never closed the loop on why the check engine light was coming on.

Saturday Formula 4 qualifying:

With track temps in the 130F range, tire pressures were critical. That being said, 3 laps were all that I was going to do so I set my Bridgestone V01 soft front at 32psi and rear at 33psi after 30 minutes on the warmers at 70C (ambient was 102F).

I gave Mark Elrod a tow and did my usual warm up for lap 1, then focused on a very precise lap 2 for a full on attack in lap 3. I was fortunate to get pole position again for Formula 4 making it four straight poles for the class.

Saturday Formula 40 lightweight:

This was going to be a very hectic race indeed with 4 waves and a huge number of 300’s on the 350 Superstock grid. After a great start we encountered the first 300 at the start of the third lap and from that point on traffic was literally everywhere. Fortunately I could let my subconscious get me around the track at speed and let my conscious mind focus on planning passes. Most of the time passes were planned but every once in a while I came around a blind corner to 4 bikes across the track with nowhere to go!

Having Mike Canfield on the wall giving me the gap between myself and second place was invaluable in reassuring me that I could ride with this mental balance without losing a huge amount of time per lap. Knowing that you are managing a gap of +/- 1 second with a three second lead makes life much easier at speed.

Coming round the last turn on the last lap I encountered another group of four 300’s and the only space open was the infield. I decided to brake, turn to my right and move to the inside of the track as it was clear. I went inside them and then outside the next group to get to the finish line in 1st place.

My best lap was a 1:59.4 with a 3.7 second gap to Ian Smith

Sunday July 8th

When we have a red flag, we all send good thoughts. When the delay lengthens we send more good thoughts to the injured rider. When the helicopter lands and does not take off again we know this is very serious as medics want the injured rider at the hospital within the ‘golden hour’ window. When the helicopter does not leave for quite some time, I know what that means but hope that I am wrong.

We had a mandatory riders meeting and race director Barb Smith announced the passing of Novice racer Jason Blanca AFM #780 from a racing incident in Turn 8. All of our thoughts and prayers go to his family and friends.

We all know death in our beloved sport of motorcycle racing. I’ve seen it and been a part of it outside of motorsports in my rugby career. It affects us all in many different ways so we all as a family come together to help each other and the family of the rider who passed.

As I have seen so much death since 1995, it deeply affects me and draws me in and mostly influences my heart with sadness for the loss of one of our family, especially someone just starting their racing career. I will compete in racing – that’s a given – but will I push it beyond what I can do? No…… I race for the memory of Jason doing what he loved, just as we all do when the visor goes down and we venture out on track.

Race 6: 450 Superbike:

Paul Johnson took the holeshot, and as we approached all the dust sweep for the oil in turn 2, I set the front wheel and went in. Paul was not so certain of the traction so I put my head down and continued on to get as much of a lead as I could in the first lap. As I came down the front straight at the end of the first lap, Mike Canfield showed me 0.0. So that was Paul, Ian or both of them. I could feel my rpm’s drop and the airbox howl as they drafted me but a much deeper entry into turn one maintained the lead.

With a gap of 0.0 on lap two, lap three I knew that I had to be prefect everywhere to keep the lead until the last lap. Half way through lap 4, I made a shifting error in Turn 8 and Ian popped by to take over first place with an 8 bike lead. I chased him down and he pushed onwards and into the last corner on the last lap I was right on him. As we raced down the front straight for the last time his Kawasaki 636 kept the gap and I was unable to draft him at all.

Ian deservedly took the win while we both set new track records with Ian having the faster of the two:- 1:57.8 against my 1:58.0 for a .3 of a second win. Congrats to Ian for having the 450 track record!

Race 9: Formula 4:

Sam Romick shot away from the start line on his SV650 for a glorious holeshot into turn one. It was very impressive to see him take off and then power on down the lap with the lead in his hands. I planned the pass for turn nine and made it happen. I did not know if Ian Smith followed me through, so Mike would show the gap to me as the first lap ended.

Any guesses? You would be correct if you guessed 0.0.

Ian stayed behind and I focused on zero miss shifts and each lap, 0.0 showed up and I could feel Ian in the draft. Given that I could not pass him, I knew he would plan to draft me for the win as his bike had superior power. At the end of lap 4, Ian drafted past me and no matter what I did, he held the lead.

At this point, there is a decision to make. Do you risk it all or get the points for the Championship at the end of the year – especially given how well Ian was riding? I decided to get the points but stay very close to Ian just in case he made any errors and into the last turn I was behind him again. Knowing I could not win did not stop me getting as low as possible as he could have miss shifted on the front straight and Ian won by .4 of a second.

Race 11: 450 Production

I was ready for this race to get the score even between Ian and myself of 2 wins and 2 seconds each.

Brandon Souza rocketed off the start to get the hole shot, and like Sam Romick, he wasn’t going to give it up. I lined him up for a bold move with an outside pass in turn three to give me the inside block pass in turn four and squeaked myself through into the lead. This time my heart was back in it and I brought everything I had to bear on creating as big a gap as possible.

As I downshifted into third gear for turn 10, the check engine light came on and the engine dropped to two cylinders. My heart sank as my hand came up and I took the outside line to let everyone pass into turn eleven. It was worse when I saw what a gap I had between myself and Brandon in second place……..

On the flip side of the crawl back into the pits, I recalled that in 2018 AFM lets every rider drop their worst score (score 6 of 7 races for Championship points) so this would be my dropped race. That meant in real terms that I had to compete in every 450 Superstock race through the end of the year. No biggie – just more opportunities to compete and secure that Championship!!!!

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