With a couple of threads dedicated to "your first experience on a bike" etc, and KnightHunters first track day, I thought I'd submit the following. I wrote this article for the club magazine after my first race meeting.
CONFESSIONS OF A VIRGIN RACER
By Peter "Chuck" Wade
I've been riding bikes for a long time. Like most riders, I've been to the race meetings, watched some great battles, both up front and the vicious dice for 18th position. I've seen the guy coming dead last, and thought, "at least he's out there giving it a go". And then we'd retire to the pub, where at some point of time, someone would say something like "Ya know, We should get into racing!". We would all of course agree, and murmur about what class, etc we would aim at. It's fair to say that I'm probably the least financially capable of our group, so my thoughts were always more likely to be fantasy than any of the others.
I've done a number of ride days, at Sandown, Phillip Island, Eastern Creek and on a go-kart track in Townsville. These have all been great fun, but strictly regulated. I'm very aware that if I throw my road bike down the track, I'll be stuffed for some time, and this tends to be on your mind when you're tipping your "X" thousand dollar streetbike into turn 1. Still, Everyone wonders exactly how good they are, and the urge to test your abilities is never far away. I've ridden in the "slow" group and the "not so slow" group, and I've seen lots of riders of varying ability. I know I wasn't the fastest, but I definitly wasn't the slowest.
I spent some time in Townsville recently, and the local motorcycle club up there has a large number of buckets, mainly due to the fact that the only thing resembling a road race circuit is the local go-kart track. Buckets are small commuter-based race bikes, which range from "standard with unnecessary bits hacked off", to fully machined works of art! I did a ride day with these guys and was impressed by the bikes, which ranged from beautifully presented machines to some rough looking but extremely capable units. The crowd in the pits were friendly and helpful, and it appeared that the racing was relatively cheap to get into. I was extremely interested, but at the time, my home situation was uncertain, so I didn't pursue it.
I'd been in Sydney for a while, when the idea of racing struck me again. I surfed the web, and found a number of websites, all very informative, about the bikes, the meetings etc. It appeared that the Bucket racing scene was alive and well in Sydney. All that was left was to make contact. The name that came up most often was for Ken Lindsay. Ken was happy to talk about what I had to do in order to get my club membership, a racing licence, etc. He then asked me where in Sydney I was. When I told him, he referred me to Michael Combley, who lives not far from my area. I rang Michael, and again, He was keen to talk bikes, and invited me to a workshop in Paddington, where I could meet Michael and a couple of others, have a look at the bikes, and just talk more about what was required.
Practice day Oran Park Fig 8, 13 Mar 2004.
Michael told me about a practice day at Oran Park, which was being run by the SuperMotard guys. This would be a good opportunity to try my hand at one of these little bikes, before I went charging off, cash in hand. Michael had two Moriwaki 80 Motolite bikes as well as his Honda H100, but as soon as the Honda fired up, a nasty rattling sound emanated from the bottom end. Normally this would be an occasion for much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but Michael didn't seem worried. There had been a similar noise recently, and after the aforementioned wailing, they stripped the engine down, only to find the flywheel had come loose on the shaft. There was much talk of grinding paste and "lapping", but it sounded like a (relatively) easy fix.
I was going to ride one of the Moriwaki's, and Michael gave me much advice on getting it started, cold tyres, lines, etc. I was trying pretty hard to take it all in. I started the bike, and stalled several times while trying to find neutral to allow the bike to warm up. This wasn't helped by the fact that this bike had a race shift pattern, upside down to what I was used to. I finally got started, and after a short period, went out onto the track. I heeded the advice given to me, and took the first two laps fairly easy. The bike was missing a bit, but I put this down to the fact that this was a highly tuned racing machine, and for the moment I was riding like I was on my way down the shops. However, when I began to push the pace a little, what was a small misfire turned into a large dead spot. I persevered for a few laps, trying not to screw up the race shift, trying to keep revs up, trying to follow the race lines of others, and before I knew it the session was over.
On returning to the pits, Michael was perplexed. "The bike keeps missing coming out of corners. It's like a huge flat spot when you turn the throttle!" "Yeah, this one's doing the same thing" I said, relieved that it wasn't something I'd been doing wrong. As I described the symptoms, Michael kept nodding and saying "Mine too", and Yes, Exactly like that". Experienced heads were quizzed, and the problem was thought to be the jetting. OK, two nearly identical bikes, with nearly identical problems. Work started on Michaels bike, were it was found that the carbie was incredibly worn, and was letting way too much fuel in. This was causing the bike to run very rich, which would explain its behaviour.
Michael then looked at me. "You're bike has the same problem, doesn't it?". When I agreed, Michael began taking the carbie off. When he had the carbie off, and had a look at it, he said "Chuck, did you turn the choke off?" Work on my bike was halted immediately. The second practice session saw the bike run perfectly. I felt right at home on the Moriwaki right from the start, and I was actually getting some fast laps in. Although I was extremely embarrassed about the choke (and it's something I check religiously now), no-one gave me a hard time over it. I'm sure it's on record for some sort of "dick of the year" nomination.
Race Weekend 27-28 Mar 2004 Wakefield Park, Goulburn
After meeting up with Michael early on Saturday, We drove to Goulburn. On arriving at the track, Michael explained to me all the requirements, and we went and registered. I had picked up my bike only the night before, so I was keen to get out on the track. The first practice session, and my new bike was taking a bit of getting used to. I'm used to riding a bike with a fairing, and this didn't have one. On advice from the guy who sold me the bike, (Martin) I did a plug chop at the end of the session, after warming things up. The plug looked to be burning beautifully, and I assumed the jetting was alright. I went out for the second session, and immediately felt better on the bike. I was starting to get comfortable, and I could feel myself getting quicker on some of the corners. When I went out for the third session, I was feeling really good, I was chasing a couple of riders, and really getting into it. At the end of the main straight on about the fifth lap, the engine just died. As I wheeled the bike back into the pits, knowing looks greeted me. The jetting on two strokes is a bit of a black art, and I had just received my first induction. Lifting the head on the bike (A thankfully simple task) revealed a piston with much pitting on the top, and a small hole around 6-7 mm in diameter, right in the middle. I was told that most of the two stroke racers have no shortage of almost identical pistons sitting at home.
Michael then offered me the second Moriwaki. I went out in the fourth practice, and after warming up the tyres for a couple of laps, I was on the pace. I felt immediately comfortable on the bike, and after I had finished the session, I returned to the pits, and exclaimed loudly " I love this bike!!" I even found out that my times had come down to the point where I wasn't too much slower than Michael on the other Moriwaki. I went out for the fifth practice, feeling confident and comfortable, and again really enjoyed the session. I finished the session, rode into pit lane, and the bike cut out. I tried bump-starting it a couple of times, but with no success. I was praying that it was something simple, possibly that I had run out of fuel. But no, further inspection showed that I had managed to do the impossible, and break an unbreakable engine. Something had come loose in the bottom end, and this wasn't going to be an "easy fix".
By this stage, I was feeling a bit paranoid. Not only was I sure that I wouldn't be racing the next day, but I was beginning to think that I might be a jinx, or that I was doing something to kill these bikes. The guys in the pits were all very re-assuring, saying the compulsory throwaway lines like "these things happen in racing", but it wasn't helping. I was astounded when another bloke, Mark Strong, who I'd only met that morning, offered me his spare CB150. I was hesitant to take him up on his offer, if I broke a third bike I could conceivably never touch another bike again. It was the wife of one of the racers who put it into perspective, " Go and ride it, don't be a girl". How can you argue with logic like that?
I went over to take up Mark on the offer, and have a look at the bike. It was possibly the ugliest bike I'd ever seen, it still had the "cowhorn style" highset handlebars, and the original padded seat, held together by vast quantities of gaffa tape. Mark said something along the lines of " It doesn't look like much, but you'll be surprised how well she goes". I headed out for the last practice session of the day, on Marks CB150. Tipping in to the first corner, the bike felt "soft", and I thought to myself "I'm going to die". But the engine was suprisingly strong, and I kept pushing harder and harder into corners, and the bike just responded. Before long I was up on the pace with a couple of other bikes on the track, and feeling confident for the next day. Michaels father, who had been our timekeeper for the day, even told me that my times had come down to the point where I was only a couple of seconds slower than I had been on the Moriwaki. Suddenly, I couldn't wait for tomorrow.
Saturday night was a great night , with dinner in Goulburn, some beers back at the track, much talk of bikes, racing, riders, and the sexual preferences of certain GP riders, but thatís a topic for some other forum. I can, however, recommend the flats at Wakefield Park.
As I took my time on my second coffee of the morning, standing on the balcony of the flat overlooking the track, a mate said " the nerves are starting to kick in". Ah, so thatís what that feeling is. I was on a high, and it had nothing to do with anything chemical (unless you want to get into that whole "endorphin" discussion). We moved down to the track, and then the business of preparing for the days racing really began. I went to the office to pay for my day licence, and to sort out my racing number, as both Marks bikes had the same number, and we would be racing in the same class. This was easily rectified, and while I was there, my leathers, back protector, helmet, boots and gloves were all inspected. The bikes were then checked over one final time, and I had a last minute rush when I realised that Marks bike, being a "motolite" had the wrong colours and background on his racing plates. This fixed, we rolled the bikes down for down for scruiteneering. Soon after this, the riders briefing took place, where all the details for the conduct of the day were outlined, all the flags were described, and a number of other admin points were discussed.
The warmup/ practice session that morning confirmed what I had felt the day before. I heeded all of Marks (and everyone else's) advice, and took things very easy for a few laps, as the tyres were cold, the track was cold, etc. But soon I was feeling good again, and getting up to speed with the others, trying to stay with riders after they'd passed me, and occasionally succeeding. I returned to the pits and waited.
I arrived at the dummy grid, and found myself starting dead last. I had expected to be towards the back, but this confirmed one thing, I was the only "virgin" in this class today. We were waved out on the warmup lap and gridded up on the main straight. After some last minute rearranging, The national flag was raised, the revs of some 25 bikes rose as one and the flag dropped. I actually got away pretty well, and managed to pass a lot of people who had bogged down on the start. Turn one saw me in the middle of a very close pack, but heading up the hill, a lot of those riders who I had passed on the start just powered past me. By the end of the first lap, the field had sorted itself out a bit, and I was in a duel with a black 4 stroke. There were a couple of corners that he had trouble with, but I'd had the benefit of the day before to practice, and I was able to get past him. There were other places on the track where he had the advantage on me, and down the main straight, our bikes seemed very close in speed, with the only difference coming from who got the better exit onto the straight. I ended up pipping him at the post to come in 15th, and I slowed down going aourd the warmdown lap. He caught up with me, and slapped me on the back. I could see his ear to ear grin under his helmet, and I could only think that my grin was at least as big.
I arrived at the dummy grid, and found myself listed on the grid as 15 (this was the only way I knew where I had finished the last race). Again we went around onto the main straight, and were ready to start. Jack, who I'd met in the pits after the last race, was beside me, and was focussed on the starter. I didn't get as good a start this time, but it was still a tight pack heading into turn 1. Jack had got ahead of me, and again we had a great tussle for the rest of the race. I felt like I was riding well, and even got to try some tactics like slipstreaming, and sussing out where I had the advantage on Jack. In the end, I managed to get him on the downhill left hander, and was able to hold him until the finish. Again we exchanged handshakes and slaps in pit lane, and I knew he'd enjoyed the race as much as I had.
When I went out for race 3, I found I was on the grid in 16th, So obviously that was where I had placed in the race 2. This surprised me, because I thought we had done better, but it wasn't a big deal. I got a good start for the third race, and found myself just behind another mate, Trevor. Trevor was one of the guys that I had tried to follow all day Saturday, without much luck. My bike was a fair bit faster than his, but Trev is a much better rider than me (at this stage!!!). Again I tried to stay with him as long as I could, and this time, although he was still pulling away from me on the twisty bits, it wasn't sufficiently enough that I lost him. I stayed with him the whole race, and we overtook a couple of slower bikes. In the end, Trev was about 50 - 60 meters in front of me, and just after he got the "last lap" board, the two leading riders flashed past me, and I was lapped within about 15 meters of the finish line. (I neglected to mention that I had been lapped in both previous races, and much earlier). I'm not sure where I finished, but I must have picked up a few positions, possibly 10th or 11th.
It had been stated earlier that some sort of novelty race, with a reverse grid might be run if time permitted. That race was announced, but the start grid was simply "as you turn up". I started from the second row of the grid, and was riding pretty well. I cant remember if it was the first or second lap, but I was in a pack of 3 or 4 bikes, leaning into the turn coming on to the straight, when I missed a gear change, and the bike slipped into neutral. Trust me, this is a bad thing. But not as bad as kicking the bike down a gear, and finding first. The back end stepped out what felt like six feet, and the whole bike just kicked upwards. It was more good luck that good management that I held it upright, and ran off the track onto the entrance into pit lane. I turned the bike around to get back on the track, but had to give right of way to those riders now coming around the corner. So I re-entered the race last. I rode as hard as I knew how, and was able to pick up 3 or 4 positions before the end of the race. I was disappointed that I had missed what was looking like being my most competitive race, but I still enjoyed myself immensly.
So, I survived my first race day, with skin and pride intact. Can I recommend it? ABSOLUTELY!!!! This is the most fun you can have with your clothes on!!! It's not overly expensive, it's by far the cheapest form of motor racing to get into. The riders are of all levels of ability, so everyone from "virgins" like me to hardened veterans will almost always find themselves in a duel with another rider. You couldn't hope to meet a friendlier, more helpful bunch of people. Sure there's a down side. I found myself wearing a maniacal grin and gibbering like an idiot to anyone who would listen for the next week. And I'm splitting my time between fixing my bike and helping Michael with his. And I occasionally catch myself looking wistfully at the calender, which has a red circle around May 9th, which is the next round.
Maybe I'll see you there!