Race Report (Part 1 of 3)
Miss Busa’s Inaugural WERA Race:
The Day Before
I was running terribly late as usual. There are two factors that I always seem to forget about when “planning” these sort of time-sensitive undertakings:
1. I am a Master Procrastinator, and
2. Everything always takes me way longer than I think.
Correction. Make that three factors:
3. Murphy is my co-pilot. He rides pillion wherever I go, and he backseat drives, too. That bum!
As luck… Murphy would have it, my husband finally gets the OK from his boss to take the weekend off to come with me to Nashville, it seems that some managers do not believe that us mere mortals have a life outside of slaving for the Man, hence ample notice seems of no import to them. But who cares, Mr. Slow is coming along, although I would not have been going alone anyway.
Margie, whom I met at the Ed Bargy Racing School in February, read on my blog that I was planning on going to my first race alone and she wouldn’t have it. She emailed me with the offer to pit for me. Of course, I was elated. Hell yeah, woman! I’ll take you up on that. We hit it off at JenningsGP, the fastest (pun entirely intended) friend I’ve ever made outside of the military, and this would be an awesome opportunity to get to know her better and I knew we would have a blast hanging out together between races.
Hubby has to take a power nap since he’s been up all night, so I busy myself with packing and loading the truck. The Pirate is pretty much race prepped and ready to go. Since I was running behind schedule (nothing new there), I decided that slapping the sponsor stickers and my competition numbers on her newly painted (and hopefully sufficiently cured) race bodywork could wait until we were at the track; ditto for the safety wiring.
What happens next I duly blame on the eight or so hours of sleep I had in the past three days. I ride the bike from her “pit” in my backyard through the gate in our privacy fence into the driveway. I’m getting pretty good at this, since I have to open and close the gate while I’m on the bike or holding onto it, or else I risk the cats making their well-timed fatty-catty escape. They are getting used to the sound of the Beemer and this strategy may not work for very much longer.
I slowly ease the Pirate over the curb and ride into the street, fully intent on making a u-turn to park her behind the Sponsor’s truck on our side of the street. Suddenly, I feel myself going left. What the f…? I try to correct, but quickly find that I can’t. The handlebars are not moving, stuck in place; as if the steering lock has engaged. A hundred errant thoughts run through my mind, not comprehending why this is happening. I know what is happening, it just doesn’t make any sense. While I am preoccupied with the “why”, I completely forget about the “what”. Stuck in a terminal left turn, I bounce over the far-side curb, onto the neighbor’s front lawn and notice that I am on an intercept course with one of the (as of yet) skinny trees they’ve planted in all of our yards. “Shit!” Still not comprehending what is happening, I throw the bike down and execute an awesome-feeling backwards tuck ‘n roll over my left shoulder. I land on my feet and find myself half-crouched in a classic defensive stance with my hands up at the ready. And whose ass am I going to kick?!? Good to know that some things still come naturally, even though I haven’t been to Karate class in over six years. Feeling like a total douche, I right myself, then slap the engine switch to the OFF position and turn the ignition off.
[And why in the hell didn’t I just drag rear brake and come to a nicely executed, ladylike stop???]
This is great! Just great! I guess I’m not going to Nashville after all. What in the hell?!? I’m trying to figure out what in the world I screwed up now. But I didn’t do any front end work. I didn’t touch the triple tree or the fork legs. I just throw my hands up in dismay. Murphy, you fucking bastard! You ever-loving asshole. I hate you!
I squat down to pick up the bike; I see Water Wetter enhanced distilled water trickling out from somewhere. Never mind that now. I’m still in a daze and I need to know what in the devil’s name happened here. I crawl all over the bike, checking it out. I can see absolutely nothing wrong. Am I embarrassed? No. I realize that I don’t even give a crap anymore what people think. So what? My race bike has buried itself up to its frame sliders in the neighbor’s yard. Yup, you got it. Looks like girl can’t ride… whatever. Don’t care. For some odd reason that thought is quite refreshing; It seems that I am starting to lose that annoying fear of public embarrassment one little mishap at a time. Good.
I decide to try the technique I’ve learned from the Ride Like A Pro V DVD. It doesn’t work for me. I cannot budge the thing. I toss my arms up in the air in defeat one last time, then calmly saunter off to get hubby out of bed to come help me get my crotch rocket off the neighbor’s lawn before anybody is the wiser or the Harley dudes look out their windows (whichever comes first).
Instead of finding him asleep, he’s on the phone with his boss. He seems agitated. More confusion. As I walk back out the door, I hear him say something along the lines of “I haven’t left yet, I can come in if you need me to.” Great, looks like it’s back to just Margie and I. I shake my head. I give up. I walk across the street and pick the bike up in my usual fashion. One hand on the clip-on, one hand on the subframe, squat and pull. I have massive thighs, might as well use them. I right the Pirate and walk her back to my side of the street and park her behind the truck ready for loading. As I check her over once more, Mr. Slow is coming outside carrying two parts of the ramp. I tell him what had happened to me, he tells me that he might not have a job come Monday; apparently his weekend vacation was not approved after all. I ask him if he needs to go to work, but his response is negative. I am baffled. My only response to his obvious distress is: “Fuck that asshole, you did nothing wrong. Let’s go to Nashville and have some fun, you’re raining on my parade, dude.” We load up the bike and while we’re tossing all the various other junk into the truck, I notice that he’s distracted; if you can call it that. I’ve never seen him this way. The man never gets down or runs out of options. He takes life as it comes at him. He’s always knows a way out. At least that’s how he’s always handled himself. He is the strong one in this relationship. This is unusual.
We talk. Well, he does. I do the listening. Then he says: “Tell me that I haven’t done anything wrong.” I tell him as much. Several times.
Then I add, “Besides, if you do get canned, you have officially run out of excuses not to take your photography to any serious level. You finally have the time to do what you’ve always wanted to do and even make some money at it.”
He’s not convinced. “What about your racing?”
“What about it?”
“It will seriously change our life style.”
“Will it? Really? It’s just stuff, besides you have always found a job. We have never had to go without. So what if we lose the house… I wanted one with a garage for a long time anyway. We’ll recover, we always have. So what if I have to quit for a while. We’ve been through worse.”
Still not convinced, and not wanting to “regress the Status Quo” he asks me one more time: “Tell me that I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong! Now shut your trap, we have a great weekend ahead of us! We deal with whatever may come on Monday; but right now Team PLD has some racing to do.”
We finish packing and loading the truck and head east. It takes him a few miles on the Interstate, but before too long he is back to his usual silly, annoying self. Good. We pick up Margie at her exit and have a road-trippin’ good time all the way to Nashville. I get a nasty leg cramp on the way, and she takes care of me, makes me eat bananas and we consume our fair share of “various other electrolytes” commonly found in junk food. Life is good!
When we get to Nashville, it is cold, dark, rainy, and the wind is blowing at gusty speeds. I’m miserable when I’m cold. Add “wet” to that equation and I just want to crawl under a warm blanket and forget the world around me. Of course, against my better judgment and in the name of “packing light THIS time”, I didn’t bring any warm clothes nor a windbreaker. Margie and I start safety wiring the bike. I only have the thick 0.041″ wire, which is hard to work with but twists up nice and evenly. Fortunately Don, who is pitted next to us, tosses his spool at Margie and makes her use his, while he explains to her how to do it. Don’s wire is thinner and therefore is much more pliable then the stuff Margie was trying to wrangle. Margie pretty much did most of the wiring herself. She had never done it, so she was happy to learn something new. Meanwhile, I amuse myself by taking the kickstand off, checking the tightening torque on various nuts and bolts and tying up some other “loose ends.”
Speaking of loose ends, I eventually figured out why I had the “unfortunate incident” earlier that day; and figuring out is what the situation called for, since I was not going to trust my bike until I did. How was I supposed to race on hardware I didn’t trust? I wasn’t going to do it… well, I probably would have done it, I am a stubborn German, after all; but it would have been a stupid thing to do. With that said, the cause for the Pirate’s dirt nap on the neighbor’s lawn was quite silly, really. When I took the OEM bodywork off, I had to unplug the headlamp connectors. I crossed the cables over each other and placed them on top of the steering head, on the little section of frame between the dash and the triple tree assembly, with the intent to secure them later with zip ties. This was overlooked. When I rode the bike down the curb, the bump must have knocked one of the cables off its perch and it dangled there until it got stuck between the lower triple clamp and the steering damper, causing the front end to lock in position. Later, I found my assumption to be true by seeing the slightly mangled connector on the end of the right-side cable when I zip-tied the cables to the fairing stay.
Tired, cold, and slightly damp we finally checked into our hotel at around midnight, after getting provisions at a nearby grocery store. It took my brain a while to wind down, but I still didn’t get any restful sleep. I kept waking up freezing. The alarm crashed my PJ party way too soon. It was looking to be a caffeine fueled day. Caffeine fueled with a few shots of adrenaline thrown in. I hope the four energy drinks and the coffee we bought would get us through.
It seems I never get much sleep before track weekends. This must be the norm, why else would Red Bull and Monster sponsor our crazy asses?
Lesson learned: Do it as you go, and if you don’t, you better write down all the stuff you’ve skipped for one reason or another. Don’t expect to remember it all, even if you think you will. Better yet, take a page out of a pilot’s book. Make a pre-race checklist. Check all necessary items off after you complete them. Only then, do you know for certain you did not forget anything.
Another lesson learned: Be meticulously organized. If you spend any time hunting for tools and parts, you’ll take twice as long (if not longer) to complete your work. With that said, setting up your pit completely before you start wrenching on the bike helps a lot, too. Not that it matters at my level, but this is a habit which will be indispensable when you have to change the setup of your bike between races to stay competitive, like making gearing changes, tweaking your suspension, or changing your rubber. If you can’t find your shit, you’re gonna be late.
Nashville Superspeedway (NSS)
4847-F McCrary Rd
Lebanon, TN 37090
- Gate closes at 10:oo PM Eastern Time
- Gate entry is $20 per person for the weekend
- From the gate, follow the road around the grand stands to the left. Turn right, go through the tunnel (sing the Navy song, honk your horn), the garages will be a little ways down on your right. Drive all the way around the fence and turn right by the Press/Media Building and slip in through the side gate… or you might end up doing the “rat in a maze” thing. 😉
- Covered pit area (the garages)
- Power outlets are available in the garages, come Friday night to get a spot
- WERA sets up Tech at the south end of the garages (signage outside reads “Inspection Station” if I remember correctly.
- Restrooms are also at the south end of the garages, but you’ll have to walk around the outside of the building to access them.
- WERA sets up Registration in the Press Building, which is the building next door, also to the south.
- Pit Road (entry/exit to the track) is also to the south of the garages, between the Press/Media Building and the restrooms.
- Vending machines are available in the Press/Media Building, but selection seems to be iffy
- They have a “roach coach” set up during lunch hours (late morning to early afternoon), but the food is grossly overpriced and what I had sucked. If you are a vegetarian you’re out of luck save for the Nachos, but I wouldn’t recommend them: the chips were barely warm, the cheese looked and tasted like imitation cheese, however, the salsa was pretty decent. I can’t speak for their coffee (we brought our own, nor their hot dogs and burgers, none of us tried those)
- Motorized pit bikes/ATVs and bicycles are allowed
- Pets are allowed
Plenty of hotels/motels are also close by. We stayed at the Comfort Inn Southeast for $69.99/night and they had what we were after: Clean rooms, clean showers, and decent mattresses. It ain’t no Ritz, but it is affordable and clean. 🙂 They also have wireless Internet access and LAN cables in their rooms; a TV, microwave, fridge and coffee pot, hair dryer and ironing board are also provided. They serve a continental breakfast in the mornings and the staff is helpful and friendly. Don’t forget to get your login information at the front desk when you get your key card, so you can use their Internet. I think their password changes monthly. We booked them through hotels dot com on the way on an iPad and had no issues whatsoever.
- Oh, I almost forgot: The infield road course sucks. Watch out for potholes and loose gravel in some of the corners. The seams are slippery when wet and they have better roads in Glascock County. But you’ll get used to it.
- Make sure you shift your weight to the rear and let the front end float over the transition at the end of the front straight, coming down from the banked NASCAR track onto the paved infield portion of the track, it will jolt you, but you’ll be fine.
- Turn 1 is a peach when you come in hauling Mach 3 from the front straight and are looking at making a u-turn.
- Don’t fight your bike (this mother is one rough riding track in places) and stay off the damn wall. =D
…we’re not going to have a good time.
I don’t know what it is about safety wiring, but the task seems overwhelming and insurmountable and a big pain in the backside when you think about it; not to mention it is confusing when you first are faced with a list of stuff to secure properly to pass Tech at a track. I’ve been procrastinating this safety wiring project for the better of six months and I finally decided to tackle the subject in small increments.
Let’s start off with the important stuff:
The Tools of the Trade
- Safety wire pliers: This is a specialty tool that is technically not necessary, since you could clip the wire to size with wire cutters and twist the stuff with a pair of needle nose pliers. Technically. Do yourself a favor and buy one of these puppies! You’ll thank me later. No, seriously! Miss Busa is making these mandatory!
- Safety wire: The thickest wire I am using is 0.041″ T-304 stainless steel marine-grade lock wire, which is a perfect match for those 1/16″ drill bits. However, I use various thicknesses for different applications. I also use 0.032″-diameter and 0.02″-diameter wire. The skinnier the wire, the easier it is to work with, but due to its lesser tensile strength, it’s more likely to break. I like to use the thick stuff for places that have to be wired and are very unlikely to have to be undone. A medium-thickness wire is a pretty good all-around choice and I use it for most of everything that needs to be wired up. The skinny wire is great for wiring up such things as grips and rearset components.
- Racing safety pins: Completely optional, but they make life at the track so much easier. I like to use these in places where the wiring has to be undone and redone quite often, such as the oil fill cap, the radiator cap, the oil filter, the rear axle nut. Pay attention to the rulebook though, you may not be able to use these in certain places; the oil drain plug would be a common exception to their allowed use.
- Tab washers aka safety wire washers: Also completely optional, but these make things much more enjoyable. Also keep some of these in your tool box, you’ll never know when some extra-anal white-gloved tech inspector wants you to secure this or that and now you’re hard pressed to fix the problem since your drill is at home, no anchor point is within reach and your day could have just went down the tubes if it weren’t for these little lifesavers. 🙂 I like to use them where points of attachments are difficult or too distant to be feasible. You use them like a washer, torque the fastener down onto them, then use pliers to bend the tabs up around the bolt’s head. You can then secure your safety wire to the tab that has the hole in it. Obviously, you cannot use them as anchor points for safety wiring the exact same bolt you are attaching them to. That would be silly.
- Safety wire drilling jig: This is another specialty tool and a must-have item if you do not have a drill press and have to manually drill the holes into the bolt heads. Miss Busa is making this a mandatory purchase as well! No whining. Just order the jig set when you order the pliers and the safety wire.
- QUALITY 1/16″ drill bits. I mean it. Buy junk and they’ll break or won’t get you all the way through to the other side before they turn dull and useless! I’ve bought some DeWalt 1/16″ Split Point Cobalt drill bits which are claimed to have “maximum life in metal” and are rumored to “start on contact”. I can attest to both of these statements being fairly accurate so far.
- Automatic (spring-loaded) punch: Mine was broken, so I had to make do without; which isn’t a big deal IF you bought the aforementioned QUALITY drill bits. Tell me you didn’t buy junk! This is an optional item, unless you didn’t listen and bought a ten-pack of “titanium nitrate” bits for $1.98, then it becomes mandatory. This tool is used to make a little indentation for your drill bit to sit in to get you started and to help prevent the bit walking all over the place while you attempt to do so.
- Drill: I have some housewife-grade cheapie by Black & Decker. Variable speed, quick-release chuck, reversible. It does me just fine with those DeWalt drill bits.
- Vise: You either have to have one of these or try and talk your buddy into holding the piece for you while you come at them with the drill. 😉 I use a little suction cup mounted articulated hobby vise I got at Harbor Freight. I have no garage or workshop, so this little guy is prefect for the occasional Tool Time session.
- If you’ve got the cash to burn and the workshop to go with it, you might want to forgo the whole vise-and-drill thing and go out and get yourself a decent drill press. Way more accurate and way quicker, but overkill if all you’ll be needing it for is drilling a few holes into bolt heads to stick some wire through. Have a friend who has one? Pack your crap, hop on your bike and go see him. Don’t forget the pizza and the beer.
- Cutting oil: If you’re trying to find “cutting oil” you’ll run yourself nutters. Some people use WD-40 to cool down their bits, others use machine oil, or multi-purpose 3-in-1 oil. You get the picture. You’ll need something to keep the drill bit from overheating and to ease its passage through some of the tougher stuff you’ll ever find yourself drilling holes through. If the bit gets too hot, it’ll break.
- Safety glasses: This goes without saying. A scratched eyeball hurts like hell and you can’t ride motorcycles when you’re half-blind. Put ’em on!
Let the Fun Commence
Today, I’m doing caps and calipers. Since I have a short attention span and find learning how to safety wire almost as coma-inducing as teaching myself suspension tuning, I can only handle this mess in short spurts. I already have my axles, oil filter, and oil drain plug done. I will have to write them up later. Fear not, as this comes together I will re-organize these posts and work them into a proper how-to. This is really just something to get you started, to give you time to gather up all the tools you’ll need and give you a general idea of what is coming. I will take the mystery out of this subject yet. Because this is one of these things: You’re totally lost when you see the list of junk in the rulebook you have to properly secure, some of it makes sense. Some of it is vaguely familiar and some of it has you drooling form the corner of the mouth, mumbling incoherently. “Oil gallery plugs” anybody? As luck would have it, those beyotches may be secured with RTV silicone; a girl can do that laying on her back in two minutes flat. 😉
- Always take the parts you need to drill off the bike. Before taking them off, a lot of people like to mark their fasteners when they are properly torqued, so they know where to drill the holes for the wire. Plan how you are going to wire up the fasteners that you are taking off. Remember that safety wiring has to tighten one bolt as another tries to come loose, so the tension should always be to the right of each fastener, which will route the twisted safety wire in an s-shape between them once two bolts are wired together. Plan on drilling your holes accordingly. Some people drill more than one set of holes for just that reason, but I bet those are the same peeps who also own one of those snazzy drill presses. (I will post pictures of every secured bolt on my bike when I’m done. A pic is worth a million words and a hundred google searches!)
- Secure the part in your vise. Make sure you don’t bend or break anything. Always wrap your part up in a shop towel or use soft vise pads to avoid damaging anything. That’s one reason I decided to thread the bolt into the drill jig, even though my vise has soft rubber-capped jaws. That’s not exactly how you’re supposed to use the thing, or is it?!?
- Mark your fastener with your automatic punch, if you have one.
- Put a drop of oil on the drill bit and on the bolt.
- Carefully start drilling, making sure that your drill bit stays put and doesn’t wander around. With the DeWalt bits I mentioned earlier this is not a problem, they stay put, even without a punch to mark the spot. Once you have the hole started, speed up the drill and add a little bit of pressure, not too much, though, if you bend the bit you’ll break it. Let the bit do the work for you. Be patient. You’ll see metal shavings piling up, I prefer to clean those out with cotton swabs, wipe the drill bit off and add some more oil, then I resume drilling. Each bolt took me about 5-6 minutes to drill. I didn’t break a single bit either. 🙂 Remember those “titanium” cheapies? Yeah, I tried those first. After 10 minutes of nothing much happening, I finally admitted defeat and changed to the DeWalt’s. A world of difference! The no-name bits are going to have to be re-dedicated to drilling holes into wood or styrofoam… they suck!
- I decided to drill straight through the bolt heads, using the first hole as a guide to start the second hole. I thought that this may be a mistake and would make me break a bit, but it worked like a dream. The holes are nice and clean and perfectly aligned, which will make wiring these up a cinch, no matter where they end up in relation to each other. And I did a way better job than the ex-BMW dealer did on my axle nut, if I dare say so myself.
- The caps were easy. I decided to drill the radiator cap from the back side, so in case the bit slipped I wouldn’t scratch up the “pretty side”. That was probably a mistake, since I had to use my Dremel to deburr the side the drill exited, which is probably going to cause it to rust. We shall see. If I had to do it over, I’d drill the holes front to back. I drilled both sides of the cap because I couldn’t remember which was the one I had decided to drill. Should have marked it, but thought I wouldn’t forget. I put the racing safety pin on the side that I’m betting on. We shall see if I didn’t drill that extra hole for nothing.
- The oil fill cap is plastic and was done in a few seconds. It took me longer to put the part in the vise. I decided to drill both sides, because the cap could end up at a number of different angles in relationship to the safety wire’s anchor point.
I’m almost too ashamed to post this. But it needs to be said. Over and over again, until it’s second nature and not questionable by ill-conceived reason. Doubt has no place in going fast. Lack of confidence hasn’t a place there either and neither has the lackadaisical attitude I often exhibit when it comes to questionable situations of the “WTF?” variety. Instead of pulling over and investigating the cause for the “something’s off” warning light that goes off in my head, I make a “that must be it” excuse and keep going.
“Good gawd, I must have forgotten how to shift! I need retraining.”
Could just be that the shift rod assembly is working loose and shifting is getting less precise and when it is about to fall off you can’t even get into third without hitting a false neutral most of the time.
“Holy hell, I can’t get a proper start down anymore! I need to practice.”
Could just be that the clutch lever pivot bolt is over-torqued and slowly demolished its threads, and now your clutch is slipping like mad. Well, DOH!
What is wrong with this picture?!?
“The front end feels funny. Sounds weird, and the feedback is strange. Must be the new brand of tires with a softer compound running a lower pressure.”
Could just be that you’ve forgotten to torque the caliper bolts on the right side.
And that is probably the main reason we have to safety wire all this junk! If the wire is undone you know you haven’t torqued the bolt. Safety wiring was not required at JenningsGP, so I was lazy and didn’t redo them when I was done. I did four laps on brake caliper bolts that were only finger tight, the upper bolt backed out and the only thing holding it in was the RaceABS sensor cable. So the BMW S1000RR’s tech saved my dumb ass again, but not the way you would have thought.
I would have to thank my friend and my new tires for negating some of the stress those bolts were under and nothing worse happening than weaker brakes. I had brand new tires and was taking it easy and half a lap into putting the screws back on, the session was red flagged due to someone trying to pass my friend Margie Lee in T2 screwing it up and taking her out with him. They are both fine, although Mr. Red Ducati was a little worse for wear. He couldn’t remember who or where he was and had a mangled shoulder, but he’s going to be OK. Margie got checked out at the hospital, got a clean bill of health and went to work the next day. Ovaries of steel. My kind of woman there. 🙂 I knew there was a reason we hit it off.
After coming in from the session, pretty much the last one to leave the track, and not seeing her nor her bike in her pit, I got worried and ended up running around trying to figure out if it was indeed her who was involved and when I was told that it was, my heart just sank. The ambulance was taking forever at the crash site and the waiting game began. After all that, I wasn’t in the mood anymore; I just wasn’t feeling it, so we packed up and went home. This girl knows when to fold ’em. I didn’t notice the caliper bolts until I was putting the Pirate back into her street clothes in my driveway the next day.
Don’t be a moron like Miss Busa. Don’t be lazy and safety wire things back up, even if it is not required at the track you are on. It’s also a good idea to mark your bolts once you’re done. If it’s not marked with your little dot, safety wired or silicone sealed, you might want to check it out, just to be sure.
Also, don’t ignore feedback. If it seems off, it most definitely is. The bike is talking to you. Do yourself a favor and LISTEN.