A Tale of the Dragon

“How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Get through the curves so fast? You make it look so easy. I’m scared half to death most of the time.”

“Me, too.”

“What? No way. But you ride with such confidence…”

Conversations such as the one above happen to me quite often now. The interchanges differ slightly, some are broad and generic, some more specific and focused, and yet others are just to say hello and to tell me that the way I ride is inspiring. I’m not really sure why. I am mostly just flabbergasted, because I don’t consider myself fast, or inspiring, am nowhere as smooth and proficient as I want to be, and I’m definitely a little scared a lot more than I’d like to admit. Heck, I’m still a newbie myself. I’m in my fourth year of riding, with roughly 44,500 miles logged, and have yet a long way to go before I could even consider myself an experienced rider. So why have I become the go-to girl?

Maybe I am asking the wrong question. Maybe it’s not what I do or to what level of proficiency I do it. After all, the degree of a skill is relative to the comparisons made. Maybe it is how I do it.

So how do I do it?

Upon reflection, I find that the answer is of quite a simple nature:

  • I refuse to accept “good enough” as a standard and continue to learn and practice those lessons whenever and wherever I can
  • I keep reaching outside of my comfort zone little by little, gently pushing my skill envelope and working through my fear(s)

And no matter where I am in my skill progression, or how advanced of a rider I may become, these two concepts hold true. Mastery does not equate perfection. There is always room for improvement and always an opportunity, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, to learn more. “The day I quit learning is the day that I die.” I don’t know who said it, or where I picked up these words of wisdom, but I wholeheartedly embrace the sentiment. Words to live by, indeed.

It does make a girl feel good (and a little bit proud), even if she feels a tad awkward and shy, when others show their appreciation for the way she rides. Especially when the kudos come from riders whom she considers to be so far above and beyond her own skills, that she is amazed they even gave her the time of day. It keeps her going, it makes her work even harder and cements the refusal to give up and not let temporary setbacks beat her into the trap that is “oh well, good enough.” It really isn’t good enough. “Good enough” is dangerous as it leads to routine and routine eventually results in rashed paint, dinged frames and broken off bits. Or worse.

Well…?

I’m in the mood for a little story telling rather than my usual not-quite-scientific analytical nerdiness. I’ll be as long-winded as the Dragon is curvy. That’s my specialty, and if you are one of my a regular readers, you’re used to this already. I am an editor’s worst nightmare. Well, I would be, if I had one. I’m gonna be, one day.

Here you go. Sit down, put your feet on the pegs, and hold on tight:

A Tale of the Dragon

A week ago, my husband and I returned from a five-day motorcycle vacation. Two of those days were spent at Deal’s Gap, riding a stretch of US-129 between North Carolina and Tennessee that is known to motorcyclists all over the country as the “Tail of the Dragon”. The road is notorious for its advertised “318 curves in 11 miles” and it is quite the gem from both a biker’s point of view and that of an engineer’s. It has a curve for every taste. Banked or off-camber, blind or the kind you can see all the way around, constant and decreasing radii, compound and multi-apex curves, fast sweepers, esses, elevation changes, dips, cracks, rough and smooth asphalt… you name it, you can find it, in various more or less gratifying combinations. Want to see if your street game is up to snuff, this road is a good place to evaluate. The Dragon comes complete with photographers ready to snap your picture as you negotiate a few choice corners (please smile, wave, and get your lean on to get that knee or floorboard down) and the obligatory contingent of county and state officials with clipboards at the ready and fat ticket pads to grade your excellence in high performance. It even has a Tree of Shame to hang your various broken bike parts on, should you flunk the skills test. Just don’t go there in the middle of the day on the weekends, or you’ll just get stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of seemingly nowhere, and then you will be lucky if you even get to average the speed limit, which is a posted 30 miles per hour.

The sky looked ominous. It desperately wanted to rain, but the weather had held so far and I was determined to get a few good runs in before it let loose, if it was even going to in the first place. If it did rain, so what? In my husband’s words:

“I’m going to do the Dragon. I don’t care if it rains. I don’t care if I’m the only man to ever do it wearing a trash bag, that Dragon is going down!”

Mr. Slow is a self-admitted fair-weather biker, so this was important enough for him to risk getting caught in a rainstorm. It was important enough for me, too; albeit for a completely different set of reasons. His reasons included shutter speed, mine corner speed. I really didn’t see my husband a whole lot after I followed him on his virgin run with the video camera attached to my bike. We never broke the (averaged) speed limit and I was one-handing it most of the trip, waving fanatically at the photographers hoping to get my silly self into hubby’s frame to ruin the shot. Didn’t quite work out as planned. I risked his life for nothing. Bummer.

20120516-142103.jpg

I almost didn’t go, because the sort of shenanigans that I had in mind were for dry roads and warm tires, but I made myself gear up anyway. I quietly admonished myself that I was supposed to keep it at 60% and keep the racer mentality off the public roads. So far I had done pretty well in that regard. Yes, things got a little spirited on occasion, but I would like to think that I never exceeded 75% of my skill at any given time. Did I not just spend a weekend riding with a friend resetting my brain to “street mode” and adjusting my “Speed Racer” mentality in an effort to ditch the frustration with the limitations of street riding that has plagued me for the better part of the past two years? To recapture the enjoyment of the ride at slower, more sane speeds without letting too much hang out on that slippery slope that is risk acceptance. “No speeding in the straights!” is the toughest rule to adhere to, especially if the road isn’t entirely straight, but sweeps invitingly from side to side.

As it turns out, the road is cold and wet in places, and it seems to be getting worse. I realize that it is starting to rain and that we are catching up with the worst of it. As we continue northward the road gets wetter and there are leaves in a lot of the corners. I slow my already temperate speed even more. I have only one word to describe my feelings about wet leaves in wet corners: treacherous. My tires are sticking and my lines are true. However, this situation makes me feel timid and uncertain. To the close observer, this anxiety makes itself evident in my body position. As the battle between fear and intellect rages in my mind, my sternum becomes rigidly glued to the tank. I have to make a conscious effort to correct this tendency, hang off properly by dropping the upper body into alignment and in doing so also right the bike from its excessive lean. When your chest is stuck to the gas cap, your ass might as well be sitting in the seat, with your knee gripping the tank. You can’t just hang your cheeks out and expect to conserve lean angle by lowering your combined center of gravity. It doesn’t work that way. Either hang off or don’t… that half-assed crap isn’t really doing anything but make you look like an assclown. I’m getting a little flustered with myself, not that I would have to hang off at all. But hanging off is one of those things I still need to practice and perfect for myself, so I always at least go through the motions, even at speeds where it is not needed. At minimum I like to “pop” the inside hip into place and weigh the outside peg. Besides, sitting sedately center, hauling through a curve is much scarier than doing the same while getting low and to the inside of the bike, for the centrifugal forces involved are less apparent. It just feels slower and more manageable. This is also the secret to getting your kicks without having to push the speeds too far into “jail-able offense” territory. And if you also take the “car line” through to avoid flattening out the curve you can get even more thrills for your speeding ticket buck. But that’s an entirely different story altogether.

I’m not liking this kind of riding. This is more like commuting or roadtripping than joy riding. But as the ride continues, my fear is gradually replaced by annoyance. I want to be irresponsible (in a responsible kind of way), but am somewhat inhibited by the probable presence of more cops (one had parked himself in the first longish straight to set the mood) and the less-than-fun traction conditions. But it is good practice. Since I’ve lost my job, I haven’t had much occasion to use my crap weather skills, so this is really a blessing in disguise. With the newfound attitude I begin to settle into a rhythm and am starting to enjoy myself again, even if such joy is served with a dash of apprehension.

We turn around at Tabcat Bridge, at the northern end of the Tail, and make our way the eleven miles back south. It isn’t too long before the skies open up and let us have it in full force. Visibility becomes more and more limited as the rainshower cranks its intensity up to torrential downpour. My visor keeps fogging up and my gloves are getting soaked. Our average speed doesn’t drop all that much and we are still dancing smoothly and effortlessly through the curves. Now this is something I can cope with. The leaves have washed off the road and the asphalt is finally clean. This is the kind of riding I refer to when I say: “Rain is nature’s way of giving us clean roads and 80% traction.” I don’t like “sort of wet”, but “really, really, really wet” I can definitely deal with. The hanging off bit stops as soon as I realize — to my chagrin — that my crotch is absolutely soaked and my feet are sopping wet. I make myself as small as possible, trying to keep the water out. To no avail. I can feel a cool trickle making its way down my spine between my back protector and the moisture-wicking compression shirt. Oh, goodie! We all know where that’s going next: Asscrack Falls. And then I’ll be sitting in it until I stand up. I smirk at the thought. I’m not entirely sure why this is even funny, but I’m getting a kick out of it. Hell, yeah! I made that damn Dragon cry. I suffer another mental burst of girly giggles.

David and I are the fastest crew to come down the mountain that morning. The Pirelli Angel ST tires are again proving their crap weather worthiness. I don’t trust them quite yet on their sides, because they have massive grooves for water evacuation running almost all the way to their outer edges. That’s just too much air and not enough rubber in the chicken strip regions for my comfort level. When it was dry I wished I had a stickier, softer tire; but now I am definitely glad I’m rolling these sport-touring hoops. My confidence in the tires is evident in our pace. I have no problem keeping up with David who is leading the return trip.

We’re safely passing several vehicles and catch up with some sportbike riders who do not seem to appreciate getting caught in this shit storm at all. One is making a concentrated effort not to lean around a corner; and another is hugging the center lines, crossing over repeatedly, almost as if he was using them as a visual guide to help him stay on the road. We pass him in a hurry, before he could make it to the next curve. It appears that David and I had the same idea, neither one of us wanting to see “what happens next”. [Both of these guys made it back down the mountain alright.]

Several riders gave up and parked it at a pull-off. The Harley boys just kept on cruising, a little slower than usual, but those dudes don’t wimp out for some rain. Especially if there isn’t an overpass to park under for miles and they’re already wet. The cigarette smoking while riding, however, has ceased, for obvious reasons.

We finally make it to the chain-link fence that marks the southern side “Beginner’s End” at the North-Carolina/Tennessee state line. Almost there. Almost. As we round the right-hander a flash of hi-viz yellow catches my attention. I smile as I realize it’s Mr. Slow creeping down the mountain on his Samsonite Missile. He also has no real pressing urge to lean. That’s my man! I smile again, since I’m happy to have caught up with him; because I assure you, I would have freaked out approximately 22 minutes after not seeing his Connie parked in front of our room.

This is a good time to have lunch at the Dragon’s Den Grill and the place is packed as people settle in to wait out the storm. The satellite TV has quit, we have no cell reception, and it’s anybody’s guess as to how long this’ll go on. A typical spring afternoon shower? Couldn’t be more than an hour or two.

As soon as the rain subsides, I’m geared back up and on my way to my bike to head out. Everybody else also wants to go, but they want to wait about 20 minutes for the road (and their gear) to start drying out. With my renewed confidence I’m not even interested in wet roads or wet gear. I sit down on the bench in front of our room and impatiently wait on time to tick off the minutes as I watch the steam as it rises from the pavement; the road slowly begins to dry.

My overly inflated ego is promptly corrected not too far into the next run. Let some of that air out, hot stuff, shall we? Traction feels iffy and after sliding around in two consecutive turns, I am absolutely crestfallen. WTF?!? My riding again becomes timid as my anxiety level rises. I hate sliding the rear wheel. I dislike it on the track, but I’ve learned to cope with it there; however, I still don’t like it when it happens and I find myself avoiding to ride that close to the edge of my traction limit. When it happens on the street my anxiety is multiplied. I already hate the outside edge of the pavement and sliding around like I am isn’t helping that situation any. This is the reason I have a tendency to take the “race line” through a corner, hugging the center-line at the apex with my body hanging all over into the oncoming lane. Never mind that my tires are still in the correct lane space. On the track this tendency is displayed in a distinct cutting of corners to the apex. It’s almost a little like dog-legging it, rather than a more gradual approach. It’s point-and-shoot from entry to apex, but on exit it is a gradual drifting out to the outside edge, as it should be when accelerating out of a turn. This is also why I prefer right-hand turns on the street, even though it would make sense to be more fearful in a right-hander. After all, if the rear breaks loose, I would be sliding into oncoming traffic rather than off the road. All these worries and various discomforts come flooding into my conscious thoughts. Slap! Take you down a notch, missy. A pass and review of your more annoying (and tenacious) riding flaws. Arrrrrrgh!

On the return trip I can barely keep up with the guys, my group or otherwise. Correction: I can’t keep up with the guys. They only reason I keep catching them is that they get held up by other motorists. I feel tired and unfocused. I’ve let myself down. I am really disappointed. I know I can do better, so what is this? It’s almost schizophrenic. I feel slightly nauseated as I fight my way through every curve.

By the time I’m back down at the Gap, I’ve worked myself up into a real pisser of a self-deprecating attitude. I park the bike, and start stripping off my gear. I’m not going back up! This shit sucks, I’m really not in the mood anymore. Apparently, you can’t teach some old dogs anything… I notice none of my friends’ bikes are there. Not even Mr. Slow’s is anywhere to be found. Oh, hell with this! I’m going back up and I am showing this damned Dragon who’s wearing the bitchin’ pants in this freaking crowd. The guys pull in as I am adjusting my tire pressures. Great, those jokers stopped off somewhere and here I was trying to catch up. But the decision has been made. I’m getting back on this damned motorcycle and I am going to own what should have already been mine. I’m letting two more pounds of air out of both tires. I will find me some traction (or loss thereof) and collect my confidence while I’m at it. I am a girl on a mission. A girl who is intent on making the DTC work it for her. The guys also decide they didn’t have enough yet, swap bikes between themselves, and we head back out. This time I end up in the middle.

I spend the next 11 miles trying to push the front, slide the rear, or make either the RaceABS or DTC intervene; whichever one of those three comes first. I don’t care. I find I’m a little angry. I work my way into racing up to a corner, slamming on the brakes, throwing the bike in, and grabbing a judicious twist of throttle on the way out. Rinse, repeat. Nothing. The tires hold solid. The subtle pulsing of the ABS system or the faint “clicking” of the traction control both remain elusive. Maybe the shit doesn’t work anymore, after all? Well, I do know the RaceABS is in working order. I have finally mustered up the courage to put that one to the test by a few hamfisted, idiotic grabs of the front brake. There was never any doubt that the rear brake was working, that thing goes live when I’m just thinking about maybe using it. A little excessive for my taste, but whatever.

I wave the thought of maybe not having a functional traction control system to save my bacon aside and am wondering if Rick, who is behind me on David’s Ducati, is bothered by me riding like a jackass. He seems to cope fine with my change of riding strategy, but I make a mental note to ask him, and apologize if necessary, at the turn-around spot. I am not worried about hurting David’s feelings, who is undoubtedly playing around with the ZX10R’s ABS/DTC systems as well. He’s a racer and we’ve been doing “skill runs” pretty much all weekend. I’m sure he doesn’t mind my nose up his tail and in his business every corner we come to.

We actually looked quite well together, the three of us. Later inspection of over 200 uploaded low-res digital proofs by the various Dragon photographers confirms my suspicion. Mr. Slow also hands in photographic evidence. 🙂 I hope I meet these guys again. It was a blast riding with them. And next time Rick better bring his wife, who didn’t want to go until he had “checked it out”. I told him to tell her I am mad at her for not showing up.

Miss Busa in the Middle

As I was gradually working my way up to braking later and harder, and accelerating sooner and more aggressively, I felt something I haven’t experienced in a long time. A glimmer of my former bravado and aggressiveness. That something in my personality that I thought had finally been tamed. The little streak of crazy is alive and well and its clawing its way back to the surface. I do believe that to be a good thing. And I have the Dragon to thank for it. Why? Because it rained a little bit.

I had lost a lot of my spunk after crashing last year by tucking the front end into Turn One at Barber Motorsports Park at 120+ mph. A crash that prematurely ended the 2011 racing season for me, because I got to spend my money on fixing my bike rather than actually racing it. A crash that also trashed my confidence without me even realizing the significance of its impact until months later, when I finally got to do another track day and realized I was slower, less confident and more nervous. It took me another few months to pinpoint all the kinks that had developed in my riding as a result. And it was extremely hard to admit that to myself. I blamed it on not getting enough seat time. Yeah, that’s part of it, but that hadn’t slowed me down significantly before I had lost my balls in the kitty litter.

And that is how I do it. This is how I roll.

Check out some of the photos Mr. Slow took. He’s stashed them at FramedByJoe.com (link opens in new window).

I submit to you our first round of Monday morning dragon slaying. There wasn’t much slaying going on quite yet, since the Dragon himself was still pre-coffee and in no mood. 😉

Sunday Pics by Killboy & Co.

Monday Pics by Killboy & Co.


Mr. Slow goes Dragon Slaying

My husband wanted to go on a bike vacation for his birthday and finally become one of the initiated, one of those tough biker dudes who “did the Dragon”. He can now answer the question, that inevitably gets asked of a man when any number of motorcycle riding hooligans find themselves together in a loosely assembled mob of smelly leathers and dirty denim. He can now hold his head high, stick his burley chest out , striking a manly pose; stand tall and answer loudly and proudly: “Yes. I have slain the fabled Dragon. I have gone north in search of the mythical beast and I have drawn blood.” Translation: I found him whilst on his afternoon snooze. I snuck up on him and totally stepped on his tail! The beast woke and breathed fire upon my wife who had been to its lair on a previous raid to inflict pain and suffering upon the monster with the aid of a merry band of rocket-riding wild women. My wife put her knee down and the Dragon slithered off in search for easier prey, such as three drunken Hog Wranglers on a Moonshine run, and his spare set of testicles.

…and they lived happily ever after, for about a week or so.  Can we please do this again? Like every year? How does every second week in May sound!?!

Works for me.


Fast Pixels for a Slow Girl

The race pics are up. Feast your eyes on the awesome work of Kendrick Kirk who runs MotoHD.net and was our track photographer for the weekend. I have a feeling though, that Kendrick would have rather been out there with us playing on the track than being stuck behind his Canon. I always buy the track photos to support the guys and girls who give us the opportunity to get some kickass pictures of ourselves doing what we love to do. Besides, you get your lens into way more places with a media pass than Mr. Slow ever dreamed of. He, of course, makes up for his shortcomings with the size of his lens. To the Slow One’s defense, he did  catch me with my knee down. 😉

WERA at NSS 2011


Get ’em out Cold, ride ’em Rough and put ’em up Wet!

Race Report (Part 2 of 3)

Miss Busa’s Inaugural WERA Race:
Saturday Practice

Up at the crack of dawn. I drag myself into the shower and after getting ready, Mr. Slow hands me a steaming cup of hotel coffee. I love you, man! He knows what Miss Busa needs. The Zombie can finally rise. As we head out the door, I am assaulted by a blast of cold wind and the drizzle immediately adds to my already sunny (insert heavy sarcasm) disposition. Good gawd! I’m awake now! I shiver in my Under Armour HeatGear. Damn! I should have went with my original instinct and packed the ColdGear also. I’m in for an interesting day, I’m sure of it. Cold and wet! Still. It looks as if the storm had blown through, as they had predicted, but I wasn’t expecting it to remain this breezy and cold. What was I thinking when I checked the weather report?!? Guess I’m not in Georgia anymore. Brrrrrrr! It’s freaking cold out here. Not even 50 out. The sky still looks foreboding in places, the tattered remains of a storm that made for a restless night. Mr. Slow informed me that I pretty much kept him up all night by waking up shivering several times.

I keep my spirits up because I am in good company and am looking at a weekend at the track. I’m not even nervous. I’m just excited. The nausea, however, returns as we pull into our pit and I notice the hustle and bustle of people busying themselves with various tasks in order to get ready for their races. The unmistakable sound of race engines spinning near red line barreling down a front straight tells me that a practice round is already under way, and I stand by my bike feeling somewhat lost and sick to my stomach. Yes, I’m really here. This is it. The moment I have been working towards, waiting for, spending ungodly amounts of money on, is finally upon me. I feel cold and distracted. At least it quit drizzling for the time being. Margie tells me to go register and find out where they set up Tech. I groan, bitch about being cold and drudge down the middle aisle of the garage, making my way to the south end of the building. I walk slowly, hoping I would spot the object of my given quest before I have to ask some stranger for directions. Joe is behind me, reading me like a book, so he hits up the next person for the info. Tech in the front, registration in the next building over. I breathe a sigh of relief. I can’t help but wonder if Margie didn’t do this on purpose…

We find the registration desk in the Press/Media building and get in line to get our remaining paperwork done. Since I pre-registered online, all I have to do is fill out a transponder rental agreement. I trade the signed form for a transponder and a bracket to mount the thing to the Pirate’s left fork leg with a couple of cable ties. I have to get in the other line to add the Heavyweight Senior Superbike Novice race to my lineup so I can use my Kevin Schwantz graduate coupon that entitles me to a free first race entry. Just like the dealer on the corner. The first fix is on the house. After that you’re hooked and paying through the nose, bankrupting your children’s children for just one more…

Once I return to the pit, we get busy checking the bike over one more time and adding the number plates to the lowers… or at least the two of them try. It’s cold, it’s damp and the vinyl just won’t stick. They manage to peel the paint off on one side while repositioning the background of the numberplate, so now there is a huge primer-colored rectangle where there once was metallic black paint. Margie finally ends up glueing the infernal things to the sides of the bike using a glue stick. The things are wrinkled horribly, but legible. Hubby bets that they’ll be gone after the first race. We shall see.

They are announcing my practice group again. Shit! First call. Margie tells me to calm down and breathe. We haven’t even put the sponsor stickers on. I’m looking for the anti-fog/water repellent stuff for my face shield, but I can’t find it. I crawl all over the truck, digging around, but come up empty handed. I’m cold. My hands are cold. I’m shivering even with Margie’s windbreaker over my leathers and I’m on the verge of freaking out because the bike isn’t the way I want it.

Off to Tech to get my bike inspected. Of course, I had forgotten to take the lowers off. I ride back to my pit and Margie and Joe remove them for me. I ride back to Tech and get in the line that had formed in my absence. Bike checks out fine, but I need my receipt, to verify payment of my entry fees. Crap! I offer to run across the garage to my pit to quickly fetch it, as my left foot executes a familiar movement but fails to find its target. I realize with embarrassment that I don’t have a kickstand anymore. Doh! The tech dude chuckles as I tell him that I’ll be right back. Out the other side, around the corner, and back to the pit.

WERA Tech Sticker

Would you look at that, we passed Tech 🙂

The receipt is tracked down in my now disheveled folder and then the whole folder is crammed down my neon-green Ed Bargy newbie shirt by Margie. Take it all. Arrrgh! How am I gonna get that out later? Off to Tech, yet again. The third time’s apparently the charm and I get slapped with two Tech Stickers, one for the bike and one on the chinbar of my helmet for the gear.

I end up missing the damn practice, and now there’s plenty of time to get everything sorted, so my inner peace is restored. But I’m cold. I can’t think straight and I’m whiney because I feel miserable and out of sorts.

I end up finding myself stuffed into the Sponsor’s truck, because I’m pretty much worthless in my current state, somebody shoves a hot cup of black coffee into my paws; courtesy of the racer from across the way. “Say thank you, Miss Busa. Good girl! ;)” My pit crew tells me to quit my incessant whining, drink my joe and stay in the truck to warm up. As my core temperature slowly rises into operating temperature I’m starting to feel better. Margie eventually joins me and we pass the time by talking shop. Practice for Group 2, Round 2 is announced and we hop out of the truck to get me ready to rock and roll. I’m feeling nauseous again. They dress me, put me on my bike and send me out to do or die. As soon as I roll out of my garage it starts raining. Motherhumper!!! You have got to be kidding me! As I make my way to pit road, I start getting cold again. My hands feel slightly cool and the wind is blowing in a way that would make a Nor’easter jealous. I realize, as I sit at the track entrance getting drizzled on and shivering, that I’m not enjoying this at all. I can handle the cold. I can handle the wet. Combine the two and you have found Miss Busa’s personal version of Kryptonite.

When we finally get the go ahead from Race Control, I crank up the bike, put it in gear and slap my visor down as I ease into hot pit lane. My former preoccupation with my bodily discomforts is replaced by a mental focus that isn’t quite as narrow as usual, but nevertheless it is there. The nausea that usually accompanies my anxiety has also disappeared. I settle in and concentrate on the task at hand: getting around this thing without wiping out.

As I come around a long lefthand sweeper, the first turn is upon me, I miss it, and almost run through the orange cones that block further access to the NASCAR oval. I grab a monster hand of front brake, come to a nose-diving halt and have to walk the bike back a few steps to enable me to make my turn (a freakin’ u-turn?) without knocking over any of the cones. Great! I hope nobody saw that. Of course they did. I smile at the corner worker who is standing behind the containment wall at the apex of the ‘V’ that passes for Turn 1. Evil. My visor is fogging up, and the rain water is not evacuating fast enough. Translation: I can’t see shit. As I enter Turn 2 I get passed by a Gixxer. Hot pink. Pony tail peeking out from under the helmet. I just got passed by a girl? Wooohooo!!! My usual enthusiasm returns with a bang. I get on the gas; then it is gone as soon as it had come. The realization of having cold tires on wet pavement at an unfamiliar track and a visibility of close to none has a tendency to reign in my enthusiasm. Damn. For a moment, I wasn’t cold anymore.

I settle back down and try to navigate the track as best I can. The racing surface is rough, has cracks, the pavement seams that run in parallel are slippery and there is stray gravel in some of the corners. This track is shit. Well, the infield road course portion is, at any rate. By lap two I’m ready to pack it in. I don’t even collect any reference points. I’m shivering, I can barely feel my hands, and it’s getting a little moist in some places under my leathers. I have to continuously fidget with my face shield to keep the fog from building up. Another couple of victims to the “packing light THIS time” strategy: my helmet’s fog-free shield and the breath guard.

I’m distracted and preoccupied. Not the way to ride by any means, and a potentially disastrous way to race. Every time I pass Pit In, I am tempted to stick my leg out and call it quits. This shit isn’t fun. I can’t believe I’m putting myself through this AND I paid handsomely for the privilege! Good gawd, woman! You are nucking futs.

Nevertheless, I keep fighting with myself and keep pushing on. I am relieved when the checkered flag finally comes out. Not soon enough, buddy, not soon enough! The last lap must have been the fastest yet, since I was suddenly in a real damn hurry to get my frozen ass the hell off this shitty track. For crying out loud, there is a huge pothole in one of the turns, right IN THE RACE LINE!

Back in the pits, I get reprimanded again for whining. This time (I think) I voluntarily retreat to the sheltered comforts the passenger seat of the pickup truck has to offer. This is crap! I hate the weather, I hate the track. If I wanted to get blown by the winds, I’d join the damn Navy! (This sounds way more appropriate coming from a scruffy looking, muscular, bald dude with swallow tattoos on his forearms.) 1.8 miles of redneck rough ridin’. Hell, they have better (free) roads in South Carolina, and that’s saying something.

NSS Track Map

Finally, I get to look at some visual aids...

But I still don’t regret coming, despite of the weather reports. I just wish my first race weekend would have started a little more glorious on a picture perfect day… at BARBER!


Going The Distance

Race Report (Part 1 of 3)

Miss Busa’s Inaugural WERA Race:
The Day Before

The Garage At The Nashville Superspeedway

The Nashville Superspeedway has an excellent pit area. Nice clean floors and power outlets. No genny needed. If only they'd installed some garage doors. The thing is like a wind tunnel when the wind is blowing outside. No showers, but large enough restrooms if you want to change or take a cat bath, just have a friend stand guard at the door.

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!

We are an awesome team

Margie is doing great at her first opportunity to wire up a race bike. Don (#69) gave her a quick "crash course" and with a few tips from the 'Wild Woman', she's got the stuff done in a hurry. Our work even passed Tech the first time around. =D

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.”

Miss Busa does her best work on her back ;)

I think I may have fallen asleep under there for a few minutes while I was trying to get the safety wire threaded through the hole in the oil drain plug...

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.

Margie is getting down with the safety wire

Margie was invaluable during the whole weekend, she helped me with my bike, took care of me physically and gave my brain what it needed to push on. Even if I was a little bit whiney on Saturday, she kept at me. Damn those professors, they got your number and won't let you slide. 😉

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.

Track QuickStats:

Nashville Superspeedway (NSS)

4847-F McCrary Rd
Lebanon, TN 37090

(615) 547-7500

NSS Facility Map
Nashville Superspeedway Facility Map
  • 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
This information is provided as is and was accurate at the time of this posting. I have provided it here to summarize the answers to the most commonly asked questions of people who are going to this particular track for the first time. Obviously, I cannot guarantee that this applies to other race organizations or track day clubs, stuff may change. You should call the facility and/or your racing/track day organization in advance if you have any questions.