As I write this we are just one day away from leaving for the AMA Superbike round at Infineon Raceway, where Bradley will be racing our project Harley-Davidson in the Vance & Hines XR1200 class. Everything seemed so simple at first: borrow an XR1200 from Harley-Davidson, prepare it with the racing kit from Vance & Hines, and go racing. But, as always happens, things snowballed almost out of control (almost!) leading up to this point. Some internal suspension changes, a dropped valve and a slipping clutch left us scrambling for parts right up to the last minute, but now we are all set to leave. Of course, by the time you read this the race will be over, and you can read more about the project elsewhere in this issue or on the website at www.sportrider.com/magazine/1108.
As with any racing program, results vary depending on how much effort you put in, and that is how things generally start to spiral into the abyss. “If I [insert modification or activity here], I will do better in the race.” Even with a limited budget at the magazine and not many modifications allowed under the rules, it was just too tempting to squeeze as much as we could into the time we had available. That’s how our XR ended up with our Racepak data acquisition system onboard. That’s how Bradley ended up going to a track day at Infineon; why we decided to make more changes to the suspension, and why we went to another track day just a few days before the race itself.
In a way, all this thrashing led to some good things. The bike dropped a valve at the Infineon track day, on the last lap of the last session. As catastrophic as that sounds, it’s infinitely better than doing something like that on the first lap of the first session at the AMA event. This led to the final test just a couple of days ago, where the clutch started slipping during the last session. Again, definitely a bad sign but we’re relieved that it happened there and not at the race. Now, just a few hours before leaving, I think we’ve finally got everything sorted and a bike that will work well for Bradley. And, as usual, it’s turned into a thrash right up until the last minute.
This is not something new, for me or for most racers or people involved in racing. Given a time frame to work in before an event or a practice session at a race, we will squeeze in that amount of work — and a little bit more — to ensure the best possible result. When I was racing, if there were three weeks between races I would always seem to find four weeks of work to do on the bike. The same thing at a race; if there was an hour between sessions I would always find a bit more than an hour’s worth of work to do. All in the search for a better result, whether it meant making parts for the bike at home, taking an extra trip to the gym, changing jetting or mulling over a track map for a few minutes at the track.
Drop by any race shop during the week, or any of the big teams’ pits at a race, and you will almost always see bikes torn apart and plenty of activity. Rarely will they not take advantage of any break in the action to make improvements or change something. It was exactly that way when I visited Chip Yates’ shop to see his electric racebike (“The Electric Superbike”, June ‘11). I was hoping to get a photo of the bike and Chip, but I should have known better; the bike was all apart as it no doubt usually is and Chip was busy changing gearing for a top-speed run (190.6 mph at the Mojave Mile).
The thing is, pushing yourself is how improvements are made. Change, for example, fork height minutes before a practice session in a panic, and you get the experience of making that adjustment quickly plus the knowledge of whether or not the change worked — you are ahead on both fronts. Don’t make the change, and you miss out on both. This is how you get experience, from both a riding and wrenching perspective. And with that experience, you will know exactly how much work you can accomplish in a given time frame, and what kind of results you can expect from that work. You would think, then, that after years of racing and this being the fifth race project I’ve worked on for the magazine, I would better manage my time and resources and not squeeze so much in. I think, though, that I’m not alone. Eric Nugent is madly putting the finishing touches on the XR and loading up the trailer, while Bradley is at home hopefully going over some of the data and onboard video we’ve collected; meanwhile, I’m furiously writing a past-deadline story. All three of us are or were racers. It’s simply in our nature to do as much as we can — and then some — in the time allotted.