The Definition of Insanity
AFM round-1 2010
My Mom says insanity is defined by a person trying the same thing over and over, always the same way, always hoping for a different result. I say that creates insanity more than defines it. And I admit, in a way that defined our whole race program in 2009. .
Sponsorship is a fascinating thing. Very challenging to get, nearly impossible to keep – especially in club-racing. Couple this recurring reality with our 09’s admitted insanity, you get no 2010 ride for GoGo. I knew this all winter long, starting from our last crash in our last race of our last season. But I also knew that giving up on this program, and on this KTM Superduke, would very clearly spell for me my least favorite bold lettered word - FAILURE.
Just wait though, this gets worse before it gets better. Now let’s factor in the dark cloud of economic stress that has blanketed us all recently… Could there be more things stacked against us racing again in 2010? Keep in mind, Tri Valley Moto opened their brand new dealership doors in Livermore Ca., right smack into possibly the worst retail times since the great depression. So when I met with Mike Meissner this winter I asked him please to do one thing – trust me. “Racing doesn’t have to work like it did,” I said. “There are other ways to do the things we have tried to do. I know what they are. I know we can be better.”
And so it was to be, with a reluctant nod from Mike, our roadracing Superduke saga was granted a second chapter. Now the question was how to create a measurable difference in 2010, with the very same players of 09 . . .
I have been told many times by now that I don’t pull any punches. That I am not cagey. That I am honest to a fault. It’s all bullshit. If I were really honest last year I would have admitted how much I hated Phil, the genius behind our 2009 suspension woes. Truth is at times last year I wanted to strangle him for not listening. But in quite a cowardly way I only shared my thoughts of violence with those I spoke with personally. What I wrote here was rather gray. What I told the AFM board about our crashes was rather guarded. I hate gray, and I despise guarded. I will never do that again.
Truth is developing an already successful bike to suit your own personal needs as a rider is hard enough. But developing a bike no one else successfully runs is next to impossible. Don’t believe me? Go ask one of the most talented racers in the AFM, Dave Stanton, about developing his R1… Why is it so hard you might ask? Two reasons:
#-1 Communication. Communication between the bike and rider - communication between the rider and the tuner - communication between the tuner and the bike. And then it starts all over again each time you go faster
#-2 Data. Without a network of setup info to draw from, proven specialty parts, valve kits, or well-known bike specific tricks to draw from – you are out there all on your own. And trust me, out there all on your own on a misbehaving motorcycle leaned over on it’s side at a buck-twenty is not a fantastic place to suddenly find yourself.
So this year’s goals are different than last. Our priorities have changed from desperately trying to win while struggling to work better together, to simply working better together. Today communication tops each list we write. The man at the helm of this vital change is a very interesting character. His name is Danny Boy. He’s as Irish as they come. Legend has it he was a brawler back in the day. I believe the tales I’ve heard, his quiet nature and ink-covered arms speak volumes. As the story goes, last year despite his true passion for racing, he turned his back on our program the day he saw its destiny. I have great respect for the stance he took back then.
Danny Boy is Tri Valley Moto’s service manager. He agreed to go racing this year under one condition – that we start from scratch, something we very conveniently opted out of in 09. And “scratch” to Danny meant totally stock. “Why put salt on a steak you haven’t tasted?” So we took a set of virgin KTM Superduke forks and put one of Phil’s many ultra-trick suspension tools to work for us – his shock dyno. The whole process took less than an hour. And in those sixty simple minutes all of our questions, all of our struggles, and all of our mistakes of 09 were revealed. There is after all no hiding from a computer read-out. Our forks were way too stiff compared to stock. Something I had said nine thousand times last year, but never apparently as effectively as Phil’s computer.
Once back on the bike in stock trim our forks felt sensible again. To you that might not seem like a big deal. To me it was huge. It meant that before even wheeling our Superduke R out the shop door, we had already created one vital change for 2010. And then suddenly, almost as if some dark curse had magically been lifted from over our heads, Phil and I cracked our first friendly smiles. Next topic up for change was money…
I build things for a living, so I know all too well about things taking longer than anyone thought they would. But I don’t build motorcycles for a living. So last year, and in fact every year I have raced motorcycles in California, I played no role in building our Superdukes. Apparently last year’s “take this off, put it back on, re-valve it six times, take it back off, try the other one,” etc. etc., drove the race program ticket quite a bit higher than it was ever supposed to, or quite frankly ever needed to, be. So this year’s unspoken reality which read plain as day (written across Mike’s forehead), said rather simply, “You wanna go racing this year, you’re gonna need to step up.”
So that’s where I’ve been the last month, at Tri Valley Moto turning wrenches. That’s also why we didn’t show up until Sunday this past weekend, to race. Our bike wasn’t done. Why not you might ask? It’s just a frame, a couple of wheels, a motor and a tank? Well this is where our story gets even more interesting..
Last year at Thunderhill five 600cc bikes passed us on the front straight – all at once! That’s a pretty major horsepower deficit to have to make up for. Now I can ride a motorcycle, and I’m not scared of extra work, but shit that’s a lot to make up for. So this winter while Jason Hauns and I worked together, we did a lot of creative thinking. It’s tough though, to find horsepower when you have no budget. And then one day it happened. It was his idea originally, which slowly evolved into our collective mission – to create a Ram-Air system for this KTM Superduke.
What’s the one thing you need more than anything else before you can make more power? You need more fuel, and you need more oxygen. I doubt one in a million people have ever seen a Superduke’s airbox. Trust me it is not designed for roadracing. The intake of the box is hidden below the gas tank, behind wires, and far from anything resembling fresh or flowing air. So Jason and I set out to change all that – ala Ducati Superbike style. Some of you may remember I raced those steeds for a decade. Rare few of you may even remember I wrenched for the late Ducati racer Jimmy Adamo, back in the day. Well I remember too, and this past winter we put those memories to work for this KTM.
Ducati did this cool trick with their older superbike airboxes, they basically have no top. The throttle bodies have an airbox bottom below them and to the sides, but the fuel tank acts as the top. Then up front of the box there are two ducts, which extend forward. Once at speed the box not only fills with air, but it becomes pressurized. Read – horsepower. So Jason and I relocated the stock ECU, took off the KTM airbox top, fabricated a new box top which met up with the fuel tank bottom, made two ducts incorporated into the front fins of the bodywork, and wham! We have Ram-Air in our KTM Superduke!
But that can’t be it, right? After all we missed BOTH Friday and Saturday. All for Ram-air? Hell no, there was a bellypan from scratch too.
So yeah, there was a lot of work. But it’s all good and I’d do it again tomorrow morning. It felt so good driving my old van down the road headed to AFM round 1, 2010. I will admit though, I was more than nervous about riding. My focus is usually running, working out, even riding before a season begins. This year it was fiberglass and wrenches. I hadn’t ridden a motorcycle since one trackday early last November, and before that it was last summer. I knew Sunday morning’s one practice had a long list of hurdles to get over – dust off the cob-webs, check the bike over, setup suspension, work on lines, gearing, etc - all in six laps. Then forty minutes later line your ass up with Siglin on his Boulder 1098R, and Randolph on his RC8R, and go hell bent for turn one with a hundred other bikes crawling up your neck. I tell you that race was surreal for me. I could feel the bars in my hands, I could hear all the horsepower around me, I just couldn’t believe we were there. Thank god for muscle memory cause if you asked me quick which side was the clutch I would have hesitated before answering. My first day back riding is always tough on my forearms. I think it’s nerves. I hold the bars too tight. Siglin and Randolph left me about fourteen feet from the green flag, which was great I was real glad they didn’t hit me on their way by. Then there was Blackburn and McFarland on their 1098Rs. Those guys we actually kept in sight for a while. No idea how, I could barely feel the bars by the third lap. So when I got our pit signal which said “relax nobody’s on your ass” I did exactly that. Fifth was my goal, I would have settled for tenth.
As it turns out bone stock could use a little salt after all. While our bike was more compliant than at any time last year, it’s still not where it needs to be. Too much spring up front, too much squat in the rear, not balanced well at all. But at least now the bike was making sense. We knew what we had and we knew what we needed. Only problem was we had no way of getting it till we had the bike back at Phil’s lab this week. So for Formula 1 and 750 Superbike, we rode the bitch the way it sat.
We got a decent start in F1. Had a lot of fun not running anything or anyone over heading to turn two off the start, then settled in around 9th. I can’t believe how well this Ram-Air system helps our Superduke. At most we would lose one bike length on the front straight. That was a fantastic change from the previous five we used to lose. I think that was my favorite part of Sunday – learning that our idea actually worked. How often does that happen… My arms were more relaxed in this race. We were able to pull off some cool passes going into the bus-stop and through cotton corners. On the last lap I saw Liko Miles up ahead. I could tell he was tiring because for sure I wasn’t getting any faster. I was doubtful about catching him in time until he saved a marvelous high-side in Cotton Corners. For sure his drive out of there was shot, so I cranked it up and got us on his ass at the bus-stop. I hate that turn, always afraid I’m gonna burry a footpeg on that inside curbing. Our bike settled into a good groove through Riverside so I figured maybe we’d size him up around the outside. We did make it next to him, but never owned the turn so I backed off. I figured the Mazda turn would be our last chance so when he settled into a nice arc through there I stuffed our Superduke inside of him. I really blew it though, I should have waited longer to make the pass. Maybe if I shook him up just before the last apex we would have ruined his drive. I was a little premature, which is a problem of mine I won’t get into, so he drove through those esses real close to my tailpipe. I knew it was gonna come to the last turn so I did my best getting us in there real good. These are the times when lots of laps pay off. The subtle things you learn over time really help you go faster, like just how deep you really can go before you grab the lever.. Somehow I felt we got in there deep enough, so when Liko pulled up next to me on the inside with both our noses buried in the pavement I said to myself, “God dam brother, I hope you know something I don’t cause I’d never make it at that pace.” All I could do was give him the entrance, square off the turn behind him, and muster up the best drive out our Michelin’s had, so we could come up his inside on the exit. Turns out I was right about the pace, Liko went wide on his exit, we powered past again and finished fifth. Hell of a moment, worth all the work it took to get this new Tri Valley Moto chapter rolling. I thought about Danny as we took the checker.
Going into this project a month ago Danny was a bear!
By Saturday night Danny was a lamb
Once back in pit lane Liko pulled next to me and shouted some flurry of muffled sweat covered enthusiasm. I have no idea what he said, but he was smiling. I think it was, “This year is gonna be great you sick bastard”
So that’s it, with five laps of practice, a rust covered racer and a shop full of heart and sole we came home with two fifths and a sixth. But what’s more is we came home with knowledge. Racing really doesn’t have to be like it was last year, Phil and I don’t have to hate each other, and our Superduke now breaths like an angry dragon on steroids. I’d like to say this was our most successful weekend ever racing Superdukes for Tri Valley Moto, but it wasn’t a weekend was it. It was only eight hours. Good lord do the math on that – one month of solid work for sixty minutes of riding. No wonder it’s so tough to stay sponsored.
Thanks for reading,