Race report: June 14 and 15, 2008
By Ian Johnston
Written June 17, 2008
To see the photos I took this weekend, see my gallery.
To see Cyrus' photos, see his
To see Vicki's photos, see her
I embarked on this race weekend feeling better than I had any right
to. The previous race weekend was abysmal, and I had seriously
considered just selling the bike, selling the riding suit, and
sticking to pursuits better suited to me, like writing and making
sad faces at passing clouds.
However, I went in pretty upbeat. Jesse had installed a Pertronix
ignition system on his bike a few weeks before, and had inspired me to
do the same -- it seemed to make a very noticeable difference. I
wasn't sure I had the timing right, but the bike started more easily,
and seemed to run better.
Loading shouldn't be this complicated
We loaded up the bikes on Friday night, leaving room on the trailer
for a third bike -- we'd volunteered to take Tamra's bike down as well,
since her car wouldn't carry a bike, and her boyfriend, Cogs, wouldn't
be down until Sunday. Jesse was displeased with the loading
arrangements, since, two blocks before my house, his bike had dipped
out of sight like a frat boy ducking out of a formal party for a smoke.
It had worked itself loose enough to twist the front wheel, which
allowed it to roll forward and reduce tension in the tiedowns.
So our loading was done carefully, and with a good deal of "Maybe
this one could go a bit tighter..." He'd bolted on some angle iron as
outriggers, to spread the tiedown attachment points. Unfortunately,
even under static load, they were visibly bending.
Saturday morning arrived early, as it always does. Jesse and I had
agreed that he'd pick me up between 6:15 and 6:30, so we'd be down by
7:15 at the latest. This would allow us to get into the track without
waiting in a long line for the gate, but still in plenty of time to set
up and get registered.
6:15 came and went, as did 6:30. I was tempted for a moment to
call Jesse and see if he was still coming, but refrained -- he was
surely as interested as I was in getting there without being rushed.
No need to pester him if things weren't going his way. Finally, just
past 6:45, he showed up. I was ready, and bounded down the stairs,
calling, "Did the cats eat your alarm?" in what I considered to be a
He whipped around, and his reply was rather terse, not to say
snappish. I apologized, and got the story: Tamra's bike had been
a disaster to load (and indeed was loaded in the truck's bed rather
than on the trailer), their house was impossible to get to, and
then impossible to get out of. Both outriggers were bent up at a
sickening angle. He didn't get home until 10:30 (considerably later
than he'd wanted to). He calmed down after a minute, and all was cordial
as we pulled away.
On the road
All little bikes, all in a row
Even leaving nearly at 7, we got to the track and were parking
before 7:40. There were a line of drag racers set up where
Vintageville had been the last two weekends, so we were displaced
towards the main pit area, putting us about equidistant between the
two bathroom buildings.
We got ourselves set up, and before I realized the time had passed,
the airhorn sounded for the rider's meeting. We met, after a
surprisingly long wait for the gruff meeting barker to arrive, passing
the time making snide comments to each other. Then it was off to the
pits, to ready ourselves for the first practice.
Tim O once again graciously volunteered to perform our tech
inspections in situ, a considerable time savings. No more
having to wheel bikes and gear bags down to the tech/registration area
made everyone happy.
I set up my camera, newly back from the GoPro Secret Worldwide HQ,
to see if it would do anything. I didn't expect much, but it was worth
a try. On with the leathers, and it was out to practice.
First practice: things go well
Tamra leading myself then Jeff through turn 4
The practice went pretty well. I was feeling better on the bike,
and didn't seem to have as much trouble going quickly. I was easily
keeping pace with Tamra, who is a fellow novice rider. We had figured
that we'd trace the following pattern: she'd pass me in the straights,
and I'd pass her in the corners. She was very concerned that she was
slow through the curves, but weighing in at under 8 stone, naturally
would outpace me on the straights. We followed roughly this path,
although I was too lily-livered to actually pass her, between my lack
of experience, lack of power, and the fact that she was actually going
pretty well through the corners.
Every lap, I'd catch her in turn 2, keep fairly close through the
back of the track, and lose her into the straight, as she pulled away.
Added into the mix at some point was #960, Jeff. He's about my size,
although I suspect I outweigh him by several dozen pounds (how did I
get to be the heaviest competitor in a class where the bikes make
nearly single-digit horsepower?). He and Tamra are basically evenly
Jesse tells Tamra to lean more
There followed the usual period of sloth between practices, which
has already passed from my memory as being uneventful. I believe Jesse
and I spent a lot of time chatting with Tamra at our little kaffe
klatch, on topics of racing lines and riding styles. I know we
developed the joke that all problems would be solved by leaning off
more. (Tamra hadn't yet been indoctrinated into the Church of the
Righteous Hanging-Off 'Round Corners. It was to my detriment that she
learned of this vital technique.)
The camera actually worked, mostly
I discovered, to my surprise, that the onboard camera had worked,
at least somewhat. Upon review, it had captured several laps, cutting
off somewhat randomly around turn 9. I queued it
up for the second practice, and ended up posting the results to
YouTube late that night.
As seems to be usual, scoring (the system, not the people) had
screwed up, and we had no lap times for the first practice. Lap times
are the only way you can tell how well you're actually doing, and no
one was pleased that our times had dissappeared into the aether. We
all hoped that the second session would at least produce timing
The second practice went much as the first had, and was uneventful
for the most part. I went fast enough, and felt pretty good about the
session. It doesn't stick out in my mind as being remarkable, although
it solidified the ranking which would stay for the rest of the weekend:
Tamra leading, Jeff close behind her, and me a variably distant and
close last place.
I had business to attend to back in Seattle, so we beat a hasty
retreat once the second practice was over, tidying up our pit area and
making it as secure as we could against the vagarities of weather and
Second practice results, page 1
Second practice results, page 2
Day two: race day
Sunday dawned early, but not quite as early as Saturday had. We
were aiming for about an 8:15 arrival time, and Jesse arrived exactly
on time. We got to the track to find that our insta-shelter had been
raised, and Tamra's bike removed (she'd pitted with us, in the absence
of any better option on Saturday). She and Cogs had moved down to
Vintageville, now that the drag racers had pushed off. I was
surprised, passing the drag race pits, to note that the majority of the
male drag racing population outweighed me considerably. Perhaps I
should be in drag racing.
Cogs shows off his stunning ensemble, note the
Tamra and Cogs walked past, and she hissed to me, "Did you see our
times from yesterday!?" There was excitement evident on her face. I
averred that I had not, and she said, "I got a 2:18! And I think you
got a 2:19!" This was shocking news -- the last time I had had lap
times recorded, I'd gotten a 2:28 best time, and was pretty pleased
with that. Jesse and I wandered with a curious excitement up to
registration to review our times. Indeed, I had somehow knocked 10
seconds off my lap time. So had everyone. It was mystical and strange
We attended our mandatory rider's meeting, after hearing that
essentially the moment we'd left on Saturday, people started crashing
like there were beautiful sirens off the apex of every corner, singing
them to their doom. Apparently the track had had to shut down at 3 pm
(two hours earlier than usual) due to the raw carnage more or less
literally playing itself out on the track. Have I mentioned how very
pleased I am that I don't have to race with the Novice riders? Oh my
As predicted, the rider's meeting focused on the mistakes of the
previous day, which had apparently involved ignoring flags, diving
across the track inappropriately, crashing when there was no call to
crash, and so on. We witnessed two different racers called up to
explain certain flags in front of the smirking crowd of racers,
which they had plainly missed or misunderstood the previous day.
Then it was off to practice. Just for yuks, Jesse and I decided to
swap bikes. I wanted to see if my bike was underpowered, and he was
curious to check out my bike. I tried setting up the camera for Jesse,
but it managed to shut itself off as he was pulling the bike off the
stand, before it'd even been started. Ah well.
Riding his bike was interesting. Its idle seemed much smoother,
but he's also got his idle speed set way up, which may explain the
difference. It also ran smoother out of the gate, making me think the
timing of my ignition might be off a bit. The Pertronix introduces, or
rather, removes, the complication of adjusting for point float --
the stock points system must take into account the fact that at high
RPM, the points may float a bit, or fail to close quickly enough to
open for the next revolution. With the Pertronix, which is essentially
an electronic version of points that uses a magnet and a sensor instead
of two hunks of metal pressing together and pulling apart, the ideal
timing is between 30 and 40 degrees before top dead center, where with
points it's very firmly at 40 degrees BTDC. Perfect timing is
apparently achieved on a dyno, making minute adjustments to the timing
between runs to see what is perfect. I didn't do this, so who knows if
my timing was set up for full power or not.
In any case, his bike ran well, although as I rode, it started
making odd stumbling, stuttering feelings down the front straight. It
wasn't much of a problem otherwise, but the stutter was definitely not
happy, and seemed to hold me back a trifle. In spite of the stutter,
it was extremely gratifying to discover that yes, my bike is clearly
making the same power as Jesse's -- I was just as slow accelerating
out of turn 4, and hit the same limit on the tachometer down the
straight. That was an excellent feeling, since it means that what's
holding me back is skill, which is exactly the problem I want to
We returned from the practice, and passed into the long doldrums
before our first race, 4 hours in the future. Lunches were consumed.
Times were checked. Lies, extravagant and subtle, were told.
Bateman's temple of shiny bike bits
The Bateman caravan
Michael Bateman's emporium of shiny cheetah
I wandered down to Michael
Bateman's display, where he had expensive and shiny widgets turned
out on a folding table. We got to chatting about this and that, and I
asked him how much he'd charge for a set of Keihin VM22 carburetors.
These are reputed by Ian
Halcott to bolt right on to the CL175's intake runners, and to
noticeably increase performance over 8k RPM.
He was surprised to hear about the VM22s, but said that he'd had a
lot of luck with the PE24 carburetors. They required extensive intake
modification, but were just the ticket for sprucing up a gasping
engine. Both Jesse and I came away from that conversation stroking our
chins and nodding appreciatively. It may well be that before the next
race, our bikes will be sporting shiny new carburetors.
As our race time approached, my old friend Cyrus showed up,
enormous camera in tow. Jeniffer had bowed out due to a BBQ with
the father, it being Father's Day that day. I tried set up my
on-board camera, but it wouldn't even stay on (possibly due to weak
batteries), so I gave up on it. Cyrus went out to take pictures
in front of the Bus Stop, aka turn 10.
The first race heat
Timeline of a race heat
Allow me to take a moment to explain to my non-racing audience the
actual sequence of events involved in a race heat. Starting about 15
minutes before the race is scheduled to start, I'm either changed into
my racing suit, or in the process of doing so. About 5 minutes
beforehand, the airhorn sounds (signalling 5 minutes, in theory), and I
put in my earplugs, and pull on my helmet and gloves.
Then, after a minute of standing around feeling silly for being
fully dressed too early, I push the bike off the stand (optionally
hitting the Go button on the camera), pull up on the shift lever to get
it into second gear, and give it a mighty shove. Drop the clutch, and
the engine starts -- we have to remove the kickstarter for crash-safety
reasons, and the electric starters are removed as a matter of weight
Then we ride to the track entrance area, where a race official
holds us back from entering the track entrance road. Here we sit for
seconds or sometimes minutes until a referee's whistle is blown, and we
rumble down the narrow access road to another hurry-up-and-wait area,
just shy of the track entrance at turn 1. Here we wait for another
short or long period of time, until official #2 holds up his big STOP
board, turns it sideways, then flips it over so the green GO side is
Then we roar off down the acceleration lane, going more or less
flat-out into turn 2, a wide left-hand sweeper. On these old 160s,
it's basically impossible to reach race pace before turn 2, although
that's fine, as this is the tire warmup lap. We snake through the
turns basically going full pace, but back a little bit, due to the cold
tires (as tires warm up due to acceleration and deceleration friction,
they get more sticky, which is a good thing).
Having warmed up our tires, we line up in an approximate grid,
usually according to the grid board which is posted near registration.
Here we wait yet more, presumably for everyone to settle down. Then
the starter holds up their board: ready. The board goes sideways: set.
The starting light goes out: GO!
There's a thunder you wouldn't expect from such tiny bikes, and the
pack accelerates past turn 1 and into turn 2. Then it's five laps of
your best effort, with a white flag to mark the beginning of the last
lap, and a checkered flag to mark the end. Once you've passed the
checkered flag, finish out 90% of a lap to get to the pit entrance
(this is also known as the cool-down lap, although I have been taking
it rather hotter, since I want the practice, and I'm hardly
inconveniencing anyone). Exit to the pits, pausing at the hot-tech
area, where a person with eyes like a hawk looks over your bike to make
sure you haven't been secretly oiling the track or leaving nuts and
bolts behind. He slaps you on the back, and it's a consciously-slow
ride back to the pits. Kill the motor, and lever the bike up onto the
race stand (since we have no kickstands for both safety and weight
I found myself getting nervous for no reason I could really
explain. The race and practice were essentially synonymous for me --
as long as I finished without crashing, that was well as I needed to
do. A race meant I had to perform a standing start, but that was the
only practical difference.
Yours truly, out of the Bus Stop
So, I went through the motions, and ran the race. It was somehow
more exciting than the practice -- must be the psychology of the thing,
I guess. My thighs, which had been making their feelings plainly known
in the morning practice, seemed to fade into the background; I actually
think they stopped hurting, although that seems unlikely. Racing uses
odd muscles you don't normally realize you have.
I started ahead of both Tamra and Jeff, but they both passed me,
Tamra right into turn 2, and Jeff after a lap or two, exiting the Bus
Stop. After that, I kept them in sight for the whole race, but
sometimes only barely. Tamra seemed to have taken the "hanging-off"
lesson to heart, with distressing results: now, I couldn't even really
catch up to her in the corners. Jeff, despite being a brand new rider,
was taking corners with admirable speed, and had a noticeable velocity
advantage in the straights.
Jesse trailing Tamra into turn 3
I finished last, but still with Tamra and Jeff in sight. I wasn't
feeling bad about it, quite the contrary: I felt like I'd done a fine
job, and had only been passed by one or two people. I rolled into my
pit, and yanked off the suddenly too-small gloves and steamy helmet.
Something about riding around at high speed in ventilated gear,
followed by slowing way down and stopping: that ventilated gear doesn't
work so well any more, and I was steaming my glasses I was so warm.
Racing is hard work, particularly when, as it is for me, relaxation
is a faraway dream instead of a practical reality on a race bike
(if I were able to unclench and ride in a more relaxed way, I'd
probably take another 10 seconds off my time).
The brake that won't brake
Happier front brake
It was another long wait until the second race, and Jesse and I got
talking about this and that. The conversation swung around to my front
brake. If you've been following the saga from the beginning, you'll
recall that one of my first acts upon getting the bike was to take the
front wheel and braking bits to Metal Frictions, where they applied new
lining to the brake shoes, and turned the drum so it was shiny and
round and new. It was a $125 service, and produced a definite increase
in braking power.
Cyrus and Jesse reclining in the
However, it didn't seem like a very big increase. I had figured
that, with this change, I'd go from having what felt like no front
brakes to having quite an authoritative setup, but that really wasn't
the case. It occurred to me that there could be setup work that I
could do to help things, but I figured the brake was probably correctly
adjusted, and in any case, had no clue how to make the adjustment.
What with one thing and another, I hadn't thought about it again.
Jesse asked me if I'd balanced the pads. I said no, since I didn't
know how. He outlined the procedure for me, and I decided to give it
a go -- who knew what improvement it might make? It probably couldn't
get any worse.
Listening carefully to the sounds of a brake shoe gently scraping
the drum with superbikes screaming by 200 feet away is not as easy
as it could be. Despite the distractions, I was finally able to
get the adjustment done. I pulled the bike off the stand, and gave the
brake lever a firm squeeze. Very nice! No more mushy feeling. Gave
it a shove up to about 5 mph, and grabbed a handful of brake. The bike
stopped instantly, popping the rear tire in the air! Amazing! I got
it going faster, and tried again. Pop! Push, run, pop!
Adjusting the brake shoe balance
The super short version for those interested in doing
this themselves: adjust the trailing brake shoe adjuster way
out, so the trailing shoe has no chance of engaging -- I had to
move mine about 15mm(!) to achieve this effect. Then slowly adjust
the brake cable so the leading shoe just rubs as the wheel goes
around. "Shook... shook... shook..." Keep the wheel spinning, and
slowly adjust the rear shoe out until it's just rubbing too.
"Shook-shook-shook-shook," twice as fast. Tighten the locknut, and
adjust the cable like normal.
I pushed the bike down to the other set of pits and demonstrated.
Jesse told me to try sitting on it -- same thing! I actually lifted
the rear wheel off the ground with my weight on the seat. This is
unheard of, although it's also almost certainly due to the self-locking
effect of drum brakes rather than any indication I could do a
controlled stoppie. Still. An amazing difference.
Thus was I set to enter the second race, with my brakes suddenly
having changed from frighteningly ineffective to frighteningly
effective. A daunting prospect!
The second race heat
Tamra and Jeff exiting turn 2
Still, enter I did. I also changed the batteries in the camera,
and it seemed to stay on, so I left it running as I started the bike
and headed for the pits. Another fine race, again trailing into last
place. The video from this race made it up to YouTube, and you can see
It didn't last all the way, but it very nearly got to the white flag,
so I have a 4/5ths record of that race. I have some improvements in
mind for the little camera to make it a bit more impervious to vibration,
so hopefully at the next event, I can capture the whole race, from start
When the times were finally posted for the last race, I was
impressed: my best time was listed as 2:18.353. That's over 10 seconds
better than my best lap on my first race weekend, and I had been
impressed with the 2:28! Since Jesse had to exit the second race after
a couple of laps due to a broken shift linkage, I even managed to place
next-to-last in the overall standings for the weekend, earning myself
10 points. Fortunately for me (and everyone else, I guess) the
Portland folks had their own event that weekend, so they couldn't come
up and steal our points away -- if the Portland contingent had been
there, I would have surely come away with one or two points instead of
After it was all done, Jesse and I packed up our stuff, bade Cyrus
farewell and safe riding, and headed for Seattle. I was living with a
happy glow, having had a great weekend in which I made a major
improvement to the bike, shaved 10 seconds off my best lap time (and 12
or 13 seconds off my average lap time), and had nary a negative
A group of racers entering turn 5
Bring more water: It was only moderately warm this weekend,
yet my water bottle was empty by the end of the first practice session
both days. It wasn't so bad on Saturday, when we left at 1:30, but on
Sunday, I was feeling a bit dehydrated by the end of the day. I need
to aim for more like 3-4 liters of water instead of the one I
Bring the sunscreen: The sun was definitely out on Sunday,
and I'm definitely showing some distinct tan lines. I can't do that too
many times before it's burn city for me. It just didn't occur to me
You can go faster: Even ignoring the fact that I dropped 10
seconds off my lap time, there are places where I can clearly go
faster, but for my brain intervening and playing the "I'm not so sure
about this!" game. Notably, in the second heat, every single lap, I
exited turn 2 at the same RPM in the same gear, despite thinking I'd
gone in faster than last time. I have yet to touch anything down in
You better learn to pass, buddy: Particularly in the
practice sessions, I was probably in a position to pass Tamra and Jeff
several times on the back half of the track. I'm still lining up
behind everyone like a good little sheep, and I'm probably going to
stay last as long as I limit my passing to places where I can have 20
feet of clearance.
Copyright © 2008. Created by Ian Johnston. Questions?
Please mail me at reaper at obairlann dot net.