Thursday, November 12, 2020

More on helmets or, How helmets saved my brain...

Here are but two of the many helmets that I owe my current cognitive ability to. I can't count how many helmets have performed their role in protecting my brain during crashes on and off the track. Dozens, I suspect. I used to continue using some helmets, even after a crash or two. If they didn't have any external indication of damage, or just a minor "crack in the paint" I'd continue the season with it. Nobody ever checked helmets during amature flat track racing days. Once I started road racing it was another story, and in fact I had to update a couple times. These two helmets are wall hangers now.
A brand new HJC, after a low side crash in T1a at Loudon.
I hadn't even noticed this scuff
But I sure noticed this, and the visor scratch
I got several races and dirt rides out of this Fox helmet
Until a nasty 2nd gear WFO high side crash coming out of T4 at the Cuddebackville dirt oval. That was a true bell ringer.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


I raced at Loudon on Sunday August 19, 2018, and it might just be the last time I do that. I hate to use the word retire, but I'm thinking that I won't be lining up on a grid again. It's been a significant part of my life for the past 20 years, so it's hard to imagine hanging it up, but at the same time it's like a huge burden has been lifted off my shoulders.

The notion that I really do have free time, that I don't need to feel guilty if I'm not working on a race bike, is pretty compelling. That guilt really only started in when I took up road racing. When I started racing flat track I was excited and looking forward to learning about it all, and working on the bikes was just part of the process. That got easier after a few years too, and once I had the XT500 set up the way I wanted it, I could pretty much just show up and race. Not much prep time needed.

The road racing game changed that, and I amplified that by feeling that I needed to do stuff that in hindsight I shouldn't have done. In 2014 I bought the CRF450 as a flat track racer, I wanted to have something to run against the modern bikes in the Senior class. I only raced it on the dirt a few times though. One thing lead to another and in 2015 I took it to our first track day at Loudon, along with my VFR. It was a Fishtails Track Day and Hannah rode her Ducati, Charlie was on his Ducati and Fred must have been on his Honda CBR500. Well I discovered that I could run around bigger, faster bikes on the CRF like they were tied to a post. And that was with the Maxxis dirt tires on.

2016 was the highlight year for racing. Penguin Road Racing School announced the formation of the New England Sport Bike Club, a track day/race day series to be run at the all new Canaan Fair Speedway in New Hampshire. Hannah, Charlie, Fred and I signed up to form Hunter Farm Racing Team, with Bill and Adam (one of the instructors) contributing. We won the team championship, and Hannah and I won our class championships. I also raced in the Motard class and surprised just about everyone, including myself, with podium finishes against some fast guys. Guys that I didn't know that I couldn't beat. Instructors that had several class championships at Loudon.

Pretty glorious stuff, but it took some effort and money...17" wheels to start with. I bought those on Ebay with some decent looking DOT tires already mounted on them. Once we completed that NESBC series, Charlie and Fred and I decided to do the Penguin School and get our competition licenses. I bought some slicks for the CRF, the DOT tires were too wide and got chewed by the chain.

I raced the last couple rounds of the LRRS at Loudon and advanced from Novice to Amateur after the first weekend, having won or placed 2nd in every race I entered.

That's what got me thinking about improvements on the CRF. I thought I should have a spare set of wheels and rain tires, since the last racing weekend featured rain showers and I actually went out on my dirt track tires for a couple sessions, which didn't seem ideal. I was cautioned by many racers about the fragility of the CRF engine, so I decided to at least replace the piston/rings with a new J&E high compression set. Then I decided that I needed to get a road race suspension since the dirt track suspension was so low that I was dragging my foot pegs in most of the turns. All that work added up to thousands...yes, thousands of dollars. In hindsight, I should have left well enough alone.

The 2017 season started with a big crash at Canaan in the morning of the first day. I hit a new concrete curb end with my front tire and destroyed the tire, bent the rim and broke a piston in the fork. And wrecked a helmet and wore through an elbow of my faithful leathers. It took me awhile to recover from that financially and mentally. The season wore on, I had some reliability issues with the CRF, and ultimately just had a disappointing season that wasn't fun or rewarding.

2018 would be another story. I decided I'd just race the LRRS series on Sundays, and choose my weekends as I saw fit. I skipped the April race and went out for the May race, it was a clear spring day. I ran the 15 minute practice session, but only got through 14 minutes, the engine seized on the back section of the track after about 6 laps. So much for the new J&E Piston! I bought a new OEM cylinder and piston, Adam graciously gave me his spare crankshaft/rod that had 30 hours on it. I took the engine out and disassembled the top end but decided I didn't want to split the cases so I had a local shop do that work, and then I reassembled the engine. Altogether about another $1,000 to get back to square one.

I finally got back to Loudon for the August round. I entered 2 classes, Amateur lightweight Formula 50 (for old guys) and Amateur Motard. In the morning practice I felt kinda slow, but at least everything seamed to work on the bike, the suspension felt ok, the tires felt ok, the engine felt kind of weak compared to the previous version but I couldn't be sure till I went out in the Motard race, since that's when I'd be racing against similar bikes.

Turns out I was right, I was slower than just about everybody. In the Formula 50 race I had a poor start and was in last place but right behind a guy that was holding me up in the turns, and once he hit the front straight I couldn't pass him. On the 3rd lap I snuck under him entering T3 and thought I'd be able to gap him. As we came onto the front straight they red flagged the race, so we had to re-grid in the original starting positions. I had a slightly better restart, and was catching a couple guys going into T1. I thought I'd go a little wide and pass them there rather than work to set up a pass later. T1 has a little chicane called 1A, a quick right hand flick before T2 which is another left hander. 1A came up quick and I was in a poor track position and poor riding position when I tried to slot myself back in line, with the result being a low side crash in the right hand transition. As the saying goes, "I ran out of talent".

I skidded to a stop, picked up the bike and finished the race. The Motard race wasn't much better, everybody just pulled away from me on every lap. By the 3rd lap there was a few seconds gap to the bike in front of me, but once again as we entered the front straight they red flagged the race because of another crash. I was scored last in both races, despite the fact that the guy that caused the red flag in the motard race was an amateur in front of me. So I guess if you're ahead when you crash and they stop the race because of that crash, you get to keep your position when you crashed!


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Malta Dirt Track

These pics are from Malta New York a few years ago. I went down there thinking this was a half mile track, it isn't. I think it's a 1/4 mile around the inside. Fast and rough, I broke my ankle in the first practice but since it was a long drive down there I decided to race through the pain.
I ran the XT in whatever Vintage class they had, and the CRF450 in some senior class.
They were both fast classes and I never got the final results because I was in too much pain to stick around and wait for the promotors (Electric City) to tally results.
I'm sorry I can't remember the photographer to give him credit, I found these on the web much later. I do remember this race, bad start and picking my way through the back of the pack on the XT500.
The Senior race was a blur, really fast and hairy.

Wish I knew whether I got past #611!

Thursday, March 24, 2016