WERA West - Auto Club Speedway

Went to Los Angeles last weekend to race in a WERA event.  WERA is a national club vs. the regional AFM I participate in, but the level of racing is perhaps comparable.  It was fun because the points don't count toward anything and I could just grid up and race.  The track in Fontana, California was built chiefly for NASCAR events.  It's a giant oval with seating for tens of thousands.  The motorcycle track uses part of the NASCAR oval, but most of the track is on the infield to make the track interesting. 

I had only been to this track once before, so was excited to get laptimes in the race of 1:36.  My friend who has been here ten times this year and considers it his home track was at 1:36 times before the weekend started.  In the race he got down to 1:34's so I could not keep up with him while competing, but it was fun to try.

WERA racers are NICE.  It was an absolute train wreck at the start of both my races...  I thought we had a two wave race, so I was waiting for the first wave to split before putting the bike in gear and revving the motor and getting ready to start.  Instead I realized it was a one wave race as we were on the two board (starting in about 2 seconds...)  I freaked out, stalled my bike, scrambled to click it into neutral and start it again, then click it down into gear, flip my visor down, and actually launch my start about a half second after the green flag flew and the race was underway.  Despite being slow off the line initially, I guess I'm just getting comfortable racing, I shoved my front tire in front of like four guys (and one girl) at turn three and simply pushed forward.  This would never be possible in AFM, love you guys but simply AFM racers aren't that nice and wouldn't give up a spot just because I had a crazy look in my eye.

I ended up getting second in one race and fourth in the other, which was slightly this side of a miracle given the weekend in the whole.  The air temperature was as much as 108 throughout the day, and the track temperature was up to 150 degrees.  This makes the track slick, and sufficient hydration near impossible. Also, prime conditions to upset my body enough to need to call in professionals to help.

I was practicing during testing sessions on Saturday, and drank three (3) gallons of water through the day.  By the time I pulled off at 4PM to get ready for Sunday races, I was feeling light headed and disoriented.  I tried drinking my way back into feeling normal with water and electrolyte drinks, but after four hours it was 8:00 PM and I still had a splitting headache and was growing nausea.  So off to the hospital I went, which turned out to be a good move.  Testing my blood proved I was hypokalemic and hypocalcemic which sent my body into rhabdomyolsis   Basically my muscles were eating themselves.  But after four hours on an IV and four liters of saline and potassium drinks I was feeling good and dismissed at 2:00 AM.  I left unsure if I would actually proceed to race Sunday, but I was feeling okay in the mid-morning so I suited up and went out there to take it easy and just pull out if I wasn't feeling alright.   Both the studliest and most idiotic thing I've done in quite some time.  What can I say... it's racing!

Again, all is well that ends well.  So that's a wrap on the race season for 2010, time to rebuild my suspension and start the several month season of bench racing (i.e. reading about racing) and getting ready for 2011.  Here's my little trophy room I'm growing.  Feels a little like high school where everyone is a superstar and you get trophies for every possible achievement, but I'll take what I can get.  Ha, ha.

No Racing, No Cry

It's official - my race season is over.  AFM round 7 happens in a couple weeks, but I'm off to a wedding in Oregon.  I asked them to reschedule the wedding around my race schedule, I think it's kinda selfish they won't do it, but c'est la vie... he's a good friend so I'll skip my race and attend anyway.  I will drop down in season standings from currently 4th to somewhere between 6th and 10th... we'll have to see how all the guys right behind me in points do that weekend.

Even typing this plan out in writing tastes like vinegar pouring out of my fingertips.  It would be one thing to race and just get clocked, but in this case I'm going to let the competition beat me by NOT EVEN SHOWING UP.  This goes against most every fiber of my being...  90% of life being participation.  I'm neither the smartest or the best looking guy, but especially in the last 10 years I have good, "being present" skills.  This is a big factor in my career progress and value I deliver to my employer (as with many technology executives, see: 170 flights/ year...)

So to deliver some semblance of internal peace about this race skipping business, I'm doing two cool things:  (a) I raced in the WERA round at Auto Club Speedway in Los Angeles last weekend, and (b) I'm doing a track day at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah in a couple weeks.  I think this is a good way to wrap up the race season anyway, doing fun days with friends in semi-exotic track locations.  I will be checking the laptimes posted on MyAFM during the AFM round 7 though from my phone, refreshing every 10 seconds.

So about now begins the campaign of letter writing to potential sponsors.  Show them I made a race season happen with no crashing (wow!), raced with two clubs, got some top five finishes, graduated to the "expert" license status, racked up some points in three classes, and have my head a little picked up looking out at the 2011 season and my sophomore race season.


Just Touched Down In London Town...

Today was a pretty great day.  Despite the jet lag traveling to London - I gathered myself up and hit the adventure.  My hotel is this old castle in a town 75km outside London called Aylesbury.  This is by far the furthest off the beaten path work has ever taken me.  I would have been well within my rights to sleep away much of the day and rest - especially since starting tomorrow I've got four solid packed fifteen to seventeen hour days of work - but today I met up with a old coworker who has lived in London for a while and hunted down Banksy graffiti.

I'm new to Banksy art, but after he did four pieces in San Francisco a couple months ago... I'm a fan!  Plus, most things posted on Stuff White People Like are sadly, things I like.  I'm learning graffiti can be hard to track down.  After time it can be defaced or painted over.  So tracking where these pieces are is a bit of an Easter egg hunt.  Especially in a city I'm not familiar with, and roaming data rates too high to make GPS a realistic possibility.  I did track down a few pieces though.  I'm sure there's 20x this in London if you know where to look (Banksy lives here).  Here's what I did find:

Why I Race

With a few of my friends out of medical leave due to crashes at the track, I have spent a good deal of time lately exploring why is it that I race bikes?  It's completely irrational.  I don't have any realistic hope of making money at this.  I have tremendous risk every time I mount the bike.  The costs are through the roof.  Why then do I do this? 

Initially there was quite a bit of, "oh wow, check out how awesome I am right now" but honestly most of that is gone.  The week before each race, I get a quiet tremble of fear.  Fear of injury, yes.  But also a fear of the pending visceral competition I'm about to partake in.  It is a very "bro'd up" thing to do.  Loud motors revving to 14,000 RPM, the smell of race fuel and rubber burning, looking at the guy gridded next to you wondering, "is that fool going to ride safely or is he going to take me out trying some crazy move?"  Overcoming that fear and putting myself on the line - for better or for worse - head to head against some pretty great riders - that's certainly part of the motivation to do this.

There is also an internal confidence that comes of it.  I went out for drinks for a friends birthday the other night at a fancy bar in the Marina.  I laughed to myself when I got there - realizing I had spent literally less than 10 seconds wondering what I was going to wear, and feeling 100% comfortable among all the good-looking-people in their just-came-from work outfits; wearing a ball cap and a plain black tee-shirt with tattoos poking out.  I didn't very well fit in, but internally I felt completely comfortable in my space.  Some of that has to come from knowing I regularly do something most people couldn't put themselves up for.

Also the camaraderie is one of the big things I get out of this.  Fellow racers would easily loan each other parts, show each other how to get faster (even guys you're competing with), rush to the aid of a fellow racer who's in trouble, and win or lose - high five the guys you just raced with when it's over.  It's a great feeling.  One of my racer buddies and I were talking about this recently - after a weekend racing you have a feeling for a couple of days that's unlike anything else.  Like you took a trip to a magic place where none of the rest of the world even existed.  While there you completely put yourself on the line, mentally, physically and emotionally pitted yourself against yourself (and others).  It's like the sense of accomplishment from having climbed a mountain or done something that required all of yourself present to do.

AFM Rounds 5 & 6... Season Recap

As a couple friends have pointed out lately, I've not been rambling themelessly much.  In my defense, it's been a busy month!  I returned from Rome, had a motorcycle race the following weekend, had another motorcycle race three weeks later, and as I type find myself back in Europe - this time in London for work.  Despite being here for work - I am going to steal out time today to try chasing down a couple Banksy graffiti spots and see if I can find anything still up and not defaced.  More on that later this week if indeed I am successful in following the Tube mashup I've created this morning overlaid with Banksy locations.

My AFM season had two good race weekends - both at Infineon Raceway aka Sears Point in Sonoma, California.  I'm picking up my times at this track a little - both race weekends found me accomplishing my personal best laptimes.  Regardless of where you finish, it's always a great weekend when I make progress, have fun, don't wreck and make some improvement.

Last weekend was a great Clubman Heavyweight race.  I am beating some of my competition for the year by out financing them and out lasting them.  I'm a little older than some of the guys at the track - and probably a little more aware of the frailty of the human condition.  I would say I take fewer risks than others on the track, and would rather give up a position and live to tell about it, than try an unsafe pass.  This has produced a situation where I'm slowly-but-surely gathering more season points than some others who are not making all the races.  THIS produces a situation where I'm gridding up at the front of the pack - well in front of some guys who are clearly faster than me.  On one hand it feels rather unsuccessful to slowly lose positions the entire race, but it also pushes me to try and keep up when they get around me (which for some of these fast guys seems entirely effortless... ha!)  I'm reasonably good at starts.  For the first time this last weekend I took the lead in the race and held the 1st position for three laps.  I often dart out in front, but now I'm getting hard enough to pass that I was able to keep the lead for a bit.  My entire race strategy?  Get in front and try to make my bike 10 feet wide!  Ha, ha, ha.  After 8 laps I finished a respectable 5th place, logging 1:48's which was two seconds faster than a month ago... great progress!

I'm at an interesting point in the race season on a couple levels.  There is one race left, and I'm not decided if I will participate.  A good friend is having a wedding reception that same weekend out of town, if I attend I'm precluded from racing.  This is the final race of the AFM season, and I'm in contention in one of my race categories.  Season standings so far include:

Open Production (1000cc bikes/ not modified):  19th of 40
Open GP (1000cc bikes/ modifications allowed/ one of the fastest race in AFM): 34th of 70
Open Superbike (1000cc bikes/ modifications allowed):  39th of 69
Clubman Heavyweight (1000cc bikes/ only Novices):  4th of 42

... I have an honest chance at a top three spot in Clubman Heavyweight - depending on who makes it out for round seven.  There are a couple guys faster than me - and some I should expect to beat.  Also I feel I'm on the cusp of dropping some time at that track...  All the 30 days of track practice I've put in this year and last, all the race preparation, stringing together a race season so far... all leads up to this one final race of the season. 

Anyway... enough rambling.  Here's some pictures from last weekend!

My Patented Flying Start...


The Vatican

Such a short trip, did make it to Vatican City and to St. Peter's square and basilica, but did not make it to the Sistine Chapel.  But this is okay, I'm certain after a few days here I will be back to Italy some day, and to Rome most likely again also.  I love the Italian demeanor, food, fashion, and people.  Still, from the outside, St. Peter's square was fun to see and lit up at night very beautiful.  It's been in so many movies that I've seen it was a treat to actually walk around the square and have my five senses to explore the air, the sounds, see the Swiss Guard walking by, eat dinner at a table next to some clergy, and take a couple quick photos.  Back to California tomorrow, what a great weekend trip!

Scooter Mania - Rome

Did find a place to rent a scooter in Rome today.  A cute red 50cc Vespa (with matching helmet of course).  It is funny riding around on a bike with so little power, starts from traffic lights were like a nightmare AFM start - getting left in the dust by every single other scooter and motorcycle on the grid... er, at the light.  Ha, ha.  100% this thing was incapable of wheelie (evidence below).


Weekend In Italy

The downside of traveling for work all the time is, well, traveling for work all the time.  One of the big upsides though is having the miles and hotel points to be spontaneous and do spur of the moment things.  Taking a brief trip to Italy for the weekend, below are a couple quick pictures from this afternoon.  My camera is out on loan, so borrowed from a friend (thanks Tom!)  Tomorrow's project:  rent a scooter and go crazy in Rome!  Happy 4th of July!


AFM Round 4 - Picture

Cool picture from last weekend that shows both the scenic backdrop of the foothills around the racetrack, and what is looks like when you're racing for dear life with a pack of angry apes hot on your tail trying to get around you (Quick! God please help me make my bike eight miles wide and impossible to pass and give me the swiftness of a ninja!  Ha, ha.)

picture by Joe at 4theriders.


AFM Round 4 - Thunderhill Raceway Park

Great weekend racing at Thunderhill Raceway Park.  This was the fourth round of seven in the AFM 2010 series.  A couple personal victories this weekend, I improved my best laptime at this track by three seconds, and my best this year and with this bike setup by five seconds.  I got consistent 2:01's in during the Open Production race, and a few 2:00's in a couple of the races....  it's starting to come together.

For the first race weekend since I started racing two years ago, I felt like a real Varsity level racer.  They have a special class of race for new racers, simply because it's very difficult to substitute for experience.  Guys who've been doing this for years are plainly faster.  Being fast in the novice races is still miles away from being competitive in the Sunday varsity level races.  In fact this is a big jumping off point for new racers.  Many guys will come out and do the novice races for a year or two, and never really get to the point they can race with the faster crew.  For the last two years I've been wondering if I'm doing to be able to put together the kind of laptimes it takes to compete with the premier race classes, but I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

I still race in the faster races, but typically there are a few guys like me WAY toward the back of the pack - so much toward the back it's almost like we're having our own race back there.  The laptimes if you look down the list of finishers are all a few seconds apart, then you'll see a jump of several seconds to the backmarkers.  For the first time, this weekend I was right there with the back of the pack.  The guys who were a few positions in front of me were doing very similar laptimes, and for the most part, I can see my way through to the next few seconds I need to produce to get up there a little further. 

Many people who start racing will get going on a bike that's friendlier to new racers.  Race groups are divided by bike size and by rider experience.  At the last round before the novice race for big bikes, the announcer said, "Ladies and Gentlemen... here come a group of VERY inexperienced riders on VERY powerful bikes"  Ha, ha.  I wonder sometimes if I need to get a smaller bike to learn and compete then jump back up to bigger bikes when I'm already toward the top of the smaller-bike-classes.  I finally have faith now that I can both wrangle with this big bike and also wrangle with the experience of getting competitive racing at the same time.

Still have miles to go, but at least it's a start.  I can see the back of the pack now, and with a few tweaks to my riding I can probably squeak out a few more seconds and have some battles with guys in the mid-pack of the bigger races.  Open Production is the smallest class I race in shown above.  The other races have 45 guys in them and I'm now starting to get up toward finishing in the range of 25th.  A few Novice racers are finishing in front of me still, but only a few, and I'm starting to get past some of the experienced racers at the back also.

All in all it was great fun racing.  July 10th is the next race weekend, and August 1st is the next race in the Bay Area back at Infineon Raceway Park if anyone wants to come watch!


The Shining Path and Peruvian Art

While in Cusco, Peru lately we found a super cool boutique hotel/ art bar/ restaurant called Fallen Angel.  One of the highlights of the Peru trip, the experience there really captured my imagination.  If you dropped this place 100% as it is into San Francisco it would thrive.  The tables you eat off were made of a glass top over an old iron bathtub which was a live goldfish tank.  The menu had other things, but the flagship series of items was all steak with different seasoning or sauce.  I hope to go back someday. 

It was equal parts art gallery, hotel and restaurant/ bar.  The art featured modern Peruvian artists, one of the major installments was from Richard Peralta.  He has a series of mixed media paintings called Inmaculada Deception you can check out on his website here.  This series was inspired by the atrocities of the Shining Path.

The Shining Path was/is an extreme Maoist/ Leftist group in Peru.  They killed and terrorized particularly around the year 2000, but as recently as one year ago they have been re-organizing around illegal cocaine trade to fund their guerrilla activities.  They had a practice of abducting children and turning them into warriors.  Really terrorizing poor villagers and heinous stuff.  This is much of the content in Richard Peralta's series I very much found equal parts intriguing, atrocious, beautiful and stimulating.

The image above is a piece I bought from the gallery, below are a few others I found interesting also.  A theme was children with gas masks, spears, automatic weapons, angel wings, and Shining Path warriors.  A link to his website is above if you want to see more.

AFM 2010 Round Three - Infineon Raceway

Well, race season is off to a frustrating start.  Lack of practice time (too much work travel), many bike upgrades and it feels like a completely new bike I'm not "settled" where it's predictable.  Also, some bike downgrades to make myself legal for the "production" class I race in.  Production is a category for not-modified bikes, or in truth highly modified bikes but only modified in ways explicitly allowed.  For example can't change forks but can change fork internal parts.

So I'm doing roughly the same lap times I was at the end of last season.  But somehow the Clubman races have gotten extremely fast!  The same times that earned me 2nd place last year are good for only tenth place this year.  Ha, ha.  In part due to the economy, race grids are smaller this year.  Most of the very serious riders still race though - it's just the bottom of the stacked ranking group who's bailed.  So the average speed has increased despite the lower volume of riders.  Also, some of the sponsorship money has opened up for Clubman races.  I run Pirelli tires who will give cash prize for placing 1st - 3rd.  This also brings additional talent into the Clubman race.

I finally acquiesced to the incessant lament of fellow racer #630 and got a full leather suit, rather than using a two-piece zip together suit.  I'm not convinced this is a safety upgrade really, but it does make me look more professional anyway.  Friends have been coming out to the races this year in spades to watch - which has been outstanding fun.  Great fun to have a pit crew cheering us on!  Next race that's near-ish to San Francisco is August 1st... mark your calendars!  Even if I take absolutely last place, I'm 100% going to be fun to watch and having a blast!


AFM Round Two - Infineon Raceway

I still need to post more about Peru, but the adventures keep rolling in and I wanted to update you on AFM round two last weekend at Infineon Raceway.  I've apparently been traveling and working too much and not had time to practice my racing.  I'm three seconds off the pace at this track I got to last year.  I have some significant bike upgrades (exhaust, suspension) but also one major downgrade (wheels) to become legal with the production class.  In short, it's much a new bike and I simply need more time in the saddle to get used to what I'm riding.

Had a wonderful birthday weekend at the track (now 34).  Friends new and old came out to watch the races, so much fun to have a team of fans cheering us on.  Big thanks to Trey for taking these photos.  I had hoped for better race results, but in the end I was consistent, safe and had a blast so hard to be very upset.  I placed 12 of 26 in Clubman Heavyweight (dropping me to 6th overall for the year so far); 16th of 18 in Open Production; 38th of 40 in Open Superbike and 34 of 42 in Open Grand Prix.

I didn't hear it, but apparently the quote of the weekend was when the announcer made commentary as me and the other Clubman Heavyweight racers took the grid for our race, "We're in for some excitement folks; coming up we've got a collection of inexperienced riders on VERY POWERFUL BIKES!"  Ha, ha.  This is a picture of me riding Brad's pocket bike around the pits, this would NOT be a "very powerful bike." 

Two of the remaining five rounds this season are fairly accessible to Bay Area spectators - also at Sears Point in Sonoma, California:  May 23rd and August 1st.


Inca Trail - Hiking In The Andes

Tons of great stories and thoughts on a week spent in Peru hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu, I'll have to find time to collect my thoughts and write them out soon before the experience fades in memory.  There are probably interesting posts on: the economics of a Cusco, Peru trip; the experience of hostel culture; and the locals who gain employ as porters for tourists on the hike.  For now here are a couple pictures as I'm still editing and organizing photos.  This one above was taken at 14,000 feet at a spot called Dead Woman's Pass. 

Executive summary:  the Inca empire was prominent for some 150 years in the vicinity of 1500 AD.  Despite a lack of wheel technology, the instrument of currency, particularly effective war capability (ultimately Spanish invasion coupled with small pox was the end of the Inca-rule), the Inca Empire stretched over much of South America.  They were very effective builders with stone, and are probably most well known today for the ruins at Machu Picchu.  Cusco, Peru was the epicenter of Inca activity, and the nearby Sacred Valley.  The Incas built over 1000 km of stone inlaid trails, hiking along one of these paths for four days is the popular tourist alpine hike that ends at the Machu Picchu ruins.

Boarding my flight from Miami on the way home, more later...

Zip Lines In Cusco

Found a fun zip line course over the river which cost 25 sol (S/.25).  Sol to USD conversion rate is roughly 3 Sol/ 1 USD - so the zip line cost about $8 USD.  Things here are generally quite cheap.  Taxi from the airport is 20 minutes and 10 sol (three dollars).  Found a couple pictures that turned out well and were interesting.


Rafting On The Urubamaba

Headed out for a day trip river rafting today.  The Urubamba is a headwater of the Amazon, this time of year is apparently good rafting as glaciers in the Andes melt.  It is not dam controlled like the American River in California (and most commercially rafted rivers in the US) so the river can be very different in April than in September.  For most of the year the Urubamba has class I and II rapids, but we had a couple patches of III and IV which made it a little exciting.  Notable or treacherous stretches of rapids get a name in the rafting world, and the Butterfly is the Urubamba's famous stretch.  Here are some fun pictures from rafting.  Tomorrow is checking in for our hike, wandering around Cusco, and trying to rent a motorcycle if possible and head into the Andes for a relaxed ride if the weather is nice.