AFM Round 1 - Buttonwillow

Of the two racing leagues I compete in, American Federation of Motorcyclists (AFM) is the more competitive one.  It's one of the oldest racing clubs in the country, it's nationally known within the motorsports community.  Last weekend was the season opener at Buttonwillow Raceway Park (where yours truly is the proud Foursquare mayor).  Our race weekend was partially rained out, by Saturday it was clear that Sunday was going to be a wash (I'm so punny, aren't I?)  Contrary to many other racing organizations, ours does NOT run races in the rain.  I'm hugely in favor of this policy.  While the tire manufacturers do make tires purpose built for racing in the rain, that's another set of tires and rims to haul around, and frankly I can't afford to push my bike in the rain due to the inevitable mishaps that would occur.

New to my race career this year and racing season are a few minor changes:

(a)  Like with my other racing organization - WERA, I am racing as an "Expert."  This is roughly akin to varsity vs. junior varsity level competition.  Due to number of race weekends completed successfully I'm now classified as Expert.  This means the competition is as stiff as it gets, and I don't get to race in the "Clubman" series which is only for new racers.  My number plate on my bike is white to reflect my Expert status, Novice racers ride with yellow number plates.

(b)  I'm investing in racing this year like never before.  I'm hiring a professional coach (Ken Hill) a couple times for one-on-one coaching, very excited for this.  The waiting list to get in for coaching is literally years long, I'm eager to get with a master level racer and learn.

(c)  I have a second bike built out to campaign as my backup.  I may also use the second bike throughout the year as a tool to play with suspension settings and gearing changes.  The bikes have a small horsepower difference, mostly because one of them has 10k race miles and is getting a little tired.

(d)  My chief pit mate and racing buddy is now with kid and has halted his racing career.  Many of the guys I started racing with have crashed out and called it quits, lost the interest, don't have the life circumstances to still go after a fundamentally insane hobby, moved out of the area, or paused their race careers to pursue other things.  So this year promises to be an intimate relationship between me, the bikes, the track, and the sport.  I will inevitably develop new friendships along the way, but this not something to head out and do with buddies casually any more.  I am having a big gut check about my interest in this sport lately due to the solitary nine hour and more drives to tracks in Las Vegas and Utah.  Doesn't lessen my interest in the sport, but does make me qualify my reasons for doing with greater gravity.  This comes at great sacrifice to time spent developing geographically local relationships, and I have to be extremely deliberate about getting out of this what I'm seeking.

Now for the results!  Of my three races, two did not run on Saturday due to compressed schedule resulting from the impending rain.  Bike suspension is a funny thing.  It's something of a black art, with equal parts magic, mechanics, speculation, trial and error, geometry and personal preference.  There is certainly a right and a wrong, and currently my setup is wrong.  I hope to remedy the current configuration and am enlisting the help of paid experts to assist.  Things as they are, I feel pretty good about my performance last Saturday.

I raced in the Open Production class, bikes of any size engine can compete, but "production" means there is a limit to the modifications which can be performed on the bike.  Chiefly, must use OEM forks (internals of the forks can be and have been upgraded), must use OEM wheels and brakes, engine may not be modified.  Most of the meaningful and significant parts that one could upgrade for big performance gains may not be modified.

Of the thirteen bikes on the grid I placed fifth.  I started in seventh place, and had my best laptimes at this track by many seconds.  So I'm pleased.  I was also within reach of the next two racers in front of me - if I had my best lap time of the race EVERY lap of the race... I would have ended up with a better position.  This is also true for the people who beat me, but the point is that I'm in the hunt.  Probably the first time I've really felt "in the hunt" for a podium position in an Expert class race.  SO, it was an outstanding weekend!

I have a WERA race in Las Vegas between here and there, but next AFM race is April 17th at Infineon Raceway/ Sears Point in Sonoma.  This will be one of three races that my San Francisco friends can manage attending without much logistic challenge, so if you fancy being part of the Quinton "Slowpoke" Jones official pit crew - make sure to come by and root me on!