Day One

The trip to the SCTA World Finals at Bonneville Speedway October 2-6, 2007 provided mixed results for the Team MS/Motorcycle Performance racing effort.  I did surprise myself with the speed I answered “yes” to the question of coming back next year.

I want to thank the Home Team for their efforts:   Fred Weege (motors and electronics), Nick Moore (wheels, tires and suspension), Steve Dale (paint and bodywork), Bill Shields (trailer and procurement) and my wife Patty (patience and sense of humor).

Also the Away Team:  Jim Haraughty (coaching and procurement), Bob Crook (rig driver, gear and mechanicals), and Chris (Louie) Lamour (mechanicals).  Without both of these groups’ efforts, the project never would have gotten off the ground.

The first day there was designated as Tech Inspection.  We arrived at the speedway at 2 a.m. their time and spent the night in a parking lot at the truckstop occupying that exit on I-80.  Needless to say, everyone was a bit slow on the uptake, but soon the anticipation of getting on the salt restored the vigor lost in a cramped, cold truck.

Approaching the entrance onto the salt itself you became aware of the expanse covered by the salt flats themselves.  Once we were waved onto the flats, the drive to the racetrack was another 8 to 10 miles.  As the sun came up we were joined by more racers heading out, sometimes 4 wide going 60 to 70 mph towards the pits.

Once we entered the pits, the next decision was where to park.  We looked around to determine the distances to Tech and Registration.  Opting for the closest we set up next to a trailer from Texas with a red Corvette parked alongside and a Harley knucklehead salt bike inside.

After parking and unloading we looked farther down the salt and could barely see the other end of the pits over a mile and a half away.  A group of streamliner guys gathered there, evidently for privacy.

Unloading the bikes, and beginning the basic process of tech inspection we realized how far tech actually was and loaded the bikes back up as nobody was in a hurry to push the bikes the ½ mile or so to the end of the line.  In the SCTA there are actually two techs.  The first is for your riding gear and the second is for the bike and any questions arising about your gear.  Working through the line we were able to get everything except my boots through on the first go.  The boots were how we discovered the second stage of tech.

Both bikes passed the safety aspects of the second tech stage, but displacement numbers needed to be added to conform to the sprit of the numbering rule and an overflow bottle needed to be removed from the Triumph.  After a quick session with the sign vinyl and a razor blade we were good to go.

Rolling back into the pits, we then had to load all the gear up and unhook the trailer, lock it up, and then into town we went.

Wendover is a different kind of town.  The Utah side is the staid, conservative, Mormon derived enclave.  Continuing up the road to the Nevada side you are inundated with neon and flashing lights.  I can guess where the aliens landed around here.

A quick gorging at the Rainbow Casino buffet (I recommend it) then back to the motel to try to get some rest.

Up at 5:30, a quick couple of cups of coffee and then out to the salt.

Sunup on the salt is its own experience and needs to be seen to be believed.  In October it starts to remind you of Wisconsin as it is 39 degrees or so until the sun gets going.

Unloading the gear, the announcement of the Rookie Driver Meeting follows the rider/driver’s meeting and since Jim’s bike was due for some attention, I said I would ride to the meeting on the pit bike, taking the CB radio to listen to the explanations and suggestions offered.  Did I mention it was 39 degrees?  Did I also mention that the meeting was on the starting line 3 ½ miles away?  An extremely long dragstrip staging lane is 1/4 of a mile long.  The staging lanes at Bonneville are 3 ½ miles long.  Screaming across the salt at a whopping 36mph on the spree provided a close-up look at a surprisingly rough surface that had occasional patches of loose salt on it.  It also served well to lower my core temperature substantially.  I was barely able to hold onto the radio by the time I arrived on the starting line, which after a minute or so it was announced that we were going to go down the short course for the other part of the orientation in the shut-down area.  The only thing good about this was the fact that I got a closer look at the course than anyone else in a car, including the loose salt at the ¼, ¾ and 1 ¼ mile areas.

Once in the shut-down area all I wanted was to be sure my hearing was still working after listening to the CB radio noise and figure out how to not look like an exotic dancer with all the shaking going on.  When the final explanations of where to turn off and various speeds on the return roads and pit areas were finished  I turned to look in the pits for the truck and trailer only to discover they had decided to go on down to the starting line to get ready to run.  Well now the staring line was 4 miles away and the temperature had gotten up to a balmy 40 degrees and there wasn’t a warm way to get to the bikes.  All you could do was tuck it in and suck it up and go for it.  All that excitement necessitated a pit stop of my own.

Suiting up and watching the runs in front of us the nerves were definitely jangling.  New bike never ridden out of first gear, new surface that wasn’t at all like pavement, and a roadster looping it out and going around a few times right in front of me.  Now that’s a confidence builder.

The starter, Bill Taylor, came over as calm as could be and checked my tether lanyard meant to shut off the bike if I vacated the premises, helmet strap and cautioned me about the course being a little loose everywhere but the left five feet of it.  His demeanor made it sound like a lunch run, and was calming in its effect.  Well here goes.  Letting the clutch out a bit at a time, the bike moved forward and about 50 feet out started to spin the rear tire.  The five gallons of water in the tank up in the tail made its presence known at this point in time, acting like the top of a metronome, swinging to the right.  I rolled off the throttle a bit (mindful of the possibilities of a high side) and as the rear came back vertical, rolled it on again.  This time it swung to the left, and corrected a bit more quickly as there was a bit more speed.  The thought was if it was this exciting in first gear, how much fun might we have farther along?  Not wanting to waste a run and feeling a bit more confident I turned it up a bit more and shifted to second and then third.  The straight line behavior was acceptable and the bike wanted to stay on the left side of the course as suggested by the starter.  I went past the three-mile marker and turned off.

One of the things that weren’t mentioned at the orientation or by my coach was the presence of loose salt called “fluff”.  This immediately came up off the front wheel in prodigious amounts through the open chassis tubes and immediately coated my face shield.  It was at this time that the water tank in the tail made its presence felt again, wanting to tip to the left.  I simply quit the turn and looked out the sides of the shield to hopefully get close enough to the return road to not look like a complete prat and hold up the event.  I did clear the course and once the boys arrived we were back to the pits to lose the water tank.  It pained me that two solid days of fabrication work in the shop were for nothing, but the ill-handling behavior I felt was not something I could feel comfortable with.  Putting on the original radiator was a bit of a challenge as was stopping up as much of the salt spray as possible.  Next came cleaning the bike and scooping out the bellypan.  Less than an hour later we were back in the truck headed for the starting line.

To add to the interest, Jim had run over the existing record on his Triumph and had to be at impound within an hour of clearing the last time trap.  So off to impound we went to deposit his bike.

We arrived at the starting line with a bike that Bob mentioned even pushed much more responsively.  It was on this run that we were to experience one of the multiple personalities this bike would show us.  It wouldn’t run at full throttle and we were able to just barely make the first license level nursing it through.  Once again the salt bath at the end of the pass and more changes were the order of the day.  The one good thing was that now that the bike wasn’t making overtly threatening gestures I could complain about the running.

Returning to the pits a jet change was decided on but which direction?  The meters said one thing (lean it out) and our neighbor David said another (richen it up).  Well I had known the meters longer than I had known David so leaner it was.  Same behavior only a bit worse.  It was at this time that Jim got a phone call and after a few seconds looked at the phone sort of strangely and handed it to me.  “It’s Ducati North America”.  Great.  Nothing like ramping up looking like a potato head at the regional level and going nationwide.  After a brief but enjoyable conversation with John Paolo Canton I was saved by the phone dying just before I got my name spelled.  I learned later that he was calling from the factory in Bologne Italy so it was now global.  They did do a very nice page on Ducati.com.  I suspect it was a slow news day as Casey Stoner had won the MotoGP title the week before and we would be the novelty of the moment (those crazy Americans!).

In all seriousness I am honored by their interest and they do make an incredible motor.  Thank you John Paolo for your encouragement!

Well after the slogging up and down the salt a bit of preventative maintenance, mostly corrosion-abatement related, and back to the hotel to gird ourselves for the next day.

Thursday would prove to be a marathon.

Next week:  The fun continues!

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