Pre-Season and Daytona
NEWS March 25, 2012
Photo by Brian J. Nelson
(March 25, 2012) - It's been a long time since I've updated my blog. My story over the past two months has been one of traveling... a mixture of work and play that really feels just like play. Today is officially Day 39 on the road, and I must say I haven't had this much fun in 5 weeks than I have in my entire life. I've done a ton of riding, met plenty of people, and even won a race! Here's my story:
I left a wintery New York on February 15th with my Dad. We headed down to Jennings GP in Florida for Jason DiSalvo's Speed Academy. It would be my first opportunity of 2012 to work with the school and also my first time on the new Harley-Davidson XR1200 that my Dad and I built for the upcoming season. It had been a bumpy off season, one of uncertainty and irresolution. The term 'silly season' was an understatement. Kuryakyn (one of my sponsors and also my current place of employment - more on that later) provided me with the bike mid way into January, and my Dad and I thrashed on it for weeks preparing for the season. It had been a long cold winter, not particularly snowy, but a wet one at that. I was ready to head south.
After 20 hours in my 2007 Dodge Ram with the bike in the bed, we had finally reached Jennings and were ready to go. The weather looked terrible, but we picked up some last minute parts at the track and thrashed on the old hog well into sun down to get ready for the weekend of coaching and riding.
Jason DiSalvo Speed Academy
One of the biggest things that has helped my riding has been working with JDSA. Jason and I both grew up in Western NY, each spent a lot of time in the amateur dirt track pits as kids and he has been coaching me for quite some time. I credit the majority of my progression to him; my mental state, training programs and obviously my technique. It wasn't until 2011 that my learning curve really took an exponential turn when I started coaching with the school. I think that one of the best ways to learn is to teach! Teaching forces you to find different ways to deliver information. Each and every rider is different and understands things in different ways, and it has really opened up my mind in every aspect of riding a motorcycle.
So Jennings was a busy weekend! Classroom sessions, track sessions and drills all alternating time throughout the weekend, with a dash of testing in between on my new XR1200 and it proved to be a great first chapter of my 2012 season.
Next on the calendar was a test at Talladega GP. I dropped my Dad off at the airport for him to fly home and headed off to Trussville, AL to stay with Jason for the week in between. Good hard training, a concoction of cycling, running and tennis made up our week leading up to the test. I was really looking forward to riding again and getting quality seat time. My suspension tech, Lenny Albin from Superbike Chassis would be attending Talladega to dial in our new stuff from Ohlins.
The weekend went better than planned! We were scheduled for two days of riding, but accomplished so much in the first day that we decided to park it for the weekend. The suspension felt great, the bike ran smoothly and I was very comfortable. She was ready for the big dance in Daytona in a few weeks.
Shortly after the test, I got a call from some old friends from Ontario Canada, a family of dirt trackers from the past that had just purchased a used Suzuki GSX-R 600 and would be heading to Jennings for a couple of track days. I headed back down to Florida to help him out in one of his first days on a road race bike. I had never done any 1-on-1 coaching but it proved to be helpful, again finding new ways to deliver information and further solidify my own technique.
Coaching and Riding!
The first day was spent coaching and watching. I knew it wouldn't last long though! I can't hardly stand being at a racetrack with all of my gear (and even my bike) without riding. I needed to save the XR1200 motor for Daytona, so riding it on Sunday was out of the question, but I was determined to get back on a bike. Sunday morning I decided I would purchase the track day, get the wrist band and see what happened. Kat Zimpel, one of our JDSA students was there riding her Ducati 848 EVO and offered to let me ride it. I had so much fun on that bike! She was generous enough to let me hop on. I'm so glad she did because I was able to get my riding fix that I was so deprived from on Saturday.
From there it was time to head to Daytona. Still essentially living out of my truck wouldn't seem too ideal but I was having such a blast traveling all over the south that I couldn't ask for more. There was still two weeks until the race, but I had some real work to do.
Time for Work
Kuryakyn, who I mentioned earlier, has been a big supporter of my program since 2011 and also is my employer. Kuryakyn (www.kuryakyn.com) is an aftermarket motorcycle parts manufacturer that travels all over the country throughout the year, hitting motorcycle rallies in every corner of the US. Daytona Bike Week is one of their bigger rallies, and I would be working on the crew for a week setting up the rigs and installing parts on customers' bikes. It's one of the best jobs I could ask for! It gives me the flexibility to keep racing and work at times between events, and I still get to travel all over the country. Six 12-hour days later it was time to flip the switch back to road racing, which comes easy for me!
Flipping the Switch
Just a week until the race my newest sponsor, Paul Diener of Spyke's Harley-Davidson out of Indiana, came on board to provide three more XR1200 race bikes to help my program. They met me down in Daytona after the rally was over and we worked on the bikes for a few days, prepping a spare bike for the race and making sure we had everything we needed to get on track.
Ridersdiscount.com/Vesrah Suzuki, my 'parent team' if you will, would be arriving in Daytona shortly thereafter. Bree Poland and Mark Junge had stepped up to provide me with a garage at the race and transportation of my motorcycles to the rounds for the year. I can't say enough about the help that they'll be giving me as travel expenses have an easy way of skyrocketing throughout the season.
So here we are, the trucks are arriving, the gates are opening up and it's almost time to go racing!
The World Center of Racing
It's a crazy thing crossing under the tunnel into Daytona International Speedway. It's known as the World Center of Racing, and for good reason. Some of the biggest races in the world take place at Daytona. It's a very special race for everyone in our paddock and was particularly special for me this year as I would be defending my XR1200 race win from a year ago.
My motto from last year was a quote from former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz; "Pressure comes when you are called on to perform a task for which you are unprepared." In fact, I quoted him last year in my post race blog as well. This year was a different kind of pressure. I had won the race before, and now I had to follow. Anything less than a win would be a step in the wrong direction, so I was doing my best to mentally prepare for the task at hand. It seemed to work. I felt calm and collected, more so than I ever have as I was going into a race weekend.
Qualifying is something that I've always struggled with. It's never been my strong suit, but is something that I'd been working hard on over the winter. You might be wondering how I could possibly work on qualifying without throwing a leg over a bike, but I believe that qualifying is 90% mental, just like in the race or really anytime you get on a motorcycle. Confidence is key, and having trust in your abilities is essential.
Everyone knows the importance of drafting at Daytona, especially on the XR1200's. They are slower than your typical inline four Japanese models and they spend a lot more time on the banking. Drafting when done properly can shave tenths and even seconds off of your lap time.
Half way through the qualifying session I was stuck in the 3rd position on the time sheets. I couldn't find the extra time that I needed to get up front. The top two riders had been working together, drafting each other and shaving that precious time off. I thought I needed to hook up with somebody to get a draft and close the gap, but that's no easy task when I have no teammate and nobody wants to give up that pocket of air. With time running out, and failure to hook up for a draft, I decided I better just put my head down and try to get the best time that I can without the help. I ended up on pole position.
It was my first pole ever, something that has evaded me in years past but now something I will cherish for a long time. Winning is one thing, but being able to go fastest in qualifying is a whole different kind of confidence inspiration. I was over 1.6 seconds faster than second place in that session and it was the best feeling in the world. The confidence I gained from that session alone is something that I will be able to draw from throughout the entire season, but now it was time to race.
As I mentioned, drafting plays a huge role at Daytona. That's the reason why it has such a reputation of being a crap-shoot. It's anybody's race at Daytona; it's up to luck and fate sometimes even more so than it is up to the rider.
Going into the race I had Plan A and Plan B. Plan A was to see if I could make a break. I wanted to get the holeshot and put my head down, see what the gap was and then determine from there if I needed to revert to Plan B. Turns out I couldn't get away from the draft. My competitors would suck right back up to me in that large pocket of air that these Harley's create.
Plan B was to sit back, watch the race unfold in front of me and make it a race from the last chicane to the finish line. You might as well just throw away all of the laps in between, because they mean nothing. All you have to do is be there at the end. I wanted to be in third on the last lap and that's where I was.
The XR1200's spend so much time on the NASCAR banking at Daytona that it takes a significantly different strategy than on a 600 or 1000 inline four. It's very possible to draft by somebody only to have them draft you back before the start/finish line, and that's the last thing that I wanted to have happen to me. I thought maybe, just maybe, if I gave them a gap coming out of the chicane that I would pass them late enough that there wouldn't be enough time to get drafted back. It worked out perfectly. I gave them about 15 bike lengths going into the chicane, a gap that looked nearly impossible to make up on the television screen. I apparently had a lot of people nervous that I had given the win away. One of my mechanics even thought that I blew the motor the way it looked, and thought my race was over.
Coming out of the chicane I regretted my decision at first. I couldn't even feel the draft of the two riders far ahead of me and was worried that I wouldn't be able to catch up in time. Lo and behold, I started to feel a small oscillation in the motorcycle and I knew at that point I was golden. The riders grew larger and larger in my vision and my run on them was coming to fruition. I pulled out just at the last moment, about 1000 yards before the finish and knew I had it in the bag with the speed difference I had at the time. It worked out perfectly, and I came away with my second career victory; a repeat at Daytona.
Winning at Daytona after getting pole position is the best way to start the season! I couldn't be happier with my crew (Dad, Uncle Bill and Paul Diener from Spyke's H-D) and all of my sponsors; Vesrah, Riders Discount, Kuryakyn, Spyke's H-D, MCJ Motorsports, Maxima, Ohlins USA, Arai, Cortech, Sidi, Held, Motion Pro, G2, Kicker, Chicken Hawk Racing, Webster Dental Group and Long Pond Autobody
Thank you all for the support!
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