Nervous Racing Dad

Sound RIDER! logo


Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - Cycle Barn


Nervous Racing Dad

by Randy Grein

OK, I'll admit it – I was nervous. The sort of nervous that parents everywhere feel when they take off the training wheels. Times 10. Worried that Justin hadn't had enough time riding in the dirt, insufficient time laboring in the garage, insufficient exposure to actual racing – for all that he has literally grown up at the track. Add to that uncertainty regarding a new (old) vintage bike, my recurring electrical/jetting/unknown demons, taxes that weren't getting done while trying to prepare for the big day, work, wrestling…. Well, you get the idea. I could use a good stiff drink, which would promptly join up with sleep deprivation, declare a holiday and take me on a much needed trip to slumberland.

Wild last minute prep seems to be a racing religion. Now that I have two bikes to get ready, I've been elected high priest of the holy church of Late Night Wrenching, also known as "ohmygodthrashthisthingsoutI'llneverfinishintime and all night Espresso bar." Justin does what he can, but at 14 he's still learning. Sometimes it's faster just to do it yourself, even if you can express it to another human being in less than 10 minutes. Worse, much of what's essential is the complete list of stuff that only adults think to pack because they've forgotten it in the past. We manage to get his bike completed a few days before and it fires right off. I insist on having him show me a bump start (the kick starter interferes completely with the rearset footpegs) and we discover problem #1 – he can't ride it. The previous owner had been an aficionado of classic vintage racing – narrow little clip ons down low and tight in. Worked great for him. But what had seemed fine to Justin sitting in the garage just didn't work when moving. Fortunately clip ons are infinitely adjustable; 5 minutes of twisting had it fitting well – and pointing out the SAME clip on setup on my SV resurrected his badly disturbed confidence. Now all I need to do is pack, prep the motorhome, get MY bike ready, clothes, food….

td style="border-style: solid; border-width: 1px">

Justin's Side of the Story

by Justin Grein

The day I went to the NRC (New Riders Clinic), my dad and I arrived about an hour before the meeting, so we went to a local Burger King across the lot. We got some food and met another novice. Near 9:00 all of us finally went back to sign in. My dad left and the meeting commenced. At the NRC, we reviewed the flags, what to do during a meatball flag (A meatball flag means that you jumped the start) or pull-off, a crash, or entering the race/practice late. We had lunch, then came back to discuss parts and ask any questions we had. A good deal of this stuff was not even for me, but I listened anyway (snore).

The first day I could go out to the track I was very excited. I couldn't actually race, but I got onto the track to see any problems I had and get comfortable with the track. Believe you me, I had a lot of problems. At first I could not even get the bike going. Once I did, I noticed there were way too many neutrals on the bike (one between every gear), and I had several heart hammering moments where I accidentally went into neutral and thought I could accelerate. I almost thought the bike had died on me several times on the beginning of the straight where there was no place to turn off. Then I had to negotiate turning the bike and myself without falling. Meanwhile, all these bikes are passing my problemed bike and I am freaking out with all my problems, my bike's problems, and all these close-up, in my helmet riders. I think I must have nearly lost it a couple of times (don't crash!!!). But now I know what I'm in for, and my dad and I have worked a few problems, large and small.

Yesterday me and dad decided to help his friend out with a newborn motocross track. And by newborn I mean no path, lots of debris, and lots of mud. Me and Allan, my dad's friend, cleared the dirt of debris while my dad made an oval, and then the track track with a very high efficiency clearing machine, his bike! Once the debris was cleared (sort of) and a basic path was made, me and Allan started riding with dad to clear the track, warm our bikes up, get some near crash thrills, and psyche ourselves up. Allan wanted to ride my bike (a TTR-125), and absolutely loved it. When my dad decided to test Allan's bike he promptly fell over and broke the clutch lever. Once that problem was fixed, we got most of the oval finished (again, sort of), and so Allan went on to the track track, which would eventually become a motocross track. I even poked around it, but decided to stay on the oval for a while. Me and dad decided to have lunch (leaving Allan to his lonesome), and rode up the steep hill. Once we came back we found Allan still riding the track. We also discovered that my clutch-slip problem had been fixed on the practice day. (I had never learned how to properly slip the clutch starting and kept dumping it, spinning the tire and throwing dirt all over.) Now, bear in mind I'm only fourteen and don't get to ride much, so I'm allowed to have little problems like this. But anyway, I got back on and started riding the real track. I also found that it was easier to ride with the gas on (several times), and in second, not fourth. But I started going faster and faster, until I could pass Allan on his CR-250. I'm sorry, I must be boring you. It's just that I'm so psyched, and ready to win my first race (May 7-8 at Pacific Raceways). I might see you out there, or I might not, but have fun and go fast (safely so you don't crash and say @#*&!).

Still, we get to Pacific Raceway on time Saturday morning. The threatening weather cleared up and it looked like we would have a rare dry NRC. My bike was missing spark, safety wire and a host of other things but Justin's little Penton was ready to go. It was essential that we get him out cleanly, as he is allowed all of two practice sessions this weekend. The Penton, a vintage 125 enduro bike, places him in Vintage practice instead of the NRC sessions, where he'd have to mix it up with R1s, armed with a mighty 11 hp and 85 mph top end. In addition novices under 16 are required to petition the WMRRA Executive Board to ride, much less compete. The board is wisely requiring him to complete a second approved riding school before competition; this gave him a chance to work a corner on Sunday to fulfill yet another novice graduation requirement and see a full day of racing from closer than he'd ever been. It also gave me a chance to test the Penton in competition, or so I thought.

On arrival we select a site and go to work unpacking like a well-oiled machine. Bikes come out of the trailer, tools, leathers, boots, helmets. Registration and tech were painless as usual; WMRRA has made pre-paid pre-registration an absolute breeze so I had plenty of time to obsess about my own bike, hook up with 160 fast guy and mentor Tim Fowler, and last minute instructions. "Remember to turn the gas on!" "Don't forget to upshift when it stops accelerating!" We covered everything in detail except dealing with Vintage hardware…

For the blessed out there who have never been subjected to an older bike, even when any given model was new age gives them little quirks. Add to those the oddities that we took for granted 30 years ago, a 2-stroke motor and a mechanic (me) with no experience with this particular model. It's a wonder he made it around the track, much less soldiered on through the entire session!

Watching from the southernmost part of the pits I could see he was having engine problems, engine management problems AND trying to learn a brand-new discipline. The first lap he was late, then going dreadfully slow. Second lap, missing in action and I nearly panicked. Frantically searching for a free official with visions of carnage I collared the pit marshal, who let me know they were off in turn 2 – apparent mechanical. Somewhat relieved I started to ask about retrieval when he broke in that Tim had restarted the bike for him and they were now back on the track going somewhat faster, but still slow. I watched lap after anxious lap while he struggled over the hill crest at turn 8, wove uncertainly through 9 and fought a sick sounding 2-stroke out of the bus stop. After coughing and farting, it would abruptly clear up and start pulling as he entered the main straight, giving me a good two minutes to obsess until he came around for the next lap. It was a major relief, not to say victory, to see the checkered flag at the end of the session! The grin when he pulled off his helmet was certainly one of victory, and worth all the effort and worry I'd been subjected to.

Post-practice discussion with mentor Tim revealed a number of things to work on; talking with Justin revealed one more. Old piston port 2-strokes don't pull down low and he'd been riding it like his TTR. Naturally it would load up and take forever to clear, burping and farting like a drunken geezer at Octoberfest. Making it worse was a less-than-modern transmission with neutrals between every gear – trying to shift quickly had him exploring every one. Tim also had noticed that he was tentative on the throttle. The carburation is well sorted at idle and full throttle, but like most vintage machines is a little iffy in between. With explicit instructions to whack the throttle full on or full off and a few reasonable starts in back of the pits we felt he was ready for his second and final session.

The second session went much better. The bike was still not running quite right but he was clearly on top of the situation. Justin's speeds were still down, but useful tips from Tim regarding lines improved his form and lap times, while giving the faster riders plenty of room to get around on either side. Aside from a disconcerting habit of putting his foot down for the bus stop (something other novices and even some experts do) and a consistent struggle getting back on the pipe out of that very tight corner, he rode very well. Other riders confirmed that he was consistent and although not up to speed, his lines looked good, and he should have no trouble progressing with more practice.

Things weren't looking quite so good for my weekend; my bike still wasn't ready. The new instruments wouldn't clear the fairing bracket. Changing tires, the last of the safety wire and refitting the carbs took the rest of the morning – I'd missed all of practice, but was more or less ready to go after lunch in Lightweight Superbike. This is one of my favorite classes in that it pays money, but all I really wanted was to finish today. Alas, it was not to be. The bike started hard, idled poorly – I searched for and found an air leak, after which it ran better at idle, but in the tire warm up lap power delivery was, well, lurchy. Off-on response was abrupt and at times it seemed to fire on one cylinder. Halfway around things smoothed out so I continued around for the start. Mistake.

The bike bogged on the start and started spitting a bit, but ran well enough to catch the tail end of the group going into 2 so I could pass a few people on the outside. They returned the favor by passing me on the exit as it became clear I had a little problem – the engine would run on one, none or both cylinders at random making riding difficult. Fighting to keep up with anyone down the back straight convinced me to pack it in, and I returned to the pits as a basic safety move. Once there, exhaustion (emotional and physical) set in. My lovely wife arrived from work and I put off trying to do anything with the bike until morning. I took Justin and dog Duke on my traditional walk of the track, examining the surface and looking for new surprises, alternate strategies and obvious things that I'd missed in 25 years. Of course I'd point out things to Justin, and we discussed strategies and things he had discovered. Too tired to run the course the walk took over an hour, after which we had a nice dinner, movie and early bed. Ah, the comforts of a motorhome!

Morning found me up early – sore and nervous but still groggy. Sorting a problem under pressure is never fun, but the one bright spot on the horizon was all the lovely black clouds – I love racing in the rain. Coffee and oatmeal cured the groggy, but the only cure for nerves was sorting out the mystery problem. Nothing for it – pull the tank up and start looking for something, anything, out of the ordinary. Nope, carbs and airbox are tight, wires are all attached, what could it be? Poke a little, prod a little and hello, what's this? The coil connection is loose? Hey, it's more than loose – the darn thing rattles loose like an empty can! So does the other connection; checking the rear coil turns up the same thing. Could I have been victim to something as simple as loose connections? A quick crimp with pliers fixed that, and I triple-checked every connection in reach and buttoned the bike back up. Only thing left was to swap to rain tires; it was clearly going to rain for some time. I had already said goodbye to Justin, who was going off to work a corner – his first time and part of his novice requirement. I skipped practice again on the theory that I would have had to hurry, and the time was better spent resting and getting ready, preparing for miserable visibility.

The race itself, 650 Supersport Twins was almost anticlimactic. My regular anti fog concoction Zook had come up missing, and the substitute just didn't work well. Warm misty rain is hell on face shield fog and hardly anyone could see. Alan Schwen and John Greer checked out early and I could barely see for much of each lap. Experimenting with different visor and body positions I finally discovered that sitting up with a slitted shield and head tilted back a bit cleared my visor, but it only worked on the straights. Still, I started making time (and positions) and had a few decent dices, eventually sighting Jeff Webber in 4 th on the white flag lap. I was able to reel him in quite a bit (he rode well despite being uncomfortable in the rain) but catching him in the time remaining was out of the question. I settled for a comfortable 5 th, in the Suzuki money – or would be were my bike one year newer.

Naturally right after 650 SS twins is Vintage. I pull into my pits, hop on the Penton confident that the bike will run flawlessly. It fires on the first turn of the crank so it's off to pre-grid. A few minutes wait at the track entry and I'm off for my very first attempt at riding in the rain on vintage tires – well, in a long time anyway. I'm instantly amazed all over again how much traction is available compared to DOT racing tires in the rain, and power around turn 2 thinking this could be a lot of fun. The Penton is peakier than the mass of Honda CB160s but clearly has more power; I just need to get used to the relative lack of brakes. Then at the end of the back straight I run out of gas. After reminding Justin constantly I'd fallen victim to the same bonehead mistake and forgotten to turn on the gas! A quick grab at the petcocks is futile, and I can't get it restarted. Doomed to sit on the sidelines for this heat I make the best of it, watching some great racing through the chicanes. These 'slow, obsolete and worthless' vintage bikes are generating serious speed through the toughest part of Pacific Raceways, and would leave any modern bike without rain tires for dead.

A quick crash truck ride back to the pits and we're ready to go again – I thought. In any endeavor the one thing you absolutely need is the one thing forgotten, and I had broken the one ironclad rule of racing a 2-stroke – no spare plugs. Cleaning the heavy coat of oil with contact cleaner produced an adequate spark and the classic trick of cleaning the crankcase of a load of fuel by pushing with an open throttle and no spark plug should have cleaned it up, and it did fire eventually – only to die and refuse to relight. Pull the plug, clean and try again. Repeat 4 times. Finally when I was ready to give up it lit and ran well, so I carefully turned OFF the petcocks and had lunch. The second and final Vintage heat was at 2:00, and I was going to be ready. Oh, hubris! The jealous gods smite those that think they control their destiny…

This time the bike ran well again, only to die on the back straight. The gas was on, so that wasn't it. It did catch again before coming to a complete halt, but bucked a bit up the hill, and died completely coasting into the start line. Philosophically I realized that put me one for four with no practice – an expensive weekend, albeit one without major breakage or crash damage. Justin was ecstatic with his weekend, so it wasn't all bad.

A post-race investigation turned up a VERY loose plug cap. This one used a steel spring piercing the plug wire, but t wasn't close to fitting the plug end. Replacing the cap with a modern unit and dropping the needle one slot should take care of our remaining engine problems. I'm fitting a tach in hopes that it's magneto-friendly, and that Justin will find it useful. Our next steps (other than more work on my SV!) are a just-completed dirt ride and a practice day with Adrenaline Freaks on May 5. We both have to play hooky for it, but it's the only way Justin can satisfy his 2 nd class requirement and be ready to compete in the next race.

There are those (like my parents and siblings) who think this whole thing is crazy. Others think it's really cool. All I really know is that competition of all kinds has been very good for me – teaching winning and losing gracefully, the importance of doing your best and where to draw the line. Since this project really started in December, everyone has noticed a big change in my son. He's both more mature and more gracious. An indifferent student with great potential he's suddenly found a reason to finish all his homework. C's and F's have become A's and B's; with a bit more work he's likely to be an honors student in a challenging High School program. Sure I worry about him, but realistically he's in no more mortal danger than he would be playing football – and less likely to snap a knee. We have a ways to go yet, but already we are much closer than ever; he's even picked up a few of my other activities like wrestling. We'll have to budget carefully, but I can see us teaming in a year or so in endurance races – for fun, naturally. And when his sister reaches the same age in 2 years I hope she makes the same choice.

We've worked hard to upgrade this site. Click here to notify us of any problems we need to correct.


Subscription has its privileges - Each month Sound RIDER! publishes new features on rides, clubs, dealers and events. Don't miss out on these informative stories.

Sign up today for your FREE subscription and you'll get notification each month when the new issue comes on line. You'll also be the first to find out about special Sound RIDER! events. From time to time, we also provide valuable coupons that can save you hundreds of dollars on motorcycle services. What are you waiting for? Click here to sign up now!