It started with a call from a friend, and ended with trophies and trips to the infirmary. My good friend Jerry called me one pleasant fall day and inquired of me what steps one would take to go road racing. As of nine years ago I was an avid road racer with the Central Road racing Association (CRA) this qualified me, at least in his mind, to provide advice to help him to see a dream realized. After some reflection I saw an opportunity to make a comeback to world of pointlessly destroying tires for a five dollar trophy.
Setting in the back of the warehouse under a generous layer of dust were two 1993ish Suzuki GS500e motorcycles that were, at least in part, road racers. The GS fits in to the CRAs Ultra light class, and ten years ago was quite popular as it is relatively economical to race. I could see Jerry had something more glamorous in mind but being a nice guy he kept an open mind about the unsightly little bikes plus the fact that he was being offered a bike to ride without buying one, was a reason enough to look past the less than thrilling appearance of the GS.
A plan was hatched to attend the new rider’s school at the first race of the 2012 CRA season on May 18th. The school is part of an intense day that is the initiation into the culture of the cub road racer; it starts at 7am with classroom that focuses on safety on and around the track. Next you run as fast as you can to sign up for your membership so you can get your competition number to put on your bike has this is one of many requirements to pas the tech inspection required to be allowed on the track. The rest of the morning is spent franticly trying to get to all required approvals on the equipment and our selves.
Afternoon is the first time a newbie gets to see the track like a racer. It’s a series of track sessions playing follow the leader with your instructor. The officials find some humor in throwing strange circumstances at the newbie racers, like putting an ambulance on the track with you just to see what you will do. This little game goes on until last session of the day. The pinnacle of the school is the New Riders Race; this is a conglomeration of all the students and whatever they brought to the track, so an RC-51 may be paired up against a GS500, and the different skill levels of fast and slow riders means that the guy on the GS could be faster than some other guy on an RC-51. Now both Jerry and I were riding slowest of the bikes out there, but neither was the last bike to finish. All were rewarded with the title of officially licensed road racer.
Now once you have the coveted title of Licensed Road Racer you are able to enter in the weekend's races, depending on the bike there may be as many as five races you can enter in a weekend. Jerry and I entered the ultra light super sport sprint for Saturday afternoon. All weekend Jerry’s bike has been uncooperative, this is a direct result of us not being as prepared as we should have been (I know better but we ran out of time). The first problem that showed up on his bike was a bad regulator; causing the battery to slowly go dead, this caused Jerry to learn to do fast battery swaps in his GS. The next thing was a slow accumulation of oil on the side of the cylinder. By the time of the start of the first race the tips of his boots were showing signs of oil on them. This apparently was a larger oil leak than we had suspected as by about the fifth lap his motor ground to a stop, ending his weekend.
I had better luck. The race combined experts and novices to race together but they were scored separately. My only competition came from a tricked out EX500 and we did battle every lap, he seemed to have a small advantage on my GS in power but I could make some gains in the infield, the lead must have change six times( it was exhilarating ). After we propelled past the checkers I looked back to see how close it was, and there was only about two bike lengths between us.
The next day started with rain and wind, this is normal for a Brainerd week end, and we race rain or shine. I did decide to enter both ultra light races that were to run on Sunday. I have liked racing in the rain in the past as I have been able to do well under these conditions. My main competition this time came from a very young competitor on a Moriwaki 250 this is arguably the most pure racer at the track that weekend. At start we quickly ran to the front of the pack, by the forth corner we had left every one behind. On the third lap the rain had reached its worst and in corner six I pushed the front tire over about ten inches (this, at speed in midcorner, is a fraction of a second and all you can do is ride it out.) After this experience I recalled some advice I once was told about racing in the rain (ride the fast stuff fast and the slow stuff slow) the next lap was less eventful but the darn kid was still in front of me, so the lap after that I was thinking more of making the pass than of the rain and in turn five the front end tucked under and down I went. Crashing in the rain is not typically so bad as you are not going as fast and there is less friction to distroy stuff. The worst part of this was watching all the racers you just proved you were faster go by to finish respectably while I DNF’d (did not finish). The good news was that the bike was not badly damaged and with help of a corner workers tool kit I was able to ride back to the pits and start the process to get the bike and myself inspected and cleared to race the last race of the weekend. Since there was little damage to the bike and less to me, this was a formality but as this getting done I got word that Jerry’s daughter may have broken her arm doing cartwheels while watching the races, necessitating another trip to the infirmary and splint but not for me.
The last race was more successful the rain had gone away and the track warmed up. I got a great start and two experts on Ducatis and I did some dicing, but they slipped away. I knew the kid on the Moriwaki had to be right behind me, so I kept pushing hard and when the checkers waved I looked back there was no one back there.
Jerry had the opportunity to experience many of the emotions that go with racing, the adrenaline of turn one as fast as the bike will go, the frustrations of equipment failures, and the late nights that lead up to the event it’s self. As for me two First places and one DNF in my first weekend back on the road course in eight years I felt like both the homely little GS500 and its forty year old pilot were vindicated.
There was a photographer that followed along and took some great pictures! Click below.