Rookie Race Weekend at Daytona Speedway
Gbord and I headed down to Daytona last weekend for the opening race of the season at Daytona. We were pre registered for the race, as well as the Thursday practice session with Team Hammer. Greg showed up at my place on Wednesday and we quickly got the bikes and gear loaded up and headed south. The drive went good and spirits were high! I’m not sure exactly what time we got to Daytona Beach, but probably around 11pm.
Surprisingly, I slept pretty well that night. I figured I would be up all night, but that was not the case. We pulled out of the house early, only to get to the track to see that there was quite a line already forming which was expected. After getting our proper “Credentials” which is the law down there, we were in line heading into the tunnel for the first time. A little Tool Sober cranked up to add to the effect and we entered the speedway. My first of impression of this place was pretty much a bunch of expletives. You immediately see the banking on the way in and it’s a bit overwhelming if you have not been here before. Anyways, we were on our way to the garage to get set up, go thru tech, and head out for our first practice.
I believe for the practice day, they were running 7 different groups, 20 minute sessions with a 30 minute session at the end of the day. We were rushed to make the first session because of all the traffic getting in, and ended up not making it. In a way, I thought of this as a good thing. It gave me the time I needed to get everything together, go thru tech, and basically get my head on straight.
The first session of the day was literally a kick in the nuts by a Thai kick boxer. I thought that I was prepared, but after getting on the track I was surely questioning this. This was my first exposure to race weekend practices. There was no control rider there to take you around and show you the lines of the track, and from what I could see, people weren’t really taking any time to get warmed up. Basically, the track is open, go haul ass!! I didn’t really have much troubles finding my way around the first time, but what really freaked me out was getting buzzed by all the expert riders out there. ESPECIALLY my first trip around the banking. But I survived the practice day without too much trouble. I did have someone bump/rub/smack/touch me or whatever you want to call it coming into turn one. I was dropping into the corner and all of a sudden I felt a bike hit me on the right side. I looked up for a split second to see that rider headed for the grass. Didn’t even see the color of his bike…but I know he was there. Hehehe. I was happy though, that was the first time I have been in contact with another rider on the track, and I didn’t panic or react a bit. Just continued into the corner.
The banking is a story to tell within itself. What a crazy fuggin place to ride a motorcycle. Its steep, its long, its bumpy, and there are a lot of cracks and grooves on it as well. EVERY time I went around it, I was not really happy about it. It only took a couple laps to figure out that you really need to maintain a smooth line if you don’t want to get run over out there. The one thing that really freaked me out and plagued me the first day out there was the exit. You’re hauling ass around this big-banked corner, and then at the end, it just flattens out. You have to transition onto the straight and get the bike back upright. The first few times thru this I was struggling to get the bike back up. I exited the banking and kind of just kept on turning. This is not a good thing. It’s just a very weird sensation at that speed.
After the banking you continue on at full speed thru the tri-oval and then braking into turn one. This is a very tricky section and got a lot of people through out the weekend. You have to go from all out top speed, to a fairly sharp left-hander. The braking zone is all curved down to the left as well. Some tracks give you a nice straight line to get your hard braking done, but not Daytona. You have to get on the brakes hard and get 3 downshifts in quick and then one more right before you drop into the turn. Doing all this while turning left tends to get the bike sliding around a bit. It wasn’t too bad, just tricky.
The rest of the track was ok. There is one really weird left hand corner that looked more like a pit out area then an actual corner. It was probably the sharpest corner out there and I got kinda lazy getting off the bike coming thru there at one point and ended up dragging some of my body work on the ground. So much for the new paint job…heheheh. Exiting the infield on your way out to the back straight was pretty fun as well. You come off of a nice left hander and then just go wide open throttle. The ground kinda drops thru here and is also bumpy, so you end up with the front tire skipping along and a little shaky at first.
One of my favorite spots on the track was the chicane coming off the back straight. You’re hauling ass down the straight, brake hard and get one downshift in and then just drop it into the left running over the gator marks and then immediately flip it back to the right. You could go damn fast thru this section!!
My first race was a mess!!! I knew my grid position etc, but I think I had myself mind-F’d from the beginning. When I came to the line to grid, I couldn’t see the numbers for the grid position, so I just lined up in the last spot. My plan was to just be safe thru turn 1 and then after a lap or so, try to move forward. This was a bad idea. Got one lap in and coming into turn 1, I saw the bikes and dust flying. I really don’t know what happened, but I thought I was in the clear and was going to be able to get past it on the inside, but right as I was going to come thru, there was suddenly a bike crossing right in front of me and I was about 2 seconds from totally T-Boning the guy. So I grabbed a hand full of front brake, turned right and headed for the grass. I almost nailed some guy out in the grass that had already crashed, then as I was about to cross over an unknown section of track, I panicked and grabbed front brake and went down. This would end up being the end of my first race! Woo hoo, I made it one lap!!!
After the total chaos of race one, I was really not in the right state of mind. We ended up getting a ton of rain on Saturday and I basically said screw it, I’m not riding this track in the wet. So I missed the practice sessions, and what would have been race 2. I still think I made a good descision. A lot of people went for ambulance rides and got their bikes crunched on Saturday.
Sunday came and the track was still wet. I had pretty much given up on my race weekend at this point, but still I went and got my tires changed just in case. I still had one race that I was signed up for. I changed from a 180 rear tire to a 190 and when I did that, I ran into clearance issues etc. Now I had really given up. But Greg and Erik helped get the bike ready to go and basically told me without actually saying anything that I needed to get my arse out there and finish what I came here to do! A big thanks to them for helping me get thru that part of the day. I just didn’t feel safe, but I got out there and I’m glad I did.
I got to my grid position which was 7D I think. So I started around 28th position. I got a really good start and managed to pass about 10 people. Got thru turn one really good and then everything went smooth from there. I think I finished 19th or 20th. Finishing the race I had a huge smile on my face and a big rush of adrenaline!! I had done it!
Even though I would not recommend doing Daytona as your first race, I am glad that I did it. Seeing the level of competition at that event really puts things into perspective about just how competitive the amateur class is and just how much more work I need to do in order to be a front runner. Humbling is an understatement!!! I also see how important it is to work as a Team. If it wasn’t for greg and erik helping me out, I would not have got in that race and I would probably be sitting here with doubts about whether or not racing was for me. But all of us being there together and working on the bikes etc was great. Thanks to Greg I got plenty of practice on how to change wheels. Hahah, its raining, its not raining, its raining, its not raining!!!
Sorry for making this such a long report, but believe me…I’m leaving quite a bit of stuff out!!! I’m glad to have gotten home safely, and I look forward to the next race weekend. Pictures will be posted as soon as I can get my Piece of Sh*t computer working at home!