What makes a road racer?

  So a friend and I was talking the other day…. He’s a dirt racer, drives a modified sprint car and does well in his series. The topic of racing comes up and he asks me about the road racing I’m trying to get involved in.
   I told him some clubs only race at one tracks but most have a schedule that takes them to different tracks, some in different states. I explained about the CMRA and how they have about 6 tracks they race at with most around Texas. Then he asked how many races we do and how much money could you win racing sport bikes at the club level. I told him we did about 9 or 10 races a year but there wasn’t a lot of return cash wise at the club level. I talked about contingencies and how some of the classes were sponsored but the prizes were small would never come close to what a racer would spend running a full season… He actually laughed out loud and said that’s crazy.” You go all over the place and don’t get hardly any real cash for winning?” That’s nuts!” I wouldn’t waste my time with that!” He capped that off with a comment about how if he could not have a chance to recoup his investment he wouldn’t be racing….

    I tried to tell him that even in sprint racing that not everyone was bringing in enough winnings to covers their expenses but he replied that at least the possible purses available were large enough to make it worthwhile. We continued on like this for a while longer but seeing no agreement in sight I changed the subject… I’m not the best person to be selling the merits of bike racing. Heck I am only a really rookie “rookie” and still don’t understand myself all the nuances of the club and the sport.

   Later on though I thought about his comments and maybe I guess I could agree with some of his sentiments but I think he misses the point of racing. At least as I feel what racing is about.  

   I as a parent supported my youngest son David in his dreams to become a Olympic gymnast. Though the chances were very slim He was motivated and he had some talent. We went to great lengths to give him every chance and opportunity to fulfill his goals. A lot of money and time was spent over a number of years pursuing his dream and if we had stopped and just broke it down to dollar spent vs. dollar return we would never had gone very far. Not being wealthy we struggled a bit to provide all that was needed in the quest. And we never questioned the validity of the endeavor.
   In the end Dave did not get on the men’s national team but he did get a good education out of it, made contacts and lifelong friends in the process and now is the coach of a successful club. Sometimes dreams don’t always come out the way you anticipate. My son still trains hoping to get a break and has never let go of his dreams. My wife and I as well as the rest of the family have learned a lot about ourselves and what it takes to be a champion through our son’s efforts.
   My friend I fear is very short sighted. I know he is talented and he may become successful in his racing but I don’t think he has what I feel are championship qualities.

  I may be mistaken but after talking to many in the sport of club road racing there seems to be distinct attitude among those in the sport at this level. I see a desire to win races or at least to find where each others highest personal performance lies. Rarely do I hear the riders talk about becoming paid pro’s… sure it’s a subject when there is a really talented youngster is involved. Young men always envision being the next Rossi or Kevin Schwantz! But the ranks of club racing are filled with many more participants who are only here because no where else can they fill the need for that special thrill of rocketing down a straightaway and then carving through some curves than on a racetrack. Mostly the talk in between sessions is about the ride and the racing. The banter on the forums concerning machine upgrades and equipment purchases are hardly ever discussed in a way that is focused on gaining a monetary return but rather on how they are going to gain that extra tenth of a second off their last lap time.
   I find that champions are less concerned on the business side of racing than concentrating on the skills to make them better racers. That being said I wonder if maybe in other forms of Motorsports there is a broad difference from the way motorcycle racers feel and approach the sport. Has the passion and desire to be the fastest and most skilled driver become less important to those four wheel competitors?  Has high profile sponsorship and advertising created a “win for the money” mentality that preempts a quest for finding where the driver’s limits lie?

   I don’t know but for sure but across motorcycling, it seems that individuality and personal competition are hallmarks of the sport and when I talk to many of the racers in club racing I sense companionship in the paddock and a desire to help fellow competitors that I don’t feel as strongly when walking through a local dirt circle track. I have attended many dirt races over the years and I know the drivers are very aggressive in competition but is it a desire to win for winnings sake or is it for the quest for money…or both?
   So the question that comes to my mind when I think of my friends comments is this … are motorcycle road racers a different breed? I really don’t know but I feel it’s so and I know one thing for sure….there’s nowhere else where you are guaranteed to spend all your money, all of your spare time and most likely get nothing in return. But most always end the day with a beer in your hand and a smile of your face…  that’s a pretty good trade off I think!

The unknown army of road racing

  As anyone who ever attended a motorcycle road race can tell you, there is a lot going on to be seen. A walk through the paddock and there is a hustle and bustle of activity every where you look. All around you see the racers and technicians going through their routines getting the bikes ready for the days events.  Race officials mill about checking on all the aspects and details in preparation so the event can be successful. A great many details to attend to… so many people making the scene one of organized chaos.

 For the fan it’s so easy to see the exciting racers and the machines. And it’s obvious that’s why we come to the track. To see the racing and experience the sounds and smells of the track and watch the action unfold before us.

  But as all this happens an army of unknowns are hard at work as well. An entirely different group of fans are involved in the race but from a perspective that few take the time to see. There is an army that is as integral a part of the scene as any racer and without which no heat or round could be. They are there and to many they are invisible.

They are the  corner workers. We always know who the fastest riders on the track are but the truly  speedy are the guys who come running when a rider goes down. Out of the woodwork they show at a moments notice when the need arises. And then their gone again.

 So who is the corner worker? What would make a person want to sit behind a concrete bunker all day and watch motorcycles go by?

  There is much to be said about the opportunity of being in a first row seat for the racing. Nowhere can you get such a close up view to world class and grassroots racing than by being a corner worker. Only team members, officials and the racers themselves get such a wonderful perspective of the sport. Yes many venues offer very good chances for fans to get close to the action. And pit passes are a great way to get next to your favorite racer and the machines. But the corner worker is in the action at all times and always a part of the racing through the radio communication.

 Ask any racer and they will tell you it is the corner worker they rely on and get their much needed information about track conditions and any possible danger ahead. Through flags, hand gestures and eye contact the corner worker is in constant cooperation and communication with the riders as they go by. The race control officials  have a very good tool at their disposal with the corner worker.. They are the race control official and race directors eyes and ears. It is through the corner workers actions that the race officials are capable of creating and maintaining a safe, enjoyable event for all involved. The corner worker input allows the race officials to be able to make the right decisions about how to handle bad situations and also to identify the riders who are dangerous either by their actions or by some mechanical defect… not always can a rider tell if his machine is going south. Sometimes a sharp corner worker can catch a problem early and prevent a dangerous situation from becoming worse.

 Lets be honest about the conditions of cornerworking. It’s not the gravy job you might think it is. You know it can be exciting! When a crash happens and the adrenaline is pumping it can be exciting for sure! But there is a lot to do in a very short time. And you have to make the right decisions about what to do very quickly. Do I cross the track when it’s hot? Do I stay in the bunker and call in? Sure, control is going to be helping and instructing but they are not on site and only the corner worker can make the right initial call. It can be very stressful. 

 Luckily the clubs are very proactive when it comes to training corner workers on track procedure. They do everything they can to give the corner worker all the information and tools needed to make good decisions in those worst times. A well trained and properly motivated corner worker can make all the difference in how a crash turns out for both the rider and the club.

 But the conditions.. yes the conditions. that is where the men are separated from the boys…  The corner worker understands first foremost above all even the racers what a track is like at floor level. The corner worker is subjected to all the elements that Mother Nature can deliver. Club racing is a grassroots endeavor for the most part. So rarely is the corner worker afforded more than cursory protection from the elements. Unlike Nascar or other forms of racing with elevated, closed viewing towers motorcycle racing is primarily a hands on sport for the track workers. The necessity to observe at close proximity and be able to get to a downed rider quickly is paramount and precludes anything more than a concrete crash barrier, a pop up sun tent and a fold up chair. So the prospective corner worker has to understand that he or she will be outside all day long…. sometimes up to 10 hours. Lightning not withstanding, the races go on rain or shine. a torrential downpour won’t be reason to stop a race as that’s what rains tires are for. Sunshine filled days are great unless it’s in the Oklahoma summer when it can get to 120-130 degrees and even you shoe soles become sticky. The Texas wind never ends in the springtime and gusts up to 30-40 mph can ruin even the most tightly spun hair-do and when the rain storms are over it’s always fun to run after and pull crashed bikes out of clay mud in a water soaked field. Your in the field and so are the snakes and flies..the fire ants and the mosquitoes. You can bet it will be freezing in the morning and sweating in the afternoon.

 Such are the conditions a corner worker will face. In between the brief moments of  excitement are hours of nothing to do but watch the bikes go by. But you listen to the chatter on the radio and wait for your time to help out a rider in need with plenty of time for your own thoughts. 

So I ask again who would want to be a corner worker?

 That’s not as complicated to answer as you might think. there basically are three kinds of corner workers. First you have the forced worker. A rider who has no choice and a lot of time no desire to be corner working at all.  In many clubs if you want to race you are required to corner work at least a couple of weekends before you can become a novice or even get a race license. That’s not such a bad idea as it really can help a rider to understand whats going on from the corner working perspective. There is always something you can learn working corners that you might not pick up any other way. Plus many clubs have a tough time filling the spots needed to man the corners. So the requirement can serve to kill two birds with one stone so to speak. Give the aspiring racer another opportunity to learn the track and all that is and help fill those needed spots for the club.

 Then you have the thrift minded rider who is glad to have a little help. Road racing is expensive and getting track practice can be hard on wallet for the budget conscious racer. For many though clubs and trackday groups offer track time in exchange for corner working. It’s a win-win proposition. the rider gets track time and the club gets to fill those spots. Plus again the rider gets some valuable exposure to tracks they will be racing on. a great trade off for sure.

 And then you have the pure road racing fan. Many times corner working is a labor of love. This breed of corner worker is the ideal fellow or gal to have on the curve. They come because they love the sport and are willing to sacrifice to get close to the racing. Most of the time they are not racers but just real fans. But they are motivated and offer serious experience as many have been corner working for quite some time. They may already have been through the experience of a crash and would be a cool hand in an already adrenaline fueled situation. I’m sure a racer would absolutely prefer to have a worker with a clear head and a calm professional demeanor help them to get through a scrape versus a fellow who just  signed up to get through the licensing procedure. Of course this not to take away the care anyone involved in such an incident. It’s just common sense to understand that experience is the key to remaining calm while under pressure. Either way it’s these warriors of the corners that come back race after race and are the backbone of any series operations

 So there is a underlying story to the sport we all enjoy. An army of faceless unknowns  who make the race possible. The racers need them and that’s enough. A corner worker worth his salt never lets the field conditions or the politics of racing interfere with the job at hand… protecting and helping the racers… and they do it without a promise of congratulation. It’s just the bonus when it comes because to see great racing first hand is the real reward.



Watching club racing and waiting patiently…

This weekend I’m going down to the old Texas World Speedway to work and watch some of the very best club racing around.

   While the riders are a varied mix of talent levels and not every bike showing up is backed by a powerhouse racing team sponsor,every heat will still be a showcase of how racing at the grassroots level is done.
I get a front row seat on the track as I will be working corners in case a rider has a bad day just like many other lucky fans. One of the things I am looking for is to see up close how the best riders handle being in fast traffic through the corners. Never an easy sport, road racing is a paradox of ever changing conditions. I am just a raw rookie when it comes to the details of handling a race machine on the track. But even I can see how the track conditions can become different in a matter of minutes. Texas World seems to be a track where the rider needs to be closely aware of the weather… from one end of the track to the other.
Turn one could be dry and sticky concrete but by the time the racer comes through turn seven the bike is looking to slide across the track on asphalt dampened by a spot shower… such is the weather in Texas. How the riders adapt and how they interact with other riders as they enter and exit the turns… that is what I hope to find out. I want to see the lines they take and where the braking points are… where they exit and when they get on the throttle..these too are some of the things as a rookie I want to find out. I need this time to learn if I ever am going to be able to do what the seasoned rider do so casually.
Casually! I say that as if there is any truth to it! But I’m positive that even those racers with years of track time get prickle hair on their necks when things get hairy in a off camber curve. I’m sure that when a liter bike starts to tuck or threatens to high side even the best get kind of goosey… and the face shield fogs a little with a little faster heartbeat and breath.
So I hope to learn a little. I will be looking to the grids and to see how filled they are.. will Formula 3 be hosting a bunch of cool rides? Who will step up in the big bike endurance round to knock off the champs? I can’t wait to see how the Formula 1 session pans out..who will be on the podium this time around? And the mini sprints! I love watching the mini’s!

And now I hear that former Motogp champ Kevin Schwantz and Blake Young will be possibly running in the big bike endurance rounds!!! Wow! That’ll be exciting! and to top it off the perennial 250 class champion of WERA and AFM fame, Brian Bartlow will be bringing his riding skills to Texas to participate in the E superstock and formula 4 classes! It’s like getting a pro race in your backyard!!

It seems that in my short time of being around the scene that it has become even more to me than what I ever thought it was about. A casual observer will see of course the racing,the sights and sounds.. but I now see much more. To me the tracks are very much alive. And the people are more than just a group of racers. I have read so many forum posts and racing stories. The folks in this series seem so animated and full of respect for each other. I swear the vendors I have talked to and read “thank you” postings about seem like that if it was possible they would do what they do… for free…if they could!. I have watched an endless amount of club racing video and all the while I’m thinking “how can anyone NOT want to be a part of this?”
But hey, I’m not a fool wearing rose colored glasses. Sure there’s hard cases that are not always making things easy but they really seem so far and few apart that it’s no big deal from where I stand. People are people and all that jazz. Whatever.
As for me well at the moment I’m looking like a poser. I only talk like I want to race… but if I learned anything in the past few months it’s that it’s just flat out not easy to be a road racer. It’s expensive. It’s a detail obsessed sport that can be unforgiving. You spend a lot hours on the road and there is a whole lot of things you gotta do that ain’t fun just to get to point where you can ride for about 15 minutes! But I think if you ask anyone in the paddock what they like to do they would tell about all the neat hobbies they have and places they have visited on vacation and things like that. But ask them where they would rather spend a weekend…. and you’ll most likely get a “are you stupid?” look as they tell you ….”Right here”.
So I’m going to Texas. And while I pose and watch…while I take some pics and try to fit in…and while I hang out this weekend…. I want all you racers to know something…
You rotten sonavaguns… ya’ll know who I am as you ride by me. I’ll be the pissed off jealous looking dude!!!! Now go and put on good show for me!