Wednesday, March 30, 2005

March 28-29, 2005
VIR North Course
New England Street Riders/Cornerspeed

This trip started with much anticipation, which began three weeks before departure for the track. I had not even considered being a part of this trip as I automatically assumed I did not have the necessary skills to partake in this event. After a bit of encouragement from several different people, I was persuaded to attend and this trip became an obsession. Like a kid at Christmas, every waking moment was consumed by thoughts of the VIR North Course. I had been there before; it was only last October that I made the trip to the hills of Alton Virginia to watch Miguel Duhamel take the championship at the AMA Superbike Suzuki Lightening Nationals. I could see that track in my head and knew the beauty of the hillside, the green landscape of the track grounds, the kindness of all the VIR staff, and the layout of the track in my head. I could not wait to go. With my 600RR dropped off to the party that was to do my safety wiring and transport my bike to VIR the final week became almost unbearable.

Easter morning my poor children were awaken at 5:30 am to find their Easter goodies because Mom was hitting the road by 6:00am. For me, it could not have come soon enough. My ride arrived at my home bright and early and just as anxious as I to get going. We took the scenic route 81 as opposed to 95 and saw more farmland than I care to describe but made the entire trip in 11 hours. After having a few beers and some roasted jalapeno pizza I tried to get some much needed rest cause we were due at the track bright and early Monday morning.

I awoke Monday morning and lay awake for a few moments realizing that the day had finally arrived, only to realize a few moments later that that noise was torrential rain and rolling thunder. We grabbed some coffee and headed for the track. Since the rain was so heavy there was no apparent haste in getting onto the track. I decided to get my bike through tech so I could sit back and relax a bit while I worried about hitting a wet track. I rolled into tech through rivers of run off water from the pit area, handed the inspectors my soggy waiver and rolled out the other side with my pink sticker ready to go!! I spent the next hour meeting and greeting and lending a hand to some fellow riders who were less than ready to pass tech.

After the riders meeting and listening to Aaron give us a little insight on the track and how we could expect the morning sessions to go, we were ready to hit the track. By some miracle, the sun came out to welcome us and the mood in the pit area suddenly changed and smiling riders were plentiful. It was finally time to pit out. As I waited in the grid to be assigned to an instructor I realized that I was not as nervous as I had expected to be. Lee, the VIR employee that worked as the pit director decided to send me out one on one with a Cornerspeed instructor. After following this instructor for 2 laps and then him following me, he called me into pit row and wanted to have a chat. My heart sank; surely he wants to tell me that I need to do everything better or that maybe I just don’t even belong here. Two deep breaths and suddenly I hear him saying things like “you have done this before right?”, “this is not your first time on this track is it?”. Now I am confused, yes, its my first time. “I have to tell you that you have probably learned the line and stuck to it faster than anyone I have ever taught. Your going to have a good day, relax and have fun”

The majority of Monday was filled with ever improving sessions, incredible attention and encouragement from the Cornerspeed instructors and tons of fun. I could feel myself getting better with each session, and continued to get direction and some encouraging feedback from the instructors that included comments like “You are going to learn a lot. We like it when we see someone like you that is really here to learn. You are listening to us and following our direction”.

I went out for the last session of the day not realizing that the weather had changed and the temperature had dropped drastically since the last time out. It was the last session of the day and I wanted to make the most of it. I hit turn 1 with a bit more speed than I had all day and as I went into turn 2 completing the horseshoe, my back tire did a few steps out and slid!! “Have confidence in your bike” I heard in my head. I also heard “if you think your going down, you might as well go down leaning in and on the throttle”. I reacted by doing just that, lean in and roll on the throttle, and the bike pulled me through that corner and through me into 3. I learned really quickly that I can do this and I can regain my composure quickly enough to keep going. What a rush. That rush was quickly extinguished as I came back into that same corner and as I was leaning hard right, I realized that I saw someone special in the grass to the left. I lost focus long enough to do a double take, realize that he was standing so he must be okay, and turn back to focus on my own self preservation. I had to look through the corner or I was going to join him. How many times have I been told you will go where you look?

Monday night was spent trying my hardest to find some Ducati parts that could be shipped in overnight. My best hope was to find dealer on the west coast. They would still have time to ship it with overnight delivery. I failed. We went out for dinner as a group and Chris was generous enough to pick up the tab for the whole group. What an amazing gesture and a much-appreciated friend.

Tuesday morning arrived much too soon. It was time to open my eyes before I could believe it. We headed toward the track with the sun shining brightly but I had mixed feelings of this day. Excitement that I had another whole day to ride this incredible track mixed with a bit of guilt that I knew a certain yellow Ducati was not in working order. The day flew by. The weather was incredible and the track was awesome. I exceeded my own expectations for myself and cannot be happier with this whole experience. I continued to receive instruction and some positive feedback from the instructors. “Is this really your first time at this track? How long have you been riding? I am really impressed. Some of these guys may be faster than you but I can tell you that you are technically out riding them. Your smooth, loose and confident. We don’t usually see someone loose on the bars like you when they are so new to this. Keep it up the speed will come.” “I want to tell you that you are the most improved rider I have instructed in a long time. I am impressed that I can push you do try something new and you do it. Some of these other guys, we try to instructed but they do not do what we tell them. You are open to learning and your soaking in everything and it shows.”

Toward the end of the day, I really felt myself finally ‘get’ it. I was riding the track smooth and controlled for two days, but not until I finally figured out how to really get myself off the bike did it all make sense and the bike just flow through those corners and really start to pick up some speed. I actually found myself following some of the others and staying with them through the tight areas only to loose them in the straights as they were on liter bikes. I know I was not the fastest, I know I am not the best; I know I will never win, but for me I succeeded. I will never forget the thrill of pulling into pit row at the end of a good run and the excitement and exhilaration and feeling of ‘I did it’. I learned many things during these two days, some of those things on the track and some off the track. I learned that while I am making steady progress and pushing to get better, I am controlled enough to get myself out of some scary moments. These two days were not without a few incidents that could very easily have sent me farming as Aaron so humorously referred to it. Corner 2 became an area that I tend to slide through more frequently than I would have liked, a certain rider on a red Ducati liked to make aggressive passes on the inside that certainly rattled some others and someone made a bad pass and found himself mudding so close to me that I was covered in his muddy spin off. Each time I was able to maintain my focus and get out of those situations and gain my composure enough to get back onto the line and effectively continue. Oddly enough, I found myself looking for one person in particular that second day before I even entered the pits. I needed to share and I knew that person ‘got it’ and would allow me to thrive in my own glory!!

We decided to stay over on Tuesday evening instead of heading north directly from the track. It had been a long few days and it was certainly nice to enjoy a leisurely private dinner for two and get a good nights rest before heading home and back to reality. Without question this will be an event I will not pass up next year. There are many things and many people involved in this trip that I would not forget. Watching a ZX6 low side into the mud right in front of me, seeing Ed at the edge of the woods in turn 2, pink tape and tampon strings, a certain young lady yelling how she had to ‘take a fucking shit’ (don’t ask), getting covered in mud, having someone bring me coffee unexpectedly, Lee blowing kisses as I pit out or giving thumbs up as I hit the kink, Highsiders t-shirt, the bike thieves that were actually delivering our pizza, friends camaraderie and kindness…the list seems endless.

What a way to welcome spring!

Track review:
The long straight is 150mph+ for a 600 and larger bike and around 120+mph for me. The straight isn't really straight; it has a kink in the middle of it that requires a good shove on the bars to change direction at those speeds.At the end of the straight is turn 1 and 2 that forms a horseshoe, which requires two downshifts and a lot of lean angle to the right. Turn 4 and 5 is tight and reminds me a bit of a fast version of Loudon's turn 11-12 combo. Exiting turn 5 I'm on the gas hard, catching an up shift to build speed for the back straight which is actually s turns. The brakes are on hard as you emerge from under the bridge approaching turn 7. Turn 7 is kind of like the exit of Loudon's turn 3, because it's a steep uphill right turn. The top of turn is blind, revealing the upper series of turns, which are fast with a lot of elevation change. This was my favorite section of the track.Then its into turn 10, which is a left turn at the crest of a hill leading to turn 11, which is in a hollow. You can carry a lot of speed through there using the bank of the hill to your advantage.Turns 14 and 14a is what I think of as a mini corkscrew that goes steeply downhill leading to the Hog pen series of turns that lead onto the front straight.