Ultimate Motorcycling Amateur Race Report #8
These are the last races of the season for me, and they were going to be at a track I have never ridden on. Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS) is a tight, slippery, nine-turn track with several tricky decreasing radius corners. It is also the home track for Jack Baker, my friend and racing nemesis.
For the past three years it has been virtually all first-place trophies for him at LVMS, so I knew there was a chance that I could take a beating here. It was up to me to learn this track in a hurry if I was to have any chance of keeping Jack in sight.
Most race weekends have an open track day preceding the race. Not this time; it was just a double-header of racing on Saturday and Sunday. Each day of racing would be preceded with two rotations of practice in the morning. After only 10 laps of practice it would be time for racing! I’ve never raced at a track where I had less than a full track day (5-6 sessions) of practice, so my panties were a little bunched.
All I could do each evening was watch YouTube videos of racing at LVMS for a week prior to leaving, and reach out for advice from friends who had raced there before. I watched fast guys in the open classes, and slower guys in the Formula classes. This provided me with a wide range of racing lines to consider. But it gave me no insight as to what lines were going to work well for me and my Yamaha YZ450F Supermoto.
The plan for the weekend was for me to enjoy Jack’s hospitality and stay at his house, and we would setup our pits together. After a five-hour drive from San Dimas to Las Vegas, I arrived at Jack’s house around 3 p.m. Around 4:30 we headed out to the track so I could get Jon Slobom of Race Tire Services to mount a fresh set of Dunlop slick tires for me. After we were done we went out for a nice dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.
Saturday, October 8–Practice
First practice session at around 9:15 a.m. was not very productive. The track was very slippery and I felt like I almost crashed at least three times. It was pretty depressing. Traction was improved during the second practice session, but I still felt lost out there with regards to which lines would get me around the track the quickest.
Saturday, October 8–Race 11, Clubman Expert
First race up was Clubman Expert. Jack and I gridded up on the first row, with me on pole and Jack in position two. (It was this way for all subsequent races as well, based on points.) Nervous as I was, when the flag dropped there was no more time for worrying. I grabbed the holeshot to turn 1, and led the first lap on pure adrenaline. However I struggled in the last section which includes a critical right/left decreasing radius combination.
Lap 2: I came into that same combination a bit wide, thinking a wider line might provide for an easier late apex. Jack had other ideas, and expertly rammed his Suzuki RM-Z450 up the inside on the decreasing left, drifted wide and hit the late apex, leaving me reeling in his wake. I chased him for another lap, but was not able to make up ground.
By the third lap I decided to just let him go and try to figure out some better lines during the three remaining laps. The good news is that the traction had improved substantially as the track warmed up, so my fear of crashing was diminishing.
2nd Place Clubman Expert – Rittner
As I pushed my bike around our pit area, I noticed that the front brake was dragging pretty badly. I quickly sanded the rotor and did a quick brake bleed, but the improvement was minimal. This is not how I wanted to go out for the next race…
Saturday, October 8–Race 13, D Superbike Expert
We only had about 20 minutes to refuel and catch our breath before the next race. I congratulated Jack on his great pass, but knew I needed a different strategy and tactics in order to achieve a different outcome. By now I had some idea about where the track was going, and had the benefit of watching Jack at close range for a couple of laps. There were two spots on the track where I was still getting beat badly, and I needed to neutralize (or at least minimize) that damage.
Second race up was D Superbike Expert. Jack and I gridded up on the first row, again with me on pole and Jack in position two. The green flag dropped and I got another smoking holeshot. I led the opening five laps until I cooked my brakes, causing an overshoot into turn 1 at the end of the long front straightaway. As I struggled to keep my bike from running off the track, Jack slipped underneath me and gave me an overconfident wave as he swept by. Did he really just do that? Little did he suspect how quickly I would recover to give chase.
I closed the gap on the short straight between turns 2 and 3, and got a good drive off of the 180 degree turn 4. Up the short chute and I had Jack in my sights. I saw him setup to the far left of the track and take it deep, preparing for his signature “flop” into the decreasing radius turn 5.
Despite having serious questions about the efficacy of my brakes, I ran up inside of him and pushed it as deep as I dared before throwing out the anchor. This time without overshooting, I managed to clog the lane and block Jack’s path to the apex. I did a quick pivot while twisting the throttle WFO, and rocketed away down the back straight. I stayed on the gas deep into the high speed sweeper turn 6, and held my position going into turn 7 with my late braking.
My previous race loss would only have value if I had learned something from it. I was now in a position to make an educated guess as to which line Jack would take through the decreasing radius turns 7 and 8. So I surprised him by taking away “his” lines, perhaps causing just enough confusion that I was able to stay in front and drive to the finish line for a 0.2 second victory. I really had to work for that one!
1st Place D Superbike Expert – Rittner
After the race and back in the pits I found that my brakes were really dragging now. With racing over for the day, I decided the best course of action would be to removed the caliper, inspect the pads (they were torched), clean and lubricate the caliper pistons, and put in new set of my favorite Ferodo ZRAC brake pads. With that all done, the brake dragging problem appeared to be cured. That was a big relief.
Sunday, October 9–Practice
Having run hundred of laps on this track, Jack decided to sit out practice. Not me…I needed the laps. I ran at an 80-percent pace, concentrating on execution and burning the lines that worked into my memory banks. Scenarios were analyzed about how to initiate my own attacks as well as respond to those initiated against me.
It would be several hours before our race, but I could already see Jack’s demeanor changing. The casual atmosphere around the pits turned more serious now that the Baker sweep of the weekend had been spoiled. He may have thought that I was going to be easy pickings. But now he had that faraway racer’s look in his eye, and I knew he was thinking hard about how he was going to do me in the next race. I did not interrupt his thoughts, as I was essentially doing the same. The storm was coming.
Sunday, October 9–Race 10, Clubman Expert
Third and final call, and Jack and I rolled out on the warmup lap. Usually I try to get behind him to get a look at his lines and speed, but he wasn’t having any of that. So I went ahead, and did my best to misrepresent the lines I would be using. Why show my cards too early?
The green flag dropped, and (gasp!) Jack may have actually pulled about a 1 foot lead off the line. But my faithful five-valve Yamaha motor pumped out its usual heaping dose of horsepower and acceleration, and I led into turn 1. I held the lead on that first lap all the way to the critical turn 7 / turn 8 decreasing radius combination.
The plan was to keep the door closed going into turn 8a, but out of the corner of my eye I saw Jack trying to pry his way inside of me. With little deference to his age I slammed the door on him, and then swung wide for the exit. To my surprise Jack now took a tight line, and got just far enough in front of me that the next right hander was his. A cagey bastard he is.
We both shot out of turn 9 onto the front straightaway, with me 3-4 bike lengths behind. But I was coming hard, and my incredibly stout MMAD (Mummert Machine and Development) race motor predictably closed the gap. Jack was now right in front of me as we entered the turn 1 braking zone. As he shut his throttle to begin braking, I swung out of his draft, keeping my throttle open for a split second longer, and rocketed past him toward the turn. My engine screamed under the strain of the high rpm deceleration as I banged three downshifts and grabbed a big handful of front brake.
The front suspension compressed under the braking forces, causing the front tire to deform from the heavy weight transfer. This improved the braking contact patch but also opposed the bike from turning. I applied as much pressure to my right handlebar as I dared, heavily trail braking down into the corner. Approaching the apex I slowly tapered off the brakes in exchange for increased throttle. My now “standard desperate braking maneuver” had put me back into the lead.
I kept the hammer down, and Jack soon lost contact. Being a quick learner himself, he did exactly the same thing that I did the day before…he saved his bike and tires, and practiced his lines.
1st Place Clubman Expert – Rittner
Sunday, October 9–Race 12, D Superbike Expert
Same routine as the previous day…20 minute break to refuel, cool off, and regroup mentally. This race was going to be a little different, as there were several E Superstock R3 Yamahas on the grid, and they are fast! They all started a few rows behind us, but there was one hotshot 15-year-old kid who was running lap times just as fast as me and Jack. That kid can rail around the corners once he gets a head of steam, plus there were a couple more just like him not too far behind him. Make a mistake and they will swallow you up.
No funny games this time on the warmup lap. I did let one of the R3’s pass me, just so I could blast him on the back straightaway to give him something to think about.
The starter board was flipped from 2 to 1, the board went sideways, and finally the green flag flew. Apparently there was some problem on the grid at the last second, so the starter paused a bit longer than normal. No matter, we all held our mustard and I blasted into the lead once again.
I must have been getting the hang of this track, because I never lost the lead in this race. As expected, the fast R3 kid railed his way toward the front, and tried an inside move on me coming onto the back straight. I closed down my line, which presumably had a negative effect on his drive…but not enough to be rid of him permanently. He was as persistent a little bugger as he has been all season. Jack had dropped back a few seconds and had his hands full with one or two of the other young whippersnappers.
On lap five I took a look over my shoulder coming onto the back straightaway. The R3 was still back there, maybe 10 bike lengths back. He was certainly within striking distance to use his good corner speed in the last three corners of the final laps. My job was to make sure he didn’t use that corner speed to get around me!
Fortunately, I had been able to observe his line through those corners during the morning practice session. It was not a line that was going to help my lap times, but I made a calculated guess that he was thinking he could catch and pass me on the merits of keeping up his momentum.
I drove deep into turn 7, hard on the brakes. I knew he would make up ground on me here by carrying better speed, and might even try a pass. I went right up the middle, which really didn’t leave him a good line to go either inside or outside. I drove hard toward his anticipated outside line, parked on it, and rode it as best I could.
I knew I was lot slower here than he was, but every mile per hour I held him back made it that much more difficult for him to accelerate back up to speed. I repeated the same tactic on the last lap, and beat him to the checkered flag by ¾ of a second.
1st Place D Superbike Expert – Rittner
After the race, Jack and I went over to talk to the R3 guys. The fast kid is Sergio Rodriguez II, local SoCal hotshot and CVMA lap record holder, whom I have raced against previously at Buttonwillow Raceway Park and Auto Club Speedway. In a few short weeks he will be racing at the WERA Grand National in the R3 Cup Series.
My advice to him was to focus on doing what it takes to get to the checkered flag first, and that may or may not hinge upon fast lap times and perfect lines. Getting on a rail and checking-out only works if you are up front with a clear path. As soon as some old guy on a dirt bike gets in your way, you had better be ready for a fight. I wished him luck, certain that he will do well.
I entered the year simply wishing to run a few select races at a variety of tracks. My season began with a blown motor at Buttonwillow, but was quickly followed by a successful 4-race sweep at Willow Springs with AHRMA. I started my WERA West season at Buttonwillow after AHRMA, but had already missed the first 3 WERA West races.
It didn’t matter to me at the time, because I had not planned to compete for any Class Championships. And it looked like Marcus Zarra, defending D Superbike Expert Champion, had a good start on repeating, as he had attended all the races. Points wise I would not be able to catch him if he simply showed up for all the races.
But in racing, always expect the unexpected. Marcus was involved in an AFM racing incident at Thunderhill Raceway just a week before the Las Vegas event. His injuries (broken collarbone, concussion) prevented him from competing at both the WERA West finale at Las Vegas and AFM finale at Buttonwillow. Sorry buddy. Take your time and heal up right. There’s always next year.
It had not crossed my mind until the weekend was over to check the point standings. To my surprise I found that Marcus had a DNF at Auto Club Speedway. Add that to missing the last 2 races of the season at Las Vegas and we both had completed five races in D Superbike Expert. We each won two races when the other was absent. But we had faced-off three times in that class, with me claiming victory each time.
So it was on the basis of our head-to-head competition that I earned more points and won the D Superbike Expert Championship. Extra frosting on the cake was also winning the Clubman Expert Class Championship. My racing record for this season was 13 wins in 14 starts. My only loss was to my good friend and racing rival Jack Baker. I guess it is only fair since I ruined his 22 race-win streak last year.
I’ve made some really great friends racing over the last four seasons (and from 43 years of riding prior). I have learned a lot about myself, tested my limits, and have concluded that this was the perfect age for me to have returned to racing. My race classes were challenging, but did not require superhero performance or a second mortgage to be competitive. A lot of hard work at the gym gave me the strength and stamina to perform at my best, and some restraint at the dinner table kept me fitting into my leathers. I made a plan, and I executed it to just one race short of perfection. I’m pretty pleased with that.
As I wrote in one of my early columns, I retired from a disastrous motorcycle roadracing debut in 1977, and carried around unfinished racing business for 36 years. Now, after four solid years of racing and two Class Championships for 2016 (three Championships total), I feel that at 61 years old I have finally earned redemption for my earlier shortcomings. This all goes to show that youth is just a state of mind.
“Racing Past 60” has been an incredibly challenging yet rewarding experience, and I am very grateful for the support and opportunities I have been provided.
AFM/WERA Expert #129
- Arai Corsair X Statement Helmet $969.95
- Alpinestars Atem Suit $1,499
- Alpinestars KR-R Back Protector $149.95
- Alpinestars GP tech leather gloves $299.95
- Alpinestars Supertech R boots $499.95
Read previous reports from Ultimate MotorCycling Amateur Race Report, Racing Past 60:
- Racing Past 60 | Marc Rittner Intro
- Racing Past 60 | Rittner Preps for 2016 AFM Race Season
- Racing Past 60 | YZ450F Mechanical Failure at AFM, Round 1
- Racing Past 60 | Supermoto Spank, 4 Wins at AHRMA
- Racing Past 60 | Luck Holds Up for 2 Wins at WERA West, Round 3
- Racing Past 60 | Two Wins at WERA West, Round 4
- Racing Past 60 | Two Wins at WERA West, Round 5
None of my racing success would have been possible without the support of my sponsors and friends. First and foremost I would like to thank Arthur Coldwells and Ultimate Motorcycling for believing in me and providing me with the opportunity to represent them and write about my racing experiences. His encouragement gave me motivation throughout the season to do my best.
Other sponsors and friends include:
- Alpinestars USA – Top quality safety equipment: leathers, boots, and gloves.
- Arai North America – Top quality safety equipment: Corsair X racing helmet.
- Mummert Machine and Development – Geoff Mummert. 5-valve Yamaha POWER.
- Hypercycle – Carry Andrew. Engine tuning and racing advice.
- Hinson Racing Clutch Components – high performance racing clutch components.
- Vortex Racing – Top quality racing sprockets, and more.
- BrakeTech/Ferodo – Jeff Gehr. Amazing quality and performance brake components.
- APE Raceparts – top quality engine components and services
- C&B Tool – Daryl Collins. Custom machining and fabrication.
- Malmberg Design – Custom parts design.
- Tom Maggard. Custom machining.
- David Price – Racing Mentor. Dave’s training and advice made me into a racer.
- Kaming Ko – Racing Mentor. Kaming leads by example.
- Jack Baker – Racing Adversary.
- Steve Sheftel – Supermoto Snake.
- Tristan Schoenwald – Racing Advisor.
- Travis Goldstein – Racing Advisor.
- Vicki Rittner – Long Suffering Racing Wife