Endurance Racing: It's Not Just For Professionals
When Angie decided to go racing, there was one carrot I dangled in front of her. I told her I'd team up with her for the 6-hour WERA National Endurance Series round at Miller Motorsports Park last June. The catch was the rulebook stated a novice had to complete three regional sprint-race weekends before being eligible to compete in a national endurance race. That meant she had to do every race on the WERA West schedule to qualify. If she got discouraged and quit, we wouldn't get to do the endurance race together.
Meanwhile in Colorado, my younger brother Paul had purchased a used Suzuki GSX-R750 racebike and begun to frequent track days. This was something of a revelation, because after scaring the pants off himself on my '75 Honda CR125 Elsinore at age 12, he'd sworn off bikes until his mid-30s, when he bought a Kawasaki ZRX1200 and began to make up for lost time tearing up the Rockies. The GSX-R was a logical progression.
I mentioned the Miller race to Paul and, seeing as Salt Lake City is just a day's drive from Denver, he said he'd come out and watch. Except that's not what happened: Instead, he took the Mountain Roadracing Association new rider's school, competed in a couple of local races and then announced he was going to race at Miller, too. Naturally, I invited him to take part in the endurance race, which is how I came to be teamed with two first-year racers on a previous-generation GSX-R750 with yellow novice plates and big Femmoto and Ponyrific stickers on each side. How far the gods have fallen...
Given the, um, strength of our team, there wasn't much point in getting too serious. But having competed in endurance races before, I knew there were a few things we'd need. First a spare set of wheels, which I found at my painter buddy Boris Landoff's shop in Costa Mesa. Not just any hoops, these came from Ben Spies' Yoshimura Supersport bike. The front rotors were bent, but I found some replacements along with some spare handlebars, levers and rearsets a few doors down at JC Motors.
The next thing we needed was a fuel dump can, which proved difficult to find because every company that makes one was sold out due to the Baja 500. My mechanic friend Jimmy Le finally located a used Acerbis unit at an East L.A. shop called Mototechnica. Although the spout was too big to fit into the GSX-R's filler, we found a clever (and free) solution on the WERA message boards. Apparently it's common practice amongst low-buck endurance teams to remove the bolts from the gas cap, so when you turn the key the whole assembly comes off, revealing a larger hole.
That left just one more critical item. With Paul and I weighing some 80 pounds more than Angie, there was no way we could set up the bike to work for all of us. So we ordered an hlins shock with a remote hydraulic preload adjuster ($1212.95; www.ohlins.com) that let us set the sag to suit each rider during pit stops.
Ah yes, pit stops. With our "crew" consisting solely of Paul's girlfriend Stacy holding the mandated fire extinguisher, we worked out a routine that made our rider changes fairly rapid. But without any of the quick-change equipment the top teams use, our tire changes took forever. Fortunately for us the race was red-flagged three times, which let us go the distance on just two sets of Pirelli Supercorsas (medium-compound SC2 front, hard SC3 rear). Unfortunately, WERA rules preclude working on bikes during race stoppages, which makes no sense to me. According to the final standings, 109 teams scored points in the 2006 WERA National Endurance Series and only a quarter of those hit every round. That means the series relies on visiting amateur teams such as ours to fill out the grid.Why discourage them?
As if the deck wasn't stacked against us already, Paul failed to get Brake Stay Tab A lined up with Swingarm Slot B during our pre-race tire change. So when I stepped on the rear brake en route to the starting grid, the caliper spun around and slammed into the swingarm. By the time we fixed it, we were a lap down.
It didn't help either when fuel seeping out the gas cap dissolved the adhesive securing our lap-timer, forcing an unscheduled pit stop-or when I came back from making a quick "pit stop" of my own to find the bike sitting in the pits, waiting for me to climb aboard.
But that's OK. There were 39 teams entered at Miller and only one of them was going to win, which means there were 38 "losers." There's great freedom in owning up to the fact that you don't have a prayer at winning: Just have fun riding for 45 minutes at a time and try not to get in the way of the fast guys-all of whom, it should be noted, know there will be hell to pay if they ball up their team's bike making an aggressive pass on a backmarker. Close calls aren't that common.
In the end, we finished 35th overall and sixth (of eight) in class, so there were no trophies to memorialize the day. But you know what? We had fun! Pit calamities aside, the bike worked great, the 3-mile track was plenty challenging and it was hugely rewarding just to be part of the event-which, incidentally, was the first major race held at this brand-spanking-new, world-class facility.
The best part, though, came at the end of the day, when Paul gave Angie and me a big hug and said, "Thanks for inviting me. This might be the coolest thing I've done ever."
Who'd have thought the kid who scared himself so bad on a dirtbike would ever say that?