Long-Term Yamaha R3: Julia's Racebike Project at CVMA...Continued

New Racer School and final mock race.

Julia's long-term R3 project bike
Heading out of the pits for another round of fun, as Marcus looks on.Photo: Ari Henning

After the first couple sessions, I started getting used to being passed by riders at full speed. Call it bravery, or call it stupidity, but even when other riders passed closely enough that our barends nearly touched, I wasn’t spooked. Not in a fearing-for-my-life way. It helped that their race exhaust announced their approach from behind, giving me plenty of fair warning. I heard the swarm of bikes closing in, committed to my line, and braced myself for the overtaking. And then they were gone and I had the racetrack to myself for a few more laps. During an entire session, I would get overtaken twice—once right at the beginning and then again about four laps later. Otherwise, I was pretty much riding solo.

Melissa Paris and Julia
Last-minute tips from our instructor, mainly, “Remember, just don’t crash!” Photobomb courtesy of Melissa Paris.Photo: Ari Henning
Julia finishes mock race
A warm welcome back into the pits, as I finish the mock race…dead last, but still smiling.Photo: Ari Henning

Throughout the day, between sessions on track, each classroom lesson went over different topics covering safety and procedures. A lot of the rules were common sense but helped to reiterate the importance of safety and communication. I did my best to remember all the rules and procedures, but I did make a mistake at one point that shook me up a bit. During one of the afternoon sessions, I was coming around the last few corners of the track, having just been passed by four other riders. I could see them a turn or so ahead of me, and suddenly all four of them exited the track. Wait, did I miss the checkered flag? I didn't see them signal with their arm or leg. My focus shaken, as I rounded the second-to-last turn, I decided to exit. Not good. The minute I cut into the exit lane, I knew I'd screwed up, putting myself and potentially other riders in danger. I glanced over my shoulder and realized I did indeed have another rider close on my tail. A last-minute track exit—without any notification for the riders behind me—was a major, major screw-up.

Mock race at Chuckwalla
Goal #1 going through the mock race was simply not to crash. I could certainly use some work on body positioning, though.Photo: CaliPhotography
Julia LaPalme gets her racing license
My instructor offers a handshake as I receive my racing license.Photo: Ari Henning

I pulled into the pits, cursing myself in my helmet. As I pulled up to our pit setup, the rider who had been behind me, rolled up next to me. Anticipating getting an earful from this rider, I immediately apologized and explained the situation. His response surprised me. “Just wanted to make sure you’re okay and make sure you know that was unsafe to exit without signaling.” Yes, I assured him, I realized my mistake the moment I made it, and I will do my best to never let it happen again. Now I was rattled. The weight of the potential harm I could have caused myself and another rider felt heavy—not so much on my shoulders but on my chest. I took a deep breath and swallowed back tears of shame and embarrassment. I needed to cool down.

Later in the afternoon, the same rider introduced himself as Kumpy Kump. Turns out he’s one of the nicest guys there and was happy to chat about riding and track time in general. I told him some of my insecurities about feeling like I was holding other people up out on the track, and he assured me not to worry about it. “As long as you’re having fun, that’s what matters. It’s not worth doing if you’re not having fun. I’m one of the slowest guys out there, but I don’t care. I’m having fun!” I was so comforted by those words, and that message was repeated by a few other people throughout the day. I was finally able to ease off the pressure I was putting myself under. Relax, pay attention, but have fun. If it’s not fun, why do it?

New racers at CVMA
My fellow New Racer School classmates and I pose for a group photo with our certificates.Photo: Ari Henning

Now that all the classroom lessons were done, the final test to pass before earning my racing license was the mock race. All the New Racer School students were released onto track for our sighting lap and made it back to the front straight to line up on grid. Being the slowest rider out there meant my grid position was at the back. The starter held the 2 board up high, then the 1 board held low, and I twisted the throttle. The 1 board went sideways then the green flag was waved, and I dropped the clutch, launching forward with all the other riders. Finishing position didn’t really matter; the objective of this race was to finish without crashing and to earn my racing licence. But the thrill of the flag waving, and being gridded up with the other riders, sparked a competitive side of me that I generally keep subdued. Now was not the time. If I was going to be there to race, I needed to commit to it!

Ari Henning and Julia LaPalme at CVMA
Thumbs up from Ari!Photo: A fellow CVMA racer

I passed a couple riders coming into the first turn, but between my own limitations, and the limits of a 300cc bike, by the end of the next turn those riders passed me, and the gap widened throughout the lap. It wasn’t long before I was left in the dust by all the other students. I kept hearing Kumpy Kump’s words in my head: “If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing!” So I committed. Not to making my best lap time. Not to catching the rider ahead of me. I committed to myself to have fun. And all the pressure I’d been putting on myself throughout the rest of the day washed away. The race was only four laps, and turn after turn, I simply focused on having fun: enjoying finding the best line, enjoying practicing my body position, enjoying improving my braking points. Enjoying twisting the throttle so far back on the front straight that the back of my glove pinched my wrist bone. Smiling through every moment of it.

I crossed the finish line long after everyone else but was received with a warm welcome by those waiting in the pits and the grandstands. It was an unexpected reception, but I realized this was a supportive community. I had anticipated feeling like an outcast, but any of that sense was brought on only by myself. I brought the bike to our pit area and got a high-five from Ari and Marcus. The satisfied smile I had slowly built up out on the track was still there, and I was eager to get to the classroom to get that certificate. Despite feeling so out of place at the beginning of the day, I was now a certified racer! Now it was time to prep the bike for the next day and to race for real. Check back for my next update to see how it went!

Newly licensed racer Julia LaPalme
(Because you haven’t seen enough photos of me with my racing certificate.) New license in hand, and pumped with adrenaline from the mock race, I was excited to prep for a real race the following day.Photo: Ari Henning