Rider's Race Face

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Each rider has his "race face," a mental posture that prepares and readies him for a race. Some riders are pointedly gregarious, purposefully keeping their minds off the start. Some are introspective, savoring the tension and apprehension and using it to elevate their spirit to the desired pitch. Still others choose a disposition of defiance or bravado. Whatever their behavior, every rider is tuning their mental instrument, molding their race face.

John Kocinski had one of my favorite demeanors-the most enjoyable race face. His race-day attitude was one of sheer exuberance and enthusiasm. John treated race day like a surfer catching an epic wave; he paddled into it on the first lap of practice and didn't drop out until after the checkered flag. "Hey, did you watch me out there?" he'd ask, coming in after a race. Of course I watched him: Everything he did on his Bud Aksland-tuned Yamaha TZ during those late-'80s AMA 250cc GP races was larger than life, and he knew it. "Yeah," I said. "I watched you in the esses. You got it flicked in so hard, the front end pushed 6 inches before it hooked up-every lap." John savored every moment of the race day, and even savored my description of his riding, using it to carry him back to the exact moment of turn-in.

If you look around the pits on race day, everyone is doing something to prepare himself for the alluring, enticing and dangerous delights of racing. John used to spend an hour cleaning every speck of bug guts from his leathers. It wasn't vanity; it was simply the physical activity he did while his mind was processing the time spent on track. It was his way of preparing himself for the next round of the game.

The game is all about embracing forces, barriers and sensations. Forces that you see or don't see. Barriers that are real or not real. Near-overwhelming sensations that can suddenly vaporize, then transform into the sharpest possible focus of oneness with the bike and track the instant the flag drops-the instant your race face solidifies.

Each rider has his own way of waiting: tapping toes, cleaning faceshields, chatting, thinking. Every possible device is used to capture-or, in some cases, to hide-the reality of the forces he'll soon confront. Those forces and barriers are either all directed toward him, dangerously testing his ability to perform, or he is pressing himself out to meet them.

Racing's most obvious aspect, when a rider is "on," is its full dependence on and utilization of accurate observations. That is a very refined and far higher level of awareness than mere thinking. Compared to a racer's level of operation during competition, thinking is coarse and abrasive. You've already gotten the thinking done in practice; now it's time to race.

You can see where the excitement comes from and how the carefully woven and intricate patterning of a rider's race face could evolve. Keeping each and every delicately constructed nuance of a course neatly wrapped and stacked like mysterious presents. These packages contain all the rider's hopes and plans for success, with impressions of each sensation; each erg of cornering, acceleration and traction forces; each visual cue; each instant of time and timing, and every control action it takes to reproduce them.

A good rider's sense of space encompasses even the quality of his cornering arcs. A sense of space so keen it can transform turn-entry environments into intimately familiar places with a sweet spot that practically glows with invitation.

You may say a race face is a protective mask to prevent outside influences from entering into a rider's world. Or you may say the mask serves to bridle a rider's own force, keeping it ready to be unleashed and do his bidding at the appointed time. Either way, it is a valuable tool-another piece of protective apparel we don before heading on-track.

The mark of a champion is total commitment to his observations, his unshakable belief in them and an unwavering responsibility for them. These are the tools used to achieve that perfectly pitched note or to "ride that wave." Riders seem to need a race face to maintain this. It's part of that game of embracing and commanding the forces they'll contend with.

Try one on.

Former World Superbike and 250cc Grand Prix Champion John Kocinski shows his race face.