Penny-pinching car geek's guide to racing, track days, and car build. DIY projects, product reviews, and interviews.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Five Stages of a Crash (at the track)

When I was in Los Angeles last year, at around two A.M. I went out to a gas station to buy some beef jerky because I was really hungry. A sheriff's deputy decided that I was a dangerous criminal and pulled me over, handcuffed me and put me in the back of his car. 'You are not under arrest' he said.  I don't think you can get more arrested than being physically detained.  Despite my pleas he did not waver in his firm conviction that I 'might have been, and perhaps still is, a contract killer.'  An embarrassing thirty minutes of him fishing to get consent to search my car, he let me go.  No ticket for whatever traffic infraction, he said. 

So my racing nickname was born. 'Hitman' they call me.  Despite this etymology I think my nickname actually means that I hit things a lot. In my past life, punching bags and people's faces.  In more recent days its things like the tarmac, grass, dirt, impact barriers, tire walls and such. I don't know what it is about mini moto but I crash a lot.  I have never been in a big wreck on the street, or on full size bikes on the track.  Just in miniGP bikes.  Knock on wood!

Since my local track (Sandy Hook Raceway) hasn't opened its season yet, I went down to Virginia International Raceway Kart Track to get some seat time on my XR100.  Amazing track, well worth the four hour drive.  I learned a lot about the XR, and got myself to mid-pack laptimes.  I have a second or two I'm leaving on the table that I can see, but otherwise it was a productive day.  I gotta learn to use engine braking and conserving brakes though.  Since braking is one of my strong points, I love to late brake and get on the brakes hard.  The XR's drum brakes can't handle that and it would fade after three or four laps.  So you can imagine what happened.  I crashed many times.  I got to be intimately familiar with the feeling and I thought I'd share my findings.  

There are five distinct stages to a crash.  It is amazing how fast your mind can run in these situations isn't it?  This post isn't taken to be seriously, so don't think you'll get some ninja-tips on how to get out of a hairy situation.  Speaking of ninjas though, I probably tell you how to land well in a fall though.

1. Realization that you fucked up

Oh shit.  Like when your mother caught you with your hand in the cookie jar.  Or when your friends catch you making out with a fat chick.  You came in too hot into this corner.  You misjudged your new line.  Whatever it is, you know you fucked up.  You haven't thought about your options yet (denial, excuses, or ignoring the situation).  Your mind just gets bitch-slapped with that jolt of what feels like regret.  It kicks your mind up a notch to hyperspeed, which is good, because you'll need it for the next stage.. (not that it will do you any good!)

2. Quick run down of your options

Instantly you start thinking about what to do.  What CAN you do?  Take a wider line and scrub off speed?  Downshift, hoping to kick out the rear end and slide through?  Is there any more grip left for braking?  If you are smart, you know that all of these options have one thing in common: none of them will work!  Its too late!  Isn't it funny that when you do manage to save yourself from a crash, you never really think about it?

3. Have an urge to 'let go' of your bike

As you run out of time and realize your efforts are all futile, millions of years of evolution forces your subconscious to realize that your piss-poor conscious thought is useless.  It tells your brain to resort to your instincts, honed by millions of years of evolution.  All the beasts that had to die to make you, you, has to be right.  WRONG!

My favorite dog that I've had hated being held at chest-height, being in the truck bed at speed, being in the water, or anything like that.  At all of those moments his only thought was extracting himself from the situation, and his reaction was universally to struggle as hard as he could to jump, most of the time to his detriment.  Did I mention he wasn't very smart?  So basically your amazingly complex data processing and decision making center gets reduced to a Florida Black Dog's level of cognitive power.  You want to get out of there.  It feels right to let go of this bike.

But you aren't some n00b who rides a flying couch, oblivious to motorcycle physics.  You're a racer.  You're a track junkie.  You are the elite.  You stay on the bike, and maybe even keep a relaxed grip.

4. Attempt to stick to your guns

Wait a minute, I'm not a F.B. dog!  You know what the right thing to do is.  Stick to your guns.  All the elite self-training in repeating mantras, recalling Keith Code (the DVD rip on youtube, not the book because who reads a book?), your MSF class teacher, and all the keyboard warrior wisdom you subscribed to on the forums will pay off now.  Get your head out of the ditch and lean more!  Don't chop the throttle, keep rolling on.  You are confident.  After all, this is the 'right' thing to do.  Ignore that whimpering whisper in the back of your head, you can't hear it anyways.  It says..

'I am really not sure if this will work.'

5. Give up

Whelp.  The bike is still sliding off the road.  Its too late.  I don't think I'll hit that tire wall, but I might.  I know it will be quick.  But will it be painless?  My favorite body part to hit anything with is my buttchee--- 

Of course, after all that, you pick yourself up and get back on the bike.  I can't think of a good way to conclude this topic, so I'll end it with my VIR crashfest video. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

'Making' the dots before connecting them - Streets of Willow track day - 11/30/14

Wow, time flew and I'm four months behind on this update.  I am going to backdate this entry to

To get a 'baseline' feel for my bike, I decided to take my bike out to Streets of Willow before I left California.  Bone-stock.  Tire of choice was the BT-S20 in 110 and 160.
November 30th, but I am writing this one on Feb. 27th 2015.

I've never been on SOW and I haven't done a track day since 2009.  Since a week before, I crashed plenty of times at mini-moto clinic and supermoto school, I decided to make it a mental goal to add little bits at a time.  I always perform better when I mentally hold myself back a bit, focusing on consistency and form more than out-right aggression.

We went counter-clockwise this time.  Aside from going overall faster, I lost a lot of time on the bowl-- I am sure I could attack it a lot faster with all the banking.  I also lost a lot of time in the two corners after the bowl.  Focused soley on setting up for those corners rather than minimizing off-throttle time on the straights.

Overall, I need a lot more seat time.  I'm still not putting together a clean lap-- especially inconsistent in the sections after the skidpad.  I can also benefit from cleaner, quicker inputs to the motorcycle and get more aggressive on the throttle.  Overall, not too bad for one of the first track days, after a 6 year break.

Erm, Mike, sorry for assuring you that we'll be able to fit both bikes on the truck.  Mike soldiered the 100 mile ride back in a thunderstorm on his screamin' GSF400F Bandit because we could not figure out how to load both bikes onto the truck.