I’ve shot quite a few races over the past couple years, both photo and video. From AFM to MotoGP, I have had the wonderful privilege to be able to watch and shoot races and racers from restricted areas. I have watched so much raw, un-edited onboard HD GoPro footage from so many different racers I can’t even keep track anymore. But no matter how hard I tried to understand the “why” behind sportbike racing, I was never able to truly FEEL it how I knew I could. I understood it in my brain, but I didn’t have a 100% clear picture of it in my heart… and it drove me crazy. I have done trackdays, gotten in fun little battles with friends, but as time went on, the need to feel what I felt like I was missing out on grew stronger and stronger. From a full grid start, all the way to setting up a pass on the last turn of the last lap, I wanted…NEEDED to feel that. It was with TTP Racing that I was able to experience something I will remember for a lifetime.
The whole weekend kicked off Saturday morning. 3:30am to be exact, with the sound of a duck quacking. It was my alarm, that I swear I set just minutes ago. As I got out of bed, the pain from my crash 8 weeks ago was already shooting through my hand. I only had one partial trackday under my belt since my since my crash that landed me in the hospital with 3 broken vertebrae, broken hand, ankle, and rib. It was not a crash that you bounce right up from.
I was told by most to take it easy, and that I was crazy for returning to riding with my first race. The problem is, easing back into something really isn’t my style. Playing it safe isn’t either, as long as I’m not being reckless. My motto for my race was, “go fast or go home” and I was determined to go fast. Forget another trackday, I’m gonna go race, and give it every last ounce of energy I have. Either do it 100% or don’t do it at all. I believe “Settling” is the most destructive thing I human being can do to ones self, especially with as little time we get on this planet.
So after I dragged myself out of bed, I showered, double checked the bikes, and was on the road headed to Reno Fernley Raceway. The air was nice and cool, the sky was black, and I had the radio cranked, singing along full blast, excited about the weekend. I was going to get to grid up and race for the first time on a bike. I was tired, but ecstatic.
After a calm and quiet three hour drive, I arrived at the track. As I crested the hill at the entrance, I was happy to see a lot more bikes than the previous race. After unpacking the bike and attending a classroom session for the novice racers, we were told to suit up and hit the track for 30 minutes of practice. I was a lot more calm than I thought I was going to be, but the pain in my hand was already giving me a lot of trouble, and I was concerned as to how I would hold up. I sucked it up, suited up, stretched, and started the bike for the first time.
As I waited in the hot pits, I was given the signal to hit the track for practice, and I shot out wide open throttle, smiling ear to ear. “I MISSED this so much” is what resonated through my head as I started going through the first set of turns. After letting the tires warm up for a lap, I decided to hit it. As I entered turn 1 well into triple digit speeds, the bike did everything I wanted it to, and I already felt one with my machine. I continued this pace for a few laps, really connecting with the bike and the track. The feeling was similar to seeing a great friend whom you haven’t seen in years.. yet instantly connect with and pick right back up where you left off without any awkwardness. I was back where I belong, with passion shooting through my veins and a great sense of comfort.
Then something else started shooting through my body. Though the cast was off my hand from the crash, it was not playing nice after 4 laps. Pain started radiating through my hand, so I pulled in about 8 minutes into the 30 minute practice session. The calculations started rattling off in my head as to what was causing the pain, what I could do differently, what corrections in body positioning can I made to compensate for the pain, but I kept coming up without an answer. Though I was frustrated, this is when my race experience truly started.
As I rolled into my pit, I could already feel the heat and swelling in my hand. Before I could even take off my helmet, friends were asking how I was doing, how I was feeling, if I needed anything. It took me by surprise. When the helmet came off, I think my face gave away how much I was truly in pain. It was at this point I was offered everything and anything I needed to feel better so I could race. I was given water and Gatorade without even asking for it from Steve Prine and Allen Dubb. The support was almost overwhelming. Now, it is also very hard for me to ask for and accept help. So I played it down as much as I could, and continued trying to find a solution to my situation on my own.
As the practice sessions continued, I gritted my teeth and pushed through the pain. I was shaving seconds off my lap times every session, and I was making great progress, while pushing the bike harder and harder.
But I still had to cut my sessions short due to the pain. It wasn’t until another classroom session that our race instructor, Ethan Nutter, saw right through my BS and forced me to take some IB to deal with the pain and help with the swelling. I was being stubborn, said “no” three times, but Ethan wouldn’t take that as an answer. Again, another sign of true care and support. During this classroom session, I was told we had to complete a full 20 minute session to be certified to race. My first thought was, “how am I going to hold out 20 minutes if I can’t even complete a practice session…” It was at this moment I had to do what is hardest for me. I accepted the help that was being offered. The most amazing part was I didn’t even have to ask, I just had to stop being stubborn.
It was then, when I gave up some control, that everything started falling into place. Steve was helping me with whatever I needed. Brian, Cassie and crew from SPL were not only helping me with tires, but doing all the work including taking them off the bike, changing my tire pressure for me, and checking temps. Ethan was providing tools and mechanical support as well as moral support. My friends that came up that I pitted with all chipped in as well with what they could. They even took care of keeping my bike filled with gas without me even asking. No one once asked for anything in return. It was weird being on the other side of the coin for once, but I really liked it. It was at that point I was able to return my focus to racing, and prep for Super Pole.
Super Pole is what determines your starting grid position for your heat race. For Super Pole, you are the only bike on track, and you get three laps. Lap 1 is warm up, lap 2 is where you want to get your quickest time, and 3rd lap is your cool down. So you basically get one shot to get the best lap time you can, so you can get a grid position as close to the front as possible. I was called over the PA that I was 2nd to run, and wasn’t even suited up. So it became a mad dash to get suited up, while my name was blaring over the loud speaker to get on deck. Again, I had the amazing support of my friends to help me get ready and keep me calm, smiling, wishing me the best of luck.
As I wait for racer Michael Chiara in front of me to complete his three laps, I sat on the bike, with all of my senses firing at ultra speed. I was doing my best to ignore the now somewhat subdued pain in my hand, but I knew I only had to make it through one solid lap. In about 60 seconds, I was going to be out the gate. I heard some muffled chatter over the radio from the tower, and was given the thumbs up to go. My heart jumped. I was off.
In my warm up lap, I kept a decent pace to get heat in the tires, but my mind was pretty blank. I was calm. I thought my heart would be jumping out of my chest, but this wasn’t the case. I was slipping into a state of mind that is impossible for me to describe. As I got closer and closer to the final turn before the long straight, the only thing I felt was that I had to take this turn as fast as I could to get the quickest speed going over start finish. As I pegged the final corner, all my thoughts faded away as I approached the start / finish line, as all my senses became hyper aware. My mind became almost white washed as I slipped into a completely different state.
The entire lap was a moment of Zen. Perfect harmony if you will. Because of this, I don’t even recall the entire lap. I was alone on the track, with one single goal. That goal was to ride as fast and as smooth as possible. All I remember is crossing over the finish line and my brain basically coming back to normal state, and wondering what just happened. So… I started the day with a best lap time of 2:08, and pulled off my best time of the day with a 2:01 for Super Pole. Not fast by any means, but I’ll take a 7 second improvement any day. As Joe Salas came back in from shooting photos, he freaked out when he saw the rear tire. It was, in his words, “completely, utterly, roached. DONE. GONE.” He couldn’t believe that I got my best time on a tire that was shot before I even went out.
I was done for the day, and it was time to relax. As I cooled down and changed, I got a text from Danielle Diaz saying that she was in fact going to come up and race with us Sunday. This was great for two reasons. One being that there weren’t many licenced racers signed up for Sunday, and the other reason being that I got to grid up next to yet another friend.
Race day was becoming more and more exciting by the minute with all the bench racing going on. New friendships were being forged as the sun started setting, and I was genuinely happy to be back in the environment that brings me so much joy.
When Sunday morning came around, I was juiced. I can’t remember the last time I was so happy to hear my alarm go off at 6am. I started the morning off by finding some desolate trails out in the desert, and smashing around in my truck, blasting “NOFX Greatest Hits”. After getting my truck properly covered in dust and rocks, it was time to head to the track. I worked hard on staying ahead of the pain this time, making sure I was doing what was needed instead of waiting for it to get out of control, and it worked. Danielle showed up, we got her bike unloaded and went straight to the racers meeting while her dad got her bike teched. During the meeting, Sam Britt asked who wanted to race the “Dash for cash” race, which pays all the way through 7th place.
After the meeting, we all got suited up and headed out for some practice before the heat race. Danielle had the track figured out after one lap, and quickly bounced out on me. During our practice sessions, she ended up towing me around the track for a couple laps, showing me a couple different lines, and my lap times continued to drop.
During my last practice session, I went flying into turn 1. As I shot towards my braking point of turn 2, I reached to grab my down shifts. As I went to tuck my toe under to down shift, I didn’t feel anything. The turn was coming up quick, so I slammed my left foot right where I knew it SHOULD be, and cranked my foot up. NOTHING. The shift linkage was gone. There wasn’t even time to think about what to do. At this point instinct kicked in, and I got on the brakes as fast and as smooth as possible, getting as much braking done as possible before having to lean the bike over. As I leaned the bike over, I trailed off and took the widest and weirdest line ever. Thankfully that turn is a nice sweeping U-turn, so I was able to run to the edge of the track without running off. I looked down and saw the shift linkage dangling down, scraping against the track. As I limped the bike back to the pits, I realized it was a blessing in disguise. I realized how much more speed I could carry into that turn.
Returning to the pits, Ethan and Steve were already in action trying to help me find a solution. Thankfully Kat rode Saturday and still had her bike up there, so we were able to borrow the part needed to put the shift linkage back on the bike. When we came back to my bike, Steve was on the ground rigging up a make shift part out of safety wire that would get the job done. Yet again, the day was saved by wonderful friends, and I couldn’t even begin to express how thankful I was.
Now it was time for the heat race. This was a full 12 lap race that determines your grid position for the main event. I was gridded 9th, which was in the 3rd row back. I felt very confident in my race starts, and knew that I had to do everything I could to jump out in the lead and not get tangled up with all the other bikes going through the 1st set of turns. I find my mark on the asphalt..
2 board goes up. Visor snaps down, revs kick up to 10k. I am remembering what Dan Sewell taught me about race starts and what to watch for.
1 board flips around. My senses focus on one thing, and one thing only. I’m relaxed, and ready.
1 board goes sideways. I now feel like a restricted K-9 police dog wanting to attack its target. I wanted to GO. I was waiting for the signal to ATTACK. There was no fear. I knew that green flag was going to fly at any second, but it felt like an eternity.
My bike shot off the line almost exactly how I wanted it to. I was finding myself needing to quickly maneuver between the bikes in front of me and squeeze through. As I squeezed through, it became a game of chicken with me and another racer into turn 1. As we raced to turn 1, another rider on a liter bike ran up the inside and took the lead. Before I knew it I pushed ahead and used 99.9% of my skill to make a safe pass while staying on the track. There it was. I was leading the race. But before I could blink, Danielle came flying on the inside of me after 2 seconds, and I was watching her fade into the distance while trying to maintain a good pace. I came out of turn 2 in one gear to high, so as I grabbed a lower gear, I was passed.
I knew the fast guys were going to make their way to me quick, so I went fast where I could, got defensive where I should. I kept loosing positions, and getting in fun battles with racers behind me. During the last 3rd of the race, my hand started screaming at me, and my lines started getting sloppy. I needed spots to rest, but its hard to rest your throttle hand. After a few laps of being completely alone, I looked behind me to see no one even close, and no one in front to catch. I took it a bit easy where I could, and it bit me in the ass. During the last lap going into the last turn, I throttled out hard and went for the checkered flag. I was then passed about 10 feet before the finish.
That hurt. I was upset at myself for giving up a position, but at the same time impressed by the move. It was the guy I passed at the beginning of the race that got me to the front of the pack. I later found the guy and talked to him. He said that it was the fastest he went into the final turn and gave it all he got… and it paid off. Smiles all around.
Main event. Long story short, I got a good start and got 3 laps in before my shift linkage went out again. This time I was stuck in 4th gear. “Pull in or keep going?” I thought. I was gonna keep going, and fight to the end. I was taking turns to compensate for being stuck in 4th, and running the most defensive lines I could when bikes were getting behind me.
There were two spots in the track where there was no way to fight them off, and that is where I slowly watched myself get passed one by one, fading back to last place. As I would pass by Joe taking photos I made a series of hand gestures to try to tell him the bike was broken, as if that would do any good. He said, “I could tell something was wrong because I have never seen you flail and motion so much at something on the bike before, hahah!”
So I took last place, but at least I finished the race without crashing.
Last event was the “Dash for Cash” race where it paid down to 7th place. When I saw the sign ups, I quickly saw that I was the slowest there. Danielle crashed her bike in the main event, but still wanted to race. The girl drove all the way up from Fresno. Five hours at least. I was going to get last place anyway, so I gave her the GSXR so she could still compete and maybe win some cash. Justino gladly offered me his CBR without thinking twice, which was extremely generous of him. “Replace what you break” was the quick agreement, and I was off.
After a poor start and giving it all I had for the first lap, I watched the pack fade away. I was on a borrowed bike, there was no way I was going to even pass someone, so I just enjoyed the ride on a bike that I love.
As I gunned down the straight for lap 2, I started seeing a cloud of dirt in around turn 1, that reminded me of Looney Tunes with the Roadrunner. The cloud of dust just kept going..and going… and going. I checked up quite a bit, because I wasn’t sure if this roadrunner-like racer was going to go all the way into turn 2 across my path.
As I rounded turn 2, it looked like a nuclear dirt bomb went off behind me.
It turned out to me my buddy Allen. Allen was the guy who came to my rescue when I crashed. I brought his bike up for him for this race as well. His bike was done, but he would be ok. Red flag went out, and we restarted. I said goodbye to the pack as they took off without me, and enjoyed the ride :)
As I rounded the bowl, I saw a yellow flag which was rare in that turn. “Did someone crash in 23?” I thought.
As I rounded turn 23, the last turn before the straight, I saw Danielle standing in the gravel, throwing her arms up in the air at me. She was alive and well, so I started laughing. “This girl just smashed two bikes in one day! Wait… THAT WAS MY BIKE!!”
The worse situations get, the more I laugh. What else can you do? Getting mad or upset doesn’t do any good. I finished that race in last. Again, with a smile. As I pitted and started walking to the media center, I saw Pete, Danielle’s dad. The look on his face showed everything. The guy was emotionally whooped. He just saw his daughter crash TWICE in one day. I threw my arms around the man and gave him a giant hug with a smile. His only words…”You got a beer?”
“Ya Pete, I have an ice cold Corona. lets have a drink :)”
So as the day ended, we watched everyone pack up and leave. I came up to the track with two beautiful bikes in the bed of my truck, and now I was leaving with two beat, trashed, and battered bikes. The bikes looked like snicker doodles after rolling around in the Nevada dirt, and my truck was caked as well from my 4wd adventures in the morning. My bank account was hundreds of dollars lighter. A few friends crashed but were ok. I learned a ton about racing and about myself. I had to be at work the next day at 7am. As I arrived at work the next day, I was asked the usual question,
“What did you do this weekend?”
“Did you win?”
After a long pause, I responded, “….ya” with a smile.
Thank you to TTP racing for the tremendous amount of support and providing an outlet for us trackday guys to get out and race. Thank you to Ethan Nutter for the race coaching and support when I needed it the most. Thank you to Steve Prine for helping with everything from filling my bike with gas to a simple smile when I needed it. Huge thanks to GoPro for providing us (4theriders.com) with the HD GoPro cameras to capture all the fun. Because of GoPro’s tremendous support, we were able to provide help and accessories to other racers who needed it. Big thanks to Allen Dubb for bringing up a giant CASE of Redbull and Gatorade, heal up soon man! Thank you SPL for taking care of EVERYONE with their tire needs. You guys made us trackday guys feel like world class pros. Thank you Cycle Gear for taking care of me and getting me replacement gear. Thank you Dan Sewell for spending time with me and helping me perfect my race starts. GIANT thank you to Justino for also helping me with my race starts and also allowing me to hop on his bike for the last race of the day. Huge thanks to SaferMoto for providing comfortable vests to keep you safer. Thank you Kat for giving me a part off your bike, allowing me to get back out on the track and race. Thank you to all the racers that showed up. Everyone was there to race, but most importantly to have fun. We all shared tips and tricks to help each other. This type of environment was what made the weekend so enjoyable. “The Sandlot” of racing, if you will. :)
I’ll leave you all with a highlight real of my weekend.
See you all at the next race!