This is pretty much the culmination of a season's worth of efforts. The training, the effort and the expense. This is what we did it for - the 2003 Spokane Superbike Shootout 8 Hour Endurance Race...
Last year, the idea was toyed with - what if we got a team bike, would anyone be willing to go endurance racing? The question was almost mute as I was unemployed and everyone else was hesitant to make the investment. But then I found a decent job, that actually paid, plus a nice tax return created the disposable income necessary to ponder purchasing a bike to race. This is because the mindset dictates the bike must be as disposable as the income...
So the SV was purchased, and training for Andrew and Andy commenced. Andrew graduates from his novice status in July, and Andy receives permission to race while having only four heats as a novice. The Eight Hour is a go... It started in May, and now it's September.
If Friday was an omen, we might have stayed home... The plan was for Raber to meet me at home as soon as he got off work so we can load up the Hyster truck. Six o'clock goes by, seven goes by...no Andy. By eight, it's getting dark, and Andy's dad comes by. Andy is detained at work - we load up the SV, 6 gas cans, spares, awning, tools, chairs and more into his dad's pickup. Denise, myself and Justin (guest crew) head out to Spokane in the car. We get to the hotel at 1:00 AM, Andy's mom, dad and Megan get there around 1:30 AM, Raber shows up around 2:00 AM. Since we don't need to get to the track until 7:30 AM - we can sleep in until 6:30 - woohoo (ugh). Alan, Andrew and Eric got in at a leisurely 9:00 PM...
On Saturday, the weather is great for practice and qualifying. We try to get teched, and the bike is rejected due to an incomplete rivet job on the chain, and not enough bar clearance for the fairing. This is fixed, and we're ready to go, er wait, for our practice session. Finally, endurance practice is called up, and I go out. The plan is to only do a few shakedown laps, and try to get as much seat time for Andrew and Raber as possible. I put in 5 laps, and come in - the bike is working pretty good. I pull up to our pit, go to put it into neutral and "tink", our braze job on the shift linkage falls apart. Great. Up on the stands goes the bike.
We inspect the linkage, lengthened in order to accommodate GSXR peg hangers, and it's not repairable. I send Alan and Eric out with an old FZR 400 shift rod, and tell them to find a welding shop, and get it lengthened. Andy's dad is out and about, so we phone him up and tell him to find any bike dealer, and search for a shift rod of the right length... Meanwhile our practice session is slipping away... We piddle around, and I try the stock GSX-R rod. Well, if I angle the arm on the shifter splines just so, both sides can grab about 3 threads - hopefully it will hold. Just after we get the bike all back together, Eric and Alan pull up - they found a muffler shop that lengthened the FZR rod for free - the shop thought it was cool to help out some racers. We leave well enough alone and wait for the last 60 minute practice.
Practice is up, and Raber heads out first. After a lap or two, he comes in and complains that the shifting is vague, and it's not going into gear sometimes. I suspect the rod is binding a bit at the limits of throw since the shaft lever is severely angled. Rather than use up practice time putting in the built up rod, I convince him to deal with it so he can get some laps in. Back out he goes, and settles in for some 43s and 44s...nice.
After 20 minutes or so, we bring Raber in so Andrew can get some seat time. Out he goes. I want him out at least 20 minutes so he gets an idea of what being out there for more than 7 laps is about. After a some sorting out - he settles in for mostly 46s with a 45 sprinkled in here and there. He does his 20 minutes and we put put out the PIT sign and bring him in. This is the first time he's brought the bike in for an endurance pit, and he's coming way HOT! He soon realizes this, and clamps hard on the binders. So now I've got Andrew (all 220 pounds of him) coming straight at me up on the front wheel doing one of the best stoppies I've ever seen. This would be great if Andy had ever done a stoppie before... Miraculously, he reigns it in, and drops the rear wheel and stops inches from my pale body. We look at each other, and the terror in his eyes is replaced by a wide grin..."you worried or something?" he quips. What have I created?
He echoes Raber's complaint about the shifter, but otherwise, the bike's working okay. Now, I take it out. My only job is a final shakedown, and to see what I can get us for a qualifying time. Unfortunately, the MyChron emitter is on the opposite side of the track from usual, so I'm out without timing aids. I get in five laps before practice is over. It's pretty windy, and I felt pretty slow. After the times were posted though, I was able to qualify us second with a mid '42 - cool. Looking at the times of the other teams - a third place is very possible if we can keep it on two wheels. We settle down and get the bike ready for the morning. Alan Schwen was gracious enough to lend us his wheels from his sprint bike, so over to EDR to get a couple sets of fresh slicks mounted. The lengthened shift rod goes on and everything is looked over. Now all that's left is to dream happy race dreams... Brook, Carl and Lorien make their way out Saturday evening to round out the eager crew working the pits and scoring. The roads been bumpy, but Sunday will be awesome!
Sunday morning everyone is at the track bright and early. We find out the race start is moved back to 9:30 instead of 9:00. Morning practice comes, and I take the bike first to scrub in the tires and fresh (stock) brakes. I'm running stock brakes to make sure they aren't used up before the finish. I putt around for 6 or 7 laps doing 1:45s and bring it in. Andrew and Raber both put in some practice, pronounce the shifting cured, and we're ready to go.
Sitting out on the line, Michael Paul wishes me luck, we bang knuckles and wait for green. We head off, I get a decent start. On the back straight, I settle in to third in class, ahead of some 600s also. The first 20 minutes takes forever mentally. I'm turning mostly 43s, but haven't gotten into a rhythm yet. Then 25 minutes in, I see my half-way board and start to push a bit harder. I settle into 42s, and push though the rest of my shift. After 50 minutes, I get the PIT board, and mentally prepare for my stop. Coming down the back straight on my PIT lap, the red flag comes out for the first crash of the day. I'm forced to stop at the corner station in turn six, and wait for our PIT or GRID signal. The corner worker gives me some water before I pass out...
Turns out someone crashed in turn nine, the bike caught fire and the rider needed some attention - we get sent to the pits. I come into the pits and it's total chaos! Even though it was explained during the rider's meeting that work was allowed on bikes during a red flag - the Pit Steward is keeping everyone from fueling bikes, and tempers are starting to flair. Finally the word comes down that work can continue, we finish fueling and Andrew gets ready to go. I tell him to just go out and ride and have fun. I realize this will be the longest he's ever been out on a race track in one shift - I confirm he took his serving of GOO! We get the word, and out to the grid he goes.
Andy's shift goes by quickly, and Raber is up. The pit stop goes well, the bike is running fine. I keep tabs on his first couple lap times - 44s and 43s - nice. I hear on the PA that Some Clowns Racing is now second in Lightweight - way cool! About ten minutes into his shift, we see a cloud of dust in turn eleven - it's Raber. He's up and okay, the bike is being rolled back to the pits without waiting for the crash truck. We get back - the plastic is banged up pretty good, the tail is destroyed. We put the 'Busa tail on and duct tape everything else. The controls are banged up but functional. Everything is checked for tightness, and we get a liberal tech from the Pit Steward. I talk to Raber - it's been about 15 minutes, he's feeling fine - I ask him if he wants to go out again. He says sure. I thought it would be better to not have him brew on the crash for over an hour before he went out again.
That turned out to be a bad call - two laps out, he runs wide coming out of turn eight, and went down in the gravel trap at over a buck. He went down alongside the track, the bike overturned, scraping the tank and put a small gash in it. Luckily there was no fire. We get the bike back via the crash truck and start another triage. Raber is banged up this time. His helmet is heavily damaged, his leathers are apart in the back, and a boot is worn through. He is sore and has to walk slow, but nothing is broken, and he doesn't appear to have a concussion. But his day is over.
The bike is a mess - and we don't have a spare tank. After looking everything over, if we had a tank, then we had enough other stuff to get back out. I talk with Alan Schwen - since we had his wheels now anyway, would he mind if we borrowed his tank? He said sure - what a guy! Alan goes and starts getting his tank off while the rest of the crew get busy taking the dead stuff off our SV. This includes the front fairing, fairing bracket, steering damper, left foot peg and handlebar. We get the spare wheels on tire warmers so they will be ready to go.
After an hour of ripping apart, and putting back together - the bike passes tech, and I take it out. I try to shake it down through turn two to see if it's handling funny, and it works just fine. But going into turn four on the brakes, I downshift - and tink - the shift rod is dangling. I put a hand up and coast into the infield at turn four. The Race Director sees me and before he chews me out for taking the wrong exit, I point to my shifter. Like the cool guy he is, he pulls alongside and gives me a tow all the way back to our pit! Turns out the linkage isn't broken, but was just loose, and came out - luckily we didn't even lose any pieces. It goes back on, I check the adjustment, and it is tightened. I head back out, the bike working pretty good (especially since it had half a tank of Alan's race gas)! Since it's just me and Andrew for the next five hours, I drop down to 40 minute shifts and ask Andrew to stay 30s.
A few minutes into my shift, I feel a breeze on my belly. I had forgotten to pull my zipper all the way up, and it was starting to back down. Not wanting to pull off to fix it, I make do. Then I start to see the corner workers checking me out - I try to stay tucked. After a few more laps, my zipper is all the way down, and I start getting the the "zip up" signal from the corner workers in turn nine. I decide to ride on - and a lap later, the black flag comes out for me - I give the "PIT IN" signal, so everyone will be ready. I had been out for almost a full shift anyway, time to let Andy get some laps in. I pull in, he gets fueled up, the chain lubed and out he goes. I see the Referee making his way over...I head over to him, apologizing profusely, hoping to not get fined. He looks at all the debris that is out pit, and sheds mercy with a warning. Finally a break...
The following shifts were a blur...seems like I'd get some water, sit a bit, and then get the word to get ready. Down goes a shot of GOO, and out I'd go. Andy was staying in the 45 and 46 range, with a couple slower laps to catch his breath. He was doing much more than we had planned. I turned in my fastest laps of the day during the afternoon, with a 41.9 the fastest. Satisfyingly, my last lap of the day was a low 42. Once I got my checker, it was time to exhale. I could see the team on wall cheering. At least the bike was running fine, and while Raber was banged up, he'd be back for more. I pulled in to the pits and promptly joined everyone else with the obligatory burnout...
Overall, we put in 175 laps, but finished last in our class as everyone else made it without crashing. The Lightweight winners were able to put in over 240 laps! The fact that we got back in it after two high speed crashes says a lot. Not only did our team put in the extra effort, but Mike Auderer helped out a bunch by jumping in and helping to organize our triage and making sure the fixes were safe. Seems like whatever help we needed, someone was there to provide it.
After we packed up, everyone got together and we had a nice big dinner before we headed back to Seattle. I knew it was going to be a long day, and had vacation scheduled for the next day. Below are some links to shots mostly from Brook that captured the various moments and moods of the day...
To Andy Graham and Andy Raber, thanks for coming to race. To Denise, Megan, Raber's mom and dad, Carl and Lorien, Brook, Alan, Eric, and Justin, thanks for helping out! While there were a lot of bumps in this road - we made it through, and will be ready for next time!
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