George McConnel's Motorcycle Racing Blog

Date:February 6-7, 2010
Track:Talladega Gran Prix Raceway
Bike:2001 Suzuki SV650
Weather:Cloudy and cold. Highs around 40
Conducted By:WERA

Track Diagram

The Talladega Gran Prix Raceway is designed to be run either clockwise or counterclockwise. This weekend's events were conducted in a counterclockwise direction. The redesigned track has been run in clockwise direction once since the repaving, owing to safety concerns.

The 2010 racing season began with a radical change for me. For the first time ever I was going to the

Sponsored by LearnToRide.Org
race track to race without the venerable RC51 that has been with me since my first race in June of 2006. Instead of signing up for Heavyweight Twins or the occasional "B Superbike" I found myself down a couple of classes, signing up for Lightweight Twins and running alongside people with D class machinery.

WERA changed the arrangements a little this year. It is no longer possible to get four practice sessions for a single race entry. I used to take advantage of this little loophole in the scheduling arrangements, but that gravy train has left the station. Instead I signed up for the LightWeight Solo 20 on Saturday and the LightWeight Twins Superstock event on Sunday so I could get the benefit of both day's practice at the least possible cost to myself.

As the race weekend approached I found myself procrastinating on several details that needed attention. One of them

Logan in the pit
on a cold, cold weekend.
was the painting the "new" race plastic I had fitted on the SV650. I wanted the SV to look pretty much like the RC, knowing that it would also match my leathers if I did that. As it turned out Logan was not going to be able to go to the race because of financial issues so I told him that if he would paint my plastics for me I would buy his race entry and take care of the transportation costs. He'd have to rent his transponder and I'd expect him to camp out (same as I was planning on doing).

So we had a deal. Logan took care of painting the plastic. Meanwhile I needed to do something about the horrible suspension on the stock SV650. I had talked to Rob Turner last year about my plans to race the SV (in endurance). He offered to help me get the suspension ready, an offer I gladly accepted. As it turned out though he was very busy as the deadline approached and I was unable to hook up with him to work together on the project. He ended up doing it all by himself, but managed to put a good rear spring/shock together for me and fit some stiffer springs and cartridge emulators into the forks. The result was a well balanced and much more robust suspension suitable for racing.

Finally I had to take care of all the details of safety wiring and other miscellaneous race prep necessary to get the bike on the track. I safety wired the exhaust hangers and all the exhaust spring connectors. I also bought some thermal exhaust wrap and used it on the pipes to help with the problem I had already observed with the exhaust heat damaging my race plastic. I drilled safety wire holes for all the banjo bolts and brake caliper bolts, the oil fill, the coolant drain plug and other necessary places. I spent several hours each day finishing up these issues, but by two days before the event it was all coming together. Logan had finished my plastics, Rob had finished my suspension and I reassembled everything. The "Peace Beast Lite" roared to life ready for action.

Logan and I hooked up as early as we could on Friday and headed down to the track.

Dewayne and I on the 90's
During Saturday's Solo 20
When we got there it was already getting dark. Logan quickly assembled his tent while I unpacked the bikes and set up our pit. We managed to get everything unpacked and ready before running out of daylight. I was planning on just sleeping in the "Hotel Kia" but I got an offer from Robert Turner (Rob's dad) to just sleep on their air mattress in the heated garage of their toy hauler. Instead of using their air mattress I used my bed roll and sleeping bag, but I gratefully accepted the offer for the upgraded sleeping arrangements. I woke up Saturday morning around 6:00 ready for the day.

I had gotten some number decals from Stickboy and put them on the bike Friday evening after we got everything unloaded. I also applied some other decals on the bike and it began looking much more like a race bike.

There really wasn't that much for me to do Saturday morning. I had pre-registered, so a quick trip to the

By myself on the 90's

registration tower followed by a quick trip to 'Tech' was all that was necessary for me to be ready to put the lower back on and start donning the leathers. Unfortunately there had been heavy rain all day on Friday and a light drizzle all night long. The track was wet and cold, not very inviting.

In spite of my preparedness I still only managed to make the last few laps of my first practice session. I was still struggling with my leathers when they made final call. I had not bothered to put the tire warmers on either. I figured I'd just go out and take a few easy laps and push only a little each time before pitting back in.

When I got back into the pit I did put the tire warmers on. The tires themselves were three year old takeoffs that Dewayne had given me from a pile of takeoffs in his basement. I knew they couldn't be in the best of shape but I figured they would be enough to get me through the weekend. As it turned out I was quite right about that.

It was very cold and wet, with occasional drizzle. I tiptoed around the track, barely able to see because my visor was trying to fog up badly even with the gap made by a zip tie. It was horrible conditions in which to ride and I wouldn't have been riding at all if it weren't for the fact that I needed saddle time to test and begin solving the new bike.

The second session didn't go much better. I did make it onto the track with the first folks out, and I managed to work on some slightly better laptimes, but in spite of all that I was still running in the high 1:26's and higher. Very slow laptimes compared to what I knew I could do on a dry track.

I had signed up for the Solo 20 that afternoon. Dewayne was also signed up for it. This would be the first time both of us were on equal equipment and racing directly against each other. Our last race where we were competing directly against heach other was at Nashville a couple of years ago. That time I had used the massive horsepower advantage of the RC51 to open up a major gap on Dewayne and beat him handily.

This time we were going to be on equal equipment, but Dewayne was going to be using rain tires on a drying track while I was going to be using old takeoff DOT tires. Also, he had the advantage of several years racing experience on the Talladega track under a variety of conditions while this would be my first ever laps on that track on that bike with the surface developing a dry line. I hadn't had an opportunity to work on any braking reference points for the slower top-end speeds of the SV650, or on pushing the bike at all for that matter.

I was gridded on the front row and Dewayne was gridded two rows behind me. I managed to launch quickly enough

On the Farmhouse Turn
to keep him behind me before turn 1, but I didn't know where he was. I got passed by several people during the first few laps but none of them were Dewayne. For awhile I thought I was all alone on the track but I didn't know that Dewayne was right behind me looking for a way around. For nearly 10 laps it continued like that, but finally he found a way past me on the straight right before the farmhouse turn. For a lap or so after that I sort of kept up with him and even thought I might be able to get back in front of him at some point, especially if I could study his lines and braking technique. But suddenly this kid on a 125 GP bike passed me quickly and disturbed my concentration. By the time I had regained my composure Dewayne had a pretty good gap on me.

The gap continued to increase as I fatigued, so I just accepted the fact that Dewayne had me for the time being. I worked on my own lines and tried to develop some better sense of reference points as I continued to circulate on the track. Suddenly, to my surprise, I began to see Dewayne coming back to me. My internal clock was telling me that if it kept up at this rate I would be back with him in about three laps.

So I started pushing a little harder, hoping to maybe make a contest of it in the last lap or two. Unfortunately

Dewayne tries in vain to chase
me down during the sprint.
I missed a shift setting up for turn 2 and found myself nearly parking it into the bowl turn. At that point a couple of novices passed me while I tried to figure out what gear I was in and re-establish some control. By the time I had recovered from that fiasco Dewayne was long gone. I finished the event after a couple more laps and headed back to pit-in, stopping at post-tech just in case. Later, when I checked my laptimes I discovered that I had started off running 1:17's and ended with some 1:12's. Decent progress for a single session.

We were hoping that Sunday was going to be much nicer. The forecast was for sunshine and a high around 50. That would be wonderful whenever it showed up. The actuality was that it only got up to about 40 and was cloudy all day. What a miserable weekend weather-wise for a track event.

Dewayne and I both opted to skip the first practice on Sunday morning. It was just so cold it wasn't really going

Watching a cold awards presentation
Photo Courtesy of Kendrick Kirk of
to be fun at all. We figured the track might be a little warmer for 2nd practice, which maybe it was. We went out together for the second practice and I never saw Dewayne pass me. I did, however, pass a lot of people during that practice session. Final best laptime was a 1:11. I was making progress at the rate of one second per session, which means I should still be able to get quicker with a little more practice.

Logan ran into some trouble during his second practice. A slower rider took a bad line through the double nineties and (inadvertently) pushed him to the edge of the track where he had to go off into the grass. That wouldn't have been so bad but he ended up falling over on the wet grass trying to re-enter the track. He went back through tech and was fully prepared to race in his only race event of the weekend, C Superstock Novice. It was race 4.

I took Logan's camera out to the carousel position to take video, while Karl Lemmer took mine up to the ninties to take pictures from there. I took video of Logan and the group coming around for their warm-up lap. Then when the group came around for their first race lap I didn't see him. I waited another lap to see if he ever came through the group, then went back to the pit to get the news. I just hoped he hadn't crashed.

He hadn't crashed, but the news wasn't much better. As he pulled up to his grid position steam started coming from his bike. Worse yet, the steam smelled strongly of antifreeze and the water collecting in his pan was of a geenish enough tint that the grid marshals decided to fine him for running antifreeze during a race event. Adding insult to injury, he had been gridded right on the front row in a two wave race event. He had a chance to pick up some great points. Instead he got a DQ, a fine, and next time he grids up he's going to be in back of everyone who has points.

But even that isn't as rough as the weekend John McDonald had. John had been hanging around with our group and Logan in particular since he started racing back last year. He'd had a rough introduction to racing with a hard crash at Barber last year followed by a really bad crash at Nashville in the last event of the year. That was the one that left him spending the night at our place with splints and slings on both arms. He had broken his left collarbone and ended up with a metal plate there. He spent the winter healing up and repairing his bike so he could make this round at Talladega. But during his second practice, three corners after Logan fell in the double 90's he went down at the farmhouse turn. His crash was pretty hard on the bike but at least he didn't get injured as badly. His right knee was pretty gimpy, but otherwise he looked okay. But he ruined the Jardine exhaust on his bike, bending and breaking the subframe in the process. Poor John, if it weren't for bad luck...

We tried to talk John into maybe getting out of "meatgrinder" class and getting an SV650. He's either going to need to do that or he's probably going to get hurt real bad one day.

Getting back to the saga of the old slow farts, Dewayne was scheduled to run three events Sunday afternoon. I was only going to run one, LightWeight Twins SuperStock. Our race was going to be the 13th event of the day, so I had awhile to wait before going out. When our turn finally came up we both tried to heat our gloves and helmets on my Kerosene heater (which I had been smart enough to bring) and we got our bikes warmed up. This time Dewayne and I were gridded side by side, him on the left and me on the center of the front row of the grid. To my right was Bryan Gripp.

The green flag flew and I got passed by nearly everyone within fourty feet of me on the grid. However, by the time we got to turn 2 I was right back with Dewayne and managed to outbrake him into the bowl. I don't think I picked up any more positions, but I believe I managed to keep everyone else behind me who was in my class. When the race concluded I had actually pulled a pretty good gap on Dewayne and scored a 1:10 on the lap chart. Another one second improvement. In fairness, Dewayne's rear tire was pretty much rashed up, so he backed off and circulated as well as he could with the traction he had left.

So Dewayne beat me once and I beat him once. I'm hoping this year brings us many great heated battles with which to push each other and have some great times!

Most important lesson learned during this race weekend: The SV650 really is a fun bike on the track.

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