George McConnel's Motorcycle Racing Blog

Date:June 11-13, 2010
Track:Talladega Gran Prix Raceway
Bikes:2001 Suzuki SV650, 2002 Honda RC51
Weather:Sunny and hot. Lows around 75, highs around 98
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.

Back to Talladega for the 3rd round of Mid-Central regionals.

Dawn rises on a new race weekend...
Last fall my RC51 began exhibiting a problem. Sometimes under hard power the engine would occasionally stumble. At first this only seemed to happen in a straight line under hard acceleration. However, it eventually began to happen even during cornering, especially when powering out of a turn. The bike ran okay at Jennings, but once it stumbled there as well. During the winter the problem seemed to worsen. As spring came along I put some street plastic back on the bike so I could take it out on the street to (hopefully) diagnose the problem.

The view down tent city. Dewayne's SV650 is way back there somewhere...
There were several possibilities and of course I wanted to exhaust all the ones that could be done without purchasing new parts first. The first step was I took the Power Commander out of the equation. That didn't make any difference. Cleaning electrical connectors was an obvious second step. The engine cutoff switch was a primary suspect, and it was one of the first things I checked. It was not the problem, although cleaning it did seem to help make the problem even more intermittent, so I think it might have been a problem.

I also checked the fuel pump relay and even traded it for the (mostly unused) turn signal relay, cleaning and using dielectric grease on both of them. No joy.

Eventually though, I worked my way down to the wiring harness that the engine cutoff switch plugged into. After cleaning and using dielectric greason on that connector I believe I finally found the problem. The bike has run flawlessly since that time. So before this weekend I decided to take the RC to the track again.

Due to new circumstances at work I was not expecting to be able to

Bobby Qualls is following my RC51 again
this time with Brad Johnson piloting the RC.
leave until Friday afternoon.

It's good to see the old RC51 on the track again.

As it turned out the new management had arranged for me to be able to take Friday off and go to the races. I sort of overdid it Thursday evening, staying up until well after midnight to get packed so I could go to Talladega. The next morning I woke up a little too excited, sort of like a kid on christmas morning. My alarm clock was set for 6:00 AM, but I woke up around 5:30 and just decided to go ahead and get going.

Getting to the track around 10:45 or so Friday morning I went ahead and set up my pit, got everything ready, then went to registration to see if it was too early to sign up for the afternoon sessions at the discounted price. Charlotte was there working registration and she went ahead and signed me up for the afternoon sessions for the reduced price. I paid a little extra to register my SV650 for practice, but as it turned out I never took it out on Friday.

Riding the RC51 on the track for the first time in several months was a mixed bag. On the one hand, it was good to be back on the bigger bike, but on the other hand I was so worn out from lack of food, lack of sleep and the oppressive heat that it was all I could do to stay out there for more than maybe 5 or so laps. I pitted back in and started trying to hydrate up and acclimate to the heat. Also, the bike just felt really squirmy out there and I wasn't at all comfortable.

During the second practice I felt perhaps a little better, but it was still much more fatiguing than I expected. Again

Dewayne enters the farmhouse turn
I pitted back in after just a few laps. I rode maybe a little longer and started pushing harder during the next session,

Karl Lemmer practices on his Ninja 250.
but it was only during the last session of the day that I started feeling a bit of the old form. I'm not sure what kind of lap times I was turning during that last session, as I didn't even have the lap timer mounted, but they would have possibly been hovering down in the 7's or 8's. I really doubt they would have been any better than that though.

Saturday morning I moved the steering damper over to the SV650 and went out for practice. During the first session I was running 9's and during the 2nd I got into the 8's with one really low 8.100. Almost back into the 7's, which at this point was my target for the weekend. Unfortunately as it turned out, that one lap was my best of the weekend.

It got about as hot as I've seen as the afternoon progressed. The temperature indicator on my pit clock climbed all the way up to 115 Farenheit. I kept sucking down water and Gatorade as my solo 20 neared. Finally it was "go" time. I was gridded on the front row, center. Good starting position, but I knew that my launches had been really leaving a lot to be desired lately, so I was just hoping for even a halfway decent launch. As it turned out I got passed by every expert rider on the field during the launch, including Morris, who was all the way in the back row.

I slotted in behind Morris and thought I might be able to effect a pass on him as we were entering the turn 1 area when out of nowhere came this novice rider underneath both of us like a damn bowling ball. He upset both of our lines but I definitely got the worst of it. He was a faster rider, and that's fine but no sense making a harsh pass when it's not even for position. Bastard.

Anyway, when things settled back down Morris was a good second or more ahead of me. I began pushing to try to Dewayne didn't race at all on Saturday.

Dewayne describes a close pass Sunday morning.
catch back up to him and was making a little bit of progress but then during about lap 10 or so I missed a shift

Passing a novice rider...
coming into the double 90's. By the time I recovered there was a good 3 second gap between me and Morris and I knew I didn't have enough to catch him at that point. Unfortunately, Rob Turner crashed during the solo and two other guys who were ahead of me had to pull off due to engine overheating problems, so I ended up getting those three positions back. That still wasn't enough to put me into any paying position, but there was the moral victory. I actually managed to stay out there for the entire event even in that excrutiating heat.

This is as good a time as any to mention that I have really been pushing hard to lose weight and get in better shape. I've increased my running to three times per day and added several short sessions on the elliptical. I've also cut way back on my calorie intake. The result has been that I've trimmed 20 or so pounds off since about February when the first WERA event of my season happened. I'm still pushing hard, hoping to maybe take another 30 or so off by the end of the summer. Being in better condition definitely made all the difference in me being able to stay out there and push hard all the way until the end of the solo 20 event.

Also, while riding this event on that hot track, I finally managed to feel the effect of controllable wheel spin. I was able to feed enough throttle on the bowl and carousel (and even the farmhouse) turns to slide my rear wheel slightly during the turn while not losing control or feeling like I was out of control. I feel like this was a new experience and perhaps is the harbinger of me taking a next step towards quicker laptimes.

Sunday morning was much more leisurely for me because I didn't have to take care of any registration details. But I was letting Brad Johnson ride the RC51 on the track, so I did end up helping him get prepared. He signed up for HWTSS and HWTSB, the same classes I used to haunt. We put his new expert number on my bike and he went through tech. I took pictures of him during practice. He looked decent, but it was obvious that he wasn't anywhere near as comfortable on my bike as he had been on his own.

I went out and did my two practice sessions Sunday morning also. I really thought I was into the 7's during the

Morris practices on his SV650.
2nd practice, but once again I was well up in the 8's. It's a bit frustrating to feel like you're running quicker

Cutting a decent lap on the carousel.
laps and you're actually going maybe a bit slower. However, just about every practice lap was interrupted at some point by having to pass a slower rider.

My race was number 16, the 2nd to last race of the day. That makes it impossible to get packed and get away early at all, but I had packed as much as possible before my race, so it wasn't too bad.

For the first time in what seems like forever I didn't get the worst launch on the grid. I was gridded 2nd row left, and managed to launch well enough to almost catch one of the riders on the front row. As we entered turn 1 I was pretty much in the middle of the group. But the group spread out and I lost a couple more positions before entering turn 2. I did not get passed by Dewayne during the launch though, so I knew I was in front of him. My only question at that point was when he might try to make a move to pass.

As it turned out I was running perhaps a second a lap quicker than he was for the entire race. He and I ended up taking the last two positions in the expert class LWT race, but I did manage to finish ahead of him. If we could get down into the 7's though there are a bunch of people who run that pace. We'd be able to pick up potentially several positions by getting that little bit faster.

Unfortunately, Morris was unable to race Sunday because his SV650's engine blew again. The pan was full of oil. He's had it with the SV650 and plans to sell it in favor of keeping the EX500 he bought from Jason Padilla last year. He actually turned better laps at Barber on that bike than I was able to turn on my SV650, but I think I've got better laps in me with some practice there.

So that was pretty much it for the weekend. We had fun, but there wasn't much progress made in any area.

Most important lesson learned during this race weekend: Staying hydrated and getting in better shape works!

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