George McConnel's RC51 BLOG

Date:February 10-11, 2007
Track:Talladega Gran Prix Raceway
Bike:2002 Honda RVT1000 (RC51)
Weather:Sunny but cold, highs around 45.
Sponsor:Just me
Conducted By:WERA

Track Diagram

In 2007 a redesign of the Talladega Gran Prix Raceway was necessary because a nearby highway was being widened. As a result, the straight that was closest to the highway was pushed in somewhat and has become the front straight. The old front straight is now a paved paddock, and everyone pits in the infield. The completely new section of the track, on the bottom of the image, extends what once was called the "skidpad" or "carousel", which was about a 270 degree turn into something less than a 180 degree turn. It also adds a set of "esses" to the other end.

The Talladega Gran Prix Raceway is designed so that it can be run in either direction. On this particular weekend we were racing in a counter clockwise direction.

It was the first WERA race of the year, and it was cold. I arrived in Talladega at about 5:00 in the morning. I had to wait until about 6:30 before I could get in the gate. I drove around in the pickup truck until I located Tom Lees' trailer and tent. I parked my truck behind his tent figuring I'd either pit with him or Dewayne. In the misty early dawn I went for a walk around the track. What I discovered was not very encouraging. The track had slippery spots on it from being ground down to smooth out bumpy parts. Running my foot over them felt like running my foot over ice. It did not inspire confidence.

Pitted with Tom Lees
Tom arrived and invited me to pit with him, an offer I was glad to accept. We set up the tent, got the bikes set up and started prepping them for the race day. Since my bike is water cooled I had already drained out all the antifreeze and left the radiators empty for the drive down. Temperatures had gotten down into the 20's that night. I had brought a gallon of distilled water with me, which I used to refill the radiators. Air pressure checks, tire warmers, oil check, fuel check, etc. Having pre-registered, I was one of the lucky ones who didn't have to stand in line for very long before I could take my bike to tech and get ready.

Tom, Janell and their dog
Tom and Janell have been friends for several years now. They were gracious enough to invite me to come and share the hotel room they had let for Saturday evening. I was figuring to camp out at the track, but with the thought of sub-freezing temperatures as well as limited shower facilities I was glad to take them up on that invitation.

Smoozing around with the big boys...
I met up with Dewayne (center, above) and Catt (not pictured) when they finally arrived. Dave Arkle (left, above) was also there as well as some other friends. Dave and Dewayne had arrived the day before and paid to ride in the practice on Friday. Unfortunately the Friday practice was sullied by both cold and rain.

Dewayne's bike

Dave and others on the 90's
Dave (aka (diet) Dr. Thunder) had just gotten himself a new Ducatti 900s and was racing with it in his first season as an Expert class WERA racer. Last year he was riding an SV1000 in Novice class, which gave me more opportunities to be on the track at the same time he was. Notice that I did not even suggest that I was "racing against him". I'm not in his league, at least not yet. Dave's bike has the lucky number 13 in the picture above.

Tom Lees and others on the 90's
Tom has been riding in Expert class for several years now. His yellow Ducatti with 522 on it gets around the track quite well under his proficient handling. Unfortunately his bike developed a problem with the front brake master cylinder, an O ring that was sucking air in during use which would (by the end of a race) result in little or no front brake. Even in spite of that handicap he placed well in all the races he entered. He's a great rider and I'd love to be able to ride that well myself.

Me and my RC on the 90's
My first ride on the track that day proved to be even more damaging to my confidence than the walk I had taken earlier around the track. The first time I began rolling on the throttle the rear tire started fishtailing. This did not bode well. That was with the tire warmers, so I really didn't have any confidence at all. I rode around the track at an agonizingly slow pace (even compared to the other riders who were also taking it easy on the cold track). My lap times were up around 1:35 or so.

Still riding though and having fun
I went through the second practice on Saturday without much better results. I was afraid to really let go and ride and it was showing. Getting your confidence back after crashing (as I had done twice in Nashville the previous September) is a long, slow process.

I rode both practice sessions Sunday morning and discovered that while my lap times were coming down it was getting harder and harder to see. I had a new (to me) helmet that supposedly had a fog proof visor. It may have been fog proof but it certainly wasn't condensation proof. The moisture would condense on the inside and suddenly I couldn't see hardly anything. I had to slow down and open the visor to dry it out. This happened twice during my first practice. Before my second practice I used some duct tape to create a small obstacle in the center of the ridge the visor sealed against. This did the trick nicely and made it possible for me to ride the track without losing visibility.

First race of the year for me
Finally it was Sunday afternoon and time for the only race I had signed up for. Unfortunately, being that it was the first race of the year they were gridding us by when we registered, now how many points we currently had. Guess who signed up earliest. There was nothing I liked about the idea of being as chicken as I already was and being gridded in the front of a bunch of competitive racers who were going to do everything they could to get past me on turn 1. So I exercised the better part of discretion and took off slowly so they could all pass me before we got to turn 1.

After that I settled down and tried to improve my lap times. Eventually I got down to a 1:24, which is still way slower than I ever would have gone pre-crash in Nashville. But I'll get there.

Most important lesson learned during this race day: Chasing demons is a long, slow process.

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