George McConnel's RC51 BLOG

Date:August 14-16, 2008
Track:Talladega Gran Prix Raceway
Bike:2002 Honda RVT1000 (RC51)
Weather:Mostly sunny and mild, highs in the upper 80's.
Conducted By:Trackday: EBRS Racing: 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.


Heading out for a ride...
packed everything up on Wednesday evening so that I could drive down Thursday right after work. I ended up getting to the track around 8:45. Dewayne and Catt arrived about the same time I did. We commandeered some excellent pit space about the same place I pitted the last time. We reserved room for Kurt Kessler and Morris Foor. Rob Turner ended up pitting nearby as well, and Michael Wischmeyer pitted next to Rob. Seemed like my entire peer group of Heavyweight Twins riders were in the same area.

Another acquaintance, Stephen Greene, was getting ready to start his racing career. He was

Stephen on the Double 90's
borrowing Catt's EX500 to practice and take the riding school on. Stephen took the MSF class a few years back. I think Dewayne and Catt may have been his coaches then. One evening when I was first starting to race I took my RC over to Dewayne's house so we could have a night of working on bikes in his garage, and Stephen was there as well. Part of what I was doing then was safety wiring some of the things on my bike that had not yet been wired.

Karl Lemmer, no longer having to wear a tee shirt over his leathers, had arrived with his GS500 that had given us so much trouble in Atlanta last time around. We were hoping that the gremlins in his bike were put to rest, but this was not to be. As the weekend progressed his bike continued to receive the attention of various people from tents all around. Still yet he managed to get it out on the track a fair amount and I don't think he actually ended up missing any races.

Eventually we got everything set up in the pits and kicked back to chat for awhile. The weather had moderated considerably in the last couple of days and it felt good with the mild breeze blowing. Temperatures got down into the 60's that night, so it was a very pleasant night for sleeping.

Friday morning we were all eager to get on the track for the Ed Bargy Racing School sponsored track day. All of us ended up signing up for "Intermediate" class, which gave us a chance to ride on the track at the same time. Unfortunately, they were all riding their slow bikes (Ninja 250's, a Kawasaki EX500 and a Suzuki GS500. I was, of course, riding the mighty "Beast", and gratuitously blowing past each of them at every opportunity.

Since it had been almost six weeks since my last experience on the track, and nearly two months since I'd been at Talladega I didn't know what to expect in terms of my personal performance. My previous experience at Talladega had been the "breakthrough" session for me, where one could argue that I made the transition from "sub-par" to "average" track rider. The key for me, as it turned out, was in the way I was hanging off the bike. The way folks hang off varies greatly from one rider to another. Depending on whom you listen to you'll get lots of different advice. The fact is that each individual needs to find what works best for him or her and then work on refining it.

Consider the following comparison:

These two pictures were taken from slightly different camera angles looking at the same turn. I think Catt was kneeling when she took the picture on the right, which is why you can't see the track as easily. On the surface it looks like the only difference is the lean angle. But the very subtle difference is in body position. Notice how twisted my body is in the image on the left. My shoulders are not square with the front of the bike because I'm trying too hard to get my butt way down off the seat -- exactly what some well meaning friends told me early on. That's not to say I'm not sliding down off the seat some, but there is a limit to how much of that is needed. I used to overdo it. This led to my feeling uncomfortable, like I was going to fall off the bike at times, and kept me from being confident to lean the bike any further. Of course my corner speed suffered as a result.


Finally getting knees down in the Double 90's
the picture on the right it is obvious that my shoulders are much more squared up with the bike. By keeping the center of my body closer to the bike itself I could slide down the side of the bike, hang on with the leg

Rob Turner passing Morris Foor on the outside.
I'm holding my own against Brad Johnson for the moment...
on the outside of the turn and feel confident to stick my other knee further out to feel for the surface of the track. This relieved the pressure on my hands so I wasn't using them as much to hang onto the bike, which has the advantage of giving me a better feel for any feedback from the bike itself. If it starts to slide I can feel it and react quickly before I even realize what I've done. I wasn't able to do that before, which is why I believe I crashed at Barber last year.

So as I mentioned earlier I was concerned that perhaps after nearly six weeks off the track I'd start off very rusty. I figured I'd find myself back up in the 1:12's and have to work my way back down to the quicker lap times I had enjoyed before. Surprisingly, this wasn't the case. My first laps were already in the 1:10's or better and in the first session of the day I turned a 1:06.998. Just barely under the 1:07 threshold, but very respectable for me.

It's funny how your perspectives get warped. Six weeks ago I was thrilled when I turned my first 1:08. As the day went on Friday I found myself disappointed when I could tell it was going to be another 1:08. I was also experiencing a new sensation: I was getting held up by people who were turning 1:10's. Running in the intermediate group gave me a lot of opportunities to work on passing other riders. I was able to practice setting up passes

Haulin' the mail around the farmhouse turn.
in corners or during corner exits where I timed my quicker cornering speed to bring me out at a much higher

Dragging the knee all the way around the carousel
exit speed than the other rider, allowing me to slingshot past him on the straight. I even tried working on a couple of draft passes.

Apart from the "Rider's School" they only had two groups running all day on Friday. This kept things really busy because it seemed like you no more than just got in and got a drink and they were on 2nd call for your next session. I have a hard time keeping up at that pace, as I get heated up and need to cool back down and re-hydrate some. Still yet, I pushed myself as far as I was comfortable with that morning and took some Ibuprofin to keep from getting too stiff when my muscles inevitably started getting sore.

Although there were a few crashes during the track day sessions there were no red flags. Unfortunately, Karl tucked the front on his GS500 coming out of the double 90's and slid off the track on the outside. This crash happened pretty early Friday morning, maybe during the first session. The bike wasn't damaged badly, but Karl's right shoulder was somewhat sore after the crash.

As the morning progressed the quick sessions were taking their toll on my stamina. Although I was arguably doing better than I might have done in bygone days, I was really starting to feel the effects of exercising at that level when I wasn't used to it. After my fourth track session I decided it would be a good idea to sit a session out. It was getting close to 11:30 in the morning, so I figured that would be the last session of the morning anyway, but to my surprise they ended up doing two more sessions before taking the lunch break. I didn't go out for either of those sessions.

My first practice session after the lunch break began tentatively because my muscles had really stiffened up

The track of dreams -- right in the middle of a cornfield!
If you build it they will race!
during the break. After about a lap or so though I was starting to feel loose again. I tipped the bike into turn two and was starting to roll on the throttle when I realized I didn't have any power. I stood the bike straight up, tried rolling the throttle again and there was nothing. I raised my hand and drifted wide to the outside of the track and over towards a couple of the corner workers. I knew what had happened -- I had run out of gas. Oddly, the low-fuel light hadn't illuminated on my instrument panel, so I don't know what was up with that. They called "Fuzzy" to come get me. I pushed the bike over the track during a break between riders and pushed it over to Fuzzy's pickup. Pushing the bike with full leathers including gloves and helmet in the hot sun is always a hard job. I returned to the pit, filled the tank and grabbed a drink. This would give me a little more time to rest up for the 2nd afternoon session.

I bummed a banana from Catt because I had noticed some muscle cramps. She also suggested a Powerade drink, so I took one of those as well. This seemed to help. When I went out for the second afternoon session I started off with some sore muscles, but then as the pain subsided I settled in and ran some good laps. The 1:06.535 I

Karl and the GS500
put up during that lap was my best time ever at Talladega. This four tenths improvement got me thinking maybe before the day was over I could drop another half second and be into the "fives" by the end of the day, or at least surely by the end of the weekend. That would feel like a real accomplishment.

The next session was the best of the day for me. Somehow I didn't manage to time my preparations very well for the start of the session, so when they were calling "3rd and final call" I was still getting my gloves on and hadn't even gotten the warmers off the tires. By the time I got out there some of the other riders were already starting their 2nd lap, so Chuck gave me the "stay on the inside" signal as he motioned me onto the track. I merged onto the track in 2nd gear, accelerating with all the fury the Beast could manage, front tire pawing the air as I tried to remain in front of the two guys coming around turn 1, but it just wasn't going to happen. They blew past me as I was shifting into 3rd and I slotted in behind them about the time we all began braking for turn 2. At that point they were about a second or so in front of me. The two guys had matching leathers and rode like a team. They had silver stars on the back of their leathers. Using them as "rabbits" I settled in and started working on learning what I could by studying their lines. Within about three laps I had managed to reel them in and was thinking I might be able to pass them. I was trying to figure out where that pass might take place when we all came up on some really slow traffic approaching turn 2. I figured we'd all just go around the slow traffic but those two guys just slowed down and entered turn 2 at the slow pace the other riders were using. I moved over to the right since nobody else seemed to want to bust a move and passed the entire group (four riders) on the outside. My pass was complete well before the turn ended.

For the remainder of the session those two guys used me as a rabbit. After Chuck started waving the

Turn two as Heavyweight Twins SuperBike began.
checkered flag I let off a little and one of them blew past me on the turn 1-2 straight. The other one stayed behind me until we reached pit-out, at which time he gave me the thumbs up. We all slapped "fives" on pit lane. Evidently they enjoyed it as much as I did.

As the day wore on I got more fatigued. During the penultimate session of the day I was only able to squeeze off a couple of 1:07's and the rest of my laps were in the 8's. I went ahead and called it a day. I think I ended up putting in 8 sessions that day. They had a total of 11 rounds of sessions, which is a lot.

After deciding I'd had enough for the day I eyeballed the well used rear tire on my bike and considered the possibilities. I could just sit the day out on Saturday since I would only get two practice sessions anyway and I had gotten so many of them today. It would leave what was left of that tire available for Sunday. Perhaps if I only ran one practice session Sunday morning I could use that tire for my two races Sunday afternoon, then put on fresh tires for the Nashville round. That way if I wanted to I could run Nashville on the left side of the tires and Barber the next weekend and chew up the right side of the tires. It could end up perfect.


The view down "Tent City" on Saturday afternoon. Dewayne's
suited up and ready to mount up at 3rd call, to his right is
a guy named Carl (not the one who was racing). Seated on the
motorcycle with the orange shirt is Stephen. Karl (the one
who was racing) is taking a picture of Stephen. If you
look carfully just beyond Stephen's back you'll see my
"Gilligan" hat and part of my back where I'm sitting in a chair
in my pit. Just in front of Stephen's face mask in the
background is Rob Turner stretching in his white leathers
and preparing to mount his Ducati.
I got up Saturday morning and decided to ride. I hadn't preregistered, so I went over to the tower to take care

Do these leathers make my ass look fat?
of that. I had to stand in line for nearly 1/2 hour, but I got it done, got the bike through tech and still had plenty of time to get settled in before they began making calls for practice groups. I was scheduled to be in the 2nd practice group. There would be two rounds of practice.

As usual, it was a tougher crowd to practice with on race day. As a 750-and-up Novice I was out there with fast guys riding on 750's and 1000's. The 1000cc V twin in my RC51 barely puts out about the same level of horsepower as inline four 600's. Still yet there were some folks out there I could outrun and I got to pass a few. I also got passed by several of the quicker riders.

After my 2nd practice session I went ahead and started my tire change. It didn't take long. I took the wheel over to Derek Bennett (Stickboy) and had a new Bridgestone BT002 rear put on.

I just relaxed and enjoyed Saturday afternoon. It was a good time to do some socializing and watching some racing action. The solo events are always fun to watch. There was plenty of good vintage bike action as well. Unfortunately, during the Clubman events, which is the main event the "Sippy Cup" contingent were running, both Kurt and Karl crashed. They didn't crash into each other though so that was good. Karl somehow got sucked into turn 2 a little too hot and had to bail. I think this was during the first lap but it could have happened during the 2nd or 3rd, I don't know.

That evening several of us helped Karl work on his bike. This time he had broken the left rearset completely off. The two nuts that hold the rearset on had broken through the aluminum frame. With several folks helping out we managed to get the rearset bolted back on using a combination of a carriage bolt from the backside to keep it from hitting against the chain and a sawn-off bolt with a locktited nut on the other end that came out near (but not touching) the swingarm.

Sunday morning I went out for my practice sessions. Bobby Qualls caught up to me as I was exiting my

Another angle on the carousel (Turn 4).
pit to see if he could learn something from me for a change. He followed me out but I quickly passed a slower rider going into turn 2 and I'm not sure after that point how close Bobby stayed. He said he kept me in sight (which I'm sure he did) but since every lap I turned was about two seconds quicker than his I had to be putting a pretty good gap on him by the end of the session.

I was really disappointed when it came to race time. Because Kurt Kessler was injured in the crash he'd had during the Saturday race he was not able to race at all on Sunday. This meant that the main guy I wanted to dice it out with in Heavyweight Superbike was out. I did manage to get in behind Morris during the first lap, but dang if he didn't manage to go off track (although he got back on) during the 4th lap. On the other hand, Brad Johnson came around me right after the double 90's, which surprised me. I didn't know he'd be racing in SuperBike, as he wasn't on the grid originally. I was unable to keep up with him or re-pass him, so I ended up settling for 4th place. We all beat T.J. Strueber, who just started racing last year.

Then, Morris crashed during his Senior Superbike race, going off the track at the same place he'd gone off earlier. But this time he didn't manage to keep the bike up. Unfortunately that did enough damage to his bike that he was unable to get it repaired in time for our next race, HWT SS. They had combined a couple of races that would have given him more time but it just didn't work out. He ended up sitting that 2nd race out. Rob Turner also sat that race out for different reasons. His Ducati was overheating and he decided to give it a rest. As it turned out, only Michael Wishmeyer and I were gridded up in the Novice class for that race, so needless to say all I had to do was keep the bike on two wheels and I got to take a trophy home. But I honestly rode hard through the race rather than just put around so I would get a prize. Only three of the C Superbike Experts passed me during that race. That's worth a lot because in the past I would have been lapped by the entire C Superbike field.

Best lap time for this weekend was 1:06.225. Tantalizingly close to the 'fives', but it wasn't to happen this weekend. Oh well ... see ya next year, Tally.

Most important lesson learned during this race day: Time to really start working on technique now.

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