George McConnel's RC51 BLOG

Date:February 7-8, 2009
Track:Talladega Gran Prix Raceway
Bike:2002 Honda RVT1000 (RC51)
Weather:Mostly sunny and mild, highs in the mid 60's.
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 "Peace Beast" - A groovier look for 2009
The new racing season begins in the WERA SouthEast / Mid Central regions at Talladega. Everyone's all excited about the prospects of the new season. Many of us haven't seen each other since the end of last season and everyone's glad to see each other. Over the winter I accepted the bump to Expert class, so the plastic all came off the bike for a much needed repaint. The tired white paint on the bike, unprotected with clearcoat was starting to look somewhat dingy. This time, armed with valueable experience from last year's clearcoating fiasco, I managed to paint and clearcoat the bike with a much nicer finish. Sherry helped with some pinstriping, and I figured out a way to make some emblems to glue on the bike (using 3M spray adhesive) in order to get some of the effect I was after. The result was a much groovier looking bike while retaining the beastly number. And, of course, fresh new white expert plates.

During my last track experience at Talladega in August of 2008 I managed to get into the low 1:06's in lap times, so needless to say I was hoping for a chance to see even better numbers this weekend. No matter what you get you always want more.

I was like a kid on Christmas eve. In fact I had woke up at 3:00 in the morning on Friday, unable to sleep any more because of my excitement.

Logan came with me for this race. Actually, I talked him into going last weekend and offered to sponsor him for one race. So we loaded his bike alongside mine on the trailer and headed down. Getting away this time was very frustrating as the days leading up to the race weekend were blistering cold every day. Thankfully though the weekend turned out to be very nice, weather-wise. Each day (Friday included), we saw temperatures in the upper 60's to low 70's. At night it still got cold though. Friday night it dipped down to below freezing.

Loading the two bikes and all the racing trappings onto my 4x8 trailer didn't leave us a whole lot of room for much else. In fact as it turned out we didn't have any room for my rather large ramp. So we stashed the ramp at Logan's place, figuring that we'd just borrow a ramp from someone at the track when we got there. We didn't actually get to Talladega until after 9:00 on Friday evening. Dewayne had saved us some pit space in the paved paddock but it wasn't adjoining his pit.

The Double 90's: Who'z yer daddy now?
Brian Stokes had taken the space between us. While driving down I had asked Dewayne him (via cell phone) if he knew of anyone who had a ramp. We came up empty on that query, but came up with a solution: One of the folks had a metal trailer with a built-in ramp that could be removed with some effort. Logan and I managed to extricate that ramp from the trailer and cobbled together a method to use it to unload the bikes. It wasn't pretty and both bikes drug on the transition, but we got the job done.

After we got the pit setup Logan pitched a tent to camp in while I wandered around visiting with some of the folks I hadn't had a chance to see since last year. That included Vicky Sulpy, Todd Clark, Reg ("Sarge"), Bobby Qualls (and his brother Howard) and several others. I introduced most of these folks to Logan over the weekend. We were both pretty tired and we went on to hit the hay as soon as things settled down, but neither of us slept particularly well that night.

Saturdaymorning was a lot more hectic than usual for me. I was scheduled to be in the first practice group so I knew I'd be pressed for time. Registration wouldn't open until 7:15 and my practice group would hit the track at 8:30. That left me with just over an hour to get through registration, get my bike through tech and get myself geared up to get on the track. Ordinarily this wouldn't be much of a problem, but with Logan there it was a little more complicated than usual. He needed some help with getting started, which I gladly provided. But I still hadn't mounted the steering damper on my bike or changed the antifreeze for water. Since it was a below freezing night on Friday I didn't want to chance leaving water in the bike overnight.

So in the hour and 15 minutes available I got through registration, mounted the steering damper on my bike, drained the coolant and replaced it with plain water, went through tech, put the lower faring back on, checked my tire pressures (I was still running the Michelins I bought at Jennings), put the tire warmers on, fired up the generator (first time it had been started in several months, so it was a bit hard to start), got the tires up to temperature and got into my leathers.

It seemed like there were issues all weekend conspiring to keep me off the track.

Cornering hard in the bowl
I started relaxing a little after I was in my leathers and ready to go. I still hadn't heard any calls for practice groups so I just assumed that I had plenty of time. Suddenly I noticed that there were bikes on the track. All the speakers had gone out on our side of the paddock and I hadn't heard any of the calls. Once again I have only myself to blame as I wasn't checking the time for myself. But I was hearing the announcements just fine until suddenly I wasn't hearing any of them at all, so there was nothing other than my internal clock (which was sort of going off) that there was anything amiss.

Another angle on the Double 90's

When I realized what had happened I quickly pulled the warmers, started the bike and headed to pit-out. Sadly, there was only about enough time left in my practice session for me to get about three laps in. Only one of them registered and it was a 1:12. But I was taking it easy and trying to scrub and heat my tires a little.

I turned on the car radio so I'd be able to hear the announcements. Logan was getting pressed for time because he had just gotten back from registration and still hadn't made it through tech. I went with him to tech as they were calling 1st call for his first practice (group 3). I asked Randy if he could put Logan in the "express lane" since they were already doing calls for his group and the other folks in front of him didn't look like 600 novices. Randy got him teched quickly and we got back to the pit, fastened up his lower and installed the turkey pan just in time

Logan enters the bowl with another novice
for him to get out for what was left of his first practice. Neither of us got much practice in for the first session. His first registered lap on Talladega was a 1:26.286.

Still, he came into the pit very excited after his first turn on the track. He really liked the layout and was eager to get back out there.

During my second session I started pushing for better results. It was a good, clean session and I was the first

Getting low in the bowl
person to enter the track. I went through the entire session without getting passed by anyone until the very last lap. Tim Hunt and Blake Jones screamed past me on the final back straight. They had been running low 1:02's and a flat 1:00 during the session. By comparion every lap I registered was a 1:07. Very consistent, even if nowhere near as quick as the fast guys.

Logan's second session went much better as well. He started with a 1:23, ran a slightly slower 2nd lap, then improved each lap by nearly a second per lap. By the end of his second session he had posted a 1:18.988, just barely dipping into the 18's. Good progress, especially considering that he had never been on the Talladega track before and this essentially amounted to his third ever track weekend.

We went to the concession stand and picked up a couple of hamburgers for lunch. While eating I took a good long

From a distance on the carousel.
look at the rear tire on my bike. It didn't look much worse than it looked before I started this morning, and with good reason. I had only managed to put about 13 laps on the tire. The frugality in my Scottish blood began to take hold and I decided I was going to see if I could finish the weekend without buying a new rear tire. If I could do that I would be in good shape for the next track event, being able to justify buying a new tire and starting fresh.

Logan was dog tired after his track sessions and the limited sleep he'd gotten the night before, but he wanted to walk around and watch some of the racing action Saturday afternoon. I needed to take care of some bathroom business before we did that, so I told him I'd go take care of that and then we could head over to one of the fences to watch some action.

But when I got back Logan was sleeping hard. He wouldn't even respond when I called his name, so I went and watched the first race without him. Later I came back by his tent and tried to wake him again with no success. Over the course of the day I watched a lot of races and visited with lots of people. Every once in awhile I'd go back to check and see if I could roust Logan, but always to no avail. When the last race of the day was completed I tried again and he finally woke up. Although he didn't get to watch any races at least he got some much needed rest.

Karl, Catt and Dewayne had a friend from BeginnerBikes.Org who was taking the WERA Rider's School. He was from Indiana. His name is James but I don't think I ever got his last name. His wife (Deanna) was also there. He had

Just look at that patching in the turn!
found a killer Craigslist deal on a race prepped SV650. He was pitting with Karl Lemmer, which may have been a bad move. Karl had a devil of a time getting through his first race weekend at Talladega. Somehow he put his hex on James. James crashed his beautiful bike coming into the farmhouse turn right there during the Rider School practice. He tore the knee out of his leathers and evidently got a pretty good rash on his leg. He was wearing a bandage when I saw him next. He wasn't the only one to hit the dirt in the Rider's School that weekend either. He missed his mock race due to bike damage but still got his completion certificate. I never knew that the restrictions were so laid back. I guess David probably has a lot of discretion as to who he lets pass. It's basically just a way to separate folks who are barely able to ride from the rest of us.

Catt and Dewayne were planning on grilling burgers for supper that evening so I went to the grocery in Munford to pick up some side items to serve with the burgers. Ended up getting nothing but baked beans, as the options were very limited at that store. I was able to get ice and a few other items.

After dinner we all sat around a propane heater as the sun went down and it suddenly got cold. Bobby Qualls came over and he and I shared a few war stories. Karl, James and Dewayne got to work on James's bike. Rob Turner also came over and helped with the body filler. In a couple of hours they'd repaired the shift lever,

We get a lot of pictures from here.
bent the rearsets back into position, effected a makeshift repair to the upper faring stay and had the bike back in a rideable condition. James still wasn't sure he'd feel like riding because of his (minor) injury, but as it turned out he did ride.

I turned in and slept well this time. Sunday morning I got up with a lot less pressure, as all I really had to do to get ready was fire up the generator, get the tires up to temperature and put on my leathers. Seemed simple enough. I was ready and got on the track as soon as my session started. Everything was going great and my laptimes were getting better, dipping back down into the low 7's. I really expect I would have gotten a 6 but then as I wrung it out on the back straight I heard a strange noise from my bike and backed off. The exhaust can had started separating at the lower set of rivets. I pitted in after only 6 laps.

I had watched Dewayne rivet his can back together, so I knew it wasn't that difficult to do. Dewayne had run off somewhere but Karl felt reasonably competent to do the job so I pulled the can off and we got to work. I really didn't expect we'd be done with this repair in time for my second practice session but (surprise, surprise) we were.

Logan on the 90's
In maybe 30 minutes Karl had drilled a new set of holes, doubling the number of rivets in the can. I remounted the can, started the bike and felt good that this problem was solved.

I went back out for my final practice session. I had not put the tire warmers on the bike because of all the activity with the exhaust can so I took a couple of slower laps to try to heat the tires before trying to ride hard. As soon as I started pushing the tires started sliding. I slid badly on the double 90s. I thought maybe the tires just weren't hot enough so I gave it another lap but they kept sliding. I gave up and pitted in.

After pitting in I took a look at our handiwork on the exhaust. No joy. The can was already separating again, and now I knew I also had to put on a new tire before I was going to be able to race. The good news was that there was plenty of time to get all this done.

The original cause of the failure was the stress being put on the can to pull it back towards the bike. The mount didn't quite reach the connection point on the exhaust hanger, and was actually about an inch or more away. This caused a good amount of stress to be placed on the system all the time, not a good thing. I decided that

He'll be leaning a lot further soon enough...
surely I could fix the problem by putting some sort of spacer in. Dewayne found me a long bolt and couple of nuts (one to use as a locknut). I then used about one inch of washers to make a spacer. It actually worked surprisingly well. Dewayne did the honors of riveting the can this time and I put it back on the bike. Once again, I thought this problem was solved.

So after all that I ended up only putting in about 8 laps of (Sunday) practice. Less than the time I'd get out of a single sprint.

During Logan's first Sunday practice he was just a bit slower than during his second practice on Saturday. His fastest lap time was a 1:19.143.

Hiss second session was sullied by a fairly major red flag. Seems like all the red flags this weekend were thrown when 600 novices were on the track. They were down for about 20 minutes tending to a fallen rider. When they came back up Logan managed to put in a 1:15.951! Into the 15's finally! Great progress!

After Logan's second session was done I pulled the rear wheel off, took it over to Stickboy and got a new

See? He's already doing better!
BT002 mounted. He's almost out of them so it looks like I'll be making the switch to 003's pretty soon. I put the wheel back on, wired everything back up and put the warmer on. Lunch time.

Once again we fared on concession stand burgers. Catt and Dewayne had some leftover burgers and we might have eaten with them if we'd have remembered.

Because the red flag had taken so long they ended up having to hold off the final practice group's session until after lunch. As soon as lunch was over they sent the minis out for their final practice. This would really be ornery if it weren't for the fact that the minis racers were all kids. They can handle it. They had practice followed by their race.

Since I'd put on that new rear tire I (for the first time ever) went out for a scrub lap.

Race time. It's different being in expert class. First of all, you get to sit on the front row (at least you do every once in awhile). I was gridded first row, center. I pulled all the way up to Elise, slipped it into neutral and relaxed for a moment while we waited for everyone else to grid up. Chuck pulled down into his intense stare look. I popped it into 1st and got ready to go. Up came

Race time... the Farmhouse Turn
the green flag and I actually got an okay launch but the guy in the 2nd row on my right got an incredible launch. He came up and through as the other two guys against whom I was racing slotted in behind him and we entered turn 1. I was right there with them all the way to turn 2 but then they all started slipping away from me.

It didn't take long before they'd pulled a pretty good gap on me so I knew that unless something happened I'd be finishing in last place. I settled in and put together the best laps I was capable of, finally getting back into the upper 6's during that race. Unfortunately I started hearing the exhaust problem again about lap 8 or so, so I just kind of eased up on it for the final couple of laps. I still ran high 7's after easing up on it, so I'm certain that I could have put in another couple of 6's towards the end. Problem was, I was running against guys who were all turning 1:02's. I never had a chance.

When I got back to my pit I checked my exhaust can. All of the new rivets had pretty much blown out. After that we were talking to someone who said that you can't used aluminum rivets in an exhaust can. You have to use stainless steel rivets for exhaust cans. Well that explains that.

Logan's race ran without incident. He got an okay launch and another provisional novice else stalled on the launch, so Logan had a pretty decent lead on him the first time they came around. I was snapping pictures

Logan rounds the Farmhouse Turn
from the exit of the Carousel turn. I took several videos of him as well, but the videos are of low quality so he may not be able to get much from them.

As the race progressed, the other provisional novice (John MacDonald) reeled Logan in and eventually passed him. John was running about two seconds a lap faster than Logan the entire race, so that works out about right.

The good news for Logan is that he continued to improve. In his 2nd practice session he had managed to do a single 1:15, and that was just barely into the 15's. During this race he posted quite a few 15's, and his best time was 1:15.573. Almost half a second improvement since the morning session.

All in all, it was a great weekend. The weather just couldn't have been better (especially considering that it was February). Sometimes you're just going to have some mechanical issues. I'd rather have the kind I dealt with this weekend than the more sinister ones that can cost you lots of money to fix.

Most important lesson learned during this race day: You can't use aluminum rivets on an exhaust can.

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