George McConnel's RC51 BLOG

Date:May 22-24, 2009
Track:Barber Motorsports Park
Bike:2002 Honda RVT1000 (RC51)
Weather:Partly to mostly cloudy, heavy rain at times, highs in the mid to upper 80's.
Conducted By:WERA

Track Diagram

Barber Motorsports Park is a beautiful, purpose built motorcycle racing. track built by George W. Barber, an avid automobile enthusiast who made his fortune in the dairy industry. It features 15 numbered turns, several of which are complexes. It also has many elevation changes. It can also be run as a "short track" wherein turn 5 empties out immediately into the back straight, bypassing nearly 50% of the track.

On the same campus as the track is the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, which began as Mr. Barber's private collection of vintage automobiles and motorcycles but now is a fully functional public museum.


Barber's Turn 5 - aka "Charlotte's Web"
year's visit to Barber was sullied by the fears from crashing at the end of the previous season. Since that time I had gained confidence and skill. It was in June of last year that I learned to corner with more confidence and became more competitive. I had not been back to Barber since then, so I was eager to see if the improvement I had seen on other tracks had carried forward to this one. It's worth noting that Barber was the only road course track left that I had ridden regularly where I had not yet "gotten a knee down". Needless to say that changed this weekend.

Logan and I drove down to Barber on Thursday afternoon. This would be Logan's first opportunity to ride Barber. We arrived at about 8:45, just barely getting there before they were going to close the credentials desk. We unloaded and unhooked the trailer, pitting next to Karl (and Dewayne). I went to fill the gas cans while Logan stayed and got his sleeping bag out so he could camp out for the night. I was going to camp in the

I followed Logan around for
most of our second session.
"Hotel Kia".

While I was filling the gas cans a lady came up behind me and said, "Did you forget something?" I looked around and it was one of my new friends, Sutton. Her husband Russell was nearby. Sutton was pointing at my empty trailer hitch. I slapped my forehead and said, "I knew I was forgetting something when I pulled out of Nashville earlier today! We chuckled and I pulled the humidor out of the back of the Kia and offered each of them a cigar. They graciously accepted a cigar each. Sutton said, "I'll light this one up tomorrow evening."

Friday morning Logan and I got up early, eager to get on the track. Unfortunately it was drizzling a bit of rain, but the drizzle stopped after a few moments. The on-and-off drizzle continued for much of the day, but it never got the track very wet. As it turned out I never actually had to ride in the rain at all the whole weekend.

Tech for the practice day was quick and painless, but the only classes we could choose from were named "Novice" and

Logan and I start down the Museum Turn
"Advanced". As they didn't have an intermediate class I suggested to Logan that we both just opt for "Advanced" tech stickers and be done with it. He'd be slow during his first session but would hopefully get quicker as the day progressed. During our first session I just went ahead and rode hard. I ended up lapping Logan, which was to be expected. I don't know what kind of laptimes I was running because I hadn't yet put the lap timer on.

During the second round of sessions a great disaster struck. There was very little announcing going on because Jeff (Mr. Microphone) was missing and Chuck Edwards was handling simple calls and very little else. But there was a red-flag incident during the Novice second round. After awhile it was evident that this was more than just a minor

Tipping it into turn 2
incident. The helicopter flew in and took off quickly but they didn't put anyone on it. The next hour or so we were waiting anxiously to find out how bad it was and getting occasional rumors that someone had been killed.

The truth was even worse than the rumors. Two people had died in a crash. One of the corner workers (Holly) had attempted to cross the track to remove some debris and a rider had crashed into him at full speed. He and the rider were killed instantly. The rider was none other than Sutton. I couldn't believe my ears.

Needless to say the track was empty for a couple of hours as an investigation was conducted. The news hit all of in a very personal way. Logan wasn't sure he even wanted to go back out on the track.

But we went back out after lunch and rode. Once I was on the track and life was simply a matter of riding hard and hitting my markers things seemed simple again. This time I had my lap timer on. I began the session behind Logan,

Heading for pit out on a partially wet track...
promising to follow him for a few laps to see where he was before passing him to see what I could do. When we got back from the session he had managed some mid '50s (1:54 was his best) and I had done some 1:46's. I was very pleased with those results. I had discovered that Logan was very difficult to pass because he had motor on me coming out of nearly every turn.

During the next session I started ahead of Logan and ran my own laps. During that session I managed to see laptimes dipping into the 1:44's. I had been hoping maybe to see a 1:45 and here I was looking at even better. This felt like a great personal achievement marred by the death of a new friend.

I let Logan put the lap timer on his bike for the remaining sessions and he did his best to get down into the low '50s, but I think the best he mustered all day was a 1:51. Still not bad, but he was hoping to finally best "the Old Man".

We're all a little shy at turn 5 this time...
It wasn't going to happen this weekend. I'm confident that as the afternoon wore on I got even quicker and have no idea what my best laptime might have been, but it's conceivable that I might have done a 1:43 or two during those sessions.

Saturday morning I went back out for practice and posted a 1:44 on the transponder time during the second session. This was cool because the respectable laptime would be registered on for all the world to see. I didn't race on Saturday, so once my two practice sessions were over I was able to enjoy spectating comfortably.

Sunday morning it was pouring rain. I had no desire to get on the track in those conditions so I abstained. If the rain

That pesky Brad Johnson --
always trying to pass me.
had continued the rest of the day I would have just missed my races altogether. But as it turned out the rain quit at about noon and got sunny and warm. The track was still wet in places but as the day went on even those places became less of a problem.

My first race, Heavyweight Twins Superbike was the third event of the afternoon. The classes on the grid included the new Women's SuperStock as well as V6 Heavyweight and V7 Mediumweight. I was gridded on row two, starting 4th on the HWT Expert grid. I got a pitiful launch, putting up a mondo wheelie while everyone around me blew past. By the time I had the front wheel back on the ground the Novices were going around me. I managed to get back around some of the novice riders, and as it turned out I ended up re-passing T J Strueber, but settled for 5th place. The track was wet enough in places where I was turning 1:51's, nowhere near my best laps.

My second race, Heavyweight Twins Superstock was the ninth event. By then the track had dried enough that I was able to run very close to my best speeds. This time I got an even worse launch and stalled the engine. By the time I was up and rolling my group was rounding turn 2. However, I ended up lapping two novice riders during the race, setting up a nice outside pass under braking into Charlotte's web on one of them. That was pretty cool.

Most important lesson learned during this race weekend: This sport is very unforgiving. In an instant everything can change. My best wishes go out to Russell in the loss of his wife Sutton.

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