Losing your mojo is not cool. For now, mine has taken a sabbatical, fuck knows where. It did pop back for a fleeting visit during the MCN Festival weekend but for Rounds 3&4 of the Maxxis Flattrack National Championship it was sadly missed.
Some DTRA competitors will probably be aware that Greenfields is a bogey track for me, which is grossly unfair as it’s by far the best facility in the country. If you haven’t been imagine the perfect, idyllic farm setting with a mini-motocross track winding beneath ancient oak trees, a moat, camping field and to top it off a full scale clay flat track circuit complete with alternative TT course (jump and a right-hand turn). When I was a kid I’d draw pictures of such a utopia and I’m always taken aback with how close to these scribbles were to resembling the Pickering family’s farm in the Lincolnshire Wolds.
Beach, Greenfields, Hospital – that’s been the pattern of events for the last two visits and I was determined to enjoy 3rd time luck and swap the latter for a final and maybe a podium.
With little time to make changes to my CCM Rotax I had to stick with the wood off-cut seat bodge and blowing zorst. My paddock temper tantrum at Hells Race had left the throttle tube an inch shorter and one wouldn’t arrive for weeks so I fitted a Venhill unit from another bike and a fresh cable, this time with a larger nipple to avoid the Rye House jamming incident from reoccurring.
The Hooligan Championship would also run at Greenfields so the Cagiva was wheeled out of the Bike Shed showroom and given a full pre-race overhaul. Whatever! Two straight bar mount bolts were swapped for the banana shaped ones, fuel in the top and it was good to go.
Saturday was very nearly called off as rain belted down at right angles and drenched the billiard-table-smooth track. We all felt for George Pickering and his gang, they take track prep really seriously and spend long hours grading and packing the dirt so that we can all enjoy a top notch surface. This year they upped the ante and imported a special dust inhibitor from America to spray on the track in a bid to avoid the need too much watering and to achieve a *blue groove later in the day.
Being honest, and totally selfish, I wasn’t fussed if the had rain continued. My head had gone and the last thing I wanted to do was jump aboard a bike in the wrong mindset. I tried the full arsenal of motivational giddy-ups but nothing worked, I simply wasn’t up for it. Maybe I was bored of broken and aching body parts, maybe I was nervous but masking it with a sullen demeanour. Surely that would change once the flag dropped, wouldn’t it…?
The crosswinds came, parted the clouds and the sun put his hat on – with a chinstrap to keep it tight for the rest of the day. In for a penny, in for a pound, I donned the suit of armour.
*Backing-it-in and sliding out of corners eventually forms a thin layer of rubber on the dirt surface, the holy grail of conditions if you like riding a super smooth track. Scroll to the bottom for track prep guide.
Saturday would be the traditional oval layout, Sunday would see the infamous TT format adopted, as seen in these pics. The track was brilliant from the very first lap, predictable and slick, just how I like it. No matter how hard I pushed, the front gripped and the rear stayed in check, relatively. I ran in the Restricted and Thunderbike classes on the CCM and seemed to go fairly well despite feeling like a petulant child who’s just dropped their Mister Whippy after one lick. I had a few stiff words with myself on the start line and tried to get psyched – apparently I wasn’t listening.
Running two classes is a fit man’s game, I’m in denial and apparently no longer one of those. The only time I get out of breath these days is once a month at a DTRA meeting. Unless eligible young ladies are reading this… in which case I regularly spank pro racer #46 Dan Kafka’s Ultra-megathlon times without even trying – fact!
Although this all sounds mighty negative and moany I did manage a couple of wry smiles as the track grooved-up. Turn one didn’t need much in the way of braking and no matter how often I thought I’d overcooked it on the way in the Maxxis DTR-1 tyres just bit the dust, literally. The sound of chirping tyres on squashed mud is usually something your hear in badly dubbed movies (especially gash Tom Cruise ones) but it’s a rewarding reality on a really well prepped surface. And whatever the Yank gunk was, it’d worked, by early evening the temperature had shot up, the dust was minimal and lap times tumbled.
I had a couple of good dices and I nearly bagged a second place in a Thunderbike heat behind Mike Hill #35 but with a couple of laps to go I over clubbed it and left braking way too late into turn 3, running wide or blowing the groove in American. Tom Clemans #42 pounced and took second, I then tried too hard and lost drive which left the door open for Richard ‘Giraffe Leg’ Rowden #70 to throw it up the inside into turn 1.
I’d made both the Restricted and Thunder finals but elected to sit-out Restricted and save my beans for the Hooligan racing later in the evening. I can’t remember where I came in the Thunder final, somewhere nowhere but I’d stayed out of trouble and it was nearly a whole day without a crash – score!
The old faithful Cagiva didn’t even need a whole corner before stirring my soul. I fucking love that thing! The tiniest squeeze of throttle and the Ducati 900 (small valve head from the injected Monster, not 900SS – if you’re interested) fires a whopping shot of adrenaline into both arms. The zorst is completely unbaffled and once spinning above idle it gives me a stonking ear boner, maybe I crash it so often because I can’t bare to let the revs drop. The rest of it though is a bit shit. You can’t get forward because of the tank position, the rear has no grip on a good day, the Heidenau K73 is now completely shot, the rear brake is non existent and the I’ve never even looked at the suspension, let alone tweaked it. It’s as it was during a 10,000 mile luggaged-up ride around Europe nearly a decade ago, just the fork legs dropped in the yokes a smidge. And therein is the problem. There isn’t enough steering lock to get me out of trouble.
Although I hadn’t managed to get back in the zone I was nearly enjoying myself against the Krazy Horse freight train of Indian Scouts. Staying within half a lap of rapid Spaniard Feran Mas #555 was nearly impossible though and the final was definitely going to be a one horse race, all I had to do was be somewhere, stay on and grab some points. Perfect time to start tinkering then, nope. IF IT AIN’T BROKE DON’T FUCKING TOUCH IT!! Thinking I was bit clever I let some pressure out of the rear tyre. Psssssssssssst, pssss, pss pss psssssst. About that many PSI were released and I was definitely going to be faster.
I got a fairly good gate pick and made a belter of a start exiting turn 2 in the lead. The braking point I’d been using all day suddenly became the wrong one. The Cagiva slid out from under me and my left leg didn’t possess the strength to hold on, BLAM, down I went. Conscious that 2 tonnes of Hooligans were bearing down I held my breath and scrabbled to my feet in double quick time, phew! Going again I tried to make up places but felt inches from disaster, my money was on a rear puncture. Maybe I’d let too much air out and spun the tyre on the rim tearing the tubes valve…maybe I was just plain knackered, maybe I simply wasn’t good enough. Rather than leave it too late and hurt someone else I bailed, riding off the track and around to the pits to call it a day. That’s the chances of a decent championship position gone then. At least some of the experienced guys had commented about the track feeling slippery, maybe dew was settling or something, either way I was glad to have trusted the seat of my pants rather than carry on using the ‘well it was fine earlier’ mentality and caused a pileup.
Sunday I should have stayed in air-bed. The CCM didn’t like the jump on the TT course, although I was getting used to it, the throttle was jamming wide open again and then the electricity fell out causing a misfire which slowly degenerated into the Rotax motor not revving-out at all. I swapped to the Cagvia, what could go wrong with sending that thing into orbit…. After a few steady laps and some OK landings I thought I’d made a wise decision. Then the inevitable happened. On the tight, near hairpin left just before a right kink preceding the jump I was coaxing the throttle to hover just above idle, not loads, just 500 or so revs to save feathering the heavy bastard clutch (big boots and steel shoe rules-out gear changing).
I can’t have been doing more than 10 mph. Oh for fucks sake, not again! My gauge for knowing if I can save a highside is the feeling through the bars of fork stanchions smashing the aluminium fuel tank cover. A soft ally thud is usually OK, a solid whack is a sure sign of imminent pain.
Surprise, surprise I landed on the same shoulder that hadn’t recovered from Round 2 at Peterborough. I felt a crack and I hoped it was my shiny new Nexx helmet hitting the deck but as I bent down to pick the bike up and couldn’t I realised something was properly buggered. The rest of the day was spent doing an Admiral Nelson impression and generally sulking. The silver lining to the cloud though was watching the other guys and gals nailing the TT jump.
Despite most Thunderbikes running wimpy Yamaha R6 forks and the Vintage class machines being on the whole thoroughly inappropriate for airtime everyone was committed. One Harley 45 piloted by James Smith #143 even had suicide shift and no left footpeg – top marks for effort.
The Minibikes were a giggle to watch and I think that class could be for me next season, smiles and wide eyes are visible beneath goggles and visors. Watching Pro class is as much grounding as it is exciting. It’s not just that they’re covering ground more quickly but their parameters of control are infinitely greater than us relative beginners. Tyre marks on bodywork, banging bars and rubbing shoulders yet they’re able to adjust lines without losing too much momentum.
One day, maybe, if my mojo ever decides to come out of hibernation.
For a moan and excuse free official DTRA race report – click here and if you want to take part yourself, or learn the skills needed check out the Champions Flattrack School just up the road and keep an eye on the Greenfields Dirt Track Facebook page for info on summer sessions.
Tom Bing Photography took these great shots at Round 4 on Sunday and has just released this vid, well worth a watch.
Previous race reports – click here
Track prep guide – click here – It is written for American stock cars but the principals are similar.