Living the Dream? Yeah, Jeff Berry was the hot ticket during the Kawasaki Superbike Showdown at Infineon Raceway. Jeff got anything he wanted: food, beer, bikes… heck, even a few babes.
When we chose our Infineon Dream Job winner, Jeff Berry, the thing that won us over was that he fessed up to be a complete motorcycle junkie since he was a kid. Rather than having posters of hot chicks on his bedroom walls like millions of other prepubescent teenage boys, he had road racers. Instead of sneaking porno mags and hiding them between the mattresses, he had moto mags. And rather than fantasizing about meeting Carmen Electra, he hoped to one day touch Doug Chandler. Now that he’s older, he says he still hasn’t kicked the motorcycle habit and that he starts his works day off by zoning-out on MotorcycleUSA.com before being functional at work. It’s time to meet the man, the myth, dare we say, the legend himself, Jeff ‘Make It A Double’ Berry.
When he showed up at Sonoma he was shuttled directly to the mini-moto event where he would race against legendary riders like Gary Nixon, Rickey Gadson and a host of sand-bagging journalists. It would be a good time for everyone, but this tale is best told through the eyes of our Dream Job winner himself. Keep in mind we only edited about 1% of this report – the guy can tell a good story, so prepare to be green with envy as our aspiring motojournalist rubs his Infineon Dream Job experience in your face.
Reality Bites: My Weekend As A Motojournalist
Andy Warhol once said that everyone is famous for 15 minutes. Being the greedy, self-absorbed American male that I am, I think 15 minutes is not nearly enough time to enjoy the envious stares and decadent perks that accompany fame. No, I think everyone deserves at least a few days of being treated like the VIPs we all know we are. Hence the reason I entered the MotorcycleUSA and Kawasaki’s “Living the Dream” contest. Here was my chance to get flown to the AMA Superbike races at Infineon Raceway in beautiful Sonoma, CA, rub elbows with the glitterati of the motorcycle and AMA racing communities, all the while being pampered and coddled like Paris Hilton’s Chihuahua. All I had to do in return was interview some racers, ride some brand-new Kawasaki bikes, and write a report on the whole crazy weekend. Ouch. Get off my arm!! I know fame is relative, but for a confessed motorcycle nut like me, this was my idea of what Warhol had in mind.
One tiny problem: I had to actually win the contest first.
I had never really entered a contest like this and was convinced after submitting my entry that I’d never actually hear from MotorcycleUSA. But then, a few weeks later as I was packing my bike’s saddlebags for a weekend sport-touring trip, I received a call from Ken Hutchison, MotorcycleUSA’s Editorial Director. After a few obligatory questions, Hutchison eventually let me know that I was the contest winner. Once the feeling came back to my extremities, I thanked Ken profusely and drank a celebratory beer. I was going to California!
Envy him. Call him names behind his back. Do what you want. What you cannot do is take away the memories Mr. Berry has etched in his wee little brain of the weekend he spent with Kawasaki & MotorcycleUSA during the AMA Superbike weekend at Infineon Raceway.
My trip began rather unceremoniously at sunrise on the Friday of race weekend, with a short flight from my hometown of Louisville, KY to Atlanta, GA, followed by a much longer flight from Atlanta to San Francisco. As cross-country flights go, mine was uneventful, save for the kid who sat next to me the entire flight and decided that I was his own personal jungle gym. I tried to ask him to please stay in his seat, but upon discovering the kid only spoke Spanish, I realized my attempts at peace negotiations would be fruitless. I simply sat back, listened to my iPod, and tried to think about how much fun the next few days would be. I had no idea.
After arrival in San Fran, I was whisked away by a private driver and taken to our hotel and home base in San Rafael, about 20 minutes south of the Infineon Raceway complex. In my room, I found a bag of snacks and trinkets waiting for me, along with all my media credentials and schedules for the weekend. Taking a look at the schedule for Friday, I realized the first event, a mini-moto session near the track, was already underway. I hopped back in the car and off I went. My stint as a motojournalist had officially begun.
Once we pulled up to the mini-moto track, I knew that this was going to be a ridiculously fun trip. About ten KLX110s, specially prepped with taller bars, larger foot controls and free-flowing exhausts, sat waiting to be abused, er, ridden. Next to the bikes was a perfectly manicured, if slightly damp, mini-moto track, complete with table-top start finish, a mini-double, and even some whoops thrown in to keep the dirt poseurs (like me) honest. I ducked in to the huge track-side tent and the greetings and salutations commenced. This is where I first met Hutchison in person. Ken, an eminently nice guy who introduced me to those already in attendance, including Jan Plessner, PR Manager and host extraordinaire from Kawasaki, and Jessica Zalusky, the only current female rider in any AMA Superbike race series. Also there for the fun were Kawasaki drag racing champ and all-around nice guy Rickey Gadson, AMA Supercross and Motocross champion Jeff Emig, and some guy named Gary Nixon. Yes, that Gary Nixon. As in “two-time AMA Grand National Champion, Motorcycle Hall of Fame-inductee, seriously fast on anything with two-wheels” Gary Nixon. I was starting to think I was in over my head, but at least I was having fun doing it.
After about an hour of meeting and greeting, the riders got geared up and prepared to get muddy. You see, that old saying “It never rains in California” obviously wasn’t applicable today, as an afternoon’s worth of wine country showers had turned our cute little track into a greasy, slimy, bike-eating mess. Oh well. At least I wouldn’t be the only one eating mud by day’s end!
Ken (Shift gear) shows Jeff (to his right) the fine art of scarfing down plate-fulls of great grub – something every good journalist has to learn how to do.
Having never really ridden any sort of motocross track, I was curious to see how my newbie trail-riding skills would translate. It turns out they translated about as poorly as my Spanish did with that kid on the plane. To put it conservatively, I won’t be challenging James Stewart for an AMA title any time soon. I spent the next few hours sliding and crashing my way around the track, but loving every minute of it. With some pointers from Ken, I eventually got the hang of it and actually caught a little bit of air at one point. The KLXs were an absolute hoot to ride. We did our best to kill each and every one of them, but they all kept chugging along, their little 3-speed automatic gearboxes throwing us around the track at more-than-adequate speed. Unfortunately, a nasty gash on my shin and the call of ice-cold adult refreshments meant an end to my burgeoning supercross career. The group eventually followed suit and the day ended with a superb meal and some great conversation in the back of a vineyard in Northern California. Being a motojournalist was truly starting to suck.
Day two started with the threat of rain, but things soon cleared up and we made our way to the track. The day’s first event was a two-hour street ride on the Kawasaki motorcycle of our choice. Being a recently-converted KTM 950 Adventure owner, I decided to go back to my sportbike roots and ride a shiny new ZX-6R Ninja. Once mounted up, the pack of riders headed out from Infineon towards the coast, taking in some fantastic scenery along the way.
While this isn’t a motorcycle review, I have to give the ZX props. The little Ninja proved to be a willing back road partner and kind of shocked me with just how “streetable” it was. For a 600-class machine, it had a wide, flexible powerband, making shifting at speed much less of a chore than on most modern supersport bikes. When I did have to shift, I found the bike’s transmission to be flawless, while the factory slipper clutch kept things nice and calm on downshifts. Me likey.
Suspension and brakes were top-notch and never felt overwhelming like many of today’s repli-racers. The ZX-6R’s ergo’s were definitely committed, but the relatively soft and wide seat and smooth motor made things more than bearable. In fact, I ended the ride wondering why more sportbikes didn’t feel this plush on the street. Well done, Kawasaki.
Jeff Berry and his childhood idol, 3-time AMA Superbike Champion Doug Chandler chillin’ on Doug’s ZX-10R in the paddock at Infineon Raceway.
Back at Infineon, we retreated to the Kawasaki hospitality suite for some lunch and racing action. Seeing the racers at speed from this vantage point really drove home the fact that these guys are fast. Stupid fast. Once the dust settled, Ben Spies proved to be the Superbike race winner for the day, while Eric Bostrom picked up the Formula Xtreme win over teammate Jason DiSalvo.
After the races wrapped up, it was now time for me to keep my end of the deal and turn into a real, live motojournalist. I was tasked with heading down to the paddock and interviewing whatever racers we could trick into thinking I knew what the hell I was doing. Ken and Don Becklin, founder and owner of MotorcycleUSA, prepped me with some sample questions, calmed my nerves with hilarious stories of racer interviews gone bad, then sent me out into the field. Gulp.
First up, we tracked down Josh Hayes, Superstock and FX rider for the Erion Honda team. The Mississippi native was very patient with me and answered all of my questions like the pro that he is. We even joked around a bit, none of which can be repeated on this PG-13 rated site.
Next up was Jake Holden, the rising star for the Jordan Motorsports Suzuki team. After some glamour shots with Holden’s disgustingly gorgeous umbrella girls (I want those pics, Don!), I got down to the interview at hand. Just like Hayes, Jake answered all my questions patiently and never made me feel like the newbie I was. I was starting to get the hang of this, but my next interview would test my newfound journalistic mettle.
When I was a kid, I remember my brother having posters of Doug Chandler plastered on the ceiling of our bedroom. Now, nearly 20 years later, here I was standing in front of the man himself, shaking like a twig, trying to get the questions to come out of my mouth. Chandler, the three-time AMA Superbike champ, has just this year returned to Superbike racing with a privateer effort on a Kawasaki ZX-10R. His day had ended prematurely, so he seemed understandably bummed about his results. Still, he gladly obliged me and let me talk with him for a few minutes. I asked about his current team, his set-up plans for the next race, and the new racing school he’s recently formed. But really, I only heard incoherent babble, kind of like the teacher on the old Charlie Brown cartoons. All I could think was “I’m interviewing Doug freakin’ Chandler.” A surreal moment for sure, and maybe the highlight of the weekend for me. (Then again, the free swag from Kawasaki wasn’t bad either!).
The next day continued the theme from Saturday, with more racing action in the Superbike, Superstock and Supersport classes. The best part of the day came when Sean Alexander, Kawasaki PR guy and recently departed editor of a certain other online moto-mag, asked me if I’d like to present the trophies to podium winners of the Superbike race. I was on that opportunity like a fat kid on cake. We rushed down to the winner’s circle where I proceeded to nervously walk each trophy up to Miguel Duhamel, Mat Mladin and Ben Spies, respectively. From behind the scenes, it’s amazing how much preparation goes into each and every aspect of these race weekends. Even the trophy presentation had a team orchestrating every move from the side of the podium. Kudos to the AMA and Infineon for making it look seamless to us regular Joe’s at home and in the stands. Following a laid back meal at the track, we returned to the hotel where I rested up for the final day of my dream weekend: a full track day at Infineon, followed by my first foray into drag racing.
Monday morning the sun was out and I was pumped to ride Infineon for the first time. The track day was hosted by Monte and Bonnie from SportBike Track Time, and having ridden their track days before, I knew it would be a safe and fun event. After a quick rider’s meeting, we were divided into groups by ability and headed down to the pits. I correctly put myself in the C group, knowing that 99% of the folks I was with would be faster than me. After a couple of sessions aboard the same Ninja I rode on the street ride, I was starting to figure out the track and feel more comfortable. Ken decided to slum it with me in the slow group and helped show me the racing line. That proved to be a big help as this is a technical track with lots options from corner to corner. Following someone who’s been there before made a big difference. It was also during this session that I realized just how much faster Hutchison is than me. Oh well, at least I outpaced him on Tourist Trophy over in the Playstation tent. (Don’t deny it, Ken. Just accept it and move on.).
Once our track day time was up, we moved over to the drag strip to try some runs on the new Ninja ZX-14. I had never tried drag racing before, so I was amped to hurl this 180-hp beast down the track. Rickey Gadson was supposed to be our coach for the day, but he missed the first few runs due to a spill on the track earlier in the afternoon. Steve Atlas, Associate Editor of Cycle News and another guy who’s fast on anything with two wheels and a motor, filled in for Gadson at first and gave us newbies some pointers. Ken also helped me out with some tips he had learned from Gadson at the ZX-14 press launch. Unfortunately, all this help meant diddly-squat when I flubbed my first run by inexplicably getting my boot caught on the footpeg when trying to shift to second. Doh! My next two runs proved to be at least a little cleaner, and gave me a chance to feel how fast the biggest Ninja really is. People, this thing flat out moves. It reminded me of that scene in Spaceballs where the enemy spaceship “went plaid.” The ZX-14 definitely goes plaid. Absolutely unreal.
Here’s Jeff making his run for pole position during jounalist GP qualifying with Ken chasing him down. Jeff didn’t crash at the track day but four riders did.
The weekend ended with a sushi meal in San Fran and some well-earned cocktails with the remaining journalists and Kawi reps and guests. My flight home on Tuesday was as uneventful as my flight out, and thankfully included no chair-hopping children. It gave me plenty of time to get my head straight and take in everything I’d experienced during the past few days.
I’d ridden on a (sort of ) motocross track for the time. I’d drag raced for the first time. I got my picture taken with some smoking hot umbrella girls (seriously guys, I want those pics.). I’d interviewed some of the heros of motorcycle racing, new and old. Heck, I even picked up some free stuff along the way. Heading back to my job and reality was not going to be easy, but at least I could say I enjoyed my 15 minutes, or in this case, three days, of fame while they lasted. Massive thanks to everyone at Kawasaki and MotorcycleUSA for putting on one hell of a weekend.
Now, Ken, about that job?
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