I recall reading a very moving quote in an interview although who was being interviewed now slips my ever-shrinking memory banks. The gist of the quote went something like this:
Interviewer: What advice can you give others at the bottom rung of the ladder that hope to succeed as you have?
Subject: Never give up and purchase any book you can find on how to fail.
Interviewer: Don’t you mean to say, “ Purchase any books on how to win?”
Subject: No, there are thousands of books out there that do little more than to over inflate the ego, create false expectations, and fail to portray the truth that it is wasteful to expend all of your energy chasing after something that may have only a one-in-a-million chance of success. What would really help would be if someone were to come out with a book on handling rejection, what to do if you’ve mismanaged your money, how to start over when everything you’ve worked toward crumbled away, and how to deal with the stress that comes with advancement. Figuring out how to succeed isn’t the hard part, figuring out how to handle the reality of failure is.
No time for upgrades, I have to win this race! Oh, that looks pretty expensive. Can you install that in less than two minutes?
Of course, failure has always been one of my areas of expertise, so rather than take the subject’s advice in trying to locate a book on such concepts in the realm of amateur racing; I figure perhaps I should attempt to write one.
As such I have assembled the first known unofficial guide to failing at the racetrack, as only a lifetime of poor results could validate. Keep in mind that while some of these techniques have come very naturally to me, others required several repeat attempts to master. Without further ado:
Step 1: Don’t Plan Ahead
There is perhaps no greater a way to insure poor results on the weekend then to defer all of your motorcycle’s maintenance and fine-tuning until the actual day of racing. True masters at the concept have been known to go as far as to bolt new hardware to their bike as they are lining up on the starting grid.
Struggling to locate the shifter position beneath your left toe or trying to keep your new grips from rotating toward you are surefire methods of increasing your track day failure potential. Other options in this category include using race day to try new engine settings, test a new exhaust system, experiment with tire tread life, wear new riding gear, or borrow a bike you’ve never before ridden.
Energy bars, sports drinks? No way, cuts into my awesome upgrades budget. Dollar store bucket of cream cheese is the new breakfast of champions!
Step 2: Diet
Unless you’ve experienced firsthand the gastrointestinal strain of a trackside chilidog coupled with the usual-race day butterflies while attempting to negotiate a sharp left-hander alongside 19 other motorcycles, you’re simply not trying to fail hard enough. Go ahead and look at the really fast guys’ pits next time you’re loafing about before being called to the staging area. Note the energy bars, sports drinks, fresh fruit, and simple carbohydrates. Yeah, that’s not a coincidence. This is exactly the type of race-day menu that can land a person on the podium, not to mention free up massive funds that we need to allocate to Pepto-Bismol and Extra Strength Tums glove box rations.
Step 3: Sleep
If you’re really serious about failing, there’s no excuse whatsoever for getting a solid night’s sleep before race day. Not to worry, I’ve discovered that simply thinking of what could potentially go wrong the following day is a very natural means of keeping you away from any serious rest. Not to mention the several pots of coffee you’ll consume while trying to rebuild the entire engine that you plan to race in less than six hours. As an added bonus, this practice can often merge right into Step 1 if you’re lucky.
Step 4: Weather Report
It takes a certain level of commitment to shut off the news before the weather report but trust me, there’s a whole lot of potential for failure in heading to the track with absolutely no idea what old Mother Nature has in store. Leather riding gear in the pouring rain, nothing but a nylon jersey when there’s frost on the ground, and wool socks in a heat wave are all opportunities to insure that you’ll have wasted your entry fee.
Step 5: Tools
Look at all their fancy tools and equipment, I’ll be laughing when I beat them! Uh oh… I think I left my 12mm wrench at home. Think they’d let me borrow one??
Don’t even get distracted by those riders whose pit happens to look like something out of the Sears catalog. Giant red tool chests and racks filled with fresh tires are not what you’re after if failure is truly on your agenda. The best practice, as I’ve learned time and time again, is to fill your truck with all of the wrong tools while managing to leave the only three you’ll really need at home on the counter.
Better still is to convince yourself that the wrench you absolutely must have to keep your radiator from falling off is, in fact, somewhere in the cab so that you can spend a vast majority of the morning cutting your knuckles on the hundreds of sharp edges that make up the underside of the driver’s seat.
Step 6: Accommodations
Only a rank beginner will make the mistake of booking a hotel near the track the night before the race so as to enjoy such luxuries as hot showers before or after the event, soft beds and pay-per-view movies. A true failure will figure it much more beneficial to drive the three hours each way to the track and back, that way both loading and unloading can take place in complete darkness under total exhaustion.
Changing a tire is easy, don’t need none of those fancy tools and/or friend to help. Nothing like bruteforce to get a job done.
Step 7: Friends
Hey, there’s absolutely no reason to surround yourself with like-minded individuals at the race track. After all, what more could they do besides help steady the bike while you’re working on it, help lift it onto its stand when your energy is all but depleted, convince you to eat right, make conversation on the lonely drive, and perhaps video tape practice so you can see where you need to improve? A true failure would have the presence of mind to show up to the track just as they came into the world: alone and cranky.
Step 8: Distractions
Another gem of a technique involves the fine art of letting your mind wander in those critical few moments before the gate drops. With practice you can learn to worry about such things as whether you remembered to lock the door to the house when you left, forgot to shut off the oven, feed the cat or pay the electric bill. Begin light with exercises like wondering if you remembered to refill your tank after practice or tighten down that rear axle after replacing your chain then gradually move up to more grandiose distractions.
The list could go on and on, but I fear if I give up too many of my secrets, as there would be little reason to actually buy the book. Besides, just like with winning, only one rider is capable of coming in dead last in each given race. I fear my advice simply wouldn’t be as effective if everyone out there was trying to lose.