Backroad Ramblings: The Racer’s Almanac

March 29, 2012
Jason Giacchino
Jason Giacchino
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

A freelancer and published novelist Jason is currently the editor in chief of Mountain Bike Tales digital magazine and holds a State University of New York degree in applied science with a minor in journalism. When not hunched over a computer monitor, he can be found playing outside in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York.

Every year our rambler recovers from another winter away from motorcycles by watching some of the fastest two-wheeled riders on the planet.
Every year our rambler recovers from another winter away from motorcycles by watching some of the fastest two-wheeled riders on the planet. 

Some people trust groundhogs and their reactions to shadows to determine the duration of winter. Others still depend on Farmer’s Almanacs, charts, earth orbiting satellites and so on – but not this rider. No, for me winter’s demise directly coincides with the embers of racing obsession flaring into crackling flames.
The process begins with racing television coverage and my incessant desire to observe competitive events ranging from AMA Supercross, Supersport, Flat Track to just about anything with the possibility of a motorcycle making an appearance, however poorly assembled… Have you ever seen the 2004 movie Torque? I rest my case!
From there the procedure evolves to find me in the workshop, assessing all of the prospective modifications (repairs) required to make my own equipment competitive for the upcoming season: tracking down oil leaks, sealing rims that refuse to hold air and other such maladies that tend to take place while your bike is supposedly in a long winter’s nap.

After many months of procrastination, some online shopping and even a little bit of actual wrench turning, the weather outside slowly turns from frightful to reasonable. By the time I find myself embarking upon the annual discovery that I need a new set of ramps and, for that matter, a new pickup truck, the telltale signs of winter’s retreat can be witnessed all around. Days are longer, the sun is warmer, birds caw to each other in between bouts of bowel evacuations on my windshield. Life is good and the hum of well-tuned motorcycles circulates the local tracks once again, creating a background symphony in a world coming out of a long session of cold-induced silence.

Despite events rarely going to plan  our contributor also gets his amateur racing fix by lining up at the gate.
Despite events rarely going to plan, our contributor also gets his amateur racing fix by lining up at the gate.

As any amateur racer can attest, thin is the line between ecstasy and misery. Those first few events of the season are often pure elation to me despite the fact that rarely does anything go according to plan. I remember all too fondly the year my friend Steve had me load up my Kawasaki KX250 into his hauler for a March practice session up in the sand pits of Canada. The logic there was that, while the rest of the locals were enduring swamped out tracks and soupy trails, we could gain a few weeks early advantage by training north of the border.
The trouble was the place was actually too hot and dry when we were there! I foolishly packed way too little water and sported completely inappropriate (read: poorly ventilated) riding gear. Never mind that it was a 38-degree swamp at Steve’s place that same morning. By the fourth hour of pounding laps in the dust, I began considering suckling from the mineral spirits hose in Steve’s moto-hauler; after all, it couldn’t be worse than trying to milk a drop of water from the foliage I had managed to gather up in my rear sprocket.

About a decade later I found myself heading in the exact opposite direction toward Ohio for a track day on Friday and a professional race on the very same course on Saturday. It was one of those rare, unseasonably warm weekends in mid April and, thinking back to my earlier lapse in judgment, I made certain to pack adequate fluids for the affair.

Getting a bike race ready exposes the mechanical gremlins that have developed over winter.
Getting a bike race ready exposes the mechanical gremlins that have developed over winter. 

My R6 had been given the royal mechanical treatment the weekend prior, which included new tires, fresh fluids, brake pads and a smoked windscreen. The preparation was for naught, however, when – just after unloading her on Friday morning – my Yamaha began the most troublesome of annoyances in that it would simply cut out and stall without warning. Suffice it to say I was treated to a weekend of watching both the track day and pro event in my lawn chair. I did, however, get a decent farmer’s tan and, as for the bike, its next owner discovered a faulty ignition box after I ran out of cash trying to pinpoint the issue.

Even recently my early spring racetrack enthusiasm was put to the test a few years back when my cousin convinced me to take a trip out to a race facility that catered to shaggy, tattooed motocross racers. In other words, he and I expected to be the veterans of the affair at 30. In that regard we weren’t disappointed and as further proof of our combined inadequacy, I found myself getting landed on during our first qualifier. I was glad to have escaped the affair with only cosmetic damage to the machine and just barely regrouped in time to give it a go in the LCQ.

Just as our class was given the clear to line up at the gate, I found my path being barred by a track worker holding a pair of flags across my bars requesting, for whatever reason, to see my wristband before allowing me entry. In a panic I scrambled to produce the band I knew had been there two-minutes prior, and even resorted to heading back to my pit and tearing the place apart in vain when pulling the sleeve of my jersey up didn’t reveal the thing. Finally, as the gate dropped and the final qualifier got underway the band

Although it can be pure torture  racing is the best way to shake off the cobwebs of winter while looking forward to another season in the saddle.
Although it can be torture, racing is a good way to shake off winter’s cobwebs for another season in the saddle.

became dislodged from the Velcro closure of my glove, where it had apparently been all along. I was offered a chance to enter a lap down but I had used what little energy I had in reserve proving my innocence, and decided to call it a night. My cousin managed to come in 23rd out of 25 for what it was worth.

Despite a history that could have any non-racer scratching their head in disbelief, the signs of the forthcoming racing season are proof that winter’s demise is well on its way. Sure it would be a lot more convenient and painless to simply take the advice of a fat groundhog or dusty Farmer’s Almanac, but as any amateur racer can attest – thin is the line between ecstasy and misery.