Racing Buddies

Racing Buddies

These are some of the people I raced with in my few seasons of road racing. Most of that time as part of the Great Lakes Road Racing Association – GLRRA. The idea of the MotoSpecta project began after I took some of these photos during one race weekend in 2000.

Bench racing and tales of derring-do

A Few GLRRA Racers

I took most of these photos on one rainy race day in 2000. Lacking a set of rain tires, I decided to take some photos with a film camera I’d borrowed at the last minute. I had just one roll of 35mm film that day; I missed getting photos of dozens of great people I got to know in GLRRA – too many to list. Racing is capital-intensive, so it wasn’t till 2004 that I purchased a simple digital camera and got photos of some of the former GLRRA crowd who I saw at track days.

Mike and his father both raced MZ Skorpions, a German-made 660 cc single (based on a Yamaha) in a one-make series called the Skorpion Cup. Mike also raced in GLRRA and he developed a close friendship with Jonas. Mike’s 2000 season ended spectacularly in the last round of the year. You can read about that below: “Mike’s Disappearing Act

Jonas was one of the most competent of our 2000 cohort. He started racing 600s but along with his close friend Mike switched to the new Aprilia RS 250s the season after Mike’s MZ met its end. Unfortunate that I don’t have a photo of him on the Aprilia as it was one of the nicest looking bikes of that period. He was fresh out of college and in training to work in the family business: a good-sized automotive supplier.

Steve was a member of the Dark Horse Racing team, one of the close-knit group of riders on 125cc GP bikes.
The 125s were so light and agile they were easily competitive with and successful against larger four strokes, like the Ducati SS 750 I lumbered around on. A few times I considered joining the 125 contingent. But then, they always seemed to be doing top-end overhauls mid-weekend… or even between races. All the 125 riders, regardless of what team they were on (or not on a team), had an admirable camaraderie that was unique in the paddock, but not at all cliquish.

Jeff seemed to me to be the spiritual leader (if you will) of the Dark Horse team and truly quick. He was from the Chicago area. I recall someone saying he had to fit his RS 125 into an elevator so he could work on and garage it in his apartment. It had never occurred to me that racing was even more challenging if you didn’t live in a suburban home with a garage. Jeff seemed to be good at all things both mechanical and electronic/ digital. He was one of the first to bring a digital SLR to the track and gave a lot us our first digital on-track images. He was also the first that I recall to duct tape a video camera to his tank for on-board video. He was a software engineer then, and last I heard he was head of QA at ICANN, the standards organization charged with overseeing the proper assignment of IP Addresses and Domain Names that fundamentally make the Internet possible.

Dave P. and I shared pit areas during all of my GLRRA years and STT track events until I stopped track-riding in 2010. He’s also one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. We are still close friends and stay in contact (not frequently enough!). Dave’s parents relocated from SE Michigan to a home less than five miles from Grattan Raceway. Dave’s dad, Richard, is an expert machinist and generous weekend host. He saved more than one track weekend in his well-equipped home shop when we needed repairs or new parts. Dave is a chemist of industrial applications of urethanes for the world’s largest chemical producer.

Dave G. is another one of those racers who will share tools, hand out expert track advice, and take the time to help a fellow rider with a timely repair or adjustment to turn someone else’s frustrating weekend at the track into a successful one. He was the first rider I ever met who was doing data acquisition on his bikes. Dave has been the operations manager and tire wizard for Sportbike Tire Service (STS) since 2011. STS is another spinoff business from Sportbike Track Time (STT) – both owned by Richard Harris. Sportbike Track Gear is another, owned by “Brian Van” (VanDenBrouck). STG is title sponsor for the MotoAmerica Junior Cup series.

Doug was also part of our 2000 cohort and rode that first year on his GSX-R 600 (above). Like many, Doug had a 600 when he got interested in racing. And also like many, he switched to join the growing number of 125cc two-stroke GP converts in the paddock. The 125s seemed to have way too much fun darting around the bigger bikes they raced against.

Ken, as I recall, was a member of Dark Arts Racing – another group of 125 GP racers. The Dark Arts team logo was a large gear with a skull in the center. Dark Horse used a mustang head for its logo. Dark Arts included Dawn who was a consistently fast rider among the 125s.

Saul had just recently moved to Michigan from San Francisco, where he had been a motorcycle courier for several years. He’d put more than 100,000 miles on this Honda Hawk GT (NT650) during that time. If I recall correctly he had rebuilt it with a 700cc kit before starting to race it in GLRRA. In SF, Saul had acquired a body-full of beautiful tattoo art. He went back periodically to the same artist to add more.

Willie (and his cousin Carlos) were both in the GLRRA 2000 cohort. I also saw them at some of the earliest Sportbike Track Time events in the couple of years before GLRRA ended (2003) when STT trackdays functioned as the unofficial practice sessions for the GLRRA series. I rode STT weekends until 2010. Willie built his skills and became an STT instructor. In this photo he’s wearing an STT instructor vest, not a “squid” vest. Willie is an auto-body painter.

Jim with the 2002 GSX-R600 he had just purchased in full race trim from Aaron Yates, the 2002 AMA Supersport national champion. Jim was skilled enough to make good use of it. He gave me a lot of good advice including trying to cure me of neutral throttle over the hump after Grattan’s turn 4; could have saved me a second per lap. I never got it. Jim is an executive engineer at Ford Motor Co.

Bruce – well Bruce’s R6 (No. 181) – in the pit camp that Bruce, Dave P and I shared. Actually, Bruce is in the background, under the pop-up, behind the tent post talking to Dave (only photo I have of Bruce). Most race days he ate a breakfast of a full rasher of bacon. Wow. I was always careful to be hydrated on race day, but couldn’t tolerate a heavy meal! Bruce makes his living as a luthier.

Mike’s Disappearing Act

We all have a few tales of drama from our racing days.

This photo of Mike was taken on that last, rainy day of the 2000 season. The overall GLRRA championship, based on a rider’s points total from all the classes they raced in during that season, was undecided and quite close.

One of GLRRA’s more ambitious racers, I’ll call “Zed” (not his real name), decided to compete in a race class he didn’t normally enter. The points from additional class races would pad his overall season total, perhaps enough to secure the championship. To do so, rumor had it, Zed had “borrowed” a bike from his unknowing brother-in-law.

The track was wet for that race. Zed, on the borrowed bike, lost the front coming out of Grattan’s uphill last turn onto the front straight (you’re at a decent lean angle and the front goes kind of light when accelerating over the slight crest onto the straight). He went down directly in front of Mike. Mike’s only path to avoid hitting Zed meant hitting Zed’s (i.e., his brother-in-law’s) SV 650, now spinning into the wet grass at the foot of the steep 20-foot bank on the outside of the turn.

Mike’s MZ moto’d over the stricken SV, but the impact didn’t slow it down much. Mike continued at a fair clip up to the top of the slippery bank where a highway-style guardrail separated pit lane from the track below.

Apparently Mike’s reflexes had him up on the pegs, so when the MZ struck the railing he fortunately cleared the handlebars and windscreen, and was just one knee shy of clearing the guardrail too.

A small group of us were standing along the outer rail a ways down from the impact. We all rushed to help, but when we got to the MZ, there was no Mike. Where was Mike?

Mike had disappeared into thin air.

In running to the scene we had watched the MZ coming up the bank but had somehow lost sight of Mike. Having (almost) cleared the outer guardrail he’d slid a good 30 feet across the width of the pit lane. As we looked for him by the MZ at the outside rail, he was actually now behind us, beside the inner guardrail that separated pit lane from the paddock.

Finally we spotted Mike, lying motionless up against the inner guardrail. He had the wind knocked out of him (hence motionless). There was a messy cut above his shinguard where the guardrail had torn through the leathers of one knee. Nothing seemed broken. Zed appeared to be unhurt

Once the EMTs cut the leathers off Mike’s leg and checked him out, they cleaned up his knee, but instructed him to get stitches. I took him to the ER, so the ambulance could stay trackside for the day’s remaining races.

The short ride back from the Greenville hospital was quiet. Mike’s knee was stitched up, but he was exhausted from the trauma and shock, his body a mass of nasty bruises now in full bloom.

The GLRRA team and the Faasen family (owners of Grattan Raceway Park) held a barbecue after the final race weekend of each season. Mike and I got back while it was still going.

There were probably a hundred or so riders and friends, including Zed, enjoying the hospitality when we parked and Mike hobbled out of my Jeep.

The whole thing could probably have been called a racing incident – shit does just happen. But something about Zed’s ambitions leading up to the incident had the taint of poor judgement: riding a borrowed bike in an odd class, in the rain, on a machine he probably didn’t have time to set-up properly. So, I was hoping Zed would make the first move and come forward with an apology.

Things quieted down to see what would transpire. Mike’s friends came up to check on him and Zed made his way over to offer an apology and shake hands. I don’t think Mike actually said anything but did accept the handshake. Mike was not one to hold a grudge. And he may have decided that Zed’s brother-in-law would probably have more instructive things to say about how the day had shaped up for Zed.