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Racing in the rain ...
Montour Falls' Bob Brown conquers his fears
Schuyler County resident Bob Brown recently wrote this story about a race weekend at Summit Point, West Virginia. Says Bob: "I have been road racing for 10 years. I used to own a company called EmpireGP, which fixed motorcycle bodies. We sponsored several racers over the years, one of them Joe Cotterino, a championship racer. I learned from fixing all of their mistakes that it never paid to race in the rain because they almost always crashed, and I ended up as a sponsor fixing their body work for free. I have always just bowed out when we had wet conditions, knowing first-hand the results -- and figuring it was not worth wrecking a bike or getting hurt in the process. For me, this was a real mental hurtle ... Although I crashed out in the race I wrote about, I did finish first in the ASRA Thunder Bike Race, the GT Lights Race, and the Light Weight Super Bike race" that same weekend.
By Bob Brown
Across the gas tank are the words “No Fear.” Below that is the cross of Christ. The steady rain beads up on the tank and the water runs off it.
It is raining and I am afraid.
Motorcycles and rain don’t go together. Motorcycles, racetracks ... and rain equal insanity. Or so goes the little voice in my head.
I am looking at my race bike, looking at it in a different way; maybe I should take a picture of it while it is still all together. It might not survive the rest of the day, and certainly there is a good chance it will not look the same. The same can be said of me. There is no amount of false bravado that can alter the reality of broken bodies and smashed bikes at the race track. It happens in the dry, but more often in the rain.
All right, I might be being a bit dramatic here, but so goes the little voice in my head.
It is possible to go well over 100-plus miles an hour on a motorcycle on a rain-drenched track and live and not crash; they do it all the time. They also go off the track, and riders get hurt.
I am at Summit Point, WV. Getting ready for my very first race in the rain.
Joe -- my partner on the Christian Sport Bike Racing team -- gives me my pep talk.
“You can go hard on the brakes, about 80 percent of what you would do in the dry. Keep the tires cool, find water to drive through to keep the rain tires cool.
“The rain tires are heavily grooved to channel the water away and are a very soft compound compared to the race slicks we normally race on.
Joe loved racing in the rain. While most riders hated it, he loved it. It is all about courage and your faith in those two credit card-size patches of tire touching the pavement. How well they will stick. How much notice they give you when they break traction.
I was nervous ... I was afraid.
At the track, they start the race by announcing the calls. First Call is a five-minute warning to get ready for your heat. They announce which race it is and what category. Second Call is a two-minute warning. Third Call and final call is the call to report to the pit-out area to do your warmup lap before gridding up for the race.
“This is your third and final call for lightweight, super bike,” the announcer said over the loud speaker in his rich baritone voice.
I pushed the bike off the stand and headed out to the pit-out area, weaving my way through the normal congestion of other racers and support people. We were waved on to the track to do our warmup lap and got a chance to view any changes to the track from the last race; it is also a time to put some heat in our tires. I make a point to not look at all the spots where other riders went off the track.
Racing is a game of confidence; it is the other guy who crashed, who screwed up or somehow got tangled up with another rider and went down. Not me ... not me. It is the mantra of all racers, not just me.
I look at my grid position -- where my position is for the start. It is written in pen on a piece of tape on my gas tank: 11 A is just above the words “No Fear.”
I am gridded in the front row of the Amateur racers; the Experts are in the front. There are about 30 of us out there braving the rain.
We all worry about the start. Turn One in any motorsport, at the start, is always a white-knuckled event. Today the rain only adds to that anxiety.
The flag drops.
The throttle and my adrenaline are both maxed out.
I have a great start. Before Turn One I have caught a bunch of the experts.
I am hard on the brakes coming into Turn One. From over 100 mph to just over 30 mph on a rain-covered track, all in a matter of seconds. I out brake a lot of other riders, passing them going into and out of Turn One.
Chaos is the only way I can describe those first few seconds of a race.
I decided in that moment when the flag dropped to trust my partner and his experience -- not my fears.
I was burning up the track with a new-found confidence ... the bike stuck. I passed one rider right after another as I made my way around the track. Each corner gave me confidence, each pass reassured me that both I and the bike could do this and do it well.
On lap four, I caught and passed two riders going through Turn Four at a little over 90 mph. In front of me were three other riders who had slowed down to take Turn Five, which is the slowest corner on the track. In a split second, I had to choose between passing all three of them or going hard on the brakes and tuck in behind them.
I decided to pass.
Going on the outside of the corner, I did the best I could to make the corner -- keeping the bike as upright as I could with as much of my body as possible hanging off to keep it in balance. Smooth on the brakes and throttle.
However ... with an ever-so-gentle slide of the front wheel, I was on the ground -- impacting on the pavement, the bike and I both on our sides sliding on the tarmac.
The normal phrase left my lips.
As the bike and I slid through the corner, my life vest inflated. The bike went one way and I another.
As I lay on the track with bikes narrowly missing me, I was smiling. I had just ridden one of the best races of my life.
My mantra has changed a little.
Photo in text: Bob Brown, right, with Christian Sport Bike Racing team partner Joe Cotterino. Brown is holding the first-place cup from an ASRA Thunderbike race that weekend. (Photo provided)
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