Not since 1999 has there been a Grand National Mile in Sacramento, California, so how could I pass this one up? After the 32-hour drive to Springfield last month (by myself) 8 hours up I-80 with good company seemed downright local.
Nephew Nathan Cernicky, Will Kenefick of RetroSBK and I rolled up to the back gate of the CalExpo facility early enough Saturday (July 30) morning to drive the van around the ring road, taking in the scenic grandeur of the immaculately prepped, pool-table smooth dirt surface.
According to former dirt-track racer and current AMA Grand National Championship operations manager Steve Morehead, “The track is two inches of sand over a clay base, with 14 tons of chloride mixed in to help pack the surface and keep the dust down.”
I see, and will be able to see around the corner thanks to no guardrail on the inside, unlike at Springfield where your vision is blocked by the rail… comforting.
Also since Springfield, Yoshimura had completely gone through the official CW Honda CRF450DT’R; $2800 worth of engine love that included a top-end port/polish and a new cam ($499). And, our transmission was treated to an ISF physicochemical process—a sort of vibratory massage using high-density non-abrasive ceramic nuggets that remove surface asperities and microscopic imperfections for reduced internal surface friction. We were also sporting a new stainless dirt-track low pipe ($1350) with Data-box self-mapper bung ($429) that plugs right into a PIM-2 programmable ignition unit ($339.95). Cosmetic speed enhancements consisted of a Lime Nine graphics kit ($198) and some Spider grips ($17) and red CV4 silicone hoses ($198) that had me craving Twizzlers. Furthermore, Southland Racing Products revalved our shock for less stiffness after Springfield, a change for the better at my local SCFTA track, too. And so, we unloaded the CW van in the Sacto infield with boosted power, a sweet chassis and great expectations.
The speed disparity from sitting in the pits looking pretty to the first few laps of practice on this blazing-fast Mile caused a sort of shellshock, but reminded my brain why we’re here and to focus hard on the now—and what I now lacked was corner entry speed. My best time of 43.87 seconds was no match for Michael Avila’s 41.17. I wasn’t getting good feeling from the front 19-inch CD5 Goodyear, so before the second practice we backed out rebound damping and lowered tire pressures in hopes of improving sandy clay/front rubber relations. As I cinched up my Bell Star, my observant crew told me where the fast guys were shutting off, but when I tried to do the same, things went all twitchy and I slid off the groove.
Luckily, some friends came by to remind me to move the wheel way back in the swingarm when replacing a worn Goodyear CD8 rear ($180), and by the looks of my bike’s behavior, they suggested we raise the front to add trail. It worked; a 43.074 was 15th fastest and got us a second-row start for the heat race.
Things were moving forward, so after the red light went on/off, so did I—jumping the start, after which I was escorted all the way back to the fifth row. I did my best to come home ninth—but only seven directly transferred: 42.359. Back to work.
From a front-row start in the LCQ I got the holeshot and led for a few laps (of six) before 10y, Doug Chandler protégé Briar Bauman, passed me. I was through to the main on the fourth row! (improving my time again to 41.834). We went for the same kind of launch in the main but the rider in front of me went sideways instead of forward, which meant it was time to either roll off or punt—a place we’d rather not go… luckily, we wound up shooting to the inside of Turn One for a good drive past a handful of riders, and tried to settle into a pace that would let us finish (hopefully) 12 laps. Nope. Four laps in, a red flag came out after #83 Chris Podergois put #14z Jess Garcia into the fence just ahead of me. Luckily Garcia’s bike took out the posts before he followed…good to know he was okay.
At the restart, roost covered my last tear-off with seven laps to go. Closing on Podergois, I made a move up the inside into Turn One that was met with a retaliatory swerve, which put my front on a little inner-turn berm and caused a big front-end push—there but for the grace of the Maely steel shoe go I.
With three laps to go and my final tear-off gone, I could see but a glimmer of hope from the lights shinning down from a blurry grandstand. Head down behind the Renthal handlebar pad down the back straight, I cracked open my visor hoping to see my turn-in point…bad idea! My eyeballs received an immediate sandblasting: If I couldn’t see much before, I was now looking through a muddy mixture of tears and dirt—thanks to the chloride, my whites are now whiter than ever!
Live and learn. Next time: more tear-offs! I did finally see a white smudge/flag through my dirty shield, but since I never did see the checkered flag, I somehow feel like I’m still racing.
Mike Martin took his first Pro Singles win, Mikey Avila took second, and Shayna Texter (one fast female!) took third. You have no idea how good they are.
Next round: Indy! August 27! God willing and with a few more tear-offs, I hope to see you there.