Watch For The Syndrome

Kick Ass, Ass Kicked—it’s not not fate, it’s focus.

crashed motorcycle

At one point in my life, I was racing AMA full time and writing for magazines full time. I lived and worked in Los Angeles with two great friends, Lance Holst and Jason Black, and there were no dull moments. Imagine the bestest funnest life and then double it.

The situation would have been hard to screw up. We rode magazine bikes with magazine gas and magazine insurance. Every mile was “testing” and we hung out with a crowd who wanted to test all the time, seven days a week. Meanwhile, I was racing for Zero Gravity, Two Brothers/Erion Racing, and Dutchman Racing on very good equipment.

And as tough as it was to mess this dream up, I found myself dropping the ball occasionally. The worst was sitting against a cement wall at Heartland Park Topeka raceway, tears in my eyes as I watched the AMA 250GP field finish the race I had led for the first handful of laps. Crashing out of the lead of an AMA national while leading the championship points was perhaps my lowest racing moment, and my tuner Steve Biganski joined me in the shadow of the wall.

That night I replayed my crash and The Syndrome took shape in my mind. I termed it the "Kick Ass, Ass Kicked" syndrome and wrote about it back then for Sport Rider magazine.

This syndrome had been creeping around my life, smacking me down occasionally and in a variety of ways. Some smack-downs were subtle, like a speeding ticket in the last hour of a 10-day staff tour. Or backing my truck into a cement block moments after meeting Judy, the girl I would later marry. Unconsciously putting on my Dunlop cap during a seriously expensive and fun Continental Tire press introduction in Turkey, creating great ire.

And some smack-downs were huge: low-siding my Triumph loaner bike under a guardrail on the last day of an insanely fun German Autobahn-burning frenzy. Or high-siding Doug Meyer's ZX-11 out of Willow Springs' Turn 4 hard enough to snap the steering head off during an until-then-successful magazine shootout for unlimited motorcycles.

There were more smack-downs, but why fill the entire website? You get the point. Life would become incredibly wonderful and then BAM! My ass was kicked.

Initially, one blames fate. I did. I thought that life was cyclical and the bad follows the good and that’s just the way it goes. And then I got through that little pity-party and realized it was me, just me. My focus lapsed, my ass got kicked. I would let my guard down due to overconfidence caused by success, and that guard would get over-run, usually by gravity.

Speaking with Eddie Lawson helped my realization of The Syndrome and how to avoid it. Lawson crashed out of the lead of a wet race, a race in which his main rival Freddie Spencer had been taken out in the first lap. Eddie spoke with me about that crash, talked about his inattention due to Freddie's issue, his touching the wet white line and then flailing into the wet grass.

It wasn't fate for Eddie, it was a lack of focus. "I messed up." A World Champion notorious for never making excuses had me look at The Syndrome and realize the problem: Me.

I wrote about it in the mid-1990s and The Syndrome has been in my awareness for decades. "Watch for The Syndrome" is a common phrase between Judy and me when things are going amazingly well. My instructors and close friends know the story and hear the warning too when the great feelings are flowing. "Watch for The Syndrome" means: Enjoy the success, but Stay Focused.

And now recent events have reprised this subject.

Last month, my dearest friend got bumped from the Intermediate group to the Expert group. He was elated. Three laps into his first Expert lapping session he crashed hard.

Last week, one of my Yamaha Champions Racing School instructors won three races on Saturday. It was huge and he was the talk of the paddock. He then totaled his bike in his first race on Sunday.

Yesterday, a close friend set his personal-best lap time in the first session of a trackday and said, "I can't believe how fun this is." He low-sided two laps into the second session.

They were kicking ass, and then had their asses kicked. The Syndrome never relents.

The solution is to retain the mental focus and preparation you used to attain the amazing accomplishment after the amazing accomplishment. Lawson told me he couldn't believe Freddie had been taken out and he just relaxed too much. His focus lapsed, he ran three inches too wide and came away with zero points and an eventual second-place in the world that year.

As the years passed, I have tried to bring additional focus to the good times. I try to take an extra moment to assess, then a deep breath to make a plan. I will nod my head to the joys of the good times but not close my eyes to the moments after. That is my message to you, especially in this two-wheeled world that provides so many joys but can be so harsh to mistakes. Love the joy and stay in the moment.

All told, life may be cyclical and fate could have the upper hand. Even if that is true, I know for a fact that my inattention following big wonderful moments has hurt. That fact launched my awareness of the Kick-Ass, Ass-Kicked Syndrome. It can be prevented and circumvented with relentless focus. Bring it.

young Nick Ienatsch headshot
ankle injury at Mid-Ohio

At the pointy end of our sport, the emotions can soar, like putting the Dutchman Superteam’s Yamaha on the Daytona podium: Good times, big check. But the bad times can hurt, like when you highside your 250 into Mid-Ohio’s gravity cavity in morning warm-up after qualifying P3 the day before (Dr. Keiffer saving the weekend). Our goal is to continue the good times. (Photos: Dean Adams, Superbikeplanet.com)

More next Tuesday!