How To Adjust To the Conditions To Avoid Crashing

An expert racer discusses his crash

Nick’ Note: Scott Rybarik pens this week’s column. He clinched the USBA Open Twins championship and then made a pair of errors that damaged his Ducati Panigale 899.

Scott Rybarik
2018 Utah Sport Bike Association Open Twins Champion, Scott RybarikSteve Midgley

I’m tearing the Band-Aid off—100-percent accountability—I fell down. I hate falling down, it sucks. It hurts my bank account and my body. I wrecked my favorite suit, a great helmet, and a good pair of gloves. Now for the rest of the story.

For the past several weeks in this column Nick and others have been talking about our sport. We’ve had recent columns on core concepts from the Champ School like radius = miles per hour, the reasons we crash, and how to find a way to ride and race as a lifetime activity. After years of being both a provider and a recipient of private coaching I got an invitation to guest instruct at the Champ School about four years ago, and that’s since turned into a more routine thing. There was a long trial period associated with this, constant evaluation by my peers on if I had the “right stuff” to be on a team of some of the finest instructors (and humans) I know.

One of the things this group does, that I think is rare in the world today, is total accountability. When one of us, as an instructor, makes a mistake we own it immediately. It's one of the core lessons of the school, one of the very first things we talk about with students in regard to their riding.

Last month I was assigned the role of presenting this concept to our group of students: “First and foremost, have a plan,” I said. “Every time you get on the bike have a plan to do something; it can be as simple as making sure you’re breathing or making sure you get to each apex. It’s not always going to work out, so if you make a mistake, restart your lap at the next apex, make sure you get that next one!” Total accountability, to yourself, right there on the road or the track. Let go of the mistake, but not the lesson. It applies in riding and it applies in life.

So when I fell down at our last race round of the year it required accountability. As I sat on the tire barrier and watched someone else win the class that I’d dominated all season I did a careful review of why I had crashed. The day after the round I called and spoke with Nick about it.

I’d gone out with a plan: Get to the lead as quickly as possible and maintain it for race distance. Conditions were a little suboptimal; there was a strong wind blowing and a recent Nitro Circus event at our track had left a lot of loose dirt to be blown around. However, my races earlier in the day had indicated that while things looked dirty, traction was actually pretty good and I had decent pace. I went into the race fairly confident that I could execute my plan.

The race got started and my start wasn’t as strong as I would have liked. I slotted into second position for the first half of the lap and then made the pass on the back section of the track. As we entered the final set of turns, starting with a fast left-hander, I was firmly in the lead and then it happened. The front wheel started pushing. “No problem I got this,” I said in my head as I put it a little lower in an attempt to reduce lean angle. Then there was the sound, the sound of the front tire howling as it was fighting for traction. I tried to save it, but eventually there was no hope. After pushing the front for 100 or so feet, I fell, and slid, and tumbled, and stopped in the gravel trap. I was okay, so I signaled this to the corner workers (what an amazing group of people they are) and then sat and watched the race from the tire barrier.

Ducati crash
Initial disassembly: Crashing is messy.Rybarik Collection

In a column not too long ago Nick talked about the reasons we crash. This crash fell into the final two reasons—a couple that we've only added to the school curriculum recently. Overconfidence. I knew I had this race covered. I'd amassed enough points on the season that I didn't even have to go on track to win the championship, but that's not how I wanted my last race of the year to be remembered. "He won the championship sitting down" is pretty lame in my mind, so I wanted to put an exclamation point on the end of the season with another class win. Then I got a little greedy, not only did I decide I wanted to win it, I wanted to lead all the laps, and that's where the last reason we crash came into play.

gravel trap
The Utah Motorsports Campus wants their gravel trap back, while in the background the bodywork wants a nice, new paint job.Rybarik Collection

A couple hours earlier I’d been on track for another race, and the traction in this corner was fine. In between the races the wind had been blowing strong and deposited some additional dirt in the corner. I didn’t allow enough time in the race to account for the change; I just went charging in there like normal, and there wasn’t as much grip as there had been before. I was certain I could win the race, but conditions had changed and I didn’t realize it until too late. We change a lot of things during Champ School, from course layout to the bikes the students ride, and getting students to take the time to adjust to change is a key takeaway.

Clem from Boulder Motorsports
Clem, from Boulder Motorsports, cleans the bike with compressed air prior to it being allowed in the shop for repair, refurbishing, and preparation for another title shot in 2019.Rybarik Collection

Motorcycle racing is a self-leveling sport. I went from hero to zero in one corner, but I’m thankful that I have the tools to analyze the crash and learn from it. Because I have this “technical, not emotional approach” that we discuss with our students, I can totally not make this same mistake again. Emotional riders can be spooked by a crash while technical riders understand and adjust. So I’m going to fix up the bike and get ready to defend my title in 2019. Another year of learning, competition, and camaraderie has come to a close and with it a set of lessons learned that won’t soon be forgotten.

Stay tuned—great things appear in this column every week!

More next Tuesday!