JD Beach Delivered Ironman Superbike Double At Laguna Seca

“This is what we signed up to do, and I am not going to quit.”

JD Beach
JD Beach expected to perform well in his World Superbike debut this past July at Laguna Seca Raceway but, due to circumstances beyond his control, he completed only one of three races. He was fourth and fifth, respectively, in the two MotoAmerica Superbike races.Brian J. Nelson

“I went up to the Corkscrew like normal. Next thing I knew I was flying through the air.” That is JD Beach’s memory of his crash on the opening lap of the FIM Superbike World Championship Superpole race in July at Laguna Seca Raceway. The Attack Performance/Estenson Racing rider was torpedoed by Alessandro Delbianco as they tipped into the track’s legendary corner.

Neither Beach nor Delbianco was able to restart the race, which was shortened from 10 to eight laps and won by series point leader Jonathan Rea. For his misstep, the 21-year-old Italian was penalized by race direction for “riding in an irresponsible manner that caused the crash of another rider.” He started race 2 later that afternoon from the 19th and final grid position.

Beach was uncertain if he would be physically able to contest the second 25-lap World Superbike race, never mind the 23-lap MotoAmerica Superbike finale. “I got my knees good on the handlebars and went headfirst into the ground and hit my head and shoulder,” he said. “I definitely didn’t know it was coming. I’m hurting.”

Beach was the lone American to enter the US round of the world championship. That contrasts with past events, in which fellow countrymen John Kocinski, Ben Bostrom, and Colin Edwards scored race wins and AMA regulars peppered the starting grids. Former Attack Performance rider Josh Herrin, now with Yoshimura Suzuki, made his World Superbike debut last year.

Attack Performance owner Richard Stanboli, who once built a point-scoring MotoGP bike from scratch, is well-known for taking a big bite. "I always enjoy a challenge," he said. Before making the leap to the world stage, Laguna Seca race 2 winner Chaz Davies and Orelac Racing's Leandro Mercado rode Stanboli-built Kawasakis in AMA competition.

Beach and Stanboli have a well-documented racing history. The pair first worked together in 2011 as part of Team Cycle World Attack Performance Kawasaki, a private AMA Pro American SuperBike and Daytona SportBike magazine project that, full disclosure, I organized and was in part funded by Kawasaki.

After a fourth-place finish in that year's Daytona 200 on a ZX-6R, Beach replaced four-time national champion Eric Bostrom, who retired after the season-opening event, recording six top-10 SuperBike finishes on the team's ZX-10R. Beach then returned in 2012 to the middleweight class, winning MotoAmerica Supersport titles on Graves Yamaha YZF-R6s in 2015 and '18.

After seven seasons on 600s, Beach was understandably nervous about returning this year to literbike competition. “I wanted to be on a Superbike, and I knew I was ready,” he said. “But the last time I rode one it didn’t go great. So there was a small part of me that was worried I would be the guy who could ride a 600 but couldn’t ride a 1,000.”

Richard Stanboli
Attack Performance owner Richard Stanboli is pleased with the progress MotoAmerica Superbike rookie JD Beach has made this season. “He already has a win. He’s been just off the podium a bunch of times. We’re fourth in points—top privateer. Not a bad place to be.”Brian J. Nelson

Before his first preseason Superbike test with Stanboli, Beach spent three days on a RiCKdiculous Racing Yamaha YZF-R1 at Buttonwillow Raceway Park. “It was stock,” he said about the R1. “The only thing it had was race slicks. By the end of those three days, I wanted more power, and I wanted to go faster. It made me feel good that I wasn’t scared of the bike.”

Stanboli was impressed by Beach’s initial speed, saying, “Right away, he was within half a second of [2017 MotoAmerica Superbike Champion] Toni Elías and Herrin at the first test we did at Buttonwillow. I thought that was pretty impressive. He’s more of a wind-up guy; it takes him a little longer to get going. His acceleration as far as learning the bike has been good.”

When schedules don't conflict, Beach has been performing double-duty, competing on Yamaha machinery in American Flat Track also under the Estenson Racing banner. "We're still trying to fight some of the evils of flat track," Stanboli explained. "Too much use of the rear brake in the incorrect places. He has to do it there [in AFT], and he has to not do it here [in MotoAmerica].

Moto America
“With this motorcycle and Dunlop, tire life has been pretty good,” Stanboli said. “Toward the end of the race, it’s always there. With the Pirelli, you have to be more conscious about how much heat you put into it, how much wear you put in, how much pumping it does.”Brian J. Nelson

"It's been a little bit of an uphill battle getting rid of his foot. He's like, 'Take the brake off.' Well, we can't do that. Letting the electronics do the work [on the Superbike] instead of overreacting and doing some of the stuff late. No rider can be spot-on; the electronics can do it really, really well. The rider is always chasing it."

When asked in what area Beach has improved most since they last worked together, Stanboli didn’t hesitate with his response. “His feedback is greatly improved, and it’s accurate,” he said. “He’ll tell you it’s doing this, this, and this. If you ask him, ‘What part of the entry?’ he’ll give you exactly what you’re looking for. And the data backs it up.”

Beach says Stanboli was talking about a World Superbike wild card before the ink dried on his contract. “I was on the fence,” he admitted. “We had good speed at the first few MotoAmerica races, but I didn’t feel I was quite there yet. Then I got that first win [at VIR]. We decided to do Laguna at Utah. I knew it would be a good weekend for me because I like this track a lot.”

World Superbike corkscrew
Quick in World Superbike race 1, Beach (95) was knocked out of the Superpole sprint by a trailing rider. “Richard looked at the data from the crash,” he said. “I definitely didn’t know it was coming. When I got hit, I twisted the throttle wide open. I’m sure that didn’t help.”Brian J. Nelson

Beach qualified 16th for World Superbike race 1 on Saturday. He ran as high as ninth but was forced to drop out after just 12 laps, the victim of a broken shift-shaft knuckle—a failure Stanboli had never encountered in his many years of racing. Beach qualified and finished fourth in the 23-lap MotoAmerica race, seven seconds behind winner Elías.

Expectations were high on Sunday, right up to the Superpole race crash. “When I got back to the pits, I didn’t feel like I was going to race—any of the races,” Beach explained. “My knees hurt so bad I could hardly walk. Richard was like, ‘Just wait and see how you feel later.’ An hour went by, and he was like, ‘Just wait and see how you’re feeling.’

"We talked a little bit before I needed to get dressed. I don't really think I was ready, but this is what we signed up to do, and I'm not going to quit. I got dressed quickly, went back to the garage, and kind of surprised the team when I walked in with my suit on. They thought I was going to ride, but they didn't know for sure. I wanted to do both races."

And that’s exactly what Beach did. He completed the opening lap of World Superbike race 2 in 16th, then spent laps 2 through 21 in the final championship-point-scoring position, 15th. Honda-mounted Ryuichi Kiyonari passed Beach on lap 22. The difference between the two riders at the checkers was nearly 5 seconds. Tire choice, Beach explained, was a factor.

Josh Herrin at Laguna Seca
Seen here chasing Josh Herrin at Laguna Seca, Beach earned his first Superbike podium in April at Road Atlanta. “I wanted to be on a Superbike this year,” he said. “I was definitely more prepared than the first time.” In 2011, Beach raced a Stanboli-built Kawasaki ZX-10R.Brian J. Nelson

“I think it was good to do that race,” he said. “We took a chance with the Pirelli rear tire. Yesterday, we went with the [standard] SC0, so we went with the soft [SCX] tire today. It dropped a lot. I feel if we would have had the SC0, then I could have gotten 15th and that one point. When Kiyonari came by me, his bike was hooked up.” Kiyonari also ran the SCX.

After changing leathers, Beach finished fifth in the second MotoAmerica race. “It was like yesterday—five of us fighting,” he said. “Garrett Gerloff got out front and started going. And then there was Cam Beaubier, Toni, Herrin, and me. We were all right there. Toni started to make a little bit of gap. Cam got by Josh, and he started pulling away with eight laps to go.

“I made a few attempts to get by Josh, but he came right back by me. With three laps to go, going into turn 2, we got behind a lapper. Josh got by him, and the lapper turned in a little bit, so it was hard for me to get by him. Josh got a small gap, and I just couldn’t make it up.” With six of 10 rounds in the books, Beach is fourth overall in MotoAmerica points.

Beach was visibly exhausted on Sunday afternoon after 48 laps of tough on-track competition. “I prepared as much as I could leading into this weekend when I was back home,” he said. “We had two really good weeks coming into here, and I felt well-rested when we started Friday. Throughout the weekend, I was getting more fatigued.

“My body didn’t really feel too bad; mentally, I think I was getting a little tired. There was a lot going on—high, low, high, low. It definitely was a long weekend, but I wasn’t feeling too bad until the Superpole race. Getting cleaned out in that race didn’t help me. I felt like we had two good bikes to finish those two races strong. I did what I could as far as my body hurting.”

JD Beach at Laguna Seca
Laguna Seca took its toll on Beach. “It was definitely a long weekend going from one bike to the other and different tires,” he said. “Between sessions, I had to switch suits and even helmets because World Superbike has the FIM homologation requirement.”Brian J. Nelson

Stanboli was pleased with the team’s effort at Laguna Seca but, as always, he was seeking more. “We did a day and change testing at Buttonwillow, which is a little different racetrack, and we made improvements. Grip was consistent, and we made some really good, almost track-record-pace runs at the end of the tire. So we were pretty confident.

“At the test, we had certain valving and then we came here and it was a bit more. We started here, we took another step, and then we took another step. We did something completely different on the front end, and he really liked it. But, at this level, it’s a matter of the rider being comfortable with the track to be able to get the most out of it, using all the race line.

“I think the bike was pretty decent,” Stanboli added. “In the right hands, it’s a 10th-place bike. That’s no knock on JD, but he doesn’t have any experience with this motorcycle at this track. Last time he rode a Superbike here was our Kawasaki in 2011. Completely different animal, completely different dynamics, completely different traction control—nowhere near as refined.”

Beach and Stanboli now head this weekend to Sonoma Raceway in Northern California for round 6 of the MotoAmerica series. What’s next, big picture? “That depends on opportunities,” Stanboli said. “Back with the CRT project, MotoGP might have been a possibility, but with heavy manufacturer involvement, without big money, it would be super hard.

“Of course, World Superbike would be good. Some of the rules—development of the software, for example—still lend themselves in favor of the factories. I think it’s difficult to be competitive without at least a good working relationship with a manufacturer, especially with regard to electronics. Other than that, the rules package is really good.”