The Racing Bad, The Racing Good, Part 1

Part 1 on racing’s reality and wonder.

Spondon TZ750 after crash
The Spondon TZ750 was loaded into Rusty Bigley’s trailer by a wrecker as it would not roll.Nick Ienatsch

The Racing Bad

The TZ750 snapped sideways and ejected me over the top and then cartwheeled itself into pieces. After four years of racing it at Phillip Island, Mosport, Barber, and New Jersey Motorsports Park, the Spondon and I parted company at speed. It was big. It was ugly—painful and expensive.

The float in the #4 Lectron carburetor stuck, pouring fuel into the fairing where it pooled and then shot backward as I accelerated out of NJMP’s turn 9, coating the Dunlop slick with a huge gob of 110-octane mixed with Yamalube R oil.

It was gone in a millisecond and as bad as it was, it couldn't have happened in a better location. I was well out of the corner, basically upright, and planning on bending hard left into turn 10. When I was ejected my landing pad was a little bit of pavement and then to relatively friendly grass—but still hard enough to break the toe sliders off both of my Alpinestars boots and batter my body badly. I was wearing the new Supertech R and they did an amazing job of protecting my feet and ankles.

It happened seven days ago during Friday AHRMA practice but I wasn’t allowed to lie around and complain. I raced the Speedwerks Honda NSR250 that weekend (the “Racing Good” coming next week) and then flew to Cherry Point Marine Corps base to teach a Level 3 class with Yamaha Champions Riding School’s Mark Schellinger. Note: I did have one 24-hour period at Brian Smith’s house where he and his wife Karyn medicated me with Tito’s vodka and Dunkin’ Donuts. Second note: They are not doctors, but I did feel better. Third note: There was some celebrating in there too, see next week’s column.

Level 3 school with Mark Schellinger
Five days after the crash Mark Schellinger and I put on a pair of Level 3 schools for the Marine Corps. And, no, you don’t mention petty issues like bruises from jumping off a motorcycle to this group of America’s best! Respect.Nick Ienatsch

Hindsight

Like most racers, I’m big on learning from mistakes and losses. My focus on maintaining traction on Rusty Bigley’s Spondon has been an intense pursuit, as you can imagine, and I was as intense as I’ve ever been prior to this crash. I was in racing shape both mentally and physically. This mechanical failure could seem unavoidable, but there are three thoughts I want to put in the minds of all of us who push motorcycles to the limit, especially vintage machines.

1) Boot Check. Years ago I attended an AHRMA riders meeting where the instructor gave us a great tip: "On the straights, look down at your boots—you can often see a leak on your boots before it reaches the rear tire." This is great advice for vintage racers or even modern racers during the first run on a rebuilt bike. It has helped me on the Spondon at least three times.

Boots after the crash
The boot on the left, my right boot, is shiny with fuel even an hour after the crash.Nick Ienatsch

Sure enough, as I slowly sat upright in the grass surrounding turn 9 I saw that my right boot was shiny with premix. But in my defense, I had been looking at my boots in the first two practices and pulled into the grass during the second practice when my temperature gauge showed a rapid rise to 90 and then two corners later to 105. A coolant plug had popped out of the left head and my boots were wet. Checking the temp gauge and my boots saved possible drama earlier, but by this third practice I was jacked up and ready to roll. The float stuck on the fifth lap and we were trying pretty hard with no thought of boot checking.

2) Hold Your Liquid. Our fluid-containment lower fairing failed miserably. By rule, AHRMA bikes must be equipped with fluid-containment fairing lowers but a TZ750's lower fairing is stuffed full of exhaust pipes. The premix had little trouble escaping the lower and reaching the tire 1 inch away. We should have run the Lectron overflow tubes into a container since we knew our fairing lower would be pretty feeble at containing liquid. Even a diaper zip-tied into the fairing lower could have prevented the accident.

right rear section
This is the right rear section of the Spondon fairing soaked in premix.Nick Ienatsch

3) Get Good Parts. Lectron has a revised needle and seat for these carburetors but we did not know this. We have struggled with stuck floats over the years, but always upon initial startup, never after we're rolling.

Looking back points fairly clearly to the crash, doesn’t it? These issues were in my mind, but I chose to ignore them because riding this TZ is such a joy in my life. My heroes all raced TZ750s and this Spondon is everything you imagine a 320-pound motorcycle making 140 hp in a two-stroke rush should be.

There are no dull moments; no time when you wish it was faster; no corner entries where your heart isn’t in your mouth; no exits where you aren’t minutely modulating the right twist grip against traction and wheelies. There’s no TC or ABS or quickshifter or auto blip or smooth four-stroke power. It’s just you and the Spondon—more alive than at any other point in your life. When I’m not on it, I’m thinking about it.

TZ750
The TZ in better times... That Scott Russell replica Arai helmet is now scratched. Not much good about crashing.Etech

Downside

Rusty Bigley has his 1983 Spondon TZ750 apart assessing damage. I’m monitoring my left wrist and right lower leg, not sure if X-rays are needed, wondering if the swelling hides something serious. This is the downside of racing, of riding. The cost and pain and future ramifications of abusing your body by throwing yourself from a moving vehicle are real and possible.

We are often in denial that it won’t happen to us, that focus, skill, caution, and training will keep us safe. This belief is very much my belief. It’s why I write riding technique columns, why I teach at Champ school, and why I race.

I have always assessed my racebikes carefully, quick to grab tools and double-check snugness, making sure tire pressures are right, eyeing critical components pre-ride—every ride. In fact, after the first practice at NJMP I checked the TZ over and found the right front brake line (stock Yamaha rubber line because we just fit a new front end) was being abraded by the fenderless tire; another practice or two it would have been sawed through, and I don’t even want to think about losing the brakes on a TZ750 at the end of NJMP’s front straight. But that’s why I checked it.

My blindness to certain issues on the Spondon are excused with the fact that it’s a vintage bike, that we don’t have a large budget behind it, that I love to race it more than almost every other two-wheeled activity. But those excuses have no validity, do they? The bike is edgy enough when it’s perfect, so turning a blind eye to previously sticking floats and poor fluid containment in the fairing lower was a ticking bomb. It exploded last Friday in NJMP’s turn 9. I’m still hurting.

Swollen wrist after crash
This hand usually has knuckles showing and my wrist is normally skinnier. Dr. Thomas Kollars took time on Memorial Day to help me out and I appreciate it (thanks to Beth Kollars for arranging it). I never race or track ride with my wedding band on due to swelling in a crash, though the emergency rooms do have a nifty ring cutter.Nick Ienatsch

My focus is on my riding, believing that proper actions on my part will keep me safe and near the front of the field. Last year I told Rusty that if I ever crashed his bike, it would be big and ugly because there’s no place on the track where a bike this fast isn’t heavily loaded, like a coiled spring waiting for a mistake by me. A stuck float caused this crash and taught me a valuable lesson about niggling problems leading to disaster when the pace is up. Let’s all take this lesson and bring a critical eye to every bike we touch.

Part 2: The Racing Good next week!