Things Continue To Not Go Well, How To Avoid A Crash

Recognizing and halting the downhill spiraling of events that lead to crashing

In last week’s Ienatsch Tuesday, Nick rolled headlong into trouble on the Spondon TZ750 with shagged tires while Ryan Burke decided that racing a borrowed Ducati Panigale was a solid plan. Both situations had disaster written all over them. Did each plan work out? And if so how did they stop the train of bad decisions from continuing down the tracks to its final destination?


I did go out in the first Mosport VRRA practice on ice-cold, shagged race tires. Guess what I did? Slowed down, took no chances, got the tires warm before I asked much of them. We got gas for the genny and borrowed a used rear tire from a friend, but the whole weekend was me guiding what could have been a runaway train, motivated with the knowledge that I would be the person severely hurt if the train left the rails. The TZ only ran on three cylinders and I never had grip all weekend… That frustration was offset by the wonderful people of the VRRA, the glory of Mosport, and the amazing legends of our sport.

I remember this moment very clearly: I was standing next to the TZ in full gear as final call for my first practice was announced. I saw in my mind and felt in my soul that things “were not going well.” The weekend was unnatural and a bit of a cluster, different than any race weekend I had ever experienced. We were unprepared, rushed by the electrical gremlin, distracted by fanfare. Mosport is unyielding to mistakes. The Spondon misbehaves on the best days and it had sounded sour when Rusty warmed it up (alternating onto three cylinders).

I muttered my mantra—“Where am I, what am I doing?”—the saying that focuses me as a rider and refocuses me when my mind strays. Let’s look at those two questions:

  1. Where am I? At a huge vintage race in Canada, held at an "old-school" (walls everywhere) track, all by myself with the exception of Rusty and Kurt.

  2. What am I doing? And this is the question that helped me realign my priorities. As a racer, I was there to win, but I looked at the bike, the weather, the tires…and answered this question with, "I'm here to enjoy this bike and track, and to meet my heroes." I wasn't in the championship hunt and I planned right then to have the best time possible on the bike we had.

Another option is to “not go out.” But I don’t believe in skipping the last ski run of the day because that’s when skiers get hurt; I believe in upping your mental and physical game when consequences get dire. I raced, set a new TZ750 lap record at Mosport (according to loosely kept notes), won Heavyweight GP, lapped side-by-side with Phil Read and Steve Baker, all of us on smokers, and created memories that will bring a smile forever. I didn’t win my most competitive class, but I didn’t lay on the ground and then in a hospital bed. Yes, I had an epic, memorable weekend, and the snow-filled train never left the rails.

Nick Ienatsch on the #64 Spondon
One of the coolest laps of my life. I’m on the #64 Spondon following Phil Read (321), with Alan Cathcart on the #1 and Steve Baker on #32, entering the pits at Mosport after two “parade laps” at the 2017 VRRA races. Phil set a terrific pace and “parade” doesn’t describe it! Ten minutes later world champion Steve Baker on the CMR TZ750 and I lapped again. Awesome and worth the trip.Alex Bilo

Checking In With Ryan Burke's Snow-Filled Train

Ryan's text was waiting for me when I landed: Won It!

Mark Schellinger and Ryan Burke
Last year this R1 went undefeated and never failed, but it decided to throw a rod in the first practice of 2018. Mark Schellinger (left) and Ryan Burke came up with a plan to handle Ryan’s first ride on a Ducati. There are five MRA #1 plates between these two guys. If you want that level of success on two wheels, you must recognize the series of negative events and halt the downward spiral with mental and physical excellence.Nick Ienatsch

I called him. Ryan has roadraced for 20 years and laughed when I mentioned the downhill karma train. “I never thought of it like that,” he said, “but, yes, I felt the struggle we were in. We had a lot of things against us. It would have been easy to wad it… I used to be the guy who crashed on weekends like this.”

What does he do differently now?

"Mark (Schellinger) and my whole team kinda realized we weren't going to make the Ducati into a Yamaha, so it became my job adapt to the bike. I just got real technical about what I was doing on the bike. Mark and I talked about maximizing the Panigale's strengths, taking advantage of what it did well rather than worry about what it didn't do well. All my focus went on my riding, how to ride this bike."

All riders will find themselves on a downhill runaway karma train someday and must revert back to two core approaches: Complete mental focus and exacting technical operation of the bike. Recognize the train but don’t be a crash victim; get focused and technical.

More next Tuesday!