Fire and Water
Barber Motorsports Park – Leeds, AL
The final episode of this trilogy opens with a noir reflection of the triumphs from the last two rounds. Visions from Pittsburgh and New Jersey played in slow motion, properly building the sense of eminent success. All things leading you to prepare for the Grand Finale; the final scene where the protagonist makes that last step towards actualizing their destiny and becoming the hero we’ve all be waiting for. The script has long since been thrown aside as the scenes have rewritten themselves in real time. With every race, the story line swings so wildly, that as audience members, we’re getting emotionally drained. We come into this final act expecting the big pay-off.. the reward for investing so much into this story. Will that pay-off happen? Will everyone receive their big rewards? Or will it all come to end in flurry of sparks, broken machines and broken men?
Act 1, Scene 1: Leeds, Alabama. The remnants of Hurricane Irma blew through the Barber Motorsports Park left the track ground saturated with water and really ticked up the humidity. When the team arrived, the weather was typical Alabama in June, not September. The temperatures for the race weekend were projected to be in the mid-80’s but it was humidity that would really be the villain in the story. As the teams were transforming their transporters into garages and hospitality areas, preparing the bikes for battle, all that ground water was busy working on its nefarious plot to throw this story into absolute chaos.
Having spent an extra day in New Jersey before arriving at Barber Motorsports Park, the 32Crew had completed much of the maintenance and set-up of the primary machine. So when they unpacked the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda from the transporter, the 32Crew was able to have a restful afternoon. This calm and feeling of ease would not last. The relatively easy set-up day bolstered the feeling throughout the team that a podium was within reason and maybe, just maybe the two upcoming performances would help to erase some of the bad memories from the season.
Scene 2: Friday morning and that beautiful golden Alabama sunshine was hitting the track, a lite haze was lifting. The temps were in the mid-60’s as the sound of engines warming up reverberated off hillsides and multiple sculptures that surround the facility and hide in the woods. First practice session is essentially the first qualifying opportunity. With a strong desire to get up front from the beginning, Jake immediately got work. Within the first few laps of the hour long session, he was flying around the natural terrain circuit. Track conditions were just about perfect. But while Jake was putting on a stellar show, the evil liquid under the tracks surface was beginning to make its move. As long as the track temps stayed low, there were no problems. The session was drawing to a close by noon and Jake was able to complete an entire planned regiment of set-up options and suspension tweaks. Pulling the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda CBR1000RR SP2 into the pit when the session was over, Jake and the 32Crew immediately began plotting their assault on FP2 all the while they were being plotted against.
Scene 3: Friday afternoon and the temperature has risen to a balmy 85 degrees with a relative humidity of a Russian Bath House. Only thing missing was being flogged by wet birch twigs as the team prepared for free practice session two. Now we get to the turning point, cue the evil sounding music with animated water bubbling through the seems in the track. During the previous class sessions, water began to weep through the surface of the track. An after effect of Hurricane Irma and the high water table that the track is built on, this water sprang (Pun intended) it’s evil trap. MotoAmerica Track Safety Officials marked the spots on the track that had water and green lighted the session with waving debris flags in the areas they were aware of.
The first few laps were exploratory as many of the superbike riders felt their way around the 2.3 mile track. It became a game of chance as riders tried to avoid the weepers. Jake had been posting some respectable times and was moving up the field. He had crossed the line in P6 and was gaining on the top 5 when it happened. An unmarked, yet considerably large and unavoidable patch of water on the line in Turn Two finally unleashed it’s fury upon Jake. Jake ran through the water and in his own words, “Oh Drat!” (Not really) happened. He was immediately kicked off his motorcycle and it began a slow and painful tumbling sequence that would’ve taken home the silver medal in the Floor Routine at the 2016 Olympic Games. As the bike repeatedly went airborne and came crashing down, it eventually broke into pieces upon reentry and the very unique Honda was now rendered useless in multiple pieces. Following the incident, all remaining on track activities for the day were cancelled.
Scene 4: The scene begins with a rider who’s ok, a bike that is not and a crew chief updating his LinkedIn profile. This is where the 32Crew solidifies their reputation as the hardest working in the paddock. With few options on getting a bike together, Scott Jensen, Danny Anderson and Evan Steel, with the help of Penske’s Eric Trinkley, jumped into action. The “B” bike is essentially a parts bike that the team has transported around to cannibalize. Scotty had a frame and untested motor in a crate. Once the decision was made to build a new motorcycle ,the crew went into overdrive. Within an hour the “B” bike was on the table with its motor out and the new crate motor in. What could be salvaged from the primary bike was placed onto the backup. Phone calls went out to local Dyno operations that would be willing to help out late on a Friday night. One was located and off the crew went to break in the new motor and tune it. Once back to the track there was still the bulk of the bike to assemble. At 0400 the 32Crew called it a bike and retreated to their hotel rooms for an hour of rest before needing to be back at the track. The scene ends with the crew leaving the track as the sun’s glow begins to grow on the horizon.
Act 2, Scene 1: Red eyed crew members arrive at the track as everyone is buzzing around wanting to see if they were successful in building the bike. Even spectators were surrounding the transporter as the shiny red machine was wheeled out. There was an audible sigh of relief and even a few claps from other teams who saw a virtually new machine rolled through the paddock to the hot pit. It was a moment of triumph that could not be enjoyed as the final practice session was quickly approaching. All would have to be revealed on the track. Compound the unknown of the new bike with the unknowns of the track conditions and this day had all the fixings of previous day’s drama. However, this 30 minute session went according plan. With a small exception of dialing in the suspension without any data, (data collection went out with the primary bike) everything was looking good for Superpole.
The frenetic energy that surrounds Superpole is something to experience to truly be appreciated. The life had returned to 32Crew as the morning session showed them that Jake was able to ride fast and the potential for a great couple of races revitalized them. As the green flag was shown for Superpole, Jake jumped out and was running just ok. Nothing heroic but a solid start for his pre-qualifying tires. Unlike the previous few weekends, Jake came into the pit to have the special Dunlop qualifier put on and he immediately got back onto the track. Hammer down after his out lap and with a clear track, clear of riders and water, Jake was a solid lap. Running faster than he had previously Jake was looking good for a second row start, but with time left in the session he was bested and knocked in P8 for the races.
Scene 2: Race one was getting ready to begin. The track conditions were similar to Friday but not as much weeping was occurring as much of the water had dissipated. Temps and Humidity still were in the range of Amazonian Rainforest and Lakota Sweat Lodge. It was anyone’s guess as to whether or not the water would resurface (Okay, we’ll stop the puns) and cause problems in the race. As the entire paddock would find out, that water wouldn’t be the problem as fire became the scene stealer. The riders lined up for the start and with no title on the line, this would be a free-for-all-leaving-nothing-on-the-table kinda race. The crowd swelled and moved down from the tree lines as the lights went out. The grid thundered down the straight and into Turn One. In spectacular fashion, everyone made it through the first few laps without incident. Jake had moved from P8 to P6 and was making the pass for P5 as Josh Hayes crashed in Turn 2. The minor slip turned into a red flag as his motorcycle caught fire. What water may have caused, water ended. After a ten minute reset, the grid once again formed for a quick start procedure. This time the race would shortened to an 18 lap affair. As motorcycles are finely tuned machines, the second start wouldn’t be as aggressive due to everyone’s concern over clutch life. So as the lights went out, the revs kinda went up and the grid conservatively fast walked to Turn One.
As if the story couldn’t get any more exciting, there have been hurricanes, carnage and fires, more was to come. Completing the first lap, Aussie Dave ran off the track in Turn One and caused a plume that rivaled a California Wildfire. He bike caught fire and burned causing another red flag. This time the race would be restarted as a 12 lap event. Two starts are hard on a clutch, but three is just ridiculous. But that is what would have to happen. By now the sun was beginning to sink in the west and people’s DVR’s were going to be blamed for not recording the races. But finally, the riders were lined back up and ready to hopefully finish the second to last race of the season. Third time’s a charm and, as the lights went out again, it was reckless abandon. No saving the clutches, every rider just revved their machines and threw clutches to the wind. Jake would make a good start and within a few laps find himself in a solid 4th place. No further drama ensued and Jake would take the checkered flag in his fourth, fourth place of the season.
As the scene draws to close, the feelings of a possible podium still loom large and the 32Crew retreats to their rooms for some much needed sleep ahead of the grand finale.
Act 3, Scene 1: Sunday morning arrived amidst lower temps and a forecast that called for potential rain by midafternoon. After a quick 15 minute morning warm-up session, there was little to do but wait for the race to begin and a season to come to a head. So far, the weekend had been brought to its knees by the odd pairing of fire and water. These two natural forces have added an unanticipated element to this final scene. As mentioned before, the script is being written in real time and there is no secret ending to this epic saga. Doris Day said it best, “Whatever will be, will be (Que Sera, Sera). One thing is for sure, there couldn’t be more red flags than in race one… could there?
Turns out, the answer is, “Sure there can be.. why not?”. Shortly before the race was set to begin, a few solitary sprinkles had fallen from the heavens. Not to be deterred, the race was started as a dry race. From the far side of the track, the bikes sound like a pack of angry wolves chasing a wounded buffalo. Within seconds of the start, the bikes appeared in the museum corner. The train of Superbikes snaking through the chicane is impressive. Jake was situated mid pack and driving off the corners with aggression. However, within a few laps the leaders raised their hands to show that rain had begun to fall. The first red flag was thrown and the grid returned to the pits to see what would happen. Soon the decision was made to race dry and the riders were sent back out to grid and go. Again, the lights went out and this time the field only made it a few corners before the rain really began to come down. Without any hesitation, the race was stopped as the biblical rain began.
There was an odd period during this time. The rain intensified and the rivers began flowing across the circuit. The race would be declared wet and so the 32Crew had to set-up a completely new set-up for the rain. With absolutely zero data to work with and experience on this bike in the wet, they went to work setting it up. The riders were sent out a few separate times to survey the track. Eventually the rain would subside and the chase car was replaced by Noah’s Arc. Roger Hayden and Josh Herrin opted to not race believing the track wasn’t safe. With a smaller grid and shortened race distance, the season for the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda team came down to an unknown bike in sketchy conditions.
Scene 2: As the riders lined up for the third start, the rain was gone and the rivers had disappeared. Lights out and off they went. Jake making an ok start got stuck in the pack for the first few laps. However, his times were faster than most and he soon had moved into third place. The podium was his.. the best finish of the season was achievable. As Jake continued to ride he would quickly gain on the second place Toni Elias. It didn’t seem real! Jake made the pass and was in second place, now running almost a half a second faster than the leader Mathew Scholtz. The sun parted on the front straight as the pair began the final lap. As the light bathed the riders and bikes in a warm golden color contrasted by the lingering storm clouds, the final triumphant moment was here! Not only was Jake going to get a podium but he was going for the win! On a weekend sponsored by Honda and presented by Genuine Broaster Chicken, capping off a season brought to you by Pain and Suffering, the pay off was here. As the riders entered Turn Two, the cameras switched to the pits to show the drama unfolding on the team’s faces when it all happened. In an instant, triumph became tragedy. In the exact same place as Friday’s incident, Jake went down. As he slid into the gravel, all hopes of a glorious ending went into the gravel with him.
And so it ends. The epic struggle of 2017 came to an end in a flurry of sparks and melting carbon. Jake was going for the win for his 32Crew, the crew that had worked so hard all season to give him a chance at podiums, he wanted it for them. It was not to be and as the saga comes to a close. There were no tears. All the frustration at a season that was a struggle mixed with moments of intense joy came to an end. Hugs, high fives and talk of a run at the championship next year were the unifying actions shared among the team as the sun set and the trailer was closed for the final time.