Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Scooble returns (the sequel)

Scoobles great comeback was more of a great disaster.
The thousands of pounds I threw at my return amounted to about one full days worth of racing.

Although it was only one day, I could feel in the last race, that I was really starting feel so much more comfortable on the bike and I was really starting to throw it around. There was a noticeable change to  my body language on the bike. I was really start to literally 'get my head down' and also hanging off the bike more and dragging my knee round the left handers which I wasn't doing before.
For a small brief moment, I was starting to feel some of the 'old magic' coming back.

I relayed my racing exploits on the KR1S forum, and the legendary Mark Jordan who knows just about everything there is to know about tuning KR1 engines as well as being the world production land speed record holder on a KR1S asked if I wanted my engine tuned by him.
Did I ever!
....And so began the preparation for the 2013 season.
I sent the  seized crank and the bottom end with a leaking a crank seal back to BDK as well as another spare crank that could cannibalized for spares.
BDK did a complete rebuild for the seized crank, and also replaced all of the seals for the one that was leaking and assembled it in the cases.
I took what amounted to about three complete engines in several plastic bins up to Marks house in Coventry, however, Mark thought I was coming the next day, so I had to leave all my bits in his car porch ready for when he got back.
In order to get the best out of a KR1S engine, the ports need to be widened so much, that it is no longer viable to use the standard pistons as the rings would get caught in the ports.
Marks solution is to use the pistons from a 1983 TZ250, otherwise known as 26J pistons. 
Unfortunately though, the 26J pistons are about as rare as a very rare thing and thus generally pretty hard to find.
I eventually tracked down one piston from Padgetts and one piston from Fondseca, promptly paid through the nose and got these sent to Marks house for him to complete the tune.
Anyway, the cold winter months passed and Mark was out of the country quite allot on business.
It got to about March and Mark hadn't finished my engine, however, what he did do was offer me one of his own development engines and a set of Jim Lomas expansion chambers for me to use whilst he finished my engine.
So in late March, we met up in Dorking just off the M25 and he gave me a large box of bits as well as one of his engines, which I promptly slotted into my frame. Whats more, the engine Mark had given me also had a F3 close ratio gearbox.

In between the preparation for the forthcoming season, my friend Allison (Alicia Albion) who was returning to sidecar racing also after an 18 year break, asked if myself and Ginny wanted to attend a sidecar tryout day at Lydden Hill race circuit in the middle of March. The sidecar tryout day is basically a practice day for sidecars, where the drivers allow other ACU license holders get to act as 'ballast' for the day.
I had only done sidecars once before, and that was for one practice session in a 600cc F2 at Brands Hatch in 1992.
The day started misty and cold and the fog was so thick to start with that you couldn't even see the other end of the track. The fog lifted later in the morning, but the conditions were still quite cold and damp. I was allocated two different sidecars to start with, and whats more they were the 1000cc F1 outfits.
I was genuinely concerned because I know the G-force these things generate is phenomenal.
My first sidecar ride was with Matt Mckaurin in a lovely looking black and orange long wheelbase LCR Yamaha R1 outfit. Matt the passenger did his best to run me through the hand holds and my position on the platform. I tried to remember everything Matt had told me as we rolled out onto the track.
During the first session, I was doing my best to move about, but I was finding especially around the long right handers, that I was trying to brace my leg against the corner of the platform, however, the G-Force felt so strong, that it took all the strength in my right leg to stop my leg from collapsing beneath me. My thighs were burning with the shear effort and I was finding that in order to maintain my position, I had to hold on extra tight with my hands, which in turn was causing arm pump. After about 4 laps, I simply couldn't hold on much longer, and I knew that if I forced myself to stay out, then I probably would have fallen out. I tapped Adrian on the back and we pulled into the pits and I rolled out the side of the platform in a steaming heap whilst  wheazing like an asthmatic weasel and apologised profusely to Adrian for cutting short his session short. Adrian said I shouldn't beat myself up to much, but I was seriously disappointed with my pathetic performance, and gave myself a good stiff talking to when I got back to the car.
My next session was about 45 minutes later with the British F1 sidecar contender Barry James in the Team Cable LCR Yamaha R1 outfit.
Prior to going out, I asked Barry if I could climb over the outfit. For about the next 15 minutes, I visualised every corner on the track and adopted what I felt would be the right position for each corner, making sure to pay attention to where my hands, feet and legs were and also ensured that my knees were locked into position to counteract the strong cornering G-Forces.
We rolled out onto the circuit, and I immediately felt much more comfortable. As we approached a corner, I would using the braking forces to force me up out of the tucked position and up and behind the driver to aid traction on the front wheel. When the driver finished braking, I then started to slide my body over the back wheel to help with drive coming out of the corner. At first, I was concerned that I should be looking where I was going, but I was finding it difficult to locate my hands in the cutouts on the side of the fairing. Usually, I am a bit of a nervous passenger, but in order to stay safe, I had to trust that the driver knew what he was doing so that I could then look down at the hand holds to ensure that I was holding on in the right place at the right time and using the G-forces to visualise where I was on the track.
The second session was so much better than the first one, and I could really start to get a feel for these strange three wheeled beasts.
For my last session, I was out again with Adrian and I took the opportunity to extend on what I had already learnt and having a great time throwing myself around the platform and hanging right out on the only left hander on the circuit. It was still hard work though, and I could feel my entire body throbbing, and despite the near freezing conditions I was working up a bit of a sweat. During the day, Ginny got talking to classic sidecar driver, and managed to score herself a ride in the chair for the rest of the season. Here's her blog;

.....oh, look, a pound coin!

My entry was in for the Bemsee meeting at Brands Hatch on the (11th Practice) 12th and 13th of April. As is usual for trackdays or race meetings, I usually take a weeks leave leading up to the race meeting for last minute preparations because you can guarantee something is always going to go wrong.
The week before the race meeting, everything was done, all I needed to do was sort out the tools and order a Gazebo as this time I hadn't booked a garage.
I ordered the Gazebo on the Saturday and by Wednesday it had arrived and I had nothing else to do.
I spent nearly a week, pacing about, worrying that I should be doing something, but not knowing what it could be. This was the first time ever that there wasn't some kind of last minute panic that would result in me staying up to the small hours of the morning the night before the race because something had gone wrong or needed fixing.
On the Thursday night, the van was packed, and Ginny and I drove the hire van to the circuit whilst our friend and fellow F1 sidecar passenger Allison drove her borrowed Talbot camper van 15 minutes ahead.
We got to Brands Hatch at about 8 o'clock, unpacked the van, assembled the Gazebo and put the bike inside and we were done, ready for the race weekend.

Friday practice started off dry in the morning, and I managed about one damp session on dry tyres before the rain really started to come down. I quickly changed to the wet tyres and went out for several sessions.
I really hadn't had that much experience of wet tyres, so I took it really steady to start with before progressively upping my pace. It was then I realised what a 'good' engine actually felt like.
Last year, I was struggling to keep up with TZR250's, but with Marks engine, all I needed to do to get past them was to simply twist my wrist and be done with them.
I felt confident that I was at last on a good package and my pace started to increase. As long as I didn't do anything silly with the throttle, I could maintain quite high corner speed through the turns, although I hadn't quite got to the stage of getting my knee down in the wet.
During my second to last session, I was having a good dice with another rider on an NC30 Honda. He would storm pass me going into Graham Hill bend, and I would take him going into Surtees. For several laps this happened, until I observed the line and technique he was using when going into Graham Hill.
I would more or less square off the corner, whilst he would take a much faster sweeping line. I modified my technique to do the same, and instantly found myself going through the corner much faster and put an end to his sneaky overtaking manoeuvres to stay in front for the rest of the session.
I felt as though I was learning a whole new different type of riding style whereby, I would set the bike up early for the corner, and as soon as I had finished braking, I was back gently on the throttle, progressively feeding in the power. When a bike starts to get close to the edge of adhesion, you can feel it start to move around, however, throughout Friday, I was pushing the bike harder and harder, but so far, the bike was not moving around.

At the end of practice on Friday, I put the bike in the Gazebo, and we made our way up to the Kentagon for a nice warm tea and some cheesy chips which made us all feel that much better.

Saturday morning looked dry and windy, but the track but the track looked damp in places, so I opted to go out on dry tyres for for practice/qualifying.
Fortunately for this weekend, the Two Stoke Grand Prix race and the 400 races were spaced apart.
By the time the 400 race came round, it had started to rain, so Gin and I quickly changed back to the wet tyres. I qualified on the fourth row for the 400 race, however, in the wet conditions, I was careful getting off the line as I didn't want the bike to wheel spin and lost a few places going into Paddock Hill bend. Even though I had built upto a comfortable pace yesterday in practice, I wanted to feel the conditions first before settling at a pace I felt comfortable. After the first lap, I started into a rhythm and could see that I was rapidly catching the bikes in front. By mid race distance, I had the 400 riders representative Garry Jarman in my sites and was rapidly closing him down. I got a great drive out of clearways and passed Garry going down the start finish straight, and for the next few laps extended my lead further and passed a few more riders to finish the race as 1st Rookie and 3rd in the sub 64 class (at the time, I had no idea where I had finished in the race as I had already started to lap some of the slower riders).
I also qualified on the 3rd row for the Two Stroke Grand Prix class and got off the line pretty well, but found in the pouring rain, the rain was sticking to my visor and I couldn't see out. I tried wiping my visor with my glove, but that only smeared a film of oil and water across my visor and made it worse. I could see out the edges of my visor, and did contemplate carrying on, but I felt it was far too risky in these awful conditions so I pulled in.
The rain continued throughout the day so there was no option but to stay on wet tyres.
After lunch, I formed up on the grid for the second 400 race.
As the lights went out, I madly slipped the clutch, and the bike shot off the line and made up quite a few places, this was looking good.
However, as I lifted my left foot to change into second gear, my left foot had caught the footrest again and folded the footrest into the upright position and I couldn't change gear.
Once again, I entered Paddock Hill bend in last position.
I was then able to kick the peg down and then set about chasing the rest of the group.
I pushed harder than I had all day and was rapidly catching the riders in front. I kept up my momentum and I was slicing through the field like a hot brick through a jewelers window. Although I had badly messed up the start, my pace felt great and could feel myself learning and applying new techniques as I raced round for the remaining laps and rapidly closing down the riders in front.
Even though I started the race in last place, I still managed to cross the line as the third Rookie (again, I had no clue as to where I had come).
The weather had closed in really bad after the 400 race, and the meeting was brought to an early end, so the next Two Stroke Grand Prix race was postponed until Sunday morning.

After a long days racing, I changed out of my wet leathers, had a shower and Allie, Ginny and I walked up to the Kentagon for a refreshing cool drink and to be sociable. The Kentagon was packed, but we manged to find a table and exchange stories of the days racing. Sitting opposite us was Danielle Cooper who we had met and become  friends with last September. Danielle then told me that I had missed the awards presentation and that I had won some trophies. It was only then I realised how well I had done in the days racing, and my mood immediately picked up.
By this time, an uninspiring rock band had started making a din worse than a bunch of Classics being noise tested, so we opted to retire back to the camper van and have a hot bowl of pea and ham soup

On Sunday morning, the track was looking quite damp and cold  so I opted to stay on wet tyres for the practice session
However, by the time the Two Stroke Grand Prix race came round, the track was looking as though there was a dry line appearing, apart from a few damp patches under the trees at the hairpin. Gin and I changed to a new set of dry tyres that had been fitted by the Race Services van that morning.
Because of my DNF in the Two Stroke Class the day before, I started from the 5th row of the grid.
I got off the line well, but found that the bike felt incredibly skittish and the front wheel felt quite light and vague. It was then I realised that I hadn't checked the tyre pressures when the new tyres had been fitted.
I pressed on though, and applied the new techniques that I had learnt on Saturday in the wet, but this time, in the damp conditions the bike was really starting to bob about. On Lap four, I was progressively applying the power coming out of the hairpin, when the revs shot up and the back wheel tried to overtake the front. I held onto it well and brought it back in line before re-focussing and getting back down to business  I was mixing it with the proper open class bikes and by the end of the race, I managed to cross the line in 3rd place.
When I got back to the pits, I checked the tyre pressures, and both of them were about 10psi over their recommended pressures, no wonder the tyres felt skittish!

The 400 race was much later in the morning and by this time, the track was well and truly dry.
I lined up on the 6th row of the grid, and I was determined that this time I wasn't going to fold up my footrest. I got a good start, and was quite confident about the conditions having tested them out earlier in the morning.
My pace felt good, and I was putting in a few good passing moves, it looked as if a lot of the other riders weren't quite so sure about the conditions and were hesitating going into Surtees at the end of the Cooper straight. I was making hand over fist as I approached riders coming into this super fast left hander. I could see Emma Jarman up in front on her 400 Kawasaki. I kept my corner speed up and round round the outside of her going through Surtees before banking hard over into Clearways. As I drove out of clearways down the straight, I was expecting Emma to come stomping past me as she was on a much more powerful bike, but she didn't. I kept up the pace, and up in front I could see Emma's dad Garry also on a 400 Kawasaki. On the last lap I was gaining on Garry, and like most other riders, he backed off a little going into Surtees. I kept it nailed through this fast 80mph left hander, and as Garry lifted his bike up to go through the next right, I made my move by riding over the curb stones and stuffing it up the inside and spoiling his line going into Clearways. I kept it nailed coming out of Clearways and down the straight towards the finish line. Although I knew I had a good engine, I also knew that Garry had an 82hp ZXR400 and the sprint to the line was going to be close. I ducked down behind the screen, pulled everything in I possibly could and hoped that my little KR had the legs on Garry's 400. As we approached the line, I could hear the scream of Gary's bike as it pulled along side me to pip me to the line by 0.1 seconds - Darn!
I was please with my ride though, and my race craft was getting quite slick and manged to bring the bike home as first Rookie again as well as the third in the Sub 64, however, my pace was good enough to get second in the Sub 64 class!

...pitching it into Surtees
After lunch, I was out again in the Two Stroke Grand Prix race.
I was placed at the head of the third row and had a clear view of the track ahead. As the lights changed, a few of the faster GP machines came past me into Paddock Hill bend and a few more were trying to muscle their way in up the inside. I held my ground for the first lap and then started to up my pace. Going into the hairpin, a Honda RS250 was doing his best to get past me, but I quickly shut the door as I pitched the bike into the apex. I knew the Honda had the legs on my KR, so I knew I had to keep the pace up through the next few sections before getting onto the straight. I extended my lead enough over the Honda so he would no longer be threat, and by this time my sites were firmly set on a yellow 250 Rotax in front of me. I tucked into the slipstream of the Rotax down the Cooper straight, and I could see as we approached Surtess, the rider sat up and braked, I lined up the Rotax for a passing manoeuver as I closed in for the kill. I rode over the bumpy kirbstones coming out of Surtees and got along side the Rotax and blocked his line going into Clearways. We rubbed shoulders and fairings as we approached Clearways, this was really starting to get a bit physical. I held my line and pitched it into Clearways and tucked in down the Straight. The Rotax was determined to get past and was attempting to muscle up the inside going into Paddock Hill bend, I let the brakes run a little more which allowed me to extend enough of a gap to stay in front. I then took a defensive line going into the Hairpin, got a good drive out and stretched my lead enough to make a comfortable gap. I had clear track in front of me now with no one to chase, or so I thought. During the battle with the yellow Rotax, Kev Richardson on a Yamaha TZ250L, sneaked past on the inside going into Clearways. I stuck to the tail of Kevs bike, and although I was close, I couldn't quite get close enough to make a move and by the end of the race, I had once again crossed the line in 3rd place.
That felt like a great race, I was pleased with my start, my riding s well as my race craft.
After the race, Kev cam looking for me to congratulate me on what he thought was a great ride for a Rookie on modified road bike.
Kev and I chatted for a while and he told me that he had been racing since 1968 and used to race RG500's against the likes of the legendary  Barry Sheene back in the day

After my last performance in the two Stroke Grand Prix class, I was looking forward the the 400 race. I got a reasonable start off the line, but got baulked within a group of riders going into Paddock and a large bunch of riders came storming passed. Ovver the next two laps, I picked my was past the group, but by this time, the group in front had extended such a gap that I was unable to close down before the end of the race. Although I rode pretty well and even came home as the first Rookie again, I only manged to come 4th in the Sub 64 class.
I was pretty washed out after that race as the sun was beating down hard now. I relaxed in the camper van, drank my last two bottles of Lucozade and contemplated the final Two Stroke Grand Prix race.
I knew that I could improve my performance in a few areas, namely going into Paddock Hill bend.
Although the close ratio gearbox gave me good drive coming out of the corners, the spacing of the ratios meant that I was going into Paddock Hill bend in 3rd gear and not 4th which I would normally do using a standard box. The extra time to change down the extra gear was affecting my corner speed going into Paddock. I decided to modify my technique by changing down to 3rd as I tipped the bike in and not before as I felt this would give me better corner entry speed.
In order to get a 3rd overall in the Two Stroke class, all I needed to do was finish in front of two other riders that I had clearly beaten in the two races I had competed in over the weekend.
My mind was set for the last race of the day. I got off to a flying start, and was in touch with the leading bunch as I entered Paddock, when I noticed this time, I was unable to put my foot on the right had footrest. I immediately assumed that I had folded the peg back with my leg and I desperately fumbled to get the peg folded down, however, the peg had actually flipped upside down and was nearly hanging off.
On this occasion, it seems that the bolt that holds the footrest had come loose and the whole assembly was just hanging there. This was clearly a show stopper. I cursed as I cruised around for the rest of the lap, however, I kind of counted myself lucky that it happened right at the start of the race, as if it had come loose during the race, it could have seriously affected my ability to control the bike

....Shhh, I'm not here!

So all in all, I came away from the weekend in my first full meeting in 18 years with no blow ups, no crashes, three wins and a 3rd in the Rookie class, two 3rds in the Sub 64 class and two 3rds in the Two stroke Grand Prix class and narrowly missed out from adding another trophy to the 6 I had acquired over the weekend.
All in all, I was tired, but happy that I had last made the comeback that I hoped to achieve.

Returning to work after the hectic weekend was a massive culture shock.
The drudgery of returning to 'normal every day life left me incredibly deflated low and really quite uninspired.
I had once again discovered the overwhelming crash of emotions following a good weekend of racing. When people say racing is a drug, they REALLY mean racing IS a drug, such is the intensity of emotions that you go through. Once it is over, your brain becomes depleted of mood regulating chemicals and what you feel is very similar to the kind of lows drug users experience after coming down off a hit (or so I am told)


Although the week was very boring, I did manage to get a little news story printed about me in The Argus.

Look Mum, I'm a celebrity!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Getting the band back together

The Scooble Returns

After playing about for a couple of years at trackdays and terrorising some of the 'superbikes' in the advanced group, I asked myself whether I had 'still got it'.
Although I was definitely holding my own in the advanced group at Brands, I knew full well that trackdays and race days were totally different.

It had been nearly 20 years since I last raced and I was now in my mid 40's, so no spring chicken and nowhere near as fit as I used to be.
I couldn't really be sure if I still had it or not, but I wanted to think I still did.
Was I being over ambitious, was my ego running away with itself or was it some kind of mid life crisis to re-live some of my glory days of my youth now that life had got quite dull and boring?
I had all these questions running through my mind and it really scared me as I really didn't want to go fooling myself into thinking that I could once again be up there at the front, battling for the lead and winning trophies trying to chase that elusive Dragons tail.

I had to set myself realistic expectations, accept my limitations but at the same time, play to what strengths I still had left and to those that I had developed since.
I believe that now that I am older and wiser, I care less about what people think, and less inclined to buckle under the pressure of expectations placed upon me.
I also know when enough is enough, and see no point in endlessly banging away at a thankless task that's going to get me nowhere and cause untold stress when I should be focusing my attention elsewhere on an alternative solution.
So in retrospect, far from being set in my ways, I believe that I am more dynamic now in my approach than I ever was before.
When I announced to my friends that I would be making a return, they thought it was fantastic and genuinely looked forward to seeing me back out racing again on the track. They were confident that before long, I would be up there fighting for top positions even though none of them had actually ever seen me race before.
I reminded them that racing is nothing like trackdays, but they were adamant that I would once again be successful.
I felt honoured that they had that much confidence in me, and even though I didn't feel under pressure to perform, I knew the only way to find out how good I really am was to measure my performance against real racers in a real race.

And so, I starting laying the foundations for my return (Cue montage)
The key to good racing is the five P's;
·         Preparation
·         Prevents
·         Pi##
·         Poor
·         Performance

With the 5 P’s in mind, I set about doing a full rebuild for the KR1 engine. I sent the spare crank to BDK engineering for a full strip and rebuild with new bearings, rods, seals and pistons.
I bought another set of crankcases that I flowed.
Acquired a set of Vforce3 Reeds, Keihin PWK35mm carbs, inlet manifolds and air box rubbers.
I sent the cylinders and head to Bob Farnahm to tune and replate.
Fitted a new set of clutch plates and heavy-duty springs.
All of the above cost me well over £1000.

As my racing licence had expired nearly 20 years ago, I was required to start from a novice again and sit my CTC test. At the end of May 2012, I took a train up to Rugby and sat the test at ACU headquarters.
I sat in a classroom with about a dozen other newbies as the ACU official, talked us through the flags, circuit etiquette, safety whilst giving us his slightly misogynistic views on the world of motorcycle road racing.
Apparently, the lads should be out there racing whilst the lasses should be in the caravan getting the tea ready and cooking up a fresh brew!
Not wishing to disrupt the class, or get detention, I bit my tongue, completed the course, and got my yellow CTC certificate.

I planned on entering the Bemsee Brands Hatch GP weekend event at the end of July and everything seemed set and ready to go. For this meeting, I was entering the Formula 400 class.

The Formula 400 class consists of 400cc four strokes and 250cc Two strokes, much like the old supersport 400 racing class.
The class was split into those bikes that are over 64hp and those that are under as well as a class specifically for rookies all in the same race.
The majority of the grid consisted of Kawasaki ZXR400's, with a few Honda NC30/35's thrown in, and on the very odd occasion a Yamaha FZR400 or a Honda CBR400. Mine was only one of two KR1S's on the grid.
A good 400 is probably putting out over 80hp at the back wheel.

I had also booked Friday practice just to get dialed in and setup for the weekend ahead.
On the night before Friday practice, as I was about to put the bike in the back of the van, when I noticed a puddle of fuel on the garage floor. I thought that I had better check it out, so I removed the carb and noticed quite a lot of fuel in the read valve assembly. This clearly didn't seem right at all, as the fuel should over flow from the carb first before going into the engine.
I tried to turn the engine over by hand and the engine just locked - this was not looking good.
I removed both spark plugs, put it in gear and pushed it up and down the access road to my garage.
A jet of fuel emerged from the right hand cylinder. The engine and crankcase was saturated with fuel. It took a few more pushes to clear the engine of fuel. I then took the carb apart and found a stuck needle valve and blocked overflow pipe. I fixed the carb, put it all back together and bump started the bike. I ran pretty rough to start with, then started firing on both cylinders. I gave the throttle a blip, and a jet of fuel sprayed out of the right hand expansion chamber. The inside of the exhaust was also flooded too. I let the bike warm up for about 20 minutes and 'cook off' the rest of the fuel before putting the bike into the van, ready for practice next day.
My Housemate Ginny and I drove up the Brands on the Friday morning. One of the riders from the Yamaha Past Master series was my instructor for a couple of sessions riding a TZR250. Although my instructor was a proper racer, it seemed that my fully prepared KR1 just couldn’t keep up with the little TZR.
I checked and changed the jets, but this didn’t seem to make much difference, so I just carried on going as fast as I could, and decided to get it tested on the mobile Dyno the next day.
On Saturday morning, I completed practice and qualified on the 6th row in the 400 class, which seemed pretty poor. After practice, I put the bike on the dyno and found that the KR1 was putting out 40hp, where as with its current tune and bigger carbs, should have been putting out somewhere in the region of 58 to 61hp. Mark Dent the Dyno operator even said that he had never seen a KR1 put out so little power. A 20hp loss was a significant deficit and clearly indicated that something was quite badly wrong. I swapped the jets in the cabs and this made no difference at all. I then swapped back to the standard 28mm carbs as the 35’s clearly were giving no improvement. The peak power was just the same.
I went out for both of my 400 races, and found that I was being annihilated down the straights, and try as I might to catch up round the corners, I simply couldn’t keep up with the majority of bikes out there. I was getting so frustrated that I actually wore a hole through the bottom of my fairing because I was getting the bike over so far.
Several more changes in jets and the removal of the airbox lid made little improvement to the engine. The only other alternative I could try was another CDI ignition unit. Fortunately form me, Virginia Power who also rides a KR1S was also at the same meeting and happened to have a spare CDI unit.
With all the frantic activity on Saturday messing about with carb settings and Dyno runs, I ran out of time to test the CDI, so I would have to wait until Sunday.
On Sunday Morning, I put the bike back on the dyno to find that the new CDI made no difference at all.
It was clear to me that no matter how much messing about I was going to do to the carbs or ignition, this little baby refused to kick out more than 41hp.
I then decided to cut my losses, So Gin and I decided to do a complete engine swap for a standard engine that I had brought with me.
We got the bike up and running less than 10 minutes before I was due to race, and at this point, it had started to rain, and I hadn’t got any time to change to my wet tyres.
As I sat in the assembly area, the heavens just opened and the rain came down like stair rods. I had a Michelin cut slick on the front with zero tread on the sides. I thought about riding back into the garage and calling it a day, but I wanted to see how the new engine would perform. I lined up on the grid against other riders, most of whom were on full wets.
When the race started, I tip toed gently into Paddock hill bend and for the next lap, I could feel the front tyre shimmy every time I attempted to change direction. I managed about two laps in total in these slippery conditions.
As I was heading down the long straight coming out of the woods in 6th gear, I changed down two gears ready for Clearways, and it was at this point I heard this all mighty graunching noise and the back wheel locked up. As I was skidding towards the kitty litter, there was another almighty crunch followed by what sounded like someone rolling a cardboard box full of bone china down the stairs!
At first, I thought the chain had snapped and was flapping about, but I could clearly see the chain still going round.
I coasted into the kitty litter and watched the rest of the race before pushing the bike back to the garage.
I had spent the best part of 6 months trying to ensure that every little detail had been covered and the bike was in tip top condition, at this point I was wet, cold, tired and aching from all the rushing around and stooping over the bike the whole weekend as well as feeling totally despondent.

Later that week, when I pulled both engines apart, I found one gear cog had fragmented and killed the gearbox, and the other engine that was down on power had no visible evidence to suggest what the problem was.

I replaced the gearbox on one of the engines, however, for the other, I suspected that the fuel leak that I had encountered, may have caused the crank seal to leak, which on a two stroke will cause a loss in crankcase compression.
I took the whole of the bottom end back down to Bob Farnham to inspect.
Bob took the cases apart, inspected the crank, and the cases, replaced the outer seals and put it all back together again.

The last meeting was so depressing and because of the engine problems, I never really got a chance to test my steal.
Could my poor results really be down to just the engine, or was I really that crap?
I really didn’t know, but I was determined to find out by giving it one more go.

I entered another Brands Hatch meeting that was at the end of September. I had completely rebuilt two engines, and so I put the tuned engine back in the chassis a week before the meeting, but also found that I had a real hard time trying to get the water pump to seal properly and only managed to get the engine watertight two days before the race meeting. I got the bike up to SBS motorcycles in Lancing to test on their dyno and found despite the full strip and rebuild, the bike was belching smoke out of the right hand exhaust and still only producing 40hp – WTF!

I rushed home, pulled the tuned engine out of the chassis, put the standard engine back in and took it back up to SBS the next day and found that the standard engine was putting out 48hp (well at least it was a step in the right direction).
On the Saturday, the bike felt a little more livelier than the last time, and I qualified slightly better for the 400 race and was quite lucky to miss this start line incident that I could see unfolding before me...

Fortunately, all riders came away relatively unharmed.
I was still way down on power in the 400 race, but starting to feel a little more comfortable amd lap times were pretty respectable for a bike that was still at least 12hp down on power.

On the Saturday night, Ginny and I took the tuned cylinders and head, and placed them on the standard crankcases. On Sunday morning, I put the bike on the mobile Dyno, and I had now gone from 48hp to 51hp. Still not the 58 to 60hp it should be putting out, but it was still yet another step in the right direction. After getting the bike off the dyno, I was running late for my practice session, so didn’t have time to put the tyre warmers on, so I quickly joined the que to get out on the circuit. I was a little impatient to see what the engine could do, and on the first lap of practice, I tipped the bike into Graham Hill bend, and the front just folded under me.
I could feel the bike going down and I prepared for impact.

I gently put the bike down and slid to the side of the track. It was all pretty graceful really, and I really didn’t feel a thing, but my brand new leathers had now been christened with black scuff marks down the left side.
When I cam to a stop, I ran to the bike and lifted it up to inspect the damage. The bike didn’t look too bad. The clutch lever was snapped, the fairing bracket was bent and the gear change lever worn down. Ginny and I managed to repair the bike quickly from the parts in my spares bin and I was ready to go out again.
The bike was feeling good, however, my two races were back to back, so as soon as I finished the Two Stroke Gran Prix race, I had to form up on the grid for the 400 race.
The good news was that my tyres were good and sticky from the last race, the bad news was that I was knackered and found it hard to concentrate for the entire duration of the race.
I got a good start and was in touch with some of the established 400 riders on much faster machines but I placed about 5th place in the Sub 64hp class, which wasn’t bad, but I was sure I could do better.
During the lunchbreak, I changed from the Michelin cut slick to a Pirelli Supercorsa on the front as my front tyre was getting butchered and tearing up really bad. I also took the opportunity to increase the rear re-bound damping by two clicks to slow down the rebound as the bike was starting to 'bob about' mid corner.
In the first Two Stroke Grand Prix race after lunch I got off to a great start, but my left foot caught the folding foot peg when I got off the line and folded it back, so when I tried to change up to 2nd gear, I was unable to get any purchase on the gear lever and so I entered Paddock Hill bend in last place. However, the bike was beginning to feel more stable with the tyre and suspension changes and I caught and passed quite a few other riders on pure GP machines.
I came straight in from the Two Stroke Race, to form up on the gird in the 400 race. I got an average start and got involved in a real ding dong battle with another rider on a 400 Kawasaki. I would storm up the inside of him going into the corners, and he would blast me down the straights. This continued for about three laps until Paddock Hill bend when I was banked over hard, and just starting to crack the throttle open when I got a complete loss of power. This felt serious, so I quickly whipped the clutch in and the engine seized solid.
I pushed the bike to the side of the track and was later picked up by the recovery van.
Back in the pit garage, I tried to kick the engine over, but it was totally locked up.
As I set about putting the bike in the back of the Van, I was approached by Mick Stokes, the organiser of the Two Stroke Grand Prix class who awarded me a trophy for 6th placed 250 over the weekend – Result!
So after attempting to complete two meetings this year, I broke two engines (one of them twice), crashed once and won a trophy.
Certainly not the return to racing I was expecting, but things were getting better.

During the next few days after the race, I removed the top end of the seized engine to find that the right hand big end bearing had collapsed and seized the whole of the crank. Due to the big end failure, the piston had also hit the cylinder head and caused some damage and the crankcases suffered some minor scuffing, but fortunately the cylinders survived unscathed.

This racing lark is bleeding expensive!!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Post racing years

Even though I only raced for 6 years, it became a significant part of my life and taught me lessons I wouldn't have ordinarily learnt.
Because of the highs and lows, the hard work, the injuries, the disappointment and the fight back, those 6 years felt more like 12.
It altered my confidence in such a way, that I felt as though I could just about take on anything.
Having been the underdog on many occasions where the odds where stacked firmly against me, I have then gone on to dig deep and pull something truly remarkable out of the bag and ridden what felt like way beyond my limits and bring home the bacon.

Although I had some great races during my racing career that I thoroughly enjoyed and gave me a great buzz, there were a few rare occasions where something quite remarkable and quite frightening happened that I can only describe as ‘hyper’ focus.
Hyper focus usually occurred when I was put upon extreme pressure or when some other competitors had really ‘wound me up’. It was as if everything else in my life ceased to exist, there was this moment and ONLY this moment. There was no past, no future, no person or no thing including my own life that was more important than this moment. The moment almost felt like an out of body experience where my wish was interpreted into some physical action before I had even thought of it and I felt as if I was in absolute control of everything. Looking back, it felt as though I was taking control of an incredibly powerful and dangerous beast that could at any given moment destroy me in an instant if it so wished. Although the feeling gave me the most unbelievable high, it also scared the hell out of me.

I would still 'keep my hand in' by attending several indoor karting events on a regular basis and got a bit of a reputation for being a bit of a 'ringer'.
Although the lawn mower powered karts gave no where near the thrill of bike racing, I still used the same kind of preparation and visualisation techniques I did whilst racing bikes.
Racing taught me the real value of perseverance. Although your never guaranteed to reach your goal, one thing is for sure, the harder you try, the closer you will get.
Although effort is extremely important, it means nothing if you cant actually 'see' what your aiming for.

The approach I took was to really study the layout and shape of each corner and try and compare them to other corners I know to determine if they shared similar characteristics. I would then draw diagrams of the type of lines I think I should be taking whilst taking into consideration any other important aspects of the track such as camber, bumps, gear, revs and what came immediately before or after each corner.
Once I was content in my mind, that I had created the best technique to traverse the corner, I would then set about 'programming' it into my imagination.
I would visualise in slow motion the steps I would take approaching each corner, making sure that what I was conjuring up in my minds eye matched the diagrams I had drawn. I would pay attention to my 'focus points' such as braking when I saw the turn in point, turn in when I saw the apex and accelerate when I saw the exit.
With practice, I was able to re-create the entire 'feeling' of going through that corner at speed.
Once I had mastered the 'feeling' I no longer needed to picture myself going through the corner any more like a film clip because the entire sequence of events from braking to exiting was compressed into one instantaneous 'feeling' that could be called upon like a reflex reaction.
This ability to break down thoughts into micro thoughts, analyse them, deconstruct them and then put them back together again was a new personal skill that I had discovered and it still helps me to this day when I try and understand the complex working of my own mind.
This 'thinking about thinking' technique is otherwise known as Metacognition. Although I don't claim to be an expert, I honestly believe that this world would be a better place if more people thought about how they actually think (that could be a whole new blog in its own right).

That hard nosed racing spirit helped me get through college which I funded myself, whilst holding down a full time job and racing at the same time. Not only that, I was also awarded the Whites Trophy at FCOT for the most outstanding student in the Engineering department, the first time ever I had achieved any kind of academic excellence, and this in turn made me realise I really wasn't that stupid (but still stupid enough to tear arse around a race track at silly angles of dangle).
My efforts at college were rewarded when I was offered the position of a R&D Technician for an Automotive Powertrain consultancy based down in Shoreham in West Sussex.
I studied 7 years in total and gained two ONC's and two HNC's in Engineering and Computing, and even though I would have loved to continue racing, I simply didn't have the energy to split my attention any more.

After a few years concentrating on my career, I decided to get another bike. I was looking round for a small stroker that I could do up, and in 2003, I bought a badly abused Kawasaki KR1 for £300.
After getting the KR home in the back of the van, it stood there in the garage, and I thought 'It looks too square and so last decade".
I then set about pulling bits off and replacing them with parts from other bikes. I didn't really care which bikes they came off, as long as it was an upgrade.
Fortunately for me, a chap down the end of my road (Dickie) had a machine shop and was also a bit of a petrol head as well as being an all round top bloke to boot. So for the next couple of years, I set about swapping wheels, brakes, swingarms, forks and bodywork from various donor bikes so that what I ended up with was a bit if a 'Triggers broom'.
My initial plan was to build a road bike, but because such things as comfy seat, lights etc compromised the design, it ended up becoming a track bike instead.

In 2007, I entered my first trackday on my KR1 hybrid. Although I had not raced since 1995, I was treating this day as a shakedown for the new bike and get familiar with how it behaved. I entered the intermediate class, but soon found even though I was the smallest bike out there and I was testing the handling, I was still getting baulked by the much bigger faster bikes. I came away with a few ideas for possible improvements which I then set about doing with the help of Dicker before the next trackday the year after.
Over the next couple of years, I made changes to suspension and found myself becoming increasingly confident with the bike and had progressed up to the advanced class, but was still finding the likes of Fireblades, R1's and ZX10's getting in my way round the corners.

Showing the boys how its done...
It was a bit of a hoot, stuffing it up the inside, riding round the outside of these 'superbikes' on a 20 year old 250 ridden by a girl

Sunday, 5 May 2013


My first taste of racing was at a circuit that I had never seen before, and I remember going flat out down the Revitt straight in practice thinking "is it left or right at the end?".
For the production class races, it was always a dead engine start. As the red flag went up, everyone cut their engines and poised their twitchy right foot over the kickstart as the Clerk of the course left you waiting for what felt like an eternity, just teasing you as you could hear your heart pounding in your chest and the clattering sound of your eyelids as you blinked.
The green light would come on, and the earth shattering silence would be broken by the sound of 40 two strokes cracking into life and emerging from the start line fog like charge of the light brigade as we all raced towards the first corner.
I remember thinking I got a good start and aimed to stay with the leading bunch, then suddenly, instead of breaking for the first corner, they just pitched their bikes over onto their sides...I was dumbstruck, and thought "thats impossible", never before had I ever seen anyone bank a bike over as much as that. Sure, I'd seen racing on the TV, but to see it happen in front of your eyes was a whole new ballgame.
I came away from my first meeting finishing somewhere in the mid field thinking I was in serious need of upping my game here.
My next meting was at Brands Hatch, a circuit that I was very familiar with. The stiff talking to I had given myself after the last race seemed to work, and I came home in all of my races as the top novice but was still way out of touch with the leaders.
Although the KR1 was supposed to be the easier of the production bikes to ride at the time, I was finding the powerband on my bike quite difficult to manage as it never quite seemed to be in the power when I needed it. I persevered as best I could and got some mixed results and a crash by mid season. My father was telling me to give up and said that I'll never be any good, so why bother.
This made me determined to prove him wrong, and by the second half of the season, I was getting regular top six finishes in the 250 production class and in sight of the leaders. For most of that season, it was pretty much the same top 5 people jostling for position and winning races. I looked upon these racers with God like awe and admiration and I was so chuffed one day when one of them gave me a nod of acknowledgement and a wink whilst casually walking down the pit lane.

For 1991, I decided to campaign the newer and more advanced KR1S. I got a good deal on a liquidation sale from someone who failed to setup a racing academy. I promptly stripped the bike down and set the cylinders, heads and carbs off to Bob Farnham to do his stuff.
The rules on fuel for this year had changed so that competitors were no longer allowed to use leaded fuel.
Even though I had instructed Bob to setup the engine to run on unleaded, the bike siezed solid in practice going down the Revitt straight at Snetterton. All that time and effort in getting the bike sorted for the first meeting was totally wasted.
For the 2nd meeting at Brands Hatch, a new set of pistons was installed, and the fuelling adjusted accordingly.
In the 250 proddy race, I got off to a flying start and was within the top 6 as we entered Paddock, then up to 4th as I entered the hairpin. For the next laps, I thought that any momnent now they are going to come steaming past me....but they didn't. Not only that, I was catching the rider in 3rd. I got a good drive out of clearways and passed him down the straight.
Oh my God, I am racing with my heroes!
Now full of confidence I pushed harder and took 2nd place as the rider in front drifted wide and got a wobble on at the bottom of Paddock. We traded places a few more times, until I finished the race in 3rd position.
The season continued like this with many more to 4 finishes in the 250 proddy class and multiple wins in the 350 open Novice and not to mention a few spectacular crashes.

For 1992 I sold the trusty KR1S and bought a Suzuki RGV250. As before, the engine was carted off to Bob Farnhams or ProBike as it was later called. Bob had decided to spanner for Terry Rymer that year, so left the running of the business to his partner Steve Kemp.
Steve did his work on the RGV, and although I managed to win a couple of 250 proddy and supersport races, I only managed 11 meetings that year, 7 of which had mechanical failures due to the poor tuning of the engine. When Bob returned from world Superbike, he promptly sacked Steve and then helped to put my engine right, but by this time I was pretty sick of the RGV and wanted rid of it.

Fed up and quite broke, I sold the RGV and with a little encouragement from a friend, bought a little Yamaha TZR250 to race in what would later be called the Yamaha Past Master racing series that consisted of production TZR250's and RD350 powervalves.
I entered late for my first race in '93 as I had only picked the bike up form someones garage in which had been sitting for the past 5 years. I was unable to purchase any Avon tyres at the circuit, so instead fitted a pair of skinny Yokohama ditch finders. From the first lap I could tell something was wrong. The bike would bob, weave and tie itself in knots at the slightest sniff of a corner, it was a wonder the thing didn't spit me off. Bust despite the poor tyres, I manged to bring the little TZR home in 6th place.
For the next meeting, I fitted the proper Avon tyres, and the handling was transformed.
For the first TZR race, I got to the front of the field and tailed the leading group for a few laps. The pace felt pretty easier, so I went for the lead and pulled out a gap to finish comfortably in first place.
For the second race, I was placed on the back row and had my work cut out for me to get to the front.
After tow laps the race was red flagged, and we all formed up on the grid for a 4 lap re-start. This was going to be a bit of a tall order to get from the back of the grid to the front in just 4 laps. On the last lap, I found myself in second place about 10 bike lengths behind first as we entered the Revitt straight. I got a great drive out of Sear Corner and carried that momentum down the straight to shrink the gap to about 4 bike lengths.
I braked hard and late going into the Esses and closed further going round the Bombhole.
I was approaching fast coming into Coram, so I decided to simply ride round the outside of the leader, who seeing me pass him, just seemed to give up. It was a quick right left flip going through Russles to gain yet another win in the TZR class.
At the end of the day, as we had a few drinks in the Club house, the officials read out the results for the races and presented trophies. As the announcer called out the winner for the TZR250 race, the rest of the TZR competitors mumbled under their breaths "TZR500 more like" and so I became one of the most disliked TZR riders in the paddock!
There were 8 more wins in the TZR class that year, plus quite a few top 3 finishes in the Supersport class against bikes significantly more powerful than mine.

For the October Powerbike meeting, Stan Stephens lent me one of his race bikes for me to race in the Supersport race. The Bike felt fast, but was a quite peaky, and with a little over exuberance with the right wrist after being knocked down to last place after a first lap incident, this happened;
.....Sorry Stan!

At the start of 1994, my Father lent me the money to buy a '94 spec Yamaha TZ250F.
The TZ Yamaha is a pure bread racing machine (like what they ride in Grand Prix's) and not a converted road bike. The difference was amazing. Not only did it have more power (80hp on a good day), but it weighed about the same as a road going 125. It took some adjustment to get used to the different riding technique of the TZ and I also suffered a series of mechanical breakdowns and suspension problems through out the season which ended me being spat off the bike in a violent fashion at Clearways in the last lap of the last race of the last meeting of the season.
I took a really big knock when I went down and remember hearing a loud bang as I hit the tarmac, which I'm not sure whether it was my head hitting the ground or my collarbone snapping again for the second time.
94' was a really stressful season and seemed like everything was going wrong, and with the crash at the end of the season, my confidence had taken a bit of a beating too.
As I lay in the gravel trap looking up at the sky with a stabbing pain in my shoulder, I thought, right, one more season and I'm retiring.

'95 was a much better season than '94, although I didn't enter as many races as I would have liked due to college work, I had a number of really good results and I was up there and swapping paint with some of the fastest 250 open class club riders in the country. I managed two wins at Snetterton, and was standing in 4th position in the championship with one more round to go which was eventually cancelled due to club  'administrative' problems.

In 1996. I moved out from my parents and started a new life for myself in Sussex. I always meant to go back to racing, but I never quite knew when. I would do the odd trackday now and again, when finances allowed,   but it was never quite the same...

Prepare to race

during the summer of '89, I was sitting at home with a broken collarbone. But instead of feeling sorry for myself, I was really hooked on the idea of racing as it was the first time anyone had said to me that I was actually good at something.
The thought of excelling at something was new to me and filled me with a new feeling of positive anticipation, whilst simultaneously a dreaded feeling of failure if I didn't live up to my expectations.

My plans to build the F1 Gamma unfortunately had to be scrapped (it would have been an awsome road bike), so I ended up selling it to another old school friend in the village who had just past his test on a TZR125. I sold the Gamma for a little more than what I paid for it, which all went toward my racing fund - (2 weeks later the Gamma was a rightoff and the rider in hospital after chasing my old Nessie down the A30).
I decided to purchase a Kawasaki KR1 for the 250 production class and picked up a nice low mileage version from Seurbiton in Surrey. The fairing was replaced with a fibreglass version and the engine was sent off to Stan 'The Man' Stephens for a full on race tune.

As the '89 came to a close and as the new decade beagn the bike was coming along nicely ready for the new coming racing season. Then something happened that really changed my life...

During the early part of 1990, me and three other friends were out for a night in a nearby village. We toured a few of the pubs in Whitchurch, before making our way home. I was the passenger in the front seat lightly dozing on the journey home. As we came through Overton High Street, I noticed a parked lorry in front of us. The driver was heading straight towards the rear of the lorry, but I assumed that he would eventually see it and swerve out of the way. It soon became apparent to me that the driver had not seen the lorry and all I managed to scream before we hit the lorry was "WHATCH....!" before everything went black.

The driver of the car only saw the parked lorry at the last moment and swerved the car, but it was too late, the passenger side took the full impact as the bonnet slid under the tail gate.
The passenger window exploded in my face covering me with glass, the roof collapsed onto my head and chest with such force that it broke the tilt mechanism of the chair and forced the chair down flat. Metal shards caused multiple facial bone fractures, split my lower face from my lip to my chin as well as pieces protruding through my mouth and down my throat. Another metal shard had crushed and pierced my forehead and the roof section had pressed down so hard on my chest that it broke 5 of my ribs.

Thats me still in there..

Fortunately for the other three in the car, they all escaped injury.
I awoke about 15 minutes later and could not move any part of my body except my left arm.
I remember someone holding and squeezing my hand, urging me to hold on as I heard sobs and crying in the background and the salty taste of my own blood trickling down my throat.
The experience of waking up in the car pinned to my seat felt strangely odd as moments earlier, I really felt as though I was standing in the darkened hallway of my parents house thinking to myself, how the hell did we miss that lorry.
The pain was horrendous and I could hardly breathe, but strangely enough, I felt very sleepy and just wanted to nod off again so that the pain would just go away.
A while later, the fire brigade arrived and set about cutting the doors and roof from the car. The vibration of the disc cutter penetrated my entire think a dentist drill is bad, boy....this is WAYY worse!

After I was lifted from the car, the pain eased and I felt an overwhelming wave of relief. I was then carted off to Basingstoke general hospital for treatment.
I  was rushed off to surgery where a maxilofacial surgeon set about repairing me as best he could (over the next 12 years I underwent  more corrective maxilofacial surgery).
I was released from hospital several days later to recoup at home and returned to work about 6 weeks later.

The accident itself, despite being a very painful and traumatic experience, was not the life changing experience that affected me the most.

Up until this point, I could safely say that I was part of a wide social circle and I would be out most weekends partying or clubbing. It felt like a great time in my life, but I was to later find out, how valuable those 'friends' really were.
You see, the driver of the car was a charismatic, witty popular kind of guy who people would love to associate with (like me), however, after the accident which was clearly his fault (he was even prosecuted by the Police), no one wanted to say a bad word against him and he was also saying very personal disparaging  things about me behind my back after the accident.
Literally I found myself overnight from having lots of 'friends' to having none. I then learnt a very valuable lesson in my life back then that people can be so fake and will say and do just about anything to be popular or be with popular people.

Anyway, with the accident behind me, and wishing to not dwell on the situation, I tuned my attention back to racing.
The I got the engine back from Stan Stephens, got the bike ready, and I entered my first race at Snetterton which was a circuit that I had never seen before in April 1990.