Guest Blog

El Mirage: Stacie Steps it Up

…El Mirage Round 2, continuing from No Waiting in the Rookie Line.

Round 2, SCTA Southern California Timing Association, El Mirage, June 11, 2017

Prep for round 2 at El Mirage went well. It was so gratifying to have time to go through the bike to fine tune. So often the list is too long and details don’t get the attention they deserve.

PARTS OF THE BIGGER PICTURE

EL MIRAGE

The most important change was converting the stock Dellorto 24mm carburetor for a Keihin 28mm, which was in my stash of unused parts acquired for the 160. Ralph ran the math and discovered that Keihin, which was smaller and lighter than the 32mm Dellorto that I had purchased, cleaned, and rebuilt. It doubled the air intake of the stock carburetor. It felt like the stars were aligning because while figuring out the parts to make the Keihin manifold we found scrap pipe with the perfect I.D. and radius. In a matter of hours the pieces were put together and would be ready for a test the next day. It was one of those great nights in the shop.

front sprocketThere was also time to change the front sprocket from the stock 15 tooth to the new CRTT 14, replace the chain, and give all the parts in between a good scrubbing and fitting. With a 50-year-old bike, every new project requires several ours of cleaning, analyzing the parts for wear and tear, and learning the new assembly.

These changes went so smoothly there was also time to sort out why the clutch actuation was so heavy. Adjusting, cleaning, and lubricating the cable was having no effect. And the thought of dissecting the transmission. Or starting to hunt down parts to swap out the clutch springs was distressing.

 

A BETTER ALTERNATIVE

A better alternative was to first take apart the clutch cable. Although for this Italian Harley, getting the clutch cable apart was a deal. There are lots of small parts that are interconnected. A few elements need to be disassembled requiring time and patience. Once it was apart, it was a relief to see the evidence of wear, proving the necessity of replacement, so hopefully that would do the trick. I grabbed Smokey and hopped in the truck and drove over to Flanders Motorcycle Accessories. They had recently moved from Pasadena to Irwindale. It’s a huge luxury to be able to just drive down to Flanders and have a face-to-face discussion with such an experienced and respected fabricator. After a chat about the parts and the fitting, a replacement was made while I waited, awesome, right?

replacement-sprocket

PACKED-UP AND READY

bike-bedAfter a busy couple of weeks of prep on the Harley I was really exciting to get back to the lake bed. As soon as I leave El Mirage, I can’t wait to get back. The goal was to drive out Friday afternoon in order to have some time for testing and wake up Saturday with that gorgeous sunrise. But I was also prepping to go to France for the Wheels and Waves festival in Biarritz. Ducati France sponsored my friends and me three Scrambler Ducatis. We had been preparing for this trip/project and squeezing in as many gigs as possible to afford it. That was taking its toll because it required every moment of time to get all the pieces in place.

However, by Saturday morning the truck was packed up and ready for the race weekend. The luggage was packed up for France for the Sunday evening flight to Paris. It was finally time to head back to El Mirage.

SURPRISE ELEMENTS

Smokey and I made good time and just as we were pulling up, tech inspections were starting. Going through tech last month for our first time with the SCTA was nerve wracking, and this month I was excited but felt calmer because I had already been through it once. Everything was going fine until they got to the leathers, which was the last thing I was worried about. Alpinestars has been very supportive of my racing by sponsoring me gear since 2012. It was hard to imagine what problem could exist with a brand new two-piece leather race suit that I had raced in last month. It was surprising that this was the element that was keeping me from passing inspection and registering to race.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF SCTA BUTTONS

As it turns out, whoever inspected my gear last month did not affix a SCTA button to the jacket showing that it had been inspected and approved, and no one noticed all weekend. In the process of looking for this button, the leathers were scrutinized more. SCTA is very strict about gear and safety and everyone follows the same rules. The zipper on a two-piece leather suit is required to be attached to leather. In case of a get off, as it was explained to me, when the zipper is sown directly to leather, the likelihood of the abrasion from sliding splitting the 2-piece suit apart is lower then if the zipper is sown to another fabric and tucked up under the lining with the seam of the two pieces overlaping, as it was on my suit.
lakebed

“IS THERE A TAILOR IN THE HOUSE?”

As the six of us huddled around the suit in question, with the El Mirage sun beating down on us, the talk quickly turned dim. Unless I fixed my suit, I wouldn’t be able to race. The conclusion was to start looking in the phone book for a tailor close by (in the Victor Valley of the central Mojave Desert), to change the zipper on my brand new Alpinestars leather suit.

They continued to discuss the solution as I slipped away to make a phone call to a friend who was on her way. Jean had taken a break from ranching in South Dakota to visit and help out at the race. As it happened, she was driving through downtown and could swing by my house to pick up the one-piece Lewis Leathers racing suit I had just acquired. After about a seven-year search for a LL leather suit in my size, I had just found one on eBay that had arrived from England a few days ago. Bingo! Jean arrived with the suit just moments before tech and registration closed. The STCA button was riveted onto the suit and my tech sheets were signed. Then I ran over to the registration booth, paid my fees, and got my yellow racer wristband. We were set to go!

A SUPPORTING CAST

stacie-runA lot of friends turned up for Round 2. Jean was a site for sore eyes. Not just because of her nick-in-time special delivery, but because I knew she would be great support on the starting line. Corinne and Dani arrived next, then Becky, and Lindsay with her magic lens. Racing is fun. It’s even more fun when you get to share it, and these girls make my cheeks hurt from all the grinning. On the starting line they were all business and it was comforting to have friends show so much care and support.

Run 1:

wrist-bandGo fast race weekends always seem to go by fast. Preparations take weeks, sometimes months, and then POOF, they’re over. These pockets of time have so much compressed into them making it challenging to absorb what’s transpired in order to unpack what’s occurred.

Saturday morning, still in a post jetlag haze. Having recently returned from a 3 week, 5,000km moto trip in Europe for the Wheels and Waves festival (rough life, I know), it was time to pack up and head back to El Mirage for the SCTA July Meet. I could not wait to get back to the Lakebed. While battening down the truck, the mailman walked up the driveway and delivered the new CRTT 13-tooth front sprocket. After discussing the results of the June Meet with Ralph, we decided the only change would be swapping out the 14-tooth for a 13. It was a good thing it arrived just as Smokey and I were ready to go.

Entering the lakebed and making the transition from asphalt to playa, the addictive cocktail of the serenity of the landscape combined with the brewing adrenaline is all-consuming and grounding. Pulling up to the short line at the tech booth made it clear that the heat was keeping folks away. Temperatures up to 105 were expected, allowing for more time for the fretful SCTA tech inspection to analyze details. After last month’s near catastrophe, I was hoping this inspection wouldn’t discover or uncover a can of worms. As this was only my third event as a rider, I’m still getting the hang of the process and paperwork.

 

RAISING TEMPS …AND EYEBROWS, TOO.

stacie-bed

Inspector Steve ‘Papi’ Chappell likes to joke and have fun until its time for business, then he is stern yet fair. So when he reached to twist the throttle on the Little Italian Harley, I hoped it would bounce back to position as it had done many times. I’ve had the throttle body apart for cleaning and fine-tuning, so am familiar with it’s mechanism which has the potential to work perfectly or bind depending on how the wind blows. As he pulled it and it twisted back slowly, he didn’t have to say a word, I knew that this required fixing before completing registration, and his raised eyebrow confirmed it. (Ohhh Smokey…)

Luckily Ralph was going through inspection at the same time. On the way to my truck to get a screwdriver and WD-40 I mentioned to him what had just transpired. By the time I returned to the bike Ralph already had it apart and diagnosed the issue. In no time it was back together and making that reassuring snap as it bounced back into place. What a relief, because I was anxious to get registered and situated at the pit. And get started on swapping out the front sprocket, of course.

Turns out the 105 temperatures did keep folks away and there were only about 50 entries. This made for short lines again this month and the potential for multiple rounds. The incredible support from Kel Pritchard, Kevin Ward, Christopher Wood, and Rev. Ben Mook helped me get to the front of the starting line tension free, allowing me to focus on riding. Rolling up to the starting line my thoughts felt tactile concentrating on revvs, a smooth and quick start, and blasting through the gears to make it to fourth. There was no doubt in my mind that getting into fourth gear would provide the result of the target speed of 83.001mph and a land speed record.

el-mirage-truck-bike“GET SMALL!”

The start felt better, but still didn’t pull away as quickly from the line as I’d like. Once the bike got going, it pulled, and the rev’s climbed up to 7,500. I didn’t stay in 2nd long. When I switched to 3rd it bogged, and took effort to climb back up. When we finally got up to speed, I wasn’t sure if there’d be enough room to shift to 4th. So I tucked in, got as small as possible, pinned it, and hoped we’d squeak in above the record.

start
In retrospect, I wish I had shifted to 4th. It was only my 3rd run ever! It was hard to tell how far away the timing lights were. I felt like we were in it for a while. The needles on the original speedometer and tachometer bounce around so aren’t the most accurate and while I’m bouncing around trying to hold on. I’m also averaging the bouncing needles to figure out how fast we’re going. Not the best conditions for racing and accuracy, but we’re out here doing it so it can’t be that bad! When we finally went through, it was only at 7,000rpm and knew it was at around 82mph.

Pulling around to the return road there weren’t any cheers of congratulations, so I figured we missed it. Now I know that bittersweet feeling of adrenaline and excitement that’s missing something because you missed the target. The red truck approached and the girls knew it too and it seemed like they anticipated my disappointment. Instead I focused on how far we’ve come and how close we are. I can feel the pride and accomplishment in that. The timing slip confirmed the
speed of 81.577mph, only 1.424mph off the record.

I was hoping to get in a 2nd run, but we were on a wind hold for a while so things weren’t looking good. With a flight to Paris at 8:30pm, I decided to pack up, and get a head start on the transition from race weekend to international travel. Later I found out the winds prevented finishing the 1st round.

 

WISDOM AND KINDNESS

I’m lucky that I get to pit with the best. And Leslie and Jim are always there with words of wisdom and kindness. Obviously none of this would be possible without the help and support from Ralph Hudson, it’s all his fault! Racing is fun. But it’s even more fun when you get to share it. And these folks make my cheeks hurt from all the grinning. But when its go time, they were all business, and its comforting to have friends show so much care and support.

…to be continued at the July Meet, July 16, 2017.

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Stacie B. London

Stacie B. London

1 Comment

  1. DanM
    July 25, 2017 at 7:37 pm — Reply

    I have races SCTA in motorcycle classes for three years now. Tech inspection, the anticipation, and the scrutiny always leaves a rock in your stomach! Sadly, there will always be cans of worms, depending on who conducts the inspection. It takes some getting used to, but it’s best to email or contact inspectors prior to the race for opinions on any safety items or items on your motorcycle. Good run, I hope you hit the market next time

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