| One man's mid-life crisis is another
man's return to racing
THE OLDER I GET THE BETTER I WAS
Forgive me if I appear a tad thin-skinned but I thought being asked to write a piece based on being 'an old **** returning to racing after a 50 year break' was just a little rude. Now at least two of those statements are wholly wrong. Its 25 years not 50 and being 'old' is all in the mind. I should of course have told them to get stuffed! But truth be told, I'm just too vain to pass up an opportunity to whore a photo plus spout complete bollocks, so I'll press on.
To cut a long story short, between 1982 and 1986, I raced production-based bikes, mostly 350 Yamahas, in regional and national championships in South Africa. The standard was very high and I was little more than a mid-field runner in the national races but as someone once said, 'the older I get the better I was.' In the intervening years, I have often flirted with the idea of having another go but like many other wannabe racers, life got in the way until a combination of coincidences, starting with a small off in Mid-Wales last September which broke my ankle and worse, wrote off my beloved Fazer, led me back to the track. I decide to ride in the Minitwins class with NGRR (www.ngroadracing.org).
This was based on cost and the belief that I wouldn't come last. The MiniTwins are mostly Suzuki SV 650s of varying vintage and is about the cheapest way to go racing with very little in the way of tuning modifications permitted. A bit like my body really, you could say it was vintage at 52 and there is very little tuning left in it. As for being cheap, well that's another story entirely. However, preparing to go racing did provide the motivation to get into the gym and out cycling. The maximum 72BHP allowed in the MiniTwins means that any excess weight translates into slower lap times and I've managed to lose over two stone since Christmas. I've also toned up a bit in preparation for the inevitable trips down the tarmac on my backside.
So, what's it like returning after 25 years? Well, daunting, exciting and a bit frustrating to be honest. I had forgotten just how damn scary it is to be out on track when it is full of real racers going for it full tilt. Getting your elbow wacked by a 125 diving under you when you are going as fast, and leaning over as far, as you thought was possible is bloody unnerving even if the experience only lasts a nanosecond. I tell you what though, it's bloody impressive to be in the middle of a group of bikes charging through a long sweeping bend seeing the lean angles and realising that you are doing the same thing (just not quite as fast).
At the same time it's frustrating not to be anywhere near on the pace especially when you've been there once. Obviously you can't just go out there and expect to recapture your old speed but it would be nice not to have to work so bloody hard at it. One thing I do remember, is that racing is 90% in the mind. You are, in effect, competing against your own fear. The most inoffensive, wimpy looking rider can turn out to be the fastest thing ever whilst the bullish braggart may soon find out that they just don't have the nuts for it.
Some things we didn't have in the 'old days' were transponders, tyre warmers, back protectors and proper knee sliders. I used to cut up plastic coke bottles taped to the knees of my leathers. In essence, racing is more or less the same now as it was 25 years ago. The guys at the front are so fast that, initially, you have no idea how they are doing it. Spectators might not be able to tell from trackside but the really fast blokes are just about crashing on every lap. Furthermore, unless you are riding as hard as you dare all the time, you will get passed by almost everyone. There is absolutely no time or place to take a little breather. It's throttlestop to brakes, maximum lean back to throttle-stop or you are nowhere. Oh, and despite the advances in protective equipment, crashes still hurt!
I hate leaving a race meeting with the feeling that I didn't lay it on the line when the chance was there. I did that a lot 25 years ago and I am determined not to make the same mistakes again. This will probably mean that I crash a bit more but it's racing not just riding around a track reasonably quickly. Whoever I am near on the track can rest assured that I will try to get past even if it is only for 15th place. My body might be softer these days but I'm stronger mentally. Mind you, I was a bit detuned after two crashes in a weekend at Pembrey in May.
I had prepared well for this meeting. A track day the previous weekend and extra long sessions on the Friday meant that for once I was going into the races knowing which way round the track went and with a fair few miles under my belt. Unfortunately, things didn't go as expected. I took a chance on a worn front tyre and paid the price when, to my everlasting shame, I lost the front on the warm-up lap of the qualifying race. After frantically fixing the bike, I had to start at the back of the grid for the main event. I did have a lot of fun overtaking lots of people to finish in the top half but the times were slower than I had hoped for.
On Sunday, disaster struck in the newcomers race on the first lap as I went for an overtake around the outside of the fast left-hand sweep to get into third place. I got too excited, ran out of track and hit the horrible, horrible Pembrey kerbing on the outside which had me on the floor in an instant. The bike wasn't too damaged but I took a battering physically and mentally. I had to start at the back again for the main race and although I worked my way through and had a pulled out a last corner overtake, it wasn't with the same gusto as on Saturday and not helped by a misfiring bike, my lap times were slower. But that's racing. If it was predictable and always went to plan, it wouldn't be so satisfying when it does occasionally go well.
This first season back was always going to be a learning experience, especially as far as the different tracks are concerned. Nevertheless, I'm getting the feeling back and I think that I might eventually be more competitive than all those years ago. However, it's hard to compare the two eras and I think it's daft to try. I'm just going to ride as hard as I dare and try to beat whoever is around me at any particular time. That's what racing has always been about.
WORDS TIM MOORE PHOTOGRAPHY TERRY OWENS
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