As I get older, I seem to be less inclined to embrace new stuff as an adventure – rather viewing the unknown as an unwelcome distraction from my routines, habits and familiar people, places and things. Like I said, I’m getting older…
So more often than not, I find myself acting like a borderline-grumpy-old-man these days given that here in Bethesda (more a state of mind these days than a physical location), nothing has even the remotest sense of familiarity yet.
No Tim Horton’s, no Canadian Tire… What’s a girl to do?
But it’s not all bad. The weather is a marked improvement over the obscene amount of snow I would have suffered back in Ottawa - and through the local Ducati community, I’m making new friends. But, when you get down to it, the thing that probably gives me the most amount of stress is (and has been for as long as I can remember) the prospect of learning a new race track.
It seems to take me forever to learn a new venue and due to the limits I’ve set for myself on the track, this means I have to live through a frustrating period of restraint before I can get up to my full pace. I have a strange way of seeing race tracks and it has nothing to do with corner numbers. In fact, even though I can run at a very respectable pace at Calabogie and Mt. Tremblant, I’d be hard pressed to talk to someone about either track in that context. Mosport’s a different story, but it should be after 11 years of going round and round…. So I memorize a new track in terms of its flow and various components (which are usually large combinations) and then over time, start a process of solving each combination like a problem; beginning with the easiest. Bottom line is that it takes more time to go fast, but I spend far less time frustrated with my inability to do so.
Logistically speaking, my trip down to Virginia International Raceway (VIR) with the Mid-Atlantic Ducati (MAD) club last week went a whole lot better than expected. Most of my energy in the days preceding the event was tied up in trying to trace down an annoying cyclical vibration from Adam’s trailer at speeds over 65mph and it was only the day before the event – after replacing the trailer bearing and race sets, balancing the wheels and shimming the backside of the right side castle nut with a 900SS swing arm pin shim that I rid the package of the vibration. The Passat V6 seemed to pull the trailer beautifully with the F1 and my gear inside, but the F1 and the Hyperstrada was a complete unknown. Turns out it was a piece of cake and with the load balanced for about 130lbs on the tongue, the whole kit performed better than expected. So, the 3.5 hour trip down to VIR was down right comfortable, stress-free and enhanced by a concert of non-stop, high-volume Zappa.
Did I mention that once again I packed in the rain? I wonder why I even set myself up to expect anything different these days..
When I rolled up to the track at 4PM, it was still raining and surprisingly cold – maybe 10 degrees C. Not encouraging, but hey – I’m from the Great White North and Mosport at the end of May has been known to be seriously frigid. The MAD group numbered some 80 – 90 participants I think, and I was amazed to see everyone set-up and the community BBQs fired up by around 6PM. The group had the garages and adjoining pit area and I was lucky enough to be able to share garage space with club President Gene Hunt and six other members including my old Grattan buddy Courtney Collins. The pot luck supper went on long past my usual bedtime and I was having so much fun that it was more the cold than fatigue that drove me to my room in the Lodge. The high point of the evening was meeting Bill Deitz, owner of a fire breathing bevel, an F1 racer and a couple of other interesting pieces.
The MAD club contracts with Cornerspeed to run their VIR events and they delivered one of the most efficient, smooth and trouble-free track day experiences I’ve encountered in 11 years. ..Especially considering the conditions; best described as wretchedly cold and miserable. I wisely bumped down to the Intermediate group and arranged for Cornerspeed coach Steve Broadhead to show me around the track for the first session. Although the YouTube videos that I studied helped somewhat, nothing could really prepare me for the dynamics of the track. While similar to Calabogie in the complexity of the elevation changes and multi-corner combinations, the pavement has seen better days and this further complicated the art of getting around the track smoothly. What a brilliant layout, though. We were on the North course which with at least 17 turns, a front straight that isn’t and some breathtaking elevations changes puts it right up there with Mt. Tremblant and Calabogie. What really sets it apart though is the resort like setting replete with lodge, tavern and above-garage suites.
I followed my plan of simply memorizing the track on the first day; ignoring the nagging temptation to work on speed, and by the end of the day I was having fun chasing club member Mike Iadicola around and making some serious noise. With Calabogie’s strict sound regulations, I didn’t get a lot of quality seat time on the F1 with the open megga last year and I’d forgotten how much faster the bike is when unmuffled. ..Or maybe the motor’s just getting a little looser or the air density had the jetting in the sweet spot - but the bike was literally leaping out of corners. The only downside to the day (both days for that matter) was that the cold and damp conditions were wreaking havoc with my elbow, and limiting me to 15 minute sessions.
I got some time in meeting new Ducatisti Monday night and spent more than a few minutes hunkered down by the F1 with Donnie Unger – owner of Duc Pond Motorsports yakking about Pantahs, broken backs and the surprisingly broad circle of mutual friends we have in the community. Speaking of surprises, Donnie had one of the ex-Canadian Thunder PSRs in his pit and just seeing the bike made me feel more at home in my new surroundings.
Tuesday was to be warmer and brighter but alas – ended up as a repeat of Monday. Despite this, everyone was on the track by mid-morning and by the first session after lunch, I had the track memorized and was starting to pick up the pace. I elected to forego any serious work on the combinations that were giving me problems and simply continue to circulate – although I got noticeably faster and more confident as the day wore on. And I had a boatload of fun as a result. I decide to quit while I as ahead of the game around 3:30 and went out with Eric Ettare who had his on-bike camera set to catch a few laps of me during the session. I put my head down and got some really good laps in that put a nice finishing touch on an already excellent first excursion on this fine old racetrack. Paul Newman was quoted as saying something like “if there’s a heaven on earth, VIR is it” and if I hadn’t had the pleasure of experiencing Calabogie, I would have agreed with him.
I can’t wait to get back there.
So, while I pine for the comfort and familiarity of the tribe back home and the tracks we rode, the MAD group’s hospitality has taken the edge off the whole experience of trying to drop in to a new community. The thing that most impressed me was the club dynamic at the track – it truly felt like a group of friends getting together to do something cool for a few days.
And while Bethesda ain’t quite home yet, it’s a far cry from feeling like I’m trapped in never ending business trip where I’m staying in the house of somebody who has very, very similar taste in furniture, art, music and Mexican women.
Content: 1987 Ducati 750 F1, 2005 Ducati Multistrada MTS1000S, Virginia International Raceway, Mid-atlantic Ducati Owners Club, CornerSpeed, Calabogie Motorsports Park, Mosport International Raceway, Hyperstrada, loudbike. Steve Munro