In the few weeks preluding the AMA Pro Racing event at Mid-Ohio, we had an idea to put someone on my bike for the upcoming AMA Pro Weekend. After all, I wasn't riding it. It would be good exposure and with Mid-Ohio only being 3.5 hours away, it would take minimal resources to get the team out there to help things along. A couple names came to mind for someone who we might be able to put on the bike who could put in a good showing for the team, but one person stood out. That person was Kyle Wyman. He's an AMA rider and has been riding in the Harley XR1200 class this year - winning a big race at Daytona early in the season. Very professional, smart and a very good racer. He'd be the guy. So off we went.
We arrived to the track Thursday morning. Getting into our pits was tricky. Lots of people, not enough space – and the factory rigs were already in place which made it even trickier. We danced the trailers around enough where everyone could squeeze in and proceeded to setup camp for the weekend. The Jordan rig was next to us, which would help draw traffic to our pits. That, or the the bathrooms being close. Either way, we had a pretty good spot which was also near our lane assignments down on hot-pit lane.
Our core crew consisted of Joe, Doug, Matt and myself. Aaron would be helping, but he was also competing in the Supersport class, so he'd have enough to worry about himself. Kyle's dad Bob and brother Cody would be around to help, but they were also in the Geico pits making sure the XR1200 was ready for Kyle to ride in the Harley class. For us, getting Kyle comfortable on the bike was our first and primary goal. Between all of us - we had everything pretty much ready from the start. Dad and I had spent a lot of time on the bike in the week beforehand making sure it was perfect and ready to go. Joe had a very good chassis setup that would be our starting point for the weekend. Once Kyle arrived, we made some small ergonomic changes and were ready to go.
Friday morning threw us a bit of a curve ball with significant rain early on, but it dried enough before the first Daytona Sportbike session to put in some good laps. Kyle went out, did the laps, got accustomed to the bike and we made a couple small changes. Heading into our next and final session of day one, we would treat quaifying (Q1) like just another practice session – but it was an important one because the Mid-Ohio track was now up to temperature and offering good grip. Waiting until the following morning could be tricky because the track doesn't always have the heat (grip) into it early on.
Q1 started off solid. Times were dropping and Kyle seemed to be getting more comfortable on the bike - and that's just when we ran into trouble. Kyle went out after we made a change, did a couple laps and then didn't come back around. A bit of worry settled in. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Waiting, waiting. As we eventually heard over the radio, he was off on the side of the track with a mechanical issue. As it turned out, the bike ran out of gas. Come on, really??
This lovely miscue happened with a solid 15 minutes left on the clock during the session. We had a new fuel measuring system and hadn't quite figured out our gas mileage with this new setup. We went from a measuring stick to a beaker system and maybe the whole gallons to liters conversaion was a bit daunting for us … <rolleyes>. The fuel light may have been on earlier and none of us saw it. I should have paid more attention to that myself, given that Kyle was still learning the bike and had enough to process and come to grips with. The issue itself was minor, but in the grand scheme of things and total time available in the course of an AMA weekend, it was a big hit and Joe and I were pretty down about it as the day wrapped up. You only have six total sessions during the weekend including both races, so losing nearly half of one can put you behind the eight ball in a hurry - especially against the teams we were now competing against. Lesson learned, we'd have to move on.
Saturday morning came and this would be our Q2 session. The top Supersport riders were only slightly off their pace from yesterday, so the track had grip – there was no time to let up as Daytona Sportbike headed out. We had the bike ready to go early and Kyle just had to hop on and go. And that he did – good laps were in, the times dropped and he started looking a touch more comfortable on the bike. After another post-session discussion, we were mounting new tires, double checking fuel and preparing ready for Daytona Sportbike Race 1. Final qualifying would put us in 17th position out of about 28 or so bikes.
The whole procedure pre-race reminded me of my first AMA race back in 2008. It was very similar – even the nerves, and I wasn't even racing! I was excited, amp'd up and I think dad, Doug, Matt and the rest of the guys were too. As the generator, tire warmers, umbrella and everything else came off the track, the grid got quiet and everyone headed on their warmup lap, row by row. As everyone came back around and gridded up, it was time. The bike looked good. It was a good package. I was confident of this, sort of - I didn't really know for sure. I had no idea where we'd stack up, especially with someone new on the bike altogether. The lights went red, went out and off the red steed went into the T1 madness.
It wasn't a great start for Kyle. First time taking a start on a different bike and different clutch doesn't often provide a steller experience. He came around on lap one in 22nd place. Dad and I were working the pitboard together and we didn't know how busy we'd be. Each lap Kyle seemed to be picking someone to pass. P22, P21, P20, P19, P18 .. as the laps counted down, Kyle just kept working his way through. P17, P16, P15, P14 … The lap times were dropping and Kyle looked strong coming onto the front straight each and every lap with our Hanshaw motor plugging away. Eslick, Herrin, DiSalvo and Westby would be putting on a great race for the lead, but we were fixated on our bike. P13, P12 …. I was cautiously optimistic. "We aren't far outside the top ten," I said. "No … no, we're not", my dad said quietly, echoing the same tone of cautious optimism I was. L5, L4, L3 .. the laps counted down and we were now in P11 .. another lap later and we were in P10. With about two laps to go, we moved into P9, inside the top ten and that's where we would finish at the checkered flag. A top ten finish in our first Daytona Sportbike entry! And a great finish in Kyle's first time back on a 600 in nearly a year. It was awesome.
Needless to say, being excited was an understatement. The entire crew was on pit lane and we celebrated and cheered as Kyle came in. I don't think Kyle expected it. I'm pretty sure we didn't expect it. It was the absolute perfect way to get in our first race together with Kyle and there's no better way to put it. My dad was extremely happy. Probably a little relieved too that everything worked so well and without issue. As we all talked about the race and relived certain portions of it in the pits, the funniest part about the day was when Kyle and I were talking and he noticed my dad siphoning fuel out of the bike … Joe nearly filled the large beaker he had been using for measuring. We all started laughing. It was probably another 6-8 pounds of fuel in the bike, but it was apparent we wouldn't be running out of fuel again on this weekend.
We'd celebrate that night at KC's Steakhouse with Kyle, Bob, Cody, Kyle's girlfriend Kelsey and Eric (Johnston). We talked about plans for Sunday's race and fortunately, the bike was good so there wasn't a lot to change which was good. It's really a relief when the bike is good and you aren't chasing your tail around setup issues.
Sunday morning warmup went well. In talking with Kyle, there were a couple small things we tried to see if the bike was better or worse. Once we squared that away, it was just a matter of new tires and waiting for race time. Before each of the races, we had the AMA fan walk, which drew out a big crowd both days. It was pretty huge actually.
In contrast to Saturday, Sunday's race was far less eventful, but that wasn't a bad thing. After a red-flag incident in T1 on the initital start, Kyle had a second good start and was in P14 after lap one. For everyone, this made the race pretty boring. About a third through the race, he moved into P11 and would stay there for the rest of the race. P10 was just far enough ahead where he probably couldn't latch on, and P12 closed in at one point, but we tried letting Kyle know via the pitboard the gap was closing and he simply put his head down and stretched the gap to +4, +5, +6, +7 seconds over the next several laps. We were all 100% guilty of being spoiled from Saturday's race. Finishing 11th was another great result with this competition – just knocking on the door of another top ten. Kyle was a little down post-race, but he made up for all the excitement by getting a bunch of guys into T1 right off the start. He was a couple tenths faster in this race compared to Saturday, which was especially good considering he was a bit more drained from the Harley race earlier in the day - and the fact that we were down a little bit on top speed compared to Saturday. Both small things, but if we correct those things next time out, there's even more time to be found, which is encouraging.
In the end, the biggest eye opener for me is that we have a bike that can legitimately compete at the top level. We've always worked to pay attention to every single detail in preparing our bikes, but to see it at work, at the highest level of 600 competition here in the US was such a proud and rewarding moment. For my dad, I know it was huge. His work on the bike, his preparations, his building of the suspension – the forks specifically; in years past when we first started, suspension was something we used to be scared to touch. Turn clickers? What?! Now over the past several years, suspension is the main thing we work on and now Joe is building and tuning customer forks on a regular basis at the club-racing level - and now we've seen good results doing it and competing at the top AMA level. It's only one race, but it's a start. He's always been very humble in regard to his skillset with suspension, but I think this confirms the Ohlins classes and the teachings from guys like Mike Fitzgerald and Chuck Giachetto have paid off.
As for Kyle, he was a great fit for our team. Not only was he a great fit for how our team has worked up until this point; he gave accurate feedback, was very level-headed, and had the proper mental approach to racing, which is 90% of the game. When other guys were worried about the track being cold, or some other distraction, Kyle had a calming confidence and demeanor about him and would go out focused and ride hard. Nothing got in the way of that. He showed this throughout the weekend and that's such a big part in being successful in racing. While it was painful for me to not be out there, it was rewarding to have a rider who made all the work my dad and I have done over the year worthwhile – not just in terms of the bike, but representing our sponsors and everyone involved with the team itself. We couldn't be happier with how things turned out.
Jeff had a good weekend as well, finishing 14th and 9th in both Supersport races. He struggled a bit early on, but rebounded and put in his best finish to-date in the class. He got back into lap times on Sunday that he had been doing a few weeks prior, so I think he was happy with that.
As for Aaron, he's never happy – just like most any racer you'll come across. He expects so much from himself, but the honest truth was that this event was his second time on the bike all season – all season! Everyone else has been riding week-in, week-out and Aaron managed to put it on the grid without a problem, go out and race – and beat a handful of guys at the same time. What was impressive as well is that in Sunday's morning practice, Aaron was the fastest guy on the team for most of it, ahead of everyone we were pitted with. He was able to go out there and just put down the laps. The hardest thing for Aaron is not getting mad from not always meeting the high expectations he sets for himself, but rather being happy to just be out there and competing. It's so hard to ride a 600 at the top level when everything isn't just right and when the riding time isn't there. In the end, Aaron did great. And overall it was a very good weekend for everyone.
On the way home, I commented that things almost went too well and that we need to plan for what could go wrong in the future. "Fuel …" my dad said smiling. Ironically, we ran the truck out of fuel on the way home too. I'm not kidding, we really did run it to empty. We did have five gallons in the trailer so I wanted to see how far we could go with "0 miles till empty". With the trailer, it wasn't more than a mile. :)
Thank you to everyone who came out this weekend, supported us, said hello and/or just hung out. Thanks to Brian and Eric of Sportbike Track Gear for helping support our side of things – it was a great team effort. Brian was very excited at the finishes and as we've talked about since then, this is a great finish for the team overall and hopefully opens some doors for us moving forward. Between my dad and I, we were able to network a bit and learn some things we can improve on, as we now have several areas on with the bike to focus and improve on.
Cheers and thanks for reading.
Photos courtesy of Marty Matuszak and Matt Kraft.Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 | POSTED AT: 11:45 PM
FILED UNDER: Race Reports
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- You're currently reading "AMA Pro ’11, Round 6 – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course," an entry on Witchkraft Racing.
- Published: 07.13.11 / 11pm
- Category: Race Reports