Friday, December 01, 2017
1299S Grattan Race Report and Season Wrap Up; WERA North Central Regionals by Brian Healea
Grattan, MI Final NC Round. CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT!
As I sat in the van driving to Grattan, MI for the final round of the WERA NC Regionals, I reviewed the season. Matt Carr and I sat down and decided to run the full WERA NC Region this year and showcase a mostly stock 1299S in HWT classes. We started with Grattan in May under cold conditions and won both races. We kicked the year off on the right step and were well on our way to doing what we came to do. Then Road America came about with racing via ARHMA. This was a chance of a lifetime and was something that I wanted to do for soooo many years. Matt was going to race it and Ben would be there so, I decided that wherever Matt and Carrmoto/Ducati Indy wanted me, I was there! As you all have previously read, Road America was less than perfect for me. Battling locals, battling no knowledge and still trying to figure out the 1299 left a lot to be desired. Even though I was frustrated, Matt was always supporting me. At one point, I told Matt that I wanted to roll out Saturday night and go to Grattan and race the Sunday round. We raced Road America in lieu of WERA’s Grattan DOUBLE HEADER. Yes, two rounds in one weekend.
I will never forget this… Matt pulled me aside, calmed me down and told me simply “We are going to race tomorrow. All we have to do for the WERA Championship is win every round for the rest of the season.” He was direct and to the point, but said it in such a way that in reflection, he was confident that it was closer to reality rather than a distant chance. I seriously took that and used it all season. As it stood going into the last round for the WERA NC Region at Grattan, we were ahead in points in both classes. Up to this point, we had one every single HWT race entered with WERA. Every single one. At this point, that was 8 races.
“All we have to do is win every round for the rest of the season.” –Matt Carr CarrMoto/Ducati Indy
So, we have one more round to go! That’s right, kids – we need to fight one last battle in an effort to win the war for the North Central WERA Regional Championship for both HWT SB and HWT SS. Of course, we had some challenges with that one lady we all know well in Mother Nature. She decided to remind us that where we traveled from would be a beautiful 82 degrees and clear skies by making Grattan a balmy 55 degrees and Noah’s Ark style rain. Thank you, Ms. Nature…
We needed to race the final round as we were ahead in points, but our competition was close enough in points that should we fail to finish or had we done what several other racers did and not race at all, we would have lost BOTH championships. The biggest issue in any wet race weekend is that you need to first finish before you finish first. Grattan has its challenges such as sealer snakes and large patch work that when wet, is not really a friendly surface.
Grattan had a 4 hr endurance race scheduled for Saturday and sprint practices available. We watched the weather and on Saturday, it was raining buckets. We decided to hold off as Sunday showed a POTENTIAL for a dry race day after noon, but wet in the morning. So we skipped practice and just got ready for the next day.
Saturday night, Matt and Bill Carr traveled from Indy up to help and support. These two have been instrumental in this championship and without either of them this year, we wouldn’t have been in the running. I owe them so much. I had Logan there for the weekend which was amazing. So, I had a ton of support and the presence of friends and family calms me and allows me to focus. Everyone being there to help allows me to spend more time on my mental preparedness for the race rather than divide time with bike prep, fixing something, and the races…
Sunday was here! We woke to pouring rain and a radar image that looked like it wasn’t going to get much better. The hope was that it would eventually dry out, but it looked unlikely to be for very long. My fingers were crossed, but we were ready for a rain weekend and I was actually pumped. It’s never fun to race in the wet and cold, but it has this weird effect in that your senses are amped up tremendously and you tend to see things so clearly. Of course, the adverse impact is that you are exhausted when it’s over…
Sunday morning at Grattan started out with the typical unloading and setting up for the day. Matt was a busy guy handling both myself and Ben Napier who was there for support and to race the HWT classes also. He was on his 848 that was also ready for a wet battle. We were like a bee hive. Logan helping, taking pics while Ben was getting himself and his bike ready and myself doing what I do. Matt was working with me on the electronic settings he felt was best to try out. The best part of working with Matt is that he doesn’t ever push what he feels is right on me. He offers up why he would do something and allows me to digest and to determine what I think is best. His knowledge of racing and Ducati and this Panigale family is second to none. His ideas are calculated and driven right from first-hand experience.
Matt suggested that I go out in both practices. I was thinking just skip the first one and run the second session. My thought was it was going to be wet and cold and I don’t need a ton of practice in those conditions. I’ve raced a good number of races in the rain. However, it was maybe 11-12 years ago since my last race in the rain!! Matt suggested that I do the first one in case our settings were not the best they could be. We softened the forks and shock and took a lot of other adjustments and input them into the brain of the beast. All the way, Matt explaining why we were doing these things. That step is important. It creates a sense of confidence in my mind. I am willing to try anything and always ask Matt “What would you race on?” in an effort to get what he would do. That allows me the sense of confidence I need to just go out and ride the damn bike rather than worry about the bike being hard to ride or that we are doing something totally unknown.
Practice was a downpour. I ran a rain jacket top to keep my upper body as dry as possible. The gloves were exposed and my lower half. It wasn’t too much of an issue but the cold was what hits you when you stop so, keeping as dry as possible is key. I just didn’t have any rain pants so, we got a little damp.
I was riding around a little tentative at first. I soon found out the non-patchwork spots were actually pretty good. I could brake well, drive well and even have good/decent grip on that surface. The patch sections were not slippery, but didn’t provide a ton of confidence. Therefore, I was a little unsure and wasn’t trying to get the bike to move on the surface as I wasn’t sure what the result would be. The sealer snakes were horrible as expected. You have the same situation when driving your car on the roads. The tar/sealer snakes cause your car to wiggle or create small wheel spin when traveling over them under acceleration. On a two wheeled machine, that tends to create a bit of a higher degree of pucker than normally found in the security of the cabin of your car.
I came in and was actually really happy. In fact, felt it was so good, that I skipped the last round of practice in an effort to conserve the tires and keep from getting even more wet. That meant we were ready for the race which was looking to be full wet. We made a few minor adjustments, emptied the drain on the belly pan and got ready to do work. Then came lunch…
Lunchtime. We ran a normal length practice which was a little upsetting because it was looking like the longer we took and closer to noon we got, the better the weather started to get. When I say better, I mean the rain slowing and even stopping. It kept staying wet by misting to even another quick downpour. But it stopped and the sun even came out right before we headed to the grid. Not a concern for the first race due to how much water was on the track, but we started to think different tires before we even rolled out.
The race was a combination of F1 Ex, 600 Ex, 600 Novice and HWT SS. We were gridded in the front along with the sole F1 Expert Jeremy Kolewski. Jeremy and I have raced a few times together and he is smooth and of course like most the riders in the race, a local. He’s had more laps at Grattan than probably anyone on the grid combined. I was gridded on pole next to Ryan Pritt who was my main concern. I had to either beat him or finish right behind him to secure the championship. Ben Napier who was pitted with the CarrMoto/Ducati Indy team and good friend, rounded out the front row. Jeremy had his own row behind us and then a couple of row breaks until the 600 EX and Novices. There were a total of 12 riders on the grid.
The 1299S is an amazing machine. It pretty much has the best riding aids I’ve raced with on a motorcycle. That being said, it has a system that I am not entirely familiar with yet and a few things pop up from time to time that has me being educated under fire. The start to this wet race was no different.
I revved her up and got ready to drop the hammer. Ryan is a good starter for sure. His bike launches well and with the power he has, can really get off the line. I usually can get off as good, but have to be a little more ginger on the throttle as I have more bottom end and mid-range. I tend to launch at the same time, get off a little slower but when she gets into 2nd or 3rd, she starts to hunt that 1199R Ryan is on. Not this time! I let the clutch out and she hated the idea. She bucked and stalled and fired off and choked and then took off. It looked as if I was starting for the very first time. I literally was 6th or 7th going into turn one. Ryan got off to the point with Jeremy on his 600 (He decided to race the smaller 600 vs his fire breathing 1000 in the wet) getting in right behind him into turn one. I was swarmed with novices and expert 600s. Ryan was getting away and I had to get through this traffic as quickly as possible.
Jeremy was pulling away. That didn’t matter as he was in F1. The 600s were somewhat difficult to manage as they were all over the place. The last thing I needed was a different class rider botching an entrance and I collecting him into a turn. That’s what almost happened as we approached the off camber of turn 3. I drove around between 3 and 4 as I had good grip in between and from the line I took. I then got another one as I went up the jump between 4 and 5. Ryan was visible ahead and I was in 5th at the start of lap 2. I was able to out brake Ryan going into turn 1 and then block at the apex as the sealer patch was something I was worried to apply power on. That gave us the lead in my class and 4th overall. Two novices that had tons of laps via being STT coaches and Jeremy were ahead of me. I tried as best I could to pull them closer, but by the 3rd and 4th lap, we all seemed to settle into similar laps. Each of us were about 10 seconds between us through the race.
Catching them was not a concern. Ryan was. I was getting signals from Matty as he sat in the rain and cold to tell me I had a substantial gap. Looking over my shoulder was tough as with the tar snakes, you had to be on the gas but careful where the tire was. Looking back was dicey because I couldn’t risk hitting something while not looking forward. But, I snuck a few glances back and saw I was in the clear.
We finished on top and won the HWT SS championship in the process! One down, one to go! It would be a bit of a crazy timeline after the first race. WERA did an awesome job of combining the classes to get us out of there as fast as possible. Before the schedule change, we were Race #1 and Race #9. Now, we had one race in between and guess what? That damn Nature lady was throwing curve balls. Our first race was showing a dry line. The next race had all but a few turns dry. We had a serious decision and not much time to get the changes in. We were talking about leaving the rain front on as the wet sections were across some delicate sections like through turn 1 and down at the bottom of the bus stop. Heavy braking and wet equals sketch. The temps were really cool at this stage and I talked with Matt as to what we should do.
We looked at DOT race compound rear, DOT street rear and even a slick. I actually had a set of slicks mounted as we weren’t sure. But the issue was the sold temp and the fact that we would have 8 laps plus cool down to get heat into the race compounds and we just felt that was not going to work. So, we decided that it was the last race, we had great wear on the rains and even if I melted the rear, all I needed to do was finish and we would have the championship. Our fellow CarrMoto/Ducati Indy racer Ben Napier decided to go with a rear slick and was thinking the same thing but made that change. It would be an eventful decision…
Matt and I talked about the settings and the issue at launch with the 1299. He walked me through a few ideas and we implemented a few clicks on the suspenders, but the most valuable thing was him walking me through a start in the wet with the big Duc. As we gridded for the second race, it started to spit a mist. Nothing serious and in fact, wasn’t really gathering moisture on the track. This time, I listened to Matt in my head and got a really solid launch! I was first into turn 1 and on the drive out, got a little greedy on the throttle or hit the small wet patch. Not sure as it could have been a combination of both, but it had me out of the seat and protested in an aggressive manner. That allowed Jeremy who was racing in the A SuperStock class (Still on a 600) to get around me going into turn 2. The track seemed good and the front was solid so, I took after Jeremy and tried to keep the group behind me from catching me and passing. The kid that finished second in the first race was on my back side and tried to place some pressure. However, the conditions started to change. For the worse… The mist had increased and was still shy of a full rain, but heavy enough to start laying a film of moisture down. The sealer patches were not good with this level of condensation. A light mist is worse than if it had poured or rained in a constant fashion. The track changed and we were all struggling to keep the pace.
Jeremy wasn’t getting away and I started to follow him as we both started to pull away from third place overall. Again, we were sitting in first in HWT SB and second overall. The competitor in me wanted first overall, but management and the championship was taking over my mindset and seeing Matt (Still standing in the cold and rainy conditions) giving me the huge gap signal, I just tried to hang on and keep with Jeremy. As we closed in on the final laps, I started to get a little excited. It’s hard focusing when you are about to close a season with a championship, but the mist had me super focused and as I crossed the finish line in 1st place and 2nd overall, I realized that after 24 years of competitive road racing, I FINALLY gained a championship. We have won some National Championships at the AMA Horizon and AMA/WERA VMDs, but this is the first championship from a full season.
I rolled into the pits and saw Matt standing there in the rain cheering me on. As I approached, we both hugged and were beyond pumped. As I rolled into the garage for the last time, it washed over me. WE DID IT!! My son was there, Bill, Ben, and Matt. We had done what we set out to do. We showcased a bike that has a cloud over it as a brand that says you have too much money in them to be competitive, costs too much to race, costs too much to maintain. All these shattered. We were competitive. We were on a machine that was dependable. We were on a machine that cost simply as much as any Japanese bike would have cost me to race. It was due to a kick ass dealer and friend that helped prepare and develop it.
10 races. 10 wins. “All we have to do is win every round for the rest of the season.”
I need to thank Matt Carr first and foremost. His dedication to me racing this year was astounding and something at a level where I felt like a factory rider. We developed and worked on this bike to make it what is became. We were challenged with a lot of different things along the way, but Matt’s knowledge, race experience and shear ability to problem solve was the difference. His support of me when he should have been racing himself means a lot to me. We have developed a friendship that is unbreakable and what he has done shows me his support is more along the lines of a brother than friend. This sport has brought me so many friendships through the years. Matt Carr is now family.
I need to thank Bill Carr and the whole Ducati Indianapolis family. The Carr family is amazing. They are always at the track, always supporting everyone that they come across and I honestly think that at any given moment, they’d offer whatever you needed including the shirt off their backs should you be in need. The employees at Ducati Indy are also amazing. They are always hard working and as a unit, are part of one of the best Ducati shops in the country.
Thank you to friends like Tracy Shidler and Ben Napier that support me through the racing season. Tracy and I have been friends since 1998 and have raced together as teammates for several years. He still has yet to get tired of my craziness. He is on that level of friendship where he is family more than friend. Amazing dude and wished we could have had him there for more rounds. NEXT YEAR!
I also need to thank our sponsors. We are at the point in this sport that free and money aren’t typically part of the equation for racers these days. Some of the sponsors we have support us with freebies and are always there for tech support needed along the way during a season. THE BIG DEAL is that we only use what works for us. We aren’t using stuff just because it is free. In some cases, we know it works and that sponsor does give us free stuff, but we aren’t using something just because it is.
The following sponsors are responsible for 1st WERA HWT SS, 1st WERA HWT SB and 2nd WERA NATIONAL HWT SB:
CarrMoto – Matt Carr has more knowledge and experience from first hand RACING of Ducati motorcycles. That knowledge through the years has developed him into one of the top race and service minds in the industry. He also is a wizard on suspension. His Ohlins knowledge is second to none and what he knows and the tools that are in their shop makes this dealership and CarrMoto the GO TO place for all your race prep as well as suspension needs. Understand that this is not limited to race. There are SOOOO many street riders that have no idea how important suspension service is to their motorcycles.
Ducati Indianapolis – The Carr family owned dealership has long been a shop that not only can service, provide and sell the Ducati brand, but has become a name in the Midwest for the dealership that you can come to and be made to feel like family. They are a Ducati dealership, but are not limited to the Italian brand. They are riders. They are enthusiasts. They are passionate about motorcycles. They love customers and they treat everyone coming into the shop like they are the most important person that has entered the doors. The one thing that stands out in my mind about Ducati Indy is that they are always outstanding when it comes to customer service. That relationship they create is above the norm by a landslide.
Tucker Rocky Distributing – One of the best motorcycle parts and accessories source in the industry!! The company is all about their dealers and has been on a roll in making the way this industry works better.
Arai Helmets – Absolutely the best protection you can get in helmets. Amazing designs and astounding safety.
Rapid Bike USA – If you need to tune your Ducati Panigale or most other brands, look no further than Rapid Bike. The options we can add-on and the ability to fine tune the performance of the bike is great. We couldn’t have had the bike running as smoothly and with such ferocity with anything else.
Woodcraft Technologies – Eric Wood and his team design products that WORK. They aren’t making something to make a quick buck and to cut corners on the product they use to develop something. Top shelf customer service also. I have called these guys late in the week in an effort to get some much needed parts and they are quick to react and make me feel like they stop everything to grab what I need and ship it out. I will ALWAYS use Woodcraft. They’ve been a part of our race program for so many years that I cannot even remember when we started. Eric creates products that make sense and WORK!
Spiegler Performance – We got hooked up with Matthias late in the season due to eliminating the ABS unit on the bike. But he was quick to get us what we needed and the quality of their lines makes us look good, but stop like no other. The feel I had in the lines was amazing and while the last round was wet and we didn’t get to truly get a test of the lines and difference it made, we didn’t have the fade and I had more feel to the point I backed the adjuster off. They can custom build whatever you need in cool colors that have an endless amount of combinations.
MTD Track Support – Thank you to Jeff and Joe are bad asses! Seriously, we got hooked up with them through Ducati Indy and I am so glad to have been accepted on their support program. They are knowledgeable about the Pirelli product, but also run a kick ass track day organization. Thank you to the two guys that are always running like their hair is on fire for us racers in getting us the tires mounted, balanced, swapped, flipped, etc. They work harder on any given race weekend than anyone else. Stop by and shake their hands and thank them for being there at the track. Trackside support is something we all take for granted. There is a sigh of relief when I see their trailer at the track.
I want to also thank some very special people in my life.
Mom and Dad. They have supported me in this racing thing since I started. From the days of convincing my mom that racing was safer than street riding to this Summer where we won the National Championships at VMDs. They’ve always been there. Always. My dad treats me as if I am Valentino Rossi. He is my biggest fan and has pushed me all my life to do the best I can at anything I do. He has created this competitive nature I have and fostered it to become what it has. My mother will always worry, but she is also always making me feel like each and every race is as if I won the world title. Even if I lose. My mom and dad will always be my biggest fans.
My brother Steve. He is always there in spirit and at the track when he can. He busts his ass to work and provide for his family and can’t always be there at the track, but he always supports whatever I do and has even given me support in the form of funds to continue this dream of being a racer. Giving so much and never expecting anything other than me doing my best. Love you, man!
Abby Herrick is my rock. She has always been amazing since we first met. She’s supported me in times where I have felt down on myself and has always been a great cheerleader for what I do. She truly has made me feel like I am better than I really am. She will never know how much she means to me and how blessed I am to have met her. She truly is a unicorn. Abby’s daughter Alyvia is also amazing and is always sending me a text or a message asking me how I did and congratulations afterwards. She’s a bright little girl that has some amazing creativity and always makes me smile.
Last but not least, my two boys. Logan has been around this sport for 18 years. I remember having him at IRP back in 2000. Since then, I have watched him grow as a rider, watched him problem solve and educate himself about motorcycles and this sport to what he is now as a much needed part of this team. He is genuinely into this sport. I see his eyes and know that he is proud and that he is excited to be at the track. I called him and asked if he wanted to go to Grattan and he never once hesitated and said YES! That means a lot. He will be around much more as he grows. Then there is Grayson. Graydog is my bundle of energy. He is running at 100 mph and tends to be a little tough to handle at the track as he gets bored. But his energy towards motorcycles is strong. He is riding his PW50 and is always asking me how I do at the track. He gets the trophies and is always so excited when I get home and tell him that we did well. He has his moments where he gets me teared up as he tells me how proud he is of me after a race. His heart is huge!!
I am sure I am missing some others. It’s been an amazing year for sure. I cannot thank everyone involved enough. Next year is going to be great and we will have the chance to apply what we’ve learned this season with the 1299 and try to do even better!