John Butler, Keevil, April 27
Rider: John Butler, Bike: Suzuki GSX-R600 SRAD, Club: NG Road Racing
Our race day started at 0530 am on Sunday morning, a time, that in my opinion should be made illegal, especially since at 3am my 1 year old Daughter had decided to paint the entire upstairs with vomit which meant I'd had virtually no sleep anyway.
After a quick cup of tea we set off for Keevil at about 6am and arrived at 6.45 after spotting at least 3 lone magpies on the way (superstition is a big part of safety for some racers) which already put a cloud over the day.
We parked in the first available spot, which was way back in the paddock, got the bike off and while Steve continued setting up I wheeled it off to scrutineering some 1/2 a mile away.
I soon realised I'd forgotten my scrutineering ticket but due to the kind intervention of Dave Saxby, who held my bike for me, I was able to sprint back to the van to get it (those of you that know me well probably realise that this translates to run for a bit, stop and breathe, walk for a bit, run for an even shorter bit etc. etc.). We eventually got the bike and I scrutineered and after Steve managed to knock the bike of the stand, we started getting psyched and prepared for the first warm up, i.e. we had a cup of tea and I rubbed my sleep deprived and hungover head .
We where waiting for rain the whole day but luckily we only got 3 very short showers which failed to wet the track for long so our decision to fit the Dunlop 207GPs paid off from the start. In the first practice it didn't take long to re-familiarise myself with the smooth tarmaced, cone apexed, overbanded wonder that is Keevil airfield and after a couple of laps I was able to think about lines and braking points. It had been almost a complete season since last racing on Dunlops and I'd forgotten just how much the triangular profile tips you into the corners and allows safe two wheel sliding without really threatening to let go...I was enjoying myself!
After more tea and quick check over the bike it was time for the second practice. I decided I'd step up the pace a bit for this one and try a few different techniques for the hairpins (my weakest points on the track), but we didn't really get that far. On the second lap, coming out of the large left hand turn at the end of the start finish straight, with the power fully applied, the revs suddenly hit the limiter and I lost drive. I thought I'd slipped out of gear so went to re-select but to no avail. I'd snapped the chain...bugger.
This is the 3rd chain I've snapped whilst riding bikes and the last two caused massive crankcase damage and cost a packet to repair, so while waiting for the recovery truck thoughts of season finished, and marriage over, were beginning to have an effect on my legendary calm manner (tsk).
When the bike was dropped off at our van my volunteer mechanics Steve Dowsett and Mark Russell (not the No.38 Russell), started stripping the bike down to investigate the damage whilst I made the 1 mile dash to the clerk of the course at the start finish line. The Clerk had not realised I'd had a chain snap and wanted to have a word about moving off the track a bit faster when retiring.
After some explanation and rhetoric it was all cleared up and everyone was happy, except me who felt like I'd run 2 marathons in full leathers and was faced with the prospect of running another mile back to the paddock.
Luckily I managed to blag a lift with the safety car.
I got back to the bike to learn that by some mega miracle the only damage caused was a minor non-structural crack to the sprocket cover…phew!
So off I went again. I sprinted back to the other end of the paddock to A+R racing to purchase a new chain. £89 later I started running (by now more of a fast walk with extra arm movement) back to the bike.
Whilst on my sweaty way back the first call for the 600 race came over the Tannoy and if I wasn't quite so knackered I may have picked up the pace, but instead I motioned to Mark to run to me and 'relay the chain back to the van.
Of course the chain was too long and needed links removing, which isn't something to do whilst under pressure, but somehow we managed to remove the right amount of links, rivet the chain and get me and the bike to the collection area just as the rope went down to join the circuit.
If I could have completed a full breath I would have sighed with relief. Thanks a lot guys!
The first 600 race started with me on the 4th row of the grid and some serious work to do, but I got a pretty good start and I exited the first corner in about 8th position. Unfortunately in lap 2 there was a collision at the hairpin and the race was red flagged.
We re-assembled on the grid and, after a short wait, where able to restart. I got another reasonably good start and exited turn one in about 10th determined to make up some more places. I positioned myself on the left of the track for the braking point into the hairpin and waited for the bikes in front to slow, then as soon as I was nudging past them I slammed the brakes on, sat back and prayed for grip.
I slid past about 2 bikes and tipped it into the corner. Unfortunately one of the people I passed took exception to this and decided to smash into the front of my bike mid corner and sent me and the guy behind crashing to the deck...damn those magpies!
The bike wasn't that badly damaged, unlike my shoulder which took the brunt of the impact, and I was able to ride it back to the paddock and straight back into scrutineering. The bike passed OK but the scrutineer was insistent that I get my leathers re-stitched where the seam on my knee had split.
Unfortunately my Boy Scout emergency kit had been left at home that day and I had no idea where a needle and thread could be found. I asked Marion, the club secretary, who suggested that lock wire may work. Guess what? It did, thanks Marion .
With everything repaired I lined up for the first open race wondering if my shoulder would allow me to race. I had a mediocre start and went round the first 2 laps waiting for the Ibuprofen to kick in, which it duly did (or the adrenaline started to work harder) and I got the bit between my teeth.
My SRAD600 is a bit dated in comparison to post 2000 bikes and I always struggle on the straights no matter how much I press myself onto the tank. I was also suffering from the extra drive the bigger capacity machines where getting out of the corners, but despite this I held 9th place until the final lap where I out braked myself in the hairpin and allowed 2 people to go through and finished 11th. I didn't think it was a bad result considering it came from a 5th row start and I had a farriers hammer constantly smashing into my shoulder.
The 2nd 600 race saw me right at the back of the grid (about 35th) in the B group due to my crash out in the first race and I'd kind of given up hope for any decent result considering the odds.
I got off the line well and left village turn in about 25th position. I continued to pass a few on the straight and out braked some more into steeple hairpin. After 3 laps I was up into 16th position and battling hard but the field was spreading out and I was being held up by traffic quite a lot. Despite that I continued to pick people off and crossed the line in 7th place after having by far the most enjoyable race of the day.
The last race of the day was the Open A final where I was 25th on the grid.
Just to get my defence in early, the A final is a very tough race with the newest bikes and fastest riders in the club and I need to take the bike right to the edge to compete at all in this class. Nevertheless, I started OK and left the first corner in about 20th, then got spanked by most of the field on the back straight only for me to gain back the places on the brakes and through the twisty bits.
This set up a precedent for the rest of the race, me sliding the bike around and man handling it under, round, and through as many people as possible mid corner only to lose it again on the power, very frustrating.
Even so I finished in 21st position with a smile on my face and a wave of relief washing through me for not coming off.
All in all the day was thoroughly enjoyable and thanks to the excellent support of Steve and Mark we all finished on a high, except for smashing the light cluster on the van when we got back home.
And the moral of the story is 'always take your shotgun to race meetings and shoot ALL magpies on the way'.
As usual a big thank you to my sponsors Aboutbikes.co.uk, Taylor racing Chippenham and Bel Ray oils.