Take me home, El Capitan!
The Perfect Curve ..... I Drag, Therefore I Am

Other than putting a ruler to his penis, how do you measure the true essence of a man? By his lifetime accomplishments mentioned in a tear laden eulogy? Or by the number of friends he has when he checks out at the end of a long life? By the number of women he's loved? Or by the successes of his children? A case could be made for any or all of these, but to a lessor extent to find out who he really is you'd need to ask him about his "personal" achievements. The little milestones of life that no one but himself knows about. I believe these are really what define the man. The person he truly is to himself. I experienced one of these "personal achievements" just recently and while it'll probably mean nothing.. zip.. zero..nada to anyone else on planet earth.. I thought I'd share if for no other reason than if I get this down on paper, I can pass it on to my 2 grandsons. Maybe someday they'll want a glimpse into the id of their grandpa..

I just returned from Barber Motorsports Park in scenic Birmingham, Alabama where I spent 2 glorious days riding with the good people at www.Sportbiketracktime. While there I achieved what, at 51 years old, I had thought would be an unobtainable goal in THIS lifetime. I nailed the "perfect" curve.

Ahh.. but you're saying, surely in 36+ years of riding there must have been lots of perfect curves.. O, contrare, mon frer. This was different and I knew it instantly. This was the kind of curve you see the paid professionals do effortlessly on a regular basis, but..(reality check, por for vor).. you and I aren't professionals nor will we ever ride like those guys. I had honestly relegated the possibility of ME nailing a curve like this to the back of my mind along with a few other "unachievable-in-this-lifetime" goals like climbing Everest, playing guitar like Eddie Van Halen, or sleeping with blond Norwegian twins.

On Friday I had met up with my usual riding buddies Mike and Bill Hider, Pete Eschelman, (all on Ducatis) and a new guy, Cisco (on a magnificent 07 GSXR 1000) at the Barber facility to grab our sacred pit spots and set-up for the 2 day event. This was my 6th time to Barber but only the second time on my new 2006 R1. A few months ago I had taken it here to figure out the gearing, suspension, air-pressures, to practice some of the things I'd learned in a recent Keith Code Superbike School, and more importantly to gauge the god-like liter bike power after riding previously on a 750 MV Agusta. Up to this point I had never ridden a bike this powerful on a track. This weekend with all those variables sorted out, I felt confident that I could ride the bike and myself to the limits.

This weekend as on previous track days I signed up for the intermediate group although some of my friends keep urging me to move up to the advanced group with the REALLY fast guys who REALLY know what they are doing... WERA racers, ex-pros, instructors, retired gods, etc... Usually I am in the top 5-8 riders out of about 30 riders in the group which makes me feel pretty damn good for a fargin' old codger, but never once have I considered myself good enough to move up. Honestly.. I've been afraid I'd be strafed and traumatized by the notorious two-wheeled Kamikaze riders in the faster group. Instead I comfortably keep my ego on a short leash and ride in the "intermediate" group and feel good about it. Perhaps I would just rather be in the top few of the intermediate group than the bottom few of the advanced. At least in this group I can practice passing.

Day One was wonderful. Within 3 laps I was up to full speed (without tire warmers) and amazingly.. passing virtually everyone in the group.. What's this? A fluke? By mid-day, my buddy Bill came up to me after a session and asked... "Is anyone passing you?" Amazingly.. I replied "No".. and in the last session of the first day I even touched my knee down if ever so briefly. This, for me is rare as I'm vertically challenged and I have short legs ( See my story about short people knee dragging in my July 2001 cheesy newsletter.

As at EVERY track day weekend event, on the second day virtually all riders are riding faster. Bikes are dialed in, mental and physical demons have been exorcised, and lines have been learned. In my case, I had never been riding better or faster..

On Day Two.. all day long I'm smokin.'... passing all.. leaving no prisoners.. kicking sand in the helmeted faces of lessor riders. If there had been crowds I'm sure they'd have been cheering. A few riders get by me but I can late brake and get back by most all of them. I study a few others and notice where they take wide lines and I dive under and take them as well. The Pirelli Super Corsa Pros with 28 rear/32 front instill supreme confidence. If God did track days I'm sure he'd put these on his bike although I'd imagine He'd have an unfair HP advantage.

The Perfect Curve: On the last lap of the last session of the last day I'm at my best.. I am passing almost everyone at virtually any place on the track with gleeful omnipotent abandon. It's late in the day and I'm getting a little tired. I head down the main straight towards the downhill left hander which is turn #1. There are 4 bikes in front of me as we approach breaking marker 4 at the end of the 120mph straight.. I pass the last guy when he brakes too early. I go from the straight into turn #1 carrying more speed than I ever have and close quickly on the 3 unwitting future victims up ahead as they prepare to set up for turn #2. I'm on the ass of the 3rd guy before he goes into his lean. The 2 riders in front of him are close together with only a foot or two between them.

We all set-up simultaneously for the wide arching right-hand curve that is turn #2 which blends into turn# 3. In a micro-second I decide that I can pass them all on the outside with my superior entry speed so while they are plotting, planning, and executing the same inside line... I choose to go wide. This is when the "perfect curve" happens...

Keith Code teaches that if you look far enough ahead.. waaay ahead of the curve you are in and to the exit point and beyond.. time slows down giving your brain more time to execute the proper micro-moves needed to get into and out of a corner. Remember that scene in the first Spiderman movie where the bully throws a punch at Peter Parker in the school hallway by the lockers and Parker just steps aside and watches the punch go by as if in slow motion? When done properly.. it feels like that. I'd been practicing this "look-ahead" technique over the last few track day weekends and it's finally sunk in.

As I swing wide, drop instantly down to full lean, and power on.....time and everything around me slows. My right knee touches tarmac as I pass the last guy just entering turn #2. I hear nothing but the screaming engine of my R1 and the wind rushing past my HJC helmet...I am 100% focused. My breathing is relaxed. Nothing on earth matters at this moment except this curve. I feel the grip of the hot sticky Pirellis and the compliance of my perfectly set-up suspension. My eyes look past the obstacles in my present and into the future. My Dainese puck glides across the pavement like a low flying egret dragging his feet across the calm surface of a mountain lake. My knee is on the pavement the full 100ft from entrance to exit of the long horseshoe-shaped curve. I effortlessly sail past all 3 riders toward the downhill end of turn #3 where I upshift to 4th before I power up the hill at turn #4. I pull away as if I've been doing this my whole life when in reality I've only done this previously in my dreams or my lies.

Even though my 20 minute session wasn't over, I decide to call it a day and end the weekend on this high note. I exit the track, pull into the pit area and dismount. My buddies are hanging out ..taking down the tents.. packing up for the drive home.. grinning from the fun we've had. On the outside I'm cool.. casual, but on the inside I'm jumping up and down screaming "Top o' the world, ma!" I don't share my "personal achievement" with anyone. It's private.. It's mine to savor in the recesses of my mind and future dreams. I wonder to myself if I'll ever nail a curve like that again. Was it a fluke? or a premonition of things to come? I won't know until I return in 2008. One thing I do know... I have a better appreciation for the likes of the Freddie Spencers, Matt Maladins, Kevin Swantzs... and even my idol Valentino Rossi.

Does my little milestone matter to anyone other than myself? Probably not, but in my mind...those few seconds defined who I am inside. I am a motorcyclist. On the rare occasion.. a damn good one. You can put that in my eulogy.

PS.. A special public thank you to Mr. Keith Code of Keith Code's California Superbike Schools for being my two-wheeled Tensing Norgay. His willingness to share his insight into riding technique has truly enriched my life.

And that's all I've got to say about that... Pirate out...
Jerry D. Finley
Captain / Pirates' Lair