Rich and Wade’s Isle of Man Adventure (2014): Part 6 – Race Day

May 10, 2015

If you came here from Part 5 – Final Race Prep, you’re up to speed on how this story has evolved. If not, I suggest you start at Part 1 – Background. When we last left our heroes, they had survived a 2-day thrash to replace the blown engine with a used street motor they found on eBay, gotten it running reasonably well after finding and fixing two mistakes (an upside-down shifter and a disconnected spark plug wire), and received a gift from the race officials when they got credit for a full lap after their last-chance practice session was red-flagged for a civilian medical emergency.

Meanwhile, back in the states, my alarm is set for 3:00am – the race is scheduled to start at 3:30am my time (11:30am, UK time).

9:30pm Tuesday night (my time): Text from Rich – “hi ho hi ho it’s off to war we go” (7:15am his time)

Yeah, not much chance that I’ll sleep tonight.

Friday 8/29 – RACE DAY! (all times are my time, PDT)

Learned from Twitter that the start time is delayed by one hour because of wet conditions – expected to clear in time because of high winds. That’s a mixed blessing for sure – dry=good, windy=bad. I found this web cam view of Douglas Harbor on Race Day morning on the Manx Radio website. Looks pretty gloomy!

DawnRaceDay

At this point, I’m following the race on three devices pointing to three independent sources of electronic updates:

  1. iPad following Twitter feeds from @iom_tt, @manxgrandprix and others
  2. iPhone streaming live radio feed from Manx Radio
  3. Laptop browser connected to the electronic timing check points so I can “watch” Wade progress around the course

In addition, I have two close friends who are awake and following it with me: Terry K., who got invested in the event over beers and dinner earlier in the month, and Sarah J., who assisted with Wade’s rehab from his ankle injury. They both had the same resources as I and we were communicating via text.

Race is underway!

4:30am – 1st rider has left the start line.The riders leave in 10 second intervals (in numerical order) to avoid crowding on the course. Wade is #89, so he’s scheduled to leave 880 seconds (roughly 15 minutes) after the first bike.

4:45am – Wade left the start line as scheduled (confirmed by electronic timing). Here is a YouTube video of the the start line. Skip ahead to 14:44 and you’ll see Wade leaving, right on time. The eBay engine sounds rather healthy, all things considered!

Now I’m obsessively refreshing my laptop browser so I can watch for Wade’s transponder to trigger each of the 6 checkpoints around the track. What a cool system this is. On the live timing website, you choose the rider(s) you want to follow. When the dots appear on the maps, your rider is highlighted in yellow. By the time Wade got to the third checkpoint at Sulby, it occurred to me to take screen shots so I could later document my stress with a time-lapse video. Keep in mind that Rich had none of this technology available to him – he just had to wait 25 minutes per lap and hope that Wade showed up again.

5:08am – Wade completes his first lap.

By this time, the leaders (who are 15+ minutes ahead of Wade) have not only completed their first lap, but are well into their second laps and are capturing most of the attention of the Radio TT announcers. They do to their best to throw in mention of the back-markers, hence this AWESOME moment from the radio feed: “Here comes #89, the bike with the eBay engine.” THAT’S US!!!

5:30AM – Wade completes his second lap and enters the pits for his mid-race fuel stop. This photo is taken during that pit stop. Rich is the guy behind the rear wheel.

5:37am – Wade’s transponder registers at the Glen Helen checkpoint

5:37am – Red Flag (Twitter and Live Radio)

5:40am – Two separate incidents between Glen Helen and Ballaugh (Twitter and Radio)

Wow, now the stress level kicks in for real. The last place Wade’s transponder checked in was Glen Helen. There are two crashes between there and the next check point (Ballaugh), and we don’t have any idea exactly where. Is he one of the crashes? Did the engine blow and cause one of the crashes? Is he ahead of or behind the crashes? I refresh my browser compulsively, hoping #89 will check in at Ballaugh. No such luck.

5:49am – Race will not be restarted, results will be based on two laps (Twitter and Radio)

6:05am – Crash details: 3 bikes at 11th Milestone, 1 bike at Bishopscourt, all riders transported to hospital (Twitter and Radio).

This helps a little, because both locations are much closer to Ballaugh than to Glen Helen. Since the red flag was thrown so soon after Wade’s transponder check-in at Glen Helen, I dare to raise my hopes that he hadn’t had a chance to get nearly that far.

6:13am – text from Rich “still no news, think it may have been the leaders”

6:21am – text to Rich “This is agonizing, I can’t even imagine how you feel.”
Reply: “Kind of like the ground crew at a WWII fighter base must have felt.”

6:30am – text from Rich: “Every time someone walks toward the tent my heart stops but I also would like to know WTF is going on”

6:50am – Rich finally got word that Wade is OK and got the sense that he’d be able to ride the bike back to the pits after the roads reopen

Let me recap these 73 minutes of hell:

  • Wade was somewhere between Glen Helen and Ballaugh
  • The two crashes were somewhere between Glen Helen and Ballaugh
  • He is running an untested used engine that we bought on eBay and installed two days earlier

I was doing my best to (a) keep Rich informed during this 73 minute information gap and (b) maintain my own sanity, and I’m extremely grateful that despite the hour on the west coast, I wasn’t alone – Terry and Sarah were right there with me, texting and hoping and wringing their own hands.

Here’s what it looked like on the live timing site (Wade is the yellow dot). I added some sound effects to enhance the experience (after all, I was listening to the live radio feed) and I obviously compressed the time frame – each photo (5 seconds) roughly equals 4 min in real time.

7:50am – I’m still waiting for confirmation that he’s actually made it back. Hoping that they’re just too busy packing the shipping container, and assuming no news is good news. My second biggest fear even after I knew he wasn’t IN the crash, was that the replacement motor had also blown and CAUSED the crash. That’s why it was so important to know that he was able to ride it back to the pits.

10:15am – finally, a text from Rich: “Got the bike thru post race tech we are finishers and can you believe it were minor heroes for sticking with it and prevailing. Bike is in the crate and we’re off to the awards dinner to meet the folks that run the island.”

1:50pm – “Wade hobbled up to the stage and got his finishers trophy. For 64 out of 96”

OMG, THEY DID IT!!!

Facebook post, Friday afternoon, August 29

“Short story: they finished. 64th out of 96. With an untuned stock motor from a wrecking yard that they found on eBay on Sunday, picked up in the UK on Monday, delivered to the pits at 7am on Tuesday, thrashed on Tues/Wed, and got running in time for practice on Wednesday afternoon. Which was critical because they still needed one more lap to meet the qualification requirements. Minor hero status amongst the other teams for persevering and prevailing.”

“Slightly longer story: race was red-flagged two laps into the four-lap race (each lap is 38 miles) because of two serious incidents on the track. Both were in the multi-mile segment immediately following the checkpoint where Wade’s radio transponder had last pinged. We had 73 minutes of true terror before Rich was finally informed that Wade was not involved. Sadly, one rider was killed. Tragic.”

“Much longer story will come in a week or two when I have time to put my thoughts together in a blog. For now, I’m going to rest. I’m still shaking from relief and joy.”

Next up: Part 7 – Aftermath, Race Photos, and What’s Next?

Photo credits:

Start Line and Pit Stop – Anthony Robert (Photo Mannx)

Douglas Harbor – Manx Radio Web Cam


Rich and Wade’s Isle of Man Adventure (2014): Part 5 – Final Race Prep

May 10, 2015

If you came here from Part 4 – The Engine Adventure, you’re up to speed on how this story has evolved. If not, I suggest you start at Part 1 – Background. When we last left our heroes, they had found a used engine on eBay, traveled by air and land to the other side of England to pick it up, endured a ridiculous sequence of setbacks trying to get the engine back to the island, transplanted the engine into the bike, and somehow managed to get it running. My view of Tuesday (at the time) can be summarized as follows: 6:30am: Rich made it back to the island with the engine and turned it over to the transplant team 11:30pm: text from Rich (yes, 17 hours later…) – “It lives again!” Woo hoo!!! But they were by no means out of the woods: they still didn’t have enough laps to qualify to run the race, and they had no idea whether or not the engine would hold up for a practice session and four grueling laps in the race. Remember, this wasn’t a shiny new race engine, it came out of a street bike with over 30,000 miles on it and the only assurance we had from the eBay seller was that it ran when he got it.

Wednesday 8/27

I received word at 10:30am that Kenny made it on to the boat with the rental car, so it’s finally headed home to Liverpool. Now the only challenge is to get Kenny back by boat or by air – everything at this point is Standby. It’s not surprising that there was a lot more to the engine story than just the 17-hour thrash on Tuesday. Swapping an engine in a motorcycle is not a trivial operation in the best of conditions, let alone on an island in the middle of the Irish Sea in variable weather with an ad-hoc volunteer crew of helpers. They got it done, but on Wade’s first ride around the pits, the bike was sputtering and couldn’t get out of its own way. They discovered that the shift lever linkage had been mounted backwards or upside-down, so what he thought was 1st gear was actually (take your pick), 2nd/3rd/higher. Once that got fixed, things improved dramatically, but he still wasn’t getting anything close to the expected horsepower/speed, even for a used street motor. 3:15pm: Scheduled practice. Because of the initial equipment problems and the blown motor, they still only have 4 out of the 5 laps they need to qualify to start the race. And now they have so many unknown variables with the replacement motor that still isn’t running right. Why is it running so poorly? Will it survive? Nothing to do but cross our fingers and wait – off they go. Thomas sent us this photo – taken at 3:14pm, just before the bike went on course. No worries, right? CAM00396 3:45pm – Ros (their B&B hostess) managed to snap a photo of Wade as he approached her driveway – proof that it’s running! I had no idea she lived right on the course. [The fellow in the foreground of this photo is Ron Halem, aka Gold Star Ron. Ron was a local vintage race bike builder (Prunedale, CA) with a long history on the Isle of Man, both as a racer and a fan. Sadly, he passed away from cancer in November of 2014, just a few months after this photo was taken.] Wade practice after engine replacement 3:49pm – Twitter feed reports that practice had been red flagged. My heart stops for a moment – after all, the last time there was a red flag, we caused it due to the spectacular oiling of the course from the blown motor. This time it turns out to be unrelated to the bikes – a civilian medical emergency that requires an ambulance go onto the course (did I mention that all 37 miles of the circuit are on public roads?). I knew Rich would be stressing too, so I texted him to let him know it wasn’t us. Good news: because the red flag was outside the control of the race officials, Wade got credit for the lap, so he has now officially completed the 5 required laps to quality for the race. Bad news: when Wade finally made it back to the pits, he had oil all over his boot. Now they have a day to chase down the leak, fix it, figure out why the engine is running so badly, and hope for the best during the race.

Thursday, August 28

There are no practices scheduled on the day before the race, so all efforts are focused on finding and resolving the oil leak and trying to get it to run better. I did get word that Kenny, after having delivered the rental car / world’s most expensive hand truck back to Liverpool, has made it back to the island – yay! Their time was well spent, as they identified and resolved three critical flaws:

  1. They found a small leak at the plug where the alternator was removed. Rich has fashioned a new gasket and sealed it up.
  2. The ad-hoc crew located a dyno facility in the pits, so they can run the motor to confirm that the leak is fixed. If so, the race is a go. If not, that’s the end of it – too dangerous to take the risk of oiling the track (both for Wade and the other riders). This also gives them an opportunity to identify the source of the power loss. The dyno operator reports that it’s only making about 56hp (should be closer to 100hp) and it’s running a little rich. They pulled the carburetors to adjust the jetting, and then while they were putting the carburetors back on …
  3. … Wade noticed that one spark plug hole didn’t look like the others. It seems that in the thrash to put the engine together, one of the plug wires hadn’t gotten reconnected. Um yeah, that would certainly explain the huge horsepower disparity!

As if we hadn’t had enough challenges, the shipping organizers have decided that the pits have to be cleared and all shipping containers packed and ready to go by 8:00am Saturday morning. Team USA thought they had through the weekend. So on Thursday, instead of focusing 100% on the bike and the race, they’re also scrambling to pack what they don’t need. And tomorrow (Friday), instead of celebrating the race (regardless of the outcome), they’ll be packing the rest of it in preparation for shipping back across the ocean. Adding insult to injury, they don’t fly out until Tuesday morning so they have 3 days to twiddle their thumbs.

Facebook Post, August 28

“What’s on my mind (FB asks)? Keeping the Dream Alive. Race Day on the Isle of Man. 3:15am alarm so I can follow it on Streaming Radio, Twitter, and Live Transponder Timing/Map. That’s what. Odds of getting much sleep between now and then? Slim to nil. After what they’ve been through, I’m beyond thrilled that they made it to the start line. Now all I care about is a safe outcome – if they manage to make it to the finish line, that’ll be a fantastic bonus, regardless of position.”

Next up: Part 6 – Race Day


Rich and Wade’s Isle of Man Adventure (2014): Part 7 – Aftermath, Race Photos, and What’s Next?

February 4, 2015

If you came here from Part 6 – Race Day, you’re up to speed on how this story has evolved. If not, I suggest you start at Part 1 – Background. When we last left our heroes, they had overcome a series of ridiculous obstacles and had earned a 64th-place finish (out of 90 starters) in the 2014 Manx Grand Prix with a 1992 Suzuki GSXR 1100 that was built in our garage. The bike and tools are packed and ready for shipping, so now they can enjoy the awards banquet and three days of sight-seeing and visiting friends.

Awards Banquet

As I mentioned in the last post, Rich reported that Wade was able to hobble up to the podium to accept credit for his 64th place finish. Just surviving the race is such an accomplishment that everyone who finishes gets acknowledged at the banquet. Rich also pointed out that the awards banquet had a nice pub, and that the Barkeepers give the racers one heck of a pour.

Three days as Tourists

Until the race was in the books and the crates packed, every moment was spent overcoming adversity and tending to business, which included daily laps of the island in the rental car to familiarize Rich with the course. As I mentioned earlier, those laps were critical to giving him the perspective he needed to interpret to the feedback he was getting from Wade and make appropriate tuning adjustments to the suspension and the engine. But they didn’t really count as touring.

With three days to relax before their flight home, our heroes finally had a chance to relax and be tourists. Among other things, Rich reported these field trips:

  • The IOM actually has three race courses and we hot lapped each one in our rent’a’racer.
  • We also spent a nice afternoon visiting Peel, one of the oldest towns – as a Left-Coaster, it’s hard to get used to grave markers that list DOD as 1400-something
  • Lunched in Ramsey sitting by the quay enjoying the sea air and just relaxing.
  • Met up with Peter and Jean Tucker, locals who have known Wade since the mid-1990s but didn’t manage to cross paths until after the race. Peter later sent me this photo of the four of them.Tucker10

Race Photos

After Wade and Rich got home, I scoured the internet for photos and found these gems. Dave Kneen, Manx Photos Online, you ARE the man! As always, click on the photos to see the full-res version – trust me, it’s worth it, especially for the Ballaugh Bridge photo.

Town of Kirk Michael, Practice, Thursday 8/21

Gooseneck, Practice, Friday 8/22. Note his left hand shading his eyes against the sun!

Creg-ny-Baa, Race, Friday 8/29

And of course, the one you’ve all been waiting for, the iconic Ballaugh Bridge airborne shot, Wed 8/20 (his first day on course). Remember, he’s about to land on a broken right foot!

Homecoming

Getting home seems anti-climatic after what they’ve been through. I know, you probably expected to hear that the volcano in Iceland stranded them for weeks. Or that their plane vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. Or that the cargo ship sank with all of the Team USA bikes aboard. But none of that happened. Wade and Rich made it home as scheduled without incident, and they calmly cooled their jets for 2-1/2 months until the ship with the bikes wandered into port just before Thanksgiving. BTW, here’s what the shipping crate looked like when it showed up in the driveway on the trailer after being picked up from the Port of Oakland, with tool boxes and lifts stuffed in every nook and cranny..

Crated Suzuki Front

What’s Next?

Well what else, planning for 2015. Our motto is, “If one was good, more will be better.” We had hoped to bring four bikes in 2015, but two of them didn’t work out. One was recently denied entry by the organizers (for reasons that are unclear to me – politics?). At least this year, we got that word in advance of shipment – last year, Wade shipped the bike and was denied entry after it showed up. The other (a Classic Moto-Guzzi) didn’t get finished in time because the engine builder wasn’t able to meet the deadlines. As I write this, the following bikes have been entered and accepted in the event, and are currently undergoing final prep for shipment:

  • “Betty Boop”, the 1992 Suzuki GSXR750 we’ve grown to love in this tale, will be making a repeat appearance, but in the Classic TT Formula 1 race instead of the Senior Manx GP. She has a new engine, but the venerable eBay motor will be along for the ride as a spare.
  • “Purple Yam”, the 2015 Yamaha R6 that spent about 10 minutes in its new-from-the-showroom configuration before it was unceremoniously stripped and rebuilt with all new parts and bodywork, will be entered in the Junior Manx GP.

Yes, all of the bikes have nicknames. Just like our pets.

In 2015, the goal is to win a replica award. These are special trophies given at three levels – Gold, Silver, Bronze – only to those who finish within a percentage of the winner’s time.

You can bet there are more episodes of this Isle of Man Adventure to come!

Photo Credits

All photos on course (Ballaugh, Creg-ny-Baa, Gooseneck, Kirk Michael) – Dave Kneen, Manx Photos Online


Rich and Wade’s Isle of Man Adventure (2014): Part 4 – The Engine Adventure

February 4, 2015

If you came here from Part 3 – Practice Week 1, you’re up to speed on how this story has evolved. If not, I suggest you start at Part 1 – Background. When we left our heroes, they had gotten the bike on course at the Isle of Man, having overcome many personal injury and shipping obstacles, and then spectacularly blown the engine just short of meeting the qualification requirements for the race.

The insanity of the next 48 hours is best summed up by a simple chronology. I swear, I haven’t embellished, I didn’t need to. You just can’t make this shit up. Except as noted, all times are UK time (8 hours ahead of us).

Sunday 8/24 (my time, PDT)

3:22am – Perhaps you remember, we had a little earthquake here in Northern California. Epicenter in American Canyon, about 20 miles from my house (as the crow flies).

3:28am – Text exchange:
Me: “Earthquake! Don’t know size yet. We’re fine.”
Him: “Where would be good.” (Wade lives in San Francisco, and his wife was at home…)
Me: “6.0 American Canyon. All FB posts so far have been North Bay folks.”
Him: “Well you have totally scared Wade and me. IOM bites us, but Mother Nature is out to get you. Please try to have things sorted out before we get home ;-)”

7:30am – Text exchange:
Him: “Please check on eBay.uk, seller Pete Stansfield, GSXR engine, 350 GBP.”
Me: “Found it, but it’s in North Yorkshire. Don’t know how you could possibly get it in time.”
Him: “Call him and let him know it’s for a Manx rider who needs it now. Just trying. People all over are trying.”

I email and call the guy (Pete) – he (and all of the UK) are on holiday until Tuesday, no way to transport the motor, he won’t be home until Monday. Looking bleak.

Pete emails me back and says he’d be available Monday after 2pm if Rich can figure out a way to get there. Side note: I’m amused by Pete’s concern that he’s “clear on the other side of the country” from Liverpool. So I googled it – 120 miles, roughly the distance from my house to Placerville. Couldn’t stop chuckling about that, it’s definitely all about perspective.

Rich and I figured out that he could fly to Liverpool, rent a car, drive to the “other side of the country”, pick up the engine, drive back, and take it back to the island on the ferry (presumably on a hand-truck, which they brought with them). All in a day’s work.

I let Pete know that’s what we’re going to do. He further adjusts his timeframe and says he’ll be available after noon.

Monday 8/25 (UK time)

12:01am – Rich confirmed he has reservations for the flight, the rental car, and the return ferry.

5:30am – Rich and Kenny (a new friend/helper from Team USA) leave for the airport

7:00am – Flight from Isle of Man to Liverpool

8:00am – Rental car procured, R&K are on their way to Malton (east of York)

10:00am – R&K arrive at Pete’s house (2 hours early), whereupon they inspect the engine and execute the transaction. And because they are hours ahead of schedule to catch the return ferry, they accept a gracious offer from Pete and his wife to join them for a lovely country breakfast prior to their return to Liverpool. Here are the two of them at Pete’s shop, ready to load the engine – nothing scary about that greasy lump of steel…

Yesterday Holly phoned from San Francisco, her husband is in the Isle of Man with his rider Wade Boyd and his GSXR750 which has just deposited it's internals on Crosby straight at 160, Wade is smiling 'cos he is still alive, Holly's man Rich isn't so happy. Oh and she's just had an earthquake. Can I help ?. So this morning Rich and friend Kenny from LA get a flight to Liverpool, hire a car and come to Malton for a replacement motor and a bacon sandwich. Turns out Rich spent a season racing Formula Ford in the UK in the early 70s same time as I was helping local racer Pete Clark also in FF. Once back at Liverpool it wasn't quite plain sailing as the authorities wouldn't accept a GSXR lump on a trolley as hand luggage so the hire car was re-hired and is now on the boat. The delayed Senior race is on Saturday, good luck boys ! #manxgp #wadeboyd #goodguys

A post shared by Pete Stansfield (@eattherichuk) on

11:00am – Engine loaded in the rental car, R&K headed back to Liverpool. All systems go!

Or not.

3:30pm – Officious twit at the ferry won’t let them take the engine as carry-on (on the hand truck), and it’s too heavy for the baggage conveyor. Please note that this twit was not much more than a ticket-taker; the baggage loaders (most of whom were women) were more than happy to cooperate and help load the lump of steel, but they couldn’t take the risk of being turned in by the twit (who wasn’t a superior, but WAS a known dickhead). The ferry is full, so they can’t bring the rental car. Last option seems to be to make friends with someone parked in the car-loading queue and convince (bribe?) them to load the engine in their vehicle. Highly illegal of course, but what other choice do they have?

5:00pm – Rental car somehow made it on the ferry as Standby. R&K will have to figure out how to get it back to the mainland another time. (Most Expensive Hand Truck, Ever!!!)

8:22pm – Confirmation from Rich that they (Rich, Kenny, the rental car with the engine) are all loaded up on the ferry and ready to go.

8:30pm – Scheduled departure time

9:23pm – Text from Rich: “Ferry has broken down, engine trouble.” Really? We haven’t had enough engine trouble already?

10:14pm – Text from Rich: “Paging for a doctor/nurse because someone on the ferry has collapsed”. OMG, when is this going to stop?

Tuesday 8/26 (UK time)

12:51am – After sitting on the broken ferry for over 4 hours waiting for news/instructions, they have now been offloaded and are driving 70 miles to another port (Heysham) where a different ferry awaits them. Not a fresh empty ferry, but an equally full ferry that had been held awaiting these new passengers and vehicles.

2:30am – Text from Rich: “Loaded on the new boat, wall to wall people and vehicles.”

3:05am – Boat finally sails, due to arrive at 6:20am. Now I’m watching CNN, hoping not to learn of a tragic overloaded ferry accident in the Irish Sea.

6:30am – The precious engine has arrived on shore, 8 hours after its intended arrival. Meanwhile, back on the island, Wade and a pick-up crew of Team USA mechanics had been busily uninstalling the broken motor from the bike and preparing it for the replacement. Rich handed off the eBay motor to the transplant team and promptly went to sleep for a few hours.

Pete somehow got this great photo of Wade waiting with the gutted frame. Note he’s being a good boy with his broken foot elevated.

12:00pm – Rich wakes up, but can’t get to the pits to help or monitor status until the current race is over because it’s on the other side of the course and there’s no crossing. There is some good news, however: because of Monday’s postponements for weather, the schedule has been shifted and compressed. The result is that their practice today is canceled (they wouldn’t have made it anyway), so now they don’t have to feel bad about missing it.

11:30pm – text from Rich (yes, nearly 12 hours later…) – “It lives again!” Woo hoo!!!

Facebook Post 8/26 (my time, after I knew the bike was running):

“Grand adventures cannot happen without great challenges. I guess it wasn’t enough that in the prior 6 months, both Rich (bike owner/builder) and his friend Wade (veteran IOM racer) were taken out in separate motorcycle crashes. The events of the last 10 days have increased the degree of difficulty exponentially (and they aren’t even remotely out of the woods yet), spawning two new definitions of “bucket list trip”:
— a trip so filled with drama and hurdles and setbacks and stress that you’ll be lucky if you don’t kick the BUCKET before it’s over.
— a trip so important, with a growing team of supporters so dedicated and tenacious and unflappable, that it’s worth throwing BUCKETS of cash at it just to keep the dream alive.
Trust me, I WILL blog about this in great detail when it’s over, with input from Rich when he gets home. Whenever that might be, because there’s another ice volcano in Iceland that is threatening to blow with the potential to ground all trans-Atlantic flights again (remember 2010?). Until then, I’ll be keeping a relatively low profile to avoid jinxing this trip even more.”

Yeah, I guess the accidents and the UPS nightmare and the engine blowing and the Napa Valley earthquake weren’t quite enough. Iceland had to add some volcanic ash into the mix.

Next up: Part 5, Final Race Prep


Rich and Wade’s Isle of Man Adventure (2014): Part 3 – Practice Week 1

February 4, 2015

If you came here from Part 2 – Getting There, you’re up to speed on how this story has evolved. If not, I suggest you start at Part 1 – Background. When we left our heroes, they had arrived at the Isle of Man, having overcome significant personal injury and shipping obstacles. After a full day of thrashing, they were finally ready to put the bike on the one and only Isle of Man Mountain Course.

Finally, the bike goes on course

On Wednesday, August 20, I finally got great news: after a thrash on Tuesday and Wednesday to get everything installed, they passed tech inspection and Wade took the bike out on course for the practice session at 7:05pm. Lap time 25:47.279, ave speed 87.785. The bike needs a few minor tweaks, but is otherwise running fine. Other teams have rallied to their cause and are sending mechanics to help, and the organizers really want him to run so they’re being lenient with some of the qualification requirements. Wade’s foot is holding up (as long as he doesn’t walk too far) and Rich reports that he (Wade) is grinning from ear to ear. Thomas (our new German friend) took this photo at 6:24pm – they look confident and ready to go, even before the initial success!

From Thomas Aug 20 18.24

On a much more grim note, Rich texted that a rider who was staying next door to their B&B digs at Roundhay crashed in practice and was killed. http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/competitor-dies-in-mgp-practices-1-6795237. This is the reality of the Isle of Man, and substantiates its reputation as the most dangerous motorcycle race in the world.

Hurry up and wait

Practice on Thursday, August 21, cancelled due to rain. This is another huge setback, because in order to qualify for the race, riders must have 5 laps on the bike and at least one lap time under 23:00.

The rain day wasn’t a complete waste, though. When Rich and Wade arrived, with both of them in rather tenuous states of physical disrepair, they made the wise decision to rent a car to get them around the island. As it turned out, this was as much a strategic decision as practical. Every day, when the roads were open to the public, they drove around the course at least once, sometimes twice. These “laps” gave Rich an invaluable opportunity to learn the course through Wade’s eyes, which enabled him to visualize the feedback Wade gave him after each practice session on the bike and then make educated adjustments to the suspension.

On Friday, August 22, they made practice and Wade posted a lap time of 22:17.111, ave speed 101.583. Whew, he made time, but still doesn’t have enough laps. No worries, there’s another practice session next week to get that required lap, right? Maybe…

Hubris and Social Media

On Friday August 22, I stumbled on a photo of Wade on a Twitter feed and posted it on Facebook with this comment: “This is happening right now! Rich built this race bike from the ground up and he’s currently on an uber-bucket list adventure at the Isle of Man, where his friend Wade Boyd has just qualified for the Senior Manx GP race next week with a top speed of 145mph. They had SO many challenges to get there (Rich’s crash in March, Wade’s crash in June, shipments with forks and body parts not arriving until Day 3 of practice), but it’s all working now (except for a nagging clutch-slipping problem) and Wade is getting faster every day of practice. The race is a week from today.”

Practice-Tomas

The fellow standing next to Wade is Thomas, the benevolent German I mentioned in Part 2, who helped so much during the entire stay (including pushing the bike around so that our injured heroes didn’t have to).

Engine Disaster

On Saturday August 23, everything blew up. Literally. No better way to convey than by publishing my text exchange with Rich with some Twitter accompaniments:

Him: “Wade is out for a practice lap. A bit hard to sit around and wait 25 min for him to show back up. The hand-wringers, me included, are everywhere. Upside? Full bar in the paddock.”

Me: “I wondered about that.”

Him: “Yep, here I sit having an Irish Whiskey. There’s a red flag so time to worry. I’ll let you know what’s up.”

At that point, I checked in with Twitter and found this:
@iom_tt: delay due to oil spill on road. More info when we have it

Me: “Oil spill in Crosby = red flag”

Him: “Yep, was us. Sawed the engine in two. May have a loaner, otherwise we watch.”

More Twitter:
@iom_tt: Oil on road at Gorse Lea – we’ll continue with programme as soon as the course is clear
@iom_tt: 45 mins to 1 hour delay until Joey Dunlop parade can start – standing down for now
@iom_tt: No further practices tonight – detergent on road makes road unsafe for race bikes. Parade lap will go ahead, if possible

Me: “I’ll give you credit, he oiled the course so spectacularly that they canceled the rest of practice!”

Him: “Hey, we yanks don’t mess around.”

This photo was posted on Twitter: “Marshalls to stand on whiteline and direct riders over to clean side of road.” I can’t be certain, but I’m guessing that was our line of goo.

Line of Goo

Naturally, I blamed myself and my moment of hubris on Facebook for this disaster, and followed up on Saturday with this post: “CRAP!!! I’m not usually superstitious, but my instincts were to not post much about the Isle of Man until it was over. My excitement about seeing the photo got away from me yesterday. Today they blew the motor. Hoping to find a loaner, but they may have become spectators. DOUBLE-CRAP!!!”

Next up: Part 4 – The Engine Adventure

Photo credits:

Wade and Thomas in the pits – Anthony Robert (Photo Mannx)

Line of Goo – Mark Kneen – @markkneeniom (or maybe Dave Kneen, Manx Photos Online)


Rich and Wade’s Isle of Man Adventure (2014): Part 2 – Getting There

February 4, 2015

If you came here from Part 1 – Background, you know how this story started. If not, I suggest you go back and find out. When we left our heroes, they were scrambling to prepare a 1992 Suzuki GSXR750 for shipment to the the Isle of Man to race in the Manx Grand Prix. But then…

The Bike Builder Takes a Dive

On March 5, Rich low-sided his Moto Guzzi on a stretch of damp eucalyptus-oily road near Tomales and fractured his pelvis in three places. He spent three days in the hospital and the next 8 weeks in a hospital bed at home with strict orders not to bear any weight on the affected side. He knew full well what was at stake if non-compliance led to delayed healing, so he followed those orders to the letter. His only activities during that time were transferring to the wheelchair to get to the bathroom, and doing the in-bed exercises given to him by the home physical therapist.

His patience and compliance paid off and he was back on his feet by the beginning of May (and back in the saddle by May 18). But he couldn’t recover for the lost time when he should have been finishing up the bodywork and forks for the bike. He was up and about in time for the June date when the bike was loaded onto the shipping container at the Port of Oakland (along with several other bikes from Team USA) for the trip across the Atlantic Ocean, but the bulky body work and heavy race forks weren’t included in the container. They would have to get there a different (and far more expensive) way.

Back in the Saddle

But then…

The Rider Gets Taken Out

On June 15, Wade and Rich made their non-refundable airplane reservations for the round trip. Less than a week later, we got word that Wade had been hit by a pick-up truck on the streets of San Francisco and pitched off his bike, suffering a concussion, fractures in his back, and a broken ankle and foot. The date of the accident was exactly 8 weeks before they were scheduled to fly.

The shipping dilemma caused by Rich’s accident was easily mitigated (or so we thought) by throwing money at a solution. But Wade’s injuries put the whole adventure at risk. Could he recover in time? How would he tolerate a 19-hour flight? Would he be able to ride, let alone race? Given the timing and his doctor’s orders, they wouldn’t even know until they got there and tried.

Rich gave him the stern lecture about compliance (based on his own experience and success), and Wade reluctantly agreed to follow his doctor’s orders regarding weight-bearing. And at this point, my good friend Sarah, who specializes in rehab (both human and canine), stepped in to help. Using Rich as her human subject, we recorded a series of videos with a progression of exercises for Wade to follow as soon as he was cleared by his doctor to begin therapy.

In theory, it was great news that the injury was to his right foot – all it had to do was to tolerate a race boot, stay on the foot peg, and maybe brake from time to time (most of the braking is done by the right hand). Had it been his left foot (which works the shifter), there would have been greater cause for concern. But here’s the kicker: this isn’t just any ordinary race. There are several places on the Isle of Man course where the rider and bike are airborne, and BOTH feet are critical in the success of the landing. This was the thought that kept them both awake at night as they prepared for their departure.

Our heroes were determined to overcome all of the odds and prevail, and things were looking pretty good, all things considered.

But then …

UPS FAIL!!!

On July 28, Rich worked closely with The UPS Store in Santa Rosa to carefully pack and air-freight the bodywork (at considerable personal expense). He and the proprietor had long discussions about the fact that these items were not for resale or other commercial use, and were only for personal use in conjunction with a race bike that was already there. The UPS Store owner assured him that (a) the parcels would be there well before he and Wade arrived on August 16, and (b) they would not be assessed VAT/Duty/whatever it is. Off went the three large boxes (to the tune of about $1000).

On August 4, Rich was notified that the parcels were stuck at UK Customs, and had been assessed a $1000 duty charge. For the next week, the store owner insisted he could fix the problem but he failed miserably. He eventually conceded defeat on August 13 and recommended Rich just pay the fee and try to recover it later. We paid it, and sent word to our hostess on the Isle (Ros) to pick up the parcels.

But then…

UPS EPIC FAIL!!!

Late Thursday night, as Rich was preparing to leave for the airport, we received an urgent distress message from Ros that the parcels were no longer on the island. They had been returned to the UK in anticipation of returning them home for non-payment of the tax. So at 7:30am on Friday, as Rich and Wade took off from SFO headed to the Isle of Man, try to imagine their state of mind: for Wade, the trip itself is old hat – he’s raced there for nearly 20 years. For Rich, going to the Isle of Man is the dream of a lifetime. They have both overcome significant setbacks from recent injuries and have accepted the resultant uncertainties. But thanks to the epic failure of The UPS Store, the uncertainty has been raised to a new level and is beyond their control – they already know they are arriving to a bike that can’t be raced because it doesn’t have body work or forks, and they don’t yet know if Wade’s foot and ankle have healed enough to race. Hard to avoid the bitter expectation that the whole trip would be for naught.

In the meantime, I went directly to The UPS Store on Friday morning and met with the owner. He showed me an email he had received from the UK acknowledging receipt of the money and assuring him delivery would proceed immediately.

But neither of realized that “immediately” is a relative term when you’re dealing with the Isle of Man. I got word from Ros that she had been in touch with the agent on the island, and the best possible case for delivery was Tuesday morning. TUESDAY, August 19. Two weeks after the boxes were supposed to have gotten there, three days after Rich and Wade would arrive, and worst of all, well into the third day of mandatory practice (having already missed Saturday and Monday). Regardless of how madly they scrambled to prepare the bike after getting the boxes, there simply wasn’t enough time to pass tech inspection in time for the Tuesday practice session at 7:05pm. The dream seemed to be fading at a precipitous rate.

The airport and the flight

I love the image of the two of them at the airport: Wade has a boot on his right foot, he’s walking with the assistance of a cane, and he’s using a wheelchair for most of the distance runs. Rich is still limping, probably should have been using a cane, and is Wade’s “able-bodied attendant” through security and pre-boarding. They’re both wearing full-leg support hose to avoid blood clots on the long flight, and they are both under strict orders from Sarah to walk the aisles and do their lower leg calisthenics during the flight. As if they didn’t have enough stress, here’s a tidbit I didn’t know until much later: apparently, the Tech Inspection tent is at the top of a 1/4-mile hill, similar in steepness to our driveway (which is manageable but not trivial), and you aren’t allowed to ride the race bikes up the hill. The bikes have to be inspected before every on-track session. Aside from everything else they had to worry about, they had absolutely no idea how they were going to push the Suzuki up the hill once, let alone again and again.

UPS Not Done Failing

When Rich got word on Tuesday morning that the parcels had actually arrived, he showed up to pick them up and was informed that the $1000 duty had not been paid. So he paid it AGAIN. As I write this in May, we’re not done with The UPS Store in Santa Rosa. As I see it, somebody stole $1000, there’s another $1000 that should never have been assessed, and the $1000 it cost to ship the boxes should be refunded because they didn’t manage to get it there as promised. But that’s another story.

Meanwhile, back on the island, Rich and Wade and an assortment of ad-hoc volunteers have thrashed through Tuesday in order to have the bike ready for tech inspection and practice on Wednesday. One stand-out in the volunteer is an amazing (and imposingly large) German fellow named Thomas, who has taken on the bulk of the bike-pushing activities. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that this bike has never turned a wheel under power, let alone under any sort of race conditions. It went from the bench in Rich’s shop to a dyno at Mammoth Motorsports to a crate in a shipping container to the pits at the Isle of Man. This whole adventure is truly a leap of faith.

Next up: Part 3, Practice Week 1


Rich and Wade’s Isle of Man Adventure (2014): Part 1 – Background

February 4, 2015

As long as I’ve known Rich, he’s been obsessed with the Isle of Man, a tiny self-governed fiercely-proud democratic “Crown Dependency” in the middle of the Irish Sea between Ireland and Britain.

Isle_of_Man_TT.svgHis fascination is not so much with the Isle itself, but with a racing event held there since 1907: The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy motorcycle race, aka “The TT“. This race, which runs on a 37.5 mile course through the narrow town streets and country roads on the island, has been characterized as the World’s Most Dangerous Race. Lest you think that’s hyperbole, this video will likely convince you otherwise (I recommend you view Full Screen):

His hero is Joey Dunlop, an icon at The TT for 15 years from 1996 until his untimely death in 2000 at the age of 48. For years, a mounted/matted map of the Isle of Man decorated our condo in Novato, along with a poster of Joey. When we moved to Petaluma, the posters moved to his shop in the side yard.

I’ve always known his bucket list included a trip to The TT, and in the summer of 2013, I decided to help him make it so. I posted this on Facebook on 6/7/13:
“One of the items on Rich’s bucket list is to attend the Isle of Man TT, and I want to help him realize this goal. He’s a serious fan – has a poster of Joey Dunlop in his shop! We have a friend who hails from the island and I’ve sent him a Linked In message. But I also want to reach out to my Facebook friends across the pond to see what other resources I might tap into. I’m looking for a full-service experience – bike rental (or loan), places to stay, local knowledge and experience, etc.”

I got all sorts of responses, including people who knew people who could help. But as it turned out, Rich managed to stumble into a different and even more incredible plan, from which the rest of this adventure stems.

Rich has always been a wheeler/dealer. He truly has a knack for it and though he doesn’t always come out profitably, he usually ends up happy with the result. One of his deals through a friendship with a couple of motorcycle racers in Colorado netted him two identical race bikes: one crashed and one with a blown motor. He took on the project of combining them into one serviceable semi-vintage race bike – a 1992 Suzuki GSXR750. He didn’t really have a plan for this bike, except maybe to find a local rider with a racing license to ride it in some track days at Sears Point (or Infineon or Sonoma Raceway or whatever it’s called today).

On a completely unrelated note, Rich rejoined the infamous Sunday Morning Ride on the Marin County coast a few years ago. He first encountered the ride in the late ’60s, and after taking a break to pursue car racing, he became a regular rider in the 80s and early 90s. He gave it up abruptly after Mothers Day in 1994 when 3 of his friends were killed in a single tragic accident. After a break of nearly 20 years, he rejoined the ride a couple of years ago and reconnected with several old friends from his earlier days on the ride. Among those friends was Wade Boyd, son of the late Bill Boyd. Bill was an accomplished motorcycle racer, a legend on the Sunday Morning Ride, and was one of Rich’s best friends from the earlier years. Here is a beautiful summary of Bill’s story. For more information (and historical perspective) on the Sunday Morning Ride, here are a couple of articles I stumbled on – one from 1971 and another from 2001.

Following in his dad’s footsteps, Wade’s racing career has been equally illustrious and even more varied. He races both motorcycles and sidecars (currently partnered with his wife, Christine Blunck) in a wide variety of venues: Pikes Peak Hill Climb (2012 and 2013 Sidecar Champion), Flat Track (Sacramento Mile), Road Racing (AFM and AMA), Speedway, and international events like Phillip Island in Australia (International Island Classic Sidecar Champion January 2015) – just to name a few. Basically, if the event includes two or three-wheeled vehicles and has both green and checkered flags, Wade will give it a shot.

But more importantly to this story, Wade has been a regular competitor on the Isle of Man since 1995. Here is a link to his Isle of Man Competitor Profile. Wade is a privateer (no corporate sponsorship), and every year his trip is managed on a shoestring budget. In spite of the financial constraints, he has been remarkably successful and is universally loved by the locals on the island. So when Rich and Wade connected on the Sunday Morning Ride last year, they rode, they ate breakfast, they talked, and then they talked some more. Rich mentioned he had built a race bike and Wade said he’d consider riding it.

The nMGP Logo IOM CMYK copy.ashxext thing I knew, Wade was hanging out in Rich’s shop and they were working together to get the Suzuki to the Isle of Man. Not for the TT, but for the Manx Grand Prix (MGP). What’s the difference? The TT is modern and pro and big bucks; the GP is vintage and amateur and collegial. Unbeknownst to me, Bill (Wade’s dad), who respected Rich as a talented and conscientious builder, once mentioned to Rich that if he ever found himself with a suitable race bike, how thrilled Bill would be if somehow Wade could ride it on the Isle of Man. Until Rich filled me in on the back story, I thought it was just serendipity. Now I know Rich was fulfilling a promise to a late friend.

mmslogo2As the months passed, they continued to work on the bike and make arrangements and everything looked good – they had help from Mammoth Motorsports (a local motorcycle performance shop), the shipping plans were coming together, and the bike was almost ready to go.

What could possibly go wrong?

Find out in the next installment: Part 2 – Getting There