Going fast at night
Opening Day. In Baseball it’s in April, my brother and I alternate between Angel Stadium and Dodger Stadium each year. We don’t care where we sit, we don’t care who wins…well, we care a little bit…we simply enjoy being there for opening day, it’s an event that is bigger than the game. In motorcycle racing it’s Daytona. Opening Day for those of the two wheel persuasion. Last year was my first trip to Daytona. Two weeks of working with racers and race teams. It truly is a scene much bigger than the event itself. Vintage races, endurance races, high dollar factory teams and lowly privateers just happy to be there.
“Headlights??…we don’t need no stinking headlights!!”
The big event is the Daytona 200. 200 miles on the legendary banking of Daytona Motor Speedway.. The only AMA ‘ endurance race’ on the calendar. This year, the new owners of the racing series have thrown a new twist to the classic race..let’s run it at…Night??!! Light up the track and send the racers out, hey it worked for MotoGP last year in Quatar, why not in Florida??!! Good thinking boys. Move Supercross to the daytime, they get more spectators than the roadrace does, and put the 200 on in the evening. It’s better TV because it’s different. I like it. The MotoGP pilots and the AMA riders are racing on well lit tracks..they won’t be running headlights. At the Dunlop tire testing sessions last month the racers all went out at night and liked it. They liked the difference. I talked with a couple of different racers and after getting past the initial weirdness, the common comment was ‘fun’. But, let’s say you are racing the Bridgestone / WERA Endurance series and a couple of the races take you into the night. Not all tracks are lit up…most aren’t. Now what to do. You my friend need lights, and good ones at that. Turn 8 at Willow Springs comes up really fast… really, really fast, and I’m sure you have a turn at your track that does too. You have logged many miles on that track and you know exactly where your braking markers are, your turn in points and when to get back on the gas…but,it changes at night. Racing at night requires adjusting your motorcycle and yourself.
Preparing for the WERA 24 hour race at Willow Springs a few years ago, my team and I started working on ourselves before working on the bike. We are blessed with a having one of the best canyon roads in California in our backyard, we ride it regularly and know it as well as we know Willow Springs.
“ I wear my sunglasses at night”
…a cheesy crappy song at best , but…great training for racing at night. My friend Pete Christiansen, one of WSMC’s finest, and I started riding HWY33 at night with sunglasses on, no kidding. Scary at first but when you start letting everything flow...”Luke..use The Force..” it all works. We got to the point that we could ride the canyon at about 90% of our normal pace. But, let’s add in the mechanicals to keep things in balance. Better bulbs , brighter bulbs..” hey there’s my turn in point”…make all the difference in the world. But setting up your race bike for them can be a bit of a challenge. Your race bodywork isn’t designed for headlights..do you go back to the stock front fairing and all it’s additional weight? Cut holes in your high zoot Airtech fairing? mount lights off to the sides? Decision, decisions… Our team opted for remounting the stock front fairing and the bracketing to have lights in in the easiest manner. We didn’t worry so much about the weight..this was a 24 hour race..longevity was more important than sprint speed. After the first test at night, we figured we wanted more light. We had already put big watt bulbs in the stock lights, PIAA driving lights were next on the shopping list. Easy mounting and wiring and WOW…I can see all the way to Arizona!!! But… …Not for very long. Here’s the one thing we forgot about and you shouldn’t…the bikes charging system. How much juice does your bike put out?? Will it power the bike and a lot of lights?? In our case..not quite enough. Here is where a really good story comes into this bunch of drivel…
My good friend, Evans Brasfield (www.evansbrasfield.com), magazine writer, photographer and roadracer along with his team were riding a Kawasaki EX500 in the WERA 24 hour race at Willow Springs …brave men. Yeah, they blew up a couple of motors over the course of a day, but they had the coolest lighting system of anybody. We all know what a Kawasaki EX500 is, 500CC twin cylinder little hot rod (now the Ninja 500) , basic bike with minimal bodywork. You got your headlight in the fairing but it’s kinda weak at best. So, what do you you do to race this little speedster at night?…BIG ASS driving lights mounted like Mickey Mouse ears on the front fairing. Uh, Ok…but if a 600CC four cylinder machine has trouble powering a couple small additional driving lights, how’s this little twin going to run two really big driving lights. Sheer genius, or brain damage…a flourescent light fixture ballast mounted in the fairing. How it actually works I have no idea and I don’t care but it was really neat. But wait…there’s more and you have to use your imagination for this part. These big ‘ol, they belong on a Baja truck, lights are not aimed straight ahead, oh no…they are pointed outward at about forty five degrees…looked really weird going down the straightaway but when you tip the bike into a turn, wow!! the driving lights REALLY lit up the turn. Cool. You could see a long way through the turn. Thank you Evans. Our Yamaha was quite a bit faster but every now and then in the middle of the night I would catch up with Evans and crew then follow them through a couple of turns just to give my eyes a rest. These guys really did have a cool set up. Crappy motors, but cool lights. So, this years Daytona will be run ‘under the lights’ not ‘with lights’. But if you are going to race at night, make sure your electrical system is up to the task. Oh, and more thing. Once you get used to racing at night, you will be amazed at how fast you can go. Average lap times at night were less than two seconds off daytime lap times, in a couple of cases night speeds were even faster. I think those guys were vampires…yeah Pete, I’m talkin’ about you…