Waking up at 6:00 AM on race day is second nature for me now but having to dress for the chilly ride to the racetrack felt a bit strange. I have a bit of a morning ritual to my race days: alarm goes off, I snooze 3 to 4 times, then roll out of bed right into my Moto D under suit. A few more layers of clothes as my coffee brews and out the door to walk to work where the company van is parked. This time however it was different as I walked downstairs and hopped right onto my “race bike.” Only thing is my race bike has a license plate, turn signals, headlight and taillight, even a horn. She’s really not a race bike at all but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to ride the pants off of her.
As I crossed over the Mississippi River my mind drifted to what this bone-stock Triumph Thruxton would be capable of. Stock suspension meant a bouncy ride, diminished traction and less control. Some people were calling me crazy to even try to go fast on it. The foot pegs were stock with the “feeler pegs” still on, meaning they were closer to the ground than any other Thruxton Cup bike. My lean angle would be significantly diminished and when hard parts hit the ground it would throw my bike into a cycle of uncontrollable bounces. I started to worry myself, I started to think this may be crazy, more importantly I was certain I would lose. As I passed Bayou Segnette the air became wet, cold and dense. The bike seemed to like it, it pulled strong, throttle response felt crisp even though she was only 62hp, almost 10 hp under the rest of the grid. My fingers felt like frozen blocks of wood, lifeless and rigid, as I pulled in the clutch and applied the brakes to check in at the NOLA Motorsports security gate. The last leg of the journey is simply riding across the paddock on the way to registration, honking and waving to all of the friendly faces I’ve spent the last 2 years racing with. I walked up to registration still shivering from the ride but was met by the warmest welcome from all of the WERA officials. My story, “Birth of a Thruxton Cup Bike”, had reached them and they were excited to see how this race turned out. At first I was flattered, then the butterflies kicked in.
Now back at the TTRNO Speed Shop garage to make the transformation from street bike to race bike! I took off the mirrors and license plate, taped up the lights and I was done…that’s it...I was determined to keep it simple, keep it stock. I rode it to the tech inspector and explained my story. He passed me with a bit of skepticism, but wished me the best of luck. By the time I got into my leathers I had already wasted too much time to make it to practice, so my first fast ride would be a race.
Race 6 was my first race of the day, it was Formula 2, mostly Suzuki SV650s, I was using it as practice to see what would fail me first. Before I knew it I was on my warmup lap, trying to to get a little heat in my tires. I pull up to my grid position...row 3...center. I look to the left where spectators have lined up against the cement wall waiting for the launch. They look perplexed and a bit surprised to see a stock bike on the grid. Tall bars, turn signals and a big ugly tail light make it look like I’m on my way to the grocery store so I verify their suspicion with a honk and a wave. The 2 board comes out at the start/finish tower indicating that the last rider is in position for the launch. 1board,1boardsideways,greenflag. That fast, the race has started, I’m at 6,000RPM as I feather the clutch out to launch as quickly as possible while keeping the front wheel just an inch or so off of the tarmac. 2nd gear, 3rd gear, 4th gear, I’m in the lead. The 300 ft board flies by and I’m on the binders at the 200. It’s just after turn 2 when a pair of the more powerful SV650s take the inside line, soon after a 3rd passes. From here on out I hold position as I try to figure out my bike. The suspension is bouncy but not as bad as I thought, in fact the smoother I am with my bodyweight transitions and throttle applications the less I even notice it. When the foot pegs catch the ground it’s jarring. The bike feels as if it lifts slightly, loses traction and begins a cycle of rhythmic bounces front and rear suspension. I hang off of the bike farther using the high tall bars to push myself away and the bike seems to like it. It wiggles but complies with my requests and finishes the turn right where I want it. This is what breaking a wild horse must feel like. I’m letting it try to buck me off but with just the right inputs it abides. The pegs hit a few more times until the “feeler pegs” finally break off. Every lap is faster as I get used to how the bike moves and likes to be handled. Fastest lap is 2:11.159 as I pass under the checkered flag finishing 2nd in a race I didn’t even plan on being competitive in. I ride back to my garage, put on tire warmers then try to contain my excitement for the real reason I’m here, the Thruxton Cup.
Before I know it I hear “3rd and final call for race 9.” Frantically I put in ear plugs (needed around all of those loud Thruxton Cup bikes), throw on my brand new Bell Star Carbon helmet (I’ll brag about that one soon enough) and squeeze my hands into gloves. Off with the tire warmers and onto pit out. I feel at home knowing the grid is filled with bikes just like mine, a bit more tricked out but with the same DNA. I have pole position for Thruxton Cup since I won the regional championship last year but we share the track with a few more classes in front of us. That puts all of us British hooligans at row 9 and back. Same as before the boards go flying by and the green flag has been thrown. Walt Bolton, #552, has an amazing start along with Paul Canale ,#112. They are ahead of me instantly and lead the way into turn 1. I hit traffic from the classes that started ahead of me, so the gap is now getting larger. That’s it, I can’t let this happen, not even 1/8 of the way around the track and they’re almost out of sight. I change my approach into turn 2 by turning in later for a deeper apex and more drive past the blockade of bikes keeping me from the other Thruxtons, and it works. I pass 3 riders all before the braking zone of turn 3 and with Walt’s rear tire in my sights I brake later than I ever have setting me up for an overtaking of #552 entering the turn and an overtaking of #112 exiting. Turn 4 approaches and I’ve already upshifted to 3rd gear and back down to 4th within a matter of seconds. The tire chirps and steps out as a tip into the right hander all while being certain Paul will overtaking me on the inside, but he wasn’t there. Turn after turn I never look back, I’m yelling in my helmet. The bump in turn 7 sends me wide over the rumble strips and I yell “YeeHaa!” (cheesy as all hell but true). My smile fills every bit of the visor making it almost difficult to see through my squinting eyes. Lap after lap I get more comfortable. The bike wallows and slides and grinds parts off but it feels like it was meant to do this. As I turn laps my mind drifts to what this bike’s life was before. 8,082 miles of weekend rides, maybe a few rides to work, maybe a 2-up date night ride, a few bike nights, maybe a poker run or two. I’m giving this bike a whole new life, a new chapter and both the bike and I are loving every second of it. As I come down the front straight the last time I lay on my horn in celebration, look to the right and see the rest of the riders way behind, 27 seconds behind to be exact. I had consistently run low 2:08s where the lap record for a fully race prepped Thruxton Cup bike is 2:04 flat.
Then it hits me, I’ve been planning on writing these articles to say how this bike is pretty good stock but desperately needs additions to really enjoy it on the track, but I was dead wrong. Sure I’m still going to upgrade suspension, exhaust, tuning, etc. but it’s not necessary at all to go out, have fun and kick some ass!
The sun rises on the second day revealing that the track is soaking from an overnight storm, it’s going to be a wet race. This time Paul Canale’s not racing but my brother, Zach, is. Zach and I line up next to each other on the grid and both of us have a great launch. Lap 1, lap 2, lap 3 and Zach is right on my tail, our times are slower due to the conditions but we’re sliding the rear tire through turns as we lose then regain traction. The race between Zach and me becomes simply one of endurance, who can hold on to our sliding pace longer. I finally pull away in the last lap and take gold one more time.
What makes someone fast is not what they ride, but how they ride it. How willing they are to push. How late they brake and how early they twist the throttle. How smooth they are and how they respond to all of the little bits of data the bike sending back to them.
I’m not done with this bike yet, next thing up is suspension. If I plan on beating the Thruxton Cup lap record at NOLA I’ll need to have more control than I currently have. There are many options out there and I’ll be doing my research to make sure I’ve got the best available.
Follow my progress, as we have miles and miles, and laps and laps to go
Photo Credit: Zayas Image