31 Degrees (The 2015 Daytona 200 Experience)

What does a race team named Summit County Vintage Racers do when the driving force of our team passes away? We honor him by entering one of the most prestigious races in the country, the Daytona 200. Sam Williams had been operating a small motorcycle race shop out of Akron Ohio for more than 40 years. We have a small group of racers and friends that have been with Sam for most of that time. Sam passed away in late 2014, but before he did he let us know that he wanted the SCVR’s to continue to race. To our surprise, Sam left us the use of his shop and bikes, plus the means to still race. In thinking about the best way to honor Sam we decided to do the one thing on any racers bucket list, enter the Daytona 200. Our primary goals were to first qualify for the race, and then finish in the top 40.

First things first, how do a group of old endurance racers and mechanics go about building a bike that will be up to the task we had in mind? We started with a 2013 Kawasaki ZX636 and prepped it like we would any endurance bike we have built. Quick fuel filling tank, quick change rear wheel, stronger body work from WoodCraft and then we reached out to some friends to help. Design Engineering provided the reflective heat materials for both under the fuel tank and to cover the tank that would keep our fuel cool in the hot Florida sun. Red Line oils gave us all the fluids we needed to make our engine survive the long sections of full throttle loads the banking at Daytona would deliver. Dyno Jet for hooking us up with a Power Commander V tuner and Dyno set-up time that gave us that extra power needed to hit the monster top speeds we would see. Motorcycle Superstore for giving us the K&N air and oil filters. Finishing it off was a Hindle racing exhaust system. With the bike as ready as we could make it, we headed to Daytona. Red Line gave us a few engine oil choices, one was 40 weight race oil and the other was a 20/50 street oil. I decide to go with the race oil for practice and monitor the clutch performance. If we get any clutch slippage we will need to change to the 20/50.

Day one: Practice

We got new Dunlop tires mounted and headed out with the calculated gearing that we thought would be needed for the unique conditions at Daytona. Riders have two 50 minute sessions to get the bike dialed in for qualifying on Friday. We make a few laps to let our rider John Blike get used to the bike and riding on the steep 31° banking. John decides to stay out the entire 50 minutes and starts to bring his times down. Lap times have to be within 115% of the pole time to make the field. My calculations put that time around a 2.08 time for the 3.55 mile track based off last year’s pole time. After session one we have a fast lap of 2 minutes and 16 seconds. Session 2 and we mount new tires, change tire pressure, change gearing and try a new fuel mapping. At the end of the second session we dropped to a fast lap of 2 minutes and 6 seconds. Fast enough to make the field based on last year’s times. The clutch worked great so we stick with the Red Line race oil. As I walk around the paddock I can see that a number of racers are using our DEI products. Jason Farrell had liberally applied Reflect-A-GOLD on his air box and tank. Several teams followed suit including the fastest Amateur rider, Mark Roades as well as a team from Ireland. It’s nice to see our products on such fast bikes.

Day Two: Qualifying

We start the day with the same set up as day one. Getting used to the bike and track, John goes even faster, getting into the 2.05’s range. After the first round of qualifying we are sitting pretty well with a 3 second buffer to the 115% rule so we decide to save the equipment and sit out round 2 hoping our time holds. After some nail biting we make the field with a 2 second cushion. With 58 bikes trying to make the field, 53 do and we are sitting 50th on the grid. Goal one accomplished.

That afternoon I walked around the Paddock handing out some of our new tank covers to teams like Jason Farrell, Barrett Long on the 848 Ducati and Patricia Fernandez. They were pretty stoked, because on day one they were all using umbrellas, towels, and whatever they could to keep the sun off their fuel tanks. Friday night everyone is practicing tire changes and fueling. We have ours down to 43 seconds to change a rear tire and refuel with 5 gallons of VP race gas, not bad for a low budget team. I also get a visit from the Barrett Long team; they damaged the carbon fiber mufflers on their 848 Ducati and ask if I have any DEI products that could fix it. I call over to my co-worker that is at J&P Cycles in Daytona to see if he can drop off some Titanium exhaust wrap.

Just after qualifying, the guys from Dunlop stop by and tell us they need the rear tires back Apparently, we are one of about 10 teams using this tire and some are starting to come apart. The problem with switching tires at this point is we have no data on wear or how the handle, and no time to try them. With no options I switch to the new tire, it is a different compound and 9mm larger in diameter. We will have to see how they work in race conditions tomorrow. Back at the infield camp we get a visit from the team from Ireland. We invite them to have dinner and get some good stories about racing in the UK, Fun guys and we hope they do well tomorrow.

Day Three: Race Day

We get an early start at 6:00 am and start to move all our equipment to our pit box. Everything will be done from the pit from now on. We have new tires mounted but I am worried about the new rear with only a 25 minute warm up today before the race. After going over our fuel consumption we will need to have two stops during the race to make it to the end. As far as tires I am hoping to go the distance on the front and do only one rear tire change during the race. John is ready to go and we only make a few laps in the warm up to scuff tires, John said the tires feel good, so we do final prep for the race. Replace the oil with fresh Redline 40W race oil and a new K&N oil filter. Check all the other fluids and pressures. We wait to the start of the race to fill our quick fill with 5 gallons of VP race fuel. Our first pit window is 18-20 laps. We send John out on the warm up lap and then to the grid.

Green Flag. John gets a good start but a crash from another rider brings the red flag out on the first lap. We get John back in to top off the tank and it’s a quick grid reset. On the grid Barrett Long has an engine failure on his Ducati and is out after just one lap. On the restart John gets another good start and settles into a good pace. On lap eighteen we get another red flag which works out well for us as it is in our pit window. We bring John in and change the rear tire, fuel, and inspect the bike. Everything looks good and it’s another quick restart. Everything is going fine until lap 32 when John goes to the outside of a rider entering the Horseshoe turn and the number two bike dives under that same rider. I am not sure if the 2 bike touched the Yamaha rider or just startled him, but he lost the front end and slid into John’s path. John made a split second decision to hit the bike and not the rider but it put John on the ground and our bike went for a good tumble.

John gets up unhurt and runs to the 6 foot safety fence, scaling it like he was 16 years old (In racing leathers!). It’s amazing what adrenaline; and being a little pissed-off, can do. I think Sam was looking after us this day. At this point, the guys in the pits have no idea that John has crashed. But, as if right on cue, at the spot John goes over the fence is a group of guys from our home track of Nelson Ledges. John asked for a cell phone and calls back to the pits to let us know he is ok and that the bike is on the way to impound. He gets a guy to drive him back to pit lane and I go after the bike.

At first glance the bike does not look good. Fluid everywhere and the front brake reservoir is broken off. This is where being an old endurance racer helps out, stay calm, assess the damage, and think of a game plan to fix it. After checking the oil and having just rear brakes I hop on the bike at impound and ride it back to our pit box behind the wall. First thing I do is ask John if he wants to finish the Daytona 200, His answer was HELL YES. I start spraying the bike down with brake cleaner and getting all the sand and dirt cleaned off while the crew looks over for other damage. After getting a good look, I see that the right bar is bent but no cracks, the body work is scraped up but again; no major damage, but it looks like the front brake master cylinder is done. The tank has a big dent in the right side but the quick fill is ok and no leaks. I remove it to get a better look and see that it is only the remote reservoir that is broken. I tell my guys to find one as I get the bike back together. Turns out the one spare part we don’t have is a front reservoir. We start going down pit lane and find a rear reservoir off some other bike. An official stops and tell us we have about 10 more minutes before the restart. We take the rear reservoir and some fuel line. I bend the bracket for the stock reservoir and zip tie the new one to the bar connecting it to the master cylinder with the fuel line and use safety wire as clamps. Fill and bleed the system tell John to take it easy for the first few laps and we make the restart.

We restart on lap 34 with only a few laps lost due to the crash. I think we can make it without any more stops on fuel and the tires looked good. After a few laps John is going faster than before the crash, I think with the bar bent in, he can get into a better tuck than before. As John is making laps I see that the quick fill still has about a half-gallon of fuel still in it. That big dent reduced the tank capacity so we won’t have enough fuel to make it to the end. With 5 laps left I bring John in for a splash and go to make it to the end. We finished in 37th place which we are very happy with. We also found out that John got a pretty big cheer from the crowd as he jumped the fence and that in the end, John looks to be entering the record books as the oldest rider to finish the Daytona 200 at the age of 58. Sam would have been proud.