Sunday, May 4, 2014

Racing a Grom

My FJR is a fat heavy overpowered pig.

Words that were uttered Monday morning as I pulled out of my street.

Where the eff is my clutch lever!

Words that were uttered Monday morning as I tried to remember how to operate the YCC-S system on my bike.


This all started back in September when a poster on our local forum started a thread about seeing a "Flock of Grom." WTF is a Grom? Hrm, little 125cc street legal bike from Honda. Yawn. What a worthless little bike.

In March I get to see one in person at the local pie run. I had kid duty that day so I tossed kiddo in the car and we went to look at motorcycles, eat pie and talk bikes. I was surprised at how small the Grom was, my five year old was almost big enough for it.

For some odd reason, he decided to do his best Al Bundy impression right when I took the picture. Didn't notice till later.

Moving right along. So in April, on the same local forum, there's a thread pop up titled "Free rides on a Honda Grom" which I casually open out of curiosity. Oh wait!!! This isn't just someone offering to let you putt putt around on the Grom, but rather this is taking it out during the Texas MINI GP event at the track! Hint: You can get me interested with the words "Free" and "Track."

The guy doing the offering is Dennie, and he's a veteran of the TMGP series for something like 25 years. He's decided this is his last year and has offered up this opportunity as a thinly veiled excuse to recruit more people into the TMGP. I have to say, it's a VERY effective recruiting tool.

Costs are extremely low, he waived the beginners rider class fee, and all I have to pay is the $70 entry fee for my four races. All of which will get me several hours of practice on Saturday and Sunday plus the races. That's a heck of a bargain!


I pack up my gear and head up to Denton on Saturday and am greeted by the very friendly Dennie and already parked is my ride for the weekend. He's done a bit of work to it to make it more track friendly. Here's the specs and some pictures.

The bike: 2014 Honda Grom
  • Yosh pipe
  • Race Tech gold valve forks
  • Race Tech springs
  • Ohlins shock
  • Steel front brake line
  • Supersport tires, probably Dunlop TT93

After sitting through the class with Dennie and one other student, Kevin, we both pass our tests indicating we know all the written information to get out on the track with the big boys, we are now allowed out for beginner practice. This is reserved for us noobs so that we can get out there and familiarize ourselves with our bikes and the lines of the track without getting run over by the fast guys. 
Note: Some of the "Fast Guys" are 12 years old!

First trip out on the track, this little bike has no power, it's twichy as all hell and it's TINY! This is of course because I'm comparing it to my full size 650 pound FJR. I'm also spending time getting used to using the clutch lever again as I've been spoiled by my auto clutch system. I'm figuring out the lines, where the bike needs to be shifted, shifting way too often, and getting comfortable in general. I'm also starting to have fun!

After a bit, Dennie pulls me aside since he's been out on the track watching us. He's got some tips for the difficult chicanes and some advice on the off camber turn 6. This advice is welcomed as it helps greatly, also helpful is the stop for some water. Flicking this little bike around this tight track is every bit as tiring as flicking a full sized sport bike around a big track.

Soon enough Dennie pulls us aside for a "Mock race." This is so we can find our way to the grid, figure out our grid positions, learn the flags for the start, middle and finish of the race, and generally practice all the procedures without being in a "Real" race. We have a third that has joined us, he is Joe. Joe is a 22 year old guy doing his second weekend with the TMGP and has never ridden this track so he got authorization to come out with us during the beginner session. On the line is Joe's dirt bike running race tires, my Grom, and Kevin's little GP bike. It's a mock race, but we all have our game faces on. Joe get's the holeshot but I'm on him in a heartbeat. I pass him and manage a win for our 3 lap race. Woot!

After that, it's practice with the big boys. I start to learn about getting passed in race fashion. This is far different from passes I've experienced at standard track days, but it's not so bad. People are good and clearly safety is on everyone's minds. Passes are close, but clean. Nobody stuffs me and I'm feeling good.

Later, Dennie pulls me aside. I'm running well enough that if someone is needing another rider for their endurance team he'll let me do that. Also, he has a deal for me. They need corner workers for the endurance race and if I'll do that, he'll cut my entry fees the next day in half. I'm here, I'll be hanging out, I'm no stranger to corner working, and it's the best place to watch the riders. Heck yea I'm in!
I spend my afternoon watching riders turn consistent laps trying to get as many in as they can in four hours. It's entertaining and educational because I can see how these guys are navigating the track in the areas that are giving me difficulty. I only need to put out the yellow flag twice, each time for a mechanical failure. Both times bikes are pushed back to the pits and all is well.

Some things noted. First, everyone is very good about passing. The faster guys know their bikes are faster than the slower guys, and so will pull safe passes on the straight sections rather than forcing passes in the corners. Those maneuvers are reserved for riders of similar skills, similar experience, and similar bikes. Second, there's a team with riders that are pure monsters. Not only are their bikes fast, but the riders are very consistent. Additionally, where most teams were running 30-40 minute sessions before switching riders, these guys went out and ran a 2 hour shift each! I was tired and dehydrated after 30 minutes but these guys spent 2 hours out there. I also found out later, that while the first rider was done and chilling in the pits, he found out about another team that was too exhausted to go on, and signed onto their team and helped them finish the race without them getting a DNF. Impressive stuff for sure!

After those races were over, I retired to my hotel room for a much needed shower. I had a tasty BBQ Brisket Burger (hamburger with a slab of brisket and BBQ sauce on it) in downtown Denton at Roosters Roadhouse, then back to the hotel for an early shut eye.


Got up and headed to the track. Started off the day with the open practice session. I got back out there for enough time to fix some things I'd not gotten the hang of the day before and get myself warmed up, but not so much that I'd be tired come race time. Then it was time for a late breakfast.

I had the pulled pork sandwich for lunch the day before, so today it was a chopped brisket sandwich. Yum!

I started getting amped up come race time. I was making sure to remember a few things when I went out. First, Dennie had an excellent crash plan. You crash, you pay Dennie $100, no matter the damage. You crash a second time, you give him another $100 and you are done. I fully intended to NOT pay Dennie any damage money and to return the shiny new bike in exactly the same condition I received it in. Second, I'm out here for fun, but some of these guys are racing a season for points toward a place in a championship. I'm not gonna screw that up by doing stupid things. Thus, my plan was to ride my line, and if passed, allow it without trying to be silly with blocking moves I don't know how to do.

I get out on the track and to the grid. Grid positions are determined at random and I've been randomly given the middle spot on the front row. I elect to utilize the section of the rules that allows me to move myself to the back of the grid. I'm not ready to be in the middle of the turn 1 craziness.

I don't recall much from the first race. Mostly it was me just trying to get off the line, not run over kids on 80cc and smaller bikes, not get run over myself, stay on the track, and make it 8 laps to the finish line. I manage to do that, and somehow I managed to pass Joe and finish ahead of him.

I roll through the hot pit and line up to go back out because I have back to back races. I decide I'll just grid up at the back of the group. The group isn't very big, so I can get to my speed of riders pretty quickly and easily while avoiding that turn 1 stuff. At the end of the race, I'm chasing down Joe, and I set up on the final lap a good drag race down the straight. He's shifting like mad and his bike has the slightest of edges over the Grom down the straight, but I'm figuring out that last turn and had set him up so that I was on the gas before him. Edge goes to me. I come up along side him, we are both getting down as much as possible with the throttles pegged on our pathetic little motors trying to get everything we can out of them....and I do it! I swear, I'm past him as I cross the line and I pull over and throw up my hand signaling I'm exiting the track after the checkered flag. Except Joe flies past me and nobody is exiting. I look back at the finish line.

Noob mistake.

Freaking A. That wasn't the checkered flag, I was so into the drag race that I didn't notice it was the white flag signaling the final lap! Balls! I get on it. I'm faster than Joe in a lot of sections but I suck at passing and he's better on the brakes. I don't set him up quite as good but the drag race is on, and he beats me by a wheel. We meet up in the pits and Joe comments on how much fun that was. We chat for a bit but we don't have much time and I'm trying get water because we only have one race off before we have to head in for our third race.

Third race, I grid up at the back again, but immediately I'm behind Joe. Now, we watched this race from my helmet camera afterwards and I commented to Joe "Yea, soon as we got started you got hung up behind that slow guy on the green bike, I couldn't wait for you to pass him so we could get the battle going." Joe retorts "Yea, that's my dad." Joe's dad is standing next to me while we watch the video. How's that foot taste? Joe passes his dad on the video and his dad comments "Joe, that was a very good clean pass." Trying to save face, knowing my pass on dad is coming up I say "I sure hope my pass was that clean" Joe's dad says "Oh yea, it was, and then I had an awesome front row view of you two fighting it out." Whew, saved some face there.

With Joe's dad behind us we got to battling. I was trying to set him up by handling the corners in ways to get on the gas earlier, but Joe was still better on the brakes and wasn't leaving me any opportunities to pass. The last lap, he blocks me going into turn 6 and as we come around there's a kid on a 50. He's riding a bit erratically and swings in front of Joe and then back in my direction. Joe and I have both hit the brakes and if we can get around him, we can have a final drag race. The kid swings off the track in the final chicane and then pulls back across in front of me. I toss in the towel and realize the race isn't worth the risk and let the kid get back on the track and pointed down the straight before I take off and cross the finish line. I wouldn't have beat Joe anyways.

I had a lot of time to sit around and wait on my last race. My first three races were all within the first six of the day, my last one was the 21st race of the day. The final race is two classes combined. The GP bikes and the Grom's. Only problem, there's only one Grom. Sweet! I'm guaranteed a win today. I was very comfortable on the Grom for this race and was mostly out on my own after passing a few of the GP bikes. Forgot to turn on the camera, but I was dragging knee all over the place and feeling really good, but tired. It was only an 8 lap race but I swear it felt like 32. I kept coming around looking for the white flag so I'd know it was almost done and I could get water and relax.

 Later at the awards ceremony I received my plaque for first place, but the race director pointed out that I did manage to come in third overall in the combined classes for the race. No plaque for that but that felt pretty good.

It was a fun day, and I'd like to do more. I am surfing craigslist when the wife isn't looking. Probably won't happen this season, but maybe next season I'll be out there. Gotta find me a ratty competitive bike so I can ride without caring about the bike.

My kiddo was proud of his dad, one day I'll tell him the secret to how I won.

Here's three of my races I captured on Youtube. Enjoy.