We returned to our home away from home, Thunderhill East, for AFM Round 7. The last event of the 2019 season was here already! The last eight months had flown by. Each round had taught me a little bit more; braking slightly deeper here, accelerating marginally faster there. I wasn’t winning (consistently), but I was getting closer. Any races that didn’t involve shuffleboarding my bike down the track or shooting off into a tire wall were a win in my book anyways. If I managed to stumble my way into the top three and received a little plastic trophy commemorating my exceptional luck, even better! This was my last chance to make a bid for those spots this season. One last chance to chip away at my PB, get my monthly adrenaline fix, and sacrifice another paycheck to the gods of going in circles real fast before everyone mothballed their bikes and gave their wallets a few months to recover over our temperate “winter” break.
Round 7 also determined the final points standings for the AFM 2019 class championships, if you kept track of those sorts of things. I hadn’t. At least, not until this point. After reorganizing my bookcase to fit my commemorations of exceptional luck from the last round, morbid curiosity got the best of me. I was lucky… but was I lucky enough to grab a spot on the novice class podium?
After checking the current standings on Speedhive, it turns out that I was. And not just one either; I was in the running for 600 Superstock, 600 Superbike, 750 Superstock, and Formula 1. While I could only grab second or third in most classes, it looked like Formula 1 was a bit closer. I did some quick math. I rechecked said math because I’m terrible at math. I wasn’t sure if I was adding things up correctly, but it appeared that I had a shot at the top step on the Formula 1 novice podium. Sam confirmed. If I could somehow place better than Hugo in the last race of the season, I would walk away with a novice class championship. I didn’t get my hopes up too high, but I was excited. Now I had something to race for. I wanted that damn plastic trophy.
I decided to wait until F1 to slap on a set of fresh rubber, so Clubman Middleweight was run on old tires from Round 6. I started near the back of the pack, but snagged a decent launch and was able to work my way up to third by the end of the first lap. Two laps later I was able to sneak by #801 Patrick Swisher and secure second. By that point I could feel my old tires beginning to get a little squirrelly, and decided to turn it down a bit since Hugo had pulled a significant gap while I was in third. I held second until the checkered, snatching another silver.
As I left the paddock I started to get a bit nervous. I was still on the same set of tires that had shown signs of falling off in Clubman Middleweight, and I was about to put them through even greater stress by pushing it harder in 600 Superbike. I very much did not want to wad my bike right before my most important race of the season. I decided to ride a bit more conservatively and not get too greedy.
Or, well, I did… Until the flag dropped and I scored a holeshot. Once I hit T1 I promptly discarded all of my tire conservation plans and focused on hauling ass. KISS I guess. I lead for the first lap and a half, then Hugo squeezed by on the outside of 10 in the braking zone. I followed him for a lap, looking for an opening, and pulled up beside him on the exit out of two. Not enough to make the pass, but enough to show him I was still there. The next lap I put a little more heat into my T2 entry and rode right around him on the outside, almost highsiding as the rear slid towards the berm on exit. I had first again! I held it until the finish line, where I saw a waving yellow followed closely by a huge cloud of dust. Hugo caught up to me when I slowed, but it didn’t matter because the next thing we saw was a waving red at the corner worker station on top of five.
Unfortunately that was the end of our battle. The race was not restarted, and positions were determined by the last “fully complete” lap, which meant that my first place position at then end of the race wouldn’t be counted. I took home second, but I didn’t even care; it was an awesome race that gave me a confidence boost heading into Formula 1.
This was it! I threw on some fresh tires and prayed to dear lord baby Jesus for swiftness and safe passage. I nailed the launch once more and took the holeshot, but Eli pulled alongside me into T2. This wasn’t going to be easy. I was a little slower than I would have liked for the first lap; Eli eventually pulled me on his 750 and took first position on the back straight. I managed to reel him in when we hit T2 again, and stayed right behind him until the 6/7/8 complex where I failed to carry enough speed and Hugo passed me. I lost a bit of distance on them, but gained it back beginning with T2 the next lap. Once again I was right on their tail. I just needed to pass Hugo back and make it stick.
Another lap went by. Hugo shoulder checked on the straight and shook his head at me. I pulled alongside him in two once more, judging the corner speed I needed to land another pass there. I didn’t bring enough in that lap, and fell back until I could set a better pass up.
We crossed the finish line once more, quickly closing on a group of lappers heading into T1. This was my chance! Hugo got caught up behind one of them and I moved to the outside to make a double pass. Unfortunately I moved a little too outside and started feeling traction slipping away as I drifted from the racing line towards the dirty pavement at the edge of the track. I had to lay off the throttle and make very gentle corrections to prevent myself from sliding off into the outfield. Next time.
We worked our way through the lappers until only two remained. Hugo followed them closely into turn 9, but had to check up when the leader suddenly lowsided and took out the rider behind. This allowed me to gain on him slightly, but I still had quite the gap to make up. Luckily I was able to get a decent run through the rest of the corners in that lap, and was right back on him when he dove into T2 for the final time.
I pulled up beside him on the exit and decided to go for it. I had the inside going into turn three, so I stuck a shallow line and pulled past on the entrance, making the pass. Every corner of the last lap fell together just right (or, well, good enough).
4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, checkered.
It was over! I hadn’t taken first because I was still 3.5 seconds behind Eli, but I’d scored second (setting a new PB of 1:55.328 during my final lap), and taken the F1 championship points lead from Hugo. I’d won the 2019 F1 Novice Championship and that damn plastic trophy was mine!
(spoiler: the trophy was actually etched acrylic, not plastic)
I was still riding the high from my F1 race when I hit the grid for 600SS. This race was pretty small, which was strange. Nobody at my pace had entered, so I took a relaxed holeshot and rode some casual 2:00 laps ‘til the checkered, conserving tires for 750SS. I took first and headed back to camp to get ready for the last race of the season.
(#607 Nicholas Patane accidentally started with the expert grid, so the racehero results are a bit messed up)
The final race of the season, 750SS, saw me gridded next to Hugo once more. He was actually the only person gridded next to me; there were no other novices competing. I wasn’t anywhere close to him for points in the 750SS championship, but I figured I’d try and give him a run for his money anyways since it was the last race of the season.
We launched and I landed mid-pack in the expert class. I started losing a bit of ground in the 6/7/8 combination, but made it up coming onto the front straight; at which point I got walked by the 750s I was chasing and had to start all over at T2… I gained and lost ground on them, but eventually started falling farther and farther behind. It had been a long day and I was tired. Hugo passed me on the inside of 10 and I made a halfhearted attempt to chase him, but ultimately I couldn’t summon the motivation to mount an offense and settled for a few 1:57s before hitting the checkered and securing my silver participation trophy (although I did come in 9th out of 16 in the combined grid, so not horrible for slacking off).
The checkered waving past the tail, I started rolling off throttle as I leaned into T2. My 2019 Novice AFM season was over. Eight months of experiences flashed past as I rode one final cooldown lap around 3 mile. It had been quite the ride. I made a mental note to record a summary of my thoughts on it at some point, but for now it was time to give the ZX6R a much-needed break and go find a cold beer.