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Visceral Physics 101

Exploring the coefficients of kinetic friction Between AGV Leathers, a Shoei Helmet, Joe Rocket Gloves, Alpinestars Boots, asphalt and the Mojave Desert.

by Martin Hackworth

Photos: Alfonse Palamia, John Fischer, Martin Hackworth, WSIR


      The red #533 is my Yamaha FZR400 race bike (at least this is what it used to look like). I like it a lot. I built this Fizzer with parts I scrounged off eBay. It was my stay at home project the year before J.R. (my son) was born. The bodywork and paint are my own handiwork. Scoff all you want - let's see you fab fiberglass body panels in a cold shop in the middle of an Idaho winter. Anyway it took me two years to mold this into a dependable race platform. This 2005 season it was finally running well and in spite of some nagging carburetion issues I have been doing pretty well in points at the Willow Springs Motorcycle Club.

     I hold an expert racing license at WSMC. I know that sounds incongruous with my career as a Lecturer in Physics at Idaho State University but there it is. Since I also moonlight as a motojournalist racing adds some much needed cachet to my resume. Tres Professionales!

I would kiss you if I didn't have puke breath


      Willow Springs International Raceway, near Rosamond CA, is a very competitive and fast place and I am happy to be associated with the Willow Springs Motorcycle Club as both a racer and as member of the tech-inspection staff. Willow Springs is fast, fast, fast and kind of scary. Did I mention fast?

    On Sunday, September 18 2005 I was in my first race of the day and my second of the of the weekend - 500 Modified Production. The 500 mod prod race is generally the second wave of a race that features BOTT Heavyweights (V-Twin Superbikes) in the first wave. Since the BOTT bikes: Ducati 900's, RC-51's, et cetera, are much more powerful (and about 10 seconds per lap faster) than the motley collection of FZR's and EX500's that populate 500 mod prod we get passed, usually around the 5th lap or so, by the fast twins each race. Now that races are nominally 8 laps at WSMC we get passed by most of the BOTT field before the end of each race. The person who usually leads the BOTT class is a friend named Kenny Kopecky and he usually goes by so fast that it sucks the air right out of my lungs. Sometimes he even gives a little wave. I guess that you have to be there to appreciate that.
      The photo at right was taken during the very 500 mod prod race that is at the heart of this tale. It is, in fact, an image of me on the Fizzer flat out in the very same turn (T1 - at the end of the long straight on the big track in the photo above) where we would, in a few laps, conduct our groundbreaking experiment.

     On the sixth lap of the race I got nailed by a Ducati 996 from the BOTT race piloted by a fellow racer who made an error in judgment in attempting a skinny inside pass in T1. Both of us took a tumble somewhere north of three digits worth of mph resulting in the mangling of us, our bikes and the destruction of some perfectly good rattlesnake habitat. 

     The first thing I remember was coming to in the ambulance in the pits with the rest of team hillbilly, Steven and John, looking on (Could this be hell, I thought?). My noggin was scrambled and I was having trouble breathing. I ended up in the hospital in Lancaster.

The calm before the storm
FZR400 Crash
      While in the hospital grooving on the morphine drip I got a call from a reporter friend from a newspaper back in Idaho on what turned out to be an unrelated matter. In in my delirium I wondered how the Idaho papers had gotten word on my crash so fast. Delusions of grandeur!

     After being examined by the doctor it was determined that I had rung my bell pretty good, sustained a concussion and badly bruised a few ribs - but that was the extent of the damage. It'd hurt for a while but I'd live. I picked up a prescription for enough pain killers to get me back to Pocatello (an 800 mile drive) and was sent packing.

     In years of racing and testing high-performance motorcycles I have never put a bike on the ground. I have ridden off the track a few times but never anything more exciting than that.  I am generally lower in aggression that skill on a motorcycle. I was quite proud of my clean record, and technically, I suppose, I should still be able to claim that I haven't put a bike on the ground unassisted. Everyone howls when I try to press this argument though and I suspect that the record is toast.

     When you take a tumble from any motorcycle you owe a salute to those who design and produce the excellent protective equipment we motorcyclists enjoy. My friend Jon Seidel, media relations guru at American Honda, generously offered to replace the Honda model Shoei RF-1000 that did such a wonderful job protecting my noggin. Shoei was actually cool enough to send a very nice letter and some swag. I'll purchase another set of Joe Rocket Speedmaster gloves, which did an incredible job of protecting my guitar playing fingers, from our friends at Joe Rocket just up the road in Idaho Falls. The very nice folks at Z Custom Leathers did a wonderful job of fixing the crash damage to my AGV leathers. My Dainese back protector did it's job like a champion.

FZR400       As I write this a month has passed and I am happy to report that I am feeling fine. My vision was blurred for a while from the concussion but that has cleared up. Most of the pain and stiffness is gone.
    As you can see the poor Fizzer got thumped. It's enough to make a grown man cry. I'll need to redo the bodywork, find a new rear subframe, a front fairing stay, possibly an instrument cluster and maybe tweak the front forks. I think that I'll have it ready to roll once again before too long, but probably not this year.
     Kelly Baker of Kelly Baker's Performance Unlimited (my chief sponsor) is a great friend and fellow racer. Kelly had some bad luck on the same day in the form of a catastrophic crash in T5 a few races later. Kelly will be fine but he'll set off metal detectors in airports for a while with all of the pins in his right ankle. To illustrate what a big heart Kelly has he called me on my cell phone while I was in the hospital to see how I was doing without telling me that he was in the process of being transported to another hospital for surgery. Kelly Baker rocks.  FZR400 Crash
FZR400 Crash      Well, that's about the end of this tale. Thanks to everyone who helped - especially Steven, John, Kelly, Uncle Jay, Jon, Keith and J.R. who shared his chocolate mile every night with the old man to help with his owees.
Willow Springs International Raceway/Willow Springs Motorcycle Club

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FZR400 Crash
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