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Vintage Road Racer, Kerry Smith as my umbrella girl for the rookie race. If I were to advise an aspiring racer, choose a club where you know some of the racers; at the very least drag a riding buddy to be there too. Photos: Supplied by the author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Cassie Cuppek

Cassie Cuppek just obtained her racing license at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on April 28/29, 2018. Here is a first hand look at the adrenaline packed sport that is amateur motorcycle racing.

With the help of the corner worker, I picked my KTM RC390 up off the ground in turn 2. I threw a leg over and carefully made my way back to the garage through the 3/10 split passing the corner workers who were waving red flags. I couldn’t help but think, “At least it wasn’t my BMW F800ST like it almost was the last time I was here in the rain several years ago.”I looked the bike over and then myself. The frame slider did its job as did the gear. I had one classroom session left. It was intended to prepare us for the last session which included a mock race start. Doubt was popping in and out of my consciousness all day. Now, Doubt looked me square in the eyes with a convincing presence. “Step aside Doubt. Watch how this is done,” said a voice from within. I do not know who that was, but I knew I had to listen to it. I gathered my notebook and pen and walked to the classroom to join other aspiring racers -my husband Josh included.

I never wanted to ride. I was terrified of it. If one asked my parents, I was dramatically petrified. I was 16 years old when my father got his motorcycle license. I made my fear known by telling him that he was selfish for wanting my brothers and I to be fatherless. It got worse when my mother geared up and got on the back of his bike. Shortly after, she too had her own saddle. I couldn’t comprehend how my parents would want the five us to be orphans as young adults. This lasted until I made a “bad” bet with Dad that ultimately changed my life. You see, Dad grew up in Baltimore; he was an Orioles fan. A Jersey girl myself, I was a Yankees fan. The Yankees were undefeated at the time and the Orioles had yet to win a game in the 2003 season. Even the bookies would have agreed that I had the “money in the bag” on this one. That game ended up being one of the very few that the Yankees lost that season. My “payment” was that I had to be a passenger on a short motorcycle ride.

Following the mock start, I end the session early. I was wet from the rain, tired from pretty much everything, and starting to feel discomfort in my elbow from my low side. I also knew that I had some work to do on the bike in order to pass race tech the next day. Ideally, I would get it done semi-quickly before dinner and bed. One can read the rulebook countless times to ensure comprehension of tech expectations and likely something would still be fumbled. Thank god for our well experienced racer friends. I’m slow with a socket or wrench as it is, nevertheless problem-solving motorcycle prep dilemmas. If not for those incredible people and some serious perseverance mustered up from somewhere, Doubt would have been able to convince me that I wasn’t cut out for this sport and had gotten my license and race entry fees refunded. I learned more about the bike, different tools, and about race tech in those evening hours than I did all winter preparing myself and the bike. The entire day was the longest ever dance between agitation and excitement.

I was still tossing and turning, visualizing both best and worst-case scenarios for the rookie race when I heard the first sound of an engine rumbling from outside of my trailer. It wasn’t quite 6:00am. If this were one of the many typical track day mornings that I have come to enjoy since losing that bet, after waking up, I would gather up the dog and some necessities and head to some resemblance of a bathroom to freshen up. After a peaceful track walk and/or jog, we’d return to the trailer and it would be time for breakfast. While the dog ate her kibble, I would make a protein shake and some version of a hot or cold caffeinated drink. Then the sounds of Josh rolling around in his sleeping bag would begin, followed by a plethora of grumbling noises indicating that he was disgruntled with having to wake up. Ahead of the 6:15am alarm I set at about midnight the night before, I crawled out from under my blanket to get up and my foot landed in the dog’s water bowl. So much for a typical track day morning like I was pretending it would be.

Tech opened at 7:00am. Like a good rookie, I was there when it opened. I passed so quickly, I didn’t even realize it was done. The nice gentleman who teched my bike had to tell me I was done because I was just standing there with my bike in the way of a building line. Now all I needed to do was wait for the riders meeting and practice. “PRACTICE?! Wait how do I know what practice session I am in?”, I asked myself. My friends were not yet up for me to ask or rather they were hiding from me. That made more sense to me. After all, I had kept them up late the night before with bike work and asked incessant questions. I decided to spread the love of my questioning to the nice man who teched my bike. “Practice 7.”“Thank you, and how would I know that in the future?”“The sticker right here on your bike that says Practice 7,” he said as he pointed to bright neon on green sticker that read Practice 7. My helmet hid my flushing cheeks as I asked inquired with him about how one would know their grid positions. He let me know when and where it would be posted, and I returned to the garage to jot down what I had learned.

From my notes:
*Practice will be told you by a sticker.
*Grid positions will be posted on the media windows.
*Good choice not to eat yet because food and drink might serve as fuel for vomiting from all this anxiety.


I had heard from the several racers that racing is quite the roller coaster. I liked those, so clearly I

She’s put together! Now, am I talking about me or
the bike? Tip for other newbies: Be ok with asking
others for tools. There is no amount of tools you
can buy to prepare you for what you need.

was prepared, right? Wrong! Allow me to be very clear here. Until it is experienced first hand, one cannot comprehend how different this roller coaster called Racing is. Hurry up. Stop the brake cover fell off. Hurry up. Change your tires to rains. Hurry up. Put your slicks back on. Hurry up. Track cleaning delay. Hurry up. Delayed start. Hurry up. Go right now. It’s all day from tech through the awards. What is great is that like a good roller coaster, everyone is on it together. If one person heard first call and thought someone else didn’t, they’d yell it out. If there was a mechanical issue, another would lend a hand to get the rider out. When third call happens, everyone works together to get riders out to pit lane as needed. I am all in for going on this roller coaster again!

From my notes:
* First call: Get dressed
* Second call: Turn on your bike and breathe.
* Third call: GTFO. (Get the $@!# out for those of you who don’t know the acronym.) There are 2 practice sessions in the morning before the races kick off.

I was dressed and ready to go out for my first practice well before first call. I was eager to roll around and make sure that the bike was put back together correctly. At second call I started the bike up and revved the throttle just enough to notice that the throttle housing unit was loose. I just need a torque and a few twists, or so I thought. I missed first practice messing around with it. I did not know that there were two practice sessions, so I was readjusting my goal for the rookie race based on missing practice when I heard the announcer call for Practice 2. What a relief! They were going around the order again and I would get a practice session in. My practice session came and went. I had felt comfortable and the bike stayed together, including the zip tied plastics! This small feat was enough to feel great and move onto my next goal which was to complete the rookie race.

Maybe Josh and I need to start a Cuppek Racing team!

Situated on the grid at 7D, everything went quiet all around me. It was a surreal sound or lack of sound and sudden sense of calm came over me. I had the same feeling at my very first track day on this same track. It was 2007 and I had just bought my second bike that I was planning to ride across the country on route to a new job in California. My mother told me about a group that puts together track days for women and that all bikes were welcome. I wanted to learn as much as I could about my Moto Guzzi Breva before the trip and thought that this would be a perfect way to bond with the machine and improve on my limited skills having less than 2,000 miles of saddle time. Mom and I did it together, and since then have done much riding together, including that cross-country trip and countless track days. There has not been much that compares to that first track day experience, until now. Only the sound that broke through the silence was my surprisingly steady heart beat as I waited for the lights to go out.


I had a smooth, yet slower start which meant I was scheming on what needed to happen to climb back up through the pack. As I settled into a rhythm and passed a few riders, I began laughing out loud in my helmet from sheer joy and delight. I was having such silly ridiculous fun, all the while finding a competitor within me that I rarely had ever met. As I passed another rider on the shoot braking later than them, the rear was loose. Exhilaration came over as I got it settled and gave a hard counter steer into the turn 3 and up the hill for turn 4. The skills I’ve learned at track days were coming together all at once. Something had clicked and I kept thinking out loud, “Ah! Yes! I get it! I have to write this down when I get back to the garage! This is some good stuff to work with!”Out came the checkered flag and I had completed the rookie race!

From my notes:
*Open the throttle all of the way while waiting for the lights to go out.
*Break out of track day passing mentality.
*Light rear wheels are fun!
*I’m not afraid to get off the bike, but I am afraid to put my knee out.
*I might need a half turn in the front.

I was screaming and jumping on my foot pegs as I went back to the garage. I was so pumped. I nearly jumped off and let the bike just fall so I could give a running, jumping hug to Josh and friends. I wanted to cry I was so happy -I didn’t. I had no idea of my times, nor did I care. Friends came over with their phones and were looking at some app that I learned would give us our live times and placements. I would download it later, I just needed a beverage and something to eat! As I grabbed that protein shake I never had in the morning, countless people I didn’t even know came over to congratulate and celebrate. There were comments on how smooth I was and my style. It was a lot to take in. I am not great with compliments and since I literally had nothing left after such a rush and hunger, I just said thank you instead of give some retort with an improvement I could do. It felt good to accept the accolades instead of push them off, and ultimately it led to me admitting to myself that I was damn good that day and I am proud of me.

From my notes:
*Better starts in next two races with pinning the throttle open.
*Get a new sprocket.
*Kerry’s tip: Get to the gear you want to be in for turn 1 from the start and stay there. *Shaved off 6 seconds from first to last race.

People told me that racing changes you. I was prepared for itto change my riding and even change my bank account balance. No one and nothing could have prepared me for the growth I experienced as a woman, a family member, a friend, a career woman, or the many other roles played in life where racing has already made a significant positive impact in this week following the first time I saw those lights go out. Rarely do I find myself unable to find words to explain it, yet I cannot seem to articulate the essence of this feeling and experience. You will just have to come out and ride with me on the track if you have never been or sign up for a race school and rookie race. Until then, I’d like to express my gratitude for sharing in this journey with me.

Leonard Da Vinci said, “everything connects to everything else.” While you might not have been there, or we might not know each other, you were just as much a part of it as anyone else who was there or does know me. Thank you.

Cassie Cuppek is perpetual optimist, lover of learning, family and career woman, Tony’s Track Day instructor, street rider and newly listened road racer from north western New Jersey.

© 2018 Cassie Cuppek. No material may be reproduced without written consent.

 

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