On my 2,200 mile trip home from Indy, I had a lot of time to think. I got to laughing about a question that I get asked a lot at the race track, "How do you ride a bike going that fast?" I had to laugh because I feel like the question people should be asking is "How does your heart not explode from the emotional roller coaster of racing?" It seems crazy to say, but riding the bike is probably the easiest part of racing.
This season has been one of the most emotional times I have ever gone through in my life. I went from sliding on my back at 170-mph to having one of the best weekends of my racing career in Sonoma. We have had some really good weekends, and a lot of really bad weekends. All of the emotion that I have felt this season really got me thinking of another question that people ask me, "What kind of skill does it take to ride a Pro Stock Motorcycle?" My answer to this question is that the skills it takes to ride a Pro Stock Motorcycle are heart and perseverance.
Through everything we have been through this season, my dad always offered me an out to get away from racing. Not because he isn't supportive, but because he never wanted me to do something I didn't want to do. Every step I took getting back on the motorcycle after my accident, my dad said "Katie, you don't have to do this if you don't want to." I never once considered quitting. It just was not an option for me.
We continued to struggle after the accident. Every time we took my new bike out, it had a problem. We just couldn't get on top of the motorcycle. I was really struggling mentally with the whole situation. Before the accident in Valdosta, I was on top of the world. A new season, a great bike, I thought it was our time to really shine as a team. Then everything went downhill and seemed to continue to go downhill.
Through all of the emotion, I never once entertained the thought of not racing. I woke up every morning with passion to get myself to the race track and to get my bike figured out. I'm not saying it wasn't hard, or that I didn't get down, I'm saying that even through the frustrated, sad, mad emotions that I was having, I couldn't give up.
While I do believe it is hard to ride a Pro Stock Motorcycle, racing takes so much more than having the skill to ride a motorcycle. When you can take the lows that you experience, and still have the heart every morning to want to be the best and work hard, then you have the skill to race. I also believe that goes for anything in life. When you want to do well and succeed at anything in life, it can be done. You have to be the one though that isn't afraid to work hard. That isn't afraid to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning and work until midnight. That isn't afraid to fail or struggle. It takes heart and perseverance to be successful.
Going back to our weekend in Indy, it did not go how I planned. We went from having an amazing bike in Sonoma, to struggling getting the bike to leave the line in Indy. When we did not qualify, I was very disappointed. I have learned through all the struggling we have done, that being disappointed for any more than five minutes gets you nowhere. So I had my small pity party, and then I started thinking about what we were going to do to get ready for Vegas. There are a lot of things to take away from our experience in Indy, and we are going to learn from them and set out to kick some Vegas butt!
At the last minute before I headed out to Indy, I decided that I needed to drive instead of fly. I wanted to have my spare engine in Indy, which was at my home in California, and I wanted to bring my bike home with me when I returned. So I cancelled my plane ticket, jumped in our Dodge pickup truck, and hit the road for the long drive half-way across the country.
This trip was pretty cool for me because it was by far the longest road trip I have taken alone. It was 2,200 miles for me to get from my home in California to the front gates of Lucas Oil Raceway in Indy. That meant a ton of thinking time. It also meant a lot of singing at the top of my lungs with no one to drive nuts, because in all honesty I probably am not the next American Idol.
I got to Indy on Tuesday and had dinner with my good friends, Kris and Kevin Hool, who race at Top Alcohol Funny Car. It’s always fun to sit around and talk racing with them. They grew up racing around the same places and about the same time as my dad, so it’s always great to get to hear all their stories. Plus I just love alcohol funny cars and I really enjoy getting to be around them at the race track.
My plan to get our bike home from Indy was to purchase a camper shell for my truck and simply haul the bike in the back of the truck. I had been dealing with a company since I left California. I thought we had it all lined out and I spent most of Wednesday waiting for them to be able to install it. Come to find out the shell they had in stock did not fit my truck. Just my luck! I was pretty bummed, but I was glad to be finally headed back to the race track after running around all day.
I spent the rest of Wednesday evening and Thursday helping Greg Underdahl get the bikes ready. I really like working around Greg, he’s really good about explaining things to me and teaching me while we do things. Greg has also been around racing for a long time, so I could sit and listen to him tell stories all day!
On Friday things were a little hectic. Not only was I riding Jimmy Underdahls bike, but Jimmy was also riding the Underdahl’s second bike, the one that Buddy Robinson rode in Brainerd. Our friend, Ben Kriegsfield, flew in to help on the bike I was riding and Craig Treble came to help on the bike Jimmy was riding. Everybody worked really hard to get the bikes ready, especially Jimmy. Jimmy was working on his own bike, riding his own bike, making the tuning calls on my bike, and helping work on my bike. I thought that was pretty cool.
On our first qualifying pass the bike spun hard off the line, and then pulled the motor down. I made a mistake on the top end and didn’t have the bike quite at full throttle in fourth through sixth gear. That resulted in only 183 mph and only a 7.20 E.T. When I make mistakes I try really hard to just learn from it and move on. The team I am working with makes that especially easy. Everybody helping us this weekend just talked to me about what happened, why it happened, and said we would fix it on the next pass. The attitude that they have makes my job a lot easier and really keeps me calm riding the bike.
I was determined on the second pass to really get my hand wrapped around the throttle. Unfortunately we missed a little on the set up and the bike hit on the bars, unloaded the back tire and set the front tire down hard on the ground. By then I was a little thrown off and missed my third gear shift. Now at that point in the run you’re a little bit of sitting duck, so I pulled the clutch in and aborted the run.
I just knew we were so close to having everything come together. So on Saturday night when we were in the staging lanes and then NHRA had postponed qualifying my little heart sank. Of course safety is the most important thing out there, so I completely understood. After that Sunday couldn’t come fast enough. So you can imagine my disappointment when it rained all day Sunday. Then for the first time in my life on a race day I actually prayed for rain! I knew if it rained that maybe NHRA would call the race until the following weekend and I would have another shot at qualifying.
Since the rain just kept coming on Sunday, we decided to go do something fun. Jimmy and his wife Kelly, Ben, and I all set out to go bowling. As much as I wanted to be at the race track we still had a great time. Kelly Underdahl is just about one of the funniest people I have ever met and I always know if she is around we are going to have fun. I also have to add that on our side of the bowling match I beat Ben on the first game and he beat me on the second game, so at some point there will have to be a bowl-off between the two of us.
On Monday I showed up to the track just in time to hear the announcement that NHRA called the race off until the following weekend. Greg laughed and said my prayers must have some influence. I could not be more thrilled that we get to come back and have another shot this weekend. I will update everyone on how we do, thanks for reading!
Yesterday, I spent some time talking to a good friend of mine about what racing really means in my life and I wanted to share with everybody some of the things we discussed. There's really only one way that I can describe what it is like to ride one of these Pro Stock Motorcycles. It's just a moment in my life where everything else around me just fades away. When I am sitting in the staging lanes and my visor is down over my face, a feeling of tunnel vision comes over me. All I can see is the race track, everything on the sides of the track turns into a blur. It's almost like nothing exists except the quarter-mile of pavement in front of me.
As I am pushing my bike to the starting line, I can feel my heart beating in my chest. It’s not as though it's beating fast; I am just aware of the adrenaline running through me. As soon as I swing my leg over the bike, it's like the world around me just stops. I don't even have to think about these things happening, they just do.
As I am lighting the staging lights, and I take one last deep breath and push my body down onto the bike, an almost calm sensation comes over me. For the next couple seconds that I am on that bike, there is not one thing in my life that matters other than riding. My mind shuts off, and my instincts kick in. With every gear I grab, my body is wrapped tighter and tighter around the bike. Every time I hit the next shift, I get to feel that bike pull harder, especially in the first few gears. The world will start to appear again after my run. It is the most amazing experience every time I make a pass down the race track.
I almost have to laugh when I think about how much work we do in order to spend seven-seconds on a motorcycle. Every time I get back on that bike though, I remember why I do it. Nothing in my life, gives me the feeling that drag racing does. I think about racing from the time I wake up in the morning, until the time I go to bed at night. Then most nights, I dream of racing. People have told me before that they think us drag racers are crazy. Well that is probably true, but once I got a taste of what it feels like to race and what it feels like to get to compete, I just fell head over heels in love. To me this is a pretty amazing thing. I feel really fortunate to have something in my life that I feel so much passion for.
With that being said, Indy is right around the corner. After the long drag racing talk I had yesterday I couldn't be any more excited. My goal for Indy is really to pick up where we left off in Sonoma. I think if we can do that, we will do really well in Indy. Indy really is a special place for me. Growing up I always watched the race on television, and you always heard people talk about how great it was. It still feels unreal to me, that I have gotten to be a part of that race for the past couple years now.
In other news, I have still been super busy at home. My business, Tough Girl Designs, is doing really well, and keeping me running. Plus, I just have two more classes until I finish up my associates degree in school. We also got to take out our alcohol injected turbo bike this weekend, we are finally making some progress with it, which is so very exciting! I hope to see everyone at the Big Go!
Wow! What a weekend we just had in Sonoma. After struggling last year, and then crashing my bike on the first pass of 2012, then fighting electrical gremlins in Houston and Chicago, I finally feel like we are on the right track. This past weekend in Sonoma, we not only qualified with a 6.99, but in the first round I made the best run of my career, 6.94. It's now three days later, and I still have not stopped smiling.
One of the biggest things I have learned racing Pro Stock Motorcycle, is how much it really takes to go fast. This weekend, it took a lot of amazing people putting forth their best effort to help me get down the race track. Jimmy Underdahl was my crew chief in Sonoma. It was really great having the opportunity to work with him. Jimmy is not only a talented tuner, but also a talented rider. So not only did he help give me a fast motorcycle, he is also great about teaching me to be a better rider. Ben Kriegsfeld also worked alongside Jimmy and he is another smart guy. Ben and Jimmy work very well together and that made my job a lot easier. It's so much easier to ride when the people around you are so calm and patient.
As good as it was, I won't say that our weekend went completely flawless though. In my first two qualifying passes, I was faced with some internal gremlins that I didn't even realize I was doing it until the guys saw it on the computer. Once I got the bike into high gear I was starting to roll off the throttle. After qualifying on Friday, Greg Underdahl came into the motorhome and asked me why I was doing it. I had to think about it for a while, but deep down I knew the answer. In my head I was concerned about getting the bike shut down. A lot of people don't realize it, but the shutdown is one of the hardest parts of riding fast bikes. When I crashed earlier this season, I was in the shutdown area when things went horribly wrong. Without even realizing it, I was rolling my hand out of the throttle and starting to shut down before I got to the finish line.
While I was struggling, Greg and Jimmy could not have been more supportive. When I explained why I thought I was doing it, all they told me is to ride in a manner that makes me comfortable. They both said that they’ve never been sliding down the track on their backside doing 170-mph, so they couldn’t blame me for what I was doing. However, all of us knew, unless I got this problem figured out within myself, we wouldn't run quick enough to qualify.
On Saturday morning, I was determined to fix the problem. Everybody was working so hard to give me a fast bike, and I wanted to be out there for driver intros on Sunday more than anything in the world. After my first run, you can imagine the smile on my face when I got to the top end of the track. I just knew that I had conquered the problem. When they handed me the time slip, and it read 6.99, you would have thought I just won a world championship. It was an amazing feeling. I could tell everybody on our team and everyone helping us felt great about it too. There were smiles all around.
I had the time of my life in Sonoma, especially when I think about getting to work alongside so many amazing people. It feels so good to know that they believe in me. I also have so much confidence in them helping me. I just really couldn't ask for a better situation in Sonoma. It looks like Indy will be my next stop this season, and after Sonoma, a month feels like an eternity. Thanks again to Doug Johnson for the opportunity to ride his bike. Also a huge thank you to my friends and family that came to Sonoma to support my dad and I. And, of course, thanks to Gary and Karen Stoffer, Greg and Tina Underdahl, Jimmy and Kelly Underdahl, and Ben Kriegsfeld. You are all so amazing!