Editor’s Note: The Vance & Hines XR1200 series continues this weekend, and Joe Kopp and Michael Beck will be carrying the J&P banner for the entire series. Joe put together a blow-by-blow account of his last race and we thought it would be nice to post it here so you can see how a racer of his caliber processes the race experience. Joe had a nasty high-side during practice and we pick up the story the day following his get-off. Here is Joe’s account of the first event.
Road racing is a way different sport than dirt track as far as the appearance from the outside goes. The media is much more into it, and it seems like there’s more of a show in the pit area than the dirt track. It just has a flashier appearance to the public eye than dirt track. As my sponsor George Latus puts it: the road racing crowd is cheese and wine, and the dirt track crowd is beer and brats! That goes a long way in explaining why I’ve always loved dirt track!
So, we get lined up on the starting grid and the next thing I know, I have an umbrella girl. My wife! It surprised me a bunch, because I knew she and the kids were rushing to get over here to the road race in time just like I was. Next thing I know, she’s standing right beside me, holding an umbrella. Yeah, in road racing, they have girls hold umbrellas over the racer’s head just before the start of the race. Most of the teams have girls who are dressed to the nines, wearing flashy clothes, high heels and baring it all. I think my wife had on some cowgirl boots and wranglers and a T-shirt. My kind of girl and the reason we are married. Hah!
Right before the start, the other riders and the AMA guys are trying to show me how this starting light is going to work. I had run so short on time that I totally forgot to find out about how it would go. So they are trying to explain to me and at the same time I am trying to unwind a little bit and get relaxed for this race that will start soon. They told me that when the red light comes on to be ready, as it goes out, that’s the start of the race. Simple, I thought. This starting procedure is totally different from a dirt track. So they give us a warm-up lap and then back to the starting grid we go. The road race starting line has many rows with four riders in each row. With 22 riders, that meant we had six rows. I found myself in the sixth spot, which put me on Row Two, which meant I was second off. Got it! Now I’m ready for my first real road race experience with some real fast guys!
So there I sit, looking up at the board where the red light is supposed to come on, and all I see is an AMA Pro Racing sign? I can’t for the life of me find that red light, so I turn and look at a couple of other riders and they’re all looking to the left side, and this red light was supposed to be on the right side of us? I’m Totally confused, I decide I’ll just take off when I see the guy’s wheel in front of me move. Not the quickest start, but I figured I’d be OK with that. Just then, I caught a glimpse of a red light coming on, and by the time I looked up, it goes out, and I was not completely ready. I was just flat confused, and this is definitely something I will go over with the AMA before the start of the next race.
I get a surprisingly decent start still and I go into turn one in about 5th place, and just as I enter turn one, I notice that a couple of guys in front of me have slowed up a little too quick, so I decide to go around the outside of them and squeeze past them. But just as I grab a down shift my bike starts sliding way out to the right, dirt track style, so instantly my left foot comes off the peg and I think I’m gonna dirt track it! That should scare a few guys behind me. I saved it and managed to get my foot back up on the peg as soon as I could, becoming a road racer again. Knee down Joe, not foot down!
So I come out of turn two in about the fifth spot, and I immediately begin sneaking up on the rider in the fourth spot. As we go through the infield, I could see that Steve Rapp was out front and pulling away already.. I knew I couldn’t let that happen without a fight. Once we got to the banking, the draft played a huge role in how this race was going to play out. So for the first few laps it was three other riders and I going at it side by side. They were a little quicker than me in the infield, but that didn’t surprise me too much because I knew they all had a lot of road racing experience. They should have been faster there. But once we got to the banking and the chicane on the back stretch, I seemed to be moving faster than they were.
Each lap took just over two minutes to complete, and the race was seven laps total. I sat in the third and forth spot most of the race, not really having an opportunity to take the lead. I just needed to figure out a faster way through the infield part of the track. I took the lead a couple of times going through the banking in NASCAR turns three and four and at the finish line once, but it was pretty hard to keep the lead for very long. There were times when guys were being pretty aggressive on the braking and I just never really let myself get into that just yet, as I felt really good on braking, but there was no reason to be aggressive as the draft played such a larger part in this race. As the laps wound down, I kept playing with the draft to see just where I wanted to be on that last checkered flag run. I definitely didn’t want to lead too early on the banking, because they would go past me three at a time and it took quite a while before you could use that draft to get back by them.
These corners at Daytona were so long! It became difficult to choose the exact spot where I wanted to start pulling in on their drafts, but I thought I had it figured out pretty good by now. A few Springfield mile last-lap draft techniques couldn’t hurt, I thought. You can always plan your last lap attack, but have you ever noticed how often it plays out completely different? I knew that I needed to be glued to the competition at the white flag lap, so I could make sure to stay as close to them as I could in the infield that last lap. With only a couple of laps to go, I looked back to make sure it was just four of us having this battle, and not someone hiding behind, waiting for a last-lap effort. It was just us four. I remember thinking about now that I could not believe that I was able to run with these guys in my first national road race. Then my thoughts went from “hoping to get a top five finish” to “now I want the win.” And then I felt I had a great shot at it.
As we headed to the finish line with one lap to go, and the white flag waving, I am right there. It looked like I was going to head into turn one in the second spot, but then my race face turned on and I braked a little later than the leader. Just like that, I went from fourth to the lead in a couple of seconds. So I thought, OK, I’ll lead them through the infield part of the track and make them run my pace, just so that I was sure they wouldn’t get away from me on this last lap. So I lead it through the infield, and just as I enter the banking coming off the infield, I know I don’t want to lead it right now, because I didn’t want to be the sitting duck in the draft on this last lap.
So I started slowing down on purpose so that they would go past me. I waited and waited, and it seemed like forever and I started to wonder if they were smart enough not to pass me right now, but I thought, no, they’re going to pass me. Just about then, they All three went whizzing past me single file, but when I tried to slip back into their draft, they’d gotten too far away. I couldn’t take advantage of their draft, so when we went down the back stretch I knew I had to get through the chicane in awesome fashion in order to catch back up. I got into the chicane great and made up a little time on them. Then we headed for the last big turns — NASCAR turns three and four. The three guys in front of me were all lined up single file, which I did not want to see, because I knew their draft was pulling them along in a pack faster than I could go pushing my own wind.
Then, all of a sudden I see them all split up and start trying to draft past each other. This is exactly what I wanted to see! All of a sudden I had a huge air pocket to pull up on them in the draft. This draft was looking way better than the previous laps for me, and I was rolling up on them so fast. It looked like the timing was going to work out just perfect for me. I was probably 10 bikes behind them now, preparing to pull out of the draft in about a second. But then these three guys who were handlebar to handlebar went all nervous on me and instantly spread away from each other. Maybe someone bumped someone, but at 145 mph, whatever it was made them nervous real quick. As they spread out, I figured someone was crashing, so I had to get out of the tuck for a second and pull way to the outside to avoid whatever was happening in front of me. They all managed to keep it on two wheels, but this totally messed up the drive I had. Now it was a drag race, side by side with the four of us going for it. I ended up finishing in the third spot. Kyle Wyman won it, with Chris Fillmore coming in second, and Steve Rapp finishing fourth.
I was super happy because I’d made it onto the podium, but at the same time I really wanted a do-over on that last lap. The podium celebration was pretty cool — kind of like Big Time because we were in Victory Circle at the Daytona International Speedway. Can’t say that I have ever been there before. Then it was off to the media center for interviews and such.
My next big race will be a road race at Infineon raceway in California this month. Between now and then, I plan on getting a lot more comfortable on the bike. I know I was supposed to retire this year, but the way I look at it, I retired from dirt track. I’m thinking the schedules overlap so much, and I’d really like to do the entire AMA road race series. And I’m a thinkin’ I might just get a little more serious about trying to get this championship.
Until next time, g’day!