MotoAmerica Barber / Stock 1000 – Sam Kok
Well they don’t call it the Alabama Rollercoaster for nothing. The lows really made us appreciate the highs and there was no feeling greater than making the MotoAmerica Stock 1000 grid and finishing the race on Sunday.
The two-man-crew made up of Mark Hein and Kim Shockey worked their tails off not only during the race weekend but days and weeks prior to leaving. Mark offered to take his Sprinter van and trailer down and back. He worked hard to make his Sprinter reliable and comfortable for our 14 hour journey south. Our travels to Alabama got exciting quickly after leaving Wisconsin late Wednesday night. The Sprinter almost caught fire due to a freak issue with the diesel particulate filter and melted the fuel line. Thankfully the Sprinter uses diesel fuel, not gasoline or I wouldn’t be here writing this now. Thursday morning Kim came to the rescue with his work truck and hauled a lightened load the rest of the way. I felt bad as they had to scrap their plans to ride the “Tail of the Dragon” in NC on the way home. We got to Birmingham late that night and threw in the towel.
Friday morning we checked into the track to set up. We quickly noticed Barber’s facilities are top notch. I felt like we were entering a high end resort and golf course. Upon seeing the track I was starting to wonder what we got ourselves into. After tech and a quick riders meeting with MotoAmerica we were able to walk the track. Tight, blind, banked turns, and huge elevation changes…this is crazy! Thankfully Stephen Incledon returned a favor and led us around an in depth breakdown of the track. A little overwhelmed we headed back to the hotel for a good night sleep. I’d have to learn the track and try to qualify Saturday.
Back at the hotel it was a nice surprise to see my wife Mary, my dad Joe, and his friend Tim made the trek all the way down that day to spend the weekend and cheer us on. It was really special to have them there.
Saturday morning my nerves were tense. I like pressure, but this was a new level. Stock 1000 had a 25 minute free practice (FP1) at 9:30 AM and a 35 minute qualifying session (Q1) at 5 PM. As a starting point we set the bike’s gearing and length similar to my home track Blackhawk Farms Raceway. The plan was to use a take-off soft front tire and a new soft rear all day. I was a little worried about how the rear would hold up since I was having continuous challenges with the Dunlop rear tire all year and we noticed Barbers surface felt really abrasive on Friday’s track walk. Time to put that behind for now and focus on riding.
First time riding on the track was a real eye-opener. Getting to walk the track really helped but could not account for the feeling you get going over the elevation changes at speed. Out of the gate, I decided to go over the curbing while diving down the corkscrew between T8-9. Either have to commit to it or go around. I didn’t realize how much it’d buck you out of the seat! I also saw why Stephen described T12-13 as the “F-You” turns. Like a few other turns at Barber the entry is blind and fast. Early on I could see that T16 was going to be my biggest challenge all weekend. A blind right hander that requires a downshift while leaning and trail braking. We felt okay at the end of FP1 but knew we had a long way to go.
There was a really long break between FP1 and Q1. A few crashes in the afternoon’s races pushed back our time to 5:30 PM. I really wanted to get the business done and qualify right away so I could continue to put in some laps the next day however I was lost and it was showing. It was getting harder and harder to put the puzzle together. I was missing turn-in points, apexes, gears, you name it. After Q1 was over I could still see that I was a couple of seconds off. I was fried and it was starting to sink in that I may not make the grid.
After a conversation with Stephen it was clear I had to screw my head on much tighter for Sunday. I’m thankful for his honesty. He and a few other riders were frustrated with my riding and for good reason. Now I was extra motivated to get it right. The plan was to go back to the hotel and cool off, sleep, and focus on riding Sunday.
We weren’t as rushed Sunday morning and the feeling was a little more focused. At 10 AM the track was mostly quiet for about two hours except for Chris Ulrich giving two-up rides on the team’s two seater race bike. The previous day I recommended Mary take once in a lifetime opportunity to ride a race bike at speed. Hesitant at first she agreed to do it. I think I was more excited than she was…hoping she’d get a glimpse of what I experience on the track. Needless to say I was pretty proud that she took the ride and she didn’t ask Chris to slow down!
Our second qualifying session was at noon. We made some changes to the gearing to shorten the wheelbase and get a little more drive out of the turns. We also slapped on a new Dunlop soft rear and the bike was ready to rip. Stephen pulled another favor and introduced me to Shane Richardson (Sr) who’s a coach for a track day organization and was willing to give me a tow for two laps in Q2. We sweetened the deal with a case of Mark’s Spotted Cow, a delicacy from Wisconsin, which happened to be Shawn’s wife’s favorite beverage. When on track Shane’s lines helped, especially into the “F-You” turns of T12-13 and into my sore spot T16. I was also focusing on carrying more speed through the first of the S’s T10-11. I came in for a quick break after about 8 laps for a drink and inspect the tire. Seeing that we qualified barely by about a half second I was only slightly relieved knowing that Stock 1000 champion Andrew Lee could drop another couple of tenths and knock me out. I went back out and on my 12th lap we dropped almost a half second. After one more solid lap I came in. We made the grid by about a second. After some counseling from the team and seeing the clock tick down we decided that was good enough and we were not going to risk any more for an extra position at the back of the grid. We did it, we qualified for a professional race on a really technical track we’ve never turned a lap on! It was an overwhelming feeling but we knew we weren’t finished.
A light mid-afternoon rain shower created a little commotion in the paddock. MotoAmerica delayed a race slightly and teams scurried in the paddock getting rain tires ready just in case. The track dried quickly thanks to a steady breeze and all that heat. Mark and Kim put on a new set of soft Dunlop slicks and filled up the tank with Sunoco Apex after Q2. My goal was to keep the guy or gal in front of me for as long as possible and stay constant for 14 laps. The bike was ready and I had a plan. Its go time!
Gridding up is one of the coolest feelings. I was trying to soak it up and focus at the same time. When the horn sounded and the crews cleared the track it was ours. After the warm up lap we lined back up and waited for the lights to go out. I had a poor start but stayed close to Shane Hobgood and Shane Richardson (Sr)…Fun fact, there were three Shanes and two Samuels in this race. Richardson (Sr) pulled away as the race progressed but I was able to keep Hobgood in sight for most of the race. I got into a rhythm and stayed pretty consistent until about the 11th lap near T16 when I saw the blue flag. I moved over for Andrew and watched in amazement as he disappeared around the blind turns. By T6 second and third place riders Chad Lewin and Shane Richardson (Jr) rocketed by. The last two laps I focused on bringing it home in one piece. Crossing the finish line was bitter sweet. I wasn’t really ready for it to be over. Couldn’t help but think back to the fun battle we had with Roi Rolster and Stephen Dolipski at Road America. My pace wasn’t where it needed to be to be battling with anyone but I’m incredibly proud of what we accomplished.
I cannot thank every person and organization who helped me get here enough. 2018 was a year of ups and downs on and off the track. I’ll always have the memories of the times we overcame big obstacles to race with the pros. Riding with a broken hand or trying to learn one of the toughest tracks in the country, we did it.
My Family Team Kok, my crew Mark/Kim/Adam/Gary/Jason/Will, Placon Corp, MotoVid.com, LeoVince Exhaust, QuickSilver Lubricants, MadWraps, TSE, Bell Helmets, South East Sales Milwaukee, Scholze Family Beef, Remembering Andy Gravel, and so many more.