John McKown's Blog

Family Man - Motorcyclist - Web Guy - Loving Colorado as My Home

My First Year Motorcycle Road Racing in Colorado with the MRA

It has been a challenging, yet rewarding journey to get to the point where I could race sport motorcycles - something I have wanted to do for many years. Some folks don't believe that this is my first year racing motorcycles, but it truly is. This is my rookie season with the Motorcycle Roadracing Association (www.mra-racing.org) of Colorado.

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How did I get here if I never raced before?

To really get into the whole story, I have to give you a lot of background information into how much motorcycles have been a part of my life. 

2010 - My first track days

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Even at my very first track days, I put the yellow number plates into the paint job of my bike, because someday I wanted to race. Who has yellow number plates and a two digit number? Correct answer is - no one.  The big white "B" sticker for beginner is on my front fender. This is a track day with NESBA, and the rider with the orange tee shirt that I am holding up is a control rider. Track days are a LOT more organized and structured on the east coast, as compared with how things are run out west. Getting out of the beginner group and improving my skills was very important to me. 

2011 - Out of Beginner Group... but my world crumbled

It didn't take me too long to get out of beginner group, but a lot of people that I knew got stuck in B group with NESBA. This video below was the session where I was bumped to Intermediate. With almost 2000 views, you can see that it is a popular topic with B Group NESBA riders (getting out of B group).

Another track day with my yellow Intermediate sticker on the bike. 

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Virginia International Raceway (VIR) North Course. You can see the yelllow intermediate sticker on the bike. 

A Breakout Point With My Riding

Later that year, I finally got to Advanced Group with NESBA.  I took the California Superbike School at Barber, and I also traveled to Summit Point to do track days there. I rode track days at VIR North and VIR South as well with some NESBA friends. The seat time helped me to earn the black A sticker with NESBA and I was doing 1:34s around NJMP Thunderbolt. With more practice, I felt that I could get to 1:32s. Which is pretty fast for that track and would have made me a competitive racer.

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Superbike School at Barber Motorsports Park

In late 2011 I had a personal best lap at NJMP..... Perhaps I was ready to race finally....

The Dark Days of 2011

In 2011 I got divorced from my wife Kelly of 15 years. It was a very tough time for me.  We had adopted two children because she could not have children, and we were very established. But deep down we were both unhappy. I thought that I could start racing and take my riding to the next level, but between the bad economy and my divorce, the funds were not there. There were work issues, family issues, friendship issues, financial issues, all from the fallout of my divorce.  My life had become a country music song - I lost my life savings, my home equity, my 401k, my home, my dog, and some mutual friends of my ex-wife (that were not really friends).  I got depressed, and wasn't very happy with myself and how I got to that point. And I gained a ton of weight. 

Hapiness at Last

2011-2012 I did a lot of soul-searching, and street riding. It took a lot of self reflection to realize that my unhealthy relationship with my own immediate family contributed to my lack of self esteem. It caused me to be self-destructive and it was a major part of what was making me so unhappy.  It was time to stop caring what others thought about me, and start caring about myself for a change. And for the first time I was truly honest with myself about my own faults and it was time to just work on me. During that time I understood better through that time what my personal truths were, and what true love was for the first time in my life.  Christine believed in me when I didn't believe in myself anymore.

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I was teaching a lot of MSF classes, and that is how I met my wife Christine. 
She was also an MSF coach, and her Dad is one too (that is him in the background above). 
We were on a ride to Americade in upstate New York when that photo was taken.
I sold some personal assets and bought a ZX-10R.

Me teaching an MSF class. I loved helping others learn how to ride. It was very satisfying.
My ex-wife was friends with administrators in the local MSF organization and tried to have me fired.
Yes, it was truly that messy. It sucked all the fun out of something I cared about. 

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Setup the ZX-10R to do track days. But was only able to do two or three on it. 

You can see the control rider behind me with the yellow vest on.
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2013 Got Married

I still can't believe how heavy I got. The divorce took an immense toll on me. But I met the love of my life and she married me anyhow. I sold the ZX-10R to pay for our wedding, and for our honeymoon. That was kind of a bummer, but my wife said "we will get you another bike". And I still had the CBR. Still lots of work to do on me.

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2013-2014 - Made it to Colorado

When we moved to Colorado (my older kids and parents were already here) I sold my CBR to Joseph Logalbo, who is an MRA racer. I couldn't fit in my race suit because I was so heavy, and I didn't see the use in keeping the bike. I also sold my trailer. Then I sold a .com domain name that I owned, and I used the money to purchase an S1000RR as a street bike.
 

Still heavy as hell. At my peak weight at about 253lbs. She still loved me, still rode with me. Still my ride or die. This was a street ride with my first real friend that I made in Colorado - Danny "Lee" Clements.  This photo below was shortly after we had our first child together. Madelyn was only 2.5lbs when she was born. It was a tough couple of months in the NICU.  Racing was the furthest thing from my mind. Our baby was still in the hospital when we took this ride on my birthday. 

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I started corner working with the MRA in 2014 just to see what the MRA was all about

2015 - Yamaha R1 Comes Out

I was never very happy with the handling of the S1000RR, and I didn't want to spend the massive amount of money that it was going to take to make it competitive. When the 2013 S1000RR came out, it made the 2011 that I owned obsolete. With the rave reviews of the new R1, I knew I had to have it. 

Roadrace Factory showing off Jake Gagne's bike at an MRA meeting at the Walnut Room. Didn't hurt my decision to get one. 
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October 2015 - The Yamalab is Born

My wife and I got a new home, and it had a separate garage for my bike. I jokingly called it the Yamalab and it stuck. 
I wanted to race. 

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I joined a gym. If I could lose enough weight to fit back into my leathers, perhaps I could race the 2016 season.
Still heavy as hell, getting a metabolic assessment. 

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2016 Was Lost Before it Started

I lost 35 pounds in three months. Now all I had to do was the 2016 MRA Race School.  But we had a big tragedy at my business that killed my 2016 race plans before they started. An employee of mine made a huge mistake (data deletion) that cost the company (my company) a tremendous amount of money. I wasn't going to be able to race in 2016. It was devastating. So I corner worked for the third year for the MRA. It was NOT what I wanted to be doing. But I wanted to be involved in the club, and help the MRA. 

June of 2016.... starting to put the bike together. Company doing better.

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Many, many days and nights in the garage.... Madelyn is my little helper.

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Early mock-up I did in photoshop of my paint job. Before I knew what my number or my color was going to be. 
I always liked the numbers 5 and 1. The other decals were me poking fun at my age. 

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More nights in the gym....

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Weight is getting better. Slowly.

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Joined the MRA. Many more nights in the garage. Danny and I worked all winter on our bikes to be ready for 2017. 

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Testing out the bike on the track in February at Pueblo Motorsports Park. I was embarrassingly slow. The bike's geometry didn't feel good at all. It was the first time back on the track since 2011. I questioned everything. Did I make a mistake thinking I could do this?

A couple more track days and the bike started to feel a lot better. I figured out the suspension tweaks and worked on my riding. 

Finally - The MRA Race School 2017

At long last, I finally had myself ready enough to try to race. And so began my first year racing with the MRA. 

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Yamaha Champions Riding School

I took the YCRS school at High Plains raceway, and that helped me to focus on improving my riding technique. 
I took off 4 seconds off of my lap times from that class. Eventually, I dropped 13 seconds per lap from my race school times. 

The Future

I still have a long way to go to reach my racing potential. But I have worked and struggled to get to this point.  Just to be able to race at all was a victory. My personal racing goal for 2017 was to finish in the top 10 in Novice GTO for the year. I have surpassed that personal goal by earning a podium in every Novice race that I entered.  I'm excited to compete with this great group of people. Many of them I now consider good friends. I appreciate all of the help that many more experienced racers and staff have given me along the way.

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