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Apr 2, 2014

AMA Pro Racer Kyle Wyman Blogs About "My Best Weekend, Ever."

Kyle Wyman (33) leading the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson race at Daytona. Photo by Brian J. Nelson, courtesy of Harley-Davidson.

Kyle Wyman Blog - March 2014 - "My Best Weekend, Ever."


Well, the first round is in the books! Daytona has come and gone, and I have had the most successful weekend of my career now, right here in 2014.

I had a frustrating season in 2013, blotted with injuries and crashes, struggles both on and off the track. I spent the long winter getting my head back where it needed to be and preparing for the season ahead. It's a good thing I did, because in February a new opportunity presented itself to run in my first ever Daytona 200.

A good friend of mine had a bike available to race, which was a Yamaha YZF-R6. Millennium Technologies was back with their support of my team again. All I had to do was assemble a crew and piece together a testing schedule. Easy, right? Well, with my 4-rider XR1200 race team already up and running in New York, the challenge was managing two separate teams, adding the Daytona Sportbike effort which would be based in Southern California. I feel you cannot fully comprehend the size of the United States until you are forced to split your time between opposite coasts in a mad scramble to go race motorcycles!

February was a busy month. My Dad was in New York wrenching on Harleys while I was in California wrenching on our new Yamaha, and testing at great tracks like Fontana and Chuckwalla. At one point I had the 'pleasure' of swapping a Yamaha R6 motor all on my own. Not without a few mistakes here and there... but taking a day to learn about the new motorcycle, not just what it does when I twist the throttle, was a pretty interesting experience all on it's own.

From there it was on to booking flights for the crew, organizing meal catering for the race track, ordering crew shirts, the list just goes on and on. Oh yeah, and also training for my first ever Daytona 200. I was definitely feeling the stress, which was probably at it's peak when we were finally loading the Harley trailer during a snowstorm. Ah, the things you do for Daytona.

But time and time again, every bit of stress is worth it. All the time I get to spend with my Dad in the race shop, I know one day I'll look back and miss it terribly. I bet I'll even miss loading the trailer in a snowstorm one day. I know this because the result always far outweighs the workload in motorcycle racing. It is more addicting than any drug out there, I'm sure of it, and any of my fellow racers would probably attest to that. We would do unforgivable things just to have one more shot at victory.

I feel very grateful for the fact that the first race on our schedule every single year is Daytona. I have many great memories from the 'World Center of Racing,' but it wasn't always like that. Daytona used to scare me - it was and still is the site of my worst injury to date. In October of 2009 I had a brake failure there which caused me to t-bone another rider and tumble into the airfence at around 90mph. The result was 9 surgeries on my leg over the course of 3 years, the last procedure being in October 2012 to finally remove the last bit of titanium in my tibia.

But, it was my first time back at Daytona after that injury that I won my first ever AMA Pro race in 2011, and that's the real reason why it occupies such a special place in my heart. Daytona is a symbol of recovery, redemption and strength for me that I pull energy from on a regular basis to get me through life's other struggles. And now, today, I am a three-time winner at the track. Here's how my most recent weekend went:


Thursday 

It's the first day of practice at Daytona, and I have a full plate. My first time pulling double duty (racing two classes) at that track, and my first time riding a 600cc sportbike at Daytona in five years. I was going to have to adapt quickly to my surroundings if we were going to have any success that weekend.

Luckily I had an early shot in the arm - I was able to come away P1 in the first XR1200 practice. After such a long winter of preparation, you always wonder how things will shake out in your first outing during the weekend, and finishing up in first place, even in practice, is a great confidence booster that can balance your mindset. It really set me up nicely to be relaxed as I took to the track on my new Yamaha YZF-R6.

Things went smoothly on the new bike, we were solidly in the top 10 of the first two practice sessions in AMA Pro Daytona Sportbike, which was very promising. I think before that weekend my best in-session final position in that class was 12th, whether practice or qualifying, or anything. A good night's sleep was all I needed to come out swinging on Friday for qualifying in both classes, and also the XR1200 race.


Friday

Despite three of my XR1200 riders crashing their bikes on Thursday, all of my crew were able to rectify the situation and get everybody back out on track for Friday morning. This was a huge accomplishment. You prepare for the worst and hope for the best, but they handled it well and I was proud of them for keeping their cool.

I qualified 3rd on the XR1200 - front row. To be honest, the qualifying sessions at Daytona really do not mean much for the Harley series. There is no longer a championship point up for grabs for pole position, and the race is always going to be a huge 12-rider drafting pack, so all you can do is just get comfortable with your bike and get ready to play chess for 7 laps. I was confident in my strategy and couldn't wait to start the race, but next up on the schedule was final qualifying for the Daytona 200.

It was a very short session, only 20 minutes, so there wasn't a whole lot of time to mess around and get comfortable. You really have to get down to business as soon as possible. For some reason, I just couldn't find my rhythm right away. I started to figure some things out and get my feel back, and was just about to put my head down for one more hard lap, but when I approached the line the checkers were already flying on the session! I was a little bummed out that I didn't have a real opportunity to give it my best, but, you snooze you lose. I ended up with 13th on the grid, which wasn't terrible, but with a 200 mile race ahead a couple rows forward or backward can't make too much of a difference.

The Harley-Davidson series race was immediately following DSB qualifying - I got to take off my sweaty Arai helmet, put a fresh dry one on and climb back on my other bike for the sighting lap, but there wasn't much time for anything else.The rush of jumping off one bike and directly onto another was actually somewhat of a blessing in disguise. It was nice to be distracted from the pre-race jitters. I was still a little bit worked up and disappointed with my DSB grid spot while I sat on the front row of the Harley grid.

I've found in the past that over-thinking can get you into trouble. The only thing that can stop you from performing at your best, in fact, is you! At the end of the day, muscle memory is your best friend and having the pre-race distraction of Daytona 200 qualifying gave me some peace of mind.


Harley-Davidson Series RaceThe lights went out, I got the holeshot. I wanted to get out front, get with some faster guys and see if we couldn't break away into a smaller group of riders. The first two races at Daytona were 4-rider packs in 2011 and 2012. I prefer that type of racing because it plays better into the hands of the strategist. But, unfortunately, we were stuck with a 12-rider pack again this year just like it was in 2013.

What I learned this year is that a 12-rider pack actually caters even more to the strategist. It's very difficult to figure out how to win the race. There are various riders, all with different abilities in the in-field, tighter sections of the course. Then certain riders are larger or smaller than others, more and less aerodynamic. Each rider has their own style of drafting and can give hints as to what their own strategies are for winning the race. It's amazing what happens in a 12-rider pack when a dozen riders want to be the first across the line. You have to acquire all of this data over the course of 6 short laps in order to set yourself up perfectly for the only lap that counts - the final one.

I went into the last chicane on the final lap in 4th place, which was right where I wanted to be. Last year, due to all the different dynamics of the race, the preferred position was around 6th or 7th.

I slowed down in the chicane. This stacked up the competitors behind me a bit so they couldn't get a drive out. This also gave me a gap to the riders in front of me so I could get a run and carry my momentum to the checkered flag.

The order in front of me was Eslick, Barnes, Hansen. All three of them went high, so I followed them up the banking. Just as I sucked up toward the back of Hansen, he dropped way down low and pulled out of the draft. He went to the lead. I sucked up to the back of Barnes and Eslick then dropped low myself, down to the bottom to follow Hansen. I crossed his draft, pulled out around him then immediately pulled back in front of him.

The lead rider of the pack is always the rider who is traveling at the slowest rate of speed, due to the draft. Therefore, I want to put him directly behind me. He has the least chance of regaining his speed off my draft and getting a run back by me. Well, it worked, and I led it all the way from NASCAR turn 4 and across the line.

My third win in four tries at Daytona. I was so happy to be back and to have another win at the speedway. It was exactly what I needed, and felt just like redemption that I've felt so many times at Daytona. My Dad, Mom, Diener, Uncle Bill, my brothers Travis and Cody, and all my crew guys worked so hard for me and gave me a great motorcycle. I'm so thankful for all of the people who have stood behind me through the storm, and stayed by my side as we all climbed our way back to the top.


Saturday - 

The 73rd Running of the Daytona 200Well, unlike the Harley race, I had a lot of time to be nervous before my first Daytona 200.

It had been quite some time since I have had an opportunity on a good enough bike in the ever-competitive AMA Pro Daytona Sportbike series. I had spent so much time riding in the XR1200 class over the past couple years, hoping I could put together a solid Sportbike effort, that I could hardly believe that it was there, and it was all very real.

I got off to a decent start. I think I was running around 12th. We had been chasing the suspension setup of the motorcycle all weekend, changing things in every session to try to find the feel. At first I wasn't comfortable, but it was very hectic during the first 8 laps or so. There was a huge pack of riders all swapping positions, and it took awhile for everybody to settle in. Towards the end of the first stint, which was scheduled for 18 laps before the first pit stop, I started figuring out what the bike really needed in order to be ridden fast. I got more and more comfortable as the stint went on and I was looking forward to coming in for my first pit stop. My rear tire was so worn out that I couldn't wait to get a fresh one on there and see if I could up my pace even more.

I pulled out and came down pit lane at the posted speed of 50mph. The entire pit stop sequence went by so fast! It felt like I was already back on track without even blinking. Just like that I had a full tank of fuel and a fresh rear tire for my second stint. We made up a huge amount of time in the pits on our competitors, and would be in 10th place once the field rotated through all their pit stops.


I found quite a bit of time in the new rear tire even though there was a heavy full tank of fuel in the bike, and started settling into a rhythm all by myself. It was a pretty lonely race for the most part, except for passing a few lapped riders here and there. I was able to catch and pass one rider during that stint for position, which put me in 9th as I headed in for my second, and final, pit stop.

My crew once again did a phenomenal job on my pit stop and got me back out there with awesome track position. Our plan was originally to put a new front tire on the bike as well, but my crew guy took the used tire out and decided it was good to go for the last stint. He put the same front tire back in the bike and sent me out.

The last 17-lap stint I just pushed as hard as I could. I ended up doing my fastest lap of the race in the first few laps of that stint, and maintained within a half a second per lap for the balance of the race. I could see the leaderboard, myself in 9th position. A few laps later I was in 8th, then 7th, and then 6th shortly thereafter. It seemed as though attrition was playing in my favor with some of the other riders. I was so excited to be moving up the standings that it fueled me, it helped me stay in it and maintain my pace. 180 miles into a 200 mile race I would say is the point where you really start to feel the stress. I was surprised with how quick the race went by, being the longest as a 57 lap race on our schedule. The thing that bugged me was my neck - having to stay in a tucked position for so long was the hardest part of the race.

Nevertheless, I was able to bring it home in 6th place. It actually matched my previous best Daytona Sportbike race finish which was back in 2010, but this one meant so much more to me. 200 miles of racing, with so many different factors like pit stops, and so many opportunities for things to go wrong - it really takes a full package and great people to get a good result in the Daytona 200.

I can't thank my sponsors enough - Millennium Technologies, Lucas Oil, Ballistic Performance Components, SBK Corse, Yamaha Champions Riding School, Harv's Harley-Davidson, Excelsus Solutions, Nitron, GB Racing, K&N, Motion Pro, Renthal, Goodridge, Arai, Sidi, Evol Technology. All of my crew did just a phenomenal job on the pit stops - I couldn't have been happier. All the preparation during the winter paid off for us, and I can't wait to continue the series in a couple months.

It was my best weekend, ever.

Thanks for reading!

KW