ATHLETE FEATURE: John Orchard

ATHLETE FEATURE: John Orchard

© 2013, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc. By Michael Gougis.

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John Orchard always wanted to be an Idiot. Now he’s one of the chief Idiots, serving as Team Owner of the Village Idiots endurance road racing team that has competed for years in the Central Motorcycle Roadracing Association (CMRA) series. But no one laughs at these Idiots. Three consecutive class titles and the overall CMRA Endurance Championship last season on a stock-engined 600 don’t come by chance in one of the most competitive club organizations in the nation. Orchard and the rest of the team are good at what they do, as their start to the 2013 season attests to–two races, two wins. Pure strategy, experience and rider perseverance got them to the line first at the recent 8-hour at Texas World Speedway, 3.8 seconds ahead of their closest rivals. “I’m at the point now that I realize that it’s as much fun as anything else out there,” says Orchard, 43, of Flower Mound, Texas, an IT project manager in real life. Motorcycling was verboten in Orchard’s home as a child, so he never got a chance to ride dirtbikes. He got his start after college. “A year or so after college, some buddies and I, we’d go during lunchtime to the motorcycle shop around the corner. We’d just sit and drool. Eventually one of the guys picked up a bike and I followed suit,” Orchard says. Orchard started on a Yamaha Radian 600, but got rid of it soon–too soon, he says. He tried different motorcycles, but found that big, fast sportbikes suited him well for the long-distance sport-touring he was drawn to. He put thousands and thousands of miles on a Kawasaki ZX-11 and on his first Suzuki Hayabusa–and when he wrecked that one and was recovering, he bought another. “They’re comfortable, great for long distance riding, lots of power, very easy to ride in the turns–I loved it,” he says. Orchard knew some members of the TSBA (Texas Sport Bike Association) and knew they raced. And he went to watch the 2000 Daytona 200 and was in awe of the action on the track. But he figured there were two obstacles to getting on the track himself. “It looked fun, but one, I thought you had to be something really special to do it, and two, it was really expensive from my point of view,” Orchard says. “I found out that the first point was absolutely false; anyone can go do it. The second point was absolutely true–it is really expensive! I finally figured out that man, these guys were having fun. And you don’t have to go all hog-wild and buy every last thing. I thought, I could be a better street rider by going and getting some track time. At the time, there weren’t track days. If there had been, I probably wouldn’t have raced.” Orchard did his Provisional Novice race in June of 2001 on a borrowed Honda CBR600F3. The next season, he started doing endurance races. “You rode endurance on Saturday–that was your practice for Sunday,” Orchard recalls. His inspiration came from an unlikely source–the pairing of Steve Breen and Steve Morey, who were re-defining the meaning of “laid-back” when it came to racing. “When they started, they were kind of bumbling around–classic don’t-have-a-clue stuff,” Orchard says. “They dubbed themselves the Village Idiots because they weren’t taking themselves too seriously, were just out having fun, and it kind of went from there. “They were an established team when I started. I started my own team the next year and we called ourselves Short Bus. We competed in Supersport and they competed in Superbike. We took our licks, but I think that first year we won our class, and it was still about riding and getting better. All we cared about is that we improved and we were a little bit better for the next day. “After we won that Supersport (title) with Short Bus, (the Idiots) asked me to become a member of the team, because they were losing somebody. Then I was a member of the Village Idiots, which was something I always kind of wanted if the opportunity was there.” The Idiots took a remarkably practical approach to endurance racing. Orchard always has been good about wheeling and dealing for the materials needed; to this day, the team’s endurance motors are stock and come from low-mileage streetbikes he purchases and parts out. The team bought a big tank and a dry-break refueling rig and built some quick-change stuff themselves (Orchard credits a lot of the fabrication to Chad Tieszen). “This past week we, finally, spent, I think about $200 collectively and we went and bought some captive spacers. It helped, so we’re really happy with that,” Orchard says. “You don’t have to spend money. You just have to use your head. We’re still using the dry break the team bought 10, 11 years ago.” And the riders themselves learned to stay on the bike until the tank was drained. If that meant 90-minute stints in the triple-digit heat of a Texan summer, that’s what Orchard did. He also raced with CCS and WERA, and actually finished 39th in the 2008 Daytona 200. Year by year, the team of Idiots got better and better. They started winning races overall. They were first in the C Superbike class nine times since 2001. That provided a solid platform from which to shoot for the big prize, Orchard says. “We’ve always been the underdog, and that’s because we’ve always been on a 600,” he says. “But in all honesty, that’s kind of helped pay for a lot of what we did, because we knew we could win our class, or have a very good shot at it, and we had a good shot at the overall. But if we didn’t get that overall, we still got paid (for the class wins)! It helps with the longevity.” In 2012, perseverance paid off. The team took the overall CMRA Endurance Championship, beating several literbike-mounted teams. And that form carried over to the start of 2013. In the 8-hour, the team’s experience suggested that leaving rider Chris Headley on the bike for an hour and 45 minutes–the last 30 minutes after a fuel-only splash-and-go–would save them a few seconds over swapping riders and having the new rider lose time while coming to grips with an 8-hour-old front tire. Those few seconds proved to be the margin of victory. As Orchard says, it’s about using your head. Currently, Orchard shares the riding chores with Brandon Cleland, Team Captain Headley and Garet Tomlinson. He calls them close friends, as he does all of the riders who have been Idiots at one point or another. “The team has always been made up of friends–everyone is equal owner, but the character and friendship of the teammate has always come first,” Orchard says. “Something we take a lot of pride in is that we’ve never brought in a ‘ringer’ and our team count is 10 guys through the years and we remain friends and in contact regularly. We all split the costs. Everybody pitches in. Everybody is part-owner. And we all make the decisions together. It’s absolutely a team.” Orchard isn’t letting all that experience on a Yamaha YZF-R6, the racebike he has ridden for years, go to waste. He races his own YZF-R6 in the sprint races on Sunday, and did well enough to win the Formula 40 Heavyweight Championship in 2012 and finish third in C Superbike and C Superstock class points. Orchard started out racing with the idea of getting better. That’s a long-term goal, and it’s one of the reasons he’s been in the sport as long as he has. “I was 30-something when I got started. I had a little different perspective,” Orchard says. “I kind of knew my spot, and I was having fun, and I always felt like I was achieving more than I ever expected of myself–or anyone else expected of me. So I always felt like I had something more to prove. “When you try to be smart about it and try to not wad your stuff up all the time, that helps propel you further. And it’s easier to be addicted to what you’re doing when you see the steady progress. I’ve tried to balance that and manage the expenses, because once you get past a certain point, it’s not fun anymore. It is amazing how you can justify so much (spending), though,” he says.

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