Or maybe "the power of positive thinking".
After the 6 Hours of El Lagarto answered many questions about my fitness and quelled some doubts I had about how things were coming along this year, I started to believe it.
I was going to win the 12 Hours of Santos.
It was a tough decision after the loss of Razorback put the future of this race in doubt. I thought about going to Texas and jumping into the USAC series, but staying home and saving a buttload of cash to do a race that's 3 times as long sounded more appealing. I also wanted to support Dave's efforts to keep a prestigious 12 hour race in Florida.
Then the race became a late addition to the USAC series and people started to take notice. There were some big names on the pre-registration list. Whenever doubts started to creep in, I'd chase them away by thinking "I'm going to win this race. No matter who shows, they're coming to my house."
It became my mantra for 3 weeks.
I took Friday off to ensure a stress-free day. Since it was so close to home, Lauren and I decided to sleep at home so we headed up Friday morning to set up my pit and check out the course. I snagged prime real estate for my pit and rode 2 laps. I rode 1 lap easy to feel out the course, then headed out for a 2nd lap with some openers. Max really wanted to go with me and he can hang through my short hard efforts, so we headed out, with Lauren hanging back a few minutes with Fontana so I could get a gap.
2 minutes later, Fontana was with me. That dog has a mind of his own and he will run with whomever he damn well pleases, thank you very much. It didn't really matter because my attempts to crank out some openers were feeble at best. I was pretty tired from the previous 3 weeks' riding. I didn't stress about it and just cruised with the dogs.
We were back plenty early Saturday morning, but with signing in, preparing my pit and bikes and getting my bike to the corral, I was on the line with zero warm-up. Even for a long race, I like to loosen the legs up a bit before the fun begins. So with no warm-up, the horn went off, we started the run, and my quads immediately started screaming "What the hell are you doing to us??? That hurts! Stop!!!". I ignored them and ran faster. I got to my bike and got into the second group that formed. Aaron Snyder was in this group. I knew he'd be a guy to watch. Chris was off the front with the expert team guys, setting a blistering pace.
Within a few laps, Chris and Aaron had built 3+ minute leads, but I didn't worry. They'd come back. Sure enough, I started catching glimpses of Chris ahead in the woods. He was coming back. I caught him and rode behind him for a while, chatting and getting a feel for the race situation. Aaron and another solo rider were ahead. Chris said they were going way too hard and he let them go. We got to the technical end of the course and Chris started doing multiple downshifts to get up the short steep climbs instead of punching up them. I was running into his wheel and knew it was time to go. As soon as it opened up I passed him and drilled it through scoring and kept going through the technical first part of the course before backing off.
I was in the zone all day and night. I was smiling all the time, chatting it up with the racers and spectators, and having a general blast. I never felt bad or wanted to quit. I loved every single minute I was out there. People told me after the race that I looked so calm and focused. I had lots of positive energy coming out of me, and it seemed it was going out to the crowd and coming back to me tenfold. I was an amazing experience.
While finishing my 6th lap, I saw Aaron heading out for his 7th. He was close and I had been bringing him back for a while, but it wasn't time to go for it yet. Rolling through scoring, I picked up Tim Cornelius, a local who puts in a ton of time working at Loyce Harpe, and all-around nice guy. He rode behind me through the technical stuff, then since he was on a team I let him pass once it opened up. He picked it up, but not too much, so I jumped on his wheel. The pace was high, but I figured I could catch Aaron easily this way. Sure enough, within a couple of mintes we blasted past him and I was in 2nd. I kept with Tim for the entire lap, picking up some serious time.
I never saw when I passed the 1st place rider, but after looking at the results it was somewhere during the 9th lap. Lauren and Chris' mechanic thought I was ahead earlier, then weren't sure, then thought I was ahead. Racer #16 was very elusive. Typical lap race chaos.
I finished my 15th lap 3 minutes before cutoff. Everybody in the pit was sure that I didn't need to go out again, but I didn't want to risk it. Lauren went to scoring to figure out the situation and look out for #16. I'd check in with her from a vantage point above scoring that was about 5 minutes into the course. Nobody really knew and I was through the toughest part of the course. After 135 miles, another 7 easy miles was nothing to seal the victory, so I rolled a victory lap.
I have to thank my wonderful wife Lauren for taking to day to tend to pit duties. She was awesome, allowing me to pit with machine-like efficiency. I was off the bike 3 times: Once to switch to my backup bike so Kurt could prep my bike for the night laps, once to get back on my main bike, and once to change batteries.
Then there was Kurt, who hooked up my lights, cleaned my bike, rode 2 laps with me after I passed him on a night lap, gave me an update on my chaser during my 15th lap, had half my pit torn down and even cooked my buffalo burger after I finished. Kurt kept me motivated and re-kindled the fire in my belly when I started getting complacent. Thanks Kurt, I'm lucky to have friends like you.
There were racers like Tim, who pulled me around my entire 7th lap, and the unknown racer on the 2nd place sport team. After Kurt told me my chaser was only 5 minutes back on my 15th lap, I was having trouble getting motivated to really push it again. This guy came around me and I jumped on his wheel. He got me to pick up the pace and pulled me around the rest of the lap.
Last but not least, a huge shout-out goes to Bruno at IF Racing and the entire crew at Independent Fabrication for continuing to believe that this old fart still has a few matches left to burn.