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2018 AFM Round 1 - I'm Falling Into an Upward Spiral

I'm the worst kind of optimist. The good optimists say "Wow, I sure can't wait to improve over the course of the season as a result of hard work, dedication, and a positive attitude!" In contrast, my thoughts before getting on track for the first time in months were closer to "Wow, I've put in a lot of mental and physical work in the off season, so it's guaranteed that I'll go faster now! Months off a bike won't affect me at all. And if it does, there's gonna be hell to pay!"

There was hell to pay.

I tiptoed around the track like an NRS student (AKA my dad) at what must have been 2:10s, a tremendous insult to the beautiful bike Catalyst built for me. A good optimist might have decided to relax and let the speed come. In contrast, I decided to WORK REALLY HARD and MAKE those fast lap times come to me!

They did not.

And the harder I worked the more tired I became, until a magical thing happened. I exhausted myself to the point of relaxation. My times suddenly dropped to 2:00, something I could work with, and all of last year's lessons came pouring back into my frazzled little mind. Relaxation = speed, fun = speed, chilling the heck out = speed, so just go do your thing. Finally, the real work could begin.

I wasn't quite sure what I could score points in, so I went for the shotgun approach and signed up for every 600 race I could. In theory, this left me with one race on Saturday and five on Sunday - but the weather had different plans. Due to rain delay, AFemme got pushed to Sunday and gave me a whopping six races in a day. In the interest of saving time, I'm going to give the briefest of descriptions for each.

Race 0: AFemme. I skipped the morning warm-up because the track was so cold that someone crashed in the hot pits. AFemme became my morning warm-up, and I started out understandably cautiously. AJ Jacobsen and I diced it out with Shiree Cano close behind, and it took a few laps before I could get into the rhythm of riding enough to overcome AJ's willingness to whack the throttle open on every single straight. I took the win at 2:02s.

Race 2: 750 Superbike. The bike popped into neutral at the start, leaving me hunkered down with my hands up, praying to whoever would listen that no one ran into me. By the time I entered the race, I had an absurd amount of catching up to do. In a bittersweet twist, a red flag caused a restart and gave me a second chance. I started very tentatively (no holeshot queen this time) and slotted in towards the back. Gordon Pull took advantage of my early braking to make a move into the Cotton Corners, but I got him back by the next straight. Another wreck caused another red flag and an early end to the race, securing my first of many victories against Gordon and 1:58s.

Race 4: 600 Superbike. This race was simply sheer terror. Someone stole my grid spot, two people crashed directly in front of me, and someone ran into me making a pass before the bus stop. Despite the circumstances, I still enjoyed battling a bit with Wiles Stapp and Nick Lundquist before they pulled away. I survived with my 1:57s intact.

Lunchtime Podium. Everything went swimmingly until I couldn't figure out how to open the champagne bottle. Thanks for helping out a minor, Shiree!

Race 7: Formula I. Two more people crashed directly in front of me. For future races, I would like to inform everyone that I'm not that scary, and there's no need to hurl yourself on the ground just because I'm right behind you. I scored a midpack position with slightly lower 1:57s.

Race 12: 600 Superstock. Around this time I started questioning my decision to race every race. I consoled myself with the idea that 600 Superstock should be the easy class compared to Superbike. Deion Campbell and Bryce Prince blew by me immediately after this thought, dispelling any illusions I may have had. I simply tried to survive until I noticed Justin Merrick ahead of me. With some last ditch energy, I managed to pass him and finish the race with even more slightly lower 1:57s.

Race 14: 750 Superstock. Absolutely toast. Last race of the day and I felt sure I'd collapse in the middle of it. Stronger minds prevailed, and I managed to drop a full second into the 1:56s by chasing Salvatore Rizzo. This may be the first time I've ever earned a PR in the last race of the day. Maybe I'm better than I was last year, after all.

This was one of those rare weekends that only moved forward. The improvement felt great, but more importantly, I felt alive and like a racer again. After a fairly difficult year in my life (because every 19/20 year-old has an existential crisis), I'm happy to say it's all looking up from here!

Huge thanks to my new team Catalyst Reaction Suspension Tuning/MotoCrew USA : Mike, Jim, Nickie Williams, Paul Aaron Johnson, Patryk Buchcik, and Jack Roach Racing. Even bigger thanks to my dad, who looks like he's going to secure several novice championships this year in classes containing as many as one (1) rider.

Thank you to all my sponsors this year: Woodcraft, RacerGlovesUSA, MotionPro, Keigwins, and Dunlop.
All photos are taken by the phenomenal OxymoronPhotography Crew.
And finally, biggest thanks of all to the AFM and all the workers that make our racing possible. See you all next round, same place!

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Valentine Welch Racing via facebook

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