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There is a track in New Orleans


Happy_K3TrackdayMag.com's project this winter has been the resurrection of a 2007 Suzuki GSXR750, which we purchased online in a salvage auction and dragged home during the first stages of the Polar Vortex.  This machine was filthy, mangled, chromed, lowered and thoroughly illuminated with an "Auxillary Vehicle Lighting Kit" that had been, um.... skillfully installed with copious amounts of hot glue.  No doubt, this ride was a Blue Light Special; however, we could see past the bike's current circumstances and appreciate its awesome potential.  What we envisioned beneath that crusty, crumpled patina was "Ol' Blue," a motorcycle which could inspire passion and fuel dreams just like Ralphie's Red Rider BB Gun from the movie "Christmas Story.  (Hey, it was December....) We had our work cut out for us.

Racetech_TrackdayMag_motobattFighting frostbite every inch of the way, we stripped, cleaned and assessed this motorcycle.  The core machine was well worth saving.  We had Race Tech Suspension and a Devil Exhaust system in stock, so we added them.  Moto Brackets came to our rescue with replacements for the shattered fairing bracket and subframe.  The brake system was FUBAR, so we swiped the complete setup from our blown-up GSXR1000.  It would be hard to describe how poorly this machine was running when we first brought it back to life.  This was corrected by TrackdayMag.com associate, Eddie Bingham, who gave the machine a fresh set of spark plugs and a thorough tune on the Dynojet Dyno at his shop, Naperville Motorsports.  How much room for improvement was there?  Eddie found us TEN HORSEPOWER!

When you get a new bike, you're just itching to ride it; however February in Chicago doesn't present many opportunities for racetrack shenanigans.  Then Sportbike Track Time announced a last-minute trackday weekend at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans.  We had to go.  The bike was still missing a lot of parts but longtime TrackdayMag.com crash tester Lee Dean had a 2006 GSXR600 in pieces at 


his place and was willing to let us scavenge what we needed, with the understanding that we'd replace anything we destroyed.  (Cue ominous music.)

Senior Editor K3 and mag associate Nick Desautels teamed up for the trip.  We piled our two bikes and everything else that would fit into "Chester," Nick's beloved moto-transporter/abduction van and headed south into the teeth of a snowstorm.  It was mind boggling how far down the snow cover extended.  There were drifts in the ditches all the way to Mississippi, a state which rarely sees snow at all.  One looooong day of driving later, made that much longer when we were stopped by a Mississippi State Trooper for DWY, (Driving While Yankee)  we arrived in the Big Easy.  Fueling up on the outskirts of New Orleans during the evening rush hour, it seemed surreal to pump gas into the van's tank in shirtsleeves when just the night before, that same task had required two coats, gloves, a hat and a scarf!

It was well past dark when we rolled into NOLA Motorsports Park.  This was our first time there, so we didn't quite know what to expect.  The track is located between downtown and the Gulf, in an area where industry and residential areas border one another.  Our GPS got confused and by this point, we were too tired to consider it amusing.  Finally, we found the track.  In the dark the place 


was really impressive, with rows of illuminated palm trees and tidy, colorful buildings.  The paddock was paved and landscaped away into the dark in all directions, giving the facility an immense feel.  As we unloaded, the usual suspects wandered over to greet us.  This included Sportbike Track Time's Southern director, Trevor Sadler, and members of his awesome staff, plus David Grey of Sportbike Tire Service, Tracee Polcin of Jason DiSalvo Speed Academy, and Richard Harris, owner of the Apex Manufacturing Triumph team and STT.  Good GOD, we'd missed these folks!

Nick had found us a downtown hotel in a district so exclusive that our abduction van was the one obvious thing which didn't belong.  It's always such fun horrifying rich people!  Once in our room, we slept like the dead; which in this case did not involve any New Orleans vampires.  The next morning, it was off to learn NOLA.  This track was designed by Alan Wilson, who is also responsible for the layouts at Barber, Miller, Gingerman, Putnam, Autobahn and others.  This circuit by the Gulf of Mexico is his masterwork.  If you like hanging out on your knee puck in third gear for days straight, this place is your dream come true!  The endless fast sweepers are either a fantastic place to dial in your suspension or a damn nightmare if you lack the parts necessary to fix your issues.  As it turned out, our 750 slotted into the second category.

Within a few sessions, rear tire wear was becoming a serious issue.  We consulted with David Grey, who determined that we'd selected a too-heavy spring for the rear shock.  We hadn't brought an alternative and nobody else at the track had one to loan us, so it was time to make do.  At Grey's recommendation, we took all of the preload out of the shock, softened compression and let some air out of the tire.  These changes were aimed at making the package we had that day as soft as possible.  It worked.  Tire wear was significantly reduced and the bike became easier to ride.  We still managed to finish the new tire and then burn through a takeoff as well, which meant that by noon Sunday we were sliding the Gixxer around like a drift bike on a tire that was totally used up.  It was time to call it a weekend.

While the shock and tire situation had been serious enough to hinder our lap times and put us out of the game early, the rest of the bike had worked perfectly.  Considering that the bike had been built on a shoestring budget in a freezing shop between snow shoveling sessions, that felt like a real accomplishment!  Best of all, we'd gotten out of NOLA without damaging any of the parts we'd borrowed to get the machine running..  (Well, at least that weekend we didn't....)

It's worth mentioning that this STT event had essentially been a test session for Apex Triumph racers Jason DiSalvo and Elena Myers, with a last-minute trackday added on to help defray the cost of track rental.  It was a total rush sharing the track with those two professional racers and catching glimpses of the lines they used as they motored steadily away.  As it was, almost nobody showed up and each session was sparsely populated.  By Sunday, under a threat of rain that never actually occurred, half the thin crowd headed home early and the day was declared "All Skate."  Imagine having a professional racing venue at your disposal on a dry, overcast, sixty-eight degree day with at maximum, ten riders at a time on course.  At one point, our limping 750 and the Apex machines of Jason and Elena were the only three bikes moving.  It was incredible and if we'd had another tire, we'd have ridden until the sun went down.

Desautels_and_DiSalvoThe Grand Finale of the weekend was watching DiSalvo go out on a completely empty track and do a series of "qualifying runs", consisting of an out lap, a flier and an in lap.  Each time back in the pits, the team made a tiny tweak to the setup.  Jason was after the lap record and before it was over, he got it.  How fast?  The team wouldn't tell us but they were very, very happy.  Just listening to Jason as he lapped the track and hearing what he was doing with the throttle and brakes was an education.  We'll never be able to ride as well as he does but any time you get the chance to observe greatness, it's a wasted opportunity if you don't learn something.

Bourbon_Street_foolNew Orleans is a long way from Chicago and since it happened to be Superbowl Sunday, we decided to spend one more night in the Big Easy and check out Bourbon Street.  An hour in, we were drunk dialing Richard Harris and Jason Disalvo, trying to get them to come out and party with us!  They declined, which was probably best for all concerned.  If those two ever looked up from their race program for even a few seconds, the release of energy might flatten a city!  We, on the other hand, made up for their absence.  Suffice it to say that if you come to NOLA, Bourbon Street needs to be on your list of stops while you're in town.

At this point, it was all over except the ride home.  that should have been the easy part but somewhere in Mississippi, Chester the Van ate its alternator.  The water pump sounded suspect as well, so we wound up rebuilding the whole front of the motor in an Auto Zone parking lot in 25 degree weather.  That was every bit as much fun as it sounds.  Back on the road and hours behind, we caught the remnants of a massive sleet storm.  Nick demonstrated his ice racing abilities on numerous occasions that night, including one rather interesting moment high above the Mississippi River.  Bridges freeze before roads!

Chester_at_Auto_ZoneAll things considered, this last minute, hair brained adventure to New Orleans was just what the doctor ordered.  We proved Ol' Blue's strengths, exposed her faults, made a grocery list of issues to address back home, got in some great riding on a new track and became veterans of one of the world's great party scenes, all in a non-stop four day weekend.  Best of all, we escaped the Polar Vortex for a few brief hours.  The trip was brutal, exhausting, expensive and totally worth it.  Desperate times call for desperate measures and on this journey, things went better than we had any right to expect.  Sometimes, you've just got to say "screw it" and head south.  The memories will last a lifetime.

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