In 1993, Roger DeCoster wrote a simple handbook called “How To Win” for Dirt Bike Magazine. In chapters four and five, he presents his thoughts on pre-race preparation and raceday habits. For more of Roger DeCoster’s race advice, click here.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS LUCK
I have heard it again and again. You probably have, too. You ask someone how he did in his first moto. He hesitates, then instead of saying “second,” or “first” or giving any straight answer, he starts off with “Well, I was running in second … ”
Before you know it, you are listening to a 15-minute story about how well he would have done, if not for some bad luck. If you are polite, you listen and agree with everything he says. The last thing he will want to hear is the truth, that he made his own luck. We all do. Whether the luck is good or bad, it’s up to us.
Good pre-race preparation is the biggest advantage a factory rider has over a privateer. The factory guy has someone to take care of his bike and to worry about all the supplies he should carry to the races. The privateer has to do it all him self. If you start on Friday night, you will discover that it’s just too much work. That’s why it’s best to start preparing for next week’s race just as soon as you are done with this week’s race. Here is a schedule that won’t take much more than a half-hour out of each day:
⦁ Monday: By now you have had time to get everything clean. It’s even better if you clean your bike as soon as you get home from the track, because your chain and other parts could rust. The process of cleaning your bike also gives you a chance to look over your machinery, check for cracks in the frame and replace missing bolts. The same goes for your van, trailer
or pickup, your tools and your riding gear. The first priority is getting it all clean. If any parts have to be ordered, visit your dealer now.
Something as seemingly insignificant as tear-off and goggle preparation can cost you a race or a championship, if your goggles fail you. The more you prepare your bike, body and gear beforehand, the Jess that stands in the way of the win.
⦁ Tuesday: Now is the time to pick up
parts you need for the next race. You might need new tear-offs.You might need a new tire. If you do need a tire, get it, but don’t put it on yet. Instead, just clean the filter and change the oil. Any other regularly scheduled maintenance should be done today. See the maintenance table.
• Wednesday: This might be the day you have set aside for a short practice session. When you are all done riding, clean the bike again-chances are it will be a quick and easy job.
• Thursday: Clean the air filter again, unless it didn’t get dirty. You should
have at least one extra filter. Oil it and
put it into a Ziploc-type bag for raceday. If you have two extra filters, prepare them both.
⦁ Friday or Saturday: The day before
the race is the time to put on any new tires, so they have a fresh edge for the race. Most important of all, you want to organize everything for the race. You shouldn’t have to think about anything on raceday, aside from racing. If you spend the morning looking for this or that, chances are you will be late to the track, miss a few laps of practice, then discover you forgot something important anyway.
Make a checklist. Pack up your gearbag the night before with all your riding gear plus the following:
⦁ A first-aid kit
⦁ Surgical tape
⦁ Spare goggles
⦁ Two or three sets of tear-offs
⦁ Spare gloves
⦁ Spare helmet visor
⦁ Spare socks
⦁ Spare underwear
⦁ Spare jersey
⦁ Baby powder
⦁ A parka or waterproof riding jacket
You should also have a box of extra parts, including:
⦁ Spark plugs
⦁ Air filter
⦁ Rear brake pedal
⦁ Chain lube
⦁ Contact cleaner
⦁ Rags (!)
⦁ Clutch plates
⦁ Brake pads
⦁ Brake and clutch lever (with perch)
⦁ Safety wire
⦁ Hand grip cement
⦁ Inner tubes
⦁ Riding numbers
⦁ Water (for cleaning numberplates, goggles)
This list could go on and on, but if you have prepared your bike well during the week, chances are you won’t need any of it. Finally, be sure to bring something to eat and drink. Lay it all out in the garage the night before. Now you are ready to race. The only thing you won’t have is a good excuse.
NOW IT ALL COUNTS
You are in great shape. Your bike is perfect. You have made it to the track on time and prepared for nearly every possibility. Now all that’s left is the easy part. It’s time to win a race.
EAT, DRINK & BE READY
That morning, don’t skip breakfast. You want to have a light meal composed of complex carbohydrates. We will discuss more on good training diets elsewhere. On raceday morning, you want long-lasting fuel for your body. Complex carbohydrates are sugars that are broken down slowly, so they give you energy over a long period instead of all at once.
Here is a good raceday meal: oatmeal, or whole grain cereals with yogurt; whole grain toast or whole wheat pancakes; bananas; oranges; fresh fruit juice.
⦁ Walk the track. After you have signed up and put on your riding gear, you might have a few minutes before practice starts. You can spend that time socializing with your friends in the pits, or you can walk the track. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine the best lines that early, so don’t make up your mind about every turn. Just get a good feel for the layout of the course.
⦁ Watch the other sessions. If you see a problem spot, walk over and watch how the other riders handle it. Remember, they only get to see any part of the track for a second or two when they are riding. You can look at all the different possibilities as long as you want.
⦁ Don’t be first out. If it’s muddy and you are in the first practice, then you might not want to be the first one on the track. Let someone else soak up all the slop. By the same token, don’t miss half your session because you are afraid to mess up your riding gear. At many local tracks, practices quite often only last five or ten minutes.
⦁ Start slowly. Pay attention to everything on your first lap. Look for hidden rocks, roots and ruts. Find where the track is smoothest and traction is best. Then, progressively, go faster and faster, paying attention to your bike as much as the track. Is it soft? Is the tire pressure right? It’s easy to notice a problem while you are riding the bike, then forget about it when you get back in the pits. Don’t.
⦁ How much is enough? If you race on this track every weekend, then you don’t need much practice. If the track is new to you, get in as many laps as you can. At some tracks, practice can be very hazardous because of overcrowding. You might be learning a section for the first time while someone else is already up to full race speed. Try to be aware of everyone around you and ride cautiously. In the end, you must use your own judgment. Practice is much more dangerous than the race itself.
AFTER PRACTICE, BEFORE THE RACE
As soon as you pull off the track, play back your mental tape recorder. What do you need to do to the bike? Did the brakes work? How about the suspension? The longer you wait, the greater the chances are that you might forget something important.
A lot of riders are too cool for the riders meeting. That’s not very bright. I remember one year at the Luxembourg GP, there was an announcement at the riders meeting that the track would be run differently on the first lap. To avoid a bottleneck, a difficult section was to be cut out, then reincluded after the initial lap. One rider (who didn’t go to the riders meeting) got a great start and then threw it away by riding the longer, unnecessary section. He must have wondered why there was a banner across the middle of the track. Go to the riders meeting and listen.
Now you’re almost ready. Check your bike’s gas, the chain tension and the air filter. Even if there was no dust, it’s a good idea to at least look at the filter. It might not have been seated well. A loose air filter bolt might cost you an engine as well as a race.
WAIT & WATCH
So now you have nothing to do but wait for your race. Should you read a book? Listen to a tape? Walk around with no shirt and let the pit girls check you out? All that’s fine, but it’s most important to watch. Watch the starts of the other races. Watch the lines as they develop. Watch everything. Even if you don’t learn anything, you at least will keep track of the motos and be less likely to miss your race.