WERA’s Grand National Finals were held at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama from Thursday, October 25 – Sunday, October 28. The best amateur motorcycle road racers converged on the premises to race one last time and take home some championships. Mike and Blake left early Wednesday morning they were able to set their pit up, relax, and get to bed early.
Thursday’s Motorcycle Practice
Thursday Blake only got one practice in on his motorcycle and he was still on those raggedy tires from the previous track day weekend and the two previous race weekends. Blake used the practice to check out the track. The rest of the day WERA hosted a 4-hour endurance race. A crash happened with only 45 minutes or so left so they called the race. Mike was on a 4 man team but never got a chance for his turn before the race was over. But, his team took first, which was awesome anyway!
Friday’s Motorcycle Practice
Friday morning Mike and Blake were trying to strategize what to do about practice. It was raining but according to the weather forecast it would be stopping. So, why practice on his Yamaha R3 motorcycle in the rain if the race conditions were going to be dry? But, as Blake’s practice session got closer it seemed that the rain was going to ease up so he went out for practice. The track was wet but, the rain had stopped. By second practice it was drizzling. Blake had rain tires on his motorcycle for both sessions but just took it easy.
As Blake was getting ready for his first race, E-SuperStock, the track was still wet. But, was the rain going to start again? Or was it finished? And mist? What is that? Barely wet but wet enough to mess the track up. Was the sun going to come out and dry the track out? Or was the track going to be full of puddles? These are all questions you want to answer so you can decide what kind of tires to put on your motorcycle. You must choose between rain tires, slicks, or a street tire. Mike and Blake chose to go with rain tires on the front and back. The race got started, Blake was all bunched up in a group with Tyler Freeman, Isaiah Debusk, a racer on a KTM, and Josh Jovi. About half way through, Blake started working
his way through the group of motorcycles and by the last lap, was in front of them all except for Josh Jovi. Blake was on a mission to get in front of him, FINALLY! It seemed like it took forever for him to get going. That’s when he went 2 seconds faster than everyone else the whole race and got close enough to Josh Jovi on the last lap to draft him down the front stretch to the finish line but it was too late. Blake took second behind a Jovi’s well-earned first.
Friday’s Motorcycle Races
Before the D-SuperStock race the track was starting to dry. Again, the dilemma of what tires to put on the motorcycle. The track still had wet spots so Blake chose to run a rain tire in the front and a street tire on the rear. This race, Blake’s competition was Dallas Daniels, Damian Jigalov, Tyler Freeman, and Jamie Austadillo. Blake and Damian pulled a small gap off the start and were passing each other back and forth allowing Daniels to catch up and then, all three were passing each other taking turns leading. Coming to the finish line Blake had a good drive coming out of the last corner but there was no way he could get in Jigalov’s draft; Blake finished second behind him.
Awards were held Friday evening and some time he and Greg Reisinger, another motorcycle racer, got together and decided it was a great idea to have Blake race his Suzuki SV650. The Suzuki SV is a much bigger and faster motorcycle than Blake’s. But, Mike gave Blake the green light.
Saturday’s Motorcycle Practices
It was chilly waking up Saturday morning. Mike and Blake didn’t feel like it was necessary to go out on the cold track with Blake’s Yamaha R3 motorcycle; there was no need to take a risk of crashing when the track conditions would be warmer for the race besides, Blake had already had seat time on the track. But, because he had never ridden a SV650 before he did go out and ride around for both the first and second practice sessions on Greg’s motorcycle. Blake liked how fast it was but didn’t like how big, stiff, and heavy it was. None of which was a valid complaint about the motorcycle; the off-kilter geometry was simply the ratio of rider to motorcycle! Blake was a small guy on a big motorcycle that was set up for a lot bigger adult.
Blake only had one motorcycle race on Saturday, the Clubman class and he would be up against Jigalov again. Blake knew Jigalov had a quick motorcycle so he wanted to get a good start and just go and put as much pressure on Jigalov as he could. I don’t have a clue whether Jigalov felt the pressure but he crashed out in the final turn on the first lap of the race. Thankfully, he jumped right up and Blake continued pushing but couldn’t keep Adrian Jasso and his NSF 250 behind him. Once Jasso got in front of Blake he was gone; pulling a huge gap. Jasso took first and Blake second.
Mike Goes the “Extra Mile”
Mark Merical is a chaplain that travels to all of the WERA races to support riders when they need him whether it be physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Mark used to be a music pastor before being called to witness to the motorcycle racing community. He and his wife Dawn are Race Line Ministry they sing the National Anthem before races, they spend nights in the hospital with racers who have been hurt, they cry with families through their hurts and rejoice with those in good times. They truly are servants to the motorcycle racers. That is why it was so ironic that they created an award to honor someone who has gone the “Extra Mile” with their service to others, when they are the ones always doing that. Mark and Dawn got approval from WERA to begin this new tradition and honor someone each year at the Grand National Finals. This year they couldn’t choose one person. So, they chose two! Jim Roth and Mike! Mark spoke very nicely about Mike all of which was true. That’s why I married him!
To add even more to the excitement Saturday night, Stickboy, Blake’s Bridgestone tire guy, and his wife Lori hosted a Halloween party in their pits and encouraged the motorcycle racers to give out candy to the little ones at the track. Blake didn’t dress up nor did he do a very good job at staying at our pit to hand out candy. But, he had fun visiting people at their pits including Stickboy’s. A great time was had by all.
Sunday’s Motorcycle Races
Practices Sunday were uneventful. Before the American Motorcycle Association’s 300 SuperStock race I asked Blake where I should go to watch the race and he told me to watch from the turns in the back (14-17). He loves going through 14 and wanted me to see how good he was on his motorcycle through there. Turn 17 is the turn I like the least at this track. Really because I have seen so many crashes coming out of that turn, onto the final straight, before the finish line. I think all the racers are pushing so hard knowing they can go fast on the straight that sometimes they’re too excited and push too hard. This momma wants to yell, “slow down, be careful” but I guess then it wouldn’t be a motorcycle race. Blake got a good start and pulled a gap in front of Josh Jovi and Hunter Dunham. Blake did good, awesome in fact, through those turns he likes; so impressive. He maintained and even enlarged his gap, finishing first.
Blake saved the best for last. WERA’s 300 SuperStock race was so fun to watch. Off the start Blake was thinking he would race the same way he did in the previous race but then, Josh Jovi passed Blake going into Charlotte’s Web. Oh, and that was all it took, it was on! Blake passed him back then Jovi got him; they were passing fast and tight. Jovi had some impressive lines and late braking into some of the turns; blowing by Blake. Then there were turns that little ol’ Blake would show Jovi how it was done. Those boys had the crowd going crazy; what a show! On the final lap of the race Jovi and Blake went into turn 14, out of sight from the top of the viewing area. Everyone was holding their breath waiting to see who would come on to the front straight first; it was Jovi! Blake was now in the perfect position to draft Jovi to the finish line. But, Jovi knew it and dove to the inside to keep Blake out of his draft, Blake didn’t follow Jovi, kept his line and was able to maintain his drive onto the front straight and took the win!!!! Blake won by 8 hundredths of a second. Wow!
AMA Youth Road Racer of the Year Award
We packed up our pit and went to the final awards ceremony. The representative from the American Motorcycle Association said he had a few special awards to give out, one of which was the AMA Youth Road Racer of the year. He talked about how the winner must work hard and show good sportsmanship. Then, he told a story of a kid knocking on the door in the timing and scoring area that had a sign saying, “Authorized Personnel Only” and waited until he was told to come in. The AMA rep said, “I thought, I like this kid already.” Then announced that that was Blake and he was the AMA Youth Road Racer of the Year. What a surprise! I must admit I was cheesing a bit; this is one proud momma.
First, my husband gets an award for going the “Extra Mile” then one of my children gets recognized for his hard work and sportsmanship. I would take those two things over first place finishes any day.
Thank you to all of you have followed Blake this season. Some of you have come to a race or two, others have watched live timing hundreds of miles from the race, others share/comment/like Blake’s social media posts, some of you have gone to Blake’s sponsors to buy products. We’ve had gifts given to us, money stuffed in our pocket to help with expenses, we’ve been given words of encouragement, and been told stories of Blake being caught being kind; all making this journey even more exciting. Without your support, Blake’s hard work, the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father we could not do this. Thank you for a great season!