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Racing American Style

Friday, September 30, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Wes Fleming, 87301

Ten years ago, you couldn’t have gotten me interested in motorcycle racing if you dipped the bikes in chocolate and paved the track with gold. Race bikes were so far removed from the riding I did (and still do) on a day-to-day basis that I just couldn’t find any connection.

Then I met Nate Kern.

Nate made his reputation racing BMW motorcycles, especially the R 1200 S. My former local chartered club, BMW Bikers of Metropolitan Washington, had a number of N8! fans, and we organized rides out to Summit Point, West Virginia, to cheer for Nate and watch the races. It was the club’s enthusiasm and Nate’s infectious passion for the sport that got me paying attention to racing.

On the rare occasions I could find motorcycle racing on TV, it was MotoGP or World Superbike (WSBK). Great races, but very few Americans. It was fun to cheer for Loris Capirossi, and it’s been a lot of fun to watch the rise of Marc Marquez the last few years, but those circuits lack that hometown team to root for.

Enter MotoAmerica.

Racing American Style

Legendary motorcycle racer and AMA Hall of Fame inductee Wayne Rainey decided a few years ago that the USA needed a premier racing circuit. He and some colleagues set about working with the AMA to establish such a circuit and make it work. After the demise of the AMA Superbike Series and the unwillingness or inability of World Superbike and MotoGP to stage more events in the United States, MotoAmerica—now in its second season—has stepped up to run a premier professional motorcycle racing circuit populated primarily with American riders and staging all of its events in the U.S.

One of the appeals of MotoAmerica is that it serves as a funnel to push America’s best and fastest riders on to international competition. When more American riders compete in World Superbike and MotoGP there will be more of a home team to root for and who knows, maybe even another Wayne Rainey someday.

MotoAmerica races are split up into five classes. At the slowest end of the spectrum—not that any of these bikes could be considered slow in the classic sense—are the circuit’s youngest riders. They compete in the KTM RC Cup, and they ride identical, single-cylinder KTM RC 390 motorcycles. The bikes are simple and the same, which enables the riders to build their skills in a highly competitive environment dedicated to the physical art of racing, rather than trying to outmaneuver each other technologically.

Building on the idea that skill, rather than technology, can be the focus of a racing series, MotoAmerica also features two classes based on stock motorcycles of 600 and 1000 cc displacement that basically anybody can buy at their local dealer. In the Superstock classes, only a few modifications to the bikes are allowed, and they are basically bolt-on changes, such as suspension and electronics modules. The engines and transmissions must be as supplied by the factory and be widely available to riders in general.

In the Superbike (1000 cc) and Supersport 600 classes, MotoAmerica rules allow all sorts of engine modifications, from polishing connecting rods to lightening crankshafts. While all race bikes can be expensive, it’s the Superbike and Supersport motorcycles that come with high-dollar price tags and, quite often, factory and sponsor support.

Many of the riders in the Superstock classes are known as “privateers” in the racing world. While they may have sponsors, they’re pretty much doing things on their own. This is where Jeremy Cook enters the picture.

Cook is one of only two BMW riders in MotoAmerica. Along with airline pilot and former Suzuki and Ducati factory rider Steve Rapp, Cook has naturally drawn the attention of BMW riders in the U.S. The MOA sponsors Cook, enabling him to travel from race to race and transport his motorcycles, spare parts and supplies in a large enclosed trailer. His other sponsors include Bob’s BMW and Schuberth.

Cook is a Marine Corps veteran who, after getting out of the service in 2004, needed something to keep himself busy. He was misbehaving on motorcycles on the street with his friends and recognized that behavior wasn’t constructive. He took a chance on a track day and enjoyed it so much he got licensed and started racing the very next weekend.

“Unfortunately, the second race of my second year I had a massive highside at the top of the roller-coaster at Virginia International Raceway, which resulted in a med-evac flight to Duke [University], shock trauma ICU for nine days as they tried to save my right arm, and six months of physical therapy. I swore off racing but shortly found myself looking into race schools,” Cook said.

A chance meeting with Nate Kern at the inaugural MotoGP races at Indianapolis in 2008 led to Cook putting a deposit down on an S 1000 RR at Bob’s BMW in Jessup, Maryland. Cook’s next step was a rain-soaked California Superbike School week in which he split the riding between his Suzuki GSX-R1000 and brand-new S 1000 RR. After selling the Gixxer, he put in a season with the Championship Cup Series as an amateur, winning several regional and track championships. As an Expert the following season, he was able to get enough points to earn his AMA Pro Supersport, Daytona Sportbike and Pro Superbike licenses—just before MotoAmerica took over the series.

“MotoAmerica is BIG!” Cook said. “The TV coverage and number of fans and spectators that show up add a lot to the stress.”
The last round of the season takes place September 9-11 at the New Jersey Motorsports Park, located south of Millville, New Jersey, next to Millville Airport, a former Army Air Corps facility used to train P-40 and P-47 pilots during World War II. NJMP is a 500-acre facility that sports two tracks called Thunderbolt and Lightning, named after 1940s fighter planes. Thunderbolt is the main track; at 2.25 miles long, it features three long straightaways and 12 turns.

Read the rest of Wes Fleming's article of the BMW Owners News, available online to BMW MOA members. Not a member? Sign up for three free issues and get immediate access to the digital edition.

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