It’s been a few years since I have been to the famous Loretta Lynn’s National Amateur Championships—2012 to be exact, where I helped Adam Cianciarulo win his final Amateur race on his way to being the winningest minicycle rider in Loretta Lynn’s history. That year I also got to do the suspension on a pretty trick RM-Z450 that Ricky Carmichael used to win the Over-25 class. Since that time the race has grown. It’s where race teams send scouts to scope out up-and-coming talent. As a rule, riders come to this race with their A-game, their bikes ready to race and all their ducks in a row. The perfect example this year was Garrett Marchbanks. He came to Hurricane Mills with a solid program for the 250B and School Boy classes. His mechanic set his fork pressure on the first day, and not one adjustment was made to his bike all week en route to winning two championships. He was dialed from day one, but, quite often, the best-laid plans of mice and men go awry.
Women’s Champ Kylie Fasnacht came ready to race but forgot to inform me that she had been training so hard that she lost 15 pounds. I had to make some quick adjustments. Normally, I would have gone to a lighter shock spring and less pressure in her air forks, but she loved her current setup, so I opted to drop the rear sag a little while still keeping a good balance between front and rear. I think that a lighter shock spring and less fork pressure would have been better, but at Loretta’s there is very little time to work out new suspension settings. We had to make do. The end result? She won both of her motos.
After the first practice for the Supermini class, Stylez Robertson complained that the rear of his bike felt too high. He was thinking not enough sag, too much compression or not enough rebound. After taking a look at his bike, I was positive that the shock was spot-on, so I just had his mechanic slide the forks down in the triple clamps and stiffen them a little. In the next practice he was the fastest guy and pumped with his bike.
A Kawasaki KX85 racer came to our rig complaining that the rear of his bike was all over the place on the track. His dad said that no matter what adjustments he made, it didn’t seem to change anything. He was positive that something in the shock was broken. After a quick inspection of the bike, we discovered that both the swingarm pivot bolt and linkage bolts were so loose that it was a wonder the nuts were still there. You can guess how the bike handled after tightening everything up.
A girl from Texas came by our truck complaining that her shock was so stiff that it kicked really bad in the bumps, and, on top of that, her forks were pushing in the turns. Her mechanic had lowered the sag to try to soften the rear up. He had gone out so far on spring preload that there was no tension on the shock spring and 55mm of static sag. Since there was no tension on the shock spring, the rebound was very slow. The chassis was very low in the back, which kicked the head angle out, causing the bike to understeer into turns. This was a classic case of “stiffer is softer.” I put about three turns back into the shock spring, set the sag on the correct number and readjusted the rebound. Because I stiffened the rear, the shock stopped packing, which was what caused the kicking in the first place. The stiffer shock raised the rear of the bike, which steepened the head angle, allowing the bike to turn without pushing. Problem solved.
During my week at Loretta’s, I worked on bikes where the steering-head bearings were so loose that it’s a wonder the forks didn’t break off. I saw axles slammed so far forward that the bikes suffered head-shake at speed. I saw fork air pressures so high that they could have raised the Titanic, and compression clickers twisted all the way in on one fork and all the way out on the other.
Nothing amazes me anymore. I chalk most of this up to the pressure of the race. Every rider in every class, no matter the skill level, thinks that Loretta Lynn’s is the make-it-or-break-it race of their young lives. And even if the rider can handle the pressure, sometimes the dads can’t. In these situations, it’s easy to lose your way. I’m glad to be there with fresh eyes to help them get back on the straight and narrow.