Fun Stuff

Ninja 300 Final Round Report: Down but Not Out

Photos by Heather Bashow, Tim McGill, Brian Graham, and Kimi Walker

I should have backed off when the rain started falling. But I didn’t. Now I’m lying against the tire wall on the exit of three. Feebly, I raise my left hand to the sky and form a thumbs-up with my hand.

Applause erupts.

I’ll learn later that the time between me losing the front in the wet and giving that thumbs up was agonizingly long. My body rotated as the bike and I slid into the fence, and I hit the rubber belt holding the tires in place with the back of my head.

My Christmas was cancelled. 

My memory from the time I gave that “thumbs up” to the time I left the trackside medical centre with my wife is patchy. I vaguely remember bowing to the crowd before I climbed into the medical car, but I also vaguely remember talking to one of my fellow riders on the side of the track – a thing I now know didn’t happen.

My shoulder is injured slightly, but my head has cleared up. My Kawasaki Ninja 300 will live to race again. 

That was Saturday, just five laps into the first of four races for the final weekend of my season. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is like Christmas for all classes in the Canadian Superbike Championship. My Christmas was cancelled.

To say I’m gutted is an understatement. Miserable, devastated, dismayed, and bitterly hurt, this lesson will resonate for a long time.

I’m sad too, that I didn’t get to start the last-ever race of the Kawasaki Ninja 300 spec series. Either of them, in fact. This first race was an invitational race for Lightweight Production bikes in preparation for the incoming series. 

Next year, we’ll be joined by other manufacturers, with the Yamaha R3, KTM RC 390 and possibly the Honda CBR500 all eligible.

I will be there too.

Some people will claim that my litany of crashes is a sign I should quit. They are wrong. I went from being four seconds off the pace of the leaders with a 1m46s lap in my first ever motorcycle racing round last August, to being 2 seconds away with a 1m44s in the race I crashed in this year. I qualified on the second row of the grid for my races. I was in the top five, fighting in a four-way battle for third. My time from the race would have put me fifth on the grid of 23 for the second race of the weekend.

One of the front-runners, Jake LeClair, and his dad, came by to offer me his spare bike for the Sunday races after my crash. I decided not to chance it, concussions are serious business. My shoulder wouldn’t have let me anyway.

So the season for me is done. I’d planned to run some regional races post-nationals, but with an injury to restore and a bike to repair I feel like it’s better to regroup and attack again next year.

The bike, has survived all of my misadventures with little more than cosmetic damage. Our Niagara Race Crafters/ team has gone from strength to strength. By watching from the sidelines on Sunday, I managed to coach my teammate into the 1m45s bracket – 2.5 seconds better than his previous best. Larry, my unflappable crew chief, has the bike already fixed in his mind.  

I will be back.

Congratulations need to go to Xavier Paradis. The young gun from Quebec turned his motocross skills to the road for the first time this year, and took the championship. Jared Walker had more race wins, but after a disappointing Grand Bend had too much ground to make up. Paradis needed to finish fourth or lower in both races to lose the championship. On Saturday, Walker won, but Paradis finished second ahead of Jake Leclair.

That meant on Sunday, Paradis needed only seventh or better. He finished third behind Walker and Amy Szoke to clinch the title.

Szoke has now indicated she won’t be returning to the lightweight class in 2018, which is a big loss for the category.

Ahead of the final round I’d hoped to overhaul my nearest rivals in points, Adolfo Silva and Kirk Shergold. They entered the round tied, and Adolfo edged ahead by finishing one spot ahead or Kirk in Saturday’s race. That was particularly impressive given he’d also crashed in the rain during the Lightweight Production invitational that I crashed in. Adolfo was able to remount and finish the Ninja race an impressive tenth. On Sunday, positions were reversed, leaving them tied on points.

I need to thank my wife, too. Not only did she allow me to spend our money and time on racing, but she was the one who took me for my checkup after my crash, and it's her who has to take up the slack when I'm injured. She's encouraging me today by reminding me to focus forward, and I love her for it. 

My post-season goals are to work on my fitness – physical fitness was a factor in my damaging Grand Bend crash. That crash put me on the backfoot for pace and fitness and made the rest of the season more difficult than needed. I didn’t crash in the next two rounds, but I wasn’t 100 percent up to speed either. And it contributed to me not wanting to back off at CTMP.

I also have learned, the hard way, that confidence on street tires on street bikes on streets in the rain, isn’t the same as track tires on a track bike on a track, in the rain. Shannonville’s minor off taught me that, and then this week’s crash hammered the point home.

The simple fact is that in the chase to expand my personal limits throughout the season, I too often crashed through them – literally. And yet I feel proud.

In my rookie season I went from a long, long way off the pace, to being a legitimate top-five contender. Next season, I’ll hit the ground running with more knowledge, more experience, more fitness, and I feel, more skill.

Shake and bake.