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Race Report: Jake Johnson's Season Opener
Hi, I am Jake Johnson and welcome to the Jake Johnson/Zanotti Racing race report. After falling short of our goal of our third championship last year, we re-evaluated our race program from top to bottom during the off-season. I am both excited and flattered that the King, Kenny Roberts has taken an interest in getting us back to the top by helping us develop a Kawasaki for the season and bringing in the legendary Warren Willing to develop the chassis. I will be sure to keep everyone updated throughout the year on the progress of this project. This will definitely be a flat track machine that will move our sport forward.
Our team owner, David Zanotti and Ted McDermitt worked tirelessly during the off-season rebuilding all of the bikes in David’s extensive stable. Every bike was rebuilt down to the most minute detail. All shocks and forks were broken down and sent off to Jimmy Wood of Southland Racing and rebuilt with the assistance of Race Tech Suspension. After our test session at Perris Raceway in January with Jimmy and Race Tech I am very optimistic that we have moved in the right direction in regards to our suspension!
I was very excited leaving frozen Pennsylvania for the sunshine of Georgia and Florida for the season opener. Testing began in Savannah on Wednesday. It was a full day of work as we put in over 50 timed laps with a variety of set up and suspension configurations. It proved to be an extremely productive day with lap times continuing to get better untill we ran out of daylight. Ted definitely had the Harleys prepared for optimal performance.
Thursday we drove to Neeses, South Carolina for 450 testing and once again we left feeling we moved forward and better prepared for Daytona.
Oglethorpe Speedway on Friday night was, as always, immaculately prepared and extremely fast. Our lLap times were faster than they were on our test day and but we were still looking for a little extra so we tried one of Chris Carr’s Golden Tyres for our last practice. I was very pleased with the results. We dropped a second off our previous practice session’s time.
In the heat I got a solid start but Kenny Coolbeth had a better drive coming out of turn 2 than I did. I spent the remainder of the race trying different lines looking for an opening or the mistake that never came. Kenny rode a great race and I was relegated to second. I felt very confident going into the main with a solid starting spot on the front row. Maybe I was too confident. I over-revved the motor and spun the rear wheel all the way to the first turn. In a non-national with only 12 laps to get your job done I had put myself in quite a hole coming out of turn 2 in 6th place. I moved up to 4th pretty early in the race behind Kenny Coolbeth who in turn, was all over Jared Mees. Kenny made an aggressive move under Jared but I was just a bit too far back to follow by with him. With laps winding down Jared was freewheeling into the corners and protecting the bottom leaving me nowhere to go but to the top. On the last corner I decided to try to drive around him, and luckily there was traction up there and I was able to make a pass stick on the outside for a hard fought 3rd place finish. Brandon Robinson rode off with the race and looks to be a force to be contended with this year. He was fast all night.
Chris’s Golden Tyres worked great all night. We ran a Goodyear bald in 25 laps on test day but the Golden Tyre that we used in the heat and main (20) laps was still hooked up on the last lap, and the remaining tread looked like it could have gone another 50 laps. I think Chris has a winner there.
We left Georgia for Daytona feeling guardedly optimistic. I have had a bit of success in Daytona but I have also had some miserable nights. The teams that hit the set up properly have a big advantage at this track. Night one on Thursday started out well, our lap times dropped in each session and I qualified 3rd overall with a pole position start in the heat. I got a decent start in the heat but was behind Brad Baker who was fast all weekend. I was fortunate to get by him late in the race winning my heat earning a start in the Dash for Cash. As the past 3 years have proven, the Dash for Cash points are critical in attaining a championship. I got a subpar start in the DFC but felt good and was able to salvage a 3rd and some precious points towards the championship.
As we prepared for the main we felt confident a win was within reach. It took a few starts to get the national underway with Jethro Halbert going down twice. When we finally got underway I was fighting in the front of the pack and feeling good. About 10 laps into the race the bottom brushed off and the cushion outside the groove started moving higher and higher. This development left me with the wrong set up halfway through the race. I went from a high of running 3rd at one point, to holding on for dear life and barely holding on to a 7th place finish. We were disappointed with our results after being fast all day but we just didn’t foresee the changes.
Friday was a polar opposite of the previous night. We struggled a bit in qualifying, then got a great start in our heat going into turn 1 behind the previous night’s winner, Mikey Rush. Unfortunately, Mikey tucked the front wheel right in front of me and I couldn’t avoid him and went down. I was relegated to the 4th row for the restart and was only able to work my way to 5th place behind my good friend and brother-in-law Johnny Lewis. This forced me into a semi to qualify for the National. This ended up being a blessing in disguise as we were able to tweak our bike a little more and we were all of a sudden going fast. I got a good start and won the semi with Mikey Rush keeping the heat on all race long.
We made a few more minor changes to the bike and prepared for an uphill battle as I would be starting from the 3rd row in the main. As it was, the main event turned out to be somewhat uneventful. I got a solid start and kept my head down trying to put in solid laps and move myself forward at every opportunity. After 25 laps I was able to work my way to 4th and salvage the night.
The season opener could have treated me better, but I can’t complain as Daytona’s always a crapshoot. I am leaving Daytona a solid 3rd place in the points for the 2013 overall championship. I am looking forward to our next race at the new track in Stockton, California. Our Twins program has always been a strength and I don’t see anything on the horizon to change that.
I would like to thank David Zanotti, Ted McDermitt, and Jimmy Woods for their tireless support all week. Thanks also to my sponsors and supporters at Arai, Silkolene Lubricants, Vortex, Schaeffer’s H-D, Pinit Motorsports, Southland Racing, Race Tech Suspension, Motion Pro, Sidi, Cometic, K&N Filters, NJK Leathers, Chickenhawk Tire Warmers, Bazzaz, Yoshimura, Moto Café in Sunnyvale, Works Connection, Millennium Technologies, G-2 Ergonimics, Mikuni, Mike Stauffer