Becoming A Racer Chapter 2: By Matthew Neuberger
Chapter 2 – Learning The Hard Way
After spectacularly looping my bike during super-street I’m quite sure many people assumed they’d never see me around the track again. Not on account of bodily injuries, but rather on account of severely bruised pride. Luckily, I have always been quite stubborn and have very little shame. I immediately began repairing the bike (which had a surprising amount of damage for being crashed from a standstill) in order to make the very next super-street class just a month later. In true “me” fashion I finished the bike the night before and packed up for Pikes Peak International Raceway. This attempt went much more smoothly and ended with me staying upright, finishing the class/race, and getting approved for a license from Jeff Brown. Unfortunately, I had work the following day and was forced to leave, putting my racing dreams on hold for yet another off-season.
During the off-season I threw my 2003 R6 in the trash and started over with a 2005 model after a nasty highside crash at IMI Motorsports Park. I showed up to the very first round of the 2016 season bright eyed, bushy tailed, and ready to get my shit pushed in. Within the first couple rounds I was consistently riding in the Top 10 in both novice and amateur classes as well as Top 5 in some of the vintage classes. With a newfound confidence, I started wrenching on my own bikes more extensively, and decided I was comfortable enough to tackle a brake job to eliminate increasing brake fade during round 4. Turns out, I wasn’t ready, or didn’t pay enough attention to detail.
Less than an hour after my attempted maintenance, I was careening off into the grass outside of turn one at High Plains Raceway. After noticing that brake fade had begun to set in mid race, I completely ignored the warning signs and plugged on. Somewhere around lap four, I noticed them start to get really bad, yet ignored them still. At the end of the front straight I reached for my brake lever, found it, and felt it immediately find the bar and the end of its travel. The bike did absolutely nothing. I will always remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach while hurtling towards the edge of the track with no brakes. Suddenly I remembered that motorcycles have two brakes (Duh...had still only been riding for just under a year at the time). I got on the rear brake hard; turns out a little bit too hard. I hit the dirt at the end of the track sideways at full bar lock and was instantly ejected from the motorcycle. After sailing through the air, bouncing, and tumbling to a stop I looked up to see my motorcycle completely destroyed, lying in a heap in the dirt. More inconvenient, yet less upsetting, than the destroyed motorcycle was the fact that I could immediately feel a break in the fourth metacarpal bone in my hand. Defeated, I scrambled to find help packing up, and got a ride to the hospital from my good friend Rob McNeil. Racers truly are family and this example is no different. Rob took time and effort out of his own weekend to bring me to the hospital, sat with me while I was there, dealt with me while I was high as a kite on pain meds, and waited through the entire ER experience to take me back to the track that night.
Due to a combination of Morphine and Percocet, I felt phenomenal by the time I got back to the racetrack that night. I ran around with my friends, partied a little bit, and decided I would be totally fine to spectate and run around the next day. After all, it was just a broken hand, how bad could it be? (I had conveniently forgotten about the hard highside that went along with the hand earlier that day) I woke up in the bed of my pickup the next morning in some of the worst pain I had ever been in up until that point in my life. It felt like every movement, every breath, even turning my head the wrong way shot pain through my body. Then, I tried to use my hand to push myself out of bed and was immediately reminded that it was no longer functional. I spent most of the day sitting in the shade with water and pain meds, contemplating my next move. I had no bike, no money, couldn’t work, and had no plan other than being blindly determined to figure it out.
The plan I chose was stupid, irresponsible, completely ridiculous, and somehow worked flawlessly. I decided that the best course of action was to buy a bike, with money I didn’t have, supplied by a close friend I was living with, while I was not working, and about to go back to school as a full time student. Because racing? My friend Andrew will forever be responsible for making the end of the 2016 season possible for me. Against both of our better judgments’, he lent me enough money to pick up a fully prepped 2007 R6 race bike that I found on the Internet in a barn in South Dakota. This bike was much more capable than my previously destroyed race weapon, and I was more than excited to finally get it on the race track to see what it could do.
After sitting out two full rounds of the 2016 season, I came back for the final two rounds to swing a leg over again. The first round on the new bike at Pueblo Motorsports Park, I was immediately hooked on a more capable machine. My first day out I went nearly 4 seconds faster than my personal best and finished entirely in the Top 10 and Top 5. I approached the final round of 2016 with a newfound confidence in my racing and had the most successful round I had ever had. I smashed my personal best times by upwards of 4 seconds again, finished mostly in the Top 5, and nearly managed to pick up a podium. That was it; the stage was set. I wanted to race motorcycles and I wanted to win. For better or for worse, I was committed, there had to be a way.