When making the right decision feels like giving up
For 2022, I set a goal. I know it was a good goal because it was well-defined and unambiguous: I was going to race a motorcycle at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama before the end of the year.
I spent a mountain of cash to stoke the flames of racing dreams inside my head, but one large purchase was more powerful than any of the others. I bought a race bike—specifically, a 2001 Suzuki SV650.
I just sold that motorcycle.
Not because the bike was bad, or the race experience was bad, or I was bad at racing. Quite the opposite.
After obsessing over road racing for 11 months, I was finally on the 17-turn track in October for the 2022 Barber Vintage Festival. From the track surface to the atmosphere, the weekend was perfect. Clear blue skies, warm but not over the top temperatures and humidity.
A perfectly timed clutch release put me in the lead pack sweeping through turn one. By the wild braking zone that is the downhill section into Charlotte’s Web (turn 5), I found myself playing a little defense rather than chasing as I thought I would be. The group was running smooth and fast, drawing me to brake a little later, get to max lean angle a little faster, and twist the throttle earlier.
It wasn’t ’til lap five of the eight-lap sprint race that I finally took a breath while waiting to click sixth gear on the front straight and realized the battle for fifth place was happening around me. Better yet, I was in it. Only my fourth race on the SV650, yet there I was winning the drag race out of turn five down into museum corner against a KTM ridden by a much faster rider.
Was I hitting my stride and really finding pace or riding way over my head and being an idiot?
Just about every track rider will tell you that an off-track adventure or slide is a matter of when, not if. After five weekends, I was starting to feel like I was racing on borrowed time, but I was also making careful, rational decisions and pushing my limits in measured amounts. How much further could I push?
That’s the question that hurts the most.
I won’t be finding an answer anytime soon. Somewhere between screaming YOLO while clicking “buy it now” 86 times and throwing my wallet into Lake Michigan like Dave Ramsey would suggest is me, a guy who can’t stop himself from reviving old, junk motorcycles, yet knows when his bank account drops low enough that the race bike should go.
We all struggle to balance the experience we had while away with the bank statement in the mailbox when we get home. It’s not that I can’t afford to go racing: I am very lucky to say I can. Sort of. But racing full-sized bikes on the big tracks is a huge investment of time and money for relatively little time on track. $1100 for three hours of track time—before factoring in the travel time and prep? At this point in my life, that equation needs to be leveled out a bit.
In the end, the decision boiled down to opportunity cost. For the cost of one day at the track, I could take an in-state vacation with my wonderful wife. Or be about 10 percent closer to putting a decent paint job on my ’65 Corvair, the car that reignited my love affair with vintage cars.
So I am forced to decide between the racing options my budget can support:
A. Going fast on a big bike and learning a lot, ultimately becoming a better rider over 3–4 weekends a year
B. Going “fast” on a tiny bike and learning a lot, ultimately becoming a better rider over 8–9 weekends a year
Option B, right? For the same money, who doesn’t want to do more of a given thing? Mini motard racing is still time at a track, in the same suit, learning and practicing the same riding principals—at a fraction of the price. Travel costs are travel costs, unfortunately. But instead of $500 worth of registration for two days at Grattan Raceway on an SV650, I’m only paying $100 for two days of flat-out fun aboard the XR100 mini motard. Upkeep is cheaper, too.
The strangest part of this decision to scale down my racing efforts is that I am still conflicted about it. I write this a week and a half after I loaded the SV650 into a friend’s truck, cashed the check, and moved stuff around in the garage to fill the literal hole the bike left. Rather than spend the year in the garage wishing I was on track, or going into debt racing for plastic trophies that my wife won’t even let me keep in the house, I am switching focus. How can this decision still be chewing at me?
Perhaps selling the SV650 felt like giving up on myself. I had proved I had the potential to be a decent road racer, but rather than show that I believed in my ability by really investing in it, I backed down. Racing would require giving up too many of the other things I find enjoyable. It was too risky of an investment.
A goal often becomes a gateway, a journey that, when you started, had a defined end date. Somewhere along the way, that journey becomes an on-ramp, and you suddenly realize you have velocity. Momentum. Investment. It’s easier to continue down that path than it is to stop—even if stopping is the best course of action.
That goal to race at Barber put me on a course. Within a year I had amassed everything to take my racing interests seriously, and within three months of achieving my racing goal had sold off most of the parts I needed to keep going. The ideas and plans that branch out from the goals we set are often life-changing in some way, shape, or form. Goals themselves, however, are finite. We either accomplish the thing, or don’t. Then comes the hard part: Deciding where to go next.
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I like the honesty and insight of this story. Lots to reflect on towards myself.
I know a person that gave up the rock star dream and stopped playing in live bands. Put the guitars away for a few years (might of been five years or more) sold off the touring equipment. Too much cost for the time/reward and family life demands increased.
That person got back into music on a different scale. Has gone on to do a few different things in the years since. Hasn’t tried a redo of the original efforts, but I think has found great joy in the newer pursuits.
I really feel like this could be me at the end of this year. I’ve been putting everything I can into my E36 drift car to make sure it’s solid and durable for the season. Sold my XR1200x to pay for parts and a trailer. Probably going to sell or trade my Charger RT for a truck to haul it all with, and I’m planning to hit every event I can (not a cheap proposition). But thru all of this, I keep thinking about what a nice and gorgeous classic the girlfriend and I could cruise around in for all the money I’m putting into drifting… She enjoys riding in the drift car too though, so it’s not all for nothing!
Interestingly the thought of selling one of the other garage ornaments to fund the racing was when I started to really question what I was doing. At times it would be really nice to narrow down my focus, but the thought of letting go of a few of the other more precious objects just couldn’t be tolerated. Drifting seems to be sneaky expensive too. Best of luck and there and hope you have a safe season!
“Life is full of compromises…”
-said no trust fund baby, ever.
Great write up Kyle! Proud of you!
My situation was I was driving a race car that belongs to someone else. I actually was getting paid to drive the car for work.
I was a mechanic and a race fan but never raced outside autocross or drag raced.
I was putting down great times, I was braking deeper and deeper to where my brain said there is no way but I still made the turn. I was drifting closer and closer to the wall on exit.
I was no longer scared and felt in the groove. So I pulled in and got out. Brad asked what is wrong and I told him I was no longer scared and I was afraid I would mess up and crash his car. He respected that and I got out.
The guy I was lapping with went out and got lose in turn two and in stead of turning right to spin to the infield he played hero and pancaked the wall and knocked the rear end out of the car. That was the guy I did not want to be.
I have been around and involved with racing most of my life. I just never had the budget to race full time myself. I know I could do it and have been lucky to do enough laps to prove it but my family comes first.
I chose to go the car show route and have been involved with that hobby for many years with several cars. I have won local and national events and accomplished much with this. It is a bit more budget friendly as you do not break many parts. But I do it the hard way I never trailer and always drive even out of state.
My son raced a Soap Box Derby car and I want to tell you even that is not cheap. To run for points you can tie up $7,000 a year with one car and a number of weekends. We mostly raced local as our home track was the famed Derby downs. We raced for the local races and championship. We came close like Mark Martin but just never got the big race. Got second several times. But we did it clean and legal. We did win best engineered most years and took pride for being outsiders we did our own work on the car and was completive. Many had others working on their cars and that is just not how it was to be done.
But we did it enough to enjoy it as a family and not make it like a second job.
Well said Kyle. Life is all about choices and look what you got to experience!!!
Been there. Actually, I’m still there, a bit. Kinda like a special girl that didn’t work out, I s’pose, it pops up in the memory from time to time as a sort of high-water mark that’s not likely to return. But the other side of that is that there are many other aspects, and things to experience and enjoy, in Life. And the experience, like fond memories from one’s youth, can be savored forever, and inform other decisions and paths. The only way to maintain or move one’s racing higher is endless money, really, and the dedication of one’s focus, time, and occasionally health or life. It’s easier to say than to do, but really the only way to avoid thoughts of back-sliding is to focus forward and embrace new opportunities.
Kyle, great article. I had the good fortune of watching the beginning of your Saturday afternoon race at Barber from between turns 13 & 14. Folks, I can’t express how impressed I was with Kyle’s racing skills. But perhaps more impressed with how he had an idea to do something, set a goal, then found a way to get it done and executed the plan. Now, I say I saw the beginning of the race because it was postponed after a couple of red flags, the first of which happened in front of me in turn 13. Let’s just say I was relieved that 1) it was not double O nine removed from the track, and 2) the racer involved walked away.
The article also helps to affirm a decision I made in December in changing my riding styles. I moved on from my Kawa C-14, a bike which took me to many great adventures (and, I might add, at some pretty high speeds) over the past 10 years. So many times while on that bike I would come to a dirt road that I wanted to explore, but do to its weight & power, decided it was smarter to turn around than to risk being down with no help in sight. So I made the change to a middle weight (850) adventure style bike to feel comfortable riding the roads less traveled. Your article has made me feel a whole lot better about letting go of my favorite ride of all times and moving on to the next phase!
Best of everything to you in your new endeavors!
Thanks for the kind words Mike. It’s been a little secret, but I’ve got an adventure bike inbound to my garage too. Would love to go for a ride with you this summer! (more than just meeting at cars and coffee at least!)
Nice text, don’t feel bad for one minute about making this choice. You tried something that is considered by most as a rich man’s game. You assessed the pros and cons and chose a path that still gives you the ability to enjoy this hobby while likely better balancing it with other facets of your life. Racing can be all consuming (of time and money). To illustrate the point, I remember a guy I worked with, who raced Formula Ford. He had a bumper sticker that read: “We interrupt this marriage to bring you racing season.” As others have said, compromise and balance are part of life. Society would be better off if more people approached such decisions with this amount of thought.
Thanks for sharing, all the best
It’s true. I consider myself very lucky to have even tried and took racing seriously for a year. Most people interested at my level aren’t that lucky to be able to get out and give an honest effort.
The balance part you point out is so critical and with the right support system can be tough to find. My spouse is amazingly tolerant of my automotive exploits–to the point that at times she won’t even say when I am pushing the boundaries because she knows its those things that are really fulfilling for me. I can be fulfilled in other ways without her sacrificing things though. That’s balance and requires being frank and honest with each other.
Maybe you can get the thrill of racing going bracket drag racing with a street legal motorcycle and it doesn’t cost much. I got back into drag racing (a casual few times a season racer) my ’78 Suzuki GS750 that has a few performance mods. I haven’t hit the 11’s yet…12.04 best yet but it’s so much fun rolling it off the trailer and onto the track, all for $25.00 on Wednesday evenings. With the ET handicap dial-in times, I can win against the track only Hayabusas or ZX14’s running in the 9’s and even 8’s (and cost a ton of $$$ to build) and then take the 750 back at home and ride on the roads.
If there was a drag strip close by I very much would get into bracket racing. Sadly it’s just as much of a drive as other go-fast exploits. I even tried drag racing last year as a joke with a friend’s Honda Grom. Was hilariously fun and I never even managed to cut a decent light!
I needed this.
I finally have the money to put where my mouth is and bought a race car and have been doing track days and got my roomie license and this is supposed to be the year I actually race.
But life is complex with 3 teens and one of my jobs is to show them that you set goals and you go get what you set out for…
But I can totally see myself passing it on to the next person, or maybe one of my kids, after only a season or maybe even after only a race.
Apparently auto correct thinks there is such a thing called roomie license. I meant Rookie License of course.
You are doing the same reality check! It could be worse. We are so lucky to be stuck with choosing our luxury spending, but it does still seem awful hard to be honest with ourselves about it. I bet it would be a lot of fun to have one of your kids crewing and learning alongside you.
Lower cost bike and more racing seems like a win to me.
There is more stories about little bike shenanigans coming! It’s real hard to capture how fun a group of grown adults riding children’s motorcycles can be.
A decent compromise is to race small displacement vintage. Like Honda CB 160s.
Unfortunately, in my case it’s not the upkeep of the bike, its some of the fees that would be the same even on a CB160. Entry fees and travel are the same regardless of what bike I take on track.
Part of why I chose the SV650 was relatively low running costs. I only needed one set of tires for the whole season, and the only other thing I needed to do was buy a couple additional sprockets to have some gearing choices. The spares kit needed to race a higher-strung CB160 (anything competitive) actually eclipses the SV. Sadly, the engine size doesn’t always relate linearly with the rebuild and upkeep costs.