When you learn to drive - my 16 year old niece is learning, that's scary - you display "L" plates front and rear.
When you first start motor racing, you have to do the same thing.
It's so other drivers know you're new.
In bike racing, we don't have L plates, we have D grade. D grade is where you race if you're old, slow or new. I probably qualify for at least two of those descriptors.
The little bit of crit racing I did over summer was in D grade.
The winter road racing season is upon us, and I'm racing in D grade.
It's probably where I'll start & finish my racing, um, career. But I'm out there to have some fun, not to try to win trophies, so I'm happy hacking around with the other old blokes in D grade.
Last weekend was my first race for the road season. Phillip Island Grand Prix track. Yes, the one were they race the motorbikes, and the V8s. Yes, the place where I destroyed the Porsche's engine last year (still not fixed, but that's a subject for another post) No, there weren't any race cars out when we were racing.
There was an Elite level race in the morning - Elite is where you race if you're trying to get picked up by a pro team, or you've gotten a little slow to remain on that pro team. The fast guys. Very serious racing. They did 25 laps, 111km. There's really only one climb at Phillip Island, and it's not that big, but see how you're enjoying it the 24th time you go over it (or the 10th in my case). 160 or so starters, 60 finished. 42kph average speed.
I, of course, wasn't there to race with the Elite boys, I was there to race D grade. We only had to do 13 laps, about 60km. Maybe 30 lined up for the start. Lots of nervous chatter before we rolled out for a couple of controlled laps.
A controlled lap (aka neutral lap) is when you're not allowed to race - a little like the GP cars behind the safety car - it's there so you can settle in, get your pace sorted out, get a little comfortable before the hurt starts.
The controlled laps were like a Sunday morning cruise ride ... easy pace, a bit of chit chat, nothing too hard. I was thinking "I could do this all day, easy". And then it go a little quicker.
I was holding on, near the back of the group, and still enjoying myself.
There are all sorts of things you can read about racing. Lessons on when to attack, when to hide, where to try to position yourself in a bunch, and so on. But I think the most important thing I realised on Saturday was .... there is NO SUBSTITUTE for race experience.
How do I know this? Because when the hammer went down, in the middle of lap 4, where was I? At the back of the bunch, chattering with the guy next to me. We missed the move. All of a sudden we were alone with everyone else rapidly getting away from us.
We rode a few laps, then he dropped out, leaving me on my own.
According to the weather forecast, there was a "light" wind. It might have been light if you were in the midst of a bunch of 25 or so bike riders, but on your own, as you came around Siberia and started the climb towards Lukey Hights, it didn't feel light. All I could think of was what Inigo Montoya said in the Princess Bride, as the Dread Pirate Roberts' boat got closer and closer "I wonder if he is using the same wind we are using?"
I struggled on until lap 10 of 13 and realised I wasn't going to catch anyone (I'd probably realised it 4 laps earlier), so I turned off the track, rolled up pit lane, handed in my race number and was marked as DNF. Better or worse than SML (Stone Motherless Last)? Ask me in June after the next race.
My race face: