Copyright 2003, Team Hammer, Inc.
Five participants in the Team Hammer Talent Search Presented by Alpinestars–first-year Expert Ivan Garza, second-year Expert Paolo Mariano, Jack Pfeifer, Chris Siglin and first-year Expert Matthew Wise–gathered at California Speedway Friday, March 28 for the second of three Talent Search set-up and riding days, followed by two days of practice in conjunction with a Fastrack Riders weekend.
The Talent Search team working with the five included 1991 AMA Superbike Champion Thomas Stevens, Team Valvoline EMGO Suzuki rider Chris Ulrich, Team Valvoline EMGO Suzuki mechanic Ken Hill and racer Vincent Haskovec.
“I had a blast,” said Siglin. “I learned a lot. I had Ken Hill helping me out all day; he really showed me some new stuff. I tried to get together the best set-up I could to get ready for next week’s AMA National (at California Speedway).
“Set-up-wise, I’ve been so used to setting up one way. Ken actually showed me to not be afraid to try big changes. That’s really one thing he and Thomas Stevens emphasized was to not be afraid to do big changes. That’s one thing that we tried yesterday, and it ended up being a really good thing for me. It was great. I’m really comfortable.
“Then coming into the back horseshoe here, I was having a little bit of a chatter from the rear end coming in there. I talked to Chris (Ulrich) a little bit about it. He gave me a little advice, a little pointer. And sure enough, I went out and did it, and it really solved the problem. It was really cool.
“It’s been really good; it’s been a really good experience. It’s been nice to have that help that I didn’t have last year. It’s really cool that they put this together. I can ask (questions of) Chris and Ken Hill and even Keith (Perry, Team Valvoline EMGO Suzuki Crew Chief) at the Nationals. It’s been really great. I can’t say enough about it. It really is worth the money.”
“I’m learning a little bit about set-up and how to make the bike work better,” said Pfeifer. “Actually, Ken Hill taught me how to bleed the brakes correctly. I had a problem with the brakes at Daytona, and I had a problem again here. He showed me how to fix that problem. I’m learning some stuff, yeah. It’s great. I figured it’s probably the best 1500 bucks I’ll spend in the long run. For $1500 you’ve got a shot at winning a bike and leathers and going to Road Atlanta and doing that race (Suzuki Cup Finals). $1500 is not a lot of money considering the advertising and marketing that’s going to come out of it. If you look at it, sure, $1500 is a few sets of tires, but that’s all it is. This $1500 could be worth so much more.”
“I had a blast!” said Mariano. “This program is awesome. It’s cool to know that you have guys that really know what they’re doing, especially Ken (Hill). Ken helped me out a lot in suspension set-up. I knew it was important, but I didn’t realize how important it was until Ken came along and said, ‘Let’s try this. Let’s try that. Go out there and tell me what you think.’ I come back, and it’s like, Oh my gosh! I give Ken a big thumbs up; he’s awesome!
“One specific example is going into chicane at the beginning of the infield straight. Being on the throttle, I would hit that little stutter bump, and I would get a little tankslapper. I asked Ken, and he asked me, ‘Was that on the throttle, Paolo?’ And I said it was.
“So he backed off my compression, made it softer, and told me to go out there and tell him what I think. I went back out and I was able to get on the throttle harder and sooner, and that equals seconds on the track.
“Then after he did that, coming into turn one, the left into that chicane, getting on the gas, then it started doing this (makes motion of bars wagging), and I had to back off the throttle. I came back and told Ken, and he goes straight to my rear suspension, tightened the spring a full turn and adjusted the compression. I went back out there, and he fixed it.
“So now, the big difference of having Ken, instead of me going out there and going, ‘You know, I’m not having any fun. I don’t like Fontana. Fontana sucks.’ Now, I love Fontana. I’m one with the bike because the bike is pretty much set-up for Fontana.
“This is how clueless I was with suspension. I would stay with one suspension set-up from round one of the Formula USA series all the way to round eight. If the bike was wiggling, I would adjust my riding style and ride it out. Now with being in the program and seeing the knowledge I’m getting from the Team Hammer Talent Search is just awesome. I’m definitely going to school, taking notes and glad I did it (joined the program).
“Vincent (Haskovec) was a huge help. He was a great motivater. Vincent worked with me all day. As the day progressed, I just went quicker and quicker and quicker. Then he said ‘We’re going to pick it up, and I want you on my tail.’ He’d always turn around and say ‘Come on! Come on!’ And I was always there, and he would give me a thumbs up. He was just awesome! The Team Hammer Talent Search is awesome. I’m glad I’m doing it.”
“I had a lot of fun,” said Wise. “Vincent Haskovec was out here. He was able to follow me around while I was learning the track. It’s a real busy track; there’s a lot of turns and stuff. He was able to give me pointers on my line and what gear I should be in at different parts of the track. That really helped me get used to the track a lot faster.
“I got to follow him around for a while. Just being able to ride with a professional rider and get advice from him. And to meet all of these guys and get my name out there to where all of the guys on the team know my name so they can be looking out for me as I’m coming up is a great opportunity.
“From Vincent, I learned a lot about riding technique, because you think you do things right. You think you look really good going through there, but to have somebody who really knows their stuff to ride right behind you and come back to the pits and immediately tell you, ‘Hey this is what you’re not doing right and this is what you need to work on,’ it just helps a lot.
“As far as suspension, I haven’t really messed with my bike a lot because I had it set up by G.M.D. Computrack, so it’s working really good. But I’ve also been trying to pick these guys’ brains as to how long tires will last, what to look for when they go away and what I should be doing right now to help advance my career. In that, they’ve been a great help to me. I know where I want to go, I know what my goals are, but it’s just how to get there. So that’s been a great help just talking to Thomas (Stevens) and Vincent and Chris and everybody. It’s just cool. I think it’s well worth it.”
“It was great,” said Garza. “I definitely had a good time. I’m so glad I got the support from Ken. My bike went from being a Cadillac to a Porsche. The example I like to use is I had a fine suit, because I had real good accessories on it, but it hadn’t been tailored for me yet. So Ken went ahead and made it fit. He dropped the front, he messed with the compression and the rebound quite a bit and got it to where it needed to be. It was a more aggressive set-up, and I dropped my times drastically. If it wasn’t for him, I think I would still be turning the same lap times I was turning before.
“I’m getting to meet a lot of pro riders. I mean, being a privateer, you don’t just get to walk up and spend quality time with them. Thomas Stevens has been giving us great mental support, and then just to get professional people like Ken Hill to work on my suspension. Chris Ulrich, I got support from him; he was very open to help us out. The people who didn’t sign up for it this year, if it’s still around next year they should do it. I know I will be a part of it.”