|Wounded Duc shot down at Barber AMA
Three tenths of one second. About the time it took me to type the first letter of that sentence. That
was the difference between qualifying for the AMA Formula Extreme final at Barber Motorsports
Park and going home early. And I had a ten-hour drive home to think about those three-tenths of a
I figured going into the April 21-23 AMA Superbike weekend at Barber that I was going to have to
turn a lap time in the 1:35 range to qualify. My best time at Barber, set at the 2005 AMA weekend,
was 1:36.833. I suppose it’s the normal attitude of most racers, but I always feel I can go faster.
Doesn’t always work that way, but usually the more laps I turn at a track, the faster I go.
This year was going to be tougher than usual – not only do the top factory-sponsored riders go
faster each year, but the AMA had tightened up their qualifying requirements from 112% to 110%.
So I had to be within 110% of the pole position qualifying time, which inevitably would be faster
than last year. Not an easy task for a 44-year-old club racer.
My buddy Tom Stein and I hit Barber at the crack of dawn Thursday for a promoter practice day.
We’d driven through some heavy thunderstorms Wednesday night in the Birmingham area, and the
track was still wet when we rolled out Thursday morning. But the sun came out and the day
warmed up quickly, drying the track by our second session. We ended up with getting four 30-
minute sessions. My best lap time was 1:37.56. Not where I needed to be, but not bad for my first
real track session since October 2005.
Violent storms blew in Thursday evening, and we were caught packing up and trying to drop down
the awnings in high winds, driving rain, and massive lighting hits. Not fun, but both we and our
The rains Thursday night left the track wet for our only practice session on Friday. Due to the poor
weather, I ran on the same tires I’d used all day Thursday. The track began to dry towards the later
stages, but I basically treated the session as a wake-up call to get the blood flowing and work on
some reference points, etc. No use pushing it too hard and ending up crashing away the day.
Our 40-minute qualifying session was set for 2 pm. The sun had been out and the track was dry. I
had fresh tires and was ready to roll. It was time to walk the walk.
My first flying lap was a 1:38, and I clicked off a few 1:37s before heading into the pits to get a quick
drink and get my mind around what else I need to do. My first flyer out of the pits was a 1:36.28,
which looked good – if I could just shave a few tenths I’d be into the 35s. I worked on picking up
speed wherever I could – harder into the turns, on the gas earlier. Yet each lap my laptimer still
showed times in the low 36s. I did a total of nine laps after my pitstop; all were in the low 36s, with
my best a 1:36.192.
I felt like I gave it my best shot, but I was afraid the time wouldn’t hold up. I’d make the show under
last year’s pole qualifying time – 1:27.746 – but if that time tumbled too much, I’d be off the bubble
and in the trailer.
Back in the pits, we listened to the times from the 2nd qualifying group, which is made up of the
fastest riders. The riders were in the high 27s early in the session, but had dropped down to the
mid 1:27s about 20 minutes into the session. I was barely in the show, and the PA announcer kept
talking about me and the fact I was on the bubble. I got more airtime than anyone else in the class.
Sometimes it pays to be slow, I guess.
With five minutes left, I was still in the show, but just barely. All of the action takes place in the last
few minutes of the session, when the factory boys mount up ultra-soft qualifying tires and put in
one flying lap. Sure enough, with just a few minutes left, factory Yamaha rider Jason DiSalvo
clicked in a 1:27.144, and my weekend was done. As the race announcer said, “Mark Hatten and
the Wounded Duc.com Ducati have been shot down.”
1:35.858 was the magic number, just over three-tenths of a second faster than my best lap. Little
more than a blink of the eye.
I knew going in that it would be tough to qualifying, and that I’d have to ride at a personal-best level
to make the cut. I knew I might not make it and accepted that I might be coming home early. I think
if I’d missed it by a second or more, I’d be accepting of my fate. But missing by three-tenths makes
it tough. And makes for a long ride home.