Prior to round 3 of the MotoAmerica championship at New Jersey Motorsports Park, I had built up some momentum at round 2 in Road Atlanta, which was the season kickoff for Superstock 600 and the first time my class would run in-conjunction with Supersport (highly modified 600's). I got a 4th place finish in race 1, which was my career best, and I was only a few seconds off of 3rd place in my class at the finish line. Everyone always says, "Hey, you're going to podium." Only if it were that easy! Everyone at this level is riding so great, and there are so many factors that have to add up to be in the position to make it on the box. With that being said, going into New Jersey, I felt ready for the podium. I knew exactly what it would take, I had some experience under my belt, and I was willing to take the risk.
Friday practice at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey, was damp. With limited laps, I would have to rely on my experience at this track from last September's MotoAmerica finale.
Qualifying was bright and early in the morning, but at least the track was dry. I threw down some great laps, putting me 2nd in the session of the Superstock pack for quite some time! When the checkered flag came out, I crossed the line with my new fastest lap, which put me 4th of the Superstock 600 racers, and 12th overall combined Supersport/ Superstock 600. I was really hoping to be top 3 in class, but I was very happy with 4th because that was my highest qualifying position I've achieved at MotoAmerica.
Race 1 late Saturday afternoon was dry, and I got a killer start going into turn 1. I made up about 4 positions, but lost them all (and some) in turn 2 after checking up for the rider ahead who made a bobble. This would make the rest of the race very difficult. It took me a lap to get by the slower riders who got around me on the start, but soon I found myself in 5th place, with the battle for 3rd in my class about 3 seconds ahead of me. In the mix of the 2 Superstock riders ahead were 2 Supersport riders. I pushed as hard as I could, making up a tenth of a second here and there. By lap 13 of 23, I had not made up any actual ground on the pack, the rear tire was going away fast, and I settled for 5th. I was disappointed, but it was nice to get some solid points.
Sunday was a whole new day. The rain had arrived, and it was here to stay! I was 3rd quickest of the Superstock riders in morning warm up which gave me some confidence going into the race.
Supersport/ Superstock 600 race 2 was on the grid finally, while the rain continued to come down. This was something I was familiar with after years of racing in the Pacific Northwest. I rocketed off the start, passing the Superstock guys ahead of me, including a couple Supersport guys. The adrenaline pumped through me like never before, because I knew I was 1st in class. I clung right on the tails of the top 5 Supersport riders during the opening laps. Ahead I saw the Graves R6's of JD Beach and Garrett Gerloff, the M4 bikes of Cameron Peterson and Valentin Debise, and Joe Roberts on his Meen R6. All I focused on was staying as close to them as possible. I never looked back. I ran a 1:51.405 lap time in the soaked conditions, only 7 tenths of a second off the best lap of the race (so far) which was a 1:50.752 by Garrett Gerloff. Meanwhile, I had built up a huge lead over the next Superstock 600 rider, and I was 4 seconds a lap faster! Around lap 3 and 4, I noticed more and more debris from bikes crashing. I even had a huge moment in turn 2 that caused me to run off track. The back tire stepped out, almost high siding me! It pointed me straight off track in the mud. I thought for sure I threw it away, and I was going to be passed by everyone. I calmly slowed down in the dirt, aimed it back towards the track, and rejoined the racing surface. To my surprise, nobody had gone by, and I didn't even see a bike in sight. When I came down the front straightaway to complete the lap, I read my pit board and finally realized I had a 9 second lead. I tried to settle down, and re-focus. Now, I didn't have the luxury of the Supersport guys right ahead of me. Unfortunately, at about lap 5, the race was red-flagged. I was devastated! For the first time I was in this amazing position to potentially win. Turn 2 had some fluid on it from a crash earlier in the race, which explains my moment that caused me to nearly high side, and 3 of the Supersport leaders to crash ahead of me.
The hardest part about it all was the waiting for the race to restart. We waited in the pit lane, we waited on the grid, and we waited in the pit lane again. Finally, our race was rescheduled for the end of the day after the second Superbike race. The anxiety drove me crazy.
Hours later, I was back on the grid again. This time, I knew I was the guy to beat in my class. That pressure was on me. I nailed the start once again, and dropped in behind the Supersport leaders. The conditions weren't quite as soaked as the first part of the race, so once again everyone was trying to find the limit. I had a small lead, and just kept riding at a pace I could control. The laps ever so slowly counted down. The last 3 laps, I could hear the challenge of Dakota Mamola approaching. I could hear him behind in turn 5, a 90-degree left hander. I didn't panic, even with the thoughts of a first win, a first podium, and the "DON'T CRASH" thoughts scrambling in my brain. The margin for error in a rain race is drastically narrower than normal. Precision, and smoothness is vital. I crossed the line for the white flag, still in 1st place, leading every lap like I had done all race, but in a situation I had never found myself in before in professional motorcycle racing. I cautiously altered my line defensively. I knew he'd try to attack in turn 5, I had sensed it. I rode out of turn 4 and set up the entry for turn 5 mid track, in an attempt to ward him off. I broke a little deeper than before, but so did Mamola. He did a great job getting completely beside me as we entered the turn. I had 2 decisions in this moment.
Choice number 1: Release the brake sooner, giving me more entry speed to possibly maintain 1st position by riding around him on the outside. The risk of this is that more speed would require more lean angle, and I didn't know if the grip would allow for that 5-10% increase. Choice number 2: Realize the pass is pretty much made, and don't throw it away trying to fight that. Pass him back potentially the last half of the lap, and at least finish on 2 wheels in 2nd place for my first podium ever. I went with choice number 2. I tailed Dakota, looking for opportunity. It took every ounce of strength and control to keep myself gathered, and riding smooth with all the emotions and excitement running through me. I wasn't close enough to make a pass back into turn 7 where I thought I may be able to retaliate. The rest of the track is pretty 1-lined, and would require a dramatic, gutsy pass. I didn't want to risk falling, and I was more than happy to just bring it across the finish line in 2nd place in Superstock 600, and 5th overall combined with Supersport. The relief I had when I crossed that finish line was like I've never felt before. The weight of getting that first podium finish that had been on my shoulders for so long was lifted! I was screaming with joy in my helmet the entire cool down lap while pumping my fists, and waving at the fans! Tears of joy ran down my face. I rolled down the pit lane to the podium ceremony, where I met my crew and family.
I got off the bike, immediately receiving hugs from my father, my crew chief Eric Dorn, and my family that lives in New Jersey. It was really special to get my first podium on the turf of where the DiBrino family roots are, with them there in attendance supporting me. It felt like a dream! Like a lot of racers, I've been working at getting a podium finish at a professional road race for years. I couldn't be happier to reward my parents first and foremost, and my sponsors who have gave so much for me to be in this position. A big thank you to Eric Dorn for helping my Dad and I at MotoAmerica, without you, it wouldn't have been possible. I can't wait to get back out on the track, go for that first win!
Thanks to my title sponsors for their support: