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How Keith Reed's collision with cancer led him to two-wheel racing.

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    How Keith Reed's collision with cancer led him to two-wheel racing.

    How Keith Reed's collision with cancer led him to two-wheel racing.

    writer: BILL 0'DRISCOLL

    ubber tires spinning, Keith Reed's motorcycle tears into a racetrack turn. He leans the red-and-white Suzuki 600 right, his bent right knee angled toward asphalt ripping past at 50 mph. He's finished braking and downshifting, and he's rolling on the throttle to punch through the turn and out of it, when inside the machine something goes wrong.

    Back wheel locks up. Bike spasms. Reed's shoulders and helmeted head whip toward the rapidly passing asphalt. The toppled bike skids, its 370 pounds propped on a fat plastic peg that gets powdered as quickly as a butcher-shop bone in an industrial grinder. Thrown, Reed slides on his right shoulder clear across the asphalt track. Then, feet over head, he flips ...

    eith Reed crouches, working on his motorcycle and joking about how careful he is. "This is where my problem sets in," says Reed. Down on one knee on the hot infield blacktop of an eastern Ohio racetrack, he twists the steel wire that links a pair of nuts on his Suzuki's front brakes and keeps either from coming loose. Roadracing motorcycles accelerate up to 180 mph, so safety-wiring parts that can shake free is required, but Reed, a software consultant by day, says he's infamously anal about it -- as though that were a liability in a sport where one bad gear shift could end in a snapped neck.

    Behind Reed's crouched 6'2" frame sits his "Empty Pockets Racing" trailer, its door open to an immaculate plywood-lined interior fitted with a tool chest and floor brackets for his matched pair of gleaming red-and-white Suzuki GSX-Rs, a 600 cc model and a more powerful 750. On the wall hang his red, black and white racing leathers, a second skin that's scuffed, seamed and logo-covered, the knees and elbows cocked for racing. On the lower of two built-in wooden bunks rests a soft, brown leather briefcase stuffed with manila folders: Reed's detailed charts of each of his races, lap times along with weather, course conditions, tire pressure and the engine settings he programs through his laptop computer.

    Outside, students in a racing class circle the track on candy-colored bikes, their engines whining. Alongside Reed on the infield's asphalt patch other teams camp, their bikes shaded like thoroughbreds under pop-up white canopies, with trailers and extended-cab pickups the portable buildings of the makeshift racing cities that weekly spring up at dozens of tracks across the country. In the heat and humidity, riders walk around with the top halves of their leathers peeled off, showing their ribbed, spine-protecting body armor; the empty arms flap stiffly, the antennae of oversized insects.

    It's June 1, still early in Reed's third season as a "club racer" on the amateur closed-course roadracing circuit, and his first in the expert class. At age 39, with thinning gold hair, Reed is at least a decade older than most of his competitors, and noticeably larger than many of the most successful riders. He is also doubtlessly one of a very few to take up racing after -- and because -- he survived a life-threatening illness: A scar on his back from cancer surgery predates any he earned on the track.

    Yet in 2000 and 2001, he ran in nearly 60 races and half the time came in third or better. That includes seven firsts in 30 contests last year, good enough to make him a regional champ in two novice divisions in the amateur and semi-professional West-East Racing Association, and runner-up in a third. As an expert, Reed's goal is to qualify for an American Motorcyclist Association contest -- the U.S. big leagues in a sport so strenuous, dangerous, expensive and time-consuming that its U.S. practitioners number only around 6,000.

    Like most U.S. motorcycle roadracing tracks, Nelson Ledges Road Course, located in the highwayside speck called Garrettsville, Ohio, was built for racecars. The safety barriers are metal rails, stacked auto tires and hay bales -- minimal protection for a thrown rider. The blacktop is cracked, patched and weedy. But it's flat and fast, and it's Reed's home course by default: At two hours from his house in Westmoreland County, it's the closest place to race.

    Today's planned three-hour endurance contest isn't just for standings points, though. It's also for fun, and for track time with his team: his wife, Susan; his crew chief and brother-in-law, Scott Dengler, a Yellow Cab garage superintendent in Pittsburgh; and frequent racing partner Sam Gaige, a 30-year-old Buffalo plumber whose forearm-shattering wipeout here in 1995 knocked him out of racing for four years. Reed and Gaige met as competitors, but they became pals last year only after Reed helped Gaige fix a slipping clutch, after which Gaige promptly bested him on the track.

    It's after you suit up that the butterflies arrive. In the afternoon heat, race time approaching, Reed gets quiet. He pulls on his leathers and boots, then goes inside his trailer for a few minutes to mentally ride laps and talk to the Man Upstairs. After buzzing through a couple of real test laps, he swaddles the Suzuki's tires in electric-blanket-like warmers: The friction-heated rubber compound has to stay tacky as duct tape for traction on the two fist-sized patches where the tire meets the road. Just before the call to the starting line, the shiny black warmers are unfastened and stripped off like snakeskins.

    This will be just his and Gaige's second endurance race -- mostly they do sprints lasting a dozen laps or less -- and though they placed well last time, the team is still figuring out things like how to signal the rider that it's time for a pit stop. While this contest isn't a major one, they expect hot competition: Locally based Team Force has hired for the day Ohio's Doug Duane, a pro racer who competes in AMA events and holds the Nelson Ledges record for fastest lap time. Reed's always saying motorcycle racers are the best people he's ever met, but he doesn't much like either Duane or Team Force; he thinks Duane's arrogant, and says Team Force was talking trash on Empty Pockets after last week's race. It's all good, though. "We're the underdogs by a mile," says Reed. "That's the fun of it. I wouldn't want to go out there and be expected to win. There's nothing to shoot for."

    After an all-day wait, the planned 4:30 p.m. start is delayed repeatedly. Then, as the green flag finally waves, a novice stalls. He's immediately hit from behind by an expert; a bike flies through the air. Several motorcycles are wrecked, and two riders, still conscious, are taken away by ambulance.

    Everyone's solemn, but once the race restarts the crash fades. Riders lean into turns at 45 degrees or more and boom down the straightaways. Immediately Reed takes the lead in a field of 25 or so teams, running stellar 1 minute, 11 second laps on the 2-mile track, averaging 100 mph through its twists and turns.

    After 29 laps he pulls in and dismounts, his hazel eyes set off by skin gone red under his helmet, his head throbbing with heat and race rattle. Dengler leads the refueling, and Gaige jumps on and roars out. It's a good pit, Reed thinks -- but Doug Duane goes 16 laps further before pitting, which means he has a slight lead by the time Gaige comes in and Reed starts his second leg.

    Pits are crucial: Even with both riders helping steady and gas the bike, Empty Pockets has just four guys, while Team Force has five crisply uniformed attendants hustling while Duane and his fellow rider stand by exchanging course information. Moreover, riders go too fast to be able to check their gas gauges. Reed and Gaige might be pitting too early simply because they can't tell how low their fuel is, while experienced Team Force knows down to the lap just how long they can go.

    The late spring sun is dropping as Duane pulls out of Team Force's second and final pit; by the time Empty Pockets ends its third pit with a splash of gas Dengler hopes will last and Gaige starts his final leg, the darkness-shortened race has only 15 minutes to go. But the Suzuki's worn and overheated tires are getting greasy, slipping dangerously on turns. In the failing light, Reed also worries about Gaige's tinted helmet visor.

    Steadily, Duane gains ground. Gaige holds on to win by about 30 seconds.

    "Yeah! Beat their butts!" hollers Susan Reed. Keith Reed jumps, fist pumping. Dengler raps his knuckles on the gas tank and looks at Gaige. "You are empty. Listen. There's no fuel in that pipe."

    "Great race, dude," Reed tells Gaige.

    "The tires were gone," Gaige says. "Gonzo gone."

    "Another lap or two, he woulda been pushin' it back there," says Dengler. "We need to know gallons."

    "We don't know anything," Reed says, proud of victory in the face of inexperience. "We don't know anything."

    xcept for the 24-foot trailer in the driveway, Keith and Susan Reed's two-story home looks about like the others in its semi-rural subdivision near Lower Burrell. But inside the two-car garage, his bikes up on stands and racing tires stacked like poker chips, Keith Reed talks about how he's never quite fit in.

    "Growing up this entire time, everybody's like, 'Why are you buying that motorcycle you bought? You know you're gonna go 55 miles an hour in the street. Isn't that a little overkill?'" he says while his friend Mike Seate, a newspaper columnist and motorcycle enthusiast, nods sympathetically. "Even my buddies that've known me all my life have always been, 'What did Keith buy this time? He's gonna kill himself.'

    "They'll also say I'll race lawnmowers if I had a chance, and they're damn right I will," he says, gesturing in mock outrage toward the green-and-yellow John Deere 325 parked in the corner. Seate is cracking up. "That one right there, they told me that was overkill for this yard. They're full of shit!"

    Reed grew up a few miles from here, in New Kensington. "He's always 110 percent," says Cork Morran, who grew up with him. As kids, they rode dirt bikes. "We would practically kill each other trying to race through the woods together," says Morran. With Keith and friends, it was always, Who could throw a stone the farthest -- even if you threw your arm out? Who could skateboard full-tilt down a driveway, even if you got knocked unconscious by a passing car? That happened to Reed, too (not the last time he'd get conked asleep). During windy storms, he says, "Our goal was to climb the highest tree, hold onto it, and just say we were on that top."

    At age 26, Reed bought his first street bike. "Is this the fastest one they got?" he asked the dealer. He pulled the Kawasaki 1000 Ninja into his parents' garage, where his dad, a veteran New Ken cop, sat at a workbench. "Whaddaya got there?"

    "Ah, I got a motorcycle. This is a fast one."

    "It can only go 55 miles an hour."

    "I think I finally got something that can outrun all those police out there."

    "No," says Ronald Reed, turning back to his bench. "I think we have something quicker."

    "What's that?"


    Reed and Morran went speeding up Route 28. And there were always informal drag races -- or just leaving some dude in a brand-new IROC sucking exhaust at a red light. Reed thinks street riding was an outlet for his exclamatory creative drive, which he believes verges on attention deficit disorder. Though he did well in high school, Reed disappointed his mom, Jane, a hairdresser, by deciding against college. Instead he worked at a tire-recapping plant in the Strip District. Laid off, he took a computer course that led to a job with a Boston firm, where he says he was determined to show he could stand toe-to-toe with college graduates. He stayed in the field after returning to Pittsburgh and during a five-year, early-'90s stint in Florida.

    That was when Morran, an electrician, took up roadracing, a sport both had only spectated. "When you go to a motorcycle race the first time, you think there's no way you can do this," says Morran. But he traded in his big 750cc for a lighter, more agile 125 and signed up for classes at Nelson Ledges. He phoned Reed in Florida and enticed him: Man, the track is the place for bikes. It's safer, for one. But it's also faster.

    In Florida, Reed met Susan Yingling, who worked at his company. Back north they married, and Reed started a software consulting company with two old friends. One day in 1999, he went to his doctor for his sore back and stiff neck, souvenirs from among the countless sports injuries he's sustained over years (which include a spine he says is two inches out of line in two places). At the end of the exam he recalled that his new wife would kill him if he didn't ask about a mole in the middle of his back, the one she'd noticed had developed a couple of dark spots. Probably nothing, the doctor said, but referred him to a dermatologist.

    The day the specialist called with the biopsy results, Reed drove to the office wondering whether the new street bike he planned to buy should be blue or red. On the way home, he was wondering, "Why am I gonna die?"

    Cancer is a malfunction of the mechanism controlling abnormal cell growth. While you are sleeping, or typing e-mails, or riding your motorcycle, somewhere inside the growth of certain genes accelerates, the repair system that previously checked them breaks down, and mutations accumulate. Even among the various types of skin cancer, melanoma stands out: Induced by the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, it's more often malignant than other types, and more likely to spread to other body parts, such as the spinal cord and internal organs to which it had easy access from its perch on the thin freckled skin of Keith Reed's back.

    The biopsy revealed cancerous penetration so deep that even after surgery Reed waited a week for confirmation he wasn't a goner. Melanoma, he was told, is very likely to recur.

    Reed figured that if a poison mole couldn't kill him, "I've obviously got somebody watching down on my every move, and I look at it that I'll be fine out there," he says. "I'm going to do everything I can now, and enjoy it."

    A couple of months later, in San Diego on a business trip, he did something he'd always wanted -- he jumped out of an airplane. Back home, he embraced another ambition: roadracing.

    is first time at Nelson Ledges, Reed grabbed his 600 and prepared to waste Morran on his little 125. Instead, he was left lumbering in his friend's well-schooled dust. "He went about half-throttle and he annihilated me," says Reed. "It was such a humbling experience."

    A high-performance motorcycle ridden only on the highway is like a Bengal tiger that has hunted only ground beef in the zoo: No one's seen what it can really do.

    U.S. motorcycle sales have skyrocketed recently, between 1997 and 2001 alone jumping nearly 250 percent, to about 850,000 -- many of them the same sorts of sportsbikes racers like Reed retool for the track. But high sales haven't translated into mainstream popularity for roadracing as a sport: Outside of a few top-flight events, most races are lucky to sell a couple hundred tickets; only one American cable channel regularly covers motorcycle racing, and most newspapers don't mention it at all.

    One obstacle might be that in the U.S., sportsbikes defy a reigning motorcycle iconography -- Hell's Angelic, Easy Ridentified -- that a couple decades of marketing pitches to middle-class weekend road warriors has played off more than refined. Most Americans see motorcyles as toys. It's in Europe that two-wheelers are efficient everyday transport, that motorcycle racetracks are built for motorcycles only, and that roadracing stars are among the continent's Jordans and Bondses.

    A sportsbike's synthetic fairings are molded into wind-slicing hummocks, with the tapered contours of a bodybuilder's torso over its aluminum frame and titanium fittings; in the rear, a wasp's tail complements the engine's hornet whine. To sportsbikers, your chrome-spangled, back-rested, saddle-bagged touring bikes (Harleys, et al.) are motorized couches -- built to improve one's image, not one's cornering speed.

    Yet roadracing is not just a question of jumping on the right high-revving Honda, Suzuki or Ducati. Reed, who started learning the ropes while still reporting for monthly cancer check-ups, discovered it's also a science.

    Like any two-wheeler, an upright motorcycle at rest is unstable; like a child's top it acquires stability with speed. A motorcycle's wheels in fact function much like perpendicular tops, or gyroscopes. To corner right, say, you actually nudge the handlebars slightly left, a technique known as countersteering. Gyroscopic and centrifugal forces combine to lean the bike right, and the wheels drive forward under the new center of gravity. Riders hang off to further shift their centers of gravity to the inside of the turn, which lets them go faster with the same degree of lean. Cornering more successfully involves braking as late as possible and getting back on the throttle as soon as you can.

    Conversely, braking can make you lose stability, especially since with all your momentum forward, you have to hit your front brakes, which can make the back tire catch air dangerously. On the other hand, some exceptionally skilled riders use their rear brakes (operated with the right foot) to slide their back wheels slightly outside during a turn -- better positioning to accelerate into the straightaway. "It's a controlled out-of-control situation," says Geoff May, a 22-year-old pro from Atlanta who adds that racing "is the most fun you can have with your clothes on, period."

    The speed is intense. Racetrack turns approach so quickly you have to think several corners ahead just to keep up. "You're going so fast it feels like you're thinking in slow motion," says Sean McGouey, a 22-year-old racer from Jacksonville, Fla.

    On a given track each racer mentally constructs a "line": an ideal customized path accounting for each turn, bank and elevation change, with landmarks cueing him when to downshift. The goal of all this calculation is still more speed. More throttle, constant throttle. You even whap on the twist-grip throttle while shifting, to free up the gears you're shifting with your left toe while you're taking in the clutch with your left hand.

    Reed contrasts accelerating with "drifting": "When you're drifting, you don't have as much control as when you're giving it gas."

    Does Reed, who sort of accelerated himself after surviving cancer, think that's a metaphor for life?

    "If we were to break down the meaning of [throttling]," he replies, "it's trying to maintain control of what you're doing. Not grabbing life and trying to help steer yourself where you're going would be more like drifting. So when you're going down the road, I feel more in control when I'm giving it gas then I do with the gas off. If I'm not giving it gas, I'm accepting what's coming, I'm accepting the road."

    "You should only be braking or giving it gas," he says. "There's only accelerating or decelerating, there's no coasting. Nobody's gonna drift to the winner's circle."

    Still, Reed learned the hard way. In his first-ever race, at Nelson Ledges, in 2000, Reed crashed on the 11th of 12 laps. He was still using stock suspension and street tires. "I pushed them beyond their limit," he says. "I was being an asshole. 'I'm going to the front. I'm going to the front.'"

    Crashing made him question whether he had what it took. The following week he raced at Summit Point Raceway, in West Virginia. When he saw the white flag signaling the last lap, he started crying. "I was now gonna be able to move forward with this and remove the doubts I had. I was gonna finish my first race," he says. "I was hooked."

    f skateboards went 200 mph, that's what Reed would ride. But motorcycles are the closest thing to flying. "It's like a drug: The more you do it the more you need," he says. "I'm an adrenaline junkie from the beginning."

    Nothing mainlines adrenaline like danger, but motorcycle racers don't have a death wish: For one thing, dying would seriously impair their lap times. For another, compared to other activities they're drawn to, roadracing feels safe.

    "From being on the street to going on the track, I believe -- and I don't want to curse myself -- it's kind of saved my life," says Reed. "Because on the street I was getting crazier, stupider, faster. Crazier, stupider, faster."

    If they didn't personally wipe out on some winding mountain two-lane (Reed says he never crashed on the street), many riders know someone who did, or someone who died that way. And after you've been force-fed gravel on a county highway, dining at a track, with proper safety gear and medical personnel on call, sounds pretty cordial.

    Spills happen regularly, but often riders just slide or tumble and get back up. Concussions are common, though, as are fractures head to toe. Fatalities are rare -- though the American Motorcyclist Association, seemingly the only group tracking racing deaths, won't release the figures. "You don't have death, you have serious injury," says Dr. Jon Schriner, a Flint, Michigan-based sports doctor specializing in motor sports. Of motorcyclists, Schriner says, "They're different than my other athletes," adding "a little more weird."

    "Obsessive" fits too. A joke at the track goes, How do you make a little money racing? Answer: Start with a lot. Figuring in race modifications such as special $2,000 shock absorbers, Reed has about $30,000 invested in his two bikes, plus another $15,000 in his trailer and other gear. Then there are travel costs, and perishables. A single set of racing slicks goes for $375, and he can burn through two pair of those a weekend.

    So Reed's got "a VISA card that'll scare the living daylights out of you" plus daunting insurance premiums. During the six-month season he spends most weekends on the road, most weeknights after work doing maintenance in his garage. In other words, as with many roadracers, racing is about all he does. Limited sponsorships from manufacturers get him discounts on some merchandise, but prize money is small: Despite his success, Reed's never won more than $350 in a race. And only the most promising (and usually youngest) racers can hope for the coveted "free ride" from the manufacturer or other sugar daddy who'll cover all costs from salaries to tractor-trailers.

    The West-East Racing Association, a sort of national farm league for pro racing, has about 2,900 licensed racers nationally, about twice as many as two decades ago. But the average WERA career lasts 2.5 years, and only a fraction of the riders who leave do so to join the pros, whose ranks number in the hundreds. Most drop out when the cost or time commitment get too much, or when they have kids (among the reasons Reed's buddy Cork Morran stopped competing). AMA spokesman Bill Woods estimates that the roughly 6,000 U.S. pro and amateur roadracers equal about one-tenth the total of motocross racers, who ride smaller, cheaper bikes on more widely available courses.

    Club racers are a bonded bunch, all of them driving all night, scraping for entry fees; one Nelson Ledges weekend this year, Reed gave 12 separate bike parts to competitors. "It's almost like, you know, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Land of the Misfit Toys?" says Reed. "I felt like I was with the misfits. I had found a home. I'm out there talkin' to a guy, and I'm like, 'I got this GSX-R750, and I'm goin' 170 miles per hour down the back straightaway, and I want to go faster.' And they're looking at me going, 'Yeah!' instead of going, 'Nooo, that's fast enough, big fella.' Roadracing is like being with people of your own kind."

    They are also, of course, the same people who could inadvertently kill you, as unexpectedly as a recurrence of skin cancer. "Put yourself on a motorcycle, elbow to elbow and handlebar to handlebar at 165 miles per hour down the back straightaway at Nelson Ledges, and if this guy freaks -- if he sneezes -- he's taking you out and it may not be good," says Reed. "You gotta put trust and respect in that person, and you may not even know that person."

    Reed is a married middle-aged guy with a good job, a nice house and, for now, his health. Yet he knows racing is risky enough to end the life it makes worth living. Like most riders, he tapes over his speedometer because "the last thing you want to know is how fast you're going out there."

    Some risk can be managed: Reed takes meticulous care of his bikes, whose polished drive chains wouldn't look amiss at a place setting. Some can't be. That's where praying comes in.

    "There has to be somebody who can help me get through this. Because I'm not in control of my destiny," he says. "I believe in the Man Upstairs, and I believe he watches down on me. I probably take up more of his time than most people."

    or all its relentless technology -- factory bikes get faster so fast that 6-year-old machines race "vintage" class -- roadracing feels like a deeply primitive sport. From the starting line the bikes erupt in a pack, each racer hunched like a jockey, knees and thighs tight to the tank: a horse-and-rider tableau from some futuristic tribal hunt. Each rider is just out there, sometimes literally hanging, guiding his bike with his own body weight, one twitch away from careening across the blacktop and under the hooves of onrushing horsepower. You drive a car. You ride a motorcycle.

    Reed is more shaken up than he expects on his return this year to RoadAtlanta, a well-scrubbed 2.5-mile track in the subdivision-sprouting boonies an hour north of Atlanta, Ga. The scorchingly hot July 6-7 is a big race weekend, with standings, points and some purses at stake and about 320 riders, including the fastest guys he's yet faced.

    Last October, Reed crashed here during WERA's Grand National Finals. Under a hair too much throttle in a tough turn, his bike went down at 110 mph. Head first and face down Reed slammed into the track's rented inflatable air fence and went unconscious, spinning down its length while oil from his cracked clutch cover sprayed the exhaust pipe and set the bike, air fence and underlying hay bales on fire.

    The race was halted. His pal Sam Gaige, who saw the accident from a few bikes back, returned to the pit but wouldn't look Susan Reed in the eye.

    Reed, meanwhile, had come to. A spectator drove him back to the start; he'd pretty well forgotten the crash. His leathers, his protective second skin, had a new hole through which peeked a half-dollar of charred elbow. A buddy wrapped some white duct tape around it. Somebody rolled out his backup bike and Reed ran a warm-up lap in which he gave a jaunty thumbs-up to spectators who'd just watched him eat it. Reed finished the restarted race -- and the one after it -- in mid-pack.

    Now, when he inspects the turn where he crashed there's no air wall -- the very thing that saved his life (WERA installed the rented wall in time for the actual races). And on his practice laps fellow experts are flying past him. "I'll be a bitch today," he jokes ruefully to friend and fellow racer Rob Wigdorski about the unlikelihood of winning even a small prize. "No beer-and-wings money."

    First race out, a 16-lapper, Reed passes a guy beautifully on the inside of a curve by waiting an extra split-second to brake, but then leans too far. With his back tire spinning out wide, he mistakenly backs off the throttle, letting the tire grab traction and tossing Reed into the air, his helmet smacking his windscreen and one leg flailing over his head. Miraculously -- gripping the handlebars while peeking under his armpit for the nearest competition -- he regains balance. But the guy he passed draws even and Reed, worried about his scorched back tire, finishes sixth. He has to drop out of the next race because the duct tape securing his wheel weights comes loose, making his Suzuki rattle uncontrollably.

    In Sunday's first six-lap sprint, he loses 12th place (out of 25) to another friend, perpetually cheerful Ohioan Michael Diener. Reed' competitive drive extends to the number 69 stuck to each of his bikes in imitation of Nicky Hayden, a 20-year-old Kentuckian who's the AMA's top racer. After the race, Reed wonders how much he's handicapped by weighing 195 pounds -- 50 pounds more than many of the best racers. He also speculates that competitors pasting him on the straightaways are running illegally altered, nonstock engines.

    "I don't care," says the grinning Diener. "I just had a good time racing. I had a good time racing with you at the end there."

    "I didn't," Reed jokes.


    Reed finishes the day a consistent mid-packer, his best showing a sixth place. Reed didn't really expect to do any better, but he's still disappointed.

    Susan Reed isn't. She talks with mordant humor about her husband's vocation ("THEN he got into motorcycle racing, after the ring was on the finger"), and she wishes he didn't travel three weekends out of four. But her support demonstrates the near-necessity for a racer of a tolerant significant other. "It's part of who he is," she says. "It keeps him focused. He needs that."

    "To me this was a good weekend," she says after Reed's final RoadAtlanta race. "Bike's in one piece. Keith's in one piece. He brought his lap times down about a second and a half from last year. Good weekend."

    ix days later, Reed is feeling better. He's got enough points to rank among the top five in a couple of WERA divisions, creeping closer to qualifying for AMA status. And he hopes to pick up some more on the blacktop of Nelson Ledges, a track he knows better than any other.

    Heading into turn 13 of the weekend's first practice lap, he's downshifting when his bike slips into a false neutral -- a moment when it should be in gear but isn't. Reed pulls in the clutch and the engine clicks into a lower gear than he wants. He's still on the throttle, but now the bike is over-revving, going faster than the gear.

    Back wheel locks up. Bike spasms. Reed's shoulders and helmeted head whip toward the rapidly passing asphalt. The toppled bike skids.

    When Reed quits bouncing, his right clavicle is in almost too many pieces to count. Three days and numerous doses of painkillers later, a Pittsburgh surgeon disassembles his shoulder and inserts pins and plates -- titanium, no less -- that it's hoped the bone will heal around.

    Earlier this year, Reed recovered phenomenally fast from surgery on an old jet-ski knee injury. Initially, he thinks his collarbone can heal quickly enough to salvage the season. But two weeks after his surgery, even his favorite doctor -- also a motorcyclist -- tells him no way.

    So Reed fidgets around waiting for rehab to begin (sometime in October). He's been to Nelson Ledges, where a month after his own accident his partner Sam Gaige goes down and busts up his shoulder. While he harbors no illusions of making a living racing, Reed still won't be satisfied until he gets to race against the best.

    "There's something in me that says I have to push to this level," he says. "I'm trying to prove something to nobody but me and I've been doing it for 39 years. It's gotten me someplace, but I have to wonder if it's not going to get me killed."

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    "With every scientific advance, we grow closer to unlocking the mysteries of life and creation. But what have we gained if in the process, we lose our humanity. The most powerful thing we pass along to our children may not reside in the genes, but in the soul."
    The Outer Limits(Criminal Nature)

    I have to agree with him. It probably will get him killed.