Monday, January 16, 2006

So, You Want to Go Motorcycle Road Racing?

Now that you’ve run some track days and you have the itch… you want to go racing.

Please Read the "90% Rider, 10% Bike" Section at

Q: How much track experience do I need before I start racing?
A: That changes for everyone but generally you want to do enough track days that you are comfortable and competent at speed on the bike. Also, it’s a good idea to find out what your lap times are and then compare them to what is run in the race classes you wish to enter. Don’t compare with the leader, but with mid-pack to the rear of the field.

Q: How will I know I’m ready?
A: When you can run in the A (fast) group and don’t mind being passed at very, very close proximity you are probably ready to get your ass handed to you on the track. The most important thing to remember is that you need to be able to race and hold a consistent line. If you are uncommitted in the corners, wishy-washy on the throttle and no where near the apex, do more track days before racing. There’s no sense in putting yourself or another rider in danger.

Q: Do I need a license to race?
A: Yes you do! You also need to take a racing school either through the CMRA, Lone Star Track Days or another accredited school. The school will teach you the basics of how race day, meanings of flags and proper etiquette on the track. You will then need to complete two separate race weekends without crashing and corner work for two days to shed your dreaded yellow shirt and become a novice racer.

Q: Do I have to race a big bike?
A: Of course not! Minis are a great way to go racing and they are far less expensive than the big bikes while still offering close racing, lean angles and a lot of fun. Bikes range in size from 8 HP 50cc Derbi and Yamaha YSRs to 25 HP 80cc GP bikes.

Q: Who puts on the races anyway?
A: The two organizations in Texas are:
Big bike and mini racing: Central Motorcycel Racing Association
Mini racing only: Texas Mini Grand Prix
You can also race with WERA, CCS and the AMA in different parts of the country, but let’s keep it local for now because you’ll be in enough debt as it is…

Q: What types of racing can I do?
A: There are two primary types: Endurance and sprints.
Endurance races are done with a team of two to four riders and many teams consist of both expert and novice racers. Costs and track time are split amongst the team with crash repairs typically covered by the responsible rider. Races may be anywhere from 4 to 8 hours in length, with five classes racing simultaneously. Endurance racing is an exciting team sport that requires strategy, pit stops & team work.

Sprint racing consists of 8-lap races with classes divided by experience (expert and novice) and bike type. You can race anything from a 50cc Derbi to a 1000cc Suzuki in various states of modification and just as much fun on either machine. Racing sprints is rewarding but requires a more aggressive attitude and, in general, costs more.

Q: Hey, I just got a great deal on this $400 2-piece suit from Cycle Shlock, I’m ready to go race right?
A: Perhaps in minis but for big bikes I wouldn’t recommend it. Let’s face it; the pace in the races is far and above that of anything at a track day so you really will want to spend as much as your budget allows on gear. You will crash so you might as well have the best thing money can buy, because the suit is going to save your butt from skin grafts and you’ll get years of crashes out of the suit, not just 1 or two. A 1-piece suit is also more resilient and there’s no zipper to peel apart and expose your back and chest to asphalt.

Expect to spend at least $800 to $1500 on your race leathers, and be sure to get fitted for them at a place like Moto Liberty if you don’t go custom. Armor won’t do a lick of good if it slides off your shoulder in a low-side, or your wedgie tight suit won’t allow you to hang off the bike.
Take it from me, buy some good race boots and be prepared to replace your helmet when you smack it the first time in a low-side.
Also, do what Brett Champagne does (because he’s fast) and drop kick your boots, gloves and leathers onto the track as soon as you get to the track. This ensures that your new gear will not be inclined to make its own introduction while you are trying to ride.

Q: I’ve got my bike from track days, but what else do I need to change on the bike so that I can race?
A: Buy a bike that’s already been race prepared. And for god’s sake don’t buy a liter bike for your first year of racing. Forget your ego and get yourself on an SV650 or a 600. There are guys on SVs (and 45 HP 125s) that run rings around 150 HP RC51s and a host of other high powered liter bikes. I say this mostly because you will learn more about corner speed on a small bike than you will on a bike with tons of power.
Tire warmers are a necessity in my opinion. Cold tires in an 8-lap sprint race suck.
Of course, now you need a generator to run those tire warmers unless you can find a plug

Or, if you are bent on doing it your way there are a variety of things you’ll need to do to meet CMRA requirements at tech inspection:

• Race bodywork is now required on all bikes, so street plastics and a turkey baste pan are no longer considered legal or fashionable.
• You will also need to safety wire (painstaking process of drilling very small holes in the heads of bolts so that you can a) break $15 worth of drill bits, b) cuss readily, c) make your knuckles bleed and d) wire the bolts so they do not unscrew themselves) the brake calipers, axles, radiator cap, oil drain plug and oil filter. Ideally you should wire just about every bolt on the bike, but that can be a real pain in the ass
• You will also need a steering damper and a transponder. Transponders are the only means of scoring the races and while rentals are available, they go quickly and if you don’t have one, you cannot race.
Transponders are available from AMB: and their phone number is 678-816-4000 for $329 + tax/shipping/handling.

Q: This is starting to sound expensive…
A: Get used to it. As Steve Breen likes to tell people, “To get yourself used to racing just make a pile of $100 bills in your driveway and set them on fire.” This, in all honesty, is not very far from the truth. This racing thing isn’t cheap, but it does not have to be too insanely expensive either.
1) For a new racer, it costs a lot less money (not to mention time and tears) to buy a prepared race bike than it does to try and fully prepare a bike on your own.
2) Racing with an endurance team is less expensive than running sprints.
3) No one says you have to have the latest and greatest of anything. However, if you do, you’ll at least look fast in pictures.

Q: I’m only interested in racing a little, I don’t think I’ll get hooked into it.
A: HAHAHAHAHA! Yes you will.

Q: What kind of budget will I need to run each weekend?
A: How deep are your pockets? This is a subject of much debate but I’m going to use round numbers to make it easy on you. Depending on race length, a typical endurance team will spend about $700-$1000 per race weekend depending on class and competitiveness. Split three or four ways however, that becomes easier to handle. This number does not, of course, include crash damage. The fast guys also tend to win tires, oil and parts through contingency prizes but again, those are the fast guys. Not you.

Sprint racing typically costs a bit more for an individual. You are probably looking at anywhere from $500-$800, again depending on competitiveness and the number of classes you race in during the weekend. An SV650 or 600 race bike is eligible to race in as many as 9 classes in a single day, so you can wear yourself (and your wallet) quite thin without much thought, but most people tend to run 3-5 sprints per weekend on a single set of tires.

Q: Ok, there’s no way you are telling the truth, what does everything cost?
A: Hey, I never claimed to be right, but let’s see. You’ve got:

• Transportation/fuel getting to the track – What’s a tank or four of gas cost you?
• Food & Gatorade - $15
• Hotel room unless you camp out - $50/night
• Then you’ve got the gate fee - $15-$20 for the weekend
• Fuel for the bike (at least 10 gallons of high octane) - $20.00
• A set of race tires - $300+ per set
• Entry fees for your sprint races – First race: $65, Second race: $45.00, Add’l: $30.00
• You’ve also got bike prep like a fresh oil change and filter - $35 or so

Over time you’ll need to figure in the cost of replacing:
• Brake fluid, fork oil, chains and sprockets, crash damage, your significant other…
• Then there’s everything else you need that I can’t think of right now…
I’m no mathematician, but all that adds up fast.

Q: Do I need to run race gas?
A: Probably not. If you are seeking those last 4 or 5 tenths of a second, or just have a lot of money to burn, go for it. But once you get into race gas you are going to need to think about what its doing to the inside of your motor (wear) and proper tuning.

Q: Ok, so… what can I expect to spend in my first year of racing?
A: That all depends on whether you race endurance or sprints but personally, I’d budget somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 arms and a leg, or 3 kids and a house. Seriously, if you run a full season of endurance you can bet on about $3,500 + crashes.
If you want to run a full season of sprints (in say, 4 classes) and you are NOT including the cost of buying or building a bike, or any of your race gear… $5,000 would not be a stretch.

Q: What about insurance?
A: For the bike? Forget it. For your body? You better check into it.
Most of us work for companies that have insurance policies which cover you in case of an accident with medical, life, STD and LTD but there could be a clause so its worth looking into. DO NOT call you insurance company and blatantly ask them “Do you cover motorcycle racing” because you’ll be screwed. And when you do crash and require $40K worth of steel plates, titanium screws and an MRI, just remember that you did it while mountain biking. You can get insurance from some independent sources but be prepared to spend some bucks.

Q: My family thinks I’m going to killed or seriously injured, but I say screw ‘em!
A: Dude, you CAN get killed or seriously injured racing motorcycles so before you make the plunge into racing get the blessing of your s/o. Nothing sucks more than being a leech on your family because you’ve got two broken legs and a dislocated shoulder and they didn’t like the idea to begin with… at least get them to tentatively agree first.

Q: Is this really a family sport?
A: Absolutely. What better way to spend 1- to 4 -weekends per month than sniffing race gas and melted rubber while watching some of the best riders in the country get after it on some of the coolest tracks in the nation? Besides, kids can race as soon as they can walk and as long as you can sit on a bike you can keep racing. Nothing builds character like friendly competition, the great friends you’ll make at the races and watching a fellow novice racer knock himself unconscious (and obliterate his race bike) by high-siding at triple digits speeds.

Q: All this talk of injuries… I’m a little afraid of getting hurt.
A: Oh, suck it up! If I’ve learned anything from racing it is that surgery really is not all that bad. Oh sure, that part about sitting on your couch reading Harry Potter books for 2 months kind of sucks, but once you get better it all just sort of goes away into the misty eons of history. You forget things like that pretty quickly and, fortunately, you cannot remember pain. You might remember that something hurt, but you can’t recreate it.
A2: Injuries do, however, make you realize just how much you enjoy being healthy. For my own part, this took precedence over racing and I took the decision to stop. Quite simply, I had gotten very lucky to get away from several accidents and with the next one looming it seemed prudent to walk away while I still could. Add to this a variety of financial obligations, and racing was just no longer in the cards. What the future holds, however, is anyone's guess.

Q: Any staid advice for a new racer?
A: Be prepared to completely humiliate yourself, then laugh and forget it because no one else in the paddock seems to think its worth remembering.

Q: What else do I need to know?
A: 1) You are NOT fast. Stop trying to be fast and you'll go faster.
2) Beats the hell out of me. Your best bet for learning about getting into racing is to start attending races. Work corners, volunteer to help the organization for a weekend and see things from the inside. You’ll gain an appreciation for all the hours of hard work that go into making that race weekend a breeze at registration. There are a group of dedicated people that deserve a thanks and big hug every weekend, so get to know them well.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions at the race either. Everyone in the paddock is part of a large family and as long as you are open to their input, you can learn a lot in a single weekend. You might also find a guy that looks really busy; perhaps he’s kind of fast and might need some help. Offer it. You can learn a whole lot more just by crewing for someone for a weekend and understanding how the day works, what prep is needed on the bike and what it means to really be a part of what’s happening.


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