Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Track Day Q & A

A bad day at the track is still better than a good day at work.

Q: What in the heck is a track day?
A: A track day is an opportunity for anyone with about a year of riding experience to take their sportbike out to the racetrack and have fun. It can also be a valuable opportunity to learn proper riding techniques that will help you avoid accidents and become a safer rider on the street.

Q: How are track days structured?
A: Most track days are comprised of three groups:
Street: First time track riders, relaxed folks and people who just want to go easy. Passing is allowed after lunch, but typically is controlled to take place only on a long straightaway.
Advanced Street: Riders who are experienced at the track and are comfortable with close passing, establishing a proper race line and desire to run a faster pace. Passing is allowed throughout the day but only on the outside and six feet of clearance is recommended, though not entirely enforced.
Race Group: Riders are typically licensed racers and have even more experience with close passes and a pace which is consistent with that run on race weekends. Passing can take place on the inside or outside and often times within only a few inches.
Track Time: Each Group is given a 20-minute timed lapping session every hour. Most events consist of about six sessions, so you’ll likely see 2 hours of total track time in one day. Believe me, this is enough to wear you out.

Q: Am I just lapping the track, or are classroom activities and instructors available to help me improve?
A: Most of the companies offer, or require, classroom time when a rider is not on the track. Class time is highly recommended for newer riders, or riders who are on an unfamiliar track, as they will help you learn the track and prepare you for any unforeseen challenges.
With that said, if you want help, you need to take action and ask instructors to watch you on track, then allow you to follow them for several laps each session. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in a rather large sea of riders.

Q: Can I ride my bike to the track, run the track day and then ride home?
A: You can, but you’ll regret it. Track time takes an amazing amount of energy and you’ll be lucky to get home in one piece. Add to that your lack of Gatorade, a seat other than that on the bike and a back up plan in case you end up trashing the bike. If you can't afford a trailer, borrow one. If you don’t want to take the effort to find a trailer or get a hitch put on your car, rethink track time.

Q: I’m the fastest person on 697, so naturally, I should be in the racer group at my first track day, right?
A: Wrong. Skills needed to ride fast on a country back road are, in general, very different from those needed to ride fast on the track. All told, you are probably no where near as fast as you think. 20 minutes of track time can feel like 2 hours of normal riding, or more, depending on your level of skill. Often, I feel as though I’ve been doing squats for 20 minutes when I finish a session.

Q: Can I actually use my track skills on the street?
A: Of course! Now, no one should be attempting to drag knees on the street, but bike control skills improve dramatically at the track because it is safer to find the limits of your mind, body and bike. This knowledge can then be used to make you a safer rider in daily traffic or out on an SMR.

Q: Isn’t the track a more dangerous place to ride than the street?
A: Actually, most experienced riders consider the track to be far safer than the street! Obviously, the flow of traffic is consistent, medical attention is only seconds away and tracks consider safety a paramount in design. Its much easier to push the bike and find your limits when you know the only thing out there to hit is a field of grass or at worst, a bunch of old tires. Injuries are inevitable, but at least you can go into each corner with more and more confidence.

Q: What if I’m the slowest person on the track, am I going to be in the way?
A: Probably not. As long as you ride a consistent line and do not swerve around, it really won’t matter. By and large people don’t care how fast you are, and most will offer to help you get more comfortable with the bike throughout the day by offering advice. Just be sure and ride in the appropriate group for your level of skill and knowledge of a given track.

Q: What do I need to wear on a track day?
A: Aerostitch suits are allowed, but leather is your best option. Two-piece suits are allowed as long as both halves zip together with a ¾ zipper.

Q: I don’t have leathers, and don’t have the money to spend on a set. Can I still go?
A: Absolutely! There are services available which allow anyone to rent top quality leather suits, gloves and boots for a nominal fee. In fact, one such service is owned by a fellow TSBA member and might provide discounts to members needing proper track gear.

Q: How should I prepare my motorcycle for a track day?
A: Ideally, you should drain your coolant and replace it with straight water and Water Wetter. You should also do a fresh oil change, with filter (not a Fram) and check your tires. If you do not have at least ½ of the tread depth all the way across the tire, you might have issues late in the day. Steel braided brake lines, DOT 4 fluid and track worthy brake pads are also a great asset, but certainly not required for a new track rider.

• Mirrors
• Fur
• Anything you’d like to keep looking new

• Head lights
• Tail lights

It is also a great idea to invest in frame sliders and swing arm sliders.

Q: Do I need race tires?
A: Not unless you are running in the faster run group and feel as though you are reaching or exceeding the limits of your street tires. Race take-offs can be found within the club or on EBay for as little as $75 and, for some people, inspire more confidence than the average street tire. But, honestly, most riders are not capable of finding the limits of their tires, so you probably don’t have to worry.

If you do want a set of track tires, most sets start at $300 mounted and will last you two or three days.
• Bridgestone BT-002
• Michelin H2
• Pirelli DiabloCorsa (street/track)
• Dunlop 208GP
• Pirelli SuperCorsa
• Metzler Rennsport

Q: How should I prepare myself for a track day?
A: Read as much as you can before you get there! Twist of the Wrist II from Keith Code is a great resource of information and helps bring different points to the top of your mind each time you go out on the track. There are other books to read as well, plus you can ask questions on various bulletin boards.

Q: What else do I need to bring me to the track?
• A Friend to take care of you / your bike if you crash
• Water
• Gatorade
• A chair
• Some shade
• Lots of Sleep
• Healthy, energizing things to eat such as fruit, trail mix, PowerBars, etc

Q: What should I leave at home?
A: Your ego. You will never, ever, ever be the fastest or smoothest rider at the track.

Q: Who runs these things anyway? And what tracks do they use? What does it cost?
A: There are organizations around the country that run track days and can be found with simple web searches or complete schedules can be found in Road Racing World. Track schools in Texas start as low as $150 for a full day of track time, but prices range around the country. In Texas, here's what is available:

• Lone Star Track Days
• Ride Smart
• SportBike Hype

• Texas World Speedway
• Motorsport Ranch (Dallas)
• Motorsport Ranch (Houston)
• Hallett Motorsports Park

Professional Schools
• California Superbike School
• Jason Pridmore’s STAR School
• Freddie Spencer’s Riding School
• Rich Oliver’s Mystery School

Q: What are the main differences from one company to the next?
A: Not much, each offers valuable classroom instruction from experienced racers and a wealth of track time. Lone Star Track Days does offer the ability to become a licensed racer, as well as tire services at the track.

Q: What are most people doing wrong when they crash at a track day?
A: Typically, they are trying to go too fast for their skill level. Many new riders think they need to go fast simply because they are at the track. You should never exceed your own personal limits however, and always ride with your head, not your heart. If someone passes you, or is trying to pass you, let them go! If someone tells you that you can’t learn without crashing, they are only trying to make themselves feel better. You don’t want to stop the process of learning by crashing and scaring yourself, so take it easy.

Things to remember:
• Consistency is the key to learning.
• Speed comes with time.
• Trying to go fast, or feeling like you are going fast, is typically slower.
• Ride smoothly, ride your line and you will get faster.
• Be patient.

Q: Do I need to be dragging my knee to be going fast?
A: No, but it sure is fun!

Q: What should be my ultimate goal at a track day?
A: Have fun!


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