I intend to make this a thread of my adventures with track days and share my progress as a track rider with everyone, in the hopes that I can benefit from the critiquing I get from you, and also that someone else could be motivated to do track days, even if just one. A note of warning
: This post is extremely long. If you haven't the consideration to read through and post your thoughts, then please don't. It details my experience with my very first track day, and I'd like as much feedback and criticism as I can get, and have tried to include everything I thought was relevant. I won't put up with posters who obviously haven't read and comment back with 'you must be related to MoM' or snarky queries for Cliffs notes.
Thanks in advance.
Last weekend was my very first day at the track with RideSmart at Texas World Speedway
(TWS) in College Station, Texas, some of you might remember me advertising
loud and proud about. Getting prepared for logistics on my shoestring budget involved hooking up a hitch on my lovely GTi, renting a trailer at UHaul and doing the five-odd hours to get to College Station from Smack-dab-middle-of-nowhere, Louisiana. Prepping the bike
I took off the fuses to the headlights, brake light, and turn signals, tightened all the bolts (especially the oil drain plug), taped up the lights and indicators, took off the license plate and the mirrors, and that was it! The Journey
I left around 5 PM on Friday with the bike securely strapped down on the back of the car (thanks to a buddy of mine who is an expert at tying things down) and began the journey. I did about 80 mph (in fifth gear) on my way up there as the gates to TWS would close at 10 PM, and the car handled just fine. No lack of power or waywardness whatsoever. Snug Tessa and happy badger
I reached TWS with about five minutes to spare, saw an empty spot at the paddock and pulled in next to it. There were a few people hanging out in a nearby spot, so I approached them, introduced myself and told them that this was my very first time ever at a track. So I was offered a beer and allowed to pit in with them! Damn nice chaps they were, I tell you. Most of them were in the Advanced category and offered me help with questions and advice. The bikes in the pit were an R1, a ZX10R, a 1000RR, a GSXR600, an R6 and my own Tessa. Later that night, one of the guys offered me a spot in his trailer for sleeping, which I gratefully accepted. I had known these guys for barely an hour and they had let me pit in with them and given me a place to sleep for the night. People at the track are incredibly friendly and helpful. If you ever find yourself being a newbie at the track in need of a lot of help and advice, I’m willing to bet you’re more than likely to find help, and a bit more. Saturday
I had a pretty good night’s sleep, woke up the next morning around 6:30, had the bike inspected (chain was a bit tight, but I didn’t worry too much about it), registered and went for the riders’ meeting. There was a bit of talk about general rules, taking it easy at the track, importance of tire pressures and caution about cold temperatures (hovering around 50 to 60 °F in the morning). The meeting ended with an antiquated medieval ritual call for a prayer to a certain heavenly father… needless to say, I was stoic and unfunny through the proceedings.
Next up was classroom while the Advanced and the Intermediate guys went out for their first sessions at the track. The instructor went over the general layout of the track and our first session was to be a round robin, where each student would take turns following the instructor along the track. We were short on instructors that day, so not everyone would get a chance to partake in the round robin (including me). I’m told that that weekend was highly unusual in terms of not having enough instructors around. TWS
The track is very, very fast. I can remember my heart racing and my mouth was gaping as I felt my tongue and throat dry out as soon as we were through the first couple of turns on the first lap. I think I was simply overwhelmed by what the experience felt like to go very fast. I wanted to look back and around me to make sure no one was around and had to keep reminding myself not to do that (street habits, you know?) Riding without mirrors was a completely new experience as well. I went back to the paddock completely drained out of moisture from my body and gulped down some water, calmed down a bit and went into the classroom.
The second session was about the corners at TWS, specifically turns 1 through 6. We were talked through about the lines to take. So session 2 began and I began getting a bit comfortable with the speed and the corners. I still didn’t dare to go too fast on the banked straight, lest I should screw up my entry into turn 1. I can remember getting passed on the straights by the literbikes (I think about 90% of the bikes in our group were 1000s and a few twins, some Italian exotics that I was surprised to see anyone would track). I realized what it felt to be ‘walked’. I was enjoying turns 2, 3, 4 and 5
, but the second half of the track was a maze to me, probably because some of it was hilly, and were blind corners as far as I am concerned. I didn’t find the X’s all of session 1 and most of session 2, but the lines slowly started making sense to me. I did panic brake once at the chicane (turns 13-15) when I thought I came in a bit too fast and had to scrub off some speed, so that was not a lot of fun. As the session was about to end, we saw a few red flags and there were two bikes off the course at the chicane. One of the riders was on his back and seemed to be quite hurt, while the other one seemed okay, picking up some plastic that had fallen off his/her fairing.
When I returned to the paddock, I was shocked to see that the CBR had been in a crash and had grass and dirt sticking on it, the rear wheel mangled, the clip-ons broken and the tail detached. The rider (Advanced) crashed at about 120 mph and had hurt his head, so he was taken to the hospital in the ambulance. That put a damper in the mood in the paddock, but we cheered up a bit when we knew that the rider was talking and doing alright. No major injuries apart from a broken finger. I guess crashing becomes somewhat normal when you do track on a regular basis… you’re glad that you are okay, fix up your bike and get ready for the next track day. The second bike from the right is the CBR1000RR after the crash. My bike is to the very right. Last I heard, the rider was doing well and was on his way home after getting discharged from the hospital
Session 3 was still more of the same for me. I was getting passed like crazy on the straighter bits and I was getting worried that I might be holding other back. The worst fear of all, however, was that I might get taken out by a faster, overzealous rider from behind (because I don't really trust anyone). I still couldn't understand how most of the others could tolerate the speeds at TWS. I thought I was still doing alright in the corners, though my body position was fatiguing me somewhat (more on that later).
Then I saw someone fly past me on the inside and I got angry (you can't pass on the inside in Novice) and did a hand gesture (not the bird, just a WTF?), and saw later that it was an instructor (yikes!). He tapped his tail to follow him, and for perhaps the first time that day I could follow someone and learn the lines, especially the second part of the track. I went back to the paddock and hunted the Repsol CBR1000RR with a dinosaur on the back and began talking to the instructor, Tony. He said that he could read my body language and understood that I was 'flustered'
(how accurate) but as I began following him I seemed relaxed and was doing better. He asked me to not worry about my speed and holding others back, so I went back to the paddock in a better state of mind.
Then it happened. After the next classroom session and at our ten-minute call to hit the track, there was a huge crash on the straight (before turn 1). Word spread that one of the instructors was rear-ended by a level 2 student as the former was about to pit. I won't delve into the rumors, but it was really bad. His foot was hanging off with a patch of skin and had to be airlifted in a helicopter. A lot of riders at the track were saying that they had never seen a helicopter at a track before. Out of respect for those involved in the crash and those involved in the emergency work, I haven't taken any pictures of any of these proceedings.
I went back to the paddock and a realization swept across me: 'This stuff is very, very real.' It seemed to me, being at the track for the very first time, that you could make motorsport as safe as you could, but there will still be horrific accidents and tragic conclusions. Word reached by the evening that the instructor's leg was amputated, and that the other student rider was doing okay. Really tragic stuff...
Overall, there were around 8 crashes that day (corroborated by a fellow rider), two were taken by ambulance and one was airlifted. And to think, it was all a bit trivial when this was told to us earlier in the morning at the riders' meeting. Body Position Woes
Sessions 4 and 5 (yes, they still happened despite everything) were pretty taxing, especially 4. My mind was still clouded from what had happened earlier and I debated doing it. I went nonetheless and had the instructors (three of them!) talk to me about my body position. I was hanging off too much, and at one point, I was also getting crossed up. Basically, my entire butt was off the seat and only my outer thigh was resting on it. I was asked to only get one butt cheek off the seat and to not bring the inside shoulder across, if that makes any sense. Things clicked a bit in session 5 and I felt I was getting a bit faster
, but I was a mess by the end of the day. My body position was shit and I still wasn't confident on the track in all of the turns.
That night, my mind kept replaying all of the turns as I tried to go to bed. A couple of quick chats with SGC
helped me put the events of the day at bay. I tried to think more about the track and forget everything else. I even woke up during the night and had the corners coming up in my head... same thing when I woke up the next morning. And it rained frogs and toads that night.
Unfortunately, there was no photographer at the track on Saturday, so I have nothing that you guys can critique my body position on. I'm really bummed out by this. Sunday
Most of the people had left the evening before and the paddocks were pretty sparse on Sunday. Nonetheless, first session done, I got talking to Tony and asked him to help me out by spotting me on the track. The track was soaking wet. The first part wasn't too bad, but the second part was really sketchy, with puddles of water over the racing line
(turn 14, and turn 10, leading into the carousel). I was working hard at getting the correct body position going without straying too much off the seat and taking care not to cross my shoulders against the turn.
The classroom sessions were actually outside (for those of us who were Novices but have ridden at the track before) and Tony, the Scotsman, made everyone pronounce properly the word 'arse
'. Some cookies, tire pressure advice and more stress on proper body position later, we went out again. Inside the pit row, getting onto the track
For the second session, Tony waited to go with me and overtook me at turn 4. He led me on for the entire lap and I began to feel good. My rear slipped a bit coming out of turn 6, but I held on and it felt pretty good. I don't know if it is just me, but I also felt I was going at a pretty good pace. I didn't get passed for a while! He pitted in at the end of the first lap, but due to poor visibility, I couldn't tell if he was merely signaling his intention or asking me to follow him. I did another lap (was pretty sloppy between turns 12 and 15), went in to the pits and straight into Tony's paddock. He was indeed calling me in to have a word with me! On the 'fast' straight ('fast' is a relative term here... I wasn't going too fast)
He said that I was '100 times better than the previous day
' and that there was a 'night and day
difference' in my body position', and that pretty much made my day. I had understood the concept, but I need to practice it more. Back in the paddock... wet and still in one piece
Alas! The weather had other plans. No sooner than one of the instructors had said that the outlook looks pretty dry for the rest of the day, there was a deluge. Some of the instructors did not want to get back on the track, either and there was a delay in opening up track sessions. I realized that that was pretty much the end of the track day and thought I could make it back in town if I started before noon.
One last thing... I got a chance to have my suspension set up for 40 bucks with Roger from On Road Off Road Cycles. He said it wasn't too far off, but raised the rear (don't ask me, I don't know how) and increased the damping in the front (again... I don't know how it is done). Pity I still haven't got to test it out since the suspension was adjusted, but glad I got it done when I had the chance. Roger from On Road Off Road setting up the bike for me
It ended by strapping Tessa back onto the trailer and setting off back to Louisiana as the rain was still pounding all the way east. My ever-reliable Ginny towing my sexy awesome Tessa back home
Overall, my track experience was a mixed bag. I got to know what I was doing wrong and had a brief chance to correct things. I met some amazing people at the track and look forward to pitting with them again at future track days. I did get a taste of what to experience at track days, and the stress that is involved... at least I know I can cope. And I want to do it again.
I am bummed out, though, that I did not got to accomplish what I had sought to when I set out. I still have a thousand questions about the lines at the track and I never got around to picking at them due to the miserable weather on Sunday. I am a bit dissatisfied that I did not get to master the curves at the track.
I guess I really want to go back to TWS again and nail all of those corners down. And be fast. It just feels like a personal challenge at this point. Properly. And if I sound bitter, I am somewhat pissed that I missed out on a wonderful opportunity, something that I've prepared and looked forward to for months. And to have it all washed out (excuse the pun) is really disheartening.
Nonetheless, this was a very fun experience, and this track day did get the ball rolling in me being excited about doing even more track days. I would like to thank Arrhythmia
for making a serious rider out of me (however far I've gotten), weaponzero
for pushing me to do track, SGC
for all the advice for this track day and for putting up with all of my questions, MistressofMayhem
for tons of advice and encouragement for the track. Also, people not on this forum that I've run into at the track... I look forward to doing track with you guys again. You made a very intimidating first-time atmosphere into a much more easier time for me... I have no idea how this would have turned out if it wasn't for them. And the instructors at RideSmart for catching my mistakes and guiding me towards correcting them, despite being a bit short on people. Lastly, the corner workers who braved the crummy weather and provided with stellar service on both days (especially on Sunday) to make sure that all the riders were aware of conditions at the track. Thank you so much, everybody. I hope to make tons of progress my next time at the track... and I've begun saving up now.
Herein begins my quest and addiction.