[ARTICLE]By Doug Westly
[idroitex=250]http://www.sporttouring.us/attachment.php?attachmentid=185&stc=1&d=1336177358[/idroitex]If you have been reading any of my columns over the past few months, you know I have been extolling the virtues of track riding. It really does improve your street skills, besides being just plain fun on a motorcycle. Some of you may even want to try a track day, but arenít really sure how to do it, or understand what goes on at such an outing. Since Becky and I just finished a track day this past month (March), I thought I would give you an idea of what really happens at the track.
Becky and I usually do our track days through Eurocycles of Tampa Bay, at the Jennings GP racetrack in northern Florida. Jennings, like most racetracks, runs open track days and private, reserved days. Eurocycles reserves one day a month, usually on a Monday, October through May when it is not too hot to ride all day in full leathers. Typically we have 20-25 riders for the day, which means the track isnít crowded and you get all the space you need to circulate the course. On our March track day we had about 20 riders.
The track day actually starts the day before. Jennings is a 3Ĺ hour drive north, the last exit on I-75 before the Georgia state line. On Sunday morning we loaded up our trailer with our track bikes and gear (I have a Ducati 1098 and Becky runs a Honda CBR600RR on the track). After lunch, we jump in the truck and head north. There are no hotels at the Jennings exit (at least none you would want to occupy for the night), so everyone usually stays at Exit 5, in Valdosta, GA. It is only 15 minutes north of the track, and there are lots of good hotels. The other reason for that location is that on Sunday evenings a lot of the group gathers at a local Mexican restaurant, to eat and chat. This past track day we had about 10 riders at the Sunday evening gathering. It is great fun eating chips and telling motorcycle war stories. Some of them are even true!
[igauchex=250]http://www.sporttouring.us/attachment.php?attachmentid=186&stc=1&d=1336177386[/igauchex]Monday morning means an early start for track days. We got up at our usual 6 AM, zipped down for the free hotel breakfast buffet and then headed for the track. The track gates open at 7 AM. Experienced track-goers get there soon after, so they can get the pit location they want. Eurocycles does it right. They provide a free trackside morning buffet of hot coffee, orange juice, muffins, bagels, doughnuts, fruit, etc., for everyone. 7 AM to 8:30 AM is pit setup time. We go through the ritual of unloading bikes, setting up our pit canopy, getting the bikes up on their wheel stands and wrapping the tires in their tire warmers. Most importantly, we get to say hello to all our friends that we havenít seen since the last track day! You make some really close friends at a track day. Everyone helps each other, and you really learn to trust someone who is running the track with you at speeds of over 100 MPH.
We often have riders new to the track experience at our track days, and this past March was no exception. We had two riders who were experienced with track riding but had never been to Jennings, and one rider who was on his very first track day. When youíre ready to try a track day, donít let the first day intimidate you. Everyone is there to help the new rider. Weíve all been there, and introducing the new rider on how to ride track is part of the group experience. There are people who will help you setup your bike, explain how the track riding system works, and generally show you the way. You donít need a lot of pit equipment either. Our new rider in March basically rode up on his bike, having given his track riding gear to the Eurocycles folks to bring up with them in their truck. Oh, and if you donít have race leathers, donít worry about it. You can rent them at the track.
At 8:30 AM, we all gathered for the mandatory riders meeting. At the meeting we review the track, the racing line on the track, protocols for entering and exiting the track (termed ďpit outĒ and ďpit inĒ, respectively), flag designations for when you see race control or one of the corner workers waving one at you, etc. Everyone reintroduces themselves to each other. Any new riders are assigned an experienced track rider to show them the way for the first few laps or even for a couple of sessions as necessary. I often have a new track rider with me for the first part of the morning, and really enjoy showing them the ropes.
[idroitex=250]http://www.sporttouring.us/attachment.php?attachmentid=187&stc=1&d=1336177441[/idroitex]After the riders meeting, it is engine start time at 9 AM. The first order of business is to warm up the bikes in the pits, then when youíre ready, strip off the tire warmers and be ready to ride. You donít need tire warmers to ride track, but you do want hot tires as soon as possible when youíre out on the pavement. Tire warmers do away with the necessity to ease around the track a few laps while you build up tire heat. They also keep the tires hot between sessions.
The first session of the morning is a track introduction ride for new riders, and anyone else that wants to go along. I usually lead these familiarization sessions, and the March track day was no exception. I led the new rider and the experienced, first time Jennings riders around, with Becky bringing up the tail so she could evaluate the riders. After a few laps, it is back into the pits and time for open track sessions for everyone. At that point, I took charge of our new rider and led him around the course for a bit. We would do a couple of laps, pull into the hot pit area and talk about it, then go out again. Once he felt comfortable, he led a few laps, and then we would repeat the stop and talk process. After about an hour, I turned him loose and away he went. He had a great day. Well, he did have one off-track excursion, but no harm, no foul. The great thing about Jennings is that it is designed for motorcycles. If you get too hot going into a corner, you can stand the bike up and ride it off into the flat grass outside the corner. Once you get slowed down, just turn around and safely re-enter the track.
Morning track time lasts until about 12:30 PM. These are open sessions, meaning unless someone drops a bike or we have a mechanical failure requiring track clean-up, you can come and go as you please, to ride as much as you want. Smart track riders pace themselves, and their tires. Like most track days, we spent as much time in the pits as out on the track. Part of the fun of track days is hanging out in the pits, wrenching on bikes and helping your friends do the same. There are strategy sessions on how to tackle corners, and just plain fun antics as well. Make a mistake out on the track, like missing a line through a corner or running off the track, and the whole crew will know before you pit in. Personally, I think I own a little piece of the grass run-off area outside Turn 13. After two years running Jennings, I can finally get through that turn at a decent speed without eating dirt, but Becky still threatens to put knobbies on my track bike!
[igauchex=250]http://www.sporttouring.us/attachment.php?attachmentid=188&stc=1&d=1336177493[/igauchex]At 12:30 PM the track shuts down for lunch. Eurocycles throws a trackside BBQ as part of the day. Cheeseburgers and hot dogs are on the grill. Potato salad, chips, awesome homemade baked beans are ready for everyone. Dig your favorite beverage out of the cooler and youíre all set to go. Oh, and donít forget to poach the cookies for dessert and afternoon snacking. Everyone always eats way too much, and we spend the rest of the hour sitting around, groaning.
Lunchtime is also time to refuel the bikes, check tire pressures, and any other required maintenance. Once 1:30 PM arrives, it is open track again. Becky and I jumped on our bikes and headed out. This particular Monday track day had a magical, after lunch session. Usually no one can put in a good set of laps right after lunch. We all joke that it is because the BBQ gorging has changed the weight balance! However, this particular track day was different. I ran a set of laps that Iíve never experienced before just after lunch. I was on the race line and everything was clicking. I managed a 140mph+ pass down the back straight, which Iíve never previously achieved after lunch. Even better, when I got back to the pits, Becky was just coming in as well, and she had a huge grin on her face. She was practically jumping up and down as she got off the bike, with the experience of an epic run of her own. After that session, we both collapsed into the shade of our pit canopy for a bit, just to come down off the high!
The track day lasted until last bike in at 5 PM. However, we usually pack up and head out about 4 PM or so. Itís a long drive home and Becky gets up early for work on Tuesday. So at pack-up time we loaded the bikes and gear, grabbed quick showers in the locker rooms and then said good-bye to all our friends. A commute with a stop for dinner back down I-75 and back home by 8 PM made the end to a great day!
So there you have it, a typical track day. It is great fun with awesome peopleÖand you really do learn a lot, every time you go out on the course. If you ever want to give it a try, get hold of us and weíll be glad to introduce you to the track!