First day at Sears Point

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By Jim Race

Jim1.jpg

Editor's note: This track day was in late 1999, before Jim ever ran an actual race. The organization for the day was courtesy of the California Superbike School. They do classes around the country, so check their schedule if you're interested. For a good read on the dynamics of turning a motorcycling, take a look at CSS founder Keith Code's book A Twist of the Wrist 2.

The day started off incredibly early for me: 7 a.m. I'm really not a morning person, and combined with the seemingly bitter cold and fog, and my personal haze, I was sort of in a funk. I got a largish boost, however, when I discovered Keith Code himself was going to teach our group all day. I'm not sure if this is how it's normally run, but it was something to look forward to.

After the first classroom test, we went out on a "fourth gear, no brakes" drill. This was at about 8:25, and it was still pretty cold. I was unsure of the stock suspension and tires, but was willing to give it my best shot. The plan was to take two sighting laps, and I pre-gridded first, in front of the rest of my group who all had at least 500+cc's on me. However, I think my best break was seeing the instructor pull out in front of me with 'Rabasa' on the back of his leathers. Those here (and elsewhere) will know John as a great 250 production rider, and I now know him as an excellent instructor.

After the sighting laps they sent us on our way. It was very odd not having anyone in front of me on my first track lap at speed, on a track I'd only ever seen from the sidelines, but I was determined to make the most of it. I did fine for most of the lap, even feeling comfortably fast in the carousel, but I nearly completely blew turn 7, missing my turn-in point and nearly running off. Only by majorly increasing my lean ("oh shit, my tires are freezing") did I manage to make it through and continue on. I was really, really determined NOT to have a get off my first track day. My next 'thrill' was eleven, and not because I found it such a tough corner, regardless of how many times I failed to properly late apex it, but because the damn pavement looks so totally screwed up and greasy as hell. Especially in an early morning light.

The rest of the first session went well, and I had seriously shed any mental fog I had at this point and was becoming much more comfortable with the bike, revving it up into the early teens with gusto. The session ended without incident, and we headed back to the classroom.

The second session was very cool, and I became much more comfortable with the bike's handling. It is a good thing that, despite being tall, I'm also a skinny bastard, so I'm not upsetting the stock suspension bits as much as a heavier rider might. The stock tires, although slightly "broken in" (heh) by the end of the second session, seemed to be relatively confidence-inspiring as well. A crash in 11 foreshortened the second session (two actually; one student's bike followed another's oil slick at slow speed into the bales) and I pulled into the pits. We took a third, quick classroom, then broke for lunch and my Mom (!) showed up. Cool!!

Third session was extremely fun. At this point I was using some of the gears (not a lot at Sears on a 250, apparently) and was feeling quite comfortable. I felt like I was doing really well on turns except for 6 and 11...

... when I had my first hard bit touch down in 7. I majorly scraped my right peg, and after having a short yet loud conversation with myself inside my helmet managed to get my head back together and rip through 10 nearly WFO in sixth gear, just to prove to myself that it was a fluke. This led me to the conclusion that one doesn't really need to make time up on the track in a personal proof, as riding so near to the grass and dirt at ~100 mph or more is a very humbling and non-gratifying experience.

I think we ran 9 laps or so in this session, and my buddy had my watch and was timing me, just for my curiosity. I ran a 2:26 at some point in this session, which made me feel pretty damn good. Near the end of this session I also experienced a foot cramp, which I'm blaming on a combination of being out of shape and cramming a 6'2" rider onto a bike that doesn't really fit. This got worse later.

More classroom, more tracktime. The fourth session rocked.

I was seriously nailing turn two, and regularly passing all the bigger bikes safely both on the inside and outside. I also had turn seven wired, and could pick nearly any rider off at will, except for the pesky guy on the RS125, who was passing everyone and simply hauling ass.

I should sincerely mention, before I get carried away in my self examination, that during this whole thing I was being both trailed and following the instructors, mostly John Rabasa, but also the other guys, and they were giving me killer feedback, primarily through hand signals. There is nothing that I know of on a bike like following a great rider on a much bigger bike through a series of turns, keeping him well in your sights, and having him look back and give you a big thumbs up for a job well done. I really appreciated the encouragement.

Geez. OK. So, last classroom, last track session. I'm sorta beat by now. The fourth session ended with me running out of gas in 11 (under a waving yellow; class bike crash) and luckily not bogging the bike under lean and able to switch to reserve on the fly. No yellows after the checkers, and the rest of the classes (two running at this point) were still running hard, so I did too. Aced seven again. I LOVE that corner. Finished the day with a right leg cramp for a full half lap. That really hurt bad. Must. Get. In. Shape.

Pros

  • Great crew
  • Killer, technical track
  • Quick comfort level
  • Quick reduction of lap times
  • Total confidence that I can be competitive

Cons

  • CSS mechs removed my mirrors the wrong way, leaving metal bits just waiting to fall out. Found error, removed metal bits to pit wall, only found one of two (important) bits later.
  • Cold in morning.
  • Bad coffee.

In summation

If I can ride this well on a box stock EX250, I have a pretty good shot at being competitive next year. I remember a few things John told me at the end of the day, which struck me:

  • My stock motor is pulling faster than his 250 racebike. He said that coming out of six his ZX6 was not catching up nearly as quick as he would have thought.
  • I need to learn to:
  • Pass - I'm a wimp
  • Tuck - Piece 'o cake