Track Day Experience or Boy, Am I Stiff Now
By Ian From October, 2003
Well, yesterday, MIK, Karl P, RiceXRider (Jim) and myself made the trip up to the NH International Speedway for a track day hosted by Team Daemon Racing. Jim and I had a fairly uneventful trip up, but were quite happy to make it to the track in one piece anyway. Little did we know what the track had in store for us this day.
Since I prefer to do things as far in advance as possible when it comes to motorcycles, all I had to do to my Hawk was unload it and slap some duct tape on the headlight. Then it was just a matter of waiting to get it inspected. Jim, on the other hand, prefers doing EVERYTHING at the last minute, so I spent the entire prep time helping him strip the tail and indicator lights off of his bike, watching him as he taped up his headlights, plus disconnecting the electrical connector for the headlights and removing his sidestand.
Then it was off to the meeting room, where we were introduced to the event staff and were given a breakdown on the events for the day.
Then it was off to the start/finish line were the event staff instructors each took 3 riders with them on a 6 lap, slow speed course of the track. The instructors took the lead, and after every lap, the rider that was behind the instructor would fall to the back of the line, and the person behind him would move up.
The instructors took us out and showed us the racing line that is preferred on the course, so you got to see the track through the eyes of a person well experienced in the task of going fast, and making sharp turns in maximum aggression mode. The laps were all held to slow speeds, and everyone was instructed during these practice laps to stay in line, and give the guys in front of you room to see what's going on, and to watch the lines the instructors use to set up for each corner.
What I think would have helped more with the people in the Beginner group (myself included) would have been if, after the first practice laps, the instructors took everyone in the group out on the track and showed everyone the very same lines, and pointed out to them the various markers, and explained to them WHY its a good idea to setup for the corner the way they did. That would have helped prevent my accident later in the day.
During the practice lap sessions I gradually stopped concentrating on what the instructors were doing when setting up for the turns, as I had already memorized those quite well, and switched to paying attention to the turns themselves, and where the instructors were setting themselves up at the various markers. Later O shifted to concentrating on thinking to myself WHY would the instructors think that taking that particular line was the best way to get through that turn. That last part is the key to going fast.
Once you take your eyes off the person in front of you, and actually look at the turn itself, you should be able to understand why the lines that the instructors take make sense. Sometimes it allows you to take the turn with as much momentum as possible. Other times it puts you in a position to take the next turn at the best possible speed. So even though you are taking one turn slower than you could, it helps you take the next corner at a faster rate than other people. This, unfortunately, is the one point they didn't really make clear enough to the riders, IMO.
The instructors did 6 lap sessions with the Beginners Group, 3 seperate times, and then after that, turned us loose on the track. Things got glorious at this point. Then they turned slightly sour for me. Yup, I'll be the second one to admit it (MIK was first ) I crashed quite hard during my 5th lap during the first open session for the beginners group.
The first lap went quite well. I concentrated on making sure I was entering the turns at the points I wanted to, and that I was getting all of my Dunlop D205's fully scrubbed in and warmed up, since they were brand new. After each practice session I inspected them, checked the temperatures they were getting up to, and saw how much the pressures increased after each 6-lap session. I then set up the tires to what I thought would be the best pressures for the main course. But now it was time for me to dial up my speeds, and see what a Hawk GT can do. And I did just that.
After 1 lap I found myself behind a rider on a Black Scorpion. Don't know what make, or exactly how many cc's it was, but I knew three things after the first lap behind it. 1- It was a V-Twin just like my bike. 2-Their bike accelerates almost the same as mine does out of the turns. 3- That person/bike combination was slower going through the corners than I was. So there I was, going around the track, figuring out the line they were on, and trying to decide when/where would be the best time to slip past him. Eventually I found that moment, and slip past unharmed into the entry to turn 11.
That's when I came up behind a guy on a Kawasaki Ninja 636 that I was behind during one of the practice sessions. This guy seemed to be your typical newbie on a powerful bike. Go really fast when the road is straight, go really slow and take the turns in a really bad line that doesn't make sense to a person who has a slight idea what they are doing. Since I already had seen that person in action, I knew that the chicane coming up leading to the front straightaway start/finish line was my best point to rip past him.
I watched carefully as he made the initial turn into the chicane properly, but then took the next curve too tight, and had to slow way down. I, however, went wide into that same curve, and blew right past him onto the entrance to the main straight, and by the time he got his bike up into the powerband, I was already halfway down the straight, never to see him again.
Lap 2 was a session in turning up the dial on my entry/exit speeds and techniques. I already knew I was taking the proper lines into the turns, but how fast could I do it? The answer was REALLY fast. The Hawk is an incredibly well mannered machine with its stock suspension. Every time I turned up the dial another notch, it just got better. That's when I realized that with the lines I was taking, and the speeds I was coming out of the corners at, I was a match for almost anybody on the track. And I was feeling extremely comfortable reeling in the person in front of me, watching them slow down entering the turn, and then ripping past them once the turn was over, before they could get their bikes back into their powerband. It was incredibly entertaining. It was a thrill, actually.
That's when things got really fun. After coming out of the last corner, and entering the main straight, I was halfway down the track when one of the instructors (they were wearing red vests) blew past me (I mean it, about a 50 mph difference), and slowed way down for the first series of turns. So I dialed up another notch on the Hawk's speed dial, and pulled in behind him. That's when everything all came together, and I got to experience motorcycling Nirvana for the very first time.
I was neither trying to follow his lines, or keep up with him, but that's exactly what happened. The lines I wanted to take were EXACTLY the same ones he was taking. Almost no variance at all. His bike had A LOT of power, since it was a 4 cylinder liter bike, and would just pull away from me once he got on the throttle and hit his powerband. But I found out 1 thing after my first lap behind him: I was faster in the curves than he was. Quite a few times I would pull up on him as I we came out of a curve, only to watch him start to pull away, and then do the same on the next set of curves. It was great.
I actually even passed him coming out of the chicane that empties into the main straight, where I passed the 636 earlier. Then of course he blistered past me again down the main straight. But I had the pleasure of reeling him in through turns 1, 1a, and 2. Which leads to turn 3. The sharpest, blindest turn on the entire track. Also the one I enjoyed the most, because I had all the visual markers memorized, and as long as I made the initial turn cleanly, I was coming out of it just flying.
MIK, Jim and Karl all were saying how much they disliked that one curve, and how they felt that they just weren't taking it properly. They couldn't see anything as they entered the turn, and they of course went slow. I told them you don't need to see anything. You just need to know where it is that you need to go. If you enter the turn properly, and aim your bike in the proper direction, the speed comes of its own. Once again, I pulled up onto the instructor coming out of the turn, only to have him start to pull away on the uphill straight that it feeds into.
So the two of us are screaming though turns 4, 5, 6 and 7, and we're taking exactly the same lines, and I felt really comfortable. I was in a groove, and just humming along. The bike just felt great. Tires were just stuck to the pavement. I loved it. So we come out of turn 7, which if you do it right, set you up perfectly for turns 8 and 9. Thats when things went wrong for me.
As we came out of 8, we pulled up on two slower bikes, just as they were entering turn 9. We both then shifted our lines to be able to whip past them as we were to exit the turn. Unfortunately, the second slow bike pulled out to pass the first bike IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TURN, right into the line the instructor had chosen to take. He then shifted into my line, which upset me right as I was letting off the brakes and leaning hard left to make the turn. I must have instinctively feathered the front brake for just an instant as I saw the instructor cross into my line, and that was all it took.
The front tire vanished out from under me, and the handlebars were no longer in my possession. Suddenly, I'm in the air, looking straight down, seeing my blue gas tank with the words Hawk (by Honda), and that's when the bike and I came back together in a fury. It was mad at me for touching the brake. I didn't even know that I touched it at that point. All I knew at that instant was that things were about to get bad.
My right forearm hit the upper triple clamp, while my helmet dug right into pavement. Next thing I know my left shoulder digs into the ground, sending me into what seemed like an endless string of barrel and then tumble rolls. Finally my bike and I came to a stop, separated by only a couple of feet, right in the middle of the track. I lay there with my left arm pinned under my body in an odd position, feeling numb all over. That's when I realized that I had a perfect view of the other bikes coming out of turn 9, right into my path. Luckily, no one was sent flying, and everyone made it safely back to the main garage while the ambulance was dispatched to collect me.
After being given a bit of oxygen to clear the fog out of my head, and taking an examination of me, the EMT's helped me walk over to the ambulance. It was a short ride down to the medical facility, where I then was reunited with MIK, Karl and Jim. They were all worried about me, but I was already laughing at that point, so I think I helped put them at ease. I even tossed them my watch, which was quite well destroyed (tip, don't wear a watch to a track day) and had even torn a hole into my gloves.
Which brings me to my next point. BUY AND WEAR GOOD GEAR!!! I can't say that enough times. After going so many years without even so much as a riding jacket, I finally splurged during this spring for a First Gear two piece leather riding suit, and a pair of First Gear racing gloves. With the exception of the hole in the glove from the watch, there were no tears in any part of the leathers. Just rash from the road. $300 really well spent in my opinion. I bought my gear from NewEnough.com, which has great prices on great gear.
So there I was, back in the main garage after being released by the EMT's, when I hunted down the track instructors and apologized for putting a pause on the day. The bulk of the riders were out on the track being given a walkthrough, which I again believe should have been done after the 3 practice sessions were done, so that the lines the instructors were taking could have been properly explained to the riders. The few riders that were in the garage all came up to me and asked me how I was, and said that it was a horrible looking accident, for those that were right behind me at the time. The guy who was right behind me said that the front end of the bike just whipped out from under me, and then I started tumbling and rolling. Then when he went past me, he wasn't happy to see the fact that I wasn't moving an inch. He told me he thought I was dead, I was lying so still. He was quite relieved to see me up, walking around, and joking with everyone about the get off.
I talked to the instructors, including the one I was behind at the time, and that's when I got the most encouraging words of the day. The instructor I was behind said that he was about to let me past him in turn 10 after we got passed the two slower riders since he realized that HE was seriously holding ME up. That has got to have been the greatest compliment of my life. When he came out of 10 and looked for me, I wasn't there any more. He said that he knew it wasn't good. He came back around the track and helped bring my bike back to the garage.
Well, the bike isn't in bad shape. Needs a new handlebar, and a shift linkage, plus I have to figure out why I no longer have any electrics. So the crash wasn't too bad, everything said and done. I then spent the rest of the day cheering Jim, MIK, and Karl on, and trying to convince them that turn 3 isn't as bad as they thought it was. Then Jim crashed, and wasn't too pleased with himself. But that was much later on, and this has gone on long enough.