There are an estimated 85 Road Courses and 60 Road Course Organizations – Track Day and Race Event operations – in the U.S. catering to motorcycles.
It’s no secret that sales of supersport motorcycles in the U.S. plummeted drastically during the depth of the Great Recession. Yet, according to a recent study by Power Product Marketing, a market research firm based in Eden Prairie, MN, participation with Road Course Organizations declined at a much more gradual rate during the past four years. What this rate difference indicates is that the average participant of Road Course Organizations, while still impacted by the economy, was much less likely to exit the sport than the average consumer.
The most common motorcycles on the track mirror buying trends witnessed in the dealership, with 250cc, 600cc and 1000cc models dominating the grid. The overwhelming majority of Track Day riders participate with their street bikes, and a smaller percentage of Track Day riders buy dedicated track bikes. Most Race Event participants have dedicated track bikes, and the rare Race Event participant on a budget uses the same bike for street and track.
Practice Your Riding Skills At the Track
Riding a motorcycle is easy. Riding a motorcycle well takes much more of a commitment. Luckily, here in Minnesota, the tools necessary for learning to ride well are easily accessible.
Motorcycle rider training is available in two main flavors: parking lot-based training and track-based training. Parking lot-based training is great for teaching basic and advanced techniques at low speeds. Track-based training lets a rider take basic and advanced techniques and apply them at speed.
Enter “ZARS” – the Zalusky Advanced Riding School. ZARS owner, Jessica Zalusky, raced at the AMA Pro Racing level and opened the school to share with others what she had learned. ZARS uses the Dakota County Technical Colleges’ (DCTC) closed course driving range for classes. While the term ‘track-based’ could conjure up visions of multi colored, leather clad, veteran racers jousting for the lead, that’s just not the case. Whether you ride a cruiser, sport tourer, adventure bike or sportbike, ZARS welcomes all types of motorcycles and riders to take part in training.
All ZARS classes are divided by skill level. Level 1 lets riders learn the ropes at DCTC. From there, riders can progress up to Level 6. To maximize learning and keep things safe, only riders with similar skill levels are riding the track at the same time. This is not a free for all. It is not a race.
ZARS classes offer both structured classroom instruction and track instruction. The typical class is 20 minutes of classroom, 20 minutes of riding and 20 minutes of rest. The different levels rotate throughout the day. Classes are kept to 10-17 students, so that an instructor/student ratio of 1:3 is possible. If you need help with a specific component of your riding, the instructors are available to follow you around and then give you 1 on 1 critique and instruction. This is invaluable, as every rider is different and needs different guidance.
The idea of riding on a ‘track’ may still leave some riders with reservations. Fair enough. If you still aren’t sure about all day schools, ZARS offers a complimentary “Try the Track” teaser at 12:30pm. Beware, though, the hook pierces deeply – riding on a closed course allows a rider to concentrate on form while focusing. Everything you learn can be applied to defensive street riding and minimizing risk. The newly found skills and confidence will change both the way you view street riding and the way you ride on the street.
After trying the unique and exciting learning environment of the rack it is quite normal to desire more of it. Very much more of it. In addition to the Advanced Riding School, there are many options to get more track time. ZARS offers among others, Track Days, Track School and the School of R.O.C.C. (Rider Objectives, Confidence and Cornering).
Brainerd International Raceway in Brainerd, MN (long and short course) and Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. are some of the tracks that are available for Track Days.
Track School is a track day with on and off track instruction. The Track School is aimed at the novice or starting track day rider making the transition from street riding to riding on the track. Instruction and plenty of track practice time allow for maximum learning.
The School of R.O.C.C. offers the rider who already has track experience to ‘take it to another level’. A 2:1 rider/coach ratio with an experienced expert racer instructor can truly help a track rider learn by leaps and bounds or break through a stagnant plateau.
Classes and Track Day activities are scheduled throughout the summer. The word is out on ZARS and enrollment is limited and fills up fast.
Visit Zaluskyridingschool.com to learn more.
Are You Ready to Race?
By Dave Soderholm
Today’s sport bikes are incredibly powerful, with 600s making upwards of 110 hp and 1000s making around 190 hp at the rear wheel. Those choosing to explore the limits of either bike on the street are asking for trouble. Luckily for us, getting on track is easier than ever.
From total novice to Expert, you have two choices – track days or racing. Which avenue you pursue depends upon your intention and level of commitment. Do you want to compete (racing) literally bar to bar with others at high speed or do you just want to push your personal limits (track days) a little further within your own comfort zone? Decide and choose. If you want to race – read on!
Minnesota is fortunate to have the Central Roadracing Association (CRA) as a local club to race with. As a new rider, you are required to attend a New Rider School that encompasses classroom and track time, all while being mentored by an expert racer. Total cost for the day runs $185.00. That fee covers your classroom, Friday practice, transponder rental, the New Rider Championship Race, your competition license and 2013 membership. They are run the Friday before each of the CRA race weekends (except September).
I would encourage prospective racers to scan racing forums (like our local one @ www.mnsbr.com) for a motorcycle that is already set up to race by another racer. This has several advantages: It’s always substantially cheaper to buy a bike that is already set up than to buy a stock bike and modify it; former race bikes usually come with lots of spare parts; and you won’t have to spend nearly as much time preparing the bike for your first race weekend.
Once you have the bike, buy a good set of DOT race tires for between $300 and $400. Dunlop, Pirelli, Bridgestone, Michelin and Continental (among others) all build good tires with varying riding and feedback characteristics. Search race forums to find out more about the brands you’re interested in. And don’t forget tire warmers and race stands.
Speaking of lives, you’ll want to protect yours!
Helmet – A DOT approved full-face helmet is required. Make sure it fits snug. You will have a lot of force from the wind at 100+mph and you don’t want it wiggling around. Also check to make sure your helmet isn’t too old. Cost = $100 – $900.
Leathers – There are many full or two-piece suits from reputable companies that you can go with depending upon your finances. Stick with major brands that have impact armor, back protector, and double, tripled or safety stitched seams. Single row stitching isn’t going to cut it! Cost = $400 – $2000.
Gloves – Full fingered, full gauntlet gloves are required. Make sure you are buying the best gloves you can afford. Race gloves will have lots of additional stitching and impact protection to guard your precious and fragile phalanges. Cost = $50 – $350.
Boots – Work boots aren’t going to cut it! Over the ankle full motorcycle boots are needed. Make sure they fasten securely and have impact protection in the toe, shin, ankle and heel to minimize injury. Cost = $150-$500.
Other supplies to consider that will make your weekend easier and more enjoyable include tools, zip ties, duct tape, wire tie and pliers, cleaners and chain lube, a generator (if electrical plug ins aren’t provided), spare gas cans, air compressor, pressure gauge, EZ ups, folding chairs, coolers for water and sport drinks, snacks, ibuprofen and a basic first aid kit.
But the number one rule is to have fun and ride within your own limits. You’ll spend the first year cutting lap times, learning techniques, scraping your knee, and bench racing with your buddies! Where it goes from there is up to you Valentino….
“The Curtain Call …”
By Dave Soderholm
Editor’s Note: MMM’s in-house racer, Dave Soderholm, produced three race reports about his experiences in the Central Roadracing Association’s 2012 season. This is his report from the final weekend of the 2012 season, held September 14-16.
To every beginning there is an end. That thought kept going through my mind as I drove to Brainerd International Raceway (B.I.R.) the final weekend of the 2012 CRA racing year. It has been quite an adventure. Drew and I arrived at the final weekend happy and enthusiastic and within distance of a top five season finish in Super-twins despite having missed three races. I was pumped to take place in the New Rider Challenge Race and the Formula 40 race.
On Friday afternoon, the new rider challenge took place. It’s a race that’s open to all the new riders that joined the CRA in 2012. It would be my first race running the big course on the RC and I really wish I had had more practice, especially through turn 2. I was gridded on row 3. The flag flashed, I drafted by one guy into turn one and settled into second place. On lap two, I slid up the inside of the leader and put my head down. Coming around turn 10 in the lead, I looked back and had a small gap running up the front straight. It was the last time I looked back, which proved to be my undoing!
As the laps clicked off I ran a good but not on the edge pace and thought things were in hand. On lap five I saw a wheel coming into turn 3. I was surprised, moved over and tucked in. Thinking I’d just follow the rest of the lap, close in 10 and draft by up the front straight, I did just that. I was set up perfect going through turn 10 a bike length behind the leader – until I saw the checkered flag! It turns out there were only five laps – normal sprints have six, which is what I thought this race was. I flashed across the line ½ bike length back and took second place. Clearly, I was fast enough to win the race, but without information on the gap to second and not looking back, I didn’t control the gap properly. Dang. Lesson learned!
On Saturday we had three races to run. First up was Super-twins and I gridded up in the middle of row 4. The flag dropped, I ran to the bottom of the track and came through turn 1 in second place. I ran up the inside between turns 2 and 3 and came out with the overall lead! Thinking back to Friday, I put my head down and pushed. The RC felt great and over the next few laps I built a good lead. Looking back coming out of turn 9 on lap four I didn’t see anyone, so I throttled back a little and ran a quick comfortable pace. I ended up winning by over six seconds and felt really good about it! The win put me in fourth place overall – three points from third and 18 points from the class champion (Congratulations to J.T Noehre!). Considering we left 60 possible points (20 pts. for a win X 3 races) on the table I’d say mission accomplished!
Next up was Heavyweight Superbike. My goal was just to stick with the fast guys as long as possible and see where I ended up. I was gridded on row 2 and got a decent launch. Running into turn 3 in fifth place, I stayed there until lap two. Running a blocking line from turn 4 to turn 5 put me in fourth. Third place was within reach if I kept the hammer down, but first and second was slowly checking out. Over the next four laps, I slowly crept up on third and put the pass on in turn 9. I maintained a small gap over the next two laps and took third place. I was elated!
My final race was Formula 40 – “run what ya brung” if you’re over 40. I would be racing mostly experts on really fast, well sorted bikes. Gridding up and looking around was a little humbling, there were lots of single digit white plates! Off the start I was running mid pack up towards turn 1. I was determined not to roll off, but apparently everyone else thought that too! No one was giving an inch. I finally rolled off when things got kind of hairy and settled in. Every corner was exciting and thrilling with passes happening back and forth! The level of riding was amazing all through the field!
I finally settled into an amazing battle for tenth with bike #46. The guy rode like Rossi! We were both consistently fast, and within a bike length or two for five laps! I’d get a great drive out of turn 10 and draft past him at the end of the straight, then, no matter how late I broke for turn 3, he’d brake just a little later. We’d then be glued together for the rest of the lap only to repeat it again. Drafting by him on the final lap, I moved way over and broke really late for turn 3. Haha! I got him………CRAP! He’s past…! He’s going to crash….! He saved it! Wow. That was a thrilling, and amazingly fun ride! Hats off to ya #46! That’s the most fun I’ve ever had racing a motorcycle!
I pulled into the pit garage and hit the cut-off switch. There was silence. I sat and savored a couple minutes just sitting on the bike in the quiet. What a ride and what a season! I patted the big RC on the tank and slowly swung a leg off. Andy arrived and hoisted it on the stand. I knelt next to the RC Rossi style and thanked it. It’s quite a bike you put together there Drew! Thanks for honoring me with the ride and trusting me with your baby.
Preparing for the Track
Whether pre-owned or showroom new, every motorcycle that enters a racetrack must pass a technical inspection. Except for a few special tasks highlighted below, preparing a motorcycle for a Track Day is easy. The main requirement is that your bike is in good mechanical condition.
1) Tires and Brakes need to be in near new condition. Tape the wheel weights.
2) Mirrors need to be removed or taped over.
3) Controls (throttle, clutch, brake lever) needs to move freely and snap back into the closed position.
4) Headlight & Tail Light need to be disabled and/or taped over (its a good idea to unplug the bulbs if taping)
5) Turn Signals need to be taped over
6) Radiator Fluid – most organizations do not allow glycol-based coolant, replace with Water Wetter or equivalent. All hoses must have hose clamps.
7) Engine needs to be in good working order with no leaks.
8) Tighten/Check frequently removed bolts, drain bolt, oil filter etc. For racers, oil filler and any drain plugs (including fork drains) must be wired.
9) Oil – make sure your fluid level is correct before you arrive at the track.
10) Sidestand/Centerstand must be removed for racers.