Shaking Off the Winter Dust
M.M.M. checks out a Track Day
by Tony Marx
A few summers back, while bombing around some country back road on a hot July day, I found myself in a situation that I’ve thought about many times since. I was riding at speed on an unfamiliar twisty road when I crested a hill to find the road heading downhill into an unmarked 150 degree left hand turn. As my gut sank, my right hand grabbed two fingers full of sintered stainless-steel braided stopping power. Unfortunately when it came time for the right hand to finish braking and the left to start steering, each was locked in indecision and I was running wide. Eventually my front wheel washed out and my bike piled into the Armco barrier. Luckily my body took a different trajectory and I missed the end of the barrier by a foot or two.
As I think back on that moment I kick myself because, in hindsight, I had scrubbed off enough speed and simply needed to tip the bike into the corner. I surely would’ve leaned the thing over further than I ever had before but I would’ve also made the corner. I can say that with confidence because since then I’ve taken that same bike to the track. That incident made me realize that I had a lot to learn and that the street was no place to learn it. One crappy mailbox post or oncoming car coupled with my indecision could’ve turned a simple lowside into a deadly accident. A closed track is the only place to learn.
Locally there are two organizations to get you on the track. Steve Bauman’s defensive skills courses are scheduled for 11 dates at the Dakota County Tech road course. Check it out at www.ride.netfirms.com or look up Pat Hahn’s article in the July ’02 issue of M.M.M. For big track action check out Sean Edgett’s Edge Performance Riding Courses. They run dates at Brainerd International Raceway and Mid-America Motorplex in Pacific Junction Iowa. I was headed to MAM in April to attend the CRA’s new racer weekend and decided to try an Edge track-day to shake off the winter dust.
Last year I did a few track-days with the Northeast Sportbike Association and, being new to the track, I enjoyed the rigid structure of their events. New riders all start out in the slowest group and are monitored closely by control riders using hand signals to communicate things like “Follow me” or “Go ahead, I want to watch you.” After each session they will stop and offer you advice and let you know if you are doing anything stupid or dangerous. Passing is not allowed in corners, passing control riders is not allowed at all, and riders need control rider approval to get into intermediate or advanced group. Lots of control makes for a very polite environment, which helps new riders feel comfortable but may get a bit stale for faster riders. Cost for BIR is $215 for non-members and they usually only get there once a year so I don’t consider the organization local.
Edge Performance Riding Courses on the other hand are based in the Twin Cities and are running 10 track-days this year. The Edge Performance day I attended had a much looser feel when compared to NESBA. If you sign up for a track day then that’s what you get, an open track to ride on. If you want guidance you need to sign up for one of their track-schools.
Gareth Jones operates Edge’s track-schools. Currently he is the chief new rider instructor for the Central Roadracing Association and has been racing motorcycles for over 30 years. He’s held expert licenses in most of the world’s sanctioning bodies, raced with men like Giacomo Agostini and Barry Sheene, survived the Manx GP, and from what I can gather has raced on every track in North America.
He’s developed his own curriculum focusing on 3 aspects of riding. Awareness- being able to process things at speed like braking and turning points or the rider whose rear wheel is 12 inches ahead of your front wheel. Gareth says that your street riding brain is like a 256k microprocessor and that you’ll need at least a Pentium for the track. Comfort- Comfort with your bike, speed, and other bikes within your riding space. Consistency- Braking points, turning points, corner speed etc. Being able to pull them all together lap after lap after lap.
Gareth uses these fundamentals in 3 levels of Edge’s track-school. Level 1 ($220) is aimed at street riders and track-day junkies. As an alternative to level 1 they offer a Race Certification course ($150) that is faster paced and focuses on things like race procedures, flags, and racing concepts to prepare future racers for licensing. Track time includes practice starts and a mock race at the end of the day. Riders receive a certificate of completion, not a race license. I spoke with two riders who felt that the course helped them excel in (and was more challenging) than the CRA’s crowded new rider course. Level 2 track-school ($270) requires that you attend either of the previous track-schools and takes what you learned to the track for one on one training. Bike and rider setup will be gone through to ensure comfort on the track.
All classes maintain a 3:1 student to instructor ratio. Sean is hesitant to call them instructors preferring instead to call them mentors since they’re not there to teach any specific style of riding, only awareness, comfort, and consistency.
If you decide to skip the track-schools and sign up for a track-day only ($140) you’ll find that Edge Performance offers you quite a bit of freedom. They run novice, intermediate, and expert (race license required) and they leave the decision in the rider’s hands as to which group to ride in. If riders are obviously in the wrong group or are observed endangering others they will be moved to an appropriate group or booted out. Passing is allowed anywhere on the track even in the novice group so be prepared to deal with faster riders in close quarters.
I was worried about dicing it out with first time track riders and after the riders meeting overheard this conversation between two textile clad street riders.
Rider 1: “How do we get off the track?”
Rider 2:” I don’t know, I couldn’t hear”
Rider 1: “Where do we get off the track?”
Rider 2: (pointing to the track entrance) “Over there.”
The riders meeting did cover the basics such as proper track entry and exit, emphasis on holding your lines in corners, and a few pointers for those who hadn’t yet been to MAM. They were just covered quickly.
Ultimately I had little to worry about because the first session of the day was an orientation session for newcomers and was led by track-school instructors. Throughout the day most riders in the novice group were in control and the only complaint I had was that after running off the track some would get right back on the racing line and track mud all over.
After lunch there was some confusion with the schedule that resulted in no one really knowing what group was on the track at what time. This may have been caused by the control tower calling the wrong group to the track or possibly by riders taking advantage of loose pit control and going out for multiple sessions in a row. It was their first event of the year and at MAM they have to work in conjunction with the track staff versus Brainerd where Sean says they are able to supervise everything from the corner workers to the control tower so things normally run much smoother. Another thing that impressed me was that when Sean’s wife, Melissa wasn’t out on the track with her R1 she was busy gathering feedback from riders to constantly improve the operation.
In summary, Edge Performance track-days seem geared toward people who have already been exposed to the track and for a few dollars more they will provide you with that experience through their excellent track-schools. First time track riders would be much better served attending one rather than jumping straight onto the track where the learning curve is pretty steep.
All styles of bikes and riders are welcomed by these organizations.
Advanced Rider Defensive Skills Training
Northeast Sportbike Association
Edge Performance Riding Courses