Sportbike Track Time
This past summer, I had the opportunity
to attend a Sportbike Track Time event at Road America.
Originally, I intended to go out in the Intermediate
group and get my sea legs back, as I hadnít been at Road
America since I raced CCS in the 90s. While signing up,
I had an epiphany of sorts. I decided to answer that
question that gets asked on SBN 10 times a day, how do I
start out at a track day?
In the interest of helping folks out and experiencing how it was to be a first time track day participant, I signed up for the novice class. This did two things for me, it allowed me to participate in the classes that are provided when you sign up for the novice class and judge the teaching methods, as well as watch new track riders learn on the fly.
The day starts out with taking the bike through a tech inspection. This is essential, of course, as your bike can be a danger to not only yourself, but other riders if itís not in good condition. The rules are pretty simple, good tires, good brakes, no leaks and a few other concessions, but here are the exact rules from their website:
Tires and brakes
must be in good condition. Tires should be at least 75%
of new condition. Any tires that are bluing from
excessive wear will be disallowed. Slicks are allowed in
85% plus condition.
All glass, headlight, turn signals, and plastic lenses must be taped over or removed. Side mirrors must be removed for the advanced group and at least taped over for all other groups.
We recommend, but do not require removal of center stands. No bikes with center stands will be allowed in the Advanced/Racer Group due to the ground clearance issue.
All machines must have an operational handlebar mounted kill switch/button and self-closing throttle in good working condition.
Advanced and Intermediate group riders MUST use water or water wetter or a non-ethyl glycol based anti-freeze/coolant. Approved Poly Glycol brands are: Evans, 7th Gear, Liquid Performance, and Engine Ice. NO AUTOMOTIVE ETHYL GLYCOL BASED COOLANTS ARE ALLOWED.
All valve stems must have caps.
Wheel balance weights must be well-secured.
License plates must have bolts taped or be removed.
No Fur Allowed.
If you donít pass tech, youíre not allowed on track and you donít get a refund, so it pays to be safe.
After you pass tech, the next activity is a riderís meeting, where you go over the basic on track procedures and rules. Each of the flags to be used during the day are displayed and explained at the meeting. The flags are used to communicate on track events to the rider and indicate everything from fluid on track, to the end of a session. We are then told that the novice riders will attend classroom sessions before on track session.
The class format is simple. We are broken up into groups at the start of the day. The groups are arranged by level of experience (according to the riderís input) and roughly wind up being 5-7 riders per group.
The first class session, we are taught the basics of on track procedure. The class is shown the flags that are used on track and their individual meanings. This is a very important step that is reinforced from the morning riders meeting. We are then told the basics of the novice group. There are a series of hand gestures taught and we are told that there will be no passing in the novice group. We are sometimes allowed to pass slower groups, but this must be initiated by the lead rider, who is the control rider from Sportbike Track Time.
In the first track session we work what is called a 3 line drill. The first lap we ride around the outside of the track. The second lap is riding around the inside of the track and the third is riding in the middle of the track. This drill is meant to teach the new track day rider that the track is wide and there is more than one line around the track. After this, the next laps are spent with the instructor showing the group different lines around the track. These are the more traditional race lines and the control riderís pace is safe, controlled and the group picked up on them quickly.
The next class session is a review of the on track lessons and an overview of the next sessionís activity, the third gear drill. This drill is simple, stick the bike in third gear and donít use your brakes at all. This one sounds scary, but is simple to do and teaches a valuable lesson. Most of us have a natural instinct to grab the brakes when entering a corner. What we donít realize is that, when on track, we are often going to slow when entering the corner. This drill is a simple way of teaching you to bring up your corner speed. Almost everyone touches the brakes during this drill for the first few laps. As you get further into it, you develop a better feel for your bikes limits and the drill becomes easy. I always find this to be one of the most beneficial drills a new track day rider can perform.
After this drill is done, then next classroom session concentrates on body position. The students are taken out to an STT bike and positioned on the bike so they can understand the optimal body position. This is often a huge issue with new riders. They may have come from a street background or a dirt background in which theyíve been taught a different style of riding. Most people sit high up on the bike in a turn. This may be fine for slow speed street riding, but on track, you are essentially hanging dead weight on the bike away from the center of gravity. Lowering your body to the inside of the turn helps the bike turn easier and is actually more comfortable from a rider feel perspective for most riders. While this doesnít translate well to the street, as the speeds arenít the same, it does help a rider understand what the bike and rider are capable of.
The rest of the day consists of a bit more individual coaching and some one on one critique. The coaches pulled students aside and gave them individual coaching and gave riders the finite inputs that they needed as the progressed.
I followed two riderís progress throughout the class. Both riders showed marked improvement from session to session. They both had applied the principles being taught and were visibly faster.
All in all, the Novice group at Sportbike Track Time provides a great and cost effective introduction to track day riding. As a bonus, they give usable classroom instruction, provide a structured learning environment and wrap it up in a cost effective solution for someone curious about track day riding.
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