X-Act Trackday Report

It was about 38 degrees over Munford at 7 AM when we arrived at TGPR, but I almost didn’t notice. The air temperature was warming rapidly and I was so excited to be at the track for the first time this season that the chill didn’t bother me at all. My buddy Tom Hancock and I are usually among the first to arrive at the front gate on Saturday morning, and Saturday was no exception.
We signed our name to the mandatory waiver form, paid our $5 gate fee and pulled in. We knew there were going to be a large number of people from another Alabama-related website there, and we debated where to set up our pit. We finally decided on a spot near the far end of pit road, and started unloading. Tom and I have probably done 10 or more trackdays together so we pretty well have a routine for getting set up. Within 15 minutes, the bikes were unloaded, the EZ-Up was set and our pits were arranged. We headed off to registration, filled out more paper-work, got our class stickers, and came back to the pit to get our bikes to go to tech inspection.

The tech inspector asks me what I have in my radiator. “Engine Ice” (it’s always been fine before)…he turns and looks at the other and says “Engine Ice?” The other inspector says, “Nope…Water or Water Wetter only.” No point arguing…I can’t win. Luckily, I have a jug of distilled water in my pit-kit and ½ bottle of Water Wetter. They say, “Just drain it and refill it. Don’t worry about flushing it. It will be diluted enough if anything happens.” The one thing I DON’T have is a pan to drain the coolant into. I locate someone with an oil drain pan. Back to the pit, get the fairings off, yank the bottom drain hose…coolant drained in 60 seconds, replace the coolant hose. Well, crap, I also have to drain the overflow bottle and there’s no way to do it except pulling the whole bottle off. Another 5 minutes to get it off, drained, and bolted back in place. Mix the Water Wetter solution. Find the funnel. OK…everything is full. Crank it up…no leaks. Bolt fairings back on. BACK to tech inspection. All is good and I get my tech sticker. Whew!

Check tire pressure. Based on my recall of someone’s recommendation, both of us set our Michelin Power Race tires to 30 psi front and rear. (NOTE – TOO HIGH! Should have been 30 psi HOT. We should have probably started at 26 front, 24-25 rear…anyway, we figured it out later in the day.)

It’s time to put on my leathers and stuff. I know from experience that there’s not much time later to get this done. Leathers and boots on and comfy. Helmet, boots, earplugs, and gloves are where I can get to them quickly and easily.

Rider’s meeting…I’ve heard this speech so many times before, I could probably give the speech, without notes. But there are lots of newbies that need to hear the speech. Rider’s meeting over…”Attention in the paddock, first call – Intermediate Group” Let’s ride.

The new Power Commander makes the R6 have sort of a loping reggae rhythm when it first cranks, until it gets up to temperature. Bump the starter…the engine lopes to life. I like the sound of the Yosh RS-3 exhaust. The engine warms up while I put on the rest of my gear. This will literally be the first time I’ve ridden the bike at speed since I did all of the work to it. I have NO idea what to expect. I take the bike off the paddock stand, mount up, snick it into gear and roll towards pit-out, along with 24 of my soon-to-be closest friends. I now LOVE the sound of the Yosh RS-3. It sounds raw and edgy.

The track is really cold and ‘green’ due to all of the recent hard rain, my tires are cold, and I don’t know what to expect from the bike, so I’m going to be extremely cautious. I take 1 full lap at <50%. On the next lap, I let the bike run up to redline a couple of times in the straights just to hear the motor sing it’s song through the RS-3. At 15k rpms, it screams, even over my earplugs. I’m grinning inside my helmet like the Cheshire Cat.

What the heck? A rider on a motard goes down in a soft, slow-motion low-side, for no apparent reason, 30 feet in front of my buddy, Tom Hancock. Tom is 50 feet in front of me. Tom checks up hard and decides to go to the outside of the downed bike, reasoning that the rider probably won’t jump over the downed bike to get off the track. No time to think about it, I decide to go WAY inside the downed bike…I’m past and the rider sprints off the track behind me. Red flag, but only for a couple of minutes. By the time I get back to pit-out, to line up, they’re sweeping up and getting us ready to go again.

For the rest of the session, I settle into an easy 60% pace, feeling what the bike does in different situations: Corner entry, corner exit, stability, acceleration, etc. Brakes seem good. No more fork dive on hard braking. The tires seem pretty grippy. The Power Commander has definitely added more mid-range, but there’s still a nasty flat spot that’s gonna be an issue if I don’t pay attention on some corner entries. I still seem to have a little head-shake on the straights, which doesn’t make sense, due to the steering damper I installed. I’ll have to check that. The checkered flag is already waving. It’s been a successful first session.

Back in the pits, I check the steering damper and it’s working loose where it’s mounted to the fairing stay. I retighten everything. Recheck tire pressure. I expect it to be around 35 and it is. (NOTE: Again…that pressure is still too high.) Recheck coolant. Everything’s dry and tight and the bike never got too hot during the first session, so that’s a good sign that everything was put back correctly.

The Advanced group is already coming off the track and they’re calling for Novice group. Our neighbor in the next pit is running Advanced and tells us that 3 people went off track during the first session, but no one went down. We walk out to the fence to watch the Novices…I don’t know why, but I like to watch the first session and the last session of the day for the novices, because it always amazes me how much they improve in just six 20 minutes sessions. First time novices are easy to spot. They look like they have a steel rod duct-taped to their spine and down each arm and they’re holding on for dear life. In the first session, novices must follow their instructor and cannot pass. I call it ‘Duckling Session’…everyone follows their mother duck and does what they do. The pace is PAINFULLY slow because they’re supposed to be observing the ‘race line’, which is one of the lines around the track and just getting used to being on track . And, even still, at least one novice thinks they can’t make the corner and runs off in the grass, without crashing. They will get better.

Before the Novice group finishes, the announcer is calling for the Intermediate group again. I really want to be at the back of the pack when we start this session, so I’m in no big hurry to get to pit-out. I get my earplugs, helmet, sunglasses, and gloves back on. Get the bike off the paddock stand and fire it to life, and ride away. I want to get a little faster each session today, but that needs to happen gradually. I’ll try to push it to 65% this time. I don’t know how fast 65% is…I just guess. I’m riding behind a guy with a late model GSXR with a MotoGP-style exhaust. It’s loud enough to hear it over my own bike and he’s riding just fast enough to stay ahead of my pace. I start paying attention to specifically how the bike is behaving in specific turns. Entering turn 2 is where that flat spot is showing up the worst. I’ve just come off a 3rd gear 110 mph+ run down from Turn 1 (T1), braked, downshifted to 2nd gear, looked to find the corner exit, and JUST tipped the bike into the turn. I want to be very smooth back into the throttle because I want the weight-bias of the bike to shift smoothly to the rear wheel. I’m hearing a sharp ‘snapping’ sound from the exhaust just as I start to roll on the throttle. I found out later that I was shooting a blue flame out the exhaust when that sound happened. I fixed the problem later in the day by simply keeping the throttle cracked open rather than going to completely shut. This was easy as the pace picked up later. Still, it’s something I’ll have to be aware of if I’m cracking/whacking the throttle open from completely shut. The headshake returns under 100% acceleration on the front straight before the end of the session. Crap! The checkered flag calls the session to an end. When I come off track, I realize that my ears are ringing badly, despite wearing earplugs.

 

I recheck the steering damper and it’s loose in it’s mount to the fairing stay…AGAIN. Ten minutes and one lock washer later, that problem is solved for the rest of the day, along with the head shake problem. Whew! Glad that’s done!

Part of the fun of a trackday is talking to others that are there. Tom H and I knew lots of other people by their ‘screen names’ from another local forum, so we spent a big part of the next break talking to people that we sort of already knew.

When the third session was called, the track surface was beginning to get warmer and I upped the pace just a bit more again. I was now running somewhere around 70-75%, and while I wasn’t experiencing any weird shakes or wiggles out of the bike, it just didn’t feel quite as ‘solid’ as it wanted it to. I wasn’t pushing hard, s

 

o the tires were slipping or spinning up on corner exit. It’s hard to describe, but I just knew that something still wasn’t perfect. I got through the session with no issues at all, other than getting cornered behind the guy on the loud Suzuki for a bit. One of the other folks that I knew came past both me and “Pedro Parker” and, even though they were somewhat slower than me, they showed me a line for getting around him without a lot of trauma. So, when we approached the next corner entrance, I simply stayed on the gas about 2 seconds longer, pulled slightly ahead of Pedro momentarily (8-10 feet away from him), and he promptly grabbed a handful of brake and disappeared to the rear. Wow…that was cool. When I talked to the rider that showed me that ‘trick’, they said that 90% of the time, a trackday rider will back off in that situation. Of course, a racer won’t back off but, hey, you’ve already got the inside line, so just hold your line and make the corner.

Lunch break was a bit longer than an hour because Ed Bargy was teaching his ‘Riders School’ and they took 20-30 minutes on track. That was OK with

 

me, as it gave us a little longer break.
During lunch, I ran into another friend that I had met at the AMA races last year, when we tire marshaled together. We started talking about tires and I mentioned that I was running Power Race tires. He wanted to look at them, so we walked down to my pit. He’s not a suspension guru or anything, but he looked at the tires and asked what pressures we were running. When I told him, 30-30 cold, he was positive that was too high and that 30-30 should be a hot pressure. The tires had been sitting long enough to basically cool down, so I let the back down to 25 and the front do

 

wn to 27. Lunchtime is also when you go over the entire bike and make sure everything is still solidly attached. All was good at this recheck.

The track pavement was now actually about 108 degrees. That temperature, combined with the lower pressures, resulted in the PERFECT combination. The bike immediately felt rock SOLID underneath me, even though the pace was now nearing 80% (which was about all I wanted to do.) I could tell that my pace had quickened since last fall, as I was hitting the rev limiter much, much earlier after 2 particular corn

 

er exits. When you are leaned over, accelerating smoothly but hard, and you need to move your left foot in order search for the gear shift lever to grab another gear, it’s NOT a good thing. All of that body movement, plus the upshift has the potential to upset the bike. Both of those corners have alw

 

ays been 2nd gear corners for me, but after some experimentation, I now find they are better taken in 3rd. And, by taking those corners in 3rd, I now reach a much higher speed (and 4th gear, which I have rarely needed) at the end of both the Cornfield Straight and the Front Straight before setting up for the next turn(s).

The next 2 sessions were pretty uneventful, o

 

ther than the giant grin on my face and the fact that they both passed much too quickly. Before we kn

 

ew it, we had run the last session of the day and it was time to pack up and go home. We did hang around long enough to watch the Bargy Rider’s School run their ‘mock race’ at the end of the day. The only objective of the mock race is to finish and not crash. That can be a challenge for the super-competitive riders, but luckily there was only one truly fast guy in the school. He actually almost lapped the back markers in 4 laps. The 2nd and 3rd place riders were a good 15-20 seconds back of the leader and everyone else was far behind that. But, everyone finished the race.
I’ve done lots of trackdays in the past 4 years, but Saturday stands out as one of THE best days ever. As of today, I plan to ride at Talledega Gran Prix again on May 14, Barber on July 9th or 10th, TGPR again in the fall, and perhaps at Jennings to finish the season. I hope that 2011 will continue to be a successful year for trackdays and that some of you will join me.  Join the Discussion

The Double-Yellow Lesson

After riding last week with some new guys, and watching some common mistakes witnessed on some of the tight, twisty roads we were enjoying, I started wondering – Why are these guys making the same mistakes, over and over? – The answer seemed clear after some thought, and I wished I would have had the chance to share my thoughts with them.  Sadly, I only knew one of the group, and the first day of riding was not that bad, the pace was brisk and the mistakes were few.  Day two allowed me to witness guys in front and in back of me running wide in turns, crossing double-yellows, and in one instance, the rider behind me not only crossed WAY over into the oncoming lane several times, but he missed the turn so bad once he almost left the road.
It came to the point where I almost did not even want to look in my mirrors anymore, terrified of what I might see.  Not sure if any of the other riders addressed the issue, as I am sure at least one of the other riders was following, just not sure what he witnessed.  The next stop is where I said my goodbyes, and headed away from the group – back home.  Now I regret not saying what I should have said then to this rider, and a few others……….

If you are crossing the double-yellow, you are riding beyond your skill level.

You should slow down, or even pull over and assess what is going, what happened, why you misjudged the turn, and what could have happened had you met oncoming traffic.  The most shocking thing was not that this rider made a mistake, we all make them.  Small mistakes where we have lots of margin for error (we are half the size of a car, or smaller, after all) are forgivable on occasion.  Bad lines in the curves, braking too late or too soon, bad throttle control, not paying attention etc., we can all get away with for awhile.  We all make mistakes that hopefully we adjust from, but this one guy was consistently making the same mistake, and seemed like he had no idea how bad his skills, judgment, assessment and everything was that day.  I knew it, and probably should have pulled over, and had a discussion with him about it.  But why did he continue?  Running over the line in ever 3rd or 4th turn?  It was just hard to believe.
On the way home it hit me – there were no consequences – I don’t remember passing a single car coming the other way on 209 – all the way to Hot Springs.  So there was nothing to worry about, we had 2 lanes all to ourselves.  But these roads were SOOoo.. curvy – how could you possibly know if anyone was coming?  He did not – evidence the time he almost left the road completely.  Well the thoughts never left my head, and I was determined to share my story, not to be hollier-than-thou-look-what-a-better-rider-I-am – but to share a bit of insight I should have shared then.

If you cannot keep your vehicle in your lane, you should pull over and think about WHY – before you hurt someone or yourself.

It is a really easy thing to keep in mind, in fact, if my tires even hit paint, sirens go off in my head, I just wonder why they do not go off in other heads?

So I hope this experience helps turn your sirens on when your tires hit the paint – slow down, or pull over and re-assess, figure out why you are riding over your head.

Before you wind up like this guy, who is about to ruin the nice couple’s day:


 

 

 

Ride to Davis Ferry – a motorcycle ferry tale, or How to Service a Battery

David Haynes (WRBS) has been talking about the Davis Ferry since the first time I met him over a year ago.  From the first time we talked about it, I expressed an interest – I always enjoy unique and interesting rides and destinations.  I believe there are only 3 ferries left operating in Alabama.  The stars aligned and we set out early on Wednesday morning, headed down south for our first stop in Thomaston – at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center .  David had set up an interview with a board member to discuss the Center and the upcoming Pepper Jelly Festival for an upcoming article in Alabama Living.  After sitting in on the interview, we had a quick visit to the gift shop at the center, where they displayed a wall of pepper jelly, and rows of folk art from Alabama artisans, a few of which David had met and interviewed.  After awarding us with some pepper jelly, we were on our way south to the ferry.

Arriving at the end of the pavement, we encountered what looked like a controlled-burn of the woods, as we entered the dirt section leading to the Alabama River and Davis Ferry.  At the end of the road, a family had setup a fishing spot in front of our bikes, but reported no bites “due to wind”.  We munched on “lunch” and waited for the ferrymen to get back from their lunch break.  We saw Bart (Bartab) roll up on the other side, as we noticed some activity and the other side of the river spring to life.  A few minutes later, the ferry cranked up, and a plume of water came up on the side of the craft – they were under way.  They more than half way across when I realized the water-plume was formed from a paddle-wheel, just like the steam boats.  One, thinly-constructed paddle-wheel was moving that large craft across the swift Alabama River.  It was worth the trip just to see that antique in operation, a bonus to get to ride across.

As the craft landed, Bart rode his Triumph Tiger onto the ramp like a Marine landing on the beach on D-Day.  He was the only traveler, and quickly turned around to board the craft again with us.  On board, we hardly felt movement, but the craft moved us to the other side quite quickly, maybe 200 yards across.  Upon landing on the other side, the operators hustled us off, and we wandered through the park that ran along the side of the river.

This is where our trouble began.

 

Bart had explained why his engine was running the whole time we were crossing – he was having issues with his motorcycle battery .  He commented he had another battery just in case, but did not want to fool with it if he did not have to.  So we rolled to the end of the park, and as we were leaving Bart stalled the bike.  No big deal, he has another battery, right?  He quickly installs the battery, hits the start button and we hear the whine starter, but no engine spinning.

 

So after 45 minutes of troubleshooting, an attempt to pull the engine case loose, and more bump-starting-by-tow-rope, we decide to pull it to the top of the hill.  Well that turned into let’s-tow-it-30-miles to the first mechanic we can find, or sign of civilization, or whichever comes first.  Pretty hairy stuff pulling any bike, with a bike.  Hairy for the puller AND the skier, pulling uphill, on a dirt road, then almost 30 more miles up and down hills and twisty roads, we were experts by the time we arrived at M&S Auto in Camden.

Bart strolled in, asked if we could simply leave the bike inside his shop until tomorrow.  Certainly no hayseed from Camden would know anything about a sophisticated European adventure machine.  How could he know anything more than 5 grown men, probably with a combined 100+ years of riding and mechanical skills, that were unable to diagnose a complex electrical problem?  He insisted he might be able to solve the problem, and have us back on the road.  So instead of insulting the hayseed, Bart removed seat, and pointed towards the battery.  In less than 2 minutes, the hayseed expert mechanic pointed out the problem – the battery was spun around and the terminals were crossed.  Within 15 minutes, the hayseed engine surgeon had changed the fuse, charged the battery, and had the bike running again, with all of our tails between our legs – how did we miss that?  How did the starter turn (albeit backwards)?  Lights came on?

Glad we got it back running, I should have tipped the guy – it was worth $20 not to have Bart riding BITCH all the way back to Hoover.

Riding with the new guy

If the first question out of your mouth after the handshake is “How do you feel about riding farther, faster and longer and coming back when it will be darker and colder?” and the reply is “What are you thinking” instead of “no,” you know you are in the company of someone who isn’t afraid to ride.

You could call what we did meandering, though we had a very specific goal: I needed to scout a campsite at Payne Lake for an upcoming trip. I looked at the roads and connecting roads on the map and laid the tape on the tank before leaving for Tip Top. We shot the breeze for a minute before heading out.

Glenn is a trip if you’ve never met him. He has this affable yet slightly mischievous way that makes him seem like he is up for anything. He carries a lot of bags on his bike and they are topped to the brim just in case that “anything” breaks out at a given moment. He’s bi-lingual (thanks to immersion) and married (also thanks to immersion) and has one child. A family guy, like me. The Navy took him to more places I’ll ever be and man…his stories have stories.

We beat a path down Shades Crest and crossed to the South section. I had never lead on this route before and I blew a turn which we quickly fixed. I remember checking roads on Google maps to make sure they weren’t dirt and that they looked paved…and they were. That being said, they were’t paved well and every offshoot road was dirt. We blasted down the road, which was plenty curvy, thinking at any minute we’d run out of pavement and I’d be a liar for saying it was an all street ride. We made it to the end and with a quick right we were back on solid road.

We hit some patches of grooved pavement and passed by West Blocton, Centreville and Brent and made our turn onto Payne lake road. This was a killer stretch that we bombed over, I was a liar here for sure hitting at least +10. The sun was quickly retreating and my fingers were good and cold. I knew were in for some fun later.

The campsite was a ghost town: eerily empty ranger station, eerily empty camp host house. We ran around to the boat launch to take a look at the water and the view was good. We bs’d a little more and took some pictures. Riding to the open loop we did see one couple camping with a horse trailer. They eyed us uneasily at times and graced us with a cryptic head nod which may or may not have been a gypsy curse.

We looked at the sites and made sure the bathrooms had everything the wife would need on our trip. More BS’ing, more photos. We departed smiling at our silent companions hoping to make them rethink their actions upon us. Back to the cold hands, I took leather Thinsulate lined gloves to ride in but that didn’t stop three of my digits from becoming pale with purple nails. I rubbed my hands together and thought about how life would be if I had to ditch “JT” and answer to “Ol’ Seven Fingers.” We stopped for gas in Centreville and talked routes back. Glenn produced some extra gloves from one of his hard bags (which I am pretty sure he inherited from Mary Poppins) and I tried them but decided to keep on with my gauntlets.

Instead of fighting wildlife and going through Montevallo, we made a b-line for the interstate. While boring, they are normally better lit and warmer. We killed it on this stretch making good time and hit 11 and finally the interstate. Again, tearing ass in the cold darkness I kept an eye on Glenn. We made our way to a crossroads and parted ways. The last words of the day were via PM, but they won’t be the last.

We covered about 150 miles and at least 3 counties from 4:00 to 7:45. I didn’t take many pictures because Glenn had the good equipment and most of the time was spent riding. I was freezing most of the night after but eventually got color and feeling back in all 10 of my fingers. It was a great afternoon for a ride and I was grateful to have someone to go with. –JBMFT