Archive for the ‘track day’ Category

Motorcycle Flattrack Racing in Alabama – it’s back

Is it for real?  C’mon, this can’t be for real, unless it is a bunch of old rednecks in a

 

cornfield?  Dirt track racing died out in the 70’s did it not?  I picture the old-timers drifting sideways on the old Harleys and Triumphs, smacking into those old wooden fences and tumbling into the crowd.  So I always assumed it died out because all the riders died out, from crashing or old age.  Sanity prevents newer riders from engaging in this activity – right?

For the last year or so I have been hearing rumors, seeing pictures and even had a few invitations to attend some flat track events in Alabama.  Well the stars aligned Saturday – it was an amazing, cool spring day – prefect for the ride to Toney Al, to attend my FIRST ever dirttrack event at Beaver Creek Speedway.

As I roll into the gate, the kid’s cart racers are coming out, just having finished their events.  I see the bikes are already lined up under ease-ups, and it looks like a smaller version of the Barber Vintage Festival paddock, sans oil-drip-pans.  I feel I am flashing back to an earlier time.  I hear The Stones, and Led Zep playing in my head, a cloud of Turkish drifts in the air.  Then I park the bi ke, and snap back into reality.

The crowd seems very laid back, and after talking to the guy with the microphone, it seems even cooler than ever.  Just a bunch of cool guys that like to race, they are all friends, that miss the days of racing around a banked oval track.  Pat Bedford, President of Tennessee Valley Flattrackers, gave me a short history of the revival of the sport, after a decade or more of absence.  He and some friends just decided to put something back together, and made it happen.

 

The Vintage racers

vintage motorcycle racing in alabama

Lucky for me, we also were treated to the vintage machines with AHRMA racing on the same day.  It was great to see the modified machines, singles, twins, 4 stroke, 2-smoke, all fun to watch.  Talk about a flash back.  Even got to experienc

 

e legendary racer Dave Aldana show everyone how it was and is done in the hard-packed dirt.  Truly a cool experience, and a great way to spend an evening, and I highly recommend to anyone into any kind of racing.  Also a cool event if you just like bikes.

Accessible racing

One thing Pat stressed is how simple and affordable it is to get started in FT racing.  Drop the suspension, cheap road tires, and $20, and you can race too.  Besides the vintage bikes that were there, most others were dirtbike/motards that looked mostly stock – not a single $10k race bike in the mix.  In fact, he also stress

 

ed that it is SO affordable that even kids can race, XR100s with knobbies can run out there.  I really like the idea of accessible racing, and even better racing with your buddies.

 

This might also be the experience that all of our motard-crowd is looking for.  With cheap trackdays typically starting around $150, and don’t even get me started about WERA – this is accessible racing for just about everyone in the family.  Leave the GIXXER at home, pick up a cheap motard/dirtbike and get out there.  Man that looks like fun.

My year of living carefully, dangerously

OK, so it’s been a while since I’ve posted and shared, and I’m sorry about that.  Thought I’d do a little sharing here today, when I can make myself sit still at the computer.

Since December 15, 2013, I’ve done 17 track-days.  This November alone, I did 3 track-days, one of which coincided with a race school (my first of many, I hope).  These numbers should show you what niche I’ve settled in to…although I am by no means giving up the street (as many on the track pipe do)!

As some of you may remember, I started riding a motorcycle in late June/early July of 2013.  That’s a year and a half ago.  A few things I’ve learned about myself:  damn, am I a determined, overthinking stubborn ass!  Thanks to a wonderful crew of guys (one of whom is on Bama Rides too: Lostinbama), we’ve all helped each other help each other, on our path toward becoming racers and better sportbike riders.  We each have varying years of experience and different natures when attacking this extremely challenging sport, but we are all highly motivated and very determined to get there.

Anyways, more about me   I’m sure some of you know that I’m eager to learn, but I am no risk taker; I take things slow, always taking care not to push my mental and physical limits.  At the same time, my head is the one thing holding me back.

I have good mental days and bad mental days at the track, and more often, I have a day with good and bad sessions back to back.  Now what does that say about how much influence your head has on your riding??!!    More recently, I’ve had more good days than bad, or more good sessions than bad sessions, and at this last trackday, I learned that I can have a bad mental session and still do well lap time-wise, which means I’m getting faster.

Earlier in the year, I would write down a few tangible goals before each trackday, of things to work on to improve.  For example, I’d say “1. Get my head lower,” or “2. let off the throttle and brake later,” etc.  That stuff should be easy; just follow the instructions, right?  No.  Until I get my head straight, until I let most of the fears go, my mind will only let me go so fast.  I must work on my head first, and then I can work on those other things.  Since the realization of this (the crew may have had something to do with that epiphany), my goals have since changed before a trackday.  They are now to relax, have fun and trust my bike/tires.  Some of you naturals or those who’ve been riding since before you left the womb may think those goals are silly or too easy, but that is not the case for everyone.

The bump up

I got my bump from Novice to Intermediate after an evaluation by SportBike Track Time (“STT,” the track-day organizer) at Little Tally in July.  At that point, I had already purchased a Novice slot at Road Atlanta in August, but decided to stay in Novice because I had never been to that track…and thank God that I did!  I intimidated myself about the unfamiliar track.  People joke that it’s a few drag strips with some turns in between them, making for a fast track.  It has an extremely long back straight, (in which you can literally top out your bike), that ends in a 90* left turn.  The turns are mostly 90* and tight chicanes, unlike the sweeping curves of Barber.  In the first few sessions, I didn’t like it, and it showed in my pace.  Finally, the rain came!     Why was I so happy about this?  Well, me and one of the guys went out in this pouring rain (we were the only two to brave the track while it was raining) and cruised around the track at a no-pressure speed (as you can imagine).  I was finally able to see the track, instead of trying to fly through it.  It calmed my mind and my perceived “this is too fast!” diminished.  After that session, the track had mostly dried (love the South!) and I had two decent sessions: I felt good, looked good, and did well.  I’ll be forever grateful to the rain for salvaging my day at a track that I was ready to write-off.

I did my first track-day in Intermediate at Barber in late September, and damn was it 180* to the end of the Road Atlanta day in August.  I overwhelmed myself with the idea of now being the slow person in the faster group.  I was tense, and it showed.  I don’t like thinking about this day much…

Next up, Intermediate at Little Tally.  I don’t remember much from this day, so it wasn’t a standout, but I think I did OK, meaning I had some good and some bad sessions.

Then, Barber on October 19th.  I redeemed myself from the awful day back in September!  I was more relaxed, mentally and physically.  My times were more on par.  I had more good sessions than I had been having at previous track-days.

Three Track-days, one month

Now, November:  the month where I did three track-days at three different tracks, and one of them was a race school.
November 2nd:  Little Tally.  And it was a good day!  I had several good sessions, and my times were consistent, which is a good sign.

Then, November 9th.  I did the Jason DiSalvo Speed Academy (JDSA) at Road Atlanta.  When JDSA does a single-day school that coincides with a STT day, you have to have earned your Intermediate or Advanced bump.  As you can imagine, I was a little nervous about riding Intermediate there as my first and last day at Road Atlanta was in Novice, and I didn’t do well for much of it.  For the first session of the day, we did a lead-follow, where one or two of us at a time follow one of the JDSA control riders.  It was brisk that morning, and JDSA students were the only ones braving the cold track initially in that first session, so that forced us to take it slow and ease our tires up to temp.  I followed AMA Daytona Sportbike racer #21, Elena Meyers, and she is tough lol.  There were a couple times when I unknowningly deviated from her line, and she waved me back behind her.  She eased us around the track, and although it was pretty fast for me, it seemed too easy for her (well, it was, let’s be honest), and I guess I felt the lack of pressure, so I rode calmly and felt great.  That was the start I needed to the day!  It sealed my attitude for the remainder of the day, as I questioned my ability to comfortably ride in Intermediate at such a new track at the beginning of the day.  In the county that Road Atlanta is in, they have a 2-hour quiet time on Sundays from 10am-12pm, so after that initial session, we had an almost 2-hour classroom session, taught by none other than AMA Daytona Sportbike racer #40 and co-founder of the school, Jason DiSalvo.  His biggest thing is body position (Google a picture of him, and you’ll understand why), and although I knew that body position is important in safely going faster, I didn’t realize that it could make me mentally and physically relaxed!  He tweaked some things about my body position throughout the day, and well, the rest is glorified fun history!

That day, I had a f’ing great session every time I went out, and I never pitted in from being tired because I was so relaxed (and not tense from my fingertips to my toes like I often am) and because his body position is so efficient (this last weekend at Barber, I learned that you can still get tired, as Barber’s long-ass sweepers take a toll on you no matter how efficient your body position is).  I was smiling every time I rode in from a session, and couldn’t stop grinning even after the day was over.  That was a fucking great day!!!!!   I’m grinning just thinking about it…

Jason DiSalvo to the left (I’m taller than him btw, even if by just a little bit) and Brian Stokes to the right (the other co-founder of JDSA):

 

 

Lap Times

Road Atlanta is 2.54 miles long, and Barber is 2.38 miles long, but because Road Atlanta is much faster, mph-wise, the lap times are actually very similar.  I pulled times off my video, and I did a consistent lap time, andit was faster than my fastest recorded time at Barber.  Remember, this was my second day at this track, and I had ridden Barber 5 times previous to this day, so it goes to show the improvement that I made in Jason’s school.  The improvements I experienced, speed-wise and mentally, made it worth every penny!

This last weekend at Barber, I was a little tense throughout much of the day, yet I still managed to knock over 5 seconds off of my fastest recorded time!

Got all my important stickers on my new plastics:

 

 

I have improved a lot since I first started doing track-days, and even more since I first started riding period.  What’s more hopeful is that I am just getting started:  I see huge improvements still in my future.  I am nowhere near my highest ability, and I can’t wait to experience it when I get there.  I do have plans to race a little next year, so I’ve got lots to work on and many monies to save lol.

My last track visit of the year will be where it a

 

ll started:  Jennings GP in Jennings, FL, next weekend, December 6-7.  It’s going to be a great finish to my first 365 days of track riding, where I’ll get to see my improvement from Day 1 to Day 357 (8 days to the one-year anniversary of my first trackday).

I have improved a lot since I first started doing trackdays, and even more since I first started riding period.  What’s more hopeful is that I am just getting started:  I see huge improvements still in my future.  I am nowhere near my highest ability, and I can’t wait to experience it when I get there.  I do have plans to race a little next year, so I’ve got lots to work on and many monies to save lol.

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