With a wave to the turn 16 corner worker at Barber Motorsports Park, my 2015 track season came to end. Not only was it the end of the season, but it also concluded my first year of coaching with Sportbike Track Time.
Over the past year I’ve had the good fortune to make some amazing friends, work with incredible people, and burn through a lot of tires. 😉
That’s how I thought my season wrap-up would begin, but in reality my 2015 track season ended in disappointment as I collided with a rider who went down in front of me and subsequently separated my clavicle in three places (I didn’t even know that was possible).
I did have a great year of coaching, making amazing friends, and of course burning through a lot of tires. Like any season of track riding, it was also a wonderful learning experience. For this post I’d like to focus on five things I learned this season. Despite a few years of riding experience, I still learn new things all the time.
There Is No Winning A Track Day
As much as it may seem so, a track day is not a race. The greatest victory you can hope to achieve is that over yourself, and your greatest trophy a bike in the same condition it was before you rolled out for the first session, save for some worn tires.
If you find yourself in the mindset on the track that you are competing with the rider who just passed you or the rider on whom you are slowly making ground, you have already lost. Of course it can be beneficial to have a quicker rider to chase when you’re truly ready for a little plateau in your riding, but when your focus is anywhere but on your own bike and your own ride, you are already losing ground.
A track day should be about you; improving your riding, being a safer rider, and a smoother rider. All of that will ultimately make you a faster rider and you will find yourself not working so hard to go faster than you are now.
With Whom You Ride Can Make Or Break A Track Day
This point I can not emphasize enough. Your track friends can impact your track experience profoundly, so choose them wisely. I highly recommend going to the track with friends who are responsible in both their riding and their bike maintenance…birds of a feather and all that. Leave the drama at home and focus on yourself and your riding.
Riding on the track is the only time I can completely clear my mind of all other thoughts, and I would not be able to do that if I were to surround myself with riders who were not of a similar mindset. What it all comes down to, really, is surrounding yourself with positivity and people who can help you grow as a rider, and people whom you can help grow as riders.
As a new track rider you may find yourself having to do some searching until you find your preferred track family, but once you find it you will know you are home.
I promise you that if you are ever at the track with me and my friends, we will go out of our way to make your track day experience as good as possible. Just ask the guy who needed new tires but had no clue how, nor the tools, to remove his wheels a few weeks ago. It took the better part of a lunch break thanks to a sub-standard rear stand, but we got it done so he could get back out on track with confidence. 😉
There Is Always Something To Improve Upon
I am not ashamed to admit that I spent a better part of my personal riding time this season at the beautiful Barber Motorsports Park working on my line through a couple corners. It is too easy to caught up in chasing that lap time which is a second faster than your personal best. Your lap time, however, is the culmination of all the turns and straights on the track.
In order to go faster we sometimes have to go slower for a while. Work on that one corner that gives you trouble. Focus on your body position as you exit the corner so you can stand the bike up and get on the gas sooner, harder, and safer.
Do you find yourself accelerating to the apex after braking? Work on finding a new brake marker. By making no other changes but waiting half a second to brake for just two turns on the track, you will find that second you were looking for.
If you think there is nothing to improve upon, let me know; there is always someone faster out there (unless you’re top a MotoGP rider reading this, in which case please drop me a line so I can give you my track schedule and you can give me some pointers).
Your Riding Style Should Adapt To Conditions And Over Time
The track you rode last month is not the same track you’re riding next weekend, even if you’re going to the same place. Track conditions change throughout the day, let alone over the course of several months. As most of us wrap our track seasons and start anticipating the release of next year’s track day schedules, many tracks are beginning maintenance.
For some that could mean minor maintenance to certain parts of the track, while at other tracks it could mean a complete resurfacing. While most tracks will strive to make the surface as similar as possible to the last time you rode, the fact of the matter is that it will not be the same. The same can be said when you go out for the first session of the morning on Sunday; it’s not the same grip you had on your last session on Saturday.
One thing I’ve seen far too often is quick riders going out in morning sessions and not factoring in the reduced grip of a cold track. Take your time when you first go out. Work yourself up to speed and cautiously explore the conditions of the track. This might mean you won’t be running your normal lap times, but it will help ensure you and your bike leave in one piece.
Rain is another factor that obviously affects how the track will interact with you and your bike. While some riders prefer to take the conservative route and just avoid riding in the rain entirely, I am big proponent of riding in the rain. The smoothness required to successfully ride in the rain is a wonderful teaching tool and I firmly believe it will make anyone a better rider.
Of course it will be a slower ride, but the amount of concentration required to apply smooth and controlled braking, turning, and throttle inputs will pay huge dividends in the dry. Much like adapting to changing track conditions throughout a given track day, riding in the rain will require to start slow and work your way back up to speed.
Riding in the rain is also a great to really focus on your line; just be careful of the curbing as the paint found there can have drastically reduced traction when wet.
There Is Always Next Season
Hopefully this track season was safe, productive, and enjoyable for you. What we all have in common, whether it was your first season or your fifteenth season on the track, is the next season will be here for all of us sooner than we know it. Hopefully you and your bike are in one piece. 😉
The off-season is a great time to work on other projects you may have been neglecting, as we track addicts are prone to do, spend some time reflecting on the past season, and putting some thought into goals for the next season. Of course the off-season is also a great time to replenish the bank account as tires and gas tend to make those account balances dwindle rather quickly.
Unfortunately, my 2016 season will be spent away from the track in a country whose name rhymes with Gascanistan, as my day job is serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy.
Though I won’t be on a bike, I will still be focusing on the track in my off time. I will, of course, be watching internet coverage of all the motorcycle racing I can find, as well as putting in some serious work in the gym so I can be in the best shape possible when I return for my next track season.
Most importantly for our collective purpose, though, I will be here to provide what I hope is valuable guidance and entertainment for you, as well as answer your questions.
I hope this season was a good one for you, and I hope 2016 is even better!