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Common Tread

Five ways to ruin your track day

Jun 05, 2015

It’s summer and track days are in full swing. If you haven’t done one, you should. With the right approach and a little instruction, a day at the nearest road course will do more to improve your riding skills than months of street riding.

Too many people ruin their track days by making the same common mistakes, however. If you’ve decided you want to join them, here are the five easiest ways to turn a fun track day into an expensive lesson in motorcycle repair, a ride in a really well equipped van that has flashing lights on top, or worse.

Put off prepping your bike

Procrastinate. Don’t read the track day instructions until the evening before, when you realize that the track requires you to change your bike’s coolant to propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol, taping the lights takes longer than you expected and the chain needs adjustment. It’s midnight when you’re finished and 5 a.m. when you have to get up to load the bike in your truck and drive to the track for 7:30 a.m. tech inspection.

If you’re lucky, you arrive bleary and a little tired. If you’re unlucky, you’ll have forgotten something and your bike won’t pass the tech inspection. Lose valuable riding time you’ve paid for while working on your bike in the pits.

track day
You could listen to the advice from the control riders, most of whom probably have racing experience. Or you could just try to impress them with how fast you are. Photo by Lance Oliver.

Let ego rule

This is the number-one, time-tested and proven way to ruin your track day.

Treat the track day as a race. Try to impress everyone with how fast you are, even the control riders, who are lots faster than you and usually have years of racing experience. If someone passes you, let the red mist take over and try to pass him back at all costs.

Basically, let your ego rule your right wrist (and braking fingers).

A few years back, I interviewed Owen Edwards, an enthusiastic sport rider who was then doing about 10 track days a year — at age 74. That may sound unusual to you, but the way he described his attitude may actually be the perfect way to approach your track day:

“One of the good things about being an older rider is that I don’t have that ‘testosteronic’ need to beat everybody. If a young guy goes past me, I don’t have to show him I can pass him back. In fact, if a young girl goes by me I don’t have to.”

Want to ruin your track day? Don’t be like Owen.

riders meeting
You could pay attention to the riders meeting and learn where the flag stations are. Or you could skip it and polish your fairings instead. Photo by Lance Oliver.

Ignore the rules

During the riders meeting, use the time to size up who has the coolest bike or the best leathers. Don’t worry about paying attention to the rules for passing in your group, the positions of the flag stations or the signals for entering the pits. After all, it’s boring and you just want to get on track.

If you can master this “too cool for school” attitude, you’re well on your way to having a memorably awful track day, and possibly ruining another innocent rider’s day, too.

Ignore your body’s warning signs

At a typical track day, with riders divided into three levels, you’ll get about 20 minutes on the track each hour, so figure six or seven sessions.

Which of those sessions do you think are the most dangerous?

Based on my observations and my discussions with control riders, there are two times of day when it’s particularly easy to ruin your track day by not paying attention to what your body is telling you. The first is the session right after the lunch break. You’ve had more than an hour to think about the morning sessions and you’re eager to go back out and up the pace.

Meanwhile, the track day includes lunch, which you treated as an all-you-can-eat buffet, just because few things make people abandon common sense like “free” food. Oxygen-rich blood that you desperately need to keep your brain alert and muscles working is instead diverted to the task of digestion, just as you roll onto the track determined to push harder than ever. This is a great way to end up in the turn seven gravel trap.

The last session of the day is another prime opportunity to ruin your track day. In his story on exercising, Sean talked about how snowboarders have a “no last run” rule. It refers to the temptation to put in one more run at the end of the day, and really go big this time. It’s easy to do the same on the track, to push hard and try for a personal best lap time just when you’re the most tired you’ve been all day.

Go ahead. Go for it. It’s a great way to ruin your day at the track.

Jason Pridmore STAR School
You could attend a professional school as your first visit to the track. Or you could wing it and figure it out on your own. Jason Pridmore STAR School photo.

Prep your bike but not yourself

Speaking of exercise...

So you put new tires, some tape and safety wire on your motorcycle to prep it, but what about prepping your body?

If you’re riding properly, every corner on a road course is a deep knee bend, your core muscles are constantly tensed to keep your body weight off the hand grips, and no part of your body is stationary and at rest for longer than an instant. Plus, you’re doing all this in leathers, probably on a hot day.

There’s a reason motorcycle racers are some of the fittest athletes in the world. Mental and physical sharpness both fade as the body tires.

Want to ruin your track day? It may be as simple as spending the preceding three months lounging on the sofa.