Skip to Main Content
Common Tread

I'll be back: First track day, first crash

Jun 01, 2017

I finally had wide open track.

Turn one at Sandia Speedway, a giant banked sweeper on the half-mile oval was all mine. I braked hard, I hit the apex just right, and then gunned it. My 1981 Suzuki GS450 was singing at the top of fourth gear.

Then, I put some parts down. I'm not sure if it was my pipe, my stand, or my foot peg. But the rear end popped up and I lost it.

At about 65 mph, I lowsided.

My first track day was done.

first track day
On the track, I was wishing I had a lower handlebar. I'll change it before the next time. Sandia BMW Motorcycles photo.

First-time feelings

I'd never been on a racetrack on a bike before, and geez, it was fun. Until that late afternoon crash, I was feeling like Eddie Lawson or Jonathan Rea, and I was working on my technique. For my birthday, my (amazing) girlfriend bought me a track day and turned me loose with Sandia Motorcycle Roadracing, Inc., Albuquerque's only motorcycle racing group. Just like what you’ll find at most local tracks nationwide, they’re nice guys who just want to share their hobby, share their knowledge, and keep riders safe. The men and women of SMRI are a mix of hard-core racers who've won national championships, racers who compete locally, and people who just want to ride hard without the distractions of stoplights.

For $100, anyone can go out to our local track days, as long as your bike passes a tech inspection and you have the gear to get on the track. To prepare first-timers, they host a race school at the local Sandia BMW Motorcycles dealer and ask newbies to sit in on a morning class to explain track rules, flags, and the layout. They really do make sure you're prepared for what you're in for.

I listened, but clearly not enough.

damaged front fender
The crash did a number on my front fender. Photo by Dan Mayfield.
You can't win a track day. But you can lose one. At the early morning track meeting, they drilled this into us, and scared us with tales of crashes.

But, it's true. It's fun to ride hard. It's fun to find the right line into a curve, it's fun to, curve after curve, bang off the redline. It's fun to watch the really fast guys put a knee down into a curve and take a fast line in front of you.

But it's no fun to out-ride your bike, your gear, or your experience. I learned that.

Here’s what else I learned:

Get the gear

The best $100 I've ever spent on gear was $40 for a buddy's used one-piece race suit and $60 for some armored boots. I didn't expect to need it, but when I went down, I felt like Dani Pedrosa sliding on the tarmac in turn three in Japan.

The suit saved my butt. Mostly. I have a giant raspberry on my hip, a swollen finger, a sore shoulder, and more. I can't imagine how bad my ankle would feel if I had worn my soft boots. Like most track day organizations, SMRI requires a certain level of gear. Consider it a minimum.

Steve Brown
A wide variety of bikes showed up, from vintage racers to modern superbikes. Also, a wide variety of riders. Here, five-time national AHRMA champion Steve Brown preps his Ninja 250 with race fuel before setting out for the day. Photo by Dan Mayfield.

There will be fast bikes ridden slowly

And that's OK. There was some exotic hardware at the track, and guys with serious attitude and gear. They didn't all ride fast. That was just fine. It wasn't uncommon to see a Kawasaki Ninja 250 passing a BMW S 1000 RR. Whether you’re in the beginner, intermediate or expert groups, you get the same amount of track time.

Some people think you have to have a late-model Yamaha YZF-R6 or a liter-class sport bike to even think about going to the track. Not so. I had a blast, and nobody looks at a 36-year-old GS450 and thinks “track-day weapon.”

You will get tired

My Avon street tires held up fine. Unless you're running in the expert group, you don't need to buy special track-day tires. Photo by Dan Mayfield.
I was told at the race school that after the lunch break many pack up and go, even though there's still hours of riding left, because they're tired. I didn't believe it.

But, my shoulder muscles, thighs, pecs and most of my core muscles got more of a workout than expected. My hands, too, were sore after several hours of braking, clutching and countersteering. And, if you think you're fatigued, you already are.

Next time, I’ll take it easy in the morning and wait for the track to thin out late in the day.

Riding on the street isn’t the same

I've ridden on the street since my track day, but it doesn’t seem the same. There's too many cars, rules and threats. The track-day hook has been set deep.

Even after a crash, I'm scouring eBay for parts and shopping for leathers with better armor. I may have gone down, but I’ll be back.