The Experience of a Track Day

Michael Snyder | Texas

As MSTA members we all have one thing in common; we love to ride. Riding however can be categorized into several different facets of our lives. Some tour many miles a year, some ride on weekends and others ride to events. Then there is the small portion of us that thoroughly enjoy the adrenaline rush, sounds and smells of the track. There is just something that gets your blood moving early on a Saturday or Sunday when that first bike starts up and you think to yourself “Here we go.” While I have done a track day here and there since 2008 the last couple of years I find myself yearning for the sounds, smells and culture almost constantly. About a week out from any planned event I find myself thinking back to the last event and running the laps in my head searching for something I can do better. I watch my videos looking for proper body position, gear selection or line around the corners playing them over and over to find that one or two things that I missed the first time. Don’t get me wrong, I am not the fastest nor the smoothest nor do I have great body position, but something I do have is drive and passion to improve my riding. Each time I go on track, I work on technique and becoming a better rider not only on the track but also on the street. I am a firm believer that the laps one does on the track relate directly to the miles one rides on public roads. I am a safer rider on the street because of my experiences on the track.

Living in Texas we are blessed with 6 tracks that are all less than a day’s drive, each offering their own special characteristics. From the fast and flowing 2.9 mile Texas World Speedway to the tight and twisty 1.3 mile Motorsport Ranch Cresson there is every combination of turn, elevation change and pucker factor available.

We are also blessed with a variety of track day vendors to facilitate our track day experiences in various forms. Some vendors offer open days where you just go ride the track; others have experienced racers on hand to help you out; and others offer the full blown track day school.

I often get asked by friends and neighbors “What’s a track day?” First it is not racing nor do you need a “dedicated track bike” to enjoy the experience. At any given event you will likely see a sport touring machine and occasionally a Gold Wing or two and maybe even a group of Harleys at select venues. There are some attendees that come with the mentality that they are on the last lap of a MotoGP championship race and filled with testosterone (this actually is a rare occurrence). But once a pink bike passes them and they see the pony tail, they tend to act normal again. Not sure why, but some get their ego hurt when a girl goes past. To me it’s really cool to see the number of female attendees that typically show up. It’s definitely not a guy only thing. Next thing people wonder about is crashing. Yes it happens but 99% percent of the time it is a single bike incident typically from someone riding over their head or beyond the capabilities of the bike. I have heard comments about not wanting to bring out a “street bike” because someone else will cause them to crash. Although there are exceptions and yes people have been hurt by others, if you ride within your limits and have some courtesy, you likely won’t have any issues. I have actually had more people near miss me on the street during group rides than I have had on the track. However, I can assure you I don’t know of anyone who wakes up in the morning and says, “Yep I’m going to crash today.”

So how does one learn how to ride the track or get started in the track experience? It’s really simple, do a Google search for a vendor in your area. As I stated earlier we are blessed here in Texas with a variety to choose from but I want to focus on one vendor who has a dedicated attitude towards making better riders. RideSmart Motorcycle School is just that, a motorcycle school which chooses to use the track to increase rider proficiency. But it is more; it really is a family of sorts, albeit dysfunctional at times. You often see the same people, and with this, your friend list grows. You get to know some interesting people with similar interests as you, even beyond motorcycles.

RideSmart is very much a niche program that combines the experience of an open track day with the availability of professional instructors. If you browse their website at www.Ridesmart.info and click on the “About” section, you will see the following statement:

Danny Schiffner doing tech inspection
Danny Schiffner doing tech inspection

RideSmart is a motorcycle rider’s school, which provides instructional assistance for a wide variety of skill levels. From the street rider, up to the most experienced licensed racer and everything in between, our focus is to bring you the most comprehensive set of tools available. We aim to help you increase your riding proficiency and safety, whether you ride on the street, or chase time at the race track. From our Level 1 entry group, through the RideSmart Advanced Riding Course, we strive to get you on the track and teach you the skills required to become a faster, more comfortable, and more confident rider. RideSmart motorcycle school provides structured classroom outlines that are followed up by on track mentoring. Our instructors and associates are professionals to the highest degree. Their goal is to maintain a strict safety regiment in regards to you, the student. We welcome every type of rider to come and explore your options on the track with the RideSmart team.

ex-track-day_03
Dave Wonders during riders meeting

While RideSmart is a school and they have mandatory classroom instruction for Level 1(Beginner) and Level 2(Intermediate) participants, you will still get plenty of open track time. The typical day starts at about 06:00 AM, when registration opens and those bleary eyed riders start to rise from the tents, trailers and toy haulers and the front gate opens for those others who don’t camp out the night before. Shortly after, they open for technical inspection where an instructor will go over your motorcycle and check for safety issues and compliance with the RideSmart rules. Of note, there is no requirement to drain antifreeze and have everything safety wired. RideSmart does require a motorcycle in good overall condition, fully functional, with glass and mirrors taped over to prevent breakage.

At about 07:30 AM there is a mandatory riders meeting and while I can’t honestly say it is the most worthwhile use of time for someone who has attended multiple times, it is an absolute need for the first timers. RideSmart owner Dave Wonders will start out by talking about the day and the expectations. Then Dave will have all the “newbies” stand up front while he stresses safety and the importance of what they call “ramping up”. After Dave speaks, the lead instructors will give their welcome and introduce the track marshal and any onsite vendors available.

One policy that I really like is about run offs. It is really simple, if you run off the pavement you are required to come see the track marshal. This policy is not to have riders get yelled at or chastised but rather to give the rider a quick break and to find out why the rider ran off the track? Dave explains during the riders meeting that in the 13 years RideSmart has been in existence, they have learned that it’s not the first time run off that causes someone to crash but rather the repeated act. And when it happens once, you are probably riding above your abilities and will likely happen again, perhaps with a worse outcome, if you don’t know why. This is often a self-check exercise. However if a corner worker sees you run off track repeatedly, they will black flag you, which is your indication to pit in and hang your head in shame. What’s really cool is that the school logs all runoffs and crashes at each track and will provide that information to students to give credence to an instructor’s comments to “take it easy here” or “watch out for this.”

After the riders meeting Level 1 and Level 2 participants go to separate classrooms, while Level 3 participant, mostly experienced racers and accomplished track riders, head out for the first session of the day.

Clint Summers Level 1 class room
Clint Summers Level 1 class room

In the classroom a review of expectations for the level you are riding is discussed while Level 1 participants receive tons of introductory information about the track and how to ride “in control” with discussion of why this works on the street. Emphasis is on teaching proper body position with classroom and static bike demonstrations, the proper way to visualize and build a line around any corner, throttle control, braking, etc. This really is the meat and potatoes when it comes to becoming a more proficient rider.

Jack Polzin Level 2 class room
Jack Polzin Level 2 class room

Level 2 is an extension of Level 1, with emphasis on refining the skills and technique you learned in level 1, while introducing you to new skills like trail braking, setting up passes, corner speed improvement, etc.

Level 3 is designed for riders who want to advance their track skills further and/or obtain a CMRA (Central Motorcycle Roadracing Association) Licensing School. Both are offered by RideSmart for an additional cost at select venues.

It takes a lead instructor’s recommendation to move up in levels, however the school does not require a rider to move up. You can stay in whatever level you are comfortable riding. The only exception is that all first time attendees must complete the level 1 curriculum at least once. Throughout the remainder of the day the on track sessions rotate every 20 minutes between levels with classroom instruction in between and even a lunch break built into the day. RideSmart staff will provide lunch at all venues with the exception of Texas World Speedway, where food service is available.

Dave Wonders and the staff at RideSmart are so dedicated to helping newer riders become better they offer a 50% off for first time attendees with free boot and leather rentals for those who don’t have their own. You bring the bike and your DOT approved helmet and they will assist you with the rest. The first time out can be rather confusing and intimidating for a new attendee but there are plenty of people who will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. I personally always try to help and make myself available to the “newbies” and help out where I can. Trust me, you can spot them in the crowd, but heck we were all there at one point along this journey.

Even if you don’t think a track school or track day is for you, I do encourage you to go just once and see what you’re missing. We are never too old, too young or too good to learn more about our chosen passion, and at least for me, track days are the most fun on two wheels I have ever had.

In summary RideSmart is more than just a track day, it is a motorcycle riding learning experience. No matter how many times you go to the track or ride on the street, we as riders are constantly refining our skills and there is no better place than the controlled environment of the race track.

If you are interested in learning more about RideSmart visit www.ridesmart.info or search YouTube for RideSmart 1 to watch the action. Worth noting here, there are multiple videos available with cruisers, baggers and big ole touring machines that have attended the events.

Special note: All images courtesy of Blair Hartsfield,  Hart-Photography.com

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