Feb. 5, 2007. It's 4:45 a.m. Temperature's 37F. The alarm goes off. It's Track Time.
To make Jennings on time, we had to meet up and leave town about 6 a.m. The bikes had been loaded the previous day. We had five riders - three SV650s, a race-prepped Honda CBR600F4, and Spongebob.
You never think about how much time is required to set up - laying out tools, chairs, tire pumps, battery chargers, pit stands. We were still unpacking when they announced the rider meeting.
This is where I started to get a bit unsettled. Since it was a Monday in the middle of February, there were not a whole lot of riders. Maybe 35 or so. And only four newbies. "The greatest good for the greatest number of people" apparently being the rule, Race Control initially suggested making all sessions open track, but it was finally decided to let the experts run in their own session, and combine novices and intermediates in another session. This would give everyone more time on the track, which is a good thing. It would also the source of some problems.
"Intermediate" is a pretty broad term, and it was obvious from the race stickers on the bikes (not to mention the rigs in the pits), that in many cases "Intermediate" meant "I'd rather run laps around novices and look like a champ than get my butt smoked by somebody who really knows what they're doing."
There was some further discussion of what the various flags meant, track rules, etc., but it was rather poorly presented, and this wasn't just my opinion. Maybe it's just because it was the last day of the weekend (actually, Monday) in the middle of winter, but halfhearted would be a polite way to describe it.
Shortly thereafter, the track was open for the mixed group of novices and intermediates (after we were told in the riders meeting that the first group out woudl be the experts - go figure).
Now, the first session or two for novices is usually led by control riders. You follow them and they show you the lines. Gotta have good lines before you can go fast, right?
Not this time. Since we had a mixed group, that was not what happened. Instead, we followed the control rider the first lap, then it was sorta a free-for-all. The problem was - and it was a big problem for me all day long - as you're trying to learn the proper race line, guys who have been there all weekend are stuffing you. Technically, you are supposed to ride the right line, and it's their responsibility to pass safely. Practically speaking, that all goes out the window.
Now, the track. It's a very cool layout with some interesting problems. Turns 3-6 can pretty much be taken as a little right into a big left-hander if you set it up right. I finally got the hang of that by the afternoon. Turn 8 is a decreasing-radius left-hander. Proper setup is to late-apex on 7. Do that, you come out ready for the beast that is 8 (riding the track, you'll see plenty of divots where people have gone down there). Do it wrong, and you'll end up slow or crash. I got it right a few times but wish I'd had more practice with it.
The track itself is a lot of fun and well-marked with braking markers, dots at each apex, and arrows marking turn-in points. Riding it is fairly straightforward - connect the dots, turn at the arrows, brake where you feel comfortable.
Which is easier said than done when Mr. Huyabusa is riding up your butt, but I digress again.
Our Gang had only one mishap when our youngest member lost the front end of his SV and low-sided, with minimal damage to bike or rider. And some phantom technical difficulty kept the CBR in the pits after it died midway through the second session. Plenty of cranking, no firing. So Steve, a former racer, grabbed the SV, with no rear brake, and rode the rest of the day on that, surprising a lot of guys on what should have been faster bikes.
By the end of the day, I was both happy and frustrated. I accomplished a few goals, getting the line, not falling down. But it was also sorta like being in a really good city-league softball team playing a game against the Sox (Red or White). Sure it was a rush, but not the best learning environment.
But I want to go back and learn more. Things I did right? Looking through corners (things really do slow down, and you'll speed up, if you look far enough ahead), weighting the pegs (although not moving my butt off the seat), hitting the lines, turning the edges of the tires into little balls of melted rubber, not falling down.
Things I need to work on? Lighter on the bars, butt off the seat, speed things up, butt OFF the seat... that sorta thing.
If anybody's curious, there are a few more pics HERE.
Me? I'm trying to figure out when I'll be able to get back.