Track Day Two
by Ves Sladin
This is a follow-up to my earlier track day account entitled "The Long
Road to a Track Day". After 20 years of riding I finally got
around to taking my '96 BMW R850R on the track and had a great
time. The second day turned out even better than the first.
My first track day was on 6/27/2004. When I signed up for that
one I also signed up for a day at Autobahn Country Club in
Joliet IL, which is less than an hours drive from
me. This was a new track just being built, to be completed in
August, and NESBA (nesba.com) was going to be there in September.
Early July I decided to take a drive with the wife and see how this
track was coming along.
We drove down I57, to I80 West, to Illinois route 53, past the existing
NASCAR and Route66 tracks, went west on Millsdale Road, and 1.4 miles
later, there we were... at a pile of dirt. Ok, I exaggerate, it
was a groomed pile of dirt. Out in the middle of the farm fields
you could see parts of what looked like the rough grading for a road.
Realize now that this track is a really big deal. Along with the
NASCAR track and the Route66 drag strip already in Joliet, the addition
of a road course that would total well over three miles, was going to
make Joliet IL a racing town to be reckoned with. There were all
sorts of big hopes about attracting professional teams out here. But as
it stood then, it didn't look to me like this track was going to be on
The September date was basically going to be my second and last track
day of the year, and I would hate to get into a situation where the
date was canceled, leaving me with no alternative to close out the
year. So, I decided rather than take that chance I would
reschedule to an earlier track day, and then if Autobahn did turn out
to be ready... well, maybe I'd sign up for a third track day. So,
I rescheduled for the 8/1 date at Blackhawk Farms.
8/1 arrived quickly and here I was again, tossing and turning the night
before. How many track days do you have to go to before you can
sleep normally through the night before. I can't tell you how
many times I looked at the clock. Let's just say the 4:45 alarm
The first unexpected event of the day was my wife telling me that the
oldest stepson was not going to be coming with me. He had been to
the Wisconsin Oshkosh air show the night before, didn't get back home
until 11:00 pm, and I guess he was dead beat. So there I was
Well, I had made all my preparations the day before. So, all I
had to do in the morning was pack up the food in the cooler and I was
Speaking of preparation, while I was preparing my bike the day before,
while doing the usual removal of turn signals, headlight, center stand,
etc. I had a brainstorm (I get those every now and then). The BMW
has an adjustable seat height! I normally have it at the highest
setting, but I figured it would make more sense to have it lower for a
lower center of gravity, plus it may help me to get my knee on the
ground before my cylinders. I figured it was worth a try.
Anyway, having prepped the bike, and strapped it in the trailer the day
before, I was ready go in the morning and took off for the track right
around 5:00 am.
I started out on the road, and just as I was getting on the 294 West
on-ramp, I noticed my bike tipping over. That's not a good start
to the day. That's all I needed was for the bike to fall off
before I even got here. In my rearview mirror the bike was at
about a 45% angle. I'm just glad the straps didn't let it go any
What is it about strapping a motorcycle to a flat trailer? There
just doesn't seem to be a good way of doing it. The trailer I was
using had a wooden floor, so I was trying to avoid having it lean on
the sidestand because I noticed that last time the sidestand did a
pretty good number at trying to break through the floor. But I
guess without the extra support it just wasn't
stable enough. So I put down the sidestand, cinched it up
tight, and I was on my way again. I definitely have to invest in
a good wheel chock, otherwise if I keep doing this I'm going to be
scraping my bike off the tollway one day.
Back on the road I took it easy, to keep the bouncing to a minimum,
until I got to some good asphalt. At that slower pace I still
arrived at Blackhawk Farms just after 7:00 am.
First thing was to find a place to park. Last time I opted for a
spot near the front straight, but there were no trees there and it was
suppose to be hotter this day than it was the last time I was
there. So, I drove around and found this nice spot under a couple
big trees close to the back side of the track; near what they call the
carousel. There was a camp set up just to my left that had about
five bikes in it but no one was there. Later a bunch of guy
pulled up in a van and parked over to my right. Hmmmm... maybe I
took their spot? But there was plenty of room as long as they
didn't mind walking back and fourth over my territory.
Well, I learned last time how registration went and what to do with the
stickers that I was given. Heck I was a pro now. So, I
walked myself over to registration, handed in my signed disclaimer, got
my "B"eginner sticker and tried finding tech inspection. By this
time it was ten minutes to 8:00 and as I recall tech inspection was
suppose to close at 8:00. But I hadn't seen any line for tech
inspection. I drove to the same spot where it was last time and
asked a guy who pointed me to a different building. Maybe they
switch this stuff around jut to keep it interesting.
I was about the fourth person in line so obviously most people still
hadn't figure out where tech inspection was. I heard the
inspector joking about where were these people coming from, that he
thought he was done. I told him no, we just couldn't find him
cause they switched spots on us. Everyone was like yeah that's
Anyway, I got up to inspection and the first thing the guy said was did
I realize that my lean angle is limited and I should be careful not to
bash those cylinders into the ground. He proceeded to tell me a story
about a friend of his who had done just that. I agreed. He also
mentioned that my break pads were almost worn, yeah I told him I knew
that and had an extra set with me, which I did. That was it and I
was on my way.
Shortly thereafter they called the general riders meeting and we all
gathered by the start finish line. One of the guys who talked had
his arm in a sling; it happened the day before. Coming into a turn his
brakes failed and he went right into the trees and bushes; apparently
no one could even see him from the track. A couple of the corner
workers were talking to him about the rescue operation.
The next guy talking reminding me of some California dude. He
just had that whole attitude going and he went on quite a while
regarding bumps. By bumps meaning moving from one class to
another; beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Basically he said
to advance you had to work with the control riders and you had to be
consistent and smooth. Seems that a lot of people were interested
in what they had to do to move up. But he emphasized that it's
not about moving up, it's about riding safely and being
smooth. He also mentioned the blend line leading down the
straight and into turn one. He said something along the lines of,
"This is the blend line, it runs all the way down to turn one, you have
to stay on this side of it. I don't know what I have to
do... make you come over here smell it, lick it, touch
it..." I guess some people weren't staying to the right of the
line when they they were coming back on the track, which could be
really dangerous given that some people were probably hitting 150+ down
They went over the flags again and hand signals and then the beginners
went into the classroom. The guy with his arm in the sling said
he will not be the control rider captain today, but since he had
nothing better to do he'd do the talk. Actually he was a lot less
organized than the guy a listened to the last time I was at that track,
but he, along with a couple other guys, covered all the major points,
especially the point about just being smooth and having fun.
While this was going on the Advanced riders were on the track, and
shortly after we came out of the classroom the five minute warning came
up for the Intermediates. I went over to my parking area and just
watched the racing until the five minute warning came out for the
Five minutes is just enough time for me to swap my gym shoes for my
racing boots, put on my jacket, zip it to my pants, slip on my helmet
and gloves and get over to the staging area.
Well, the first session just sucked; there's no better way to put
it. The biggest problem is that there were some really slow
riders... actually there was just one slow rider, but a bunch of us got
stuck behind him. This guy was definitely not worried about
who he was holding up, cause it was everybody. He took every
corner slower than I would take it riding on the street, but of course
he had some crotch rocket, so when he got to a straight he'd gun
it and we couldn't pass him. I couldn't follow a line because I
kept catching up to people and I couldn't get my timing going because
it was just too slow. Finally I decided enough was enough and I
decided that coming out of the last turn onto the back straight I was
going to pass these people. That worked, but turn 7 (at the end
of the straight) didn't. I barely got past these people down the
straight and I had to position my self for the turn, but I was going
too fast. I got through the apex but as I came out of the turn I
swung too wide and I was headed of the track. Before I knew it I
was in the dirt, but I just relaxed, waited until I was slowed down a
little, and then came back onto the track. Actually I barely
broke stride, but it definitely wasn't a good start to the track day.
On subsequent sessions I made sure I wasn't lined up behind the
same guy that was slowing everyone down. But eventually I
did end up catching up to him. Sometimes I could pass him on my
own and other time there were control riders who got him to slow down
on the straight so people could pass him. But for the most part
he was a non issue for the rest of the day.
One of the things I realized that day was that I didn't really need to
downshift as much as I had done on my last track session. Last
time there were a couple times when I had downshifted one too many
gears and messed myself up. By shifting less often and revving
the engine less I realized that I just felt more comfortable. If
the engine wasn't revving at the limit it wasn't as distracting, and I
could think more about my turnin points and timing rather than worrying
about the engine revs.
I guess the big advancement was that I started dragging my knee around
a couple of the turns as the day went on. Also the outside edges
of my boots got a workout.
The first time
my knee touched down it took me a split second to realize what had
happened. It's a strange feeling at first. And of course I
knew that if the knee was down the cylinder head wasn't far behind, as
you can see from the photo above.
Another memorable moment was passing up this GSXR750 coming off the
corner onto the back straight. The GSXR has more
horsepower than the BMW, but I lined him up and got inside and past him
as we were exiting the turn. I had to drag him for it but I had
more momentum. Of course he passed me up
again about 1/3 of the way down the main straight. After that it
seemed that he generally sped up and I didn't catch up to him
again. But it sure gave me a taste for the racing game.
At one point I was following a control rider and he was trying to show
me some lines. After the session I pulled up next to him off the
track and he said that I was smooth but I wasn't using up all the track
coming off turn one into the slight left bend. That's what he was
trying to show me; a better line through there. Basically I could
go faster into turn one and
swing out wider, ending up closer to the inside of the track on the
slight left bend. I did that on later sessions and it definitely
felt right; it was a little more difficult to flick the bike into the
bend because I was carrying more speed, and positioning for the next
turn was a little more rushed, but the approach worked.
One of the nice things was that some racing school had been at the
track before NESBA got there, so
there were these dots painted at turn
entry points and apexes, so you could kind of gage yourself on how well
you were following the recommended lines. I wasn't really aiming
for them, but more often than not I found myself on top of them.
I guessed what I realized is that my reference points were kind of
fuzzy. When I turned in I looked into the turn and it
looked right more so than having some spot on the track which was the
point. I felt like I was seeing more of the track than I did
during my first track session and that was good.
Of course the day wasn't without incident. I know at least a couple
people lost it, but there were no injuries. Once incident in
particular was really hairy. I didn't see it from the exact
moment when things went bad but I was near my parking area watching the
Intermediate riders take the carousel, when the next thing I know I see
this guy heading off the edge of the track, his left foot was off the
peg and sticking out for an instant. The bike shook back an
fourth a couple times but kept going straight along the short straight
between the two main turns, but he didn't make it back on the track by
the time the second turn came around and he kept going straight; for
the tires and burm on the outside of the turn. Basically he came
from my left, shot in front of me, and went to the right. Just
before he hit the tires he leaned the bike over and fell off.
When the bike hit the tires and went through them into the dirt pile
behind them it made a loud pop sound. Of course he slid right in
after the bike. It wasn't a split second before he was out of the
mess and going toward the fence. Apparently he walked away
without a scratch, which is more than I can say for the bike.
When the session was over they came out with a truck, got the bike in
it, took it off the track, and racing restarted... without me.
Well, during all
this I had missed the five minute warning and the Beginners were out on
the track. Just as well, the session off gave me a chance to
rest, cause it was hot and I was tired. Later I found out that
the guy who crashed was
one of the five guys that was parked next to me and that it wasn't the
first time he had cracked up that bike. He didn't sound too
worried about it.
The last few session of the day were probably my best. There were
fewer people on the track and I was in the groove. When I think
back on it now, that wasn't bad for a second track day; go from being
the one that was getting passed all the time to being the one that was
doing some passing, dragging my knee, scuffing my boots, and generally
just being faster, even after the mishap in the first session.
The thing I keep thinking about is that I'm not going to be going much
faster, because I'm at the lean limits of the motorcycle. Sure I
can use up some more track, I can try leaning off more, and maybe carry
some more speed in general, but I'm getting really close to dragging
those cylinders, and I really don't want to do that. I keep
thinking about buying another bike; something with a little more ground
clearance. But, frankly there are a lot of things I really like
about the BMW; adjustable seat height, the anti-dive front end
geometry, the shaft driver so I don't have to hastle with lubricating
and adjusting a chain, and it's a BMW, which means it's pretty much
bullet proof. Not to mention it's paid off. I'm going to
have to think about it some more. When it comes down to it, all I
really need to do is tilt those cylinders up 10 degrees or so...
Motto Guzzi? CBR?