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 ( 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 schedule.

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 wasn't necessary.

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 going alone.

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 off.

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 further.  

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 right.

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 the straight.

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 Beginners.

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.

Touching Down

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 just 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?