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Motorcycle Track Days – Learning to Practice Safety and Speed on the Pavement

Egli Racing Vincent

Lesson 1: Humility in the Racetrack Classroom

This is a classroom introduction to learning the practice of safety and speed on the pavement on or in a motorized vehicle.  Its content is designed to be used in motorcycle track day training.

Photo of Superbike Racing in 1985

The Author in 1985 in Unlimited Superbike AMACCS ,Summit Point Raceway

In the next few minutes,  we’re going to talk about a basic mental precept that we all need to learn to put into practice if we really want to learn to enjoy truly going fast, safely.   The foundation of that learning has less to do with perfecting the actual practice and techniques of riding or driving, and more to do with your mind and attitude.   Lesson One is I think the most important of all, and that is why it’s first!  It is a purely mental factor called —- humility.

In future articles,  we will  talk about the actual practice of being quick, in terms which apply to driving on four wheels, or riding on two wheels.  We are going to talk about about riding briskly in the more dangerous environment of public roads, and  in the more secure environment of a closed racetrack.  We will begin that discussion with a term used by a lot of sportbike riders, called “the pace”.  We’ll talk about that more in the next video.  Briefly, “the pace “is a phrase coined by Nick Ienatsh,  a great motorcycle journalist who has put in a lot of racetrack time himself.  Nick published an article on “The Pace” 10 or 15 years back, and it was in Motorcyclist Magazine.  Learning to ride at “The Pace” is about riding safely and sanely, and yet relatively quickly, without injuring yourself or anyone else, without destroying your equipment, without annoying car drivers badly, and without getting a speeding ticket.  It’s about learning how never to get in over your head and how never to expose yourself to unnecessarily dangerous situations, while you maximize the joy of riding, or driving, as the case may be.  But, stay tuned for that in the NEXT article and video.

But, first of all you may be asking yourself, “Who is this guy?”

“Who is this guy?   I’ve never heard of him!  He’s not famous.  How could he have anything valuable to teach me about how I ride or drive?”   I’ll give you a bit of my background to start with, and I will tell you up front, with all of the humility I can muster up, that I’m certainly no authority who has perfected the practice of everything that I recommend.  But,  I have listened to a lot of people who have a lot of experience and then I’ve personally put it to the test in a variety of pavement venues with different numbers of wheels.

Ducati mototrans, vintage motorcycle racing

The author’s brother, Larry Watts on his Ducati 350 Mototrans singleDucati single in the 1989 WERA Grand National Finals

I was never near being an national champion of any kind, but I do have a fair amount of competition riding and driving experience, and I’ve put in more than a few competitive laps on various racetracks on motorcycles from 250s to 1100 Superbikes.   in motorcycle racing I have roughly 10 years of experience in competition in WERA, AMA CCS , AHRMA, the now extinct Florida Gran Prix Riders, and the now extinct AAMRR south.  That’s me in the intro picture above, on a GS1000 at Summit Point Raceway in 1985, riding in the Unlimited Superbike Class.  In automobiles I drove both fwd and rwd competition cars for a period of about 5 seasons in several classes of the SCCA  at the Regional and National levels.  I once took a  Formula Ford driving school, and I’ve competed in go cart clubs, and I coached my son, Eric, in fast driving when he raced quarter midgets, and later graduated from circle track racing  to road racing my old 100cc Yamaha cart and  80cc shifter cart.   In the past 30 years or so I raced quite a lot, completed a few competition driving schools, riders schools, once even a MSF street oriented safety course.

Those are my humble qualifications.  I never got famous.  I never made a profession of driving or riding or racing, but I’m a guy who has fooled around with it enough to understand how to give you the basics if you’re just coming into the sport.  My VERY first racing school was with the California Superbike School, and was personally taught by Keith Code himself back in 1984, on a Kawasaki GPZ 550.  .  But after that, EVERY time I ever had the chance to be critiqued by someone else, regardless of who they were, or how fast they actually were themselves…..a concerted effort to be humble resulted in a positive learning experience, an experience that dissolved mental barriers, and built my confidence and comfort level with speed.

In retrospect……listen to experience!

I think, in retrospect, thinking back on how I myself personally felt about the material presented, and the hands on experience offered in a lot of competition schools, I would emphasize that the very first skill we all need to develop has nothing to do with riding, or driving, at all. It is the development of personal humility.  It seems to me that the younger and the less experienced is the rider, or the driver, the more difficulty they have with being humble, and being open to learning.  Now granted a lot of very young riders are fast because they just have no fear.  They don’t have to unlearn fear like we do, but they do have to learn common sense.  The young and fast ones who go on to do great things, I believe do so as a result of exercising enough humility to listen to the voices of experience.  A lack of humility puts up a mental barrier that opposes our ability to realize and uncover the confidence we actually naturally possess  -  to overcome our own self imposed limits.

And that’s what this is all about…..learning to remove self imposed mental limitations.  In reality, nothing holds back a human being from learning to do any task well, other than his own self imposed and subconsciously self enforced limitations.  So don’t start out believing that you already know everything you need to know, or that you have large testicles and  this school is just some formality needed to allow you to ride or drive on a racetrack.  Learning to ride fast is an internal humble mental transformation. You cannot accomplish that transformation until you are ready to put limiting beliefs about your human selfhood out of the way.

That means not only limitations in the practice of actual driving or riding techniques.  Even before that, it means that you have to erase the barriers which you have been humanly educated to subconsciously put in your own way – mental barriers  that would lead you to the false conclusion that there is little you need to learn.  Get your ego completely out of the way. In other words, you must be truly personally humble.

ducati750

We all think we are already fast, especially if we own some machine that has a reputation for being fast, and makes nice and pleasing and powerful sounds.  But we can only gain the benefit of good advice coming from the mouth of experience, and become faster and smoother in proportion to our practice of a sincere humble respect for experience.  No hotshot attitudes!  That will ultimately do more harm than good.  Valuable information does not have to come from the mouth of a national championship caliber driver or rider.  A lot of regular club racing people have a lot of practical experience that they can teach you, if you will just relax and open your mind to the reality that you need to LEARN to be fast.  But that learning is really only the discovery of what you really are inside, as you learn to eliminate these mental barriers.

That’s the whole key to fastness. And smoothness. Your machine won’t do it for you.  My son, Eric, can tell you a few stories about folks we have ridden with on the street.  I’ll tell a short one here:  A couple years back we met up with a really nice local guy who wanted to do some sport riding with us here in the Ozarks.  He was riding a Suzuki Hyabusa, so we figured this guy really knew his stuff.  Eric was riding his little EX500 Ninja twin, and I was on my Triumph 955 Sprint triple.  As soon as we got off the four lane and onto a secondary road with a lot of medium and high speed corners, Eric and I took the lead.  We were riding casually at “the pace”.   No insult meant to this guy, he was a really nice fellow, but about 15 miles later we ended up waiting for him for a long,  long time at the next intersection.  We were only casually cruising.  On the other hand, our new friend did display good judgment by deciding not to ride over his own capabilities!  The only difference between us was – racetrack time versus no racetrack time.  That’s a short anecdote that illustrates how the machine has little to do with your ability to ride quickly.

Next time….

So much for humility for now!  In the next video we’re going to talk about how not to push those limits in the wrong places    — and more about riding on the road at “The Pace”.  See you soon!

Proposed Class Structures

The Fast Ones – Motorcycle Track Days for Vintage Enthusiasts

Fast Classic Motorcycle

This is a brand new effort…..and if you like vintage motorcycle road racing as much as I do, and if you like like the idea of attending affordable motorcycle track days,,simple, informal and fun, you will want to hear more about this.

Club racing for many has always felt a little bit too formal and a little too uppity.  It has always seemed hard to filter out those people with the big money, and the formal rules that were designed to control all of that get in the way of fun.

The main problem is that in club racing there is just far too much emphasis on the competition, on winning, on points, on personal recognition, and just not enough emphasis on the fun.   Part of the solution in motorcycle track days.   We, who are among “the fast ones” forming this group, want to put that affordable fun back into riding on the racetrack…..we want to create an environment where you can afford to learn to be a ”fast one” on YOUR vintage bike, in a safe and fun environment.

Who are “the fast ones?” Well we can all be fast, or at least  we can think we are.   But how fast are you, really?  Do you really know how to ride at a fast but sane pace ?   How can you learn to do so without truly and literally risking your own life?

The answer to those questions is “the racetrack”.  Do you own a fast vintage bike?  Would you like to ride it REALLY fast….like,  to explore its limits, and yours, in a safe and controlled environment?

Fast Classic MotorcycleAll during the 80s I was heavy into motorcycle club road racing, in both modern classes and vintage, and the most fun I EVER had racing was in those vintage classes.  And I think it was because the folks riding in those classes were less focused on personal competition.  They were there simply for the joy, perhaps for the nostalgia of riding fast in the vintage class.  In several clubs of that period, I had a blast on the racetrack on my Ducati 350 single……  Recently we started to put that Ducati back together again.  Our good friend Martin Weiss, also known as Reptile-Motos, has been working on that project.  In working with Martin on that project, a little bit of bench racing stirred up some fresh ideas about track time and vintage motorcycles that a lot of folks are going to like.

We all love going faster with our vintage bikes than is allowed, or it is safe to do on the street. This is why we go to the race track where we can go as fast as  we want (or can). For now we just want to have fun, but if there is enough interest we will create a Vintage/Classic Racing group. 2-3 races a year.  For now the group will probably be Florida based.  Suggested venues so far are Jennings in north Florida, and Moroso Park in West Palm Beach.  There are other potential options.

Please Send us a short message, comment on the video (to be imbedded here soon) or this post,  and introduce yourself, your bike, and what you hope to get out of joining us in this new organization.  And let’s make this a reality!

- Stirling Watts

David (MK) via photopin cc