Choosing Race Tracks and Track Day Providers for Testing
Finding the right track can be just as difficult as getting set up to ride it.
With numerous race tracks across the country and many track day providers, motorcycle enthusiasts are now able to ride at speed on tracks they see on national TV or that are tucked away in their own backyard. Yes!!!!! That’s good news. So, how does a rider choose a track day provider?
Know Your Track
Strangely to some, the first consideration I would have is altitude. Are you going to Colorado or Utah, or California or Florida. As most bikes are fuel injected this is less of an issue, but for carbureted bikes this can be a nightmare! What about the track itself? Race tracks can vary from less than two miles to over five miles and from few turns to so many that you lose count of them all. What about the actual surface of the track – is it newly resurfaced, does it have multiple surfaces of concrete and asphalt, are there seams in the track, what compound of tire works best there?
It is important to know what facilities are at the track, so when you get there you know what you can depend on. Important considerations consist of garage space for rental, adequate paddock space to park in and set up your pit complete with bike, canopy, stands, table, tools and other plastic bins of essentials. And don’t forget the location of medical staff, bathrooms, café, vending machines etc. Research if there is there a decibel limit on generators or is electrical power supplied (by the provider or at your cost). Most tracks provide a detailed map of the facility and of the track on their website, so download a copy of each and take them with you.
Find the Right Provider
Do you have enough equipment or room to haul everything? Plan ahead to find out what you need to bring and what is available at the track.
When looking at providers, you need to understand the format they run for the day and what services they provide (if any). Some budget days require you to bring everything with you, but other days at a higher price will also have other services there for the day: suspension, tire vendor, welder, photography, videography and lap timer rental as examples. Again, you need to know what to rely on so that your day won’t come apart at the seams if you get a flat tire or need a rear set bent straight.
Time for each session is a big factor. Twenty minutes is a rush, but 30 minutes can create a much more relaxed experience, as there is time to stop every two or three laps and still get some good riding time. Few providers today have an open track from 9-12 a.m. and 1-5 p.m., and this is the ideal test and tune set up for everyone.
Consider Group Rates and Track Schools
Other options include schools, as they run with far less riders and sometimes sessions are as long as 45 minutes, depending on the format. Cost is obviously a little more, but the benefits are considerable in the short term.
While getting a group rate can occasionally lower the cost and make it more reasonable, it can make things a bit more complicated.
- Track days have various ability levels/groups (usually three) and within levels there can be considerable diversity in skills. Some providers can have 30 riders, others have 50-plus per group depending on track length so traffic can be a huge problem when trying to test at 100% riding ability.
- Passing rules can vary from provider to provider, so you need to make sure that the A group allows inside and outside passing so that you can navigate through traffic quickly and safely and in so doing, respect the cushion that you need to have between yourself and the rider you are passing.
- If the provider only allows outside passes, you are going to have to be very strategic in your mental chess game and look far ahead to increase the time you have in making a decision prior to executing the pass.
You need to do some research and look at track day providers to see what criteria they have for groups (lap times?), rider numbers by group and what the general impression of attendees is of the skill level per group. Some providers have a fast track day event where a lot of racers attend and the attitude is to “bring it on,” whereas others have a much more relaxed environment where speed is not everything. You need to be sure of the environment you need so that you can fit in with the general disposition of the riders and get the most return for your dollar investment.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to go to a track near you and see some track days being run, that can provide some very valuable research on their program for you to file away. Bottom line – can the track day provider provide you with the opportunity you are looking for?
Research Track Day Instruction
Take the time to learn the proper techniques to make the most of your track time and keep you and your bike from hitting the ground.
Once you have decided which provider and track to use, you should research who they have for instructors or safety/control riders. These riders are usually very familiar with the fast way around the track, so it would be very beneficial for you to get to correspond with them prior to the track day if possible and get a tow around the track for your first session. That will give you some excellent notes to record and then you can start putting the track together. If this is not possible, they will tell you who the fast riders are for that day or you can ask around or simply look for race bikes, and then you can introduce yourself and see if that rider can give you a tow for the first session. Most instructors and racers are very willing to share time in the morning before the riders meeting and the track opening, so make the most of it!
Dropping in to the pits for an adjustment is great for getting those times where you want them but make sure it is allowed at the track.
Lastly but most importantly, if you are working with a suspension tuner for the day where are they located in regards the entry and exit to the track? Are they close to hot pit lane? Another very important question is whether the provider allows hot pit lane tuning? This is very important if you are leaving your own tools on the wall while you ride or expecting the suspension tuner to be there when you pull in after three or more laps. If that is not allowed you will have to have a test plan for each session and figure out an alternate strategy for making adjustments during sessions.
If you are simply touring around and riding different tracks because you can, then to hell with all of this! Fill the gas cans, set tire pressure first thing and yawn over your first cup of java while deciding when you want to go register.