George McConnel's First Track Day

I had always wanted to see what it felt like to ride a sport bike on a road course race track. My experiences with drag racing were okay but there was always something missing.

Sponsored by Bloodworth BMW of Nashville in association with Phil Wicks Driving Academy, this track day offered all the things I needed from a track day: A moderate pace, minimal race prep modifications necessary, minimal gear requirements, modest admission fee, minimal number of riders and it was being held at a local track.

The event was held on Sunday, May 29, 2005. I prepped my bike by changing the brake fluid and putting on new tires front and rear. At the track I pulled off the mirrors and put tape over the head light, tail light and turn signals.

Tom Lees winks at the camera lady.

A friend of mine (Tom Lees) was going to be one of the volunteer coaches at the track day, so it was nice to know he'd be there as well. Tom has been an amateur motorcycle racer for several years. I met him through our mutual involvement in motorcycle safety eduction.

We assembled in a classroom for the first class session, where Phil Wicks explained the rules of the track, the meaning of various flags, hand signals, etc., we'd be using while on the track. There were only 8 riders who were there to participate in the event, along with riders who were there to assist with the coaching duties. With little fanfare we went back to our bikes, mounted up and took to the track.

Several of us corner on the serpentine. That's me, closest to the camera.

Our first ride around the track was a 20 minute slow paced ride to allow us to get to know the various curves and become familiar with the characteristics of the track. Even at the slow pace our group got separated into at least three small groups, the slowest riders almost getting lapped by the fastest ones.

During the second class session Phil told us that we would be allowed to pass slower riders but he made it clear that we were only to pass on the long straight, and only on the outside of the rider being passed. It was up to the passer to make a clean pass.

150 miles per hour as I cross the start/finish line.

During the second track session I managed to pass another rider on the straight (really not that difficult a thing to do when you're on a Hayabusa), but it still felt pretty cool to do it. Unfortunately our "fast" group got pinned up behind a group of lap riders towards the end of the second session and we ended up pulling back into the pit before I had a chance to pass that group.

So that's what a scraping peg sounds like on a Hayabusa.

The third session was really cool (at least for me). I was amazed at how much more comfortable I was riding my bike through those corners during that third track session. I was not wearing knee pucks so I didn't try seeing if I could drag my knee through the corners but I am confident that if I had tried I could. On one occasion I even scraped a footpeg, something I've never done on the Hayabusa. I managed to stay right with the fastest group through the entire third session. When I checked my rear tire for scuffing after that session I was gratified to discover that it was convincingly scuffed from edge to edge. The front tire was also scuffed much closer to its edges than I had ever managed in three years of riding the 'Busa.

More than these small victories, the fact is that I had a really great time doing this. It was without a doubt the most fun I've had in a long time.

Another interesting result of this event was that I had an opportunity to see the vast difference between agressive riding on a track and riding on the street. When I restored my bike to street legal condition and took back to the street I felt more vulnerable to hazards than I had felt in a long time. I guess it's easy to get jaded to the level of risk involved in normal street riding. After being on a track for awhile and going back to the street I was acutely aware of just how hazardous and unforgiving a place the street is to ride a motorcycle.

I've decided that this will not be the last time I do a track day on my motorcycle. It was a wonderful and fulfilling experience.

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