George McConnel's RC51 BLOG

Date:December 26-28, 2009
Track:Jennings GP
Bike:2002 Honda RVT1000 (RC51) / 2002 Suzuki SV650
Weather:Cool with mixed cloudiness and sunshine, highs in the upper '50's.
Sponsor:Just me...
Conducted By:Finish Line Racing

Track Diagram

The Jennings GP track is very flat with little or no elevation changes. Although it is a two mile track there really aren't any long straight sections, so speeds rarely get as high as they will on a track like Road Atlanta. Like Talladega, this track was designed by Ed Bargy, so it offers a good learning experience with a variety of different types of turns. Unlike Talladega, it is designed to run only in one direction (counter clockwise), but it makes up for that limitation by being better balanced with enough right hand turns (including the high speed turn 13-14 complex to burn up both sides of a rear tire equally.

Turns 3-5 seem to spook most people, but ironically turn 10 is actually the slowest speed turn on the track. You can really set up some good passes on the outside of turn 12 by getting a good line and drive out of turns 10 and 11. The braking zone for turn 13 also delivers a lot of excellent opportunities for passing.

The facilities at Jennings are really great. Nashville's only advantage is that it has a covered garage. Jennings features a paved paddock with pit areas just the right size to cover with a 10x10 pop-up tent. Jennings provides electricity for each pit so you don't have to listen to noisy generators, and there are excellent shower and camping facilities.


My two track bikes, side by side and ready for action.
last year's excellent trackday experience with Finish Line Racing, I absolutely knew I wanted to go back if at all possible. Things worked out so that I could and there I was again.

The weekend started out with a trip to my mother's house to visit with her and what remains of my family of origin during the christmas holiday. We had a nice visit and I left from her house for the four hour drive to Jennings, getting there around 8:00 PM on Friday evening. A few other early arrivers had already unloaded. I selected a pit right across from the Knoxville contingent (Boone, Brandi, Ryan and others) and got myself unloaded. We sat around awhile talking and socializing, but all of us knew that Saturday morning was going to be a busy day, so most of us went on to bed without staying up very late.

I had remembered

Moni and Boone wait for their next track session
most of the stuff that I needed for camping out, but one thing I had forgotten was a small space heater to run in the "hotel Kia" when I was sleeping. It got pretty cold each night, but the sleeping bag provided adequate protection from the elements and I slept okay. The only problem was getting out of it in the mornings. Brrrr!

Donnie Wright had originally been scheduled to work with the Novice group as an instructor / coach. Unfortunately he had developed a cold a day or so before the event was to begin and would be unavailable. Charles called me to ask if I could fill in for him, which I was glad to. Having already had the opportunity to do something like that for the Minnie Pearl trackday back in October I was actually still prepared with some leftover handouts.

So Saturday morning was fairly busy for me. I was expected to do 'tech' on the bikes (really not that much, just glancing over them to make sure they didn't look like they would cause an undue safety hazard on the track). Along with Boone and Justin I walked up and down pit row to give appropriately colored stickers to each bike. It was cold and there was a blustery wind that chilled my hands so badly they were hurting. I went back to my truck and started the engine to run the heater and warm my hands up just so I could continue. I was wishing I had some good cold weather gloves to wear.

After things settled down a bit they called the riders' meeting. Don (the race control director for Jennings) puts on a pretty good show during his riders' meetings. After it was over he introduced Charles who introduced me to the novices. I took the novices into the classroom where I went over the basics of riding on the track with them. I was careful to be quick about it and make sure they had plenty of time to gear up for their first session. As in Nashville I told them we'd ride the entire first session in parade style with no passing. I also told them that during the first lap we'd do a single sighting lap and wave at each corner worker station (where they would be holding their yellow flags stationary so that we could identify the location of each station). Don also suggested that we do a pit-in / stop-and-go so they could see how that worked. We did that, then I took them back out on the track and gradually increased the pace through the rest of the session.

Using the SV650 I ran another session or two with the novices, letting them pretty much begin passing at will during the second

Brad Duncan can't wait until he gets that halo off.
session. Originally I had encouraged them to pass only on the outside, but some people who wanted to ride in the novice group had not gone to the classroom so they were unaware of that restriction. There was one kid who buzzed Moni on the inside into turn 13 and frightened her. I talked with Charles about it and we didn't have any more incidents like that to my knowledge.

After lunch I decided to just let the novices play and I fired up the RC51. The tires on it were somewhat questionable, but I figured I could run them for a couple of sessions just to get the feel of the big bike again.

It's really amazing

Nick Dunn poses on his Ninja.
how fast you get going on a bigger bike like the RC51 by the time you're setting up for turn 3. On the SV650 I could almost dive into turn 3 without braking first. On the RC51 that was an impossibility, at least for me.

I rode during every session on Saturday, leaving the novices to fend for themselves during the afternoon.

Saturday evening there was a planned cookout, and I had volunteered to bring a Karaoke rig down. After the final session of the day was over I drove my car over to the area where I was to set up the Karaoke stuff and began getting everything organized. I put out my 800 watt light so there would be lighting, then rigged up my laptop, two microphones, a mixer and a home theater stereo speaker with subwoofer. It actually sounded pretty good, even in the open environment.

Unfortunately for me it looked like the Karaoke might end up being a bust. Nobody seemed much interested in coming over to play with it. I did a couple of songs by myself, then Moni came over and did one of the songs she had requested. Catherine came over and performed, then Laird, but it seemed like there was never going to be anyone there except me and maybe one other person.

Finally the Knoxville contingent came over and did their couple of dirty ditties (Dick In A Box and On A Boat). Laird hung around awhile and he and I did a few more numbers and I was about to just wrap it up when Catherine came back over and a few others showed up. As it turned out we ended up doing a lot more songs before finally packing it in around 11:30 or so. Overall it was a fun evening.

Sunday morning I didn't want to wake up at all. I was completely exhausted. I finally forced myself

Ryan Jordan and others in the pit.
to get up when they were calling for the rider's meeting. I leashed up Zero and let him walk with me over to the rider's meeting. I really didn't know what to expect, whether Charles wanted me to conduct another Novice classroom or just let them get out and ride. I didn't quite understand his plan when he told me about Tim Vosnick, but I knew he was planning on using Tim to replace Donny. He introduced Tim as "the instructor" and me as a "resource", which was fine. Actually I'd have been just fine if he'd just left me out of the equation altogether, but that's not how it worked out. Feeling obliged to work with the novices again I conducted a quick classroom session just to answer questions and let them know a few things about the Jennings track.

I rode control on the SV650 with the novice group for the first three sessions. A new guy named Justin (with his wife Leslie) had moved in and pitted right next to me. He asked if I could maybe lead him around so he could get used to "the line" on the track, so I obliged. He indicated that it helped him out. Later in the morning Charles came by his pit and mentioned to him that he had passed someone underneath on turn 2, a very risky maneuver. Charles even suggested that he should go find the rider in question and apologize to him,

My newly repaired leathers
have my name on back!
but he couldn't even remember having done it, let alone who it was. Charles didn't know the number or even a description of the rider in question. Justin was very apologetic about it and felt really badly. We suggested to him that he shouldn't feel bad about it, especially as nobody got hurt. Part of learning how to ride on the track is learning when it's a good idea to pass and when maybe it's not. We also suggested that he may want to go ahead and bump up to Intermediate group, which he did. He didn't regret that move at all.

I had taken the wheels off my RC51 on Saturday afternoon before setting up for Karaoke, so the bike was still sitting there with no wheels. Boone and the guys hadn't set up their Nomar Tire Changer yet, so I suggested that maybe it was time we got started with that. They set it up only to discover that they had forgotten to bring the big bar that actually removed / reinstalled the tires.

One of them was over there disassembling the unit when I came over and suggested that since I had a set of tire spoons we might as well use their changing station and my spoons to change tires. As it turned out that was an excellent idea. Not quite as fast as using the full Nomar system, but very quick, especially with two or three guys working together to do it. We got my tires changed pretty quickly and a couple of theirs and I left my spoons and rim savers over there in case anyone else needed to use them. They used them for several other tire changes but eventually someone probably wasn't using proper technique when attempting to change a tire (keeping the bead down into the wheel well) and they broke my longer spoon. One of them brought the spoons and rim savers back over and apologetically offered to buy me a new one, but I told him it was entirely unnecessary. The savings in just not having to pay someone else to change my tire was well worth more than the $10 or so it will cost me to replace the spoon.

While I was preparing to putt the wheels back on my RC51 Carlton Hodges and his son and his son's girlfriend came by. They had driven down from Waycross, Georgia. I told them I was going to go to the store and pick up some stuff for lunch but they evidently had already eaten so they weren't interested in getting any for themselves. Instead they wanted to go watch the motorcycle action on the track. They said they'd come back to my pit after awhile, but strangely I never saw them after that. I tried calling a time or two but still have no clue what happened to them.

Meanwhile I got the wheels back on the RC51 and after lunch was

Coming up on traffic into turn 1...
over I took it out in the Intermediate group for a couple of sessions. I could really feel myself working a lot harder on the big bike. It's a lot of work riding that bike. I have no idea what kind of times I was running, but mostly I was just trying to get the new tires scuffed in during that first session.

I can't remember if I ran just one or two more sessions Sunday afternoon before calling it a day, but I just didn't have the inclination to keep pushing that afternoon. I was ready to call it a day a little early and relax for awhile.

Sunday afternoon they had planned a group dinner at a mexican restaraunt in Lake Park, Georgia. So I hopped in the truck

Busting a move inside on turn 10.
with Ryan, Brad and some of the other guys. We rode up together and had a great meal. Some of the folks pitted down from me had needed to borrow some tools (chain breaker, drain pan, etc.,) from me to effect some repairs and maintenance on their bikes, so they bought dinner for me, which was just peachy. We rode back in Ryan's truck and when we got back the several of us tried to hang around under the tent to shoot the breeze for awhile but it was just too cold. A mild but very chilly breeze was adding to the discomfort. A couple of guys built a small fire so we huddled around it for awhile, but I finally decided I'd had enough and went to bed.

Monday morning it was really cold outside but the sun had come out for what seemed like the first time all weekend. I didn't want to wake up, and I lay there for awhile just wanting to keep sleeping, but finally I got up. Again I didn't knwo what the game plan was for the novice riders but I helped by control riding with some of the novices. However I did all my riding on the RC51 on Monday. The first lap I took kind of slow, then did a slightly hotter lap. As I entered the front straight for the 2nd time I waved the riders who were close enough on around me. A third rider was within eyeshot but he just wasn't close enough to get around me before turn 1 so I dove in and slotted behind the two riders who had passed me. One of them was on a red GSXR-1000 and the other was on a Yellow bike. I couldn't tell for sure what it was, but I believe it was a Kawasaki.

Almost full tilt through turn 11 this time.
Anyway, the guy on the red bike managed to effect a pass on the other guy and looked like he was going to pull away. They were doing decent paced novice laps, probably in the range of 1:38 or thereabouts. I don't know because I had let another guy (Earl) borrow my lap timer so he could see what kind of times he was running. The guy on the yellow bike got his stride after a lap or two and started reeling the other one back in. Eventually we were back up with the red bike and he busted a nice move to pass the red bike braking into turn 13. I kept following them until the session was over and then went over to say "Hi" to them. Turned out they were buddies and had just drove down from Canada to ride. We talked for awhile, then I headed back to my pit.

When I got there a guy from an adjacent pit came over and asked me if I would show him "the racing line" during the next session. His name was Ken. I told him I'd be glad to, he could just exit the pit in front of me and I'd follow him for a lap or two to get an idea what his pace was, then attempt to ride the race line at his pace. He didn't mention it, but his wife (Beth) was also there and she wanted to do the same thing. He was riding a red CBR600RR and she was on a purple/pinkish GSXR-600. So when I got to pit out they were already at the head of the line. I had to chase them down, but by the time I did he had already gotten ahead of her with some traffic between them. I went ahead and passed her and chased Ken down. Surprisingly that didn't take long at all. I believe I passed her braking into turn 13 and I caught him before turn 1.

So once I caught up with him I followed him for a lap or two, then like I had promised I pointed at my tail section to indicate "follow me" and attempted to show him the line. I sandbagged a little approaching turn 3 so he'd be able to get close before we got into the tight section. Then I rode the racing line at a slower-than-normal-pace. In fact I did it so slowly I essentially didn't make any speed adjustments, just rode the whole thing with a steady throttle. But when I looked behind me as I got onto the back straight he was nowhere to be seen. He was unable to keep up with that pace, so I slowed it down a bit more on the second try. I guess after about two or three laps of that he had pretty much kept pace with me so I waved him by on the front straight so I could watch him for a few laps. After the session was over I talked with him about the things I'd noticed that might help him make better time in some sections of the track, and it looked like he really appreciated it.

I may have done the same thing with another person or two that morning before the lunch break, but after lunch it

Turn 10 - a tight lefthander.
was my turn. I told Earl I needed my lap timer back and strapped it on my bike. I went out and was able to run some low 30's and high 29's. During the next session I got down into the low 29's and one of the laps was a 29.01. Satisfied that I'd be right back into the 28's if I went out again I decided it was time to call it a weekend. I didn't set a personal best that weekend but I managed to get near my personal best within only two sessions of actually trying, which satisfied me that there was plenty more to be had. I was too exhausted to care about trying at that point and knew I had a lot of work to do just to load the truck and get ready for the long (eight hour) drive back home.

I kicked back and lit a cigar to celebrate the end of a great weekend. Moni came over and sat in my "guest" chair and we talked for awhile as did Brad Johnson. While Brad and I were talking I noticed the crash truck going out. We saw as the session ended that the crash truck came back with Charles on it. Fortunately he hadn't actually crashed, but his bike had caught fire while he was riding.

Charles came over and we had a beer together as we talked about the weekend. It was a great weekend and

Check out some video from an onboard
camera taken by Donny Wright!
I congratulated him on another excellent organization.

But all good things have to come to an end, so I began packing all the stuff up. With a little help from Boone and Brad I was able to get the bikes loaded with no sweat, and I strapped everything down securely for the long ride home. Zero was a trooper throughout all this, and he travels very well.

I got back home at about 12:30 in the middle of the night. I really didn't want to get up the next morning as I was thoroughly exhausted. What a great weekend.

Most important lesson learned during this track day: Being a control rider isn't really that much fun.

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