To be totally honest, my first track day of 2016 started out as a complete disappointment. I arrived at Castrol Raceway’s road course confident and ready to ride, having just successfully completed Justin Knapik’s On Track Performance Race School less than 24 hours earlier. In seemingly no time at all, my intermediate group received a five-minute warning, and in the time that it takes to start your bike, put on your helmet and gloves and line up, I was out on the track.
Coming out of the staging area in Edmonton, you quickly arrive at the “bus stop,” a quick left right manoeuvre specifically incorporated to slow motorcycles down in anticipation of the course’s signature corner number 3, a long, banked right-hander.
Midway trough the “bus stop,” I realized, that for at least the moment, I apparently had not retained a single line that had been taught to me the day before. To make matters worse, immediately after corner 3, quicker bikes started passing me, leaving me both demoralized and anxious. I worked through the balance of the 15-minute session focusing on settling down and relaxing, filled with relief when the checkered flag came out indicating that it was time to head back into the pits.
Fortunately within moments of taking my helmet off, my good friend Rob Darlington, one of the owners of HardNox Track Dayz and an expert level racer, stopped by to ask how my first session had gone. Upon hearing my frantic recounting that I had apparently all but forgotten how to ride a motorcycle, Rob gave me a few pieces of advice that were so timely and perfect that the best thing I can do is include them here verbatim.
#1) “Dude,” (yes he actually said dude) “you are at the race track riding a motorcycle. Relax, have some fun.”
#2) “Each session, pick one or two things and focus on them.” There are literally unlimited things you can focus on at any point when you are riding, with key items of body position, line, visual cues, application of brake and throttle, all breaking down into infinite combinations. The reality is that over time some of these will become ingrained, but getting there involves practice, lots of practice. Especially when you are learning, whether you are new to the sport or to a specific track, human nature’s limitations mandate that you take things one at a time, figure it out and then move onto the next.
#3) “Don’t hesitate to cut a session short or skip one entirely.” Yes, participating in a track day costs money, and it is only natural to focus on getting maximum value for your hard-earned dollars, but sometimes you are better to sit it out for a few minutes. Whether you are feeling tired, distracted or frustrated, staying out on track when you are not 100% focused can have a disastrous outcome with potential physical and financial implications.
Taking Rob’s advice to heart, I was back on track for the next session and immediately felt better. As simple and, in hindsight, obvious as his comments were, they made the difference in my season on the track.
As the Canadian season draws to a close, I have completed hundreds of laps on the Edmonton track and am working on plans to head south in search of some winter seat time before returning to Edmonton to participate in the 2017 EMRA season. That is a story for another day. Stay tuned!
– Patrick Lambie