My First Track Day: LVMS, 21Sep2019

I just did my first full motorcycle track day at Las Vegas Motor Speedway outside course, the first time I was actually out riding on track anyway. It was awesome, and was everything I expected. Everyone says the track is super addictive, and they aren’t joking, because I’m hooked! I’m no stranger to motorsports tracks; I shot pro racing (mostly various IMSA series, did FIA WEC once, and then a bunch of smaller local track day events) for a couple years, so I know the etiquette and basic flow of a day around a track. I think photographers work just as hard, but it was quite different actually being a rider. Most people believe that the track equals racing, but it’s far from that. A track day is simply that: a day that the track is open to riders to go and practice what they want. Sure, some of the guys out there have actual racing aspirations, but the majority of the serious ones are up in the advanced group. I strongly believe that anyone can learn a ton out on track. Anyone can ride in the beginner group and practice any techniques they want to. People often quote something along the lines of “a day riding on track is equal to months riding on the street”, and I believe that with a caveat: you must be practicing good techniques. And the best part is, that’s easy to do, because at any track day, the hosting organization will have control riders (aka. Instructors) that will help you out. They typically won’t provide 1-on-1 tutoring, but they’ll be happy to follow you around for a few laps every couple sessions and give you pointers on some ways to improve. Also, it’s on you to learn the right techniques. Do some studying beforehand from reputable sources, take a course and practice techniques they were teaching, just talk to some fast people at the track and ask good ways to do things.

Anyway, here’s how my first track day went:

The Week Prior

I started preparing about a week before the event. Being my first day riding on track, I wanted to make sure I gave myself enough time to pack and double-check and not forget anything. Plus I was mostly doing things in the couple hours I had after work, so I did a little every day. I made sure my bike was mostly ready: got new tires mounted and balanced and back on the bike, safety wired the radiator cap and oil filter, drain plug, and fill plug, and mirrors removed. I left the tape until the day before because it was hot in the garage and I didn’t want extra residue on the bike. For stuff for me, I made sure the tent and weights, chairs, and all tools and extra stuff I needed were ready. I’ve got a good checklist for this, if anyone’s interested let me know. I also made sure I had the U-Haul trailer reserved, which I actually did about a month out because there aren’t a ton in the area.

The Day Before

Since the bike was basically ready at this point, all that was left was to tape the lights. Definitely use gaffers tape, it doesn’t leave any residue unlike duct tape. I didn’t remove any fuses, and it was fine. I went and picked up the motorcycle trailer from U-Haul, then loaded up the bike when I got home. I didn’t strap it down tight, just attached the straps and left them loose. You don’t really want to compress the suspension for that long if you don’t have to. I loaded up everything else into my vehicle that I could, leaving just a couple things like the cooler for cold stuff and compressor to fill in the morning. Make sure you keep the trailer/bike in a garage if at all possible, because a trailer is a real easy target for thieves. Besides bike prep, this is when you want to start prepping your body. Start drinking a ton of water and eat right. What you put into your body the day before will affect you the day of the event. Pay a little attention to what you’re eating, and maybe you get an extra session during the track day.

You want to do as much as possible the day before, because the morning of the event is pretty damn hectic already and the less you have to do the better.

The Day of the Event

I always like to be early for things, and I wake up early on a daily basis, so I was up around 0430. Hopped in the shower, grabbed some water and a quick breakfast (real important!), loaded my last-minute stuff, tightened the straps on the bike, and was on the road. This drive is one of the few times you will have available to rest during the day, so enjoy it.

Most orgs and tracks don’t have reserved spaces in the paddock, so generally when you get there you will just choose where you want to set up. At LVMS it’s all open, so I just chose a spot and started unloading. Bike was unloaded, tent setup and tied down (make sure you bring weights, it can get windy), and I had enough time to kick back and enjoy the sunrise.

The time before the first session is going to vary between orgs, but for me it was registration and tech opened at 0700. You first go and register, get your group sticker for your bike, and then take your bike over to tech for inspection. This can be thorough depending on who you get, but they’re looking for basic stuff: does your throttle snap closed on its own, do all the controls on the bike function smoothly, are there any leaks, is tire wear acceptable, are there any loose body panels, do you have everything taped properly. It’s basic stuff generally, and if you have a clean bike it’s generally going to be a little easier (usually people that keep their bike clean tend to keep up on maintenance a little better). After you pass tech, you’ll have a little time before the rider’s meeting. The rider’s meeting that morning was at 0830. The rider’s meeting is required, and is pretty important if you’re new to the track. They went over important things like how to enter and exit the track, what the flags mean, passing rules, and the schedule for the day. They also introduced the staff and all the vendors that were there supporting everyone throughout the day. Group A started at 0900, while Group C hung back for a little more coaching before being dismissed. Every group ran in 20-minute blocks, which means we (Group C) ran at :40 of every hour. After the briefing, everyone went back to their pit to get suited up and ready.

Session 1: The first session out there, the control riders/instructors led everyone around the track for a couple laps. This allowed us to get acquainted with the track, learn our braking/entry/apex/exit markers, learn where the marshal stands are, and just generally orient ourselves to being on track. At the end of the second lap, they showed us how/where to exit the track. We went straight to hot pits, then were turned loose onto the track.

Since it was my first time on a track, I was going pretty slow compared to a lot of guys. Even as slow as I was going, there were people slower than me. I was learning a new place, so I focused on trying to get the corners learned. I was doing pretty terrible all things considered: not smooth on the controls, I was missing most of the lines through the corners, my body position was lazy and terrible, and I wasn’t looking where I should have been. Either because I was going so slow or because they were in the wrong group, I was getting passed quite a bit. Some of those passes weren’t exactly safe: I got stuffed a couple times, and a lot weren’t on the outside with a 5 foot gap (the rules for Group C passing we were briefed in the morning). Luckily I wasn’t going fast so I had plenty of margin to correct, and none weren’t so unsafe that I ever got touched or almost went off the track. Looking back, part of it might have been me not being used to how close people may pass on the track and still be safe, might have just gotten spooked. Either way, this got better throughout the day. I made it through the session just fine, I mainly learned the track a bit and the way things go out there.

After the session is over, time can fly by. You gotta remember you only have about 30 minutes until you’re getting ready for your next session. That means that you need to down some water/fluids, eat something if you want, take a piss, take the bike over to the suspension guy or make any changes, and do anything else you want all in that timespan. Don’t forget to take a minute to sit down and rest, it’s easy to get carried away. Remember that you have the whole day, and sometimes missing a session isn’t that bad. A lot of people don’t make it to the end of the day their first day, so missing a session in the morning might keep you out on track longer in the afternoon when less people are out there.

Session 2: The second session was pretty awful for me actually. I was blowing corners left and right, trying to get faster without having any of the basics down. Braking was awful, lines were terrible, body position left a lot to be desired, I was generally making every mistake I could. But that’s fine, and the important part is that I realized I was making those mistakes. Sometimes knowing what to do and doing it are two way different things, and I knew I was doing everything wrong. So I took a breath and decided to focus on one or two things. I wanted to be smoother on the controls, and I wanted to get my eyes where they should be. About halfway through the session I started actually working those things, and I made some progress, but everything else was pretty terrible still so it didn’t seem like I was making progress. After missing the line through a few turns every single lap, I decided I was going to ask for help the next session. I did get faster this session, I did improve overall. The passing from other people wasn’t as bad either, probably because I was a little faster.

After the session was over I spoke to the suspension guy real fast and then asked one of the instructors if he would lead me around for a couple laps. He said sure, next session. I peed, sat down for 10 minutes, grabbed some water, and got the jacket back on.

Session 3: Oh boy, you NEED to ask for help on track. I don’t care what you’re working on, definitely get with the control riders and ask them to help you out. Even if it’s just following you to maybe notice something you may not be, it will help a ton. I FINALLY found the lines through the couple turns I was blowing every lap (well, he showed me, I didn’t just find them), and he pushed me (more like dragged me, but ya know) to new comfort levels. It was like a cheat code for better riding. Seriously, take advantage of the instruction and help that’s offered. You paid enough for the day, look at it as part of the dues you paid.

Beyond just showing me the lines, which was a huge help in itself, we pulled into the hot pits and he gave me some other pointers. My body position needed work, I wasn’t driving enough out of a corner which I definitely noticed while I was out there as he was pulling away fast, and I needed to look through the corner a bit more.

At noon there was a break for lunch. This was also when people got to go out for Taste of the Track. Apex Assassins does this great intro to track riding they call Taste of the Track. They allow riders with minimal gear (helmet, gloves, any sort of jacket and pants, and boots) and any type of bike out on track. The bikes still have to pass basic tech, and are required to tape the lights/mirrors. They then go through a quick rider’s meeting where the basics of track riding are gone over. After that, each control rider takes a 5-6 people around the track for a few laps. The pace isn’t fast, but fast enough for the riders to get a feel for the track.

At lunch, don’t eat a ton. You don’t want a super full belly, it will make you tired and sluggish, which isn’t good on a motorcycle. The best thing is to eat a little between each session, and then a light lunch. Make sure you keep up on fluids, and depending on how hot it is outside you have to pay varying degrees of attention to intake of other things like salt or electrolytes. Pedialyte is real popular and works well, Gatorade or equivalent is good. Definitely drink some straight water as well. Caffeine in small amounts is fine, and I’m pretty sure it’s totally a myth that it dehydrates you. Don’t crush a pot of coffee or anything, but a cup of coffee or energy drink is fine to get your day going and keep you aware. One thing caffeine does for sure is make you sweat and pee more, so if you are drinking caffeine, make sure you’re also drinking more water to offset those effects.

And don’t forget to sit down and rest! You’re only halfway through the day, and if you’re new to the track, you’re probably starting to feel a little tired by this point. Just take it easy, and trade the session after lunch for a nap if you wanna.

Sessions 4 and 5: To be honest I don’t remember huge differences between sessions 4 and 5. I continued to work on what the instructor told me, and I was really focusing on improving braking abilities, which I was noticeably improving. I was braking harder and later than most guys around me. I touched my toe on the inside of one of the corners too, which kinda scared me a little at first. Guess why there are toe sliders! Gonna have to try to work on getting my foot in a bit more, but I was already on the balls of my feet. Right next to my knee started to get real sore too. At first I thought it might be because my pants (I was wearing a two-piece suit) were too tight around the knee, so I tried pulling them up a bit more. My quads were getting a little tired, but I still had some gas left in me. One thing I didn’t mention much in this is how much work riding hard is, but you definitely need to exercise to prepare. You won’t make it through the day if you’re normally pretty sedentary and just head into the day thinking

In session 4, I do remember a pucker moment: I cut one of the faster short turns a bit too tight, and went up onto the kerb. My ass end got real loose, but I just stayed on the gas, stayed loose on the bike, let it dance under me, and it worked itself out. Luckily I was almost straight up and down at that point. The kerbs at most of the local, smaller tracks do NOT have the same surface on them that you see on grand prix circuits. At grand prix circuits, they paint with a special compound that has a lot of grip, but doesn’t last that long; they often repaint those. At smaller tracks however, they use a much harder and more durable paint on the kerbs. They do this in order for it to hold up against the weather and mostly the cars that are out there, so that they don’t have to do as much maintenance. This paint is much slicker, and it does not have much grip on it. Be wary of the kerbs, treat them the same as dirt.

I also had a notable moment in session 5: I feel a bit bad about buzzing pretty close to one of the instructors. He was working with another guy, and he was going a bit slower than me. He moved over into my line (he didn’t know I was there, was an accident) just as he was looking back for his guy. I was hard on the gas on a straight, closing speed was like 40mph and I didn’t have time to back off, so I just kept it pinned and cut over to the track edge. There was probably a couple feet between us which isn’t really that close, but I only had about a foot to the track edge on my right. And that’s just what I remember, which is likely to be pretty skewed; people’s memories are pretty awful in stressful situations. This whole thing may have been totally fine with plenty of space, and it may have been just a little alarming to me because I’m not familiar with the close distances you might have on track.

Session 6: This was my last session of the day. Just be mindful, some people are superstitious to varying degrees about calling the last session before you go out, thinking that saying that means something bad will happen. There weren’t a lot of people out there, which was probably a combination of people getting tired and packing up and other people bumping up into B group. I was probably riding at a low B group pace at this point, but I was happy to stay where I was since the track was so clear. I had a good session. I was sticking with one guy for most of it; he’d hold me up a bit going into corners, but then he’d pull away a little driving out of corners. Me and him also had better lines through different sectors of the track, it seemed like I was faster than him in certain groups of corners, and he was faster than me in others. It was pretty fun, and I ended up passing him braking into one of the hairpins at the very end of the session. Figured that was a good way to end the day.

By this point, around my knees were killing me, and I was getting to the point of jelly legs. I didn’t want to push it, because when people get tired is when they start making bigger mistakes, and are more likely to go down. And this is something to keep in mind too: a lot of people get tired by mid-afternoon, and the last couple sessions are usually super thin, which means a free and open track. Skipping a morning session to trade for one of the last sessions is a great idea. Anyway, I packed up my bike and my stuff, changed, said goodbyes, and headed home after a great day.

It was a great day. I’ve been around tracks before, but if you haven’t, it’s really an incredible experience. The sights, sounds and smells really impact your senses, I love just being there. In general, people at the track are super friendly. Most people are very willing to lend tools, help, or even space under a tent. Pretty much everyone wants to talk about their bikes, their setups, and how they’ve been doing out on track, so it’s easy to make some new friends. There are usually a few vendors there, and sometimes you get lucky and have something good going on during lunch. There are things happening all day long, and the pace of the day is really fast. The first couple track days you do can be fairly stressful if you let them, so just relax and remember that you’re there to have fun and learn. I highly recommend everyone trying a track day at least once.

If you have any questions or comments, please let me know. Ride safe!

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