Friday, April 22, 2011

Barber Track Day 2011

I had a group of friends come up to visit Alabama for a weekend of motorcycle riding a few weeks ago.  I'm not sure how the "a few weeks ago" part happened, but time is flying by it seems.  I can't hope to write an account of all the fun we had that weekend, but I did want to write up something about my experience. 

The purpose of the visit (aside from hanging out and constantly needling each other) was to venture out to Barber Motorsports Park and watch the guys do a Track Day.  Rick has been pestering me for quite some time to come out and ride, and I have always said no due to quite a number of reasons, but I was more than happy to go and watch and try to video some of the spectacle.

The guys rolled up with an enormous Ford F-250,000,000 Diesel and an even more enormous trailer loaded with track bikes.  Shortly followed by a Mini Cooper...LOL.  What a combo of vehicles to have arrive late at night...

Saturday was to be spent at the track, and the day was beautiful.  I rode the VFR over to the track with cameras and all for the days festivities.  Little did I know that I was going to get an offer I couldn't refuse.  As the rest of the gang was going through tech (to make sure stuff like oil and parts weren't going to fall of their bikes at high speeds), I talked with one of the guys from NESBA.  The NESBA group was putting on the track day and there happened to be a free "intro" class where I would be able to follow a control rider ( in essence the track referees/coaches) around Barber's track.  I figured Brenna wouldn't totally kill me for doing that since it would be controlled and just a fun loop or two around the track.  I signed up and sprinted back up to the pits to tape up and get my bike to tech.  Steve helped me strip off the mirrors, zip tie the rear foot pegs and tape up the bike in record time.  Seriously, we did it so fast an F1 pit crew would be impressed.  I bummed a track suit and helmet just to get through the inspection process and got the bike cleared with only a couple of minutes to spare. 

Once I went to the morning rider meeting to discuss track rules, I found that my controlled lap would actually be 3 full track sessions of 20 minutes each.  I was going to get a half day of riding for free!  Now the nerves set in, and my fear of keeping the bike upright, and more importantly my body un-broken, in a situation where I had very little experience was in the forefront of my mind. 

When my group was announced over the P.A., I donned my borrowed track suit and helmet, fired up the bike, and rolled to meet up with the control rider in the pit lane.  He was really a good guy, and there were a few other novice riders that were going to be towed around behind him.  When it was finally our time to go, we eased on out onto the track...  I almost turned on the signal to merge.  I guess proper driving habits die hard.  We eased around a few turns at what felt like a snails pace and then the roar of engines behind could be heard.  The rest of the group had already caught us and we began to turn up the pace. 

The first session was a study in sensory overload.  There was just too much to pay attention to and too much going on, so it was nerve wracking to the point of almost not being fun.  It seemed like an endless parade of shifting weight, turning, wild accelerations, hard braking, and bikes flying all around.  (The sensation of overload reminded me of my first 10 second delay while learning to skydive all those years ago.)  

The second session was better, and by the third and final session, I let the control rider go.  Note that I said I let him go.  That is code for I'm slow, and with the VFR being the least powerful bike on the track, I couldn't keep up.  That sounds funny since my bike is hardly slow or lacking power by most standards.  It's just that all the true sport bikes like CBR's, Ducati's, Suzuki's, and whatever else that came roaring around were so strong that I couldn't even get close to their accelerations in the straights, so I got passed a lot.  I would catch up with people in the turns, but in the straights with my throttle pinned, they would just pull away with an unearthly whine punctuated by shifting gears.

One of the main rules for the novice division, was that we could absolutely not pass in the turns, only in the straights, which made for quite a few traffic jams in the turns as I caught up and then couldn't get by any one when the road straightened out again.  As wild and out of control as my discription seems, everyone was really quite safe in their passes, and the only issues I saw were people that missed a turn and ran off into the grass unharmed.  Out of all the groups out on the track over the weekend, I think the worst that happened was a few scratched up bikes and some bruises, which is a testament to how controlled the environment was considering the speeds some of these guys were able to run.

The third and last session was much more fun as I knew the course, understood what people were doing (i.e. passing me regularly) and knew what my VFR would do in turns a little better.  I had several laps where there wasn't much traffic.  I finally felt like I could get into a rhythm, accelerate out of turns, and confidently enter turns without feeling like I was going to get mowed down from behind by another rider.  I finally saw how the sport could be really fun.  I also put on the GoPro for the final laps, and I'm glad I did.  The first two sessions wouldn't have been fun to watch anyway, and I didn't want to think about anything other than the bike, the course, and traffic, so I didn't carry the camera on purpose.

I have to thank Rick, Steve, and Dave for heckling me and getting me to sign up for the experience, and most importantly, I need to thank Brenna for not killing me for doing it.  I do feel like I "got away with it" that day, so I'm sure I won't be back on the track, but I wouldn't trade the experience of the perfect day and the beautiful track for anything.

The final session edited for your viewing enjoyment. 

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