Alan's First Track Day on the Hayabusa

Hey Everyone.  It's Alan here.  It's been a few months since I've done any kind of write-up, so I figured it was time to do so.  And once again, this will be bike-related.

WARNING:  For those who are offended by high speeds and Satanic numbers (not really --, proceed no further!  Your delicate sensibilities may be slighted.

The beginning of this story actually begins right after my last motorcycle trip to the Tail of the Dragon.  I ran across a couple of people who suggested doing a Track Day.  They indicated that:

A.  It was a lot of fun;
B.  It will help one's street-riding skills;
C.  It was a lot of fun

Two out of three ain't bad in my book, so I decided to schedule a track day shortly after my motorcycle trip.

So what's a Track Day?
Well, basically, you take your bike to a race track (not a drag strip) with like-minded folks, and you do laps.  You work with Control Riders (CRs), and they can tell you what you're doing wrong, and help you with certain skills.  The organization I went with was NESBA.  They sponsor these track days all over the US at various tracks.  First off, it's NOT racing.  I'm not racing other people.  It was just me trying to beat me.  I wasn't keeping track of my lap times (there were others who were) as it would be a bit overkill my first time out.  Riders are grouped by skill level, Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.  I signed up for Beginner since I had never done a track, and didn't know what to expect.

Where is the Track Day?
It's at a track called VIRginia International Raceway or VIR (said "veer").  From the track map below, you'll see that there is basically the North, Patriot, and South courses, or the Grande Course which is a combination of both North and South.  

My track day was on the South Course (see below).  In preparation for the track day, I downloaded every kind of map I could find.  I found videos online of cars/motorcycles going around the track.  One of the useful things I learned is that doing all that "research" was a bit of wasted time since things look much different when you're riding on the track.  Looking at a video or even an elevation map doesn't give you a good indication of all the myriad details.  I felt prepared though, so that was a good thing.  The South track is about 1.65 miles with 12 turns.  Between Turn 12 and Turn 1 is a long straightaway.

Who were you going with?
I was going by myself, but I was meeting some people up there.  One of the guys I was meeting was VMAN1300 (Kevin).  I met him up at the Busa Bash, and he was a good rider.  Kevin is a big guy, and he really moves the Busa around.  He's also one of the friendliest people you're ever likely to meet.  I was looking forward to knowing somebody (anybody) there.  We were hoping that more Hayabusas would show up, but Kevin and myself were the only ones officially signed up.

What do you have to do to your bike to make it ready for the Track Day?
You're full of very good questions today!  Basically, the NESBA organization wants a machine that's in good running condition with some additional preparation:

A.  All lights and blinkers must be taped up, and mirrors removed.  In the event that a bike goes down, these plastic bits are the first to break, and they want to minimize the amount of debris on the track.  I used blue painter's tape (easy on/easy off).
B.  The speedometer must be taped up.  It's a distraction, and it's one less thing to bother a rider.
C.  In the Intermediate/Advanced classes, riders have to worry about safety wiring some stuff, but since I was a beginner, I didn't have to do it.
D.  Adequate brake pads.
E.  Adequate tire tread (90%)
F.  The bike must have a Rider Number on either the FRONT and/or REAR SIDES.

SIDE NOTE About My Rider Number So when I signed up with the NESBA organization, I got to choose my number.  So what did I choose?

  69 -  To juvenile.
  43 -  The number of the current MotoGP champion.  Probably taken?
    1 -   Waaay too obvious!

So being the Anti-Establishment Boat Rocker that I am, and remembering that I live in the Bible Belt, there was only one number that came to mind...

Yes....666!  Heh heh.  That's the number I requested, and wouldn't you know it, that's the number I was assigned.

It had been awhile since I my last tire change (4500 miles or so), and since I had a huge flat spot down the center of the tire, there was no way that it would pass Technical Inspection ("tech").  More about Tech later.  Last month I put on a new set of some of the stickiest street-legal tires out there.  Metzeler M3s.  I had been using the M1s, and they never gave me a problem, so I figured the M3s would be just right.  I also had the front/rear brake pads replaced.

With the tires/brake pads done, I needed to wear them in a bit.  Not too much, but enough so they wouldn't be a concern while I was on the track.  Another issue I was dealing with was that I wanted to wait as long as possible before making the bike "track legal", because a track legal bike is NOT street legal, and vice versa.  If I make the changes too early, that means I can't ride the bike on the street.  So the weekend of the 4th I decided to work on the bike.  Removing the mirrors was easy, and while the taping wasn't hard, I wasn't sure how picky the Tech Inspectors would be.  Anyway, I removed all the bulbs from the lights (they're aftermarket and expensive) and did the taping, and it looked good.  OK, maybe not good.  It was blue tape after all, so it looked a bit strange.

The next and most important step was of course the numbers.  I chose white numbers.  After I got the numbers, I was kicking myself.  I should have gotten the RED ones!  Oh well, next time.  On the front, I put a black background on so the white numbers would really stick out.  I debated about putting the numbers on the rear-sides, but hey, why not?!  I wanted the numbers straight and centered and I also wanted the kerning (spacing between the characters) to be just right.  Once the front was done and looking good, I did the sides.  I was sooo pleased with myself when they were done that I called my neighbor over to see my handiwork.  He just laughed.

So once all the numbers where done, basically the bike was ready.

With the bike done, I turned my attention to the trailer and some rider equipment.  I recently bought a trailer.  It's not a fancy trailer, and the biggest thing I like about it is that it folds up into a relatively small space.  When folded up, it occupies about 2.5 ft X 6 ft X 2 feet.  Not too bad.  The whole trailer thing was really a pain in the ass!  Sorry, but there's no sugar-coating that one.  It came as a kit, and I had to put it together.  Not hard, but time-consuming.  I also had to put some plywood on as a base.  Again, not hard, just a bit time-consuming for someone who is very particular about measuring/drilling etc.  The trailer was in good shape, so the other thing I purchased was a back protector.  It provides impact and abrasion resistance in the event of a fall.  It's strongly recommended by NESBA, and since my set of leathers didn't have one, I bought one.  I also bought a big ice cooler for drinks.  We only had a small one, and I wanted to be able to have a lot of cold drinks throughout the day since I didn't know if I could buy stuff at the track.

I did some basic grocery shopping (meats, fruit, Gatorade), and pre-loaded a bunch of stuff in the Tahoe.  I also pre-staged stuff in the house and on the trailer which was in the garage.  Starting to feel some excitement/anxiety...

I worked a half-day, and took the afternoon off.  I didn't want to have to deal with Friday commute traffic, so I decided to head up to Danville early.  It was a very leisurely country drive.  It took me about 2 hours by the time I got to the hotel.  A few of the hotel staff commented on my bike.  Since Danville is so close to the track, they see a lot of bikes, cars, etc.  Nobody even mentioned my number!  I had a few pat answers depending on my state of mind:

     "Yeah, that was the number I was assigned.  Weird, huh?"
     "Yeah, 666.  So what!"

Kevin was leaving after work, and would get into the hotel late.  I decided to get some food, head back to the hotel, and relax.  Around 9:30, I still had not heard from him, so I called him.  He was about an hour away.  He suggested dropping our stuff off at the track so we wouldn't have to scramble around first thing in the morning.  It sounded like a good idea, so about 30 minutes later, I drove out to the track.  Not knowing if it would be open, I just decided to drive there and check things out.  Worst-case I would just drive back to the hotel.

When I got to the track, there was a guy who checked me in.  He asked if I was camping there for the night, and I told him "No.".  I then signed the obligatory "I won't sue you, your spouse, your kids, or your dog in the event I'm injured" waiver, and went in.  It was dark!  I would have figured they would have some sort of lights on, but it was very dark.  I chose a spot with enough room for Kevin and his friend, so we could "pit" together.  While I was waiting, I walked around and met people.  I met a couple of the NESBA guys who were very nice.  I was very surprised at how much work people were doing to their bikes the DAY BEFORE a track day.  One guy had the engine out of his bike!  At another end of the paddock, I heard someone doing a lot of work with an air grinder.  I walked over and it turns out, the guy had just purchased his race plastic (for the body of the motorcycle), and was trimming it and drilling holes.

Now I would say that most of the bikes there were strictly track bikes.  Street bikes lightly changed for the track like mine were not as common.

Anyway, by the time Kevin got there, it was late.  I met the person that drove with Kevin (Chris), and helped them unload.  As I was unloading Chris's bike (a Suzuki TL1000), I noticed his Rider Number:   666.  Yes, it was the same as mine!  I laughed about it, and he asked me what my number was, and I told him.  He explained his thought process about the number, and I pretty much confirmed that his thinking mirrored mine.  We had a good laugh, and Kevin, who is more of a Christian than Chris or I said, "I'm going to have to pray for you guys."  He said it in a joking way, and we all chuckled.  It turns out that Kevin and Chris followed a friend (Reid) in another car.  Reed was going to camp there with his bike (a Yamaha R1) and his wife Gabriel, and Reid Jr.  I decided to leave my bike/Tahoe there at the track since there was someone there to keep an eye on things.  Once we got everything unloaded, Kevin and Chris went looking for some friends.  It just so happens that the guys I had been talking to earlier in the evening knew both Kevin and Chris, so they caught up on old times, and talked awhile.  By the time we left the track, it was about 12:30.  So I was a bit bugged that I got up to Danville so early so that I could be well-rested, and by the time we got back to the hotel it was around 1AM.  Not good.  Oh well, chalk it up to experience.

Chris - His yellow TL in the background Reid, Gabriel, and Reid Jr. All 3 bikes...Suzuki POWER!  

Since we had setup our area in the pits, we decided we could leave the hotel at 6:30, get to the track by 6:45, and then we wouldn't have to stress about tech (which started at 7AM sharp).  So I set 3 alarms on my watch, and I even requested a 6AM wake-up call.

I wake up, and look at my watch.  DAMN!  6:28.  I didn't even hear my watch alarms, and what about my wake-up call?  I throw my clothes on, brush my teeth, and head out the side of the hotel where Kevin had parked.  He's NOT there!  I'm thinking, "Shit!  Kevin left me at the hotel!"  So I run to the front desk, and there's Chris casually eating some bacon.  "We were just about to call you."  I gave him the scoop on my alarms, and told the lady at the front that I didn't get my wake-up call.  Once we were in the truck, I confessed to Kevin and Chris, "In the mental state I was in, I thought you guys left me..."  They got a good laugh out of that one.  Not a good way of starting the day.

So once we get to the track, we get our bikes ready.  The only thing I had to do was check my tire pressure.  Kevin and Chris are a bit more serious about Track Days.  Chris's bike was a dedicated track bike.  Kevin had race tires on his bike, and he used tire warmers.  Basically, a tire warmer is like an electric blanket for tires.  They get the tires hot (almost 200 degrees).  That way a rider doesn't have to spend time heating them up.  Also, riding a cold tire hard generates more wear on the tire.

SIDE NOTE on TIRE "CHICKEN STRIPS" Unlike car tires, motorcycle tires have a round profile.  If you ride mostly on the street, the wear on the tire is generally in the center.  From the edges of that wear area to the edges of the tire is called a Chicken Strip.  As in "You're too chicken to lean the bike over...".  I had relatively new tires, so my strips were about 2 inches wide.  As you can see, my Chicken Strips at the end of the day were pretty small.  Kevin was very pleased.
Teeny tiny strips The rear has only a very small strip.
Not as small, but an improvement. The front has a bit more, but it's definitely thinner!

While Kevin and Chris were busy getting stuff ready, the Technical Inspection or Tech was starting.  I got suited up and rode over.  At Tech, they not only check your bike, but they check that your helmet and leathers are up to snuff.  I was really worried about the tech inspection because if you fail, and don't correct what's wrong, you can't get on the track.  And, you don't get a refund if you fail tech!  I thought they would have somebody crawl all over my bike highlighting things that I had done wrong or missed.  It turns out that it was about a 30 second inspection.  Tires?  Check.  Engine?  Check.  OK, ready to ride...  Not quite that bad, but it was a big source of worry for me.  Once done with that, I got my "B" sticker for the bike, and my plastic registration bracelet.  I headed back to the pits, and waited.

It was about an hour until the Rider's Meeting, so I talked with Chris a bit (he was in the Intermediate class, and Kevin was in Beginner).  He was a very casual guy with a good sense of humor.  Reid and his family were nice.  His little boy was cute too.  After waiting, we headed over to the meeting, and listened to the head NESBA guy talk about the rules.  The biggest rules concerned passing.  For the Beginner class, passing can only be done on straights.  Intermediates can pass on the outside, and the Advanced riders can pass whenever/wherever.

After that meeting for all riders, there was a special Beginner meeting to highlight the rules again, and to cover some of the characteristics about the track.  As an example Turn 2 is an "Off camber turn".  What this basically means is that it's not flat, and the bank is in the opposite direction of the turn.  A normal cambered or banked turn goes with the turn.  As an example, when you get on a freeway using a loop, those are generally banked nicely.  You can go faster than if the road was flat.  Off-camber turns can be a bit weird because one must lean the bike over more than normal.  There was also discussion about reference points.  I'll get to it in a bit, but one of the big things I learned about being on a track is the use of reference points.

While the Beginners were in the class, the Advanced riders were already on the track.  Those guys were flying!  At VIR South, the main building is right next to the front straight.  Since all of the Advanced riders were on dedicated track bikes, their exhaust systems were not as restrictive as a street bike.  That meant that they were loud.  Very loud.  It was cool though.  After our meeting, the Advanced riders were coming off the track, and the Intermediate riders were staging.  The sessions for all of the various classes was 20 minutes.  A quick Bio-Break (yes I was nervous), and I went back to our pit.

Waiting that 20 minutes was very stressful.  Kevin was adamant about "Take your time.", "Ride at your own pace."  That helped.  It was finally time to get on the track!

When staging in the lane, there are the Control Riders (CRs) on one side, and the Beginners on the other side.  There are two columns of Beginner riders.  Those on the left want to be evaluated by the CRs in order to get bumped into the Intermediate class.  I was in the far right lane at the back of the pack.  The Track Marshall would then allow a couple of CRs on the track, and then a few of the faster Beginners, followed by more CRs, and finishing the faster riders.  Then more CRs and so on so that everyone was a bit spaced out.  Overall, there were probably 30 or so riders on the track.

Once I got on the track, my main concern was not to crash.  I didn't know what the hell was going on, I was just trying to get around the track without breaking anything!  There were so many things I was trying to do that I was on complete overload.  Once our session was done, I came off the track, and I didn't remember a single thing.  Once the jitters were gone, I could focus on a few things.  I wanted to adequately warm up the tires, and wanted to pick out the proper "lines" (the path you take around turns) by watching other riders.  I was also trying to gauge how the bike was doing suspension-wise.  

Everything was going fairly well, so I decided to work on Reference Points.  One of the great minds of motorcycle racing codified this "obvious" rule to help riders.  In order to determine what to do, a rider needs to know where they're at on the track.  It seems obvious, but it's a very easy thing to overlook.  For a basic turn, you've got three basic things to worry about:

1.  The turn-in point.  This is where you physically turn the bike into the turn.
2.  The apex.  This is kind of like the top of the mountain if you were to think about it in 3D terms.  Normally once you hit the apex of a turn, you can start to roll-on the throttle or accelerate.
3.  The turn-out point, or exit.  This is where the turn is done, and the rider either gets setup for a straight, or the next turn.  If there are sequential turns, then the decisions made at the beginning can have a great affect on the turns at the end.  If you run wide on an early turn, then you're not setup properly for the next turn, and you have to compensate.

There are a lot of other things to worry about, but those are the obvious ones.  At the track, there were orange cones marking the 3 points for each turn, so you could use those as RPs to some extent.  Some of the other important RPs were related to elevation changes.  The idea is that a rider needs to pick out RPs that mean something to him.  That black mark on the track may be good for one person, but not another.  A good test to see if a rider has enough RPs is to take a rider's average lap time.  Then with a stopwatch, have the rider run through the track in his/her mind.  When he/she has "made a lap", stop the stopwatch and compare it to the actual time.  Most likely the mental track time will be faster than the actual.  What this means is the rider doesn't have enough RPs!  

Another important RP concerns braking points.  These are the ones that I hade the most problem with.  Generally as a rider enters a turn, he will want to have all of the braking done, and then the steering input done as soon as possible.  Any rider adjustments on the bike or braking mid-turn are usually bad, and upset the bike's suspension.  Some turns I was pretty good, and others I was abysmal.  I would be braking mid-turn, and moving my body, and man, it was UGLY.  Overall, I improved throughout the day though.  Generally I would say I was one of the slower riders in the Beginner group.  As the day progressed, I found myself getting lapped near the tail end of each session.  But, there were a couple of people I was lapping, so that was cool.  Getting on the track definitely gave me an appreciation for what the pros do.  I found myself working on certain sections of the track, and then "cruising" through one section, then hitting it hard again.  It was too taxing to give it 100% the whole time, although I did stay more aggressive through the entire track as the day wore on.  

An example of how RPs can change is when I was haulin' down the straightaway.  Early in the day I was afraid of braking too late, and running off the track.  My initial RP was WAY early, so I was braking much too soon.  Throughout the day, I kept moving it closer and closer to Turn 1.  It's a weird sensation to be flying down the straight going as fast as you can, then in a split second, grabbing as much front brake as you can to slow down, and then get your body over for the turn.

Some of the turns I figured out and consistently ran them correctly.  Others were just hit and miss.  Turn 12 gave me a lot of problems, but I did manage to get it somewhat right a few times.

Leaned over, but way too early... Here you can see that I'm too far in on the turn.  The orange cone is the apex, and as you can see I'm very close to the inside of the track.  On this particular pass, I'm sure I went wide on the exit, which didn't leave me in good position for going down the straight.  

Overall, I was very pleased with how the Busa performed on track.  It was very stable in the turns (when I wasn't doing stupid stuff), and it did a lot better than I anticipated.  Now as you may or may not know, the Hayabusa is a huge bike.  It's physical size as well as the engine size.  The engine is 1300cc (80 cu. in.).  For a motorcycle, that's huge!  To put it in perspective, there are some cars out there that don't have an engine that big.  Bigger bike means heavier though.  That plus my weight means that I'm at a serious disadvantage against the other bikes on the track (600, 750, and 1000 cc) with 150 pound riders.  The biggest disadvantage though I think is the wheelbase.  That's the distance from the center of the front wheel to the center of the rear wheel (as measured with the tires on the ground).  The smaller bikes where 5-6 inches shorter on their wheelbase which means they can turn the bike much faster/easier than I can.  It takes a lot of energy to horse the Busa around a track.

At 12 we broke for lunch, and all of us relaxed for a bit.  

We all got out of our leathers, and enjoyed talking about our progress, and other riders.  And one of our Hayabusa Brethren came by to visit us:  Brian (zukracer).  He and a buddy stopped by to wish us well.  The stuck around to watch us do a session.  I think next time Brian will be in for doing a Track Day!  I ran 5 out of 6 sessions.  I was just too tired to do the last session, and was worried that I would go down.  Chris had a slight mechanical problem which knocked him out, and Kevin was tired as well.  After the last session of the day, we loaded things up, and said goodbye to our neighbors in the pits.  Throughout the day, we had struck up various conversations with fellow racers.  Generally very nice people.  Before our way out, Chris and I went to a trailer where the photographers were based.  

Here are some of the highlights of the day...

Turn 2 - Good side shotNot leaned over as far as should be, but good front shotTrying to be smooth around the turnsThe CRs wear orange shirts, and he's watching my technique...Leading the Pack!  Not for long...they all blew by me.  Kevin is far left.

The company is called "Pics of You".  They take pictures of all the riders throughout the day, then try to sell them.  Since it was my first track day, I figured what the heck, and bought a CD.  They had taken roughly 50 pictures of me in high resolution, and some of them turned out pretty good.  If you want me to post more, e-mail me and let me know.

Throughout the whole day, there were only a few wrecks.  Mostly riders just running wide on turns, and riding on the grass.  I don't think anyone was injured, just cosmetic damage to bikes.

The trip home was uneventful.  I called a worried Heidi who hadn't heard from me since my morning call.  I told her I was OK, then I proceeded to call my dad, and Mike, and give them the scoop.  When I got home, I got a BIG hug from Anya.  That made me feel real good.  My next door neighbor Saiid yelled out of his garage, "So are you OK?"  I gave him some of the details about my speed etc. and he helped me take the bike off of the trailer.  I was so tired, I worried that I would drop the bike.  The kids helped me unload the car/trailer, and I was finally home.  Later that night I was so tired that I fell asleep in the massage chair.  Lars scared me when he pulled on my toe to help him in his room.  I was exhausted, but it was the good kind of exhausted.  I slept like a rock, and I think Heidi actually slept downstairs because I was snoring so loud.

So how did your 666 number thing turn out?
I definitely got a few scowls and laughs.  Once I got on the track though, I didn't even notice it.  One of the pictures that was taken of me was kinda cool.  It was taken from a high perspective, and I didn't even notice it at first, but look below, and you see my number, and the guy right behind me.  Interesting, huh?  Heidi noticed that one...
 Numerical order...

So what was the best part?
The best part was definitely the straightaway.  I was actually able to use all 6 gears.  In day to day riding, I don't get to use 5th or 6th gear.  I can almost triple the national speed limit in 4th gear, so gears 5 and 6 don't get used much.  At VIR, I was able to really use them on the front straight (after Turn 12).  It's such a great feeling to bang through all the gears.  I wish I had another 1500 feet to see how fast I could get the bike to go.

What was the scariest part?
There were a couple of times where things got a bit scary:

1.  One of the times I was really leaned over and accelerating out of a turn, I felt the front-end push a bit.  What this means is that my front tire was sliding a bit.  The pros do this all the time, and even get both front and rear tires sliding at the same time.  For us mortals though, it was a bit unnerving.  That was the only issue I had with the tires.  The tires behaved very well and gave me no problems.  I really like the M3s!

2.  On the straightaway when I was tucked and giving it as much throttle as I could, I was leaned back a little too much.  The front end would get a bit light and oscillate a bit.  Not a wheelie, but very close.  When you're going as fast as we were, it was a bit scary.  Oh, and this happened twice.

How fast did you go?
So whenever I saw people who knew I had done the Track Day thing, this was usually their second question.  And the answer is...I don't know if I should tell you.  You may wind up blabbing it to Heidi, and she's not thrilled with the whole motorcycle thing anyway, so it would probably just get me in trouble.  Do you really want to know?  OK.  Even though I had my speedometer taped over, I have a cool gadget that will tell me my last maximum speed.  So mid-day when I looked it was about 165 mph.  Definitely the fastest I've been on a bike!  

So if my neighbors didn't think I was crazy then, they really did once I told them.  To be honest, I didn't think it was all that fast, and I got to thinking about why my perception (or others') would be so different.  It occurred to me that in my years of driving/riding, I've been pretty fast.  I had driven my 280Z into the 120s.  I had been with Mike in his twin-turbo Z doing 155 when we were doing a Road Trip to LA.  I had even done 130-140 on the Hayabusa under fairly controlled circumstances, so another 25mph was no big deal.  So I will admit that maybe, just maybe, my expectations when it comes to speed are vastly different from most peoples'.

Are you going to do this again?
Short answer:  Yes.  
Long answer:  I need to schedule this with Heidi.  

I recognize that:

1.  Heidi doesn't like it, and therefore that means a bit of arguing;
2.  Heidi has to take care of the kids by herself while I'm gone;
3.  The cost can get to be expensive.  Some guys go through a single set of tires in a single track day.  I didn't, but at $325 for a set of tires, you can see how it adds up.

So there's some important stuff to work out before the next Track Day.  I will say that I have something planned for next year which should be VERY FUN!  More details to follow...