Track day nerves
As a long-term track rider I've had the benefit of seeing just about all the good and bad things riding on a track has to offer.
One problem caused by having done this so long is that I've forgotten what it feels like to arrive at the track for the first time.
To get a little reminder of what its like to take the plunge and ride on a track for the first time I've been speaking with a lot of new and prospective track riders about their fears and anxieties and whats preventing them from signing up. It turns out there are a lot of folks out there who would like to take the plunge and do their first track day but there are a lot of misconceptions and irrational fears getting in the way.
Its Oh Dark Thirty. Have you remembered to pack everything you need?
The first issue to address is common to all people attempting a highly demanding activity for the first time. Whether its a track day, rock climbing or sky diving, there is always a flood of new sensations that can be overwhelming to anyone unprepared. Any potentially dangerous activity has a lot of safety rules that must be followed, and new participants have a lot to learn in a short time in order to stay safe and still have fun.
I've never jumped out of an airplane but I'm sure there are a lot of safety rules and regulations that must be followed by anyone who wants to do it more than once!
The same goes for riding on a track. There are a lot of rules to learn and follow, all of which are explained in class. But someone who has perhaps not had much sleep the night before might find that its easy to miss some of these. And a new rider who is so keyed up and on edge as a result of being at their first track day will also likely be overwhelmed by the massive amount of new information they are processing both on the track and off.
There is a simple way to deal with this.
Its easy to forget this fact, but in Texas heat while exerting as much effort as we do on the track its possible to dehydrate incredibly quickly. Hopefully a new rider wont find out how quickly this can happen because its the job of us instructors to constantly remind everyone to drink lots of water. Once dehydration is no longer a risk, the next rule is to take one step at a time.
Start in class - as your group is being released think about what you need to do between the class and your bike.
Organized chaos. Dont forget your gloves. Or your back protector - or to fill up.
Do you need to go to the bathroom? Remember, if you dont need to go you're probably not drinking enough water.
Do you have earplugs?
If you dont wear earplugs on the street, remember that going much faster on the track makes them absolutely critical to avoid long term hearing loss. This is a serious issue. Always use plugs. Do you have your gloves/helmet/motorcycle key?
Keep track of the essential items so you dont waste time searching for the one glove that you dropped in class. And dont forget the back protector that you may have left beside your chair in class. Before you start your bike for the next session, do you have enough gas?
The best time to fill up is at lunch. Filling the tank first thing in the morning and again after the lunch break is the best way to avoid losing track time while waiting for a pickup and the ride of shame back to the pits on the crash truck.
Are your tire pressures correct? This issue is covered in class. Dont forget to bring a gauge so you can keep track of yours. Afterall, the tires are the only thing between you and the asphalt. Its critical to know what your pressures are and what they should be.
Do you have a camera fitted to you or your bike? Make sure you switch it off after every session so you dont record 40 minutes of people walking past your bike...
Its easy to fall behind on any one of these points. And falling behind on one will likely make you fall behind on all the others, and you might skip one or more as a result.
The key issue is don't rush.
Dont rush from the class to your bike. You wouldnt believe how many people I've seen riding to the hot-
pit with no gloves on, or a helmet strap undone. This is a sign of a person falling behind and rushing
to get onto the track.
Dont forget a bottle of water as you head to class.
Dont rush from your bike to the class after the session is over. Take a moment to think about what you need. Do you have a bottle of water? Do you need to go to the bathroom?
Again - if you dont you need to drink more.
Riding in a completely new environment, perhaps with no one else we know, is a major step outside the comfort zone of just about every rider. But taking things slowly, one step at a time will ensure we dont forget anything and we'll avoid the stress of feeling like we're being left behind.
The biggest contributing factor I see among riders forgetting things is a lack of sleep. As anyone who's ever been on the track knows, it's much more demanding than riding on the street. Speeds are higher, braking is harder, lean angles are much greater. All this takes a lot more effort, concentration and stamina. And doing all this on only a few hours sleep isnt just difficult, its dangerous.
Fatigue can cause lapses in concentration and bad decisions will result. These bad decisions often explain crashes and other mistakes. A rider with a decent 8 hours sleep behind them is much less likely to make mistakes like these.
If you find that you arrive at the track after only a few hours sleep, the best possible way to avoid a bad decision or lapse in concentration is a power nap.
Ask yourself - would you rather run off the track one or more times and possibly crash, or take a nap and recharge?
If you do find yourself zoning out in class or losing your focus on the track for even an instant, take a break.
I can't emphasize this enough - if you're fatigued from a lack of sleep you are creating a dangerous situation for you and those around you. Don't let yourself fall into this trap.
Go to your car, lean the seat back and set your phone alarm for at least 30 minutes. The more tired you are the faster you'll fall asleep. After a nap like this you'll feel much better - more alert and better able to deal with the demands of riding on the track. You'll be safer and have more fun as a result. Next week we'll deal with the anxiety both new and experienced riders feel about what can happen on the track.