There are many companies out there who act as track day providers, meaning they rent out a racetrack or closed course and then sell admission tickets in the hopes of making a profit. These events are strictly non-competitive and intended solely as an opportunity for riders to have fun without breaking the law. A ticket for a day of fun can cost under a hundred bucks at your local track, or several hundred for the world-class tracks used in races such as MotoGP. The providers are typically responsible for organization, safety and clean up, so riders very rarely see any representatives from track ownership. Because tracks are private property, normal traffic laws do not apply. Want to go 140 mph? Do it, just make sure you can slow down in time for the next corner.
Riders are typically split up by skill level into three groups: A, B and C. The sorting process is one of self-selection; if you want to ride with B group, all you have to do is buy a B group admission ticket. If you have to ask what group you should be in, then C group is the one for you. It can take quite a bit of practice, experience and natural skill to move up in skill groups, so there’s no need to feel ashamed of riding in the novice group.
You, too, could look this cool. (Photo credit: Dito Milian/gotbluemilk.com)
WHY DO IT?
Track days can be expensive and require a significant investment of time, both for preparation and on the day of the event, so why go through all the trouble? The answer is probably the same reason we all ride: to have fun. Pushing the limits of your skill (and sometimes even your motorcycle) can be exhilarating, but we so rarely get to do so on the street. Even on solitary twisty roads, the fear of oncoming traffic or road debris means we all hold back a little something. On a track, there’s no oncoming traffic, no gravel on the road, and no reason to fear the course. This is the one chance we get to silence that little voice in the back of our head that whispers, “what if?” Free of our self-restraint and worries, we can focus on skill-building and improvement in a controlled environment.
Yet even when we aren’t on the bike, we can glean so much information by watching the faster groups go around the track. Just think about how rare it is to see a corner taken over and over, while getting to analyze the riders’ movements and compare them to your own. On the street, every corner is different, but a track offers laboratory conditions for learning and experimentation.
WHO GOES TO TRACK DAYS? WHAT BIKES DO THEY BRING?
Much like you wouldn’t use a butter knife to cut through a sirloin, you probably wouldn’t want to bring your cruiser to run with a bunch of steak knives. The race track is made for aggressive sport bikes whose top speed is felonious and whose cornering ability is beyond that of the average rider. There are, of course, those who love to defy standards by bringing their supermotos and adventure bikes to the track, but those are also the type of guys who eat soup with a fork because they like the challenge.
With track days being such a huge expense, you’d expect most people there to be loaded to be able to afford the habit, yet the diversity of track riders can match the same range that you’d see at your local twisties. Young or old, broke or fully sponsored, we’re all just looking to ride fast and drag some knee.
WHEN SHOULD I DO A TRACK DAY?
If you’ve only had your bike for a few weeks, there’s very little you’d gain from the experience. This isn’t an event to learn the basics. Before doing a track day (unless you’ve got the cash to burn) you should be completely comfortable on your bike, and hopefully have spent some time up in the twisties learning how to lean into the turns. The more time you’ve spent improving your skills on the street, the more fun you’ll have on your first day at the track. Fortunately, the novice group tends to be very forgiving, so if you find your skill lacking your first day, you can always go back for more.
The track season corresponds with the street riding season, from early spring into late fall. It’s never any fun to get caught in the rain, especially if you paid top dollar for a track event, so most track day providers won’t even risk it. The best time to go is early in the season, when temperatures haven’t yet reached the triple digits, but that tends to be a personal preference. Some riders prefer to give up some comfort in exchange for higher road surface–and therefore tire–temperatures which can provide extra grip in the corners, but the difference is really only noticeable to the much faster and more experienced.
WHAT TRACK SHOULD I GO TO?
There are two factors you should consider when looking for a track: location and cost. We all have our dream tracks that we’d like to ride some day, but for your first track day you’re going to want everything to be as easy as possible. Laguna Seca will be there in a few months when you’re ready to enjoy it without the first-time jitters.