The Ed Bargy Racing School at JenningsGPPosted: February 19, 2011
Ed Bargy vs. Kevin Schwantz
As I walked into the classroom, Ed Bargy, after getting my name, greeted me with: “So, you are the Kevin Schwantz graduate. Forget everything he’s taught you. I will teach you some stuff you can actually use.”
Ba-dam-CHING! Sounds like I had paid two extra large to spend a weekend at the track and hang out with a World Champion. Well, crap!
Yup, he’s a racer. I like this man already. It is going to be a fun-filled day of information overload and scattered knee dragging. Ed Bargy set a fast pace, off and on the track. He had a lot of material to cover and between the classroom lectures and the six on-track sessions, I spent the entire day running like a madwoman whose ass was on fire between three locations: classroom, pit, track, pit, classroom,… in my race boots! Mr. Slow had set up our pit in the Back Forty. In the GRASS!!!
The previous night, we pulled in seven minutes before the gate closed, dead tired but kept awake by generous amounts of caffeine, paid our gate fee and started looking for a spot to make our home for the weekend. I pointed to an empty paddock pad, two over from the hot pit entrance and close to the registration building and classrooms. Right up front!!! He says: “We don’t have a trailer, I’m not going to back in there.” Arrrrrgh! I was exhausted after having stayed up all night and most of the day prepping my bike. I had never been here and was completely clueless. Hell, maybe this place was run like the military, you didn’t get a concrete slab unless you… well, earned it. I didn’t argue, we parked the truck, unloaded the bike and set up our pit, pitched the truck tent we had acquired for just this purpose, inflated the truck bed air mattress, tossed our sleeping bags inside and pretty much fell into a coma as soon as the cords got pulled on the mummy hoods.
This Is Your Wake-Up Call
The morning got off to a cold start, when we were awakened by people talking while unloading their bikes, setting up and getting ready for the day. I still had no clue when I was expected to show up and where, but luckily they announced everything over the PA system. Mr. Slow met me in the registration building with a steaming cup of joe. The man knows me. There is no approaching me pre-coffee. I was relatively calm, I felt refreshed and ready to take my riding to the next level. Of course, I didn’t need to be there until tomorrow to register for my track day. The lady told me just to go ahead and go to the classrooms, Ed was already there.
First Things First: The Track Walk
Class began with a track walk. Of course, “walking” was done under power in first gear. We stopped at key points at the track and Ed Bargy talked about its features and how to use them to our advantage. Got it! This is the first thing every serious racer or rider should do. Walk the track. There is stuff you’ll notice you won’t be able to see at speed. Subtle but important things that will help greatly in line selection. The best line around the track is the fastest line, and that is not necessarily the shortest. And in order to be fast, you have get to know the lay of the land. Literally. JenningsGP, which was designed by Ed himself and is a motorcycle-only racetrack, is relatively flat. No extreme features, no elevation changes to speak of, some turns are slightly cambered or banked, and the entire 2-mile track is mostly wide open. It is definitely divided into a fast section and a tight section. Turns 3-9 are pretty tightly grouped together, then the track opens up again entering into Turn 10 and you can pretty much stay on the gas all the way through Turn 14, onto the front straight, slow down briefly for Turn 1 and then onto the gas again until you get back around to Turn 3. Repeat.
The track has no rhythm to me. It seems too narrow and claustrophobic in its wide open sprawl. There are no blind corners or hills to obscure your visibility. I don’t like this. For some reason it messes with my focus. I see too much too soon. I knew from studying the track map that I may not end up liking the way this particular track is laid out, but it was perfect for what I came here to do: Quit entering turns like an old biddy in her Oldsmobile and get my corner entry sorted. If hauling it down from 150+ to throw it into T3 doesn’t do it then I don’t know what will.
This Girl Can’t Ride
My first few sessions were barely keeping up. I was literally riding by the seat of my pants, and they still got away from me. What in the hell? Screw it! I started doing my own thing, since I did not like the way I was riding. Unorganized, frenzied, rushed, without method. I slowed a little and started turning laps without touching my brakes. This track indeed does not sing to me, like Barber did. I can’t find its rhythm, so I can’t dance. I’m picking my lines, experimenting with various options, but I like none of it. I feel out of my element. Like a wall flower at a beauty pageant. I’m getting a little despondent, but I try to concentrate on the material covered and execute. My focus is not there. Every once in a while a control rider passes me and taps the tail section of his bike with his left hand. “Follow me!” I did and found that I was doing better copying someone else’s rhythm. But again, eventually they left me and I was on my own yet again. I was torn between heeding the call of my competitive nature and keeping up with the boys and tearing it up and doing the smart, responsible thing and moderating my speed back to about 80% of my skill envelope so I could focus on technique. Crap! I’m not liking this at all! Disconnect. Major disconnect.
Say What?!? A Racer You Are Not!
What in the world have I done now? You can’t even keep up with the second slowest group of students and you want to do what exactly?!? Go racing? They’ll pull you off the field for being a safety hazard you’re so damned slow! Good gawd, woman! After three sessions, which progressively improved, it finally dawned on me. As we were heading out to the track I asked Mr. Bargy: “So the slowest of the four groups is to the right, the fastest on the outside?” He confirmed my suspicions. The drawing on the dry erase board was flipped upside down. Doh! I remember Ed even mentioning that and I still got it reversed in my head. This explains a few things! Definitely! No wonder I was feeling off. Instead of staging with the second slowest group, I got in line running in the second fastest. Ed just laughed when I smacked my forehead and said with a giggle: “Well, that would explain why I couldn’t keep up to save my life.” This would also explain why I had to ride by the seat of my pants. I had not the time to collect proper reference points for myself. Fortunately, I have always made it a point to teach myself “Riding by Reading” rather than “Riding by Repetition”. If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry, it is a subject worthy of another blog post. But in essence, if you know how to “read” the road or track while you ride, you’ll be fast no matter where you go. If you are a “repetition rider” you’ll smoke your buddies on your home turf, but go elsewhere and you are as lost as a kitten in a litter of hungry puppies.
With renewed confidence and motivation I went outside, suited up, took possession of the Pirate at the corner of the registration building where Mr. Slow waited for me. I think he started feeling a twinge of guilt about pitting his Baby in the grass in the waaaay back! Yeah, buddy! Walk a mile in my race boots…
More My Speed…
I got in line with the peeps who would be more my speed and was ready to get down to business. I had some catching up to do in skill development and corner entries to work on at a speed more conducive to improving my game. Baby steps, yes ma’am! I was rudely interrupted in my reverie when one of the control riders pointed at me, at himself, and then behind him. I followed the arc of his left hand and saw that he had Margie Lee on her silver Ducati in tow. It was obvious he wanted me to come with him. What the hell? I didn’t like this at all. You, my man, are disrupting my plans. Apparently Mr. Control Rider is a lady’s man. His lonesome studly self gathering about him all the women in the group?!? Can you be anymore blatantly obvious? He was on his way of making me dislike him. He had already pissed me off once, and this must be due punishment for not hanging on his every word and doing as I was told, “Yessir, may I have another!” I might be shy, but I can be very verbose when it comes to calling bullshit where I see it. Go ahead and try me, I have no tolerance for it. And if you do, you’ll be the one having to pop a Xanax in the after-action review. But this one’s also for another time and another story. And I will share! Fret not.
You! Come With Me!
I had to wait until my group was starting to pull out before I could get out of line, we were pretty much bunched up tire to tire. I cranked my upper body around to make sure that the rider behind me was aware of what I was doing and then slipped out of line and waited for Mr. Lady’s Man and Margie Lee to pull out and fell in behind them. Yawn! He was going so slow, I was wondering if I should drag rear brake to give the engine something to pull against. I dismissed my misgivings and took the opportunity to collect much needed reference points and reconsider line selection. Besides, my tires were still cold, so it’s all good. After another lap of this, I had enough. I eventually passed Margie Lee and at some point I must have passed him or he had just left us at one… I can’t recall, but “frankly mah dear, I don’t give a damn” where he was. I was doing my thing, finding my groove, at my own pace designed to maximize my learning process. Previously I was getting rather disgusted with myself and wondering if I would ever manage to carry enough speed into these turns to get my knee down; but it wasn’t before too long I was dragging some serious knee and passing people by taking it up their inside; or using the Pirate’s awesome power to my advantage by letting myself drift wide and then passing them on the outside. Plenty of times where someone showed me a wheel and I showed my pretty front end to someone else. I was passing. I was getting passed. It was glorious. I started feeling my competitive edge creeping back in and I got swept up in the moment. I was starting to really enjoy myself and I felt like I finally was learning something.
Starting Procedure Practice
At the end of the school we had a mock race, but Ed preferred to call it “Starting Procedure Practice”. Mr. Lady’s Man had told us that we will be gridded by our observed skill levels. Ed told us not to worry about grid position. The field will sort itself out, no matter what position you start in. The fast riders will be in front, the slower riders end up in the back and the intermediate group will duke it out in between. I bet some imaginary money on what position Mr. Lady’s Man assigned to me on the grid, but I lost the bet. I wasn’t dead last after all. There was one dude who was worse off than me. At least I had the inside line in the last row. I told him that we’re just going to have to roll this up from the rear. He laughed and agreed.
I made it a point to be there right after first call. I sat on the entrance to pit road and waited. Dan, who is Race Control, held his right hand up, all five fingers splayed out and yelled at us over idling engines: “See this? That is your FIVE BOARD. Go!” He stepped off to the side and let us enter pit road to take our warmup lap and assume our assigned grid positions. We were using the standard WERA staggered grid pattern of 3-2-3. From my position in the sixth row with only one rider behind me, I could see the entire field. I wasn’t nervous at all, which was strange. I happened to look at the Starter when the 3-Minute Board came up. Time to pay attention now. I lowered my face shield and put my bike in gear. I was ready. The 2-Minute Board was displayed fairly quickly thereafter. I exhaled when the Starter displayed the 1-Minute Board. Apparently I had forgotten to breathe. Sideways. I rev up the S1000RR to 9,000 RPM. My shiftlight illuminates at about the same time the green flag comes out and I smoothly ease the lever out in one quick, controlled movement. The Pirate responds and I find myself passing people on the grid. This is a far cry from the starts I laid down at the drag strip. It is the same thing, pretty much. I don’t know why I can’t be smooth at the strip. Never mind that now, Turn 1 is coming up. I have a clear shot on the inside, but decide to stay in the middle. for a better drive into Turn 2. I am not aware of the other riders. No, I am aware of them, but I don’t know who they are or where they came from on the grid. I know I now have people behind me, since I passed a few on the grid. But never mind this. My tires are still not up to temperature and I decide to concentrate on what I’m doing, not what everybody else is up to. All I know is that I’m always in second place. The guy in front of me? He needs passing. That’s all I worry about. I’m having a hoot. I am in my element. I thrive on this.
I have reached a new level in my braking technique. Trial by fire. I notice that a lot of these people like to park in the corners. When you have no brake lights to give you a clue, you have to be extremely aware of your immediate surroundings. If their nose is dipping it’s a telltale sign they are on the skids hard. And when your front end is almost stuffed up their tail pipe it’s high time to take some countermeasures to avoid collecting. I notice a front wheel in my peripheral vision and have to dismiss the awful thought that my continued success of keeping both my contact patches engaged is entirely at the mercy of the unknown variable behind me.
This is the exact reason why I don’t ride in groups on the street and when I do I hang in the back, because I trust in my own capabilities over those of others and rather keep the trouble up front where I can see it. Yet, here I am putting myself at the mercy of others at grossly higher speeds. Strange how I abhor something on the street and thrive on it on the track. There is a reason why they make us take our mirrors off; and it has nothing to do with safety or drag coefficient. I’m sure we’d have to change our diapers several times per race if we could see what exactly goes on directly behind us. Best not to think about it at all.
The Color Of Adrenaline
I have not a clue how I finished in the mock race. All I know is that I got passed and passed others… I do know that I rode harder than I ever had in my entire life. I started sliding the rear I accelerated so hard out of turns. I almost tucked the front on several occasions because I had to brake so hard while leaned over to avoid running up on someone in mid-corner. Ed Bargy wanted us to feel for these limitations of available traction. That is how you know how much you have left. We need to be able to control these without having to wipe our butts later or freaking the hell out and wadding it. The more I do it, the less anxious I am about front end tuck or rear end slides. I’m learning. Slowly. But baby steps is what it takes to improve without wrecking your shit. I’m ok with that. I have a few payments left on my BMW.
Don’t race what you can’t afford to wreck. That’s what they say. When have I ever let stuff like that stop me? Let me think… hmmm… nope, can’t come up with anything at the moment. I race what I have, run what I brung. But I race it sensibly. I aborted passes, didn’t take opportunities to pass, or let someone pass because the risk to do otherwise was too great. There was no money at the finish line. There were no points waiting for me at the checkered flag. There were no sponsorships at stake. My ego only drives my machine so far. This girl knows when to hold ’em and she definitely knows when to fold ’em. I race my own race. I have no testosterone-driven need to be a track day heroine. I have nothing to prove to anybody but to myself, and most of what I prove to myself has nothing at all to do with raw speed or position.
Check The Appropriate Box
After our mock race we pitted our bikes and went back to the classroom to take our written examination. The questions were multiple guess and all related to racing procedures. Ed said that this test was “closed book, but open can.” Those of us who were inclined to do so were invited to help themselves to an ice-cold can of brew with Ed while we were taking our test. I made a huge exception to my standing rule of zero-tolerance for alcohol and caffeine while participating in a race or track weekend. But I could not pass up an opportunity to have a beer with Mr. Bargy. Shortly after grading our tests we received our Provisional Novice shirts and Certificates of Completion. We also got to keep Ed Bargy’s book “Introduction To Motorcycle Roadracing”, a $50 tire discount coupon which I ended up using the following day; a coupon for a discounted track day which I couldn’t use because I had already registered and paid for Sunday; and a 10% off coupon for the chassis alignment and setup services of G.M.D. Computrack Atlanta.
This Was Fun! Can I Do It Again?
Overall I had a great time. I learned a ton, improved my lap times by 17 seconds over the span of six track sessions, gained a great deal of consistency in my riding and learned to trust my machine. I never had the S1000RR on a track. I trusted her on the street, but had no clue how I would get along with her on the track. I never ran Dunlop Sportmax Q2 tires on the track either. I still love these tires and will continue to run them, since they are priced moderately and perform their duties very well, street or track, wet or dry. Once I started trusting my tires and my bike at higher speeds and steeper lean angles, things started happening for me in a good way. I am happy with my progress, but still have lots to work on. Oh, before I forget: I did shorten my corner entry by a significant amount. When I first started, I initiated slowing down and then braking at the first brake marker. I carried an average of 60 mph into Turn 3, which was the turn I consciously measured my overall progress on, but it wasn’t the turn I did best in, as I would have expected. Turn 1 was the turn I did my best in as far as corner entry goes. By the end of the day I started braking halfway between brake marker 2 and 1, without rolling off the throttle prematurely and “sunday driving” it to my braking marker, and carried speeds of about 90 mph into the turn and had to actually downshift before stuffing the Pirate in and putting my knee on the ground.
Fun With Still Caps
I still could get more aggressive on my exits and get on the gas just a little harder. I have always had a tendency to get on the throttle as soon as I got to the apex of the turn, but I always finessed it rather than giving it a good, aggressive drive out. I’m nowhere near my traction limit at the apex, which is probably a good thing, considering that I constantly seem to find myself dealing with some slowasses backing up traffic mid-corner, which leaves me room for braking and “changing lanes”. At JenningsGP I shouldn’t have this problem. I can see them way ahead of time, but I end up putting my nose down for them anyway. I just can’t help myself. I should moderate my speed and anticipate the bunching-up effect, but I never do. I always think that I won’t be catching up with them, since they are the ones that got away from me in the straights.
Here’s a little educational something where Miss Busa demonstrates how NOT to do it. Enjoy! 🙂
*The thing got mangled during encoding by YouTube for some reason. It plays fine locally on Mr. Slow’s Mac, so I am not fixing it. The important stuff is there. I apologize.*