With only one month to go before the start of the race season, I am out of excuses. And every time I turn laps during a track day, I come back from the session telling myself that I need to start working out. Hell, I can feel the need to get in shape. My body is screaming for me to get it properly trained. I am slow because I can’t keep up physically. There are other factors that keep me from being faster, but those can’t really be successfully addressed until my muscles don’t threaten failure and my lungs quit screaming bloody murder.
Obviously, I won’t be in top physical condition by the time I grid up at Talladega, but it’ll be tons better than what it used to be. I have to get it into my brain, that physical conditioning is part of racing. Even though at my level it seems so… overkill.
As much as I confess to disliking running or exercising in general, I had a pretty good run today. I think I discovered how to exactly move my legs and position my feet without “plopping” along, but rather to “roll”. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. However, my leg muscles felt more under control and my feet’s impact wasn’t as harsh. My stride almost felt sexy; and if running is anything like motorcycle riding then I must have been doing something right, because it feels “sexy” when you do it right. That’s how I know that I’ve nailed it. It feels awesome in execution. Just plain “sexy”. Like a dance move, it flows; smoothly.
My pace increased in speed by 10 seconds, I walked a heck of a lot less, and I only hit the internal redline (200 BPM) once. I should have blown the engine by now, huh? I have had low blood pressure all my life, so my heart’s accustomed to the rest of me sitting around somewhere instead of having work to do. I guess, if I was to keel over and die of a stroke, I would have been roadkill two runs ago…
On a weird side note: I kept seeing my competition number along my randomly chosen route. When I saw the second one, I paused my workout and took out my phone to snap a picture. It motivated me for some reason, and it made me smile. It made me want to do this even more. It’s fate, I tell you. Fate.
I am happy today that I overcame my inertia and set my fa(s)t ass in motion! And towards the end of my run what goodness does the playlist serve up?!? Take it to the limit! Yeah. Yeah! Although it doesn’t take me 4 seconds to reach 60, it’s more like 2.01. Oh, wait a minute, that’s how long it takes me to move 60 feet. =P
Zero to 60 in 4.3
She gets me into trouble and then she makes it double
Takes all my money, she’s a spending machine
But baby, I ain’t hurtin’ I love the way you work it
"Take it to the Limit" by Hinder
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.*
\ˌvi-zhə-wə-lə-ˈzā-shən, ˌvi-zhə-lə-, ˌvizh-wə-lə-\
- formation of mental visual images
- the act or process of interpreting in visual terms or of putting into visible form
- the process of making an internal organ or part visible by the introduction (as by swallowing) of a radiopaque substance followed by radiography
- (Psychology) a technique involving focusing on positive mental images in order to achieve a particular goal
Visualization, also known as guided imagery, mental rehearsal, or meditation, works for me. If I can concentrate enough to actually visualize rather than just thinking about “doing it right.” A lot of my skill practice is done by using visualization techniques. I was first introduced to the technique by my therapist while doing trauma-work in order to process and heal from a nasty case of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) I had developed after, well… after “something had happened” that was a little above my natural coping abilities. I would say that visualization and processing through imagery (artistic expression) were the two main tools that helped me overcome the experience and move on with my life.
While reading my first book on racing technique I had occasion to become reacquainted with an old friend that had served me well in the past. I had not a clue that visualization could be used with great success in the field of sports performance. There are some differences between the therapeutic method of “feeling” and the performance enhancing method of “seeing”. One is more intuitive and is based upon abstracts and individual perception; the other is based on empirical data, the interpretation thereof and then the manipulation of skill application for best possible outcome.
So exactly how do I go about using visualization for my riding skill development? It’s not really all that complicated, once you know what it is and how to use it properly. Visualization requires a set of pre-acquired data to work in the enhancement of applicable skill.
One must know the environment said skill is to be applied in. You cannot visualize yourself getting through a turn faster unless you know the turn’s geometry. Is it downhill or uphill; flat, banked or off-camber; does it have a constant or decreasing radius; is it tight or sweeping; is it a true double-apex (compound curve) or a single apex turn? What does it look like? Where are the curbs, the brake markers, the paint lines, the skid marks, is the pavement rough in texture or smooth, or a combination. And to know that you have to have been there. The more details you have about the turn and the more clearly you can see it in your mind, the better visualization will work. Mind you, if your recollection is shoddy and your references sketchy or erroneous, you will inadvertently introduce errors in your visualization and therefore you may even hinder rather than enhance your progress.
Once I learn a track layout, I use visualization to remember all that hard-earned visual data I’ve collected, so next time I’m there it won’t take me but a fraction of the time to get reacquainted. If you can run a lap in your head with your eyes closed in about the same time you can do it in real life, then you’ve got it down. If you are faster in your head, you’re missing something. If you are slower you are unsure. I think I took that particular page out of Keith Code‘s book, A Twist Of The Wrist, but I’ll have to double check that. I’ve devoured so many skill books from so many different people that it is hard sometimes to keep it all straight and give the kudos to the proper person.
I use it to find errors in my riding, too. But I don’t like to do that on my own, I usually run that by someone who is a better rider than me and also knows the track and can help me interpret my visual data and analyze what exactly went wrong or what could be done better. Then I come up with a plan and during the next session, I will see if it helps. Lap times don’t lie. If your analysis was correct and your application was optimal you should eventually see a marked improvement in your lap or section times. If you are slower at first, don’t worry just yet. You have to reach a certain level of comfort with the “new and improved way” before it’ll show. If you stay slower consistently, then you have cause for worry and should revisit the problem and its original solution.
I also use visualization to stay cool, calm and collected under pressure. It helps me to not freak out and panic and cause myself a world of calamity and pain. Panic and its related reactions have no place while you are on the bike. You may wipe your butt and freak the hell out when you’re back at the pits (or pulled over safely on the side of the road). When the ass is connected to the seat of your bike, failure is not an option. We are human, we will make mistakes, we will miscalculate and misjudge. Visualize yourself getting out of the trouble you’ve created for yourself and more often than not your cool head and muscle memory will prevail and let the machine do its thing and get you out with the shiny side where it belongs and rubber side down.
I also use it to calm my hyped-up nerves before I go out on a session. Instead of worrying about how embarrassing it would be if I did this or that in front of a bunch of people, like dropping my bike or missing a shift or totally screwing up a start, I see myself being perfect. And I haven’t done anything stupid in front of a bunch of people in a long time. It also helps me not to throw up when sitting on the grid. 🙂
Visualization is my weapon of choice.
If you visualize it, it will come true. See yourself failing and you’ve made it favorable for the outcome to be just that: a huge fail of epic proportions. See yourself succeeding and you’re on the way. Don’t be afraid to be your best.
And no, we are not having a narcissistic moment when you catch us watching a video of ourselves riding our bikes over and over and over again. Panning, shuttling, slo-mo, pause and stare. I know of one other person who does this (or admits to doing it anyway) and I bet my Dainese two-piece leathers that she is doing it for the same reason I end up spending countless hours drooling over my own ass sliding around on a sport bike. We like the way we look. We are awesome. We are THE shit! But that’s really beside the point. 😉 It’s an important step in visualization. The acquisition of visual data, analyzing and processing said data and finding the weak spots in our riding, so we can see ourselves doing better next time. If I had to make another wager, I would put my money on all the better riders doing this to one degree or another, whether they know it by its term or not.