Road Dirt Owner/Editor Rob Brooks Recounts His First Track Day Experience
A few years back, I had the opportunity to fulfill several big “turning 50 bucket list” items.
It had been a dream of mine for some years to 1. own a sport bike, 2. ride it on the track at Road Atlanta, and 3. “hit the ton”, i.e. ride over 100 mph (legally of course). On a weekend in July of 2013, I achieved all three.
I grew up around motorcycles. My father owned a series of old Triumphs, with usually enough extra parts in the garage to build another. My brothers and I throttled minibikes and Yamaha YZ80s through the woods behind our north Georgia home, and the first street bike I ever rode was Dad’s ’67 Triumph TR6. Motorcycles are in my blood, you could say.
I’d been riding cruisers for years, but caught the itch to try sport bikes in 2010. Call it thrill-seeking, mid-life crisis, whatever, but I wanted to stretch my motorcycling legs with new experiences, deepen and broaden my riding skills beyond the casual lope of cruising. Since childhood, I’d desired to own the marque of my father, Triumph, so when I found a 1999 Sprint ST, I discovered I could fulfill both dreams- own a Triumph, and a sport bike. Off and running…
At the encouragement of my friends Jonathan and Brian, I joined NESBA, the North East Sport Bike Assn. (now known as N2 Track Days), and signed up for one of their track days at the famed Road Atlanta. In preparation, I bought the appropriate racing gear, got the Sprint track-prepped, and began to study the track via online map layouts and YouTube videos. By Saturday morning, I felt pretty good I knew that track like my own street.
I registered in the “novice” group, having never done a track day before. Upon arrival the weather, which had been rainy all week, closed over again, then down poured as soon as I pulled into the paddock area. “Great,” I thought, “maybe I shouldn’t have come.” I didn’t want my first track day to be run in the rain, on a wet track. I grew anxious, tense, and a little afraid. I had undergone a cervical spinal surgery just eight weeks prior to repair two collapsed discs in the base of my neck, and my wife thought I was crazy for even attempting this, despite my promise to wear a neck brace. Now, I was thinking her concerns might have been well-founded.
Finally Jonathan then Brian arrived, and as we all got our tents, bikes and gear situated, the rain subsided. By the time the morning rider meetings were held, the sun broke through, and soon the track was drying enough to ride on. The advanced group went out, followed 30 minutes later by the intermediate group, then finally, my group. Each group had a 20-25 minute session on the track, and my group had several N2 control riders mixed in, to insure we were prepared and riding safely.
As the novice group left the pits and began to loop around the track, my anxiety was replaced by focus. On lap 1, up on the back turn 7, I came upon pieces of bike fairing careening across the black top. I dodged each with little effort. “Interesting start to my track day,” I mused. Immediately a control rider came up on my right, gave me the “thumbs up” to insure I was fine, to which I nodded, and he sped on past. By the next track marshal station, the yellow caution flag was out, and the debris was quickly removed without slowing anyone down, save the poor sap that lost his bike parts!
With each subsequent lap around the legendary course, and each subsequent session out on track, I relaxed more, increased my speeds, improved body position and braking, and took corners sharper and quicker. I was by no means as fast as most others in my group, but I was improving my skills, growing in comfort and confidence, and flat-out having fun. Several riders overcooked corners and ran out into the gravel areas, but I just focused on riding my own ride. On the back straight, from turn 7 down to the brake zone before 10a, I broke 100 mph on every lap, and topped out at 130 by the end of the day. The bike was capable of much more, but for my first time out, that was plenty for me. Maybe 150 next time?
For an old guy who had undergone a recent spinal neck surgery, I felt great. I wore my neck brace every session, just in case, and several riders and N2 officials commended me on riding so soon after my procedure. One control rider even nicknamed me “Iron Man.” Well, I do have a titanium plate in my neck now…
What an exhilarating experience that first track day was! I certainly got hooked on speed that day, in a controlled environment. It’s hard to describe what “hitting the ton” feels like, but it is addictive. That’s a “bucket list item” I would check off again and again, in the years that followed. Too old for this stuff, now well into my mid-50s? To quote Doc Holliday in the movie Tombstone- “Not me, I’m in my prime!” Thanks to N2 Track Days and my friends Jonathan and Brian for a most memorable first track day at Road Atlanta.
I’m convinced every sport rider should take the time and make the investment to ride some track days. There is simply no better way to improve your skills and confidence. Time on track is worth every dollar.
*An earlier version of this article first appeared in Motorcyclist magazine.