When I get on a motorcycle I want to ride far, preferably somewhere I haven’t been before. The idea of repeating the same 1.7 miles over and over never really appealed to me. A track day for non-sportbikes changed my mind.
On August 19, 2014, Tony’s Track Days offered its first-ever track day for non-sportbikes at Thompson Motorsports Park in Connecticut. The event’s mission was to give average street riders the opportunity to enhance their skills in an environment free of the dangers and distractions present on public roads.
“We want to encourage more types of riders to experience the racetrack and to learn more about their bike and ability,” said Tony Iannarelli, da boss of Tony’s Track Days LLC. “This is our 18th year doing track days. We do get riders on sport tourers and the occasional Gold Wing, but today is a different setup. It’s a day of motorcycle riding geared toward touring bikes, adventure bikes and cruisers, for people who have never ridden at a track day before.” (Your humble scribe included.)
Iannarelli picked the perfect venue. Thompson’s 10-turn, 1.7-mile road course is brand new for 2014. So are support facilities including garages and classroom space.
Compared to a typical track day, gear requirements were somewhat relaxed. We needed a full-face helmet, leather or textile riding jacket and pants, and gloves and boots overlapping our jacket and pants. Each bike received a tech inspection to ensure it was roadworthy, with tires and brakes in good shape and no fluids leaking. Brake lights were taped over so we wouldn’t make decisions about braking based on riders in front of us. Likewise, mirrors were taped over so cornering decisions weren’t influenced by what was behind us. “You want your focus forward,” lead instructor Ken Condon explained.
Condon opened the riders’ meeting by asking, “How many of you are nervous?” A few hands went up, including mine. “The rest of you are lying. (laughter) There’s more to be nervous about riding on the street. Variables on the street don’t let you focus on just your skills because you also have to manage your environment. But here on the track there’s no sand, no potholes, no painted lines, no Buicks, no pedestrians. Here you have the optimal environment to improve your braking and cornering skills. That said, you need to process this new environment.”
To begin processing, Condon had the training staff introduce themselves, explain track rules and procedures, and help us set individual goals for the day. Riders placed themselves in the fast, medium or slow group, and every hour was divided into roughly equal sessions of track time, classroom instruction, and a break to grab a drink or talk with instructors or other riders.
For each group’s first track session, five riders followed an instructor. Each lap, on the straightaway, the first participant dropped to the rear so every rider could do a lap directly behind the instructor (group riders will recognize this method as Drop-and-Sweep). Nerves quickly calmed. The track was just a road—a really nice road—free of those distractions Condon mentioned.
White X’s on the tar marked the ideal spot to initiate tip-in for each turn. A small orange cone identified each turn’s apex and another indicated the appropriate exit line. After a few circuits following instructors and these visual cues, the best line through each turn—even the tricky double apex and the off-camber hairpin—was clear. Practicing those same 10 turns repeatedly improved my smoothness and speed. What chicken strips?
Each classroom session addressed a new topic—throttle control, body positioning, visual acuity—then it was back on the track to apply what we learned on those same 1.7 miles. Instructors were always on the track to observe and guide us. It was enlightening—and a blast!
Track photographer Arcy Kusari (otmpix.com) was on hand all day to give riders access to great shots of their day at the track. A buffet lunch was included, as was use of the garages. Broad smiles on the faces of 60 participants confirmed their $250 was well spent.
Triumph Bonneville rider Jesse Sheidlower said he’s still fairly new to motorcycling and wanted the chance to practice skills, which can be difficult where he lives in Manhattan. Bill Weidner, who was recognized for the longest distance traveled, rode his BMW GS from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to Thompson, Connecticut, to spend a day on the track.
Debra Conde, who came from Watertown, Massachusetts, on her Suzuki V-Strom, observed, “I’m always looking to learn new things, be it motorcycle related or otherwise, and I thought this would bump up my skill set. I think being able to read curves better by taking them repeatedly in a controlled environment will help improve my everyday riding, doing twisties specifically.”
Would I still rather ride 1,000 miles to some place new than ride 1.7 miles over and over? I would. But this day at the track, focused on improving my skills, will make those long trips even better. Tony Iannarelli is planning more track days for non-sportbikes in 2015, so get on your cruiser, tourer or adventure bike and spend a day at the track.
For more information, visit tonystrackdays.com, or search the web for track schools in your area such as the California Superbike School, CLASS Motorcycle School, Penguin Racing School and Yamaha Champions Riding School.
(This article Track Day for Street Bikes: Cruisers, Tourers and Adventure Bikes Take on Thompson was published in the January 2015 issue of Rider magazine.)