I was back on track this weekend. This time, I motored up to New York Safety Track, a three- hour trek up the Throughway, in Harpersfield New York.
Like every track session, I approached this one with two goals. The first is to work on my downshifting into the corner, trying to keep the motorcycle smooth and docile on corner entry, and my second goal was to continue to work on body positioning on corner exit. Like a car, a motorcycle can only accelerate, brake and turn/lean. It can only do 100 points of anything, meaning, if I’m using 50% of its ability to brake before a corner, I can’t ask it to use 75% of its ability to lean into a corner as well. Doing so will send me into low altitude orbit. So when exiting a corner, you want to add throttle. To add throttle, you must stand the bike up more and reduce lean angle. You reduce lean angle by hanging further off the motorcycle, placing your body weight on the inside of the corner. It’s a fluid motion between (wo)man and machine. It’s difficult to get correct, but when you do, man is it sweet.
While that’s a simple enough itinerary for the day, things get complicated when it’s your first time at a track, no less a sprawling one like NYST. To prepare, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos to see direction and elevation changes and to get a sense of when to turn left. I also studied the track map. This is important because at more than 2 miles long with 18 corners, I’m not going to master it first time out. The best thing for a racer to do is to decide which are the most important corners. Important corners are ones that are followed by a long segment of distance that you can hold the throttle wide open. If a corner is followed by a short straight, the profit from a correct corner exit is minimal, but a long straight can save seconds. Exiting an important corner 1 mile an hour faster can multiply to 10 mph a the end of the straight. That’s how races are won. For NYST, I identified turn six on the back half of the track and the last corner, 18 which brings you onto the front straight to be the crucial corners to focus on.
It was raining for the first session and I felt my way around, deciding where the apexes were and what the fast line would be. The riders around me were all over the map, so I decided its best to find my own line. At the same time, I was working on my body positioning and downshifting. As the day went on, the sun broke through, and so did my frustration. I wasn’t riding to the level I wanted to. I had more speed in me, it just wasn’t translating to the tarmac. You can see what I mean in the video. In between sessions, I studied the map, did laps in my head, and then would go back out and frustrate myself further.
At lunch, I figured the best way to get over the hurdle was to get some advice, so I rode around the paddock to sniff out Greg, a great guy who owns NYST and has more laps around it than anyone. I told him the goals I was working on for the day and my need to figure out the line through the track’s tricky multi-radius corners. Greg and I spun a few laps together. I tailed him for three laps to see where his line was, and then he followed me for a few laps to put an eye on my riding, to see if I was working towards my game plan.
Greg’s report was helpful. He said I was trying too hard. He was right. From behind, he could see me adding throttle, brake or body position inputs to get around the corners I was still learning. I was trying to be a perfectionist, but that never works. I was too hard on the brakes. I was too hard on the throttle. I was too hard on the bike. Greg said, just do what you do. Turn into the corner and keep that radius. Don’t adjust it, smooth it out. Racing, as I’ve said before, is 80% between the ears. You need a clear, uncluttered mind to find the focus needed to guide a motorcycle through the corners at speed. I headed back to the CCC tent in the paddock, put the bike on its stands and cleared my head, waiting for the next session. When my time came around, I went through my little on track ritual, saying to myself in my helmet “where are you? What are you doing? I’m riding a motorcycle at NYST and I’m a bad son of a bitch.” It helps. I then snapped my visor down, cleared my head and let my reflexes take over. I stuck to one radius, only adjusting it as needed by either slightly opening or closing the throttle by a degree or two and dipping my big, heavy head into the corner to adjust my trajectory.
Three more sessions were left and I got faster, smoother and more focused. If I went off line, I picked it up on the next corner. I knocked about three seconds off my lap time which was great progress. I left feeling confident that at the end of it all, my shifting and body position on corner exit improved. Job done.
This Friday, I’ll be at New Jersey Motorsports Park, turning laps with coach Bill Sink of EvolveGT. He’s a talented instructor that I’ve worked with before and with him I’ll be working on getting the bike deeper into the corner with more exaggerated lean angle. The more I can lean it, the faster corner speed I can carry. I’m also back at the gym hitting it hard. After a week of rallying through the Alps and Italy with fellow CCC members, the pasta left its mark, so it’s time to knuckle down and lose that weight. I rode our first outing with the CCC Cycling Club today before work. Thanks to Ben Orisich, Vesko and the rest of the guys that pushed me to pedal today.
Stay tuned for an update on Friday’s track session.