Sport Bike Track Time

Text: Chris Myers, Harry Vanderlinden • Photography: Chris Myers

You don't have to be someone like Nicky Hayden to enjoy the racetrack experience. In fact, competition is not even on the agenda with Sportbike Track Time. The enterprise isn't a racing school, or even a venue for racing preparation. The goal of this Ohio-based organization is to allow individuals the opportunity to participate in a quality, closed-course experience at a pace that matches their comfort levels. Their tech requirements are stringent but "real world," and safety wiring is not required. Great lengths are taken to assure that all riders are appropriately grouped with others of comparable skills. So, a day at the track with Sportbike Track Time is a comfortable yet informative way to get a feel for the pure, unencumbered motorcycling experience that closed-course circuits allow.

Track days start early. Tech inspection and registration open at 7:30 a.m. Being a first-timer, I was required to participate in the novice group. No complaints here, as I'd be receiving at least a half-day of classroom sessions interspersed with on-track time and evaluations from the staff of experienced instructors. After the mandatory riders' meeting at 8:30 a.m., I'm off to school. We're thoroughly briefed on safety issues, the corner workers' flags, track etiquette, and the group rules. After that, we zip up and assemble on the starting grid.

We're taken around the track behind our group leader at a slow pace to get a feeling for the proper lines. Slowly the speeds increase, and when the instructors are confident the groups have a handle on the situation, they begin waving us by, cutting the tether. But their job doesn't end there. They still make their way through the group, evaluating our abilities and even putting us on their tails for some follow-the-leader drills through quicker corner lines. Luckily, our group went the whole morning incident free; and after lunch, we were cleared to ride on our own, within the novice group, for the rest of the day.

Thanks to Sportbike Track Time and their Southern Regional Directors, Mark and Lois Sheldon, I had a fantastic experience at my first track day. I learned more about my abilities and my bike's capacities by lunchtime than I have in years of road riding. The best part is, I could really push my personal limits in as safe an environment as humanly possible. And it's a sure bet that I'll get back on the track soon.

TRACK DAY PREP

Keep in mind, most track-day organizations have minimum requirements that must be performed on your bike before it is permitted on the racetrack. Let's go over basic safety wiring and touch on readying your cooling system.

Safety wiring is done for two reasons. First, it prevents nuts or bolts from loosening. Second, it allows inspectors to see that the most obvious high-stress parts have been properly tightened. The difficulty factor of this job is not beyond that of most home mechanics.

The first step is to gather the required tools. You will need a quality drill and plenty of 1/16-inch high-quality drill bits. A hammer and punch for centering the bit for drilling is also recommended. I prefer specialty safety wire pliers, but the actual twisting can be done by hand. Wire should be .025 or .032-inch stainless steel. The last thing needed is a hose clamp large enough to fit the outside of your spin-on oil filter.

It is best to go ahead and drain the engine oil - that way you have the drain plug in hand. A drill press will make this job even easier, but it's not a necessity.

Prior to removing the drain plug, locate a good spot to secure the wire. You may need to drill an additional hole to tie the wire end to. If you're lucky, there'll be a nearby bracket or some other solid point to secure it to. If not, you'll have to drill a hole in a cooling fin or another non-vital part of the engine case itself. Next, mark a point in the head of the drain plug where you want to drill the hole. The wire should run to the anchor point so that it is maintaining tension clockwise, thus ensuring the bolt stays tight.

Clamp the bolt in a vise and center punch where you plan to drill. You can drill completely across the bolt head or across a corner; both methods are approved. Take your time drilling: the small drill bits really do break very easily. When you are finished drilling replace the bolt and tighten.

Start with a piece of wire about three times longer than the distance from the bolt to the anchor point. Loop the wire through the hole in the bolt and twist the wire about 8 to 10 twists per inch. When you reach the anchor point, thread one end of the wire through it and twist about one inch. Cut the excess and form a small loop with the end. The wire should look as if it is pulling the bolt tight.

Moving to the oil filter. Of course you can't drill a hole in the oil filter, that's why a hose clamp is used. Tighten the clamp and use it to secure the wire to the filter, then anchor it to the closest point, again pulling in the tightening direction.

After refilling engine oil to the proper level, you'll want to wire the filler cap as well. Drill a hole in the cap and loop the wire through it. Twist the wire up to the anchor point and secure. Some people consider safety wiring an art form, and doing it well does take some practice. Stay patient and take your time.

Finally, you may be required to drain your antifreeze and replace it with pure water or a wetting agent such as Water Wetter®. In case of an accident resulting in a rupture of the cooling system, no antifreeze (which is just as hazardous as oil) will be spilled.

Also keep in mind that most track-day organizers require the removal of mirrors and taping over turn signals, head and taillights. Painting trim tape works well and doesn't leave a sticky mess.

Remember to go over your motorcycle from one end to another. Check all nuts and bolts, fluid levels and tire pressure. Your tires and brakes should be as close to new as possible. Chain and sprockets should be in good shape and freshly lubed. It is important to have everything ready before you get to the track. Prepare a checklist and go over it before you leave home.

Have fun and ride safe!