I've grown "comfortable" with the wiggle pulsing through the big Bandit's bars as I transition from the banked front stretch on to the flat of the track apron. I tickle the front brake lever to scrub off some miles per hour that a mere second ago were probably surging past 130 or more. That's just a guess though. I taped over the speedo so I wouldn't even be tempted to look.
Sure, I'd love to know how fast I was really going. But, with just a glance, that needle can become an arrow with the uncanny ability to rip apart the core of a rider's focus. Processing a rapidly approaching low-speed left that's about to buff away another film of rubber from the Pirelli Diablos' outer limits is infinitely more urgent than an ego stroke from an inaccurate gauge; and honestly, knowing your speed on the track is only of use for chest-thumping purposes when you're back among your riding buddies. - Concentrate. The fatigued front brake pads valiantly answer the hydraulic summons and still manage to wrestle the Suzuki down to a manageable cornering speed. I slide off the seat, drop my knee, throw my head forward to "kiss the mirror," and revel in the steely trio of foot-peg feeler and steel-boot slider harmonizing with the Nashville Superspeedway's infield tarmac in a gritty tone somewhat akin to Bob Seger having a shouting match with a bench grinder. - Concentrate. I roll hard back into the throttle a little prematurely, causing an unsettling rear-wheel spin that throws my diminishing focus an unwelcome curveball. I stay in the gas, but slightly overcorrect. Timing completely shot, I botch the next hard right-hander, run wide, and set about recovering the correct line. Inside my head, red flags fly and reality sets in. It's past noon on Sunday, I've been riding this circuit hard for the last day and a half, the Tennessee sun broils above a thick veil of humidity, making it feel like I'm being poached inside my leathers, and I'm making mistakes. At the entrance to pit road, my left hand goes skyward, and I veer from the track, officially sticking a fork in my Sportbike Track Time racetrack experience.
Plus, I really do need to help my partner in speed, Harry Vanderlinden, load his SV1000 on the trailer for the long drive home. Remembering my novice group instructor's wise words, I listen to my more sensible inner voice, ensuring that I'll avoid another slip-up that could easily result in far more undesirable results. After all, with a tour scheduled to begin tomorrow on this very bike, preserving its structural integrity, not to mention a little bit of rubber, adds even more justification to calling in the dogs.
Was it an easy choice? Hell no - I was having big fun.
Motorcycle & Gear
2002 Suzuki Bandit
Helmet: Shoei Multitec
Jacket: Marsee One Wear
Pants: Classic Draggin' Jeans
Boots: Sidi Dohas
Gloves: REV'IT! Inferno VCS
Luggage: Dowco Fastrax Elite Sport and Adventure
Later that evening, as the last hazy streaks of pinkish orange clouds slowly seep into the western horizon, I reflect on my first real track-day experience. Within the confines of a closed circuit, under the watchful eyes of instructors, corner workers, and safety crews, velocity became pure poetry in motion. None of us older riders have a prayer of turning into the next Rossi, Hayden, or Hacking - not even close - and yet, within those glorious sessions of sanctioned, heavy-handedness, we all got a taste of the addictive highs that drive those guys. I'll likely never own a bike specially prepared for track usage, but it's sure nice to know that groups like Sportbike Track Time are out there to feed this newfound obsession while requiring very little in the way of mechanical modifications. Now, sitting astride the silent Bandit in the calm of the motel parking lot, I sip from a sweaty bottle of lager and think about tomorrow's departure. Just how will this taste of unbridled, right-grip enthusiasm affect my on-street riding?
So What Have We Learned?
Even at 7:00 a.m., the heat and humidity of the drought-seized Southeast immediately grabs me in a sweat-soaked hammerlock. I was aware of the soaring temperatures at the track, but adrenaline has a funny way of filtering out extraneous stimuli. I'm happy that I sent the leathers home with Harry in favor of a vented riding jacket. One of the lessons the instructors push heavily is the danger of dehydration and the need to keep the fluids flowing freely. I can tell I'll be heeding those words on the road as well.
Heading east on Route 70, I soon join my planned tour with a left on Route 96. As the road twists into the hills, a sly grin creeps across my lips. The approaching twists are about to merge with the newfound track knowledge still fresh in my head. But as this wonderful road rolls beneath my tires, an odd sensation overcomes me. I'm actually going slow, real slow. I roll into the gas, only to find myself rolling right back out. After a weekend of wide-open views, ample run-off space, and fellow riders all on the same page, the wilds of a narrow public highway come as quite a shock. With my senses still abuzz from their high-speed hyper-alert status, all potential hazards seem magnified a hundredfold. Every house has a dog lying in wait, prepared to dart beneath my wheels. I shoot glances at every parked car, expecting it to suddenly back into my path. Strewn gravel looks like a boulder field, and all oncoming traffic bears down large and fast. The funny thing is, I don't process any of that as fear, or even paranoia. It's simply a heightened sense of awareness about my surroundings. Could it be that two days of going fast has actually slowed me down? The answer is yes, and that's certainly not a bad thing.