Making Your First, Or Next, Trackday Significantly Safer

Riding on a racetrack can be the safest place to ride if each of us follow certain guidelines

Over the previous four weeks, this column has been written by Senior riders discussing their roadracing world and me describing how to avoid crashing your motorcycle. The Seniors gave readers insight into beginning or returning to roadracing and my "How Not To Crash Your Motorcycle" article illustrated that crashes follow certain patterns—patterns that can be avoided and are avoided by championship-winning roadracers.

Consider these next two columns as another part of a "let's go roadracing" series because one reason riders will not go to the track is fear of being taken out by another rider. They have heard, or perhaps experienced, close calls or even on-track impacts with other riders. This column, put together with help from my YCRS instructing crew, will equip new or returning riders to be as safe as possible when they roll out for the first or next lap.

Common Thinking

Common and correct trackday guidelines are very clear: It is the faster rider’s responsibility to pass safely; when two riders come together on the track at different speeds or trajectories the results are generally catastrophic. The faster riders must plan and execute safe passes.

But as every expert-level trackday or roadracer realizes, newer or slower riders also share gigantic responsibility for all riders’ safety. Yes, it’s easy to place the onus for collisions on the passing rider but that simply isn’t reality. Fast riders have extremely narrow margins of error and their usable line around the track tightens to inches, literally. Changing direction quickly on a fast-moving bike to avoid an errant rider sometimes cannot be done. I don’t hear the slower riders’ responsibilities being described often enough and hope this column jumpstarts those discussions.

In other words, both fast and new/slow riders must be doing certain things to avoid bike-to-bike contact. My job and passion is riding or driving around racetracks, and during those decades I’ve seen how riders get hurt and what those riders could have done differently. This isn’t just for new riders, it’s for all riders with a desire to make their on-track time safer. I’ve outlined 10 issues for safe track behavior, here are the first five. The next five will follow next Tuesday.

Never Cross The Track-Entry Blend Line

Safety habits
The blend line is there to keep you safe. Never cross it. Ever.Ralph Hermens

As we enter the track from the pit, there will be a line painted on the track that is a barrier between us and the at-speed riders already circulating; that is the blend line and we must never cross it.

Did you notice the word “never” in the above sentence? Are you thinking this tip is way too obvious?

A) Well, ask my friend Ricky O'Hare if this first safety tip is universally known and followed. Five days before the 2018 NJMP MotoAmerica national Ricky was testing at another track and a rider entered the track and swerved across the blend line directly in front of an at-speed Ricky. The ensuing drama caused major damage to Ricky's bike and almost took him out of the upcoming national (hard work by crew chief Chris Hartman and Ricky put him on the Superstock podium).

B) Many riders swerve across the blend line and onto the racing line when they are among the first wave of riders onto the track for their session and this is a dangerous habit. Someday, there will be a rider who missed the checkered flag in the last session, or is a VIP big-time national racer who has carte blanche to lap whenever he wants and, bam, it's a huge crash. Let's never cross the blend line.

Run Our Entry Line Early

Entry line
Setting up your entry line early and in the proper position will keep you form making last-second line corrections that can and will hurt you or another rider.Ralph Hermens

In this illustration, the turn-in point for the upcoming corner is the left edge of the track. Halfway down the straight, the green rider figures the orange rider can be passed on the left, but at the last moment the orange rider swerves to the left to get on line. Bam.

The fix for the orange rider is to get the bike lined up on the left edge of the track (in this illustration) earlier, establishing line and position and closing off the passing zone on the left, leaving only the right side open. Run our entry line early. If we find ourselves a bit low or tight as we approach the corner, we must fight the desire to fix our line with a last-second swerve, as we’re seeing the orange rider doing here.

The big overall takeaway here is that abrupt line changes must be avoided if at all possible. Yes, the green rider is taking a risk with a left-hand pass when entering a right-hand corner, but bad decisions by others is part and parcel of trackday riding. Our job is to limit the choices available to anyone thinking about passing us, and running our entry line early—not making late, abrupt line changes—will keep us safe.

A Late Apex Is Not Always A Good Apex

Entry line
Setting up your entry line early and in the proper position will keep you form making last-second line corrections that can and will hurt you or another rider.Ralph Hermens

Street riders coming to the track will often late-apex every corner, and that makes their turn-in sharper and slower, all things being equal. In this illustration, the orange rider throws the bike in late and with a very sharp, aggressive steering input. Meanwhile, the green rider had already decided the orange rider was going to run wide, so he simply turned in to apex the corner and, bam, here comes the late apexer. “Apex” means the closest we get to the inside of the corner.

Yes, the green rider assumed incorrectly, but he couldn’t imagine a rider turning into this corner this late and still trying to get the apex. At the usual turn-in point, the green rider saw the orange rider running straight and figured he was going wide.

A) We need to choose the apex dictated by where we want our bike to exit the corner. A late apex (orange) means a low or tight exit. The green apex is earlier and the rider exits wider, better matching the corner layout.

B) Think of it this way: The orange line is coming across the path of travel of the faster riders. If the faster riders don't recognize and adjust to this late turn-in and apex, two riders are down. Orange rider will get up off the ground and say, "I was taken out!" When in fact he was nowhere near the fastest, safest line.

C) We need to hang on the fence between our sessions and watch what the good riders are doing. Watch their entry lines, apexes, and exits. They are on those lines because they are faster and safer, and that's who we want to be.

D) We need to pay attention to our control riders and coaches on where they put their bike, even if they are leading us slowly. They will be on line even though they aren't at the lap record. Duplicate their lines exactly because as the pace comes up, our safety will depend upon what they showed us.

E) Get with good, meaning consistently fast, riders and have them help us with our lines on a track map. If someone tells us to run a different line because you're new and slow, we will be in unexpected places at unexpected times. That will make us unpredictable and hard to pass. "Hard to pass" means we may be passed very closely because the passing rider is making a last-second change after being surprised by our bike placement and speed.

F) If we find ourselves past our turn-in point and in too deep, we must forget about that nice tight apex and killer exit because those options are gone. We need to get the bike turned into the corner, pointed, and driven out on a nice widening exit line. If we turn in too late and try to get the apex we've already missed, we risk being taken out by a following rider who expects us to run wide.

G) Control riders, instructors, and coaches: We have a duty to identify and fix significant line issues before two riders get together. Yes, we will see slightly differing lines between a 250 Ninja and a ZX-10R, but significant apex and direction issues must be addressed and fixed to a simple standard: Where is the fastest, safest line.

Late Track Exits

Late pitting
Never try to pit late, always go around for another lap and signal your intentions early.Ralph Hermens

We’re out circulating and decide to cut the session short and return to the pits. This will happen to us all, but it can’t be acted upon if we’re already late in the lap.

A) If we decide late in the lap to pit, we must take another lap and get our left hand up or one of our feet off the pegs at least three corners before we pit…and do it before we slow our pace.

Hand signaling
Get a hand up or a foot out to signal your intention to pit.Etech

B) We shouldn't slow to a crawl but keep our pace up to at least 80 percent. We don't need to signal the whole lap, just wave a hand or dangle a foot in the last two or three corners. Our message is, "I'm off pace and pitting this lap."

C) What we must never do is swerve into the pits at the last moment. In this illustration, we mustn't apex the final corner and then swerve into the pits, even if we throw our hand up at the last minute. If orange did this at the wrong moment, he would swerve directly into green who possibly wouldn't see the last-moment signal and would be unable to avoid the slowing and turning orange.

D) Trackday groups must monitor this, or have corner workers monitor it, and warn riders who don't signal or signal too late or run on-line even while signaling just before exiting. Warn them once and send them home on the second violation to keep two riders uninjured.

E) A significant tip for faster riders: Let's decide right now to never pass a rider between their line and the track exit unless we are in a race. During trackdays or practices, we will never place our bikes between the slower rider and the pit entry so if a last-second decision to pit is made, we will not be hurt. Yes, this might hurt our lap time (gasp!) and perhaps even ruin our drive onto a straight (oh no!), but we won't be lying in the dirt or against the Armco steel barriers and cement bridge abutments at some tracks. We must follow that slower rider until they are past the pit entry, or plan a pass on the opposite side in case they swerve off the track. Decide this now and never waver from it during a trackday.

Poor Signaling

Poor Signaling
Signal first; then slow down.Etech

Of the fives human senses, vision is the main sense riders rely on when circulating racetracks. We don’t have radios and while we have flags, those are usually introduced after an incident. We need to be proactive with our visual signals.

A) There will be times when our bikes fail on the track and the instant we sense the failure our left hand must come up.

B) If the failure is significant enough for the bike to die before you get back to the paddock, don't just raise your hand; get off line and even off the track into the grass or gravel.

C) In the case of a red flag ending our session, be sure we raise our hand when we see the flag and then roll off the throttle. If we slow before we signal, we could be taken out by the rider tucked in behind us who has not yet seen the flag. Hand up, then roll off gently.

D) If we stall on the starting line when the green flag waves, we must get that left hand up quickly and as high as possible to let launching riders behind us know we are stationary.

More next Tuesday!