Track Day at Oregon Raceway Park

October 16, 2010 ‘Better born lucky than rich’ my old Dad used to say. So it was at the October 2010 Portland RAT (Rider’s Association of Triumph*) Club breakfast when Rob Burch, Director of Motofit Group, pulled my name from the pitcher for a free track day at Oregon Raceway Park. I’d met Rob at previous breakfasts where he’d talked enthusiastically about the new venture and the benefits of improving road and track skills in a controlled environment.

Two weeks of work separated me from the morning of the breakfast and the day of reckoning. Those too passed, but man, they dragged ! Right up until the end of the second week, I agonized over which of two bikes to take along. To me it was a ‘Triumph’ event, because without my RAT club association I wouldn’t have won the ticket, so I felt obliged to take the Rocket. Then a small red guy with horns appeared on my left shoulder and whispered ‘So, gonna take a knife to a gunfight, are we ?’

Ride Position

Rob Burch giving ‘hands on’ instruction on rider positioning

Oh dark thirty on Saturday morning found me rumbling eastward on I-84 at a steady clip on my 2002 Guzzi V11 Sport. The lights of Crown Point hung in the inky blackness above the freeway like a UFO ready to abduct and it wasn’t till Hood River that silhouettes of the basalt bluffs gave a clue to my surroundings. It was 40F and I broke my journey there at Bette’s Place restaurant on Oak. Coffee and a pancake helped to stave off the desert chill as the sun came up over Biggs Junction and I headed south into the canyon to Grass Valley.

First stop was to check in at the track entrance kiosk to sign a waiver and pick up my wristband for the day. Then on to the pits to put the bike through Tech. Tires, pads and hydraulics checked out OK. Lights and indicators were taped off for safety. Kara Burch completed my registration and I went to join some 40 other eager bikers gathered to hear Rob’s welcome and orientation from the deck of the track offices. ‘No wheelies, no stoppies, we leave them on the street’ (yes, officer, he was kidding…) Rob quipped, but he was being serious about track protocol. Safety is a recurring theme at the Park and those not willing to recognize it risk being shown the gate.

Next we learned to decode the flags that the track marshals would wave at us during our session, the rules of entry onto and exit from the track, passing distances and so on. Groups are divided into three colors: Green (Beginner / First Timer), Blue (Intermediate), Black (Advanced). Rob introduced his fellow instructors, recognizable by their orange vests. A nicer bunch of guys you could not wish to meet – no prima donnas here.

Raceway Park Track Layout

Raceway Park Track Layout

Marshals are all in radio communication with one another, the first of whom controls entry onto the track which takes place at Turn 1 at the southern end of the pitside straight when ridden clockwise. Depending on machine and rider, bikes on the track will be travelling anywhere from 70 to 140mph before braking for the turn, so you are politely but firmly asked to stay on the outer edge of the track until Turn 2 which will slow down even the fastest riders as it’s a tight ninety. Then comes the westside straightaway that blind crests before dropping down into a series of dips, turns and corkscrews that will deliver the best fun you can have with your leathers on.

The first lap session was somewhat crowded as some folks got used to the track. I found myself coming up on a string of bikes I wished were running a little faster, but patience paid off. Later in the day there seemed to be less bikes on the track and there was plenty of space to let it go, receive instruction and to have one’s clock cleaned by other more able participants.

After roughly 20 minutes on the track, Green group reassembled back at the track offices. Rob had us sit on his Gixxer 750 while he demonstrated correct body position and stressed the importance of relaxing the arms ‘chicken-wing’ style and letting the running gear do what it was designed to do. Pat McGill, another ORP ‘veteran’, chimed in with his advice on being a good passenger to the bike.

Scura in the turn

Moto Guzzi V11 Sport Scura in the turn

Having drunk from the firehose of information thus far, I set out on my second session trying to do what I was told and made a real pig’s ear of it. It appeared the much anticipated epiphany was going to have to come later. I leant the wrong way, dropped one too many cogs and unstuck the back tire, early apexed and headed for the rough stuff – you name it. But I learned to love my bike with greater passion than ever before. It braked, handled and powered me out of my mistakes and Session 3 went much better. Rob was kind enough to spend a couple laps with me. I was shocked when I saw how aggressively he tipped is bike in on the last right hander before the home straight, then realized I might just have done something similar as I followed his line – I like to think – turned and pinned it up the hill with a massive grin on my face.

Session 3 was followed by further instruction which covered other techniques we’d want to try as we gained in experience – a glimpse into the world of the Blue and Black groups, if you will. Working out is recommended and yoga breathing techniques have their place. There’s no definitive regime; what I heard was that it pays to keep an open mind, give every technique a try and pick out what works for you. Recognize that though you’ll always be subject to the laws of physics, you can learn to harness them and get a kick out of what mastery you achieve.

Rob and his team have done great things with MotoFit Group out at the Park. I’d characterize the operation as a diamond in the rough, but strides have been made and no effort is spared to make it a fun and safe experience. They welcome feedback and are constantly looking to improve. At times some of us were not sure when and where the groups were meeting and when the next track session would start, though there is one blast on the horn for Green, two for Blue and three for Black. It’s easy to get caught in animated conversation with a fellow enthusiast or be listening intently to an instructor in an informal aside and miss cues for the next step. Mounts Hood and Adams are visible from the track and you just might find yourself at the north end of the pits daydreaming into the blue yonder with the howl of motorcycle engines in your ears and thinking it just doesn’t get any better than this.

Daydreaming, of course, has little place out on the tarmac. If you’re not used to riding track – other than a very pedestrian courtesy lap at PIR, it was my first time – you’ll slake your thirst on a heady elixir of concentration, tunnel vision, sound and silence, physical exertion, anticipation and situational awareness, defeat and victory that helps you understand why some folks sell their homes to do this stuff.

If you want to learn more, visit the website at www.motofitgroup.com or take a ride out to Grass Valley one weekend when there’s a motorcycle event on and do a little spectating. Watch a YouTube video from the day. Per an announcment from Rob at the December 2010 breakfast, there will be other track days to be won by RAT members next year. Don’t wait on Lady Luck, though – carpe diem, seize the day !

* RAT or TRAP (Triumph Riders Association of Portland) is sponsored by Cascade Moto Classics, Triumph and Moto Guzzi dealers at 13705 SW Farmington Road, Beaverton, OR 97005. Tel: 503 574-3353

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