by John Willmann
Back at our gathering in Glenwood this summer I was fortunate to win the door prize of a gift certificate from T.E.A.M ARIZONA out of Gilbert, AZ. Some months later, I called them and inquired what they had to offer. The staff there was knowledgeable, friendly and very helpful. They told me that they conduct the MSF classes for beginning riders where they will provide the bike, an intermediate course where you bring your own motorcycle, and the advanced course for either the re-entry rider or someone who wants to work on their advanced skills. They have a site in Tucson where they conduct these classes.
T.E.A.M. ARIZONA also organizes periodic "track days" with the use of Firebird International Raceway just south of Phoenix. I've been riding motorcycles for 35 years, the thought of attending a class was appealing, and I'm sure I could learn from it....but the 'track day' really touched a spark. Sure enough, they'd allow me to use this certificate for a day out at Firebird. It was one of the most fun days I've ever spent on a motorcycle.
The entire operation was very well organized. Upon arriving at the track at 06:30, Sunday morning, they break us down into three groups; Black=novice, white=intermediate, and the red=go-fast racers. At check-in they did a 'tech inspection' assuring that your bike is in safe running condition, and that your headlight, all your signal lenses, and any other breakable parts are fully taped. (we were told beforehand to remove our mirrors.)
At the riders meeting, they stressed riding safe, and explained the meaning of the different track flags the corner workers used to signal the riders while on track. They also repeated that "this is not a race, so be considerate of the other riders." They had a stock of orange vests. If anyone was wearing one of these vests, the other riders could not pass the vested rider in any of the corners. After the general meeting we were led on a familiarization (sighting laps) run through the course circuit. The course was 1.25 miles with 10 turns (six right-handers, four left)
Some of the hardware in the pits was pretty intimidating. Many Japanese 'high-tech rockets' along with exotic Italian metal. Made my old mid-70's Beemer /6 rat bike look pretty lame. Each group had twenty minutes on track The red go-fasters were up first. This red group consisted of serious club racers out there to work on their cornering lines and going-in-hot braking skills. The howl of these machines was enough to get anyone's adrenalin pumping. Next up were the white intermediate pilots. These guys were just a touch off the pace of the reds. Then it was our turn.
Even as a first timer at way past the half-century mark, I was determined not to let these punk-ass children completely make a fool of me and my antique transport. What a total 'rush.' as the track coordinator hoisted the green flag and 'trickled us onto the course. I honestly can't remember having so much fun. No worries about traffic, road debris, or drivers with their head up their phone.
Motorcycling has many definitions. Each of us has been drawn into this for our own reasons. To me it's always been about leaning into corners at speed. Out there on the track I was tucked away in my own slice of nirvana. This was the pure essence of two-wheeled power. Down-shifting into second for a hairpin, throwing the old iron beast over, wearing the molded rubber off my pegs (and even once putting my heart in my throat by scraping my right cylinder and having it kick the rear wheel out...at speed!) had me grinning and shouting in my helmet like a two-year-old on a waterslide!
Twenty minute track sessions were about all one could take. The intense concentration, focus, and just hard work, left you worn out by the time they flagged you off for the next group. Hang out BSing with the other riders, slamming down liters of cold water, and admiring to skills of the others on the track for forty minutes and your were up for another run. A perfect way to run it. Two days later I'm still grinning. Oh, yeah....no I did not make a dang fool of my old self. I fell right in there up towards the front of our group. Sure they could blow my skinny tires off on the straights, but I was shame'n most of 'em when we were deep in the corners. There's something about out-cornering a kid on a mo'bettah machine....just...well, just because you can, eh?
Deryle, I'd like to thank you, for scrounging up this most excellent door prize. Ditto the professionals at T.E.A.M. ARIZONA. Ditto Chojes (?) Harley Davidson / Buell of Mesa for providing all the drinks...AND breakfast...AND lunch. And to thank the other riders for making this one perfect day. At the risk of sounding like a commercial, I'd urge any members so inclined to get in contact T.E.A.M. ARIZONA ( www.motorcycletraining.com) to participate in one of their track days. They run one about once a month, and offer a discounts to club members who register in advance. If you like to strafe the corners, this is THE BEST and probably the safest place!
John Willmann #187