By Retired Sgt. 1st Class Willie E. Carter, Fort Hood, TexasMay 6, 2013
FORT HOOD, Texas - It was mid-afternoon on a Thursday when I received a phone call from my best friend asking if I could help him move some furniture. Although I was tired from staff duty the night before, I told him I would be right over. I figured if we could knock out the move quickly, I could get back home to rest. I decided to take my motorcycle, so I threw on an old flight suit and the required personal protective equipment to make the five-mile ride. Little did I know that this ride would change my life forever.
As I traveled along a two-lane road to my friend's home, I approached a tractor-trailer with its turn signal on, indicating the driver intended to make a left-hand turn in front of me. I slowed to ensure the driver saw me approaching, but as I got about 20 feet away, the driver turned. After striking the truck, I was thrown between the cab and trailer and landed 30 feet on the other side. In shock, I jumped up but immediately collapsed back to the ground. I then realized I couldn't feel my legs. I thought my life was over.
Fortunately, after two surgeries and 30 days in the intensive care unit, I managed to walk away from this incident with a minor back injury and a blown left knee that I had reconstructed a few months later. Once I fully healed, I returned to street riding, but I could not get past my accident. Every car, truck or turn scared me to death. I didn't know what to do. But I couldn't stay away from my motorcycle - riding was my life!
My riding future was looking pretty bleak when a fellow street rider introduced me to track day riding. He told me I could go as fast as I wanted without the fear of cars, tractor-trailers or wildlife getting in my way because the riding takes place in a controlled environment. This sounded like the perfect solution to my problem.
After my first ride, I was hooked. In fact, it gave me a new appreciation for riding. There are some tradeoffs, though. Here are some measures you'll have to take before participating in track day riding:
Protective Gear - Track day riding requires special PPE to keep riders safe, including:
•An undamaged, full-face Department of Transportation- or Snell-approved helmet
•Full-leather gloves that cover the wrist by two inches
•Leather boots that cover the ankle and protect the shins
•A one-piece, full-leather race suit
•For extra protection, riders can also add chest and back protectors, padded hip under-garment shorts and hearing protection
As you can see, track day riding can be expensive. However, the cost of the equipment is minimal when you compare it to the value of the lives of those participating. In my opinion, it's money well spent. I purchased the best gear that I could afford because I wanted the best protection available. Cheap gear doesn't offer the best protection. Remember, you get what you pay for.
Bike Prep - There are a few requirements your motorcycle must undergo before you can ride, including:
•Tires and brakes should be in new or nearly new condition
•Disconnect or remove the fuses for the lights (check to ensure the bike operates normally after this step)
•Tape over all lenses and mirrors. No lights should be visible or "bleed through." Also tape over the speedometer. The reason for taping is to eliminate the distractions to you and fellow riders. By reducing distractions, we're able to focus on what is important - rider safety!
•The bike does not need to be safety wired, but wiring the oil drain and fill caps is highly recommended and easy to do.
•Taping wheel weights is required. Duct tape works well.
•Draining the antifreeze and replacing it with pure water or water wetter additive is recommended but not required.
Tech Inspection - The final step before you can ride on the track is to have a technical inspection performed on the bike and your equipment. This will be performed at the track by certified personnel. Helmets and all riding gear must be presented at the tech inspection area. Precision staff will perform an overall visual and tactile assessment checking for issues such as leaks, loose fittings or other safety concerns. Your bike and gear must pass tech inspection each day before getting on the track. Other inspection items include:
•Crisp throttle return mechanism
•Hand controls are intact, with properly tightened levers and grips in good condition
•Foot controls properly attached and nothing loose or with excessive play and no missing bolts
•Chain properly adjusted -- generally one inch of slack above the swing arm, but check your owner's manual for manufacturer recommended tension and adjust prior to event
•Tires in new or nearly new condition
•Wheel weights securely taped (use duct tape or something similar)
Now that you know your bike is safe for the track, you must determine what ability group/level you need to ride. The groups are based on skill level and track experience. There are three levels - beginner, intermediate and advanced street rider/racer. The beginner and intermediate groups offer classroom instruction to teach you proper riding techniques and the proper race line around the track. This is the key to going around the track in a fast and safe manner.
For me, track day riding opened up a whole new world of motorcycle enjoyment. It's also the perfect option for those who want to fulfill their need for speed. If you're looking for a new challenge, take that sport bike to the track and stop racing down public streets. You're only putting your life and the lives of others in danger.