Racing isn't exactly cheap, but it can be done right without breaking the bank. Here's our list of the bare essentials you'll need for your weekends at the track
Editor's note: Greg McQuide's biggest thrill-aside from riding motorcycles-was helping others get more out of the sport. Which is why we've decided to run this story, a piece Greg finished just before his fateful trip to the Honda Hoot in Asheville, NC. Greg would want us to run it, and we can't think of a better way to honor his memory.
Whenever people ask us what they can do to ride faster, we point 'em toward their local racetrack. Go club racing, and you'll develop skills you'd never learn on the street, go faster than you ever thought possible, and experience an adrenaline high usually reserved for fighter pilots. And with some careful forethought you'll be able to get started for less than the cost of a good used 600cc sportbike. What are you waiting for?
Pieces 'n' Parts
You'll find that your collection of random (yet important) items will grow with each successive race weekend according to your needs. What do we chuck in our van? Tire pump, extra oil and filter, fire extinguisher (a requirement at most tracks), chain lube, spare parts (clutch and brake levers, clip-ons, footpegs, shift lever), extra ear plugs, fuel can, safety wire, stopwatch, etc.-we've used them all at one time or another. Lockhart Phillips Racing (800/221-7291; www.lockhartphillipsusa.com) has a catalog chock full of this stuff, and will be happy to relieve you of your money.
Even the truly budget-conscious will want to spring for a lawn chair or two, or maybe one of those ez-set-up tarps to keep the sun off your head. If it's the heat of summer, pack a cooler full of ice and drinks, buy some sunblock and get a hat. And unless you like sitting around in the same sweat-soaked T-shirt and underwear you wore under your leathers, bring a change of clothes for the drive home.
Every track requires a racing license, and reading through your club's rule book should answer most of your questions about bike prep, race registration, class requirements, flag and safety procedures, etc. Don't forget to bring your health-insurance card-you do have insurance, don't you?-and the name of an emergency contact or two, just in case.
Your Permanent Record
Charting your progress can be very satisfying (and integral to further improvement), so bring along a notebook to keep track of your weekend's lap times, weather conditions, tire pressures, suspension adjustments and even notes about which particular corner might be giving you trouble (we've taped a track map to the inside cover of ours). Doubly useful if you decide to race at more than one track, since your bike's setup will vary from place to place.
Pit Betty (or PIT BOB)
Helpful to do various odds and ends including feeding you water and snacks, massaging your shoulders and ego, and accepting the blame when things go wrong. Not cheap to maintain.
Front And Rear Wheel Stands
Very convenient, especially for chain maintenance and if you plan to take your wheels off at the track (we like our Pit Bull stands: 256/533-1977), but we've seen guys just prop their bikes on the pit wall, or even slip a kickstand back into its bolt holes after each session.
Simply showing up at the track without any sort of plan can make for a long and expensive weekend. Adrenaline can run high, and before you know it, you've entered that one extra race, bought that one extra rear tire, eaten with your buddies at that Mexican restaurant you can't really afford-and thus blown your race funds for the next month. Be aware of how much you can spend. Make a plan and stick to it: how many races you'll run, where you'll stay, what you'll eat, what equipment you'll need to replace (and if it'll be cheaper if you buy it someplace other than the track). Would you rather enter an extra race for the next few months, or spring for a flash paint job for your bike? It's all up to you.
You can't afford to skimp here. Get the best helmet, one-piece leather suit, gloves, boots and back protector you can afford. And if it comes down to choosing between quality and flash, swallow your pride and buy the better (if less sexy) piece of gear. All told, we're talking maybe $1500. Not cheap, but then, neither are hospital bills.
When it comes to racing, we find that seat time is one of the best teachers around. But should you want to fill your mind in between races, you can't go wrong reading Keith Code's volumes of knowledge, specifically, A Twist of the Wrist, A Twist of the Wrist II and The Soft Science of RoadRacing Motorcycles. Good stuff. Around $20 from the California Superbike School at (800) 530-3350.
Suspension and Exhaust
If you're brand-spanking new, you won't need to ditch the stock stuff right away, as you'll reach the limits of your abilities well before you exceed your machine's. But then, an aftermarket exhaust is lighter and tucks in closer than the OE or "stock" can, and will boost power somewhat if you have the proper jetting. And after a few races, you'll see how the stock suspension was intended more for a comfy street ride than track duty. Your options for these are nearly unlimited-again, ask around the pits to see what the fast guys in your races are doing. Be sure to take the time to set your suspension properly-get a friend to help set your bike's sag. Our thanks to Two Brothers Racing (714/550-6070), Fox Racing Shox (408/269-9201), Race Tech Suspension (909/594-7755) and Factory Pro Tuning (800/869-0497) for taking pity on our little SV.
Most likely the priciest item on your "must have" list (unless somebody gives you one). Forget about picking up a brand-new YZF-R6 or anything else that'll be too fast and expensive for the budget-minded novice. When you visit your local track, look around the pits and see what bikes are running the "slower" (but no less competitive) classes. Kawasaki's EX500 is a great, cheap (we've seen good examples from around $2500) Lightweight Twins bike that's fast enough to learn from for a season or three. Suzuki's SV650 is another great starter bike-although its popularity might make used ones hard to find.
If you own a pickup truck or a van, great. If not, what did you do the last time you needed to move out of your apartment? Give U-Haul a call, or borrow a friend's hauler (heck, take him along). You'll need a truck ramp-if piecing together some two-by-fours won't cut it, try our pals at The Rampmaster (800/231-8999; www. rampmaster.com). Hint: Sleeping in your vehicle saves you loads on hotel rooms.
Preferably, one who knows more about racing than you, since he'll be able to help you race-prep and safety-wire your bike, set up suspension, swap tires, offer counsel, take lap times, and maybe even show you a faster way around the track. Invaluable. Besides, going solo to a race is never a good idea-if you crash, you're going to need someone to get in touch with your family, pack your gear, drive you home, etc. Not that you should be thinking about that....
...needs to be in good shape to face the rigors of the track (try some form of aerobic exercise at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week) and, come race day, be free of any drugs or alcohol. Even caffeine can compromise your concentration on the racetrack. Drinking lots of water is crucial, as dehydration could have deadly effects at speed. And while we find racing to be a great way to clear our heads of cobwebs and the stresses of daily living, you should be in top mental form, too-a wandering and distracted mind will only slow you down.
You need them. Preferably in pairs. Ponying up for the priciest, stickiest race rubber is not entirely necessary, especially if you're running a Middleweight Twins bike which will stick fine on less-expensive (and longer lasting) D.O.T. skins. (Our SV650 seems to prefer either Metzeler's race-compound Z3 or Bridgestone's BT56SS.) Ask around the pits to see what the guys in your classes prefer. Find a brand that gives you confidence and stick with it, since different tires can give your bike different handling characteristics. And always buy new-purchasing used "takeoffs" might be cheap, but racing on a used tire that has an unknown amount of life left can be a dodgy proposition.
Make enough friends at the races and you'll be able to beg, borrow or steal all you need, but eventually you'll probably want a toolbox full of your own stuff. At minimum, purchase a good quality ratchet set, torque wrench, some combination wrenches and hex keys; we've also found a measuring tape, duct tape, tire-pressure gauge and safety-wire pliers to be highly useful. A factory repair manual will tell you how to put your bike back together once you've used your tools to take it apart.