Track Time: The Affordable, Accessible Track-Day Experience

Track tactics

By Joe Neric, Photography by Vanhap Photography, Ari Henning, Joe Neric

If you really want to ride on a racetrack but haven't yet, you just ran out of excuses. Track Tactics wants to get you off the street and onto the track. Because the program subsidizes track days, the price is right, and the curriculum is specifically aimed at beginning riders and those who are new to the track.

The idea was hatched after one of Brock Celikbas' friends was killed riding on the street in 2008. With the help of some impassioned volunteers, Celikbas created Track Tactics as a non-profit organization. After qualifying for California non-profit status in January 2010, Track Tactics is working toward Federal non-profit status, which will hopefully help the program expand eastward.

Track-day tuition ranges from $45 to $90-far less than you'd pay elsewhere. Simply become a member on the group's website (www.tracktactics.org), make your payment and show up. Since many riders lack track-worthy leathers, Track Tactics will rent you a set from Arlen Ness for another $60. Partial rentals-their pants to go with your jacket, for example-are also available.

Like most track days, Track Tactics divides theirs into three groups, with one reserved for Advanced riders. The Intermediate group is for those with some track experience who are comfortable with more speed. I slotted myself into the Beginner group, aimed at riders with little or no track experience.

Though this program isn't a school per se, the Beginner program offers newbies both classroom and on-track instruction in a well-organized curriculum. Track Tactics teamed up with former 250cc Grand Prix racer John Akkaya of Superbike Coach Corp. (www.superbike-coach.com) to run the program. Classroom sessions stress fundamentals such as flags, safety rules, the racing line and avoiding target fixation. From a beginner's perspective, that's a ton to tackle on your first day at the track!

The goal is to make you a safer, more confident rider and to make you think twice about how fast you're riding on the street. There's no reason to push the limits (and your luck) in some canyon when Track Tactics offers a safer way. And thanks to the low price, if you decide track riding isn't for you, you're not out a huge wad of cash.

During our initial track session, we tried to follow Coach John's lines exactly. At first that was easy, but as he picked up the pace later in the day, it went from boring to terrifying. I was lucky to be right on his tail when, during the last session, flat-out around Button-willow's Riverside right-hander, he turned around with his knee on the ground and pointed out the correct line with his left hand. I have sooo much more to learn...

The Track Tactics volunteers answered all our questions in the classroom. Coach John passed out track maps, pointing out his reference points for turning and braking, suggesting we use them or come up with our own. Just don't depend on those orange cones to tell you where you are, he warned, because cones move!

The day ended with some free track time to practice what we'd learned. The instructors shadowed each student for a few laps before passing to point out the right line. I found following the instructors' lines to be an easy way of correcting my own mistakes. That kind of one-on-one help, even for a few laps, makes learning the track much easier.

Track Tactics is onto something here: a fun, safe environment where beginners can get a feel for the track amongst their peers. And they were peers: Like me, most of my class had 3-5 years' street riding experience and at most one day at the track. Interestingly, a good third of our group was female.

Until now, beginning track riders only had two options: Spend hundreds to get strafed by much faster riders at a regular track day, or spend hundreds (or thousands) more than that on a racing school. Track Tactics is cheap, there's instruction and everyone rides at the same speed. It's also one of the coolest things I've ever done.

By Joe Neric
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