Track Day Fun At Chuckwalla

Our resident Ninja 250R owner gets track time on the new Ninja 300.

WORDS: Annette Carrion

PHOTOS: Cali Photography

When I heard the Ninja 300 was being delivered to Motorcyclist magazine's headquarters, I couldn't wait to throw a leg over it. I had been secretly lusting over the white one, so when a green one was delivered I was a little disappointed. However, I quickly warmed up to the Kawasaki green and started putting some miles on it as soon as I could. The styling of the bike is amazing! There are vents on the fairings designed for heat management, I think they give the bike an aggressive and sporty look that I'm really in love with.

I have been riding the Special Edition ABS Ninja 300 for the past month and a half now, and previous to riding this bike I was on my 2004 Kawasaki Ninja 250. It’s easy for me to compare and contrast the two models now that I’ve put a good amount of miles on them. For example, I feel that the throttle response on Ninja 300 is more accurate, which helps when I’m commuting. I also really appreciate the fuel gauge and fuel injection, because these are two great features that my 250 lacks.

Riding the Ninja 300 actually made my commute more enjoyable, but after a few weeks of doing this I decided that taking it to the track would be a better way to get a feel for the bike’s true potential. I signed up for a track day at Chuckwalla with Trackdaz, and that is how my adventure began.

I knew that a track day meant I was going to need leathers and racing boots, two things I didn’t own. I contacted Alpinestars, which was kind enough to provide me with the Stella Anouke one-piece leather suit, the Stella S-MX 5 Boots, and the Stella SP-2 Gloves. A-Stars also threw in the Summer Tech Race top and pants, which makes it easier to put the leather suit on. Having never owned a leather suit, I had no idea it would be such a struggle just to get it on and off. Chicken dance anyone? Last but not least, I brought a back protector with me, and my Suomy Vandal helmet. One item I forgot to bring was a tinted visor, which I later regretted. There’s a photographer at the track who snaps pictures of you that can be purchased on site, but when I looked at my face in the pictures I resembled a chipmunk! Don’t forget your tinted visors, folks. Luckily the photographer takes a good amount of photos, so I was able to find one that I was pleased with.

Getting my bike to the track was easy for me, because I was fortunate enough to have Ari Henning and Zack Courts help with transportation. They were heading to Chuckwalla to race with CVMA, so they helped me load the Ninja 300 into one of the trucks. Ari brought his race-tuned Honda CBR250R along with some other bikes for testing. He ended up placing with the CBR250R in the race, and was awarded some cool trophies. With some practice, I may be able to race against him in the future, I can dream, can’t I?

[You have to prep your bike for the track, so this is what I did to prep the Ninja 300: I removed mirrors and license plate, not a requirement but they aren’t that difficult to remove. It’s required that you tape up the head and tail lights, the turn signals and wheel weights. They want you to do this so that the lights won’t be a distraction to other riders on the track. I used blue painter’s tape, because it’s easy to remove. Don’t forget to trim the tape with a razor blade, Ari and Zack pointed out that my tape job was a little sloppy. You want it to look neat for pictures. You also have to unplug the head light, because it will melt the tape if you don’t. There’s a fuse in the fuse box underneath the seat on the Ninja 300 that disconnects the head light. Thing is, there’s extra pieces of plastic you have to remove in order to get the seat off. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn just from reading your manual.

Some people like to camp at the track, but I stayed in a hotel. The nearest hotel is an hour away and the gates open at 7:15, so I had to get up at the crack of dawn. Getting to the track early allows you enough time to get your gear on, take a bathroom break, eat something, etc. You should also bring your own food and water to stay hydrated, otherwise you’ll have to pay for the food they have there. I brought two small coolers with lunchmeats, bread, cheese, and water. In the beginning I wasn’t that hungry because of the adrenaline and nerves, but as the day wore on and after a few sessions I was scarfing down ham sandwiches. I was told there would be a rider meeting where Trackdaz members would explain safety and flag colors. I got there early, but once the meeting started the bungalow was overflowing with people. Some were forced to take a seat on the floor and others had to stand outside.

Trackdaz explained that each session would be 20 minutes long, and that we were to go out with our respective groups by the hour until 5 p.m. I was in the beginner’s group, which was allowed a sighting lap, it means you are led around the track for one lap by someone experienced. No one was allowed to pass, which was fine by me because I needed to focus on learning the turns. There’s a section of the track called “the bowl” that is really long and some riders like to take it really fast. It’s a really fun section to ride through once you get the hang of it. Chuckwalla is a unique track in that it can be run clockwise our counter-clockwise. They had us run it counter-clockwise, which made turn 1 really intense.

After the sighting lap, I was still a little nervous because I’m a relatively new rider and this was my first track day. I wasn’t sure what lines to take, so I pretty much just tried to shadow the other riders. After a few laps on my own, one of the Trackdaz guys got in front of me and tapped his tail signaling for me to follow him. Soon after, I was getting better at cornering and taking better lines.

The Ninja 300 felt really smooth, and I was able to catch other riders in the corners, but as soon as I got to the straights I would get nervous and slow down. It’s not that my bike couldn’t keep up with the 250s on the grid, it’s that I was afraid to open up the throttle. I feared I wouldn’t brake smoothly in the corners because of too much momentum, but the Ninja 300 is very forgiving so I probably could have given it a little more gas.

Overall, my first track day was a great experience. I wasn’t there to race or to compare lap times, I was there to have fun and to learn more about the bike. I feel like I accomplished that. I also got to meet up with old friends and make new ones. It’s a good day when you ride up to your pit only to spot Melissa Paris hanging out with your crew. She is a role model for so many women riders, including me! It helps that she also learned how to ride on a Ninja 250. I can only hope for more adventure like this in the future.