Taking your first steps as a track day rider and entering the world of elbow dragging speed freaks is a very daunting experience. It’s not just the fear of unknown that makes it scary. There are many risks involved and it’s hard to remain relaxed when for the sake of learning and improving your skills, you have to put your wellbeing and a £10k pride and joy at stake.
We all have different preference when it comes to how we to learn, but frankly, very few enjoy jumping in at the deep end. It’s certainly not my style. I’m all about baby steps and I’d rather stay within my comfort zone for a little too long, than try to push myself too much and end up freaking myself out. Speaking from the experience here… See, I thought there was no other way to lose track day virginity, than to jump in at deep end. And so I did. Wet Silverstone, 180 riders, every single one of them faster and more experienced than me. First few seconds after the sighting lap, I get stood up in a corner due to a very dodgy overtake. I stayed out, despite that scare, heavy rain, standing water, crap tyres and handling issues. The thing about worrying is, nothing is usually half as bad as we think it might be. Well, to me that track day turned out to be so much worse than my worst fears.
I gave up on the idea of ever enjoying a typical circuit experience, and started searching high and low for other ways to improve my ridding, possibly without scaring the life out of myself again.
I’ve done a few exclusive European days, which were wonderful compared to that painful Silverstone event, and allowed me to discover that track riding can be very enjoyable, but riding in a mixed ability group and being overtaken by a bsb racer and other equally fast riders certainly didn’t help me get rid of the fear.
And then I heard about a Novice Only track event, with all day tuition. Needless to say, I was all over it!
I booked it, I went and I conquered. Here’s my diary from the day:
I show up at a very wet and cold Cadwell with my heart racing and strongly believing that I’m doomed and I will never get to have an enjoyable track day. It’s not just wet and cold. It’s that dreadful, British, it’s-summer-but-it-feels-like-December kind of wet and cold.. Not ideal.
First things first, the dreaded briefing. Having to listen for 20 minutes about all the bad case scenarios, like what to do when you crash, or how you get punished if you misbehave, usually only fuels my morbid imagination. As I’m waiting for it to start, I have a quick look around the cafe. Many women, many men, not a single scraped knee slider in sight and my first time realising that we are all indeed same ability.. I know it’s a “novice only” day but somehow I am still surprised and still expecting the worst.
The briefing itself takes me by surprise too. Imagine instead of having your scary boss telling you off for things you haven’t even done wrong yet, you get Santa Claus walk into the room, look at you with a big and kind smile and spend half an hour on reassuring you and understanding your every fear. We hear it’s supposed to stop raining and that we don’t have to go out in the wet. They are going to delay the start for us and cut the lunch break shorter so we still get plenty of DRY, quality track time. Inhale, exhale.. Maybe, just maybe, it will be ok.
We are divided into little groups of 2-3 riders and every group is assigned to an instructor. I feel like I hit the jackpot, with my coach Bobby being the loveliest Scottish bloke. I like the Scottish accent, and I like his approach even more. There’s none of that “This is Sparta, let’s do this!” pep talk. Instead he asks me about my fears, what my weak points are, what I would like to work on. He takes his time to talk me through everything. He also leaves it up to me to decide, when I’m ready and want to go out. There’s no rush, no pressure. Heart still racing but brain starting to question whether I have grounds to believe I’m in for another near death experience.
The track dries up and I decide it’s time to face my fears. I can see other people gathering, getting ready to go out for the first session, and it’s obvious I’m not the only one panicking. I feel like we are all in this together. Is it wrong that I find it quite comforting?
First session, Bobby asks me to follow him for a few laps, so I can familiarise myself with the layout of the circuit and the racing line. Crawling pace. I like it. I’m really starting to relax. Half way through the session we go back into the paddock, Bobby double checks with me if all is ok (it is!) and we go back out again. This time he is following me to see if I remembered the line. One thing at a time. Easy!
End of first session and debrief in the paddock. There’s certainly no trying to figure out Bobby’s sign language, whilst riding. When we ride, we just ride, then we discuss things in the paddock and pick one thing to focus on, then we go back out. So simple!
There’s a strict no overtaking rule and no one is allowed out on the track without their instructor. It’s not about learning how to go fast, it’s about learning how to go well. And frankly, that’s exactly how it should be as clearly none of us have the skill to go fast. There’s no showing off and everyone is being very humble. Refreshing!
Lunch time. I am no longer terrified and buzzing to go out again. We are now allowed to overtake. Bear in mind, whilst following the instructor, so it’s up to him to pick the timing and make sure the whole group has enough time to make a move. All we have to do is follow. The overtaken group usually slows down a little and we are being waved by, by their instructor. It’s not about being fast and lapping people, it’s about not being stuck in traffic. There’s no racing here with anyone, there’s no competing. Everyone is focused on their own coach.
Towards the end of the day, we start really picking up the pace. At this point I’m giggling and woo-hooing through every lap. How can it be?
Here’s my conclusion. You can start with trying to go fast. Some people have talent for this, others have many years of road ridding experience. I have neither this nor that. And in my case, there’s just too much going on, when I try to focus on the pace, to even think about technical stuff. There’s also little to no time to correct any mistakes, and therefore many discouraging, but-clenching moments. Given an opportunity to start at a very slow pace, I suddenly had plenty of time to think about my braking, shifting, corner entry, line, body position and all the other technical things. I had lots of time and room for error, which meant no mistake left me shaken. I also found, that staying within my comfort zone, speed-wise, I was learning a lot quicker, and once confident with new knowledge, picking up the pace came easily and naturally. Having an instructor watching your every move, from the very beginning, and all day, means many mistakes get picked up and addressed before they become a habit. Having them look after everyone all day also means, that there is absolutely zero dodgy behaviour from other riders. Invaluable!
I’ve done exclusive track days, trying to go as fast as possible and keep up with really fast boys (not that I could), and made no improvement whatsoever. How frustrating! Then I took a massive step back, met with a group of equally (un)skilled riders, went for a really slow stroll round Caudwell, and made so much progress, I genuinely made myself proud. And I’m never proud of myself. It wasn’t just about picking up the skill and pace. It was about the mental block I managed to shift. That one day changed so much for me. It was a truly defining moment in my riding career. It showed me it can be all fun and no stress. That fear doesn’t have to be a part of the experience. And that in one day on the track you really do learn more than in one year on the road. One day is all it took! One step back to take ten steps forward. I became more confident and humble all at the same time, and went home with pockets full of knowledge. I also attended a very ‘typical’ track event at Oulton Park couple of months later, went out on the track with 50 other riders, managed many overtakes and had a day filled with giggles and not an ounce of fear. My track related panic is now a thing of past, and it’s all thanks to that Novice Only event.
If you’re thinking of losing your track day virginity, this is the most gentle way to do it, and I can’t recommend it enough!
The format has changed a little this year, with both Novice and Intermediate riders being welcome on the day 1, and more of a laid back day 2, with 3 groups available, if someone feels like booking both days to sticking around and enjoy their new found confidence.
It’s still very much an all-inclusive event, where you make a one-off payment, and once you’re there, everything apart from tyres and fuel, is free. You get free photography by Alex James (talented guy!), free suspension advice & set up, free technical support, free tyre support & advice and free homemade cake (revelation!). No need for toolbox, knowledge or a friend who knows how to set up your bike. Whatever you may need help with, it’s all taken care of.
Considering how much weight is being shifted of your shoulders and how much help and tuition is included, the value for money is fantastic too!
Day 1 costs £250 per person, day 2 – £150 per person, and if you book both days you get 10% discount (£360).
They also have hire bikes available (i.e. CBR600RRs for £175 for the day), so you don’t even have to worry about getting your own bike there. I took full advantage of their hire GSXR, as Cadwell Park is a long way away for me, I don’t have a car trailer for my bike, and I really didn’t fancy a 10-hour round trip on my bike, with a track day in the middle. Instead, I drove up the night before, stayed in a nice hotel (happy to provide details if anyone is after a reasonably priced place), had a good night’s sleep, and didn’t have to get up at ridiculous o-clock to make it to the circuit. Easy peasy!