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Only three days after I was in Loudon, NH at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS) two Sundays ago, which you can read about in Emma’s Blog post about NASCAR, I was back in Loudon, back at the NHMS, but this time it wasn’t a family outing, I was here alone to ride my Ducati Monster on the NHMS Road Race course. I’d done a track day here about 10+ years before, back when it was the New Hampshire International Speedway before NASCAR purchased the track a few years ago and renamed it, but I hadn’t had my motorcycle on a track since. I HAD however had my car on this track just two months earlier for a two day performance driving Audi track event (which was amazing), so I was re-familiaried with the course, the turns, the best lines (although they vary a bit from cars to bikes and between vehicles based on weigh, power, and many other factors), the pit entrance and exits, etc…
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I was riding the same bike as I had 10+ years ago, my ’96 Ducati Monster 900 (Mona), although within the previous month I’d enhanced the engine with a 944 high compression conversion and 41mm flat slide FCR Keihn carbs which gives the bike much more power and lets it pull right up to redline without falling off as previous semi-stock engine setup had done (previously it had an open air box, tuned jet kit, slip-ons, lightened flywheel). I’d also installed SpeedyMoto Tall Boy clip-on handle bars to replace the stock uni-bar. The clip-ons give the bike a more aggressive riding position and allow for better adjustment for finding the perfect set of angles and positions for the most hand/arm comfort.
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Despite some trepidation around the event, mostly from not having tracked my bike in over a decade, and also from no knowing anyone at the event, everything went very smoothly and I had a really great time. I slept at a nearby hotel the night before so I could make the 7 AM start time without having to leave Massachusetts pre-dawn and exhausted. I made it to the track at 7 AM and soon discovered that I was one of the very very few people there who didn’t have a huge enclosed motorcycle trailer specifically for hauling my bike(s), tools, gasoline, multiple race leather suits, coolers, etc… to the track. All I had with me was my backpack with a couple small tools, some tape, water bottle, power bars, and yesterday’s clothes. I was one of the very few true amateurs there as it seems like almost everyone else either raced competitively at some level, or the very least did enough track days to warrant the expense of a motorcycle racing trailer and tow vehicle.
We were all split into three groups based on experience. I was in the middle group as I’ve been riding for many years and have done a track day in the past. Each group rotates through classroom time (learning theory) and track time (applying theory) with short breaks in between each for water/bathroom/tinkering needs. Basically you’re in the classroom for 20 minutes, then you get a ~10 minute break, then you’re on the track for 20 minutes, then you get a ~10 minute break, then back into the classroom. You might think riding only 20 minutes of each hour isn’t enough, but when you’re on the track, at track speeds, really pushing yourself and trying to improve your form, line, throttle control, etc… 20 minutes is physically and mentally exhausting.
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I learned a ton that day, everything from body position and how to hang off the side of the bike to increase your cornering speed, from the differences in best approach lines from the car I’d driven there two months ago to the bike I was on now, I learned that my bike was WAY faster than it was previously, and also that there are many bikes and riders who are much faster than me:) Both the bike and I made it through the day unscathed, although the tires are nicely worked:)
I had a great time and now I’ve got the bug. Next year I plan to do a lot more track days, and am wrestling with how to best balance my love of racing my car and my bike. I also need to figure out if I should pick up a used track bike (there are a lot of reasons that tracking my Monster is probably not the best idea – everything from my gas tank being a work of art and virtually irreplaceable if/when I do lay it down and the fact the bike is really setup for street riding not track riding, and I don’t want to ruin the street-ability of it).
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