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July 23rd 2012 Track Day at Loudon, NH

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Ducati Summer

I’ve been getting out on a motorcycle as much as I can this summer.  Work has been super busy (our business tends to flow in cycles), so I haven’t been able to ride as much as I’d like, but it’s still been a good summer.  I picked up a track bike early this summer so I could push myself at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway more.  I’ve taking my Monster 900 on the track several times, but she has so much custom work and parts I’m always very anxious about wiping out.  Now I have a used dedicated track bike, which is a bit of a beater, but very fast.  I was on the track up in Loudon last month, and had a great time.  It rained the whole day, which made things a bit slow and very wet, but I still enjoyed it and got to practice some good racing.  You can see photos from that day here:

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Yesterday some friends and I did a big loop up into New Hampshire.  We followed this route, more or less: http://www.motorcycleroads.com/75/289/New-Hampshire/Monadnock-Run.html I missed a turn once, and we ended up on one of the best roads ever totally by accident!  Overall we had perfect weather, really great roads, and had a great time.  Everything from big sweepers to super tight turns (one caught Britt by surprise).  There was very little traffic and generally good pavement.  I can’t wait to do it again!

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I’m heading back to the track tomorrow for another track day. Usually I ride up the night before, stay in a hotel, do the track day and then ride back, but this time I rented a U-Haul trailer and will be driving up in comfort early tomorrow morning, and then driving home after. This also means I can track-prep the bike before hand, as I did today, and not have to spend time dealing with converting it from street legal to track-happy, and then back again. So it should be a great day! I’ll report back when I’m done.

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Driving and Drive

Driving and Drive

This is a two topic blog post written hilariously late.

As a long time New Englander, someone who grew up in and learned to drive in the snowy mountains of Vermont, and someone who has a very strong interest in driving and motor-sports, I consider myself a great winter driver.  I’ve spent several days in Seattle (those few times it actually snowed) laughing at the ineptitude of Seattle drivers in the snow, and generally fared quite well driving around Massachusetts and Vermont regardless of the weather and conditions.  I always run good snow tires, and (until this latest winter) have all-wheel drive vehicles.

In spite of all that, every time I go to Winter Driving School I’m completely blown away by how much more I learn and how much improvement I make as a driver.  The Winter Driving School I attend is a two day event in New Hampshire, organized by the local Audi group, and put on at the Team O’Neil Rally School in Dalton, NH.  There are many winter driving schools in the area and anywhere in the world there is snow, so I’m sure you can find one near you.

The best part of Winter Driving School is that anyone can do it.  It doesn’t matter what type of vehicle you drive, how old or young you are, how much experience or lack thereof you have.  Anyone can do it.  And learn a TON.  Each time I’ve gone it’s been a wide mix: teenagers who’ve just gotten their licenses, semi-professional rally or race car drivers, grandparents.  Women and men, girls and boy, driving everything from specialized rally cars to modified Audis and Subarus to stock station wagons to SUVs to pickup trucks to Geos.  You name it, I’m sure someone has driven it there.  And everyone learns a TON!  With an instructor riding in your passenger seat, you can work at your level, focusing on whatever you want to or whatever your instructor sees as your weakness.  You can go as slow or as fast as you are comfortable with (and safe with).  You can do tidy three point turns or snow flinging all-wheel drifts.  I would highly recommend it to anyone who drives – of any age, gender, ability, experience, and vehicle.

Learning to drive better in the snow is important for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, snow and ice can be treacherous and being able to handle whatever comes up makes you a much safer driver in the winter, for you, your family, and everyone you share the road with.  Secondly, all the physics and vehicle dynamics in the snow and ice are the same as they are on the dry pavement in the summer, just at different speeds.  That means you can practice and improve on how you handle skidding or sliding or otherwise losing control of your vehicle at low speeds with the safety of snow banks around you, and apply those same skills/understanding/reactions during high speed dry pavement emergencies.  The exactly same stuff applies.  This is also true for non-emergency race track behavior.  Winter Driving School has made a HUGE difference in my abilities on the race track in the summer.  It’s the best off-season training you can do.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to attend a winter driving school this coming winter season!

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On a barely related note I watched the movie Drive recently.  I was really impressed with the movie.  I felt like the direction, cinematography, and use of the soundtrack and score to set the mood and drive the story really was an amazingly well done effort.  Its a very unusual movie, unlike most movies I’ve seen, and very worth watching.  It does have some heavy violence in the 2nd half of the movie which, strangely for me, I felt actually detracted a bit from the movie.  Typically I’m all for lots of action and combat in movies, but in this case I wish the director had left out a few scenes and graphic details which I felt cheapened or at least distracted from the usual high quality of the rest of the film.

Ducati Track Day at NH Motor Speedway

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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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Driving my car on a race track


Two weeks ago I took my Audi S4 up to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway for an Audi group track event. Spanning two days the event was a mix of classroom learning and track time, usually with an instructor in your passenger seat, coaching and giving feedback and advice as you drive around the track, pushing your car and yourself.

It was awesome!

Other than the winter driving school I attended this past winter, this is the first performance driving event I’ve done in my car, and my first one on a track. I took my Ducati on this same track about 10 years ago (which was also an amazing time). I learned an amazing amount about driving, and my car. I really pushed my car and myself and had a fun time doing it. I also met some great people from all walks of life and driving all types of cars. Hopefully it won’t be my last time on the track!

Thanks to everyone who put the event together, my awesome instructor Mark, and everyone I met there who made the experience that much cooler.

You can see video from another car in my group here (you actually can see my car right at the end when they’re pulling into the pit):