The ultimate demo ride
Ride it like you stole it
Sonoma, Calif., Nov. 17—Inside Pass was advertised on the Buell website as “a premium track day experience on world-famous tracks with limited numbers of riders for maximum track time, free beverages, snacks, a catered lunch, free T-shirt, knee pucks, action pics and free on-track test drives of the latest Buell motorcycles.” At $150 for the day, the experience wasn’t exactly what I would call free, but premium and exciting I would certainly buy. From the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida to Willow Springs in Rosamond, California, and finally culminating at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, the Track Days covered 10 top raceways across the country from March to November for the 2008 season.
You were free to race your own sportbike, whether it was made by Buell or not, or test drive one of the 30 Buells brought in from the factory at East Troy, Wisconsin, on two semis as part of their American Demo Tour. The models included Lightnings, Firebolts, Ulysses, and the new 1125R powered by the 146 hp Helicon water-cooled motor.
The gates opened at 7:00 a.m. Since it was a Monday morning, I didn’t think that there would be a lot of people at the event. How wrong I was. As I rode through the main gate and came into the parking lot, I saw tents, trailers, motor homes, pickups, cars, motorcycles, and a sea of people waiting for the event to begin.
Harley-Davidson/Buell of Vallejo was sponsoring the event along with Buell and had a tent set up displaying some of the Buells they had brought, along with a beautiful black V-Rod Muscle. Event Coordinator Morgan Brethauer of the Vallejo shop was there to greet all the excited riders. Morgan said the event was very popular and had been sold out for a year between on-line registrations and registrations at the dealership. The number of riders is limited so that all can enjoy the experience of racing.
There were three classes of riders: the Novice Group for riders with 0–3 track days under their belt, the Intermediate Group for those with 3–10 track days and the Advanced Group for those with “considerable track experience/a very aggressive sport rider.” The riders had to be at least 14 years old and there were some special provisions between 14 and 17. It apparently wasn’t an issue because I couldn’t find any rider under 18 anyway. There were also some equipment requirements such as leather riding suits with built-in pads, a back protector, gauntlet-style gloves, and full-face helmets with shields. Chest protectors were also recommended. The first two groups could also use ballistic nylon suits. There was also the mandatory rider’s meeting, a school for the beginners and a bike check performed by Buell personnel. Since many of the riders were riding Buell demos you might ask, “How fast were they allowed to ride?” Well, this was a race and the riders were allowed to go as fast as their bike would go. By day’s end most everyone was going well over 100 mph in the straightaway areas. Crash rules were simple: “Don’t!” If you crashed during the morning session and you could still ride, you had to sit out until after lunch. If you crashed in the afternoon you were done for the day.
As I made my way through the crowd I saw a very attractive blonde checking the pressure in her tires. Lana Gorina, formerly of Russia, now lives in El Sobrante in Contra Costa County. She introduced herself and as I started to shake her hand she grimaced with pain and nearly fell down from it. When I asked her what was wrong she said, in accented English, “I crashed here two weeks ago and injured my hand. I don’t think it’s broken but I took the splint off this morning so I could ride.” I asked her if the officials were going to let her race and she said she wasn’t going to tell them. Lana said, “Anyway, as we say in Russia, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’” I told her I thought that Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, said that. She replied good-naturedly, “No, I’m pretty sure he got it from us.”
Robert Pandya, from Austin, Texas, runs the Inside Pass program for Buell. He said, “The cool thing about the Inside Pass track day is that although it is sponsored by Buell, you are encouraged to bring any bike out to ride. Buell basically covers half the track day fee, so the cost is only $150, and it includes free professional photography, and a premium breakfast and lunch. It is also your option to demo a new 2008 Buell Motorcycle (or two or three) on the track in your sessions. This must be the best value for a track day in North America.”
Robert then addressed the crowd of at least 150 during the drivers’ meeting and told them, “You’ve seen out on the road how weird things happen. Weird things happen a lot faster on a race track. Be careful.” Each group was allotted 20 minutes on the track at a time and allowing for lunch, that meant each person went out seven times during the day. That’s just about a dollar a minute.
For the sake of safety each rider had to have their bike safety checked. Ron Hess and his Buell Demo crew were doing these for free, looking for fluid leaks, bad tires and making sure all the lights on the bikes were taped up. He said the lights were taped to keep any pieces of glass from broken lenses from falling onto the track.
The track, overlooked by six-story-high bleachers, was sectioned off so that the entire lap was just 2.57 miles long, so after all the bikes were checked and their lights taped the riders were off. There were uphill and downhill twisties, zigzags, straightaways, corkscrews and U-turns. Many of the riders not only dragged pegs but knees, toes and legs as well. Since the groups were divided by experience levels there was quite a bit of difference in the speed of the pack as it rounded the track. Although there was no speed limit for any of the individual groups, the only limit for the novice group was that they could not pass each other. This kept the speed down to a manageable level for most.
The intermediate group looked a lot faster. These guys and gals really tried to pour it on, leaning as far into the turns as they could. The advanced group really got into it. As they came through the turns, contact with bike parts and body parts started to leave marks on the pavement. (Fortunately, none of them were blood.) During the afternoon laps, one gentleman in the novice group went a little too hot into the zigzag at turn 9A and found himself down in the dirt pretty quickly. Although he was taken to the hospital by ambulance he was later released and sent home.
Lunch was an all-you-could-eat buffet and the food went fast. Although an hour was allotted, most riders were back at their bikes in 15–20 minutes ready to go and checking over their bikes for the afternoon session.
Dave Moss of Catalyst Suspension out of Redwood City and Tustin was on hand as well. Dave was offering a suspension check for all riders at $20 each. He checked the spring tension, spring rebound and front and rear piston compression and made the appropriate adjustments all in about 8–10 minutes. Marcos Marroquin of Santa Rosa brought his Buell XB12Scg in to be checked after riding it all morning. Although the bike was virtually new with only about 3,000 miles on it, Marcos said, “It rides like a completely different bike now. I can go in and out of the turns much quicker now.” Dave said that in his experience even a bike right off the showroom floor can benefit from a suspension adjustment. “We can fine tune it to the rider’s abilities rather than the factory specs.”
As the bikes went racing by the finish line headed for their next lap at over 100 mph, Robert Pandya told me, “It’s very addictive. Everybody’s going in the same direction very fast. It’s like flying an airplane with no restrictions.”
In between sessions I talked to some other riders, and they echoed the addictive qualities of the sport. Jerry Johnson of San Diego has been doing Track Days since 1997. He’s ridden every year since. Kathleen Manini, also of San Diego, said she has been riding motorcycles for five years and this is her fourth Track Days event. Gary Smalls of Ahwanee in the Sierras is over 60 but said, “I like being in front as much as the next guy.” He normally rides a Ducati and owns seven Indians from the ’40s–’50s but was test driving a Buell today. He said, “It’s very similar to my Ducati. I might be getting one.”
For the afternoon sessions, H-D of Vallejo had also set up a massage table and Carrie Tanner, whose boyfriend was starting work at the shop the following Monday, was providing some much needed therapeutic massage for the riders. Although this was the first time Vallejo had provided this opportunity, Morgan said that it would probably become a regular thing.
Buell’s Inside Pass Track Days was now over for 2008 but Buell will be back next spring with the 2009 version, with brand new Buells to race around tracks across the country. Check out the Buell website or www.sportbiketracktime.com or Harley-Davidson/Buell of Vallejo. Do it early though: The limited track slots fill up quickly.