A Day at the Track
By Craig Littlefield
Craig and Dave with Reg Pridmore
On May 15th Dave Delie and I drove to California to attend a CLASS track school at the Streets of Willow Race Track north of Lancaster near Edwards Air Force Base. Dave was on his Yamaha FJR and I was driving my new BMW K1200S.
CLASS is a series of schools run by Reg Pridmore, a former BMW racer and 3 times AMA Superbike champion. He gives several classes at different locations around the country. There are many schools but we picked CLASS as it has an excellent reputation and emphasizes skills that can be utilized on the street. Streets of Willow is a tight 1.8 mile track. There are 13 curves and two short straightways. You can get up to about 115 MPH at the end of each straight with a fast bike. In several of the curves we were down to 30 MPH.
There are some requirements for entering the class. Your motorcycle must be in excellent condition. They insist that you come with new or near new tires. We both put new tires on before we left home. They also check the overall condition of the bike including brake lines. They require you to cover your mirrors and brake lights. You are required to wear protective gear including a leather or other protective suit, either one or two piece, an approved helmet, boots and padded gloves that go over your cuffs.
We drove the 600 miles the day before and spent the night in Lancaster. We arrived at the track about 6:30 a.m., a half hour early. There was a long line of pickup trucks and trailers full of track bikes. There were a few others riding their bikes in but we felt like we didn’t quite belong there. We talked to several guys while we waited for the gate to open. Most of them had been to several track schools, some the previous weekend. They had some real serious track motorcycles. The gate opened and we all went in. While most unloaded their trucks and filled the bikes with fuel we removed our tank bags and saddlebags and taped up our mirrors and brake lights. .
There was a real assortment of bikes. Most were sport bikes. There were several Yamaha R1s, CBR1000RRs, CBR600s, Ducatis, Aprilias, Buells, etc. There were also many ordinary street bikes. There was one Kawasaki Voyager and a couple of cruisers. They didn’t do too well however. There were 9 BMWs; my KS, a R1100RS that was quite fast, 3 GSs including a R1200GS, 3 R1100Ss and a woman on a 650 BMW.
After signing in and going through tech inspection Reg Pridmore started the day. He was the main instructor all day long. He explained how we were going to spend the day, the rules of the track, when and how to pass, how to enter and leave the track, how to interrupt the instructor’s signals and what to do if you crashed or had a problem. Safety on the track was emphasized. We then assigned ourselves to either the A or B group. The As were the faster and more experienced riders. In the B group were those that were slower or had never been to a class. Dave and I fell comfortably into the B group. There was about 20 bikes in the A group and over 40 in the B group.
There were about 8 instructors and they started by leading the A group onto the track with 2 or 3 bikes following each instructor. Reg took the B group out on the track, stopping twice to show us how the track was laid out and again went over the application of the rules. Then the B group went back to the classroom. Throughout the day we would alternately spend time in the classroom and then go to the track to try what we were taught.
The emphasis in the B group was all about controlling your motorcycle. Reg told us that to “Go slow before you go fast.” He wanted us to go slow enough that we could think about what we were doing, relax and learn. The emphasis was on control; control of the throttle, the clutch, the brakes and our body position. Key was the transition from brakes to throttle. Going into corners you should transition smoothly. You should never do anything that jerks or upsets the suspension. He encouraged us to think about everything we were doing. We were to relax and not tense up, breath in before a corner and exhale through a curve. We were to keep our arms bent and loose. He does not believe in using counter steering but stresses steering with your body with pressure from your legs and feet.
It is also important to control your emotions and use your head. Don’t let other dictate how you ride. He covered how all these lessons should be applied to street riding. He is adamant about taking what he calls a “tight line” through curves on the highway. This is a less aggressive line where you go into a curve from the middle of the lane and exit in the middle of the lane. This keeps you away from oncoming traffic and gives you a margin of safety if something goes wrong.
Dave and I were each on the track about 6 times throughout the day. We rode a total of about 140 fast miles. Dave started in the B group and was immediately one of the fastest on the track. As the day went on some riders elected to move from the B to the A group. The instructors moved Dave. He was as fast as anyone in the A group. He could really lean that FJR over and it was faster than most bikes on the straightaways. By the time the day was over he had ground a hole through his boot as well as grinding material off both stands, both pegs, the gearshift lever and both mufflers. What an animal.
I did fine in the B group. Reg and other instructors would follow us and give suggestions. They said I was doing great. I felt real smooth and confident and was going faster as the day went on. I was getting around the track quickly with some guys faster and many slower. The K1200S, however, was even faster than I expected. I knew it was fast but down the short straightaways it was faster than any bike I came up against all day long. I could out pull the R1s and CBR1000s. The Ducatis and CBR600s were no contest. I had to let them some of them go by or have them on my tail through the curves. The KS did fine in the curves but many of the serious sport bikes were ridden by riders that were faster than me.
Did we learn anything? Dave and I had both read Reg’s book, which really covers the same material. It is an excellent book. The real learning was on the track and trying to apply what we were taught. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of going fast and trying to catch someone and forget about being smooth. You learn a lot, however, in being able to spend a whole day on one track where you memorize every curve and don’t have to worry about sand on the road, trucks coming at you or animals running across the road. Also it helps to see what works best and compare yourself with other riders. It is a real challenge to catch, pass or in some cases just keep up with other riders. It is also just a lot of fun. We were tired when it was all finished at 5 pm but enjoyed every minute of it. We are both anxious to go again. How about Laguna Seca in November Dave?