Road Racing Series - Part 9

Preparing for your first race weekend


You’ve built yourself a race bike. Now race it.

You should have your racing license in your wallet before the bike is completed. Send in your application as soon as you complete your track school. Then you're ready to pick your race weekends and pre-enter. Remember, learning to race is all about track time. Enter yourself in as many races as you can afford and your body can handle. As a Supersport racer you can always "move up," entering your Supersport-spec bike in Superbike, Grand Prix or Unlimited classes. The competition is stiffer, but you'll be getting in more track time. Also, sign up for the endurance events. You've spent all of that money getting here, so you should maximize your time on the track.

Once you start racing, one of your first considerations is how to get your bike to the track. Make friends with someone who has room on their trailer, get someone to loan you a compact pick-up truck or buy a trailer that is small enough to pull behind your car. Any of these options will suffice for the beginning racer.

Your first race weekend is like your first camping trip. You take everything, afraid that you'll forget something, only to find out that you didn't bring the one thing you really need anyway. Here's a basic list:

What To Take
1. Canopy to work under and keep you shaded from the sun or rain.
2. Extra fuel. This can be purchased at the track, but expect to pay a premium.
3. Tools. Everything to do basic repairs and maintenance like wheel changes, oil changes, suspension adjustments. Don't forget front and rear wheel stands.
4. Spares. You'll be limited by how much space you have, but plan to take extras of anything that should it break, it would end your weekend if you don't have a replacement. This doesn't mean that you have to buy an extra set of $500 rear-sets or $200 clip-ons. The stock ones that you took off will work as a spare in a pinch.
5. An extension cord to plug into the paddock electrical grid.
6. Air tank and air pressure gauge.
7. Food, snacks and plenty of water.
8. A friend

Prepping Yourself

You can have the best bike in the world, but if you're out of shape you won't be able to use that motorcycle to its potential. The three- to six-month period it will take you to get your bike ready is the perfect period of time to get your body ready. If you're starting from scratch, it will take this long for you to start to see results. For endurance and cardiovascular fitness, go for activities like running, swimming and road or mountain biking. Use weight training for muscular strength, focusing on the core muscles of your chest, stomach and back. In the absence of fitness equipment or a gym membership, a good old fashion push-up, pull-up and sit-up/crunch routine will target the muscles you need for racing.

Cornerspeed's Aaron Stevenson calls a racer "movable ballast" on their machine. It's good to keep that ballast as light as possible. Remember that formula of weight dropped off your motorcycle being the same as adding horsepower. The same theory applies to you. You could spend two grand for titanium and carbon fiber or just skip the trips to the burger joint; the effect is probably the same. It's cheaper to drop 20 pounds off your body than to drop it from your motorcycle.

Exercise, plenty of rest, healthy eating and clean living, especially in the final weeks before your race, will pay dividends.

Safety Gear

Many times in the course of these articles we've recommended you buy the best you can afford. No where is this mantra as critical as when it comes to safety gear. Scrimping on safety gear will literally come back and bite you. The price of gear is cheap compared to the cost of medical care, missed work, etc. Fifteen-hundred-dollar leathers seem expensive until you price a skin graft. The difference between a $100 pair of gloves and a $150 pair of gloves is less than the cost of your insurance co-pay at the local emergency room. And crash protection for your body is the same as crash protection for your motorcycle. It can be the difference between dusting yourself off and being back on the track in half-an-hour and having your racing weekend (or season) be over.

Extra cost does not always mean extra safety, but it will mean extra comfort and longer equipment life. Wearing gear that fits you and is comfortable will reduce fatigue and keep you focused over the course of a long race or weekend.

Most safety gear is designed to absorb one impact, so buying used is Russian roulette. A new helmet, not one you've worn on the street for the last couple of years, is at the top of the list. When choosing my safety gear, I went with brands I had used (and destructive tested) for years on the street, HJC helmets and Sidi boots.

Leathers are the biggest cost in your gear budget. Think of your leathers as an investment. They are the one part of your gear that will survive a crash. Some companies, like Vanson, even offer repair services, at times track-side, for their suits. Make sure there is quality armor inside the suit. A foam pad is not a back protector. A back protector is a hard plastic shell that extends from the base of your neck to your tail bone. Most racing organizations require them. With the most expensive back protector going for less than $200, isn't your spinal cord worth it?

There are many ways that a racer can save on leathers. Look for a used set. It's hard to hide the fact that leathers have been crashed in. Last year's styles and colors will also get you a discount.

When it comes to getting quality gear at a bargain price, look no further than Texas-based New Enough. Their name comes from the fact that they used to deal in used racing suits, but nowadays, everything is brand new. New Enough specializes in close-out specials, and they supplied us with a set of last year's model Teknic Chicane leathers that they were selling for under $300.

Suspension Set-Up

The amount of words that this entire series contains could be devoted to the theory and application of suspension function and adjustment, and we would have still only scratched the surface. For the beginning racer, find a recommended baseline, set your suspension there and begin experimenting with adjustments, changing only one variable at a time in small increments. Keep track of your changes in a notepad. If you encounter problems that you can't solve on your own, consult your suspension company or experienced fellow racers.

The most important suspension adjustment a beginning racer can do is setting the static sag on the motorcycle. "Sag" is simply the distance your suspension compresses when you're on the motorcycle. Here's how you do it:

How To Set Your Sag
1. Find two friends.
2. Put on all of the gear you will be wearing on the race track.
3. Fully extend the front suspension by lifting the front end of the bike or using a wheel stand (a front wheel stand that lifts on the triple tree, letting the forks extend, is helpful here).
4. Measure the length of the suspension using two reference points, like the fork seal and the bottom of the triple clamps for conventional forks or the fork seal and the axle nut for inverted forks.
5. Sit on the motorcycle with all your gear in your riding position. Have one friend support the rear of the motorcycle. The second will measure the suspension again. This number subtracted from the length of your unloaded suspension is your static sag..
6. Adjust your suspensions preload settings until this distance is approximately 25mm (or your suspension manufacturer's recommendation).
7. Repeat these steps for the rear suspension, again shooting for a sag of 25mm.

Tire Warmers

Tire warmers. Those brightly colored electrical wrappings that make you look like an expert, even if you're not. But besides making you look like a pro, tire warmers provide two benefits. First, they get your tires up to temperature before you find your place on the grid, so you've got plenty of traction for the start and you don't have to tiptoe through your first few corners waiting for your tires to get up to temperature. The cost of a set tire warmers can be less than the cost of a cold-tire crash.

Second, tire warmers extend the life of your pricey race tires by minimizing the number of heat cycles they go through. Remember our discussion of the difference between race tires and street tires? Most warmers have a low heat setting that allows you to slap them on your tires as soon as you get off the track and keep them from getting completely cold before your next session, only to be warmed up again. Saving heat cycles saves the life of your race tires. According to Chicken Hawk Racing's Dave Podolsky, his product can extend the life of a race tire by as much as 30%.

Consider that tire warmers cost about the same amount as a good set of race tires. If they save you a set or two in the course of a season, they've already paid for themselves.
Podolsky provided us with a set of his adjustable-temperature Pole Position tire warmers, and we used them religiously throughout our first race weekend. Tire warmers require the beginning racer to have an electricity source. Bring a long extension cord if your paddock spot has an electricity grid, or bring a generator if there is no other supply of juice. For those who just can't afford a set of their own, Chicken Hawk offers a rental service.

Now that your tires are warm and snuggly you have to worry about tire pressure. Unlike the street, at the track tire pressures are set "hot." This is another benefit of tire warmers – they get your tires up to temperature before you lay rubber on the asphalt and allow you to set the optimal hot pressure. Check with your manufacturer’s racing representative and they can give you an optimal hot pressure for the tires you are using.

Give your tires a thorough look-over after every session. Check for signs of damage or suspension problems. Check the temperature and pressures. The number of tires you’ll need in a weekend depends on how much racing you’ll do and what kind of machine you’re riding. If you’re on one of the twin-cylinder bikes we recommended, you can expect to go a whole weekend on one set of tires.  
 
Race Fuel

Nothing says "race weekend" like the sweet smell of race gas wafting on the breeze. As a novice racer you'll be getting plenty of the fumes secondhand. But more than racing perfume, race fuel can give a critical performance edge, especially in classes like Supersport where you are limited by how much you can modify your engine.

For our race weekend, VP Racing Fuels supplied us with a couple of cans of their MR-11 fuel. It's what AMA road racers use and is CCS Supersport legal. A low-octane (90) fuel, MR-11 works great in stock or lightly modified engines.

Race fuel, like this VP MR 11 can give a Supersport racer a critical edge in a class that limits engine modifications. (Photo by Holly Marcus)

But wait, can't you get a higher octane than that at the local Exxon? Where MR-11 gives you a boost is in the fact that it is oxygenated, meaning that oxygen is added to the liquid by adding a chemical compound to the fuel that contains an oxygen molecule. The oxygen helps your fuel burn more completely and efficiently. The result is a liquid supercharger. VP claims up to a 6% power gain over pump gas. Despite its cost, it's still cheap horsepower. As one VP dealer recommends, compare the cost of horsepower gains from race fuel versus an aftermarket exhaust system.

Once you get your hands on a can of race fuel, you're stepping up to something serious. It's highly flammable, highly corrosive and highly toxic (leaded, in the case of MR-11 to help control detonation). Don't handle or store it like you're using lawnmower gas. Most race fuel can't be left in your motorcycle's fuel system between race weekends. This means at the end of the weekend you have to completely drain your tank (we installed Motion Pro dry break quick disconnects on our fuel lines to help with this chore), fill it full of pump gas and run your motorcycle to get the pump gas circulated back through your system. Check with your manufacturer for specifics on handling and using its fuel products.

How To Pay For Your New Addiction

At this point you're probably thinking: This all sounds like fun, but how can I ever pay for all of this? Road racing is a big investment. It is not deciding that you will go skiing over the weekend or planning a golf trip. You've entered a whole new realm of hobbies that requires a level of commitment that will stretch you physically, mentally and financially. The plain truth is don't plan for your racing habit to pay for itself any time in the near future, if ever.

Besides prize money for top finishes, most of a road racer's income will come from sponsorships and contingency. Maybe Nike isn't interested in you for your rookie season, but nearly every company that makes or sells road racing merchandise will offer you something, like Lockhart Phillips' Team Privateer program that extends a "racer cost" to anyone who has a valid race license and will take the time to fill out an application.

Contingency is the money a manufacturer gives you for top placing while using its product. You sign up at the beginning of the season and send them official results every time you do well.

Stickers: On the street, they label you as a poser. On the track, they show that you’re a smart racer who is getting support anywhere you can. (Photo by Holly Marcus)

Stickers. Racers like having them on their bikes like a first-graders likes getting a scratch and sniff on their spelling tests. Make sure your fairing holds a sticker for every product you use. Send a photo of your bike to a supplier.
 
But it may be years before your race finishes start bringing in the cash. So in the meantime, find help. Besides fellow racers who will give you advice and a helping hand, look to other businesses and individuals who will support your efforts. Maybe your local dealership will give you a discount on parts and cheap access to their head mechanic. Maybe the local auto body shop will give you a half-price paint job in exchange for their name plastered on your tailsection. Source your work locally to find services like machining and powder coating. Be creative. Use the connections you've made over your years of street biking and you'll be surprised where help and support may come from.

Racing Budget
Race Licence (CCS) $200 for full season. License fees become cheaper as the season goes on
Entry Fees (CCS) $50 pre-entry for first race, $25 each for every subsequent race you pre-enter
Portable Canopy $150
Spare Parts/Wheels $150 ea. (used) to $750 ea. (new)
Tire Warmers $425 - $700 (purchase)
Race Fuel $5 - $25/gallon
Tires $300 - $600/set
Friend/Helper Priceless
Total Cost Per Race Weekend $300 - $750 (plus transportation, fuel, hotel, food, etc.)

Web Links
Chicken Hawk Racing tire warmers
VP racing fuel
New Enough riding gear

Related Reading
Road Racing Series - Part 1
Road Racing Series - Part 2
Road Racing Series - Part 3
Road Racing Series - Part 4
Road Racing Series - Part 5
Road Racing Series - Part 6
Road Racing Series - Part 7
Road Racing Series - Part 8
Road Racing Series - Part 10
Road Racing Series - Part 11

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