Review (unsolicited, not compensated) – Track Time at The Ridge, September 5-6, 2021

Go ride with Track Time at The Ridge, hire a coach, have fun at what could soon be a world-class venue.  Make a trip of it and go see the sights around Seattle, Olympic Peninsula, etc.

I’ve been doing 30+ track days per year for the last 2 years, mostly on a Triumph Daytona.  My home track is Sonoma and I ride both Thunderhill tracks, Laguna, and Buttonwillow and in the off-season, I’ll run a mini-moto at the kart tracks.  I also ride street (mostly back road and ADV touring stuff).  I’m cautious by nature and don’t like to add a lot of risk during my improvements.  I dabbled in racing an RC 390 this year.  I generally ride in the A group and I try to ride courteously and predictably.  In the past, I’ve worked with ChampSchool (YCRS) and California Superbike School.  My last crash was early 2019 when I made a rookie move by not letting my tires warm-up on an out lap on a 50-degree day.  This year I usually run slicks with warmers unless it’s Spring or Fall and I’ll run a sporty street tire.  I used to chase lap times but now I am more interested in looking at what and how I’m doing in the data (but the lap times improve when I focus on the what/how).

Track Time (Track Day Provider) and Coaching
For Labor Day weekend the family and I loaded up the truck with my Daytona and we headed to Washington state.  We booked an Airbnb in Olympia and my family did the local tourist activities and I headed up to Shelton to ride at The Ridge with Track Time, a track day provider operated by Alan Schwen, Ken Hill, and a team of administrative personnel and control riders and coaches.

I had booked online a few weeks ago.  One o the attractive things (besides the coaching options) was the fact that the riders groups were limited in quantity.  Since COVID I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of riders at track days and it seems that far more events are selling out.  Golf courses have seen higher attendance figures in the same time as well and it makes sense.  I did a weekend at Thunderhill West last year that had, I believe, 50 riders on track per group.  IMO, that’s far too many on that track.  It might be my imagination but it seems that the more riders you have on track, the greater the likelihood of incidents.  I’ve done a few limited rider headcount events this year (TrackDaz at Laguna, a private track event, etc.) and the number of yellow and red flags tends to be considerably lower at those events.  With that said, Track Time runs a fairly low number of riders on track (30 or 35 per each of the 3 rider groups).

Registration and tech were standard fare but what was unique early on was the pickup tour of the track each morning.  Before the riders meeting, there is an optional track tour where riders can load up in the back of the pickups and coaches drive the track and stop off in several important areas explaining the nuances of the track.  I’ve only seen this happen at our NorCal events a couple of times in the last 3 years that I’ve been regularly doing track days.  I didn’t do it but I believe you can walk the track once it goes cold in the evening (to the best of my knowledge, you can only do that at Buttonwillow and Thunderhill locally).

Flags are pretty much the same as our NorCal providers with the exception of red flags where you come in instead of stopping on track.  There were questions during the riders meeting that I’m sure we’ve all had and they were answered well.

One thing that I really appreciated (particularly personal since I’d never ridden the track and was a little anxious about being in the fast group) was the emphasis on ‘passing for the other rider’s comfort).  At the riders meeting, we were reminded that if you saw a yellow vest it indicated a coach and student who would be riding together and to try not to get in between them since they would likely be running video for their coaching.

There was a 5-minute notice announcement over the PA before each riding group was up.  Track Time runs Advanced Group (A) at the top of the hour, followed by Intermediate (B), and Relaxed (C).  It’s consistent throughout the day unless there is a delay and like most providers, they try to get back on schedule with abbreviated sessions until they are able to get back on schedule.  Lunch was 12-1.  They ran 7 20-minute sessions per day.

TT does have a handful of rental bikes available but if you want to do that, coordinate it well in advance of going.  They are slowly growing their fleet so it is entirely feasible to fly in, rent a bike, and ride.  The rentals appeared to be well maintained and there was a selection so you’re not limited to Ninja 400s.

Facilities, The Ridge
The Ridge is a fairly new track so the facilities aren’t as established as what we might be accustomed to with our NorCal tracks.  There is no fuel available at the track so bring your own.  There are fuel stations only ~5-10 minutes away and I didn’t go to them so I can’t tell you if there are non-ethanol options.  I personally prefer non-ethanol fuel in my track bike since it may sit for a couple of weeks at a time and the ill-effects of E10 fuel are well-documented when the fuel sits for extended periods, not to mention performance.

The Ridge has a nice cafe that is a short walk from the paddocks, they take cash and card and the menu selection is good.  Service is not super-quick so be prepared to wait a while if there are more than a couple of orders in front of you.  They were open for breakfast and lunch.  There are flush toilets and port-a-potties in the paddocks, as well as showers.  Camping is permitted the night before and official admittance time is 7 PM the night before and you have to be out by 7 PM after the event is over.

There is not any electricity for participants so if you need 110 volts for warmers or charging things, bring a generator.  The Ridge recently built a handful of garages but I didn’t rent one.  There are not any permanent canopies so if you need shade or shelter from potential rain, bring your own.

There is also a kart track at The Ridge so it’s feasible to bring the family and they could rent karts for the day while you ride.  I don’t have the full details on that (age, policies, etc.) so look into that yourself if that’s of interest.

The Ridge is in Shelton, WA, which is about 30 minutes from Olympia (where we stayed) and there are some motels near Shelton.  There is also a regional airport very close to the track.  Shelton doesn’t offer a lot of amenities, but the whole area is great for outdoor activities (your tolerance for the weather may vary) and Seattle is ~an hour and a half away.

The Track
Day 1 was with the MotoAmerica chicane, Day 2 was without.  Comparing the two is really interesting, it changes the character, I can’t say if I liked it better with or without.

The Ridge was recently repaved and the surface grip is amazing.  They added red/white curbs in a lot of important areas and they had great grip.  The curbs are bumpy so you know when you’re on them.

The track was ‘moist’ for the first couple sessions on day 1 and though I was on slicks (Pirelli SC2 with warmers, 32F/25F (hot), but we rode and it was fine—the fresh asphalt likely helped with that.  I never felt any slip but we were going pretty slow.  The first couple of sessions I ran my Daytona in ‘Sport’ mode.  When I’m warmed up and the track conditions are good, I go to ’Track’ mode.  The modes vary the amount of traction control and ABS intervention.  By the end of the 2nd session with the track drying, I was periodically triggering the ABS and as long as I’m not doing anything silly, that’s my cue to switch to track mode.  In other words, I use the electronics as a reminder to get to braking and accelerating to the point where they start to interfere (at the right time), it’s my own reference.

The Ridge has several blind rises and some very significant double apex sweeping turns.  There are virtually no bumps and as of this writing, the asphalt is great.  It was a complete revelation coming from Sonoma Raceway, my home track.  It’s a very technical track with a huge variety and I suspect it takes most people a good amount of time to master.  

Track Time (provider)
Track Time is operated by Alan and Ken and their team.  TT operates quite a bit differently than our NorCal providers.  As a customer, you can still sign up for whatever group you want without being evaluated though I’m sure that if you are demonstrating abilities that aren’t appropriate for your group, they will move you.  I’m a big fan of how N2 Trackdays on the East Coast operates with a manual ‘bump’ procedure but I don’t imagine that happening anytime soon on the West Coast.  What makes TT unique is the emphasis on coaching.  You can sign up for dedicated 1/2 day or full day coaching with different tiers of coaches.  TT has a ‘Moto Pilot’ program for training coaches in consistent and safe riding and how to coach clients.  As I’ve worked through my riding development with coaches/control riders with NorCal providers I’ve found some inconsistent methodology.  Some control riders have been great with coaching, others not so much.  Signing up for coaching is done via the Track Time website and the pricing is, in my opinion, an absolute bargain, even more so if you’ve never been to this track before.  If you work with a coach, you’ll be wearing a yellow vest along with your coach.

Honestly, it was refreshing to see how many instructor and student pairs were running during my two days riding with TT.  The other thing I was cognizant of was the number of control riders actually circulating on track.  Granted, I was on the slow end of the group so the probability of me encountering control riders was higher but in general, there were more than what I’m accustomed to.  A non-coaching control rider wears a blue vest.

Another interesting aspect was that it’s a fairly low number of racers running as control riders (a few are racers, but not many).  This may be part of why the general attitude of the event felt far less competitive than most track days I’ve attended but maybe it’s a regional thing.  I had the feeling that the TT events are more focused on rider development than competition and with what I’m trying to do with my riding, I was in sync with this operation.  There is a general attitude of supportiveness and far less arrogance to what I’ve become accustomed to.  There is a distinct air of customer service orientation.  I felt like TT wants riders to come back and keep getting better.

My Coach
The TT Moto Pilot coaching methodology will be very familiar if you’ve attended ChampSchool (YCRS) and/or listened to Ken Hill’s podcasts and before coaching, I’d highly recommend listening to the first 25 of those so that you’re familiar with the vernacular.

I was able to coordinate 2 days of on-track coaching with Ken Hill.  Ken and I have worked together in the past but not one-on-one (I did a small group event on Ninja 400s at Thunderhill West and we’ve done a lot of video review).  From my perspective, I felt like the first day wasn’t very efficient because I was trying to learn my way around the track but Ken assures me that there was a lot of value in that because it allowed him to see how I use the technique I do have and process the learning of the track.  Toward the end of the first day, Ken took my bike out for a few hot laps so that gave us more data to work off of for the rest of the event (I run a fairly comprehensive AiM data logger and video with overlays).

Day 1 was mostly video review, which made sense as I worked on slow points of the corners, direction (lines), body position/timing, and using the right controls at the right time.  Toward the end of day 1, we did review my AiM data to confirm control usage.

Day 2 the track configuration changed by removing the chicane which resulted in a super long front straight and changed the nature of turn 1 significantly.  At this point, I was starting to figure out the track a bit more so it became useful to review my data and compare to Ken’s on my bike.  Using this plus video review really helped me make some strides and identify some of my riding characteristics to work on.  I could write pages on this alone but I’ll spare you the details for now.

Working with a knowledgeable coach like Ken when you’re very consciously working on your technique is an invaluable experience.  It’s not inexpensive (he’s the most expensive TT coach) and TT has a great batch of very qualified coaches but he and I have some history and being able to work with him one-on-one gives him more perspective into the way my mind works to help me further my goals.  Another one of our NorCal riders was there for two days and he worked with another TT coach for the 2 days and he got a lot out of that experience as well.  Which coach you work with depends on where your riding is at and what you’re hoping to accomplish.  If you’re new to it and want to work with a coach at a Track Time event, I’d suggest reaching out to them by mail or phone and trying to gauge which coach is most appropriate.

Am I a changed rider at the top level as a result of 2 days with Track Time?  No.  We (Ken and I) do have a bunch of data on how I process things, I have more tools in my quiver for being able to further my riding and some more technique for me to work on at my local tracks.  It gave me the opportunity to affirm what I was doing right and work on other things.  The family and I had a great trip, and I’ll be doing it again next season.

Track Time: