I love riding the track–it’s my happy place–working on improving my craft, riding and pitting with friends, working on and prepping bikes, camping out for multi-day events, all of it. With this, I’ve ridden with nearly all of the Northern California providers, one in the Pacific Northwest, and a couple from Southern California, as well as in years past, I’ve taken schools with Jason Pridmore, Reg Pridmore, California Superbike School, YCRS, Rickdickulous, and I’ve attended a couple of private track days. As time goes on, I’ve seen some crazy stuff on and off track. While I don’t want to create a post about favorites, I do want to point out some things that you may want to think about in selecting a track day provider. Every rider will prioritize different aspects of a provider so you may want to align your purchases with a provider that resonates with you.
- How many riders per group – Just from my own observations, there seem to be exponentially fewer crashes in low headcount events. Most providers don’t post this on the sites, but you can ask. Broadly speaking, a happy medium is ~30-35 riders (or less) on the track at any given time though on a recent wet morning with maybe 10 riders on track, two managed to run into each other. I’m not sure what the magic number is but if you see 50 in a group, even on a big track, that has the potential to get dicey. On the other side of the discussion, some customers prefer higher headcount events because it gives them more passing opportunties.
- Rider caliber – Nearly every provider *says* something to the effect during the riders’ meeting about passing for the other rider’s comfort, but does this actually happen? Are the control riders enforcing this? On the day before a race at the same track, do expect the passing to be close, it’s mostly racers practicing for the upcoming weekend.
- Control riders – Does the provider have a policy as to the number of control riders per group on any given session? Most of the time it seems like there are fewer crashes when there are more control riders. Do you ever see control riders tapping their tails for another rider to follow them or pull them off track to talk with them? Are they accurate and consistent? Are the control riders easily identifiable? Granted, you’ll see less of this in the faster groups than you will in the novice group, but if you never see it, the provider probably isn’t emphasizing it with their staff. I rode with one provider this year and in only one session did I see a control rider, however, I saw a gaggle of control riders at the track entrance under the canopy enjoying each other’s company.
- Control rider crashing – A few years ago I rode with a provider who seemed to have the ‘control rider GP’ in the last couple of sessions, even in the B group. Consequently, there was a surprising number of crashes by the control riders, enough so that they had that reputation with their customers for a couple of years. Not long ago I was riding behind a control rider doing a two-up ride who crashed with his passenger. There were no other riders involved. In my mind, this is inexcusable. A loss of brakes was cited as the reason for it but I can’t imagine taking a passenger out on a bike that *could* lose brakes and riding at such a pace that using the rear brake and/or engine braking wouldn’t have been enough.
- Coaching availability – Does the provider have trained coaching available? Free coaching is kind of a crapshoot in my experience. If they have paid coaching, they’ll usually have standards for the coaching. Check around because this could be a great value. Even if they don’t normally offer paid coaching, call ahead and ask if they have any options.
- Do they track crash data – If they do, are they tracking the cause of crash and outcomes? For instance, was it mechanical, was it due to another rider, were they riding over their head, how much track experience do they have, etc.? So if they do track the data, what do they do with it? Do they share and discuss with their staff, do they adjust the riders meetings, number of control riders, etc.?
- Provider’s organization – Do they answer your questions quickly and accurately or do they act like you’re a bother? Do they run a tight ship with good communication before and during the event?
- Provider’s reputation – Ask around, but you may need to do it in person because people may not feel comfortable posting their feelings online. Here in Northern California, there is a definite hierarchy of providers in terms of reputation, pace, and safety and there isn’t one that stands out in all of those categories–one stands out for pace, a different one for safety.
- Perks – Some providers have some pretty cool perks. For instance, one of the regional TDPs includes garages at no extra cost at Sonoma Raceway while the other 2 big ones charge for them. One of them used to do a free bike giveaway at the end of the year and each time you rode with them you got entered into the raffle (that provider quit doing that a couple of years ago). One TDP has a raffle at the end of the riders’ meeting for free track days, helmets, etc. One of them will typically let your private coach ride for free, others do not (if you’re doing private coaching, that is).
Don’t be afraid to ask the providers about their policies and protocols for safety. What we love doing comes with enough of its own inherent risks so being able to identify those providers who also value safety is something worth considering.
Things often change each year with the providers. One provider that I often ride with had a stellar reputation 2-3 years ago but every time I rode with them in 2021, I saw some dodgy riding and lots of red flags, and the actual amount of riding time I’ve had with them was considerably lower due to all of the incidents on track. It probably isn’t that they’re doing something different, it’s likely their clientele but maybe the TDP isn’t paying close attention to what’s happening on track. Most riders tend to find one provider that they like and they focus on that one provider’s events. Whatever the case, perhaps the provider isn’t paying a lot of attention to what’s the cause of the crashes.
Keep in mind too that most of the control riders are unpaid, and usually have to pay for their own fuel, tires, transport, etc. Most of them are great people (I cite many of them as my friends), and others are just looking for free track time. If you have a way to figure out why their control riders are there and what sort of training they receive, it should give you a better sense of how that provider operates.
Based on my experience, I’d rather pay more for a lower headcount and higher caliber track day.
Which Riding Group?
Riding groups with all providers will be loosely based on lap times but some of this just doesn’t matter that much (i.e., if you’re fast on a 400, you might not hit the suggested lap time guidelines but you’re stuck behind people in the B group during every set of corners). If you feel like you’re ready to move to the next group (say that you’re seldom getting passed), I’d suggest getting with the provider and asking for one of their control riders to ride with you to determine if you’re ready for a bump. I did this and actually asked for two different control riders to ride with me over two sessions (I was scared to ride in the A group). That first time you bump will be a substantial difference in pace–you’ll likely be riding at the lower group pace for a while but honestly, having solid lines and consistency and predictability is probably more important than pace. Just getting into the faster group your pace will quickly come up. I also see plenty of unpredictable riding in A group with some riders unable to hit an apex so just being in the faster group is not a guarantee for the quality of the other riders.
I’ve never ridden with N2 TrackDays in the Southeast, however, I like their ‘bump’ policy. Unless you’re a currently licensed expert racer, you start out in the novice group until one of their control riders gives you a bump from C to B and B to A. Beyond just skill, in order to ride in A group, your bike needs to be race-prepped (safety wire, fluid-catching belly pan, etc.). Though this isn’t a requirement for A group here in the West, I’ve still mostly race-prepped my street bikes that I might take on track.
While I’ve done a considerable number of track days the last few years, I’m re-thinking my approach for 2022 and am going to place a greater emphasis on quality over quantity. I want to focus my time and money on working with providers who have the same goals and values that I have. Every time I go to the track, I have definitive objectives I’m working on. When I lose a session due to crashes or spend an inordinate amount of time concerned for my own safety because of what the control riders or other customers are doing, I’m missing out. This sport has enough risks and expenses on its own, I want my time and money to be well-spent.
I added the bullet point about TDPs tracking crash data. As I do more and more of this I am seeing that not a lot of people spend more than a couple of years *really* doing this sport. It seems kind of transitory and I’m beginning to wonder if people aren’t approaching this activity as something where they set a goal for themselves to get to the A group and then retire. As such, they may not be really studying and working to go “faster, safer”; instead maybe they’re just sending it. I wonder if a good portion of them are just looking to go ride fast and get out. Based on the fact that there’s really only a handful of riders/customers that I see year after year, I’m kind of inclined to think that. This sport has a lot of innate risk to it, as it does for street riding, the consequences of mistakes are far more dramatic than driving a car and I could imagine someone wanting to make progress, and whether or not they get hurt, they know there’s risk and they get out. The transitory nature makes sense socially too. In my first year as a season pass holder with one of the TDPs, a few of the veteran control riders barely acknowledged me but now in my 3rd year with them, they’re far more friendly. I suppose I’m no longer seen as a tourist in the sport.
I also have to wonder if what seems to be a somewhat relaxed attitude by the TDPs is because of this transitory nature of the riders. Since track days in Northern California are mostly booked the last few years, maybe they know there will be more people coming if others get out so it’s not a big deal. Maybe it’s always been a lot of crashes and that’s just what they’re accustomed to. In one of the Facebook groups, a rider I know posted something about a dodgy pass on him that resulted in him going down (2022). He was relatively unhurt but the response from the TDP was to the effect of ‘if you can’t handle crashing, maybe it’s not the right sport for you.‘ While that statement is not untrue, it seems a bit dismissive and cavalier. I do think we can do better.
I’ve heard a couple of providers, during the riders’ meeting, try to describe how to and not to pass. The essence of it is this: Passing anywhere is okay, but do it in such a way that you’re not going inside a rider who is about to or has already turned in, in other words, don’t apex bomb another rider because they likely can’t see you as you go inside them. Don’t pass on the outside on the exit as that’s where the passed rider is going if they’re exercising good technique. Pass when you are parallel to the other rider is the general idea or away from where they are headed. Because we don’t have mirrors, we can’t tell who is behind us or worse yet, in our blind spot.