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David

Two Days of Riding the Track at the Barber Motorsports Park

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David

Geez, I just can't get over how much fun Larry and I had at the new Barber Motorsports Park just outside Birmingham. It's the only really new, full service track that's been built in quite some time, and they've spent upwards of $70 million so far. I have only ridden three different tracks, but my impression--supplemented by people who really know--is that this is a total winner. It was more fun than Laguna Seca, if that gives you some perspective.

 

I had done three separate days at the Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School at Road Atlanta, and I'd done Level 1 and Level 2 of the Keith Code Superbike School at Laguna Seca with Voodoo and JungleJim. I wanted to do Level 3 and 4, and decided it would be fun to try the new Barber track. I sent a note to Larry Rudolph, and he jumped at the chance. I was glad because it's always more fun with someone you know. As it turned out, I knew several people on both days, just from hanging around the Smokies and such. But Larry rode down from Evansville, IN, and then we drove down Friday night, rode all day Saturday and Sunday, and drove back that night.

 

I think Larry is going to chime in with his observations, so this will be more from my perspective. And the adrenaline is still slicing through my veins. I had an absolute blast, mainly because I broke through a layer of clouds and saw a different perspective. The riding "just happened" and came together. I felt like I was slicing through traffic, commanding the bike to do whatever I wanted, finding and experimenting with the edge but always under control. I was working less hard for much better times, and it was just an amazing weekend for me.

 

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The main building is just beautiful, from which you can see about two-thirds of the road course. There's a nearby fueling station, which includes 8 nicely equipped showers.

 

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The road course is 2.3 miles long and has 16 corners. Some are blind because you can't see around them and two are blind due to imposed altitude changes. With a pegged throttle both wheels will go light.

 

It's not a fast track, and I never got out of 4th gear. I would hit the rev limiter in 3rd at about 110 mph, and quite frequently would be at around 120 mph in 4th, just before braking for the turn. It is run clockwise, and the longest straight is in front of the pits. The back side with two separate left/right twists can be taken wide open in 4th.

 

You see the two parked trailers, first. One has the gear and snacks, and the other houses the classroom if there is no facility at the track. This one had a pretty nice one, air conditioned and all.

 

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It filled up quickly, and when it wasn't full there was always this Keith Code impersonator. My Level 3 classes were all around a bike because they dealt mainly with body positioning.

 

It's a neat sight to see the instructor bikes all lined up (in green). They are mainly 900cc, thought a few are the old 600cc models. Then you'll see the 18 student bikes, the new ZX-6R (636cc).

 

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I thought this last image was an interesting perspective of the bikes all lined up. They never looked like this again! grin.gif

 

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There was also a camera bike with a trellis bracket on the back, the No BS Bike to demonstrate his point about canceling body weight movements vs. countersteering, and then of course the Lean Bike with outriggers. You'll enjoy knowing that one student rode this bike all the way to the top of the green hill and back, by mistake!:

 

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The first three (of five) sessions on Saturday were really spent learning the track. My goal is to be able to recognize enough landmarks on a mental run of the track to keep me occupied for as long as it would take to ride it. I'm looking for trees, strips in the asphalt, landmarks--whatever I can find to learn the best lines through a corner. The track was daunting at first, but rather than a gradual familiarity, it just "snapped" at some point and I "saw" the track, as if from an aerial view. My best lap the first day of Laguna was 2:04, and since this course was a teeny bit longer and without any fast section, I figured that would be the equivalent of 2:06 at Barber. I just felt great, though, and put down a 1:56 and 1:57 in the last sessions, and didn't feel on the edge. My instructor was Stuman (Stuart Smith), and he was excellent. He races in Oakland County, Sam, and I asked him if he knew you by chance. James was also there, and I said "hi" to him for you, Voodoo and Jim. He remembered both of you.

 

Kobie Fair, the head instructor, pulled me aside that first day and told me that I'd have to rent leathers the next day because getting my knee that close to the ground (1/2 inch) was unsafe in the textile Savanna 2 suit. Not only would it wreck the suit, but it could "snatch" my knee back. I wasn't hanging off all that much and wasn't trying to do anything. I don't like touching anything down anywhere, but I was leaned over pretty good. I ripped one peg feeler off and took a hunk out of my boot, even though it was tucked in well with the toe on the peg. They run D208 tires, and they were like glue.

 

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Mark David (madavis) and his six year old son Jason came by to watch in the afternoon. We all went out to BBQ that evening. Jason wasn't amused with the picture taking, so I had to sneak one later. That didn't amuse him, either!

 

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By the way, Jason just finished a Honda riding school! His seven year old sister also did well. And Mark and I will be riding Road Atlanta next month. I hope Jason won't mind me relating one story. When they got to Alabama, he asked his Mark: "Dad, what language do they speak in Alabama?" grin.gif

 

The second day was Level 4 for me (Level 2 for Larry). There's no formal instruction. You know what you need to work on, and just do it, asking questions as necessary. Frank was my instructor on Sunday, and he was really good. He was clear with me and knew how to boil down concepts to help me fix what I was doing wrong. I think he was having fun, too. In each session he's find me and we'd fly around the track together, passing everybody in sight. After threading a tough needle of traffic and tight turns, he'd look back to find me on his butt, still, and give a thumbs up and wick it up a little more. At the end of the day I was encouraged to get an amateur racing license. I don't have any interest in doing so, but the thought was nice.

 

I find that I learn so much by riding behind someone better than I am. You can pick up subtle timing, body shifts, lines, etc. There was a rider on a VFR that hooked up with me, and we kept passing each other all Sunday. It was great fun. Neither of us were significantly faster than the other, so it was a matter of exploiting the lead rider's mistake. And then leading until you made one.

 

My biggest weaknesses are an entry speed that's too fast; riding too close to the tank; not keeping my perspective wide enough, and not turning aggressively enough. Finally I decided that I kept making too many mistakes and it was time for a checklist, similar to what might be used in an airplane. This one worked for me because I have specific strengths and weaknesses. I got to the point where I could do the first five really quickly, take a deep breath and then do the second group of five.

 

01: Slide Back. If you are hanging off while near the tank, you'll twist your lower body. This means you can't keep your hips/shoulders square, you'll feel like you are falling off the bike, and you'll have to twist your neck ever more to see around the corner. This was a big issue for me.

 

02: Lock Outside Knee. You lock your outside leg with the ball of your foot on the peg, and the top of your leg jammed against the tank. Keep the inside leg against the tank, too, in order to prevent you from sliding forward as you slow for the corner. Only drop your inside leg after you turn. You should be able to slide back and forth with no hands on the bars, using just your legs.

 

03: Slide Off. Not much is necessary. In fact, one cheek, at the most, is plenty. Most of your weight is in your upper body, anyway, so your placement of your upper body is more important.

 

04: Downshift. No sense saving this for later. Get everything you can out of the way, but you need to pay attention when leaned over deeply into a curve. Besides, downshifting while leaned over brings more serious consequences if you blow it (see below) and on lefthanders, it's tough to reach the shift lever without losing a foot.

 

05: Brake. I braked with both, experimenting with different forces. But braking should be done before leaned over, ideally, to keep the bike from folding up from the front or skipping out from the rear.

 

Then the second set, all happening really quickly.

 

06: Upper Body Position. Move your upper body lower and to the inside. Drop your inside elbow so that it's pointing straight down.

 

07: Look. See all the way through the corner to the vanishing point.

 

08: Quick Turn. Get the bike on it's curved path quickly with an aggressive countersteer. We've talked about this extensively in Ride Well. There are some other reasons to do it besides what was discussed in that thread, including less pressure on the bars after that initial turn in order to read the feedback from the front end through the early part of the turn.

 

09: Accelerate. Get on the throttle as soon as possible. Right away, actually, and more as the rear tire allows.

 

10: Look Again. Keep focusing on looking through the turn.

 

Anyway, by the two days it got natural to do the first five almost simultaneously, and then jump to the last five in a group. It really helped me. I have some significant riding weaknesses, and I can't believe I can do it well on one turn and then do it wrong on the very next one. It requires a degree of focus that is difficult for me to maintain.

 

I made lots of little mistakes and three significant ones.

 

Mistake #1: The first was during a high speed run as the instructor pulled me around the track. At the end of the longest straight, my instructor had just passed the rider who was at about marker no. 2 (they counted down 4, 3, 2, and 1). For me to pass him, I need to do it at no. 1 and downshift/brake really deep and then turn in pretty aggressively. I caught two downshifts instead of one, and had the revs matched for what I thought was third when it was in fact second gear. I was already leaned over just a bit, too, and when I engaged the clutch the rear came out about a foot. When you do it intentionally (largely with the brake), it's called "backing it into a corner." When you do what I did, it's called stupid! grin.gif Fortunately I just instinctively fanned the clutch and it was no problem, though I did go wide.

 

Mistake #2: I was passing someone on the inside of the hairpin and added too much power for my lean angle, and the rear stepped out. I just held it and pushed the outside bar a tad to "pick up" the bike. After that I began to experiment a bit with how much power I could use, and it was a useful mistake because it showed me the limit for that time, in that corner, at that angle.

 

Mistake #3: On the next to last turn there's a pretty severe decreasing radius. Normally you can hook it deeper by moving your body more, but I hooked it too deep and the front began a very small slide when I was already on my knee. I didn't really know what to do in that case and just stayed loose, and the bike fixed itself. In retrospect I should have been smoother.

 

There weren't a whole lot of mishaps over the two days. Maybe a 8 of the 60 folks when down, but no one was hurt except one fellow. He refused treatment and some kind folks loaded the remainder of his bike on a trailer. I think maybe it's going to need some work! grin.gif

 

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Where people go down is a mystery to me. Half of the incidents made sense. This one did not. The track had to have been 50 feet wide and the turn was not all that tight.

 

It was fun to pass people. Unless you are under yellow, you can pass anywhere you like as long as you don't endanger the other rider and stay at least six feet from him/her. There's a lot of people to pass, too. The slower riders are slow in the curves, but then punch it at every damn straight. More than half the bikes are not the school bikes, and most of them are more powerful than what I was riding, so it was a challenge. I finally didn't mess with passing people much on the straights. Instead, I'd do one of the following:

 

/Pass them because you are willing to brake deeper and carry more speed into the corner.

 

/Stay right on their tail, but hold the turn-in until later, then accelerate up through the inside when they go wide.

 

/Just pass them all the way around the outside of a corner and wave! grin.gif

 

Our last session on Sunday was cancelled due to a strong thunderstorm, complicated by the fact that the whole track had to go dead from 11-12 because of some antiquated Alabama law that encourages people to go to church, believe it or not. We were fine with that, since we were both pretty whipped.

 

The printer didn't work, so we didn't get our lap times that second day. They are going to mail them to us and I'm anxious to see what they are. My instructor thought it was 1:50, which would thrill me to death (that would be about a 1:48 at Laguna). The course record in the 600 class is 1:28. So obviously I'm a rank amateur, but it felt really, really good. I'm more "one" with this thing called motorcycling.

 

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Here are some good shots of my riding buddy Larry. Sir, it was nice to ride with you again. I'm glad you had so much fun! Let's see if we can talk others into this facet of riding.

 

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BPeterson

Nice report David. It's definetely on my list of things to do in the near future. I just can't decide if I want to do a Jimmy Lewis class or a track day. decisions, decisions..

 

thanks for the great pix. Looks like a blast cool.gifcool.gif

 

 

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catattoo

That's pretty darned cool !!!!!!

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EffBee

Absolutely fantastic, David.

 

An awesome track with professional instructors and a couple of days of quality learning with friends whose company you enjoy. It doesn't get any better than that.

 

P.S. The Savanna looks good.

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David
Nice report David. It's definetely on my list of things to do in the near future. I just can't decide if I want to do a Jimmy Lewis class or a track day. decisions, decisions...

 

Brian, if you haven't had much dirt experience, I'd start with the Jimmy Lewis class. I think it would be a great experience to build on. Plus, now that you have a GS... smile.gif

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LJR

Thanks David, for the encouragement and friendship.

 

grin.gifgrin.gifgrin.gifgrin.gifgrin.gif I'd give it five smiley faces.

 

This was my first track day. I'm from Indiana ,and had never even BEEN to a track! To say the least ,I was a little nervous the first morning.

 

All these little bikes were lined up and I was thinking..I'm going to ride that? Sort of intimidating for an old man. blush.gif

 

But then the call came to take my bike out to the starting line. I jumped on and got under way...Gee! this isn't so bad , a little cramped ,but hey it's just a motorcycle!

 

The level 1 training gives you one thing to work on each time out on the track. As the day progresses these things start adding up to make you a better rider. They have you start off with using 4th gear and no brakes all the way around the track ,and then 3rd and 4th, and then light brakes. It made for a nice progression to get you used to the track and keep you out of trouble. I only saw one level 1 student go off the track, and he got it stopped without dumping it.

 

If you are sitting there thinking that this might be fun, well you would be RIGHT! I was just having a blast all day long, each session would feel better and the track would make a little more sense. I never felt out of control, just more in control of the situation every time out.

 

I was also happy that we were doing two days in a row. At the end of the second day, I was feeling really good. They told us to use 3rd and 4th with light brakes ,and I went out and cranked out some really nice laps.

 

I think I learned a lot, and I KNOW I had fun. If you have thought of doing this , I would encourage you to JUST DO IT!

 

 

 

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JonathanE

Sounds like a blast David. I think I know what to ask my wife for my next B-day!

 

Now it's time for you to order a set of Boxer Cup replica leathers like Greg White has hanging on the wall of his show. You have stalled long enough!

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Tasker

David, thanks for a great report and great pictures, as usual! Based on what you observed, how do you think this track will be for spectators? I am curious because I am riding down with friends for the AMA weekend.

 

Thanks again!

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David
David, thanks for a great report and great pictures, as usual! Based on what you observed, how do you think this track will be for spectators? I am curious because I am riding down with friends for the AMA weekend.

 

On the negative side, there's no seating anywhere that I saw. Laguna, for instance, has some great seats between turns 3/4 and elsewhere. At Barber, you'll be sitting on the grass.

 

But the good news is that the hills are nicely high, with a good view, and the track is pretty compressed. I would try to sit opposite of course control so that you are actually looking across the center of the track toward the pit area. You'll see all the straights (as short as they are), and you'll have a good view of the hairpin and the first fantastically fun left/right sweep. If I remember correctly, that's the hill with two big bugs on it, and you'll be looking down on the spider. You'll know what I mean when you get there.

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philbytx

Great description and piccies....it had me replaying everything from my amateur roadracing past in my head (acid flashbacks???!).

All I have to do now is to get SWMBO to buy into the theory that the track is "safer"......I might just get her at that point in time for next summer!!

 

Keep up the motivational and inspirational reports grin.gifgrin.gif!!!

 

Oh, and get your license...its a proud badge to wear and you might just get the urge to go knock elbows grin.gifgrin.gif!!

 

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Voodoo

David, did I mention that I used to like you! wink.gifgrin.gif

 

Man, I'm jealous. Sounds like another great few days at the track - as if there is any other alternative. I'm curious how you viewed Level 3 as I found that to be the most enlightening of the Levels for me. The hard focus on body positioning really turned on a few light bulbs for me and got me MUCH more comfortable, not only at speed, but just in general - much more relaxed on the bike at all times.

 

Cant' wait to try Barber!

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StretchMark

Dave,

Thanks for letting James and I join you and Larry for dinner. James had a blast watching the bikes although he was a bit disappointed that it wasn't a real race.

 

Dave, being the perfectionist he is, likes to point out his few mistakes, but from what I saw he was VERY smooth. My favorite part was when the instructer tapped his hip for Dave to follow. For 3 laps, the instructer kept looking over his shoulder only to find Dave stuck to him. The laps got progressively faster and Dave stuck with him. Pretty impressive.

It's a great facility. I can't wait to go back for the races.

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David
I'm curious how you viewed Level 3 as I found that to be the most enlightening of the Levels for me. The hard focus on body positioning really turned on a few light bulbs for me and got me MUCH more comfortable, not only at speed, but just in general - much more relaxed on the bike at all times.

 

You are absolutely correct. There were only 5 people in Level 3 (of the 59 who attended), and so we got lots of attention. Our instructor was top notch, and most of it was on/around a bike.

 

I'd gotten some body position work from Schwantz, and I kind of wondered why they talked so little about it in Level 1 and 2 at Code, but they made up for it in Level 3.

 

Then, to be able to apply it the next day was fantastic. For me it was a turning point and I'll never cross back over that threshhold.

 

BTW, even Will was in a good mood!

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David
Thanks for letting James and I join you and Larry for dinner. James had a blast watching the bikes although he was a bit disappointed that it wasn't a real race.

 

You are welcome. It was good to see you, and I'm looking forward to Road Atlanta next month. Sorry to get your son's name wrong! Not sure why I remembered "Jason."

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SteveB

Sounds like fun and a great track! So are you going to use that racing license to enter the Boxer Cup next season?

So tell us is putting on rented leathers similar to putting on rented bowling shoes? It's got to be better than a rented wet suit! smile.gif

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David
Sounds like fun and a great track! So are you going to use that racing license to enter the Boxer Cup next season?

 

I'd get my lunch eaten and then handed back to me. I feel like I'm doing well for me, but in the scope of things I'm a lifetime away from anything serious, and half of that life is gone. smile.gif

 

So tell us is putting on rented leathers similar to putting on rented bowling shoes? It's got to be better than a rented wet suit!

 

Funny you mention that. I didn't even think about it as I put it on, but after the first session I was dripping wet, and that's all I thought of. But I kept chanting to myself:

 

1) I'm the only person that's ever been sweating in this suit.

 

2. Everybody else who wore this suit was wearing more than their underwear.

 

That helped! grin.gif

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chadhargis

David: Great write up. A friend of mine, John Menefee, was down there that weekend too. I talked to him Sunday and he said he got to meet you. He was impressed with your riding skill and I explained to him that you were the person I was chasing when I crashed my RT. He said, "Well no wonder!" smile.gif

 

I would absolutely love to go do a track day. Especially now that I have a more sporty touring bike. I'd really like to be able to get the most out of it. My biggest problem is leaning the bike. I know it will lean more, but I always feel like I'm coming into corners too fast. I guess that's what a good crash will do for you. Scare you straight! smile.gif

 

With the wealth of experience you have doing track days, I'd love to take you to the superspeedway here in september so you can be my "coach". It's an informal track day where you can ride what you want. I understand they split you into 3 groups and in the lower group, you can ride street legal bikes with a minimum of bolts wired and leather is not required (my roadcrafter would be acceptable). I think it's $225 for the day. I'm seriously considering doing it, but I know it does me no good without some instruction. I really want to work on my cornering skills. With the FJR, I've got the straight line stuff licked! smile.gif I need to start going out to Union Hill on Tuesday nights for the drag races. Wonder what I could run? smile.gif

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JungleJim

DB in Leathers. Now I wish I coulda seen that. smile.gif Agree that the Level Three I did at the Glen was the magic moment. Just wished I had another day to practice the skills.

 

Great write up and pics. OBTW, that #14 bike was a winner with you on it! Congrats. And like Voodoo said, I used to like you too! grin.gif

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David
David: Great write up. A friend of mine, John Menefee, was down there that weekend too. I talked to him Sunday and he said he got to meet you. He was impressed with your riding skill and I explained to him that you were the person I was chasing when I crashed my RT. He said, "Well no wonder!" smile.gif

 

It was nice to have John there. I recognized him and introduced myself. BTW, he left before they passed out the lap times, so I grabbed his before they threw them away. That first day he did a 2:13. I don't have his contact info, but have him let me know if he wants me to mail them.

 

With the wealth of experience you have doing track days, I'd love to take you to the superspeedway here in september so you can be my "coach". It's an informal track day where you can ride what you want. I understand they split you into 3 groups and in the lower group, you can ride street legal bikes with a minimum of bolts wired and leather is not required (my roadcrafter would be acceptable). I think it's $225 for the day. I'm seriously considering doing it, but I know it does me no good without some instruction. I really want to work on my cornering skills. With the FJR, I've got the straight line stuff licked! smile.gif I need to start going out to Union Hill on Tuesday nights for the drag races. Wonder what I could run? smile.gif

 

Unfortunately, I'll be out of the country then, returning that Sunday. Besides, I'm not sure we ever want to ride together again. Look at what happened at our last "coaching" session. grin.gif

 

Talk with John, though. He definitely understands riding. I could tell from the questions he asked our instructor and how quickly he caught on.

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chadhargis

David: I sent you a PM with John's email address. Glad you two got to hook up. He's a great guy. Always willing to give you a hand fixing your bike. And he has a shop behind his house that rivals most dealerships I've seen. I guess anyone who has 13+ bikes (I've lost count), a couple jet skis, a four wheeler, 2 trucks, a car, and even a "scoot board" needs a shop like his to keep them all running! smile.gif Probably the most non-selfish person I know. One of those people that you wish you could return the favor, but there's nothing the guy can't do for himself.

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Voodoo
BTW, even Will was in a good mood!

 

LOL!! grin.gifgrin.gifgrin.gif

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David

Speaking of Will (the head mechanic, for those of you who don't know him), Keith said that Will is his fastest rider by far. In fact, he's the guy who rides the camera bike, and he can catch up with anyone, Keith said. Kobie agreed.

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David
The printer didn't work, so we didn't get our lap times that second day. They are going to mail them to us and I'm anxious to see what they are. My instructor thought it was 1:50, which would thrill me to death (that would be about a 1:48 at Laguna). The course record in the 600 class is 1:28. So obviously I'm a rank amateur, but it felt really, really good.

 

Just got our lap times for that second day in the mail. My best times were in the 4th session, and apparently they didn't get any for session 4, 5, or 6, for anybody. That bums me out.

 

But the session before, I had a 1:51. So I'm happy! grin.gif

 

Yesterday I watched a rerun of the AMA SBK race in Ohio. And even at that level (which is significantly lower than World SBK or MotoGP), it's amazing to see what they can do. I just can't imagine riding that quickly.

 

You can see them catch their own mistakes, too, and keep their head in the game with tremendous resolve.

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