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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Note – Just as I was finishing this 1000 word article for possible submission to a magazine, Jim shelved (not to say abandoned…) Trackoholics. :crying:Nevertheless, my preference is still for this smaller, safer, relational kind of event versus the Sportbike-Puppy-Mill approach. Nowhere is this better exemplified than the Fireblades.org Days at Grattan. Thanks to Abtech, those of us who are fortunate to have attended these events will have fond memories as long as we can remember anything. If you ever have a chance to go, grab it. It will never get better.

I did end up using the article to good effect in a freelance writing class, so the effort paid off!




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Here in the land of “bigger is better,” where no treasured pastime is safe from being exploited and trivialized by a Reality Show, I’m apprehensive about the future of my favorite motorcycling activity, track days.

I attend every track day I can, and often bring friends along. For about the price of an excessive speeding violation, you can spend the day extending the limits of your riding skill in a controlled environment. It is the only place to responsibly explore the high-speed performance capabilities of a modern sport bike. I’m grateful for the schools and organizations that have brought about this unprecedented racetrack access. Nevertheless, I’m concerned they may apply the “bigger is better” business model to the detriment of us all.

I understand that as track days become more popular and costs increase, companies are under pressure to put more riders on the track every session. This crowding, if unchecked, could potentially lead to a lack of control by the organizer and some dangerous moments at high speeds.

I have attended track days at which the “tech inspection” of the motorcycles was a cursory, twenty-second glimpse. I’ve experienced shortened track sessions due to constant shuttling of the crash truck. I have witnessed events run so poorly that dangerous passing on track and antagonistic behavior in the pits was disregarded by organizers. At the very least, the effort to absolutely maximize the number of riders tends to foster an impersonal, commercialized atmosphere that is far from ideal.

How about a “smaller is better” approach? Scaled-down track day organizations exist, often run by people who care more about the love of the sport than the bottom line.

Jim and Karoline Sheldon are such people. The Sheldons are proprietors of a limited-rider track day company in Michigan called Trackoholics. Since 2003, they’ve organized more than thirty track days at Grattan Raceway. Jim estimates over 700 riders have participated, but emphasizes that no more than 45 have attended any single track day – by design.

Sheldon’s website (www.trackoholics.com) promises “you are not going to spend the day being frustrated at your lap times because you’re stuck in constant traffic behind riders of differing skill levels, demo bikes, and packs of riders that never seem to end.”

Although he allows half the number of riders at Grattan compared to larger companies, Trackoholics track days are priced comparably at $125.00. There are no membership or gate fees. Novices receive instruction between sessions; three are typically assigned to an experienced instructor, led by AMA and WERA pro Nathan Dressman and GLRRA veteran Frank Fisher. A professional photographer and a tire vendor attend each event. Lunch is included. What’s the catch? Being a smaller group means scheduling fewer weekend events. Prime season dates usually occur on Mondays or Fridays. (Can you think of a better excuse to skip a workday?)

The staff works to create a supportive, friendly environment. They take time to meet and connect with the participants, offering encouragement, advice, mechanical help, and additional instruction to all, from novice to budding racer.

Mike Filipiak has ridden at track days presented by several vendors, and describes the difference this way: “Jim really cares about the people that he rides with, and he spends so much effort and energy making it like a family. They invite the whole group to dinner afterward! Large track day companies seem more concerned with just going around the track. At Trackoholics, you can ride and have a good time with friends; and when you know somebody, you’re more concerned about them and the riding is safer.”

Safety is a crucial issue with Trackoholics, as revealed by their controversial “no-crashing” rule. Sheldon, an enviably smooth and fast rider, last crashed 21 years ago, destroying his prized 500 Interceptor and nearly sliding over a thousand-foot cliff. “I made up my mind after that, and I try to invest that knowledge in the people that ride with me; you don’t have to fall to ride fast!”

If the staff determines a crash was due to carelessness or a person riding recklessly, that person’s day is over. No discussion, no refunds. If another rider is taken out in the incident, the rider at fault will never be allowed back. That seems draconian, but crashes limit the amount of time customers can ride. If an ambulance rolls, everyone waits until another one is back on site. Instructors patrol every session, monitoring safety and riders’ improvement.

This isn’t to say that people never fall at Trackoholics events, but the spills seldom result in significant loss of track time. Over the last three years, each riding group (novice, intermediate, advanced) has averaged seven 20-minute sessions, easily 180 miles per track day.

What motivates someone to build such an organization? Jim points to his upbringing. His father instilled the love of fast machines and the example of a generous spirit. Serving as a helicopter mechanic in the Army taught him that there is one correct way to do things, and that safety can never be compromised. Racing hare scrambles with his brother fueled his competitive nature, and working at Washington’s famous Cycle Barn in the heady days when sport bikes were first becoming popular provided the experience of organizing a club-like atmosphere for enthusiasts. “I’m good at cultivating groups of people and specifically pointing a direction that is good for the whole, rather than the one,” Jim says, while denying that it is a leadership skill. “I think people look at what you do, and how you do it, and what kind of person you are ultimately. Those that appreciate what we’re trying to accomplish are attracted because I have a simple philosophy: Do it the right way, don’t do it because of the money.”

Sheldon reports that Take it 2 The Track, a limited-rider track day organization based in San Diego, has recently entered into a business association with Trackoholics. Maybe the future for track days is bright after all - as long as no one produces the reality series: “American Track Day.”


Captions for pictures (all taken by Karoline Sheldon, Fotomadness)

1. Registration and Tech - The Islamic race team faces east, bows, and prays their bikes meet muster.

2. Frank preaches to the choir - Abtech leads a riders meeting, explaining to a disbelieving audience that you have to be "this tall" to go on this ride without a parent.

3. Jim Sheldon built this group on relationships.

4. The Trackoholics team instills the "Safety First" ethic right off on this "track walk..."

5. Bojean "Boo" has the group in the dark as he explains in a variety of languages how to go fast as hell and look great doing it.

6. Beginners follow the leader. He has a few laps here, I hope they watched carefully.

7. The author takes an impromptu lesson from Jim Sheldon. Jim was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge.

8. The Trackoholic legacy: Ride hard, don't crash.

9. Why I will be going back to Pirellis. These Bridgestones neded a bit more anti-tuck pixie dust.

10. The dinners afterwards were great fun. All were invited, much to the chagrin of Nate Dressmsn, who had to not only listen, but WATCH this guy act out a whole session on the track. When are the beers coming?

 

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Great write-up! Thanks very much for that. Hard not to agree with your sentiments.

I too have experienced trackdays that had virtually ZERO tech inspections - and whaddyaknow, someone's drain plug came loose and we lost an hour of track time while they put the kitty litter to soak up the oil all over the track.

I don't mind paying a little more for a well-organized track day that limits the numbers and enforces safety for all. Although I understand the need for sessions to break up the riders into groups so you don't have newbies out on the track with racers, three-session events don't appeal to me due to the 20 minutes on track, 40 minutes off track format.
 

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bwhip said:
Although I understand the need for sessions to break up the riders into groups so you don't have newbies out on the track with racers, three-session events don't appeal to me due to the 20 minutes on track, 40 minutes off track format.
Good write up CBR!

Bwhip....I personally like the 3 group format. On many tracks it allows a better seperation of riding abilities which decreases closing speeds etc and allows for a safer and more enjoyable track day for all imho. In a 2 group format if new track riders are allowed, it can create a bad experience for their first day at the track as they can be getting passed at a high rate of speed and getting spooked because of it.
Especially out here where most of our tracks are in the high desert, 3 sessions work especially well in the summer months where 100 degrees is common. Even in the cooler months the last few sessions of the day begin to thin out due to people getting tired. If things run smoothly during the day one can expect to get 7 sessions...
 

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Excellent CBR. Wholeheartedly agree with the concept of smaller, less commercialised days. Some seriously dodgy outfits out there. Here in the UK I've mostly been using Rapid Training/Rapid Tracks www.rapidtraining.co.uk for my track days. Smallish, professional, safe as it can be but still great fun.

By the way, why have you got bars of soap stuck on your legs in pictures eight and nine?
 

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:clap: Nice work... :thumb:

Now how about a follow up article on the finer points of looting to support your habit... :evilaugh:
 
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Very nice work. :clap: The loss of Trackoholics has left a big void around here for us local riders...Jim is truly missed.

Like the pics, too! ;)
 

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Red Rider said:
Very nice work. :clap: The loss of Trackoholics has left a big void around here for us local riders...Jim is truly missed.

Like the pics, too! ;)
DITTO :plus1:

Awesome job Dave....

E.
 

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Shameless egotist. Half the pictures are of you.:D Very nice story. It supports how I feel about FB.org days. They are easily the best track days I've done and the three best days of summer. What worries me is how that SV of yours passes tech.;)
 

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Wow,

I hope you got an "A" for your work. It is a loss without Trackoholics-it was a great run. I had some of my best times helping out and instructing for them-the participants were all great, the track days were always fun-It was truly a good group of riders who loved the sport. I guess its back to throwing a few private days here and there. There are a few of us willing to step up so we can have fun-Frank and the Fire Blades Days-CORE, some of the TSBR days to name a few-there is always a choice, I just hope it doesnt become political like what had happened before.

Linus
 
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