I’m nearly 40 fucking years old, how the fuck did that happen? I can’t quite get my head around that fact but there’s another that’s almost as unbelievable – I’ve never ridden a proper sportsbike on a track. Dirt – sure, cars – yup, horses – not quite a race but close. I’ve talked about it loads and my eBay watch list has been full of track bikes for two decades but some reason hovering a knee over a rumble strip has evaded me, until now. Carole Nash Insurance had booked a day at the Ron Haslam Race School and invited me along.
Ron’s training facility is based at my favourite circuit, Donington Park, a place that holds a special allure for me as historically it’s been the venue that’s some of the most titanic battles and best races across nearly every category of motorsport – from the pre-war Silver Arrows to Senna’s opening lap in 1993 to Kiyonari’s ridiculous demonstration of wet weather prowess in qualifying . And decade ago I slid my Lotus Elise around the undulating ribbon of heaven and familiarised myself with the gravel to the left of the Crater Curves, but that’s a story for another day. Suffice to say I was super excited to take to this track on two wheels, but also slightly nervous. The latter disappeared as soon as I rolled into the car park and bumped into Shed friend and famous tattooist Dan Gold, he’d only been on a track once before so at least I wouldn’t be the only novice in attendance.
Another unbelievable thing – I took Mark Skunk’s Rev’it! leathers with me, and they fitted. He’s 6ft 17 and hewn from a Yorkshire granite, I need my cake-hole recalibrating. Anyway, I needn’t have bothered borrowing a suit, you can turn up on the train, by car, bike or plane (East Mids airport is next-door) and Ron’s team will take care of the rest. Helmets, boots, gloves and leathers are available at no extra cost and they’ve got more stock than a branch of J&S. All you need do is sign the waiver and then head to the classroom for an easygoing run-through of circuit etiquette and the all important flags. And that was that, straight out on track-prepped Honda CBR600RRs with our instructor Darren. I’d been paired with Dan and everyone else benefitted from the same instructor-to-rider ratio of 2-to-1. I wasn’t expecting that, it was an actual private coaching session – particularly confidence inspiring. Being so fresh I was a leach to anything Darren said but the learning curve wasn’t as steep as I was expecting. He was riding ahead on a VFR1200 covered in mirrors, somehow managing to press-on at a decent pace showing us the racing line while watching everything Dan & I were doing. Each session was around 15 minutes, the perfect length – neither rushed nor tiring, with a debrief after each.
The little Hondas were great too, the ideal tool for the job, once I got the hang of wringing the thing’s neck – thrashing four-pots doesn’t sit well with me. Short shifting or expecting 2nd gear to pull out of the Melbourne Loop was a quickly discarded technique. I was amazed how quick, or at least that’s how it felt, Darren let us go. OK so I wasn’t laying darkies out of Hollywood but I did my best to stretch the throttle cable and the rear wheel was lifting under (ABS assisted) braking before flip-flopping through the Foggy Esses.
As you can see, Marks’s knee sliders remained box fresh but heroics and showing off wasn’t the theme of the day. I wanted to learn the skills needed to not only have on track fun with my biking mates but to take advantage of the racier offers that drop into my inbox from time to time. This was only a taster day but completing it without incident (some didn’t quite manage that part – bin it and it’s an early shower, those are the rules) which means next time I’ll be in the Elite Group on CBR1000RRs with datalogging and timing equipment, yikes!
Was I scared all those years ago? Nope, self preservation is what stopped me joining the track day or race brigade. I just knew my lack of imagination would mean it’d end in tears, I’ve done enough damage racing flat track, never mind having a bump at triple digit speeds with hard stuff everywhere. Wimp? Certainly not.
Once the day was over and we’d had a nice lunch I got wind of there being a chance to ride pillion with Ron. Ron flipping Haslam! I put my sweaty gear back on, loitered in the pits and very patiently waited my turn. And boy was it worth it. I told Ron that I don’t scare easy and he was to give it everything. That was partly a bit of a lie, I cannot stand riding pillion. Trust issues and being a control freak the root causes. But I could trust a GP and TT racer who’s livelihood depended on not breaking customers, right?
By the end of the Craners my face was aching from a gargantuan grin that’d spread across my face and I telepathically egged-on my pilot to really go for it, which he did. The corners were scintillating and I tried to gingerly make sure any body movements as slight as possible, hanging off the tiny seat when appropriate and death-gripping the tank mounted passenger handle with the strength of 10 bears. The big problem was the braking. At the end of the main straight and Melbourne Loop Ron threw the anchor out and I genuinely thought my triceps were going to burst. And I’m not exaggerating for the purposes of a good story, by lap three I was grimacing, groaning and focusing 100% of my living being into stopping myself squidging into Ron’s back. But he was the one with me and a 200kg bike to cope with, yet seemed to be putting very little effort in at all, deftly transferring the weight through his slight frame, perhaps storing the kinetic energy for the wheelies – which happened on every straight, in fact anywhere that wasn’t an actual corner.
As days go, this was right up there with some of the best I’ve had on two wheels, thoroughly enjoyable and the perfect, non intimidating introduction to the world of track riding. The rest of the Bike Shed crew are now booked for the level 1 course in a couple of weeks and I expect to be bombarded with enthusiastic tales when they return.
If you’d like to take to the track you’d be hard pushed to beat a day at Ron’s. But if Donington seems far and you’d prefer to share the fun with old friends and make new ones then step this way. The Bike Shed have teamed-up with the Ron Haslam Race School to bring you a special offer. We’re arranging a coach to leave our Shoreditch HQ and head up to Donny where we’ll have a whole group slot reserved for BSMC riders. Enjoy the day and tell tall tales all the way home while someone else does all the driving while you sip a beer. Then we’ll have a table booked at the ‘Shed for a special dinner. Sounds pretty good, right!
BSMC Members get a 10% discount on the Premiere Course so make sure you let the Haslam crew know when you book.