Originally published in the August 2007 print edition of Ride Oklahoma.
SPARKS! If it were dark, there would be enough sparks spraying from my footpegs to give Halley’s Comet a complex. But it’s not dark. In fact, the sun is peeking through the clouds and that 45% chance of rain Gary England threatened is looking less likely by the minute. Turn 11 looms ahead as I throw the mighty Black Dyna Sport sideways like Gary Nixon on the oval mile at San Jose. Or so I imagine.
It’s track day at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit in Northeast Oklahoma. I’d love to say that the pungent smell of racing fuel and rubber stung my nostrils and all that, but in fact, I was just over braking a bit, slewing the bike sideways enough to compensate for its less- than sporty lean angle. I push the abused Superglide to the point it protests by boiling its brake fluid to a non-productive gas in the rear caliper. Denying me any semblance of a working backstopper is the only defense the bike can muster against its overzealous pilot, bent on self destruction… or at least on serious embarrassment.
Hallett is well known to Porsche Club of America, Corvette Club, Sports Car Club of America, Competition Motorsports, CMRA, and the hard-core superbike racers who frequent its 1.8 miles of asphalt hairpin curves. It is less well known to the rank-and-file amateur motorcyclists like me who choose two-wheel locomotion for their transportation or sport. But today, thanks to a cooperative effort between Ride Oklahoma Magazine and the Stephens family, Hallett’s owners, about 40 motorcyclists will stretch their comfort zones and improve their bike handling skills. As Paul Kuna, one of the HART (Hallett Advanced Racer Training) instructors told our mixed group, “This is a great place to learn. There are no cars or trucks and the most likely penalty for a misjudged curve is a trip through a field of four-inch deep mud. And if you want to go fast, you’ve come to the right place.
Track Day at Hallett is more than just a time to push your limits. It is a day for riders of all levels to practice skills that just might save their lives out in the real world where attentiveness, hard braking, swerves and high speed maneuvering are our sword and shield. At worst, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Ride Oklahoma Magazine’s publisher, James Pratt, came up with the idea of inviting non-racer types out to the race venue because, other than the very-mild-by comparison, Motorcycle Safety Foundation and OSU’s rider’s education courses, there was no place for motorcyclists to go to take their riding to the next level.
Connie, her husband Mike, and sons Scott and Shayne have managed Hallett for the past 18 years. The Stephens family bought the race-park seven years ago from Anatoly Artunoff, the builder. Since then, they have seen good times and bad, all the while providing a place for speed junkies to get their wiggles out. Some of those speed junkies just happen to be skilled instructors as well. Paul Kuna and Marvin Stewart, our wiry and wise senior mentors; Trevor Meredith, young and dapper; Aaron Lowe, who I might mention is a Road King-riding highway patrol officer; and Amanda Cornelius, a wild-eyed woman who rides like the wind. All are here to help us become better and safer riders.
The day began at 8:30 a.m. with Paul familiarizing us with various flag signals, track layout, safety rules, and tips on techniques to get us off on the right foot. Next, we broke up into smaller groups, each led by an instructor. We made half a dozen laps to familiarize ourselves with the track.
Back for another class session to answer any questions and, before we know it, it’s time to break for lunch. Barbara Dressler and her crew at the Finish Line Café have it down when it comes to feeding a bunch of hungry motorheads en masse. We sit down to some great, fresh cooked grub and refuel our bellies for an intense afternoon on the track.
The women are turned loose right after lunch. The instructors mingle among the riders, sometimes singling one out to drop in behind for a brief one-on-one lesson. They signal the need to re-position a toe, move around on the saddle,or maybe take a different line.
After the women, the guys roll out for their turn. Any women wanting to join the men can do so at their discretion and a few choose to mix it up. So goes our day until the final few track sessions when we are free to more or less race against one another unmolested by our eagle eyed mentors. By the time the shadows grow long, most riders have gained enough confidence and familiarity with their bikes and the course that they can be left to scream around the track unescorted at a pretty good clip.
With my rear brake faded to oblivion, I welcome the offer of our publisher to make a few hot laps on his wife’s CBR 600. I just thought I was going fast on the Harley. This lightweight filly can really eat up the track! As the tachometer sweeps upwards of 14,000 rpm, an unfamiliar sound tears into the ears of this old V-Twin jock-ey. Kay’s bike sounds like a bumble bee on crack
compared to the deep roar of the two-into-one Thunderheader on the Harley. The lessons and techniques Paul tried to embed in our brains this morning are beginning to bear fruit. I realize what he meant when he said to “body steer” the bike the first time I try to twist those tiny bars and turn this ballistic missile.
“Hang your cheek off the saddle and press the inside foot hard against the peg!” Paul’s words echo through the voluminous cavity where my brain resides.
Voila! It works! The bike carves like a teenage snowboarder in fresh powder!
I’m pressing about as hard as I can through Turn Five when suddenly a girl rides past me on a yellow bike, looks me square in the eyes and pats her rear fender with her free hand.
“How’d she do that?” I’m thinking. I mean, seriously. I’m pushing my envelope to the limit and she just passed me looking backwards! I take the bait and fall in behind Amanda . Afterfollowing her a few laps, I’m starting to feel right at home on the little CBR.
Now, thoroughly overconfident, I feel ready to take on the KTM 950 Adventurer that’s been tearing up the track all day. I lurk in the pits until he pops out of Turn 11 and when he zooms past I pin the throttle to the wood. The little CBR rips out of the pits like a bolt from a Roman crossbow. This bike is fast. Very fast, I realize, as I top the hill at 100 miles per hour, with the front wheel floating a foot above terra firma. I enter Turn One hot and the rear tire skips as I scramble to overtake Carl on the KTM. He carves a perfect, swooping line, wheelies at the exit and disappears around turn three while I try to spool four tiny, 150 cc pistons back up above 10,000 rpm where they can make enough power to get me back into the game. Carl isn’t making this easy. I mimic his lines as best I can and manage to keep him in sight, although I have the sense that he is playing a little cat and mouse.
After a few more laps, Carl throws up a hand and steers his KTM into the pits for a pow-wow. He makes a few suggestions and compliments my speed, graciously omitting any mention of my rather unorthodox riding style. We punch the bikes into gear and start slamming turns again before the tires cool off. Things go much better now, after his impromptu riding lesson.
Part of me wants to keep on riding as we end the day’s final session. The other parts tell me they’ve had enough. Those are the parts I listen to, happy that I trailered the Harley to the track instead of riding the two hours from Norman like I thought about doing last night. “Did you have fun?” A smiling Connie asks me as I say my goodbyes.
“Oh yeah. And I learned a bunch too.”
“Most people do,” she smiles with the wisdom of someone who has watched countless motorcyclists leave this place sweaty and tired, but with a confidence they might never have earned by just riding on the street.
“I’ll be back,” I tell her, as I turn and walk toward my waiting truck, my Harley strapped snugly on the trailer behind.
Hallett Motor Racing Circuit is located just south of the Cimarron Turnpike (Exit 48) on Highway 99. They offer track days 25 times during the racing season, and anyone can come and play. You will need to make sure your bike passes tech, having reasonably good tires, no oil leaks, good brakes, and you must remove or tape all lights and reflectors.
Helmet, gloves, boots and full leathers are required. Cost is $100, and well worth the investment when you consider the value of knowing how your bike, and you, will react in situations you may not easily duplicate on the street.