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  • Sarah Merrell

Back to Barber: A 10-year Lesson in Two-wheeled Progress



It was 104 degrees and the heat radiated in waves as I sat on the grid waiting for my track session to start at Barber Motorsports Park. Despite the heat, I shivered with nervous energy, my hands trembling on the clip-ons. It was 2010 and I was a new rider, new to track days, riding an unfamiliar borrowed bike at a track I had never been to. Not the most confidence-inducing combination which led to me crawling around the track attempting not to get run the "F" over. I don't remember a lot from that weekend. I think I was so anxious and overwhelmed that my brain failed to catalog the experience (although I do vaguely remember my legs giving out from heat exhaustion as I back the bike into the pit). What was ultimately burned into my memory from that suffocatingly hot weekend at Barber was this: As slow and bad and utterly overwhelmed as I was, I wasn't ready to give up and instead was determined to be better.


But as many motorcyclists know, sometimes life happens and you're faced with hard choices--or in other words, adulting. I desperately wanted to be a solid, confident track rider and to get to the point where I could actually have fun on the track (and not be marginally terrified). However, as young professionals in our 20s, my husband and I also knew we needed to think about the future and that the choices we would make as young adults could have long term implications. So we made the difficult choice to be frugal and postpone purchases like track days while we saved for a house and paid off our debt. We snuck in a couple track days here and there early on as holiday gifts to each other, but after that, we had a five-year hiatus from track days.


Not doing track days, elaborate vacations or large expenditures was hard--really stinking hard. Especially when you see your friends having a blast at the track. Also, I sometimes felt like we were never going to reach our dream of being homeowners, being debt-free, and just plain having financial peace-of-mind. But we worked hard, we progressed in our careers, moved to a new city with a lower cost of living, and eventually, it happened. We achieved the financial freedom and wellbeing we had hoped for in addition to being homeowners. However, it took FIVE YEARS to get there. This was why it was such a big deal to me in 2018 to get back into track days.


Since the summer of 2018, trying to progress in my track riding has been a rollercoaster. My first track day at VIR following my five-year hiatus was a hot mess. I had basically forgotten any track riding skills I gleaned in those early years. Talk about frustrating. I was starting from square one. But thanks to great track day coaches and knowledgeable friends, I started to progress. Sometimes it was a huge leap forward where I was significantly dropping my lap times and feeling confident and exhilarated. But other times, like my first time at Road Atlanta, I struggled with the track and felt like I took two steps backward. I made huge leaps and bounds after doing Yamaha Champions Riding School and was on an upward trajectory for a while, but eventually began to plateau.


And it was during my latest plateau that I decided to register for a track day at Barber Motorsports Park--my first time back there since 2010. In lead up to it, I have to admit I was feeling down and being hard on myself for my recent slow progress. But that quickly changed.


As I pulled into the gates with the big Barber Motorsports Park signs, the sheer difference between me as the 2010 rider at Barber for the first time, and me today, hit me. I realized the "2010 me" would be so proud right now. Because here I am arriving at the track solo, hauling my own bikes, about to meet up with a group of badass, like-minded, amazing, track-riding women who I can call friends. And on top of that, I'm returning to Barber not as a novice rider, but as a rider who can hold her own in intermediate group and who finally rode advanced (which there was a time I thought I would never get out of novice!). I started to think about all my milestones since 2010. I mentally cataloged and thanked all the motorcycling brands I've been sponsored by or worked with. I thought of how I achieved my dream of writing for a motorcycle magazine. In that moment, I was overwhelmed in a different way this time--overwhelmed with pride and gratitude.


When I think about who I was in 2010, that person never would have dreamed of where I am now. It struck me how much we as humans beings sell ourselves short. We are capable of so much more than we think. And it took me going back to Barber, 10 years later, to realize that there is no need to feel disappointed in myself. It put progress into perspective. I no longer felt down and instead felt galvanized.




Riding Barber ended up being amazing. Sure, I was timid the first session out or two as I learned the lines (thanks to Emily Prince giving me a tow). But after that I gained more and more confidence and started to really just plain have fun. I was relaxed and enjoying every minute of it. I realized Barber is really freaking fun. It has a little bit over everything: Wide sweeping corners, elevation, a triple apex left-hander, chicanes, short and long straights, and overall, a really beautiful rhythm to it. It's technical and challenging but it just flows well and offers variety. Sure, there were turns I struggled with but with some work, I started nailing the lines. I actually can confidently say it's my favorite track. By the end, I felt just plain great--a tremendous jump in progress since 2010.



But it wasn't just the riding. At Barber, I was also so thankful for all the track friends I've made. I had a full pit pull of people willing to help, let me borrow tools, give advice, and to just provide a wonderful sense of camaraderie. In 2010, I didn't have my pack of like-minded women track riders like I do now. They're like family. And it's not just friends, even the Sportbike Track Time staff is fantastic and as a woman coming solo to a track day, it gives me peace-of-mind to know their staff is so supportive and helpful. Even the 129 Photos team offers friendly, familiar faces. Now that I know so many amazing people at track days, it really does create a special and fun experience.



What I learned is that progress is tricky and can be very difficult at times. It took finally coming back to Barber 10 years later to have the epiphany of how far I've come. So my message to other riders is this: Don't give up when progress is slow or non-existent. Even slow progress is progress. And sometimes we have to take a break from progress and come back to it--like the "adulting" hiatus my husband and I took. There's a difference between taking a break and giving up. There's no time limit on progress. Mine was 10 years in the making! We all progress at different speeds and sometimes we have growth spurts and sometimes plateau. Or, sometimes we even take a few steps back. No matter what, whether you're moving forward, taking a break or standing still, remember that you're still killing it and ahead of the people who aren't even willing to try.






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