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  • Sarah Merrell

New Experiences at CMP

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Last weekend I was supposed to be racing at Daytona, but as you know from my previous blog post, that didn't work. And when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And in this case, that meant signing up for a track day weekend at Carolina Motorsports Park. And what a sweet lemonade it was! The weekend was full of new, fun experiences and just might me one of my favorite track day weekends to date. Here's why.

Getting to Know CMP

This wasn’t my first time at CMP—the last time I was there was about 10 years ago and despite being in intermediate group my last time there, I was a very novice rider and still new to riding in general. Plus that was back when the pavement was crappy. Looking at the track map and watching videos didn’t jog my memory. I didn’t remember CMP. My first session out I thought, “I have zero recollection.” So it was like being on a brand new track I’ve never ridden. However, CMP is an easier track to learn since it’s relatively flat with no blind corners and only has 14 turns total. Half way into the first session I started feeling comfortable but held back from pushing it so I could get the lines down. The new pavement felt awesome! Smooth but grippy. With each passing session, I had more and more fun. CMP is a fast track but has some really nice technical corners and chicanes too. Although I was tired and sore half way through the second day, I was having such a blast that I still rode every session.

Riding with N2

This track day weekend was my first time riding with N2. I was nervous going in because I didn’t know how fast everyone would be. As I looked around on the grid, a lot of intermediate riders had race number plates. I was worried I would be a rolling chicane and be in people’s way. But not so. Once I learned the track after the first session, I began to do more passing. The N2 coaches were very encouraging. One of them gave me great advice and told me to stop hesitating on my passing—that every time I totally have it but instead of going for it, I hesitate and overthink it and lose valuable time in the process. This gave me something to work on. I was impressed that throughout the weekend the staff came by our tent to check on us and make sure we were having a good time. I also had coaches stop by who shared advice. Every staff member and coach was friendly, and that meant a lot to me.

Yamaha Champ School

I was thrilled that our friends from Yamaha Champions Riding School attended. We were glad to see Eziah, Chip, Steven and Mark. Having them there was like having our own personal coaches. Jud and I picked their brains extensively throughout the weekend—both at the track and at dinner. And their advice and feedback was amazing. Because we’ve been through Champ School, we all spoke the same language. And these guys are always so willing and enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge.

Riding the Ohvale

If you‘ve followed me on social media, you know I’ve been dying to ride the Ohvale. Well guess who had one at CMP? The Champ School guys. I didn’t get to really push it, but I did get to ride it around. And I was smiling so big! It would be the ultimate Dragon machine. This little bike was small and agile but packed with power. It was everything I hoped it would be. So maybe my Hypermotard savings will now be an Ohvale savings fund.

Riding the MT-03 and R1

The Yamaha Champions Riding School guys brought a bunch of demos you could sign up for and take out for a session. The first demo I did was the MT-03 and I was really excited. I thought I would love it. But I think it was difficult going from a 600 to a 300 on track. I think the MT-03 would be a great bike for road riding—especially on tight, twisty roads. But on the track I found myself wanting more power. I would go to shift and then realize that’s it. I’m out of gears. Sure you can brake late and carry more corner speed, but I realized it just wasn’t my cup of tea for that particular type of riding. So I went to the opposite end of the spectrum and tried the R1 next. I didn’t expect to like this bike because I assumed it would be more power than I could have fun managing and would be cumbersome. I was wrong. The R1 was powerful, but the power was smooth and manageable. And it was fun experiencing all the bells and whistles. It’s like a computer on wheels. One of the Champ School guys showed me how to work the computer screen and dialed it in to my unique preferences. The electronics are so advanced they can even correct rider error. I found this out when I got on the throttle too abruptly out of a corner and felt the traction control kick in. Personally, I really love the analogue nature of my old R6. But I didn’t realize how much I’m cranking on the throttle on my R6 in comparison. I was having so much fun I didn’t want to give it back! I won’t be trading my R6 in for an R1, but I did realize I love it a lot more than I thought I would.

Jud the Coach

It was very helpful to have my better half at the track day with me. Even though he could have gotten bumped to advance right away he stayed in intermediate with me almost the whole time to work with me. After all, we may very well be racing at CMP next year. Unlike a track day coach, Jud knows me well. And he knows I’m a cautious person and sometimes it takes some hard conversations for me to push myself and my comfort zone. And that’s what he did. We discussed taking advantage of the track time and pushing past what I think are my limits—holding the throttle open longer, braking later (and lighter for longer), and like the N2 coach said, stop hesitating on passes. Because when it comes down to it, shaving off two-tenths of a second every corner adds up to valuable seconds off a lap time. Jud was hard on me about this, but I needed to hear it. And I went out there and did it the last few sessions on Sunday. And what a feeling! I’m pretty sure I saw God going into the kink though and turn 8!

Watching Out for Crashes

The only part of the weekend that wasn’t so positive were all the crashes and red flags. On Saturday there were 23 red flags. And a lot of them were in intermediate group aka the Thunderdome. I had riders crashing in front of me that I had to dodge. This was mostly due to the chilly temps and cold tires. Luckily Jud and I kept it shiny side up all weekend. After some serious lecturing by the staff, Sunday was better though. Still, I think all the crashes had a mental effect on me and took a hit to my confidence. I had to give myself a pep talk and try not to think about the possibility of someone taking me out with them. But I think it was a good lesson in focusing on me and what I’m in control of and what is ahead of me and not worrying about other people. Lemons into lemonade, right?

Learning Where I Want to Be

Watching Jud and the Champ School guys ride in front of me showed me where I need (and want) to be with my riding. They’re fast! And I know a lot what they have is innate talent, but attempting to follow them showed me I can brake so much later than I think I can. And I can pin that throttle for longer. And shave off far less speed when braking. My bike is capable. The Champ School guys were on stock bikes with no tire warmers and I rode the same R1 that they were on. It’s not the bike that’s fast. It’s the rider. And it truly inspired me to follow them even though I couldn’t keep up for long!

All in all the weekend was an amazing learning experience. I want to give a big thank you to Jud, Champ School, Yamaha and N2. I also want to thank the brands who support me—One X, Scorpion helmets, Forma boots, Two Brothers Racing and Michelin/Sportbike Tire Service.

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