The Northeast Sportbikers Association
(NESBA) is an organization of riders who pay a membership fee and ride on tracks throughout the US. One cool offer
they make is for a person to try out their events by attending a half-day session at a track. Since I'm trying to find a good-priced organization I'll feel comfortable riding with, this seemed like an opportunity I couldn't pass up! Sportbike Track Time
(STT), one of NESBA's market competitors, really ought to consider offering this as well.
Anyway, I signed up for one of four Intro spot at Blackhawk.
I arrived about 5 minutes before the gate opening hour only to note that >50% of the attendees had already arrived (some had camped there the night before). After unloading my bike a couple of guys showed up who were newbs to the track and we chatted a bit and helped each other out with setup.
The email communication I received before arriving at the track was clear and concise regarding what paperwork I needed to bring. The bike's setup requirements were detailed in their Rider's Manual and was understandable enough though it could use some professional help. Suffice it to say, many of the requirements for other groups don't apply to those taking the free half day, which is called the Intro group. The stated objective of having this group is to entice street riders to take up track riding, which is laudable.
After asking someone in the paddock area where registration was, the three of us headed over with our paperwork. The process was very fast. From there you were supposed to have the bike checked at Tech to ensure it was track-ready. The line was long but it was obvious where it was being dealt with and the tech who checked out my bike was pretty cool. The inspection was very thorough and bringing all your gear was required. Apparently they were having people show up with leathers that were held together with duct tape
At a little after 8a they had the general riders meeting where they talked about the corner worker flags and structure for the day, along with some general announcements. Then the Intro and Beginners group headed into a classroom.
The one and only classroom session covered nearly every introductory and intermediate cornering skill/piece you could think of. Peg weighting, turn entry, apexing, body position, etc. If I were new to the track, I'd have been overwhelmed by the amount of information being thrown at me. Fortunately, I'd been to California Superbike School's
(CSS) Level 1 training and knew that the best learning method was to practice each of the basics one at a time on each outing. That was the same approach I used with NESBA but I think the organization should be re-evaluating their approach to new track riders. More hand-holding is really required if they want to see repeat attendees who grow safely.
In the riders meeting there was an indication that two lines are formed, with the line closest to the Rider Coaches (RCs) being the faster of the group (Intro/Beginner in my case) and then the farther line being those who aren't as quick and who aren't really thinking about moving up to the Intermediates. Also they mentioned that the farther to the front of the line you are, the faster in that particular group you should be. Well, when it came time for our first session, there was no apparent organization and everyone was in the farthest line. As it turned out, it didn't hamper me at all but I learned that hopping on to be first in the session wasn't all that relevant in terms of speed.
The RCs were all very friendly. Unlike CSS, the rider coaches have about 5-7 people they're initially starting out with. It would appear they frequently change who they're tracking and when the session starts they lead the group through a lap (three in the first session), roughly. From there the group can break up and passing in straights is fine. Corner passing in Intro/Beginner isn't technically allowed but didn't prevent it from happening (not that I cared). The way an RC was identified was by a bright yellow shirt over their leathers. Unfortunately, this means that when the session was over, if you wanted to talk with an RC who'd helped you out you had a heck of a time figuring out who that RC was.
Most of the time the RCs were doing traffic control, grabbing a handful of riders who were held up by a slower rider and getting them by. On a half dozen occasions an RC would signal me for a follow-the-leader to straighten out one or two of my lines. That I found really helpful and they were good at figuring out what speed I was willing to accept.
Another guy in the paddock who showed up to join the three of us was a regular NESBA rider who'd chosen to start in the Intermediate group. After the first session he quickly decided he needed to move up. Some two sessions later he still hadn't gotten an RC to follow him to approve his advancement. It would appear that NESBA tightly controls moving up in groups, though your starting level is not initially questioned.
What my experience boils down to is that NESBA has some work to do if they're trying to pull in street riders new to the track and keeping them safe, IMO. The feedback I've read in various forums comparing them to STT suggests that NESBA Intermediate and Advanced classes are well sorted and generally appropriate, probably mostly due to the stringent migration from one group into another. So based on other feedback it would appear NESBA's probably a better group to hang with if you're beyond the Beginner class.
Compared to CSS who costs $450 per day compared to NESBA's ~$200, CSS has far more personalized skills assistance from the RCs. Obviously that would be expected. They also have fewer riders on the track at any given time and there were only three riders assigned per RC with CSS. CSS had a classroom and skill focus before each session, making it more educational rather than practice-focused.
Last, quite a lot is made of NESBA's rain guarantee, where you get you money back if it rains and the track day is canceled. However, it is clear that this requires that not a single wheel has rolled on the track and guys who'd been riding with them for 5 years or so hadn't ever see a canceled day. So I'll leave that off the list of features that might sway me one way or the other.
I'm possibly looking at hitting up an STT event this year and maybe STAR School
next year. I'll post follow-ups on each organization, of course.