Race your own race.
Motorcycle track days can be intimidating. From super expensive race suits to multi-tiered training courses, financial barriers and skill deficits can easily ward off first-time track riders. For those that persist past the first set of obstacles, acclimating to track etiquette and aggressive riding manners can be another challenge in itself. As an alternative, the world-famous Willow Spring International Raceway hosts four Classic Track Day events a year, celebrating vintage motorcycles and welcoming new track riders with an easy-going atmosphere.
As an influential figure in the Southern California vintage motorcycle scene, Brady Walker created Classic Track Day as an option to the testosterone-fueled track meets boasting the latest superbikes and wannabe Rossis. Walker not only organizes and hosts track day events but helms The Californian vintage motorcycle show held at the Santa Anita Race Track and curates the IMS Vintage Garage exhibit.
Those vintage chops paved the way for a partnership between Walker and Willow Spring Raceway, resulting in a track day series. Consisting of four events throughout the months of March and November, Classic Track Days attracts first-timers by offering free Alpinestars leathers, boots, and gloves. At only $175 per ticket (or $200 if purchased during the week of the event), riders also receive free on-track photography, making Classic Track Day one of the most affordable and comprehensive packages out there.
Gallery: Classic Track Day
Of course, there are eligibility rules for machines that can participate in Classic Track Days. Generally, if your bike is a 1996 model or older, a sub-700cc twin, or a less than 600cc single, twin, or triple, you’re good to go. Most modern superbikes like the BMW S 1000 RR, Aprilia RSV4, or Yamaha R1 are disqualified while all Moto Guzzis and Harley-Davidsons (except the Buell 1125/1190) are welcomed. In spite of the motorcycle restrictions, you’d be hard-pressed to find a track day with a broader mix of machines.
Aside from guidelines on makes and models, the event splits up track time by three groups based on experience and skill. Dividing each hour into three 20-minute sessions, riders fall under the Less Fast, Fast, or Fastest group. Obviously, first-time track riders are required to start in the Less Fast class but small-displacement bikes typically fill out its ranks as well. The Fast division consists of street riders with track experience and seasoned racers battle it out in the Fastest bracket.
On the first Saturday in March, Classic Track Day held its first event of 2020. Camping out the night before, our alarm was the ring-ting-ting of a two-stroke engine. My buddies and I emerged from our tents to see a fellow rider fiddling with the carburetor on an old Yamaha and track vets taping up the mirrors and lights on a Honda CB900F. Nothing beats the smell of burning a petrol/oil mixture in the morning and it only reassured us that the day was going to be a blast.
Once the track went hot, the tight and technical Streets of Willow course challenged riders of all skill levels. With 14 turns, numerous elevation changes, and an awkward skidpad sweeper, the circuit required patience and practice. To top off the difficult track conditions, the temperature never broke 60°F, keeping the possibility of traction loss top of mind for every rider.
Despite the day’s itinerary, event organizers made room in the schedule for a race-spec sidecar to take a few laps. Each group was happy to sacrifice a few minutes of track-time to marvel at the two-man team bend around hairpin turns. Along with the three-wheeled oddity, dogs sunbathed just off the racecourse and vintage cars howled by on the neighboring Big Willow circuit. The chill mood certain cooled any chance of racetrack contentions or trackside egos.
After each group ran four sessions, Walker and crew shifted the day to an open session, mixing motorcyclists from the Less Fast, Fast, and Fastest classes. While novice and expert motorcyclists shared the course, none of the riders stuffed anyone in a corner or missed a hand signal when exiting the circuit.
By 3 pm, most of the attendees collapsed their canopies and ratcheted down their race machines to a trailer and truck bed. While our group of 4 contained riders of various skill levels and track experience, we all agreed that the access to free race suits and the welcoming atmosphere influenced our plan to attend future Classic Track Days.
If you’re in the Central or Southern California area and you enjoy huffing two-stroke fumes, ogling eccentric motorcycles, and laid-back vibes, Classic Track Day might be the place for you. After all, not all track days are intimidating—or at least they don’t have to be.