As the riding season was coming to an end, the store was closing, and I wondered what would I do now?
At the end of that summer is when I would meet the people behind Tail of the Dragon, Ron and Nancy Johnson. Along with Darryl, they were going to run a trackday in November, I was intrigued, I had no clue that a person could pay to go ride on a track, so I said “sign me up!”.
In November 2003, with our bikes and gear loaded up in Ron and Nancy’s trailer, Darryl and I set out for Jennings GP, in northern FL. Having done a few trackdays himself already, Darryl pep-talked me all the way there. This was our first trip together, and only the second time I had been to the state of Florida in my life.
The nerves set back in the first morning there, it was scary getting on a track for the first time and I had only been riding about 4 months, was I ready for this? Would I be the slowest person on the track? Would I be able to handle the pressure of people watching me ride? Thankfully there were several familiar faces in the paddock, a few Dragon locals were there, some of the guys were even instructors. I had some of my teachers from the Dragon at the track with me, so that helped ease my nerves a bit.
I went to the riders meetings and listened intently as they explained the rules of the track and what each of the flags meant. In my head I was going over what each of the flag colors meant, how to pit-in and pit-out properly, I was so scared I was going to forget the valuable information. I was in the novice group, having never been on a track before, so that’s were I had to start out. The instructors would lead us in small groups, showing us the lines around the track, the first day it was pretty slow and like a game of follow the leader. I found myself to be pretty relaxed once I was on the track. There was a no passing rule in the novice group, no looking behind you, eyes forward on the instructor.
Back at home my bike would often spit and sputter, especially at the higher elevations. Local master mechanic Ken Wheeler figured out that the jets in the bike were a bit large, so I would often be running rich. Often times I would pull the clutch in and pin the throttle wide open, bouncing off the rev-limiter with black smoke bellowing out of the exhaust, in an effort to get the bike to run smoother, and it worked. Knowing that I was going to my first trackday in the south, Wheeler was able to tune the bike as best he could with the oversized jets, so that it would run as smoothly as possible while I was there. I had enough stress on my plate, I didn’t need to deal with a sputtering bike too. My carbureted bike was loving Florida, it was running great, I do not recall having a single issue with it that weekend.
On the second day they let us have a bit more freedom to open up some. We no longer had to play follow the leader with the instructor. I had made friends with a couple of the other ladies in the novice group and was having fun chasing them around the track. By this time the nerves were gone and I was having the time of my life. With my bike running smoothly and many laps around the track, I was building more confidence every session. Having positive encouragement and feedback from my friends and instructors helped. They gave me pointers on things I could improve on and I was eager to put their advice to use in the next session each time.
I knew I had been getting close to getting my knee down, but I didn’t know if it would happen that day or not and our time at the track was close to coming to and end, I wasn’t going to push it, if it happened great, if not I was ok with that too. And then, in the afternoon on that second day it happened, I touched my knee down for the first time at the track, I think I was so happy I was crying in my helmet. And it just so happens that Keith, who worked with Darryl at the time, was in that corner taking photos. What are the odds, of all the turns on the track, it happened in front of the photographer. I don’t think I even realized he was there at the time. And then it happened again on my next trip around the track, and again and again. After you do something for the first time, it gets easier and easier to achieve it consistently afterwards.
I think I only had one session left after that, I didn’t want the day to end, I would have kept going around that track till I ran out of gas if they would have let me. I had made it through the weekend without going down on my bike, I had managed to not drop my bike in the paddock, and I had dragged my knee for the first time on my own. It was the perfect way to end my first season of riding.
I was falling even more in love with being a motorcyclist. I had a new zest for life, I was daydreaming about all the possibilities that were ahead of me, I had amazing new friends and an awesome guy by my side. I was just a girl who decided to go for it, and I will never regret that.