When you first see a Dirt Track it looks simple. Compared to a complicated motocross track, an impossible-looking trials course or a fast technical road race circuit, a short track oval looks easy… just go round in circles!
But as soon as you see a race you realize that the technique needed to be ride Dirt Track is far from simple. The rules do not allow the bikes to have front brakes and limit the tire tread in order to maintain a low grip level. This makes the riders have to slow down, turn and drive out of the corners by sliding the rear and front tires. Riders are right at the limit during the whole lap working to control the slide with a complex combination of brake, throttle, lean angle, body position and foot pressure on the ground.
That´s right… on the ground! Dirt Trackers wear a “steel shoe” covering the sole of their left boot that allows them to slide their foot along the ground on the inside of the bike using it as a “third wheel”. With this extra support point, riders can lean and slide the bike way past the limit they would have if they did not have a steel shoe.
So let´s brake down the turn and do a quick analysis of what the riders are doing at each stage to make the corner…
1. Corner entry > “PITCHING IT IN”
Without a front brake and with low grip in the tires, the only way to slow down for the turn is to “through” the bike into a slide and use the tires sliding against the direction the bike is going to “scrub-off speed”. Entry level Dirt Trackers start by “backing it in” using only the rear wheel slide to slow them down. Advanced and pro riders use the front tire scrub also. Once the rear is sliding they turn the front wheel in towards the turn using the front slide as a brake also allowing them to go in deeper and still get the bike slowed down enough to make the turn.
Depending on the track, riders initiate this slide by:
(A) leaning the bike over while still on the gas until the rear end “brakes away” and spins up into the turn.
(B) letting off the gas and using the rear brake while leaning to get the rear wheel to slide.
2. Mid corner > “GETTING IT TURNED”
This part of the turn is really the most important and separates the men from the boys! The top riders are able to get the bike turned and pointed towards the straight sooner. Throttle control and body position are the keys to getting the balance just right to make the rear of the bike pivot around the front enough to get the bike turned right on the limit of going too far and “highsiding” over the top (the worst way to crash). The sooner you are able to get the bike turned the sooner you will be able to get on the gas and out of the turn.
3. Corner exit> “Getting drive”
Exiting the turn riders try to pick their steel shoe up as soon as possible and lean their weight off the side and towards the back of the bike. All riders are different and each one will do this in their own way and set their bike up to suit their style. But in general the objective is to get as much grip as you can out of the rear tire while still maintaining the racing line. Even though it may look like the riders are all at full gas at this point throttle control is still a key point here to keep the rear sliding or get it to “hook up” and drive down the straight.
These are the basics of Dirt Track, but mastering this balance and the transition from one stage to another in corners that in short track can take under 5 seconds is a true art form that can only really be appreciated and studied in slow motion. Enjoy the show!!!
Kenny Noyes #9