How to Master Track Day Passing

In this article, I will cover passing rules, technique, responsibilities and etiquette. Faster track day riders can often feel frustrated about not being able to pass effectively and efficiently, while newer track day riders may be anxious about passing and being passed. In this article, I will discuss these topics as they pertain to track day riders of all levels.

New Track Rider Passing Apprehension

New track day riders need time to become acclimated to the racetrack environment. That’s why a slower “get your feet wet” pace is necessary.

New track day riders often find themselves riding around the track in clumps with slower riders in the front of the pack. This is most likely to occur in the first few sessions of the Novice group. Thankfully, the late morning and early afternoon sessions flow much better. Why? Because people start passing.

Getting Used to Passing

Most new track day riders are primarily street riders where passing is limited to the occasional overtake of a slow car on a straight section of road. The racetrack offers many more opportunities for passing, but new track riders must convince themselves that passing is not only okay, but is encouraged, as long as the pass is safe and adheres to the rules of the group.

Part of the reason some riders are hesitant to pass is the absence of familiar indicators found on the street that define passing zones, including painted lines and signs telling the rider that it is safe or okay to pass. Once the rider learns that there is plenty of room to pass and has made a few passes on the track, this apprehension diminishes.

Passing Rules

Most track day organizations have some passing rules. Passing rules provide a safer, more comfortable environment to have fun and practice riding skills. Rules also remind riders that this is a track day, not a race and discourage aggressive, race-style passing.

For novice groups, some organizations may limit passing to the straights, which minimizes anxiety and intimidation for new riders. Riding in the Zone Non-Sportbike Track Days is a bit more relaxed. Our passing rules allow passing from tip-in to the apex

This means passing on the “inside” only at the corner exit, well past the apex where the person being passed is at the apex and drifting to the outside of the track as they exit the corner. This rule prevents riders from “stuffing” the rider being passed and causing him or her to alter their course in order to avoid collision. This is important becasue you want to come as close to the apex as possible to execute the turn properly.

There may be some corners where passing is not allowed, no matter what group you ride in. These are corners where bikes are crossing from one side of the track to the other in a short area, like in a chicane.

Enforcing passing rules can be difficult, but we do a pretty good job through the use of cornerworkers and circulating staff trained to spot passing infractions.  A gentle reminder from a staff member is all that is necessary to get the guilty party to conform with the rules.

Make the Pass!

You’ll hear instructors encouraging new track day riders to “make the pass”. This not only allows riders to maintain their pace, but it also prevents a train of riders to accumulate into a long procession. If one rider chooses not to pass, then the rider behind may not pass, creating a line of three riders. Three riders isn’t a train, but soon a fourth and fifth rider joins the group and a conga line begins to form.

The more riders in a line, the harder it is for anyone to pass, so the line grows exponentially longer and before you know it, there is a line of perhaps 8 to 10 bikes riding at a pace set by the slow person at the front. This leads to frustration and potentially risky passes as faster riders in the back desperately try to get by. I’ll talk about ways to avoid the need to make risky passes in a bit.

Passing Mastery

Passing is a skill that is more akin to chess than to rugby and when done right is very satisfying. Ask any racer what aspect of racecraft has allowed them to achieve success and they will likely put passing near the top of their list.

The trick to passing well is to look well ahead. You must evaluate the person you want to pass so you can make a plan; is he demonstrating a slower exit speed that you can take advantage of by accelerating a bit earlier and harder at the corner exit? Or perhaps he or she exits tight, which may allow you to accelerate around the outside.

Less desirable is if the sower rider exits slower an runs wide where you then cut up the inside (well past the apex) and accelerate away. This is risky if you combine added lean angle with acceleration. Always reduce lean angle as you accelerate!

Once you learn to pass well, you are able to maintain your pace and maximize the flow that leads to finding the “zone”.

Passing on the Gas

Passing can be done in a number of ways.  Often, the best way to pass is on the gas as you exit. One trick to use when you want to pass a rider who is only a little slower than you is to hold back a bit before accelerating. This gives you space behind the slower rider for you to increase speed and gain on the rider as you both begin to exit the corner.

Yes, you give up a bit of mid-corner speed, but it gives you the ability to “run up” on the rider you want to pass. Be sure to look well past the rider you are passing to reduce the risk of passing too close.

You want to avoid following too closely to the rider ahead of you. If you attach yourself to the slower rider’s tail, then you are locked into his or her (presumably slower) pace through the corner and exit and you’ll lose the opportunity to catapult by.

See 15 Tips for Better Track Day Passing

Passing on the Brakes

Another way to pass is to do so while on the brakes, well before entering a turn. Passing while braking can be tricky, since you want to ideally get past the slower rider before beginning to turn.

To avoid cutting off the rider you just passed, you will likely need to start turning from the spot where you passed, not from the ideal line near outside edge of the track. This means that if you pass on the right before a right-hand turn, you will need to enter the corner from the center of the track to prevent cutting in front of the rider you just passed.

You may think that you have plenty of space to move over, but may have to brake hard to avoid hitting your rear tire, because you cut him off.

Avoiding Risky Passes

If you find yourself at the back of a large pack of slower riders, it may be tempting to overtake the whole group all at once. Oftentimes, this leads to anxiety about not completing the pass in time.

Also, slower riders may become startled by the much faster “closing” speed as the passer zips by. Another common situation is when more than one faster rider attempts to make a big pass, so that there are fast bikes passing on both sides down the straight, making passing zones a bit chaotic.

Another example of a risky pass is when a passer chooses to overtake in an area where the person being passed might drift to the outside of the corner, across the passer’s front wheel. “Pinching” can happen at the entrance or exit of a corner. See diagram.

You must predict that the rider does not know that you are coming up their side and may move over to set up for the corner or drift extra wide at the exit. As the passer, you must take responsibility by predicting that this might happen.

Being Passed

There is one rule for being passed and that is to do nothing but stay on your line. By being predictable, you allow the riders who are passing you to do so without drama. When being passed, do not move abruptly to the left or right in a way that might pinch someone who may be passing.

Sometimes, riders unconsciously move to the outside edge before a corner to set up for the turn. It’s smart to give some room just in case someone is making a late outside pass. This applies to both entering turns, as well as exiting a corner where a faster rider may be coming around the outside on the gas, so avoid drifting to the very edge of the track. See diagram.

How do you know that someone might be ready to pass you? You don’t, but you can predict that there may be a faster rider wanting to come by you at any time, which means that you should avoid going to the very edge of the track when possible.

And do not look over your shoulder! If you hear a motorcycle coming up from behind, keep your eyes ahead and stay on line and the risk of a passing incident becomes a non-issue.

Not having mirrors is disorienting to new track day riders, but it’s important that you keep your eyes and attention forward. Read more about why we don’t allow mirror here.

Letting People Pass

It’s not unusual to have a line of fast riders on slow bikes being held up by a slower rider on a fast bike. The slower rider will likely want to accelerate hard on the straights (it is fun after all), leaving the slower bikes behind only to hold them up in the corners.

This leads to the faster riders (on slower bikes) feeling the need to take greater chances to try and get by the faster bike, since there is no way this will be possible on the straights where the fast bike rockets off.

You may want to accelerate less onto the straights if you suspect there is a group there, but don’t feel obligated. If you don’t want to slow down on the straights, another option is to pit in and let the group get past and then re-enter the track.

Accelerate less on the straight to allow slower bikes to pass. Avoid looking at the passer.

Avoid Frustration

If you are one of the fast riders on a slow bike and are frustrated because a slower rider on a fast bike is holding you up, then consider pitting in, rolling down the hot pit, and re-entering the track once the slower rider is well enough ahead. This is smarter than attempting a risky pass to get by. Yes, it will disrupt your flow, but it is often a minor interruption that you can quickly put behind you.

Practice Passing

Every session provides opportunities to practice passing. Instead of thinking of passing as a hassle, think of it as another skill to master. Not only will you be rewarded with many more flowing laps, but you’ll discover how satisfying clean passes can feel.

See 15 Tips for Better Track Day Passing


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