It’s Not Just About Racing: Kathy Reilly of Zoom Zoom
Next time you’re at the track, say “hi” to one of our favorite bike-whisperers, Kathy Reilly. She’s got some inspiring stories- and some hilarious ones too. And, if her ‘track record’ is any indication, she’ll be there. She’s been involved with racing for more than fifteen years, and, as an instructor and organizer for Zoom Zoom Track Days, she’s an integral part of keeping Bay Area riders safe on the roads and skilled on the track.
Over the years, we’ve gotten to know many of the rider coaches at Z2 and become big fans of what they offer to riders of all skill levels, styles, and interests. Some of our staff members get out to their track days as often as they can (when they aren’t gearing up riders at the store), so we know firsthand how fun and educational a track day with great coaches like Kathy can be.
Read on for the story of how Kathy went from mashing around a track on 50cc YSR50, to instructing riders and testing her own skills on tracks around the world. She also talked with us about how any rider can get started on the track or with a class, so if you’d like to improve your own bike handling skills, this might be a good place to start.
Road Rider: What bike do you currently own?
Kathy Reilly: 2006 Yamaha R6 (race) / 2012 Yamaha R6
RR: What was your first bike?
KR: 1988 FZR400
RR: How did you start riding on the track?
KR: Around the time I got my first bike, my husband bought a YSR50 [two-stroke, 50cc Yamaha mini race bike] to start racing with the NCMRRA [Northern California Mini Road Racing Association]. I came along to help out during his first year and discovered there were some girls racing. It looked fun and they had a novice class. The next year, I decided to give it a try. It was great learning to race on such a small bike. If you crashed, you could pick it up and keep going. The first time I dragged my knee, the scraping sound surprised me and I ran off the track into a hay bale! I took my AFM New Racer School in May of 1997 on a Ninja 250 – there were 65 people taking the school all at once. Track days were practically non-existent at that time and some of my classmates had never been on a race track! I had an advantage since I’d raced YSR’s and gotten some of the “dumb” crashes out of the way – such as grabbing the front brake in a turn and looping the bike on a race start. I remember how exciting that first race was. I hunted down another rider for most of the race and finally made a pass entering the Carousel at Sears Point. I was thrilled that I had gotten around and kept my position. There’s something so exciting about being a new racer, battling for position at the back of the pack and bench racing in the pits afterwards with your fellow competitors, grinning ear to ear about every pass that was made on each other.
RR: What classes have you raced?
KR: 250 Production and Superbike, 500 Twins, 450 Superbike, 600 Production and Superbike, Formula 40 and Formula AFemme.
RR: Why do you keep doing it?
KR: I really enjoy the people, the adrenalin rush, and the solitude of being on the track focused in the moment. It’s also very challenging, both physically and mentally. Because it’s mentally challenging, you can work on your game away from the track any time. Go over track layouts, discuss techniques, review pictures of body positioning, pay attention to how you’re braking, accelerating and looking through turns even when you’re driving your car around town. You never stop learning.
RR: Is there someone that has inspired or inspires your motorcycling life?
KR:My husband, Shawn, took me to an empty parking lot and taught me to ride. Once I knew the basics, we made a course in the parking lot and chased each other around on YSR’s until I felt ready to try it out at the track. He’s been very supportive and given me lots of great tips over the years.
RR: In what ways have you noticed your riding improve the most because of track time?
KR: I would say quicker reaction time, more relaxed on the bike, and more comfortable pinning the throttle to avoid a situation.
RR: What was the best part of the day on your last track day?
KR: Talking with people at the end of the day and sharing their excitement over how much they’d progressed – that’s always the best part!
RR: What’s your best advice for new riders on the track?
KR: No matter what level you’re at on the street, start out in the Novice School. Come with an open mind, listen, study the track during the lead-follow laps, and go to the classroom sessions. If you begin “winning” the Novice group and you’re riding smoothly and consistently, you can be moved into Intermediate. But if you start in Intermediate, you won’t accelerate your learning curve the way you will by starting in the Novice group. I promise.
RR: Are there any myths about track days you would like to dispel?
KR: Track days are mainly for racers. Wrong! Anyone who rides can do a track day. The Novice school is a structured program where you may go as fast as you like and focus on whatever skills you choose. It’s like a winding country road with no oncoming traffic, near perfect asphalt, and a variety of turns to work on your cornering. Of course there are the straights where you can go as fast as you like without worry of speeding tickets. The majority of our customers have never raced and have no intentions of doing so. They come out for the pure enjoyment and freedom that a race track can offer.
RR: Do you think of yourself as a competitive person?
KR: I’m competitive, but not overly aggressive. I’ve always enjoyed sports and the challenges involved. I’m glad I decided it would be more fun to join in than watch from the pits. The track environment was so enjoyable that I was happy to take time learning my way around the tracks and acquiring the skills involved. Being patient helped me avoid some crashes, potential injuries, and extra repair costs. Competing is fun, track days are great, and being able to go to work on Monday is a good thing!
RR: Do you have a favorite track?
KR: Sonoma Raceway because it’s a fun, flowing track with several technical turns. It’s also located in beautiful Sonoma along with some nice facilities. Wine tasting is just a few miles away and the weather is spectacular!
RR: What’s the best piece of advice or wisdom a track coach has given you?
KR: Don’t put your butt too far off the seat. This lets your inside knee drop out more easily (towards the pavement so you can drag it!) It helps you see farther through each turn, which also helps you accelerate sooner.
RR: What is the difference between Road Rider 2.0 and Novice?
KR: It depends on your experience and your goals. You should be pretty comfortable using the controls as well as all of the gears (getting to a reasonable speed on the street). If you’ve been riding less than a year, you’re just getting comfortable, and would like to hone your street riding skills, we recommend RR2.0. You will also be introduced to some controlled riding on the racetrack which will give you a taste and let you know if track days might be for you. We also have people who have ridden for years, but are just getting back into it, come out for the RR2.0 course. If you’ve been riding less than a year, but picked it up quickly and are interested in track days, the Novice School is a great place to start. And, of course, if you’ve been riding for years and feel ready to try out the track, sign up for the Novice school.
RR: What about bike preparation? What kind of bike should a person have to participate in a Z2 track day?
KR: Bike prep is pretty straight-forward. There are a few details explained on our website. Riders can call or email us with their questions, and we’re happy to help. For track days, bike types are most commonly sport bikes, touring bikes, and motards with sufficient horsepower. For RR2.0, just about anything goes. Besides the previously mentioned bikes, we’ve had people take the class on scooters, XR100’s, and Harleys.
RR: What is your most indispensable piece of riding gear?
KR: My Suomy helmet. I’ve landed pretty hard on a few helmets and probably wouldn’t be here answering these questions if I hadn’t been wearing them.
RR: What’s your take on street safety gear?
KR: It’s crucial. I’m used to wearing full gear and armor at the track. Not gearing up on the street is very uncomfortable.
RR: How has motorcycling changed your life?
KR: First, not only have I met many wonderful people in the sport, but I’ve met many of them in other countries. My first trip overseas was to Kenny Roberts Training Ranch in Spain. I was so excited to meet Kenny Roberts and to be in Europe for the first time! Three years later, I found myself in Thailand for Jamie Whitham’s Thai Race School. The final weekend of the school culminated in participating in the National race series at the circuit where we practiced. While being interviewed on the starting grid, they said I was the first woman to race in a National race over there. I wrote a story about our racing and travels in Thailand which was published in Road Racing World Magazine. This would lead to more overseas travels with friends we met in Thailand and several more articles published in RRW.
Second, Z2 Track Days has been a huge part of my life for the last ten years. Being so involved in the sport has been incredible and it’s so rewarding to be able to give back and help others achieve their goals.