American Supercamp School Review
“Stay on top of the bike, dummy,” I yell to myself, the comment muted inside my KLIM F4 lid.
Religiously studying road-racing techniques for the past 10 years, I initially can’t keep my body straight up while sliding this Yamaha TTR 125 sideways through a left corner. This flat-track technique is something completely new to me, even after two days of drills.
“Rush the bike into the corner…point those fingers where the bike needs to go,” the well-ridden flat-track instructor says. I hear these things, but again, my road-racing skills resurface.
The instructor? Seven-time AMA Pro Flat Track Champion Chris Carr. I take a breath and realize, yes, I better listen. This is Chris Carr I’m talking too…
And soon it all makes sense.
I finally get two passes while rushing the 175-lbs. TTR into the corner somewhat correct, and then follow them up with two crashes. Yep, I revert back to those road-racing techniques. And during the second spill, I here a loud pop from my left knee as it bends awkwardly under the tiny dirt bike with a mere 10 horsepower.
If I was able to “stay on top” of the bike, a few weeks of knee discomfort wouldn’t have been an issue. But these things sometimes happen at American Supercamp. And all to build some necessary skill not only for an addict of a sportbikes and road-racing like me, but any rider wanting to take his or her skill and safety to the next level.
More on the knee later. For now, let’s talk the entire idea of American Supercamp, and what can be gained from the school, which, when compared to other racing schools, is relatively cheap. Former flat tracker and AMA Pro Road Racer Danny Walker began American Supercamp in 1997. The school teaches flat track techniques to improve rider skill and balance for all situations, from dirt to street to the road-race track.
Walker, who won the AMA 250cc GP at New Hampshire International Raceway in 1991, worked closely with some of the world’s most-known racers to design American Supercamp’s drills, including MotoGP’s Colin Edwards, AMA Pro Racing Champion Eric Bostrom and, of course, Chris Carr. Ducati’s Nicky Hayden, three-time AMA SuperBike Champion Josh Hayes and AMA SportBike regular JD Beach have also been guest instructors.
During the two-day school, which is highly recommended over the one-day school due to the amount of material covered, the American Supercamp teachers progressively get riders up to speed with the latest flat-track technique. The philosophy is simple. Start with the basic exercises, and build upon them throughout the drills.
I participated in the classes at Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington, and the students’ ages ranged from a seven-year-old future racer to a 76-year-old man who was on his fourth time attending the school to an 18-year-old woman with little motorcycle experience who drove down from Canada to attend the school. Unfortunately Walker wasn’t present due to being at the debut MotoGP event at Circuit of the Americas.
A school for any level of rider skill, the first day of camp gets students familiarized with flat track technique through group and one-on-one training, including video examples. With 17 riders in the class, which were split into three groups based on skill level, Carr and the other three instructors – AMA Pro Flat Track Champion Jake Johnson, “Joe Joe” and “Sac,” were able to provide much personal training.
The first day features a typical oval track design, which is run the usual flat-track counter-clockwise. To build skill for all riders, equal laps are run clockwise. During day one, the camp teaches the basics of the “key elements of a slide,” including body positioning, correct line, throttle position to lean angle, speed, braking and turn commitment.
These techniques are all incorporated when practicing what American Supercamp calls the four steps of sliding:
1. Drive Into the Corner
2. Reduce Speed
3. Change Direction
4. Start Straight Away
When these four steps work in one smooth motion, successful slides are made, lap times are lowered, and championships are won. Just ask Carr. He swears by them.
Trained in road-racing technique, body position becomes my largest challenge. Everything is opposite, such as keeping the body upright while leaning the bike. Riding back-to-back laps with Johnson helps break a few habits.
I follow his lines, and mimic his body positioning. A daunting task, but soon I’m able to keep my spine perpendicular to the ground as the bike pitches into a turn. Off the bike, Johnson and the other instructors also provided further instruction on a Yamaha TTR “horse” bike, which is the frame of the TTR 125 mounted on wooden legs (think pendulum) that make the bike react like a moving motorcycle.
I also have trouble with the being “lazy on the bike” technique. To allow the bike to slide through turns, you sit like a “couch potato,” killing all posture. Arriving from strict street/road-race discipline, this practice also takes some time to get used to.
But on the subject of working the suspension, not much changes from road-racing to the dirt. The secret to smooth riding – just as on a street bike – is smooth transition of weight, a low center of gravity, and always having the suspension even through turns. Too much weight up front, and there’s the washout that can lead to a nasty high side; too much on the rear, and the same.
And smoothness is highly preached, or as Carr repeats, riding smoothly is a “fluid thing…like ballroom dancing.” This helps tremendously when the track is doused with water to produce some extremely wet conditions.
Another technique that traverses both dirt and street is getting the bike upright before full throttle is engaged. For the experienced rider, having the “meat” of the tires on the ground before opening the throttle is nothing new. But many forget this simple logic, something American Supercamp emphasizes over and over.
And opening up the leg while sliding. This looks easy, but until the end of day one I still wasn’t open my hips wide enough while letting the foot slide.
Things are sinking in by the end of day one, but it’s not until day two when it all starts to make sense. And this is when things get extremely fun.
When the students arrived at the track on day two, the circuit is set up like a big horseshoe, allowing both left and right turns instead of the single-direction layout used on day one.
After a session to loosen up, the exercises begin, some very challenging. The drills included riding a few laps with only the throttle hand while the clutch hand holds the gas gap, followed by riding with both feet on the pegs. But the most challenging was the Slalom exercise. The emphasis here is keeping the eyes ahead, which optimizes your line while riding between the cones. We also complete the exercise with one hand.
And throughout the exercises Carr is out riding with everyone, providing one-on-one training. I ride a few laps with him, and he continually tells me to slouch more and open up my hip. Once I feel comfortable, like I am actually riding at a level somewhat comparable (quite impossible!), Carr puts me in my place by wheeling by with one hand around a turn. Yep…he makes you understand why he has seven championships – pure skill.
The final exercise of day two is single-rider slides, with all instructors at the track’s first left-hand turn. As the instructors provide input, each riders’ slides, or attempts at slides, are recorded.
We run the TTR 125 in at full speed in second or third gear, and try to optimize the four steps of the slide. This is where I popped my knee. Why? I revert back to sportbike techniques, and lean in with the bike instead of “staying on top” of it.
If I stayed on top, the Yamaha would have grounded and I’d land on top with no issues. But my leg bended back like I was a Gumby toy (photo 11 above), and the noise was loud. Adrenaline pumping, I try three more times, taking advice from Carr, final completing my best slide by the end of the session.
The second day ends with all-out riding fun. You’re allowed one crash to keep riding, but you must stay on top of the bike when hitting the dirt. I ride for a few minutes, and the pain sets in…
Hours later on the ride home my left knee resembles a football. Thankfully X-rays didn’t find any chipped or broken bone, though I mangled up the muscles pretty bad. Two weeks later I am riding, and all is well.
Was it worth it? Yes, every morsel of pain. Why? A month after the school a car would run a stop sign while adventure riding on some state-game roads. I was forced to slide the rear of the bike out by squeezing the rear brake, identical to the sliding practice at American Supercamp (the one when my knee went “pop.”) This time I stayed on top of the bike, though, the school’s training helping me to avoid crashing into some mindless driver and ruining a day of riding.
Though American Supercamp helps the racers/riders of both flat track and road-race courses, the camp will have the largest impact on the street.
With continued practice of the techniques present in the school, street riders will know how the bike reacts to certain situations, especially those under slipperier conditions. Understanding how a bike will react in a slide can save a rider from many wrecks, even fatal ones.
The school runs $600 for a two-day camp, or $300 for the single-day session, with 2013 dates in Denver, Fort Collins, Colo., Fontana and Calistoga in California, and Vancouver, Wash.
And don’t worry if you don’t have proper off-road gear. American Supercamp provides gear from head-to-toe at no extra charge. At the Delaware camp, many took advantage of this…even the few that arrived in suits.
For additional information, including a full schedule, visit American Supercamp.
Photography Pam Zeigler