We all know that track schools are the best way to grow your motorcycle skills. But, are they as applicable to experts as they are to novices? We sent a talented amateur racer down to Jason DiSalvo’s Speed Academy to find out. — Ed.
On March 8th and 9th, I had the opportunity to attend Jason DiSalvo’s Speed Academy at the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Because that school doesn’t provide its students with bikes, I sourced an AMA-prepped 2012 Triumph Daytona 675 R from Apex Manufacturing.
I’m coming off of back-to-back crashes aboard my own 675 at NJMP, so figured this was a great way to regain confidence and maybe even pick up the pace for 2013.
I thought it would be interesting to try this for two reasons 1) to get some track time before the North East’s season started and 2) to see what I still had to learn after 40 track days and two CCS race weekends in 2012 alone. Can experienced riders really benefit from one of these schools?
Jason’s school appeared to be the best choice for a number of reasons. The key points being that I would be able to ride a bike very similar to my own and the curriculum focuses more on going fast than it does on fundamental basics.
Jason is Triumph’s factory AMA rider and winner of the 2011 Daytona 200. His instructional partner, Brian Stokes, is a former professional motocross and road racer and is currently crew chief for Yamaha AMA Pro, Garrett Gerloff.
The Speed Academy also includes guest instruction. The weekend I was there, Elena Myeres and Kenny Riedmann were helping out and, because it was the weekend before Daytona, nearly the entire AMA grid happened to be on-track too.
To say I was in good hands is an understatement. To say I wasn’t nervous would be a lie. Unknown track, similar bike, and AMA Pros buzzing past at light speed…
I would describe my current riding ability as one of the slower fast guys at the track. In the past three years, I’ve done around 70 trackdays and, last year at 39 years old, I decided to start club racing in the Mid Atlantic Championship Cup Series, mostly in the supersport (600cc) class, also affectionally known as “The Meat Grinder” for its large grid (30 to 50 riders) and the balls-to-the-wall riding that occurs in it.
I was entering this class on my stock-motor 675, competing against a sea of built R6s. Last year, I was pretty happy I didn’t crash during a race or get lapped. This year, I intend to get more serious.
The bike’s now been through a supersport engine rebuild, I’ve tried to keep in-shape off-season, spent most of the winter watching race videos on YouTube and went to bed every night dreaming of my home track. Going to the Speed Academy would, I hoped, be the last step to getting on-pace.
The overall vibe at the school is very relaxed. Jason and Brian are really nice guys, very approachable and friendly. No cocky condescending racer attitudes here. In fact, the school felt like a private trackday with eight of your buddies. Buddies going racing at Daytona a week later.
The school’s entire approach is visual. Everything is done via GoPro, either from your bike’s perspective or one of the instructors following you. After going out and practicing a technique, you come into the pits, review it, and head back out to do it better.
Jason’s theory is, if you look good doing it, you can probably do it faster. This applies to both body position, your line selection on the track and operating the controls smoothly.
Topics are introduced in a classroom setting, then students are taken onto the track with their instructors. When you come back in, each video is reviewed by the whole class, so you learn from others’ mistakes and vice versa.
Feedback on those videos is provided by Jason and Brian and, again, is friendly and encouraging with a fun attitude. Being filed by another rider who’s right behind you is the best way to really see what you’re doing both right and wrong. You not only see what you’re doing, but also get some perspective on lines by seeing where the instructors are at the same time as you; they stay on the ideal line.
I couldn’t have told you this before, but it turned out that my biggest issues were hanging my ass too far off the seat and turning in too late. All that was then exposed for my classmates to see and the crew to help me with.
Two days later, I was keeping my head lower and the bike more upright as a result. I was using the controls more smoothly and trail braking further into the corner. Lighter brakes for longer was the key.
I came away from the class feeling notably faster. I just completed the first CCS round at NJMP up a few places from last season. More importantly, I feel safer and more in control and can now put it exactly where I want on the track. I’m more relaxed and less tired after the race as a result.
Worth the money? Well, the Speed Academy is actually one of the more affordable schools out there. Attend one of the Sportbike Track Time days and it’s only around $700. A standalone two-day class is just over $1k, depending on track. Considering that Jason used to teach at Skip Barber’s now-defunct superbike school, which cost well over twice that price and has used that curriculum as the basis of the Academy, this is one of the most effective ways to gain speed that there is.