Early classroom sessions on Sunday are filled with more good stuff. Martin begins with a discussion of reference points, and how they're key when you're haulin'. Paint lines, hay bales, pavement cracks, cones-they all work. On the board are the four key ones for each corner: braking point, turn-in point, apex and exit. Again, lots of info to keep running in one's RAM drive. This is well-known territory for me, as I remember reading about it in Keith Code's Twist of the Wrist back in '84. But going back over it helps keep me focused.
Those sore quads come back to haunt me in my first session. It's hard to move around on the bike, and my brain seems equally tired; my thought processes are working through pudding. I find-again-that when you're out of shape, you're at the mercy of the bike, not in control and closer than you know to a mistake and a crash.
Back in class Martin covers information that seems perfectly suited to my pitiful, just-finished session-controlling panic. He talks about panic triggers: Drifting wide in corners, something unexpected happening, exceeding one's comfortable lean angle and loss of traction. He covers the typical reactions to panic, which include target fixation, tunnel vision, chopping the throttle/grabbing the brakes, a sudden steering input or an entire freeze-up. The solutions, he says, are: Look where you want to go. Look farther into the corner. Relax and breathe. Have smooth control inputs. Realize you don't have to stop to be safe (meaning you can be OK by going through or around something). Trust your tires and realize that 90 percent of the time the bike can make it through the corner. "When/if you get into a corner hot, look up the track and will yourself to make the corner." Good advice.
We then cover corner types: constant-, increasing- and decreasing-radius, positive- and negative-cambers, momentum and drive corners. Seventy-five-mph Turn 6 is a momentum corner (in and out quickly), while tricky 7 is a good example of a drive corner-in slowly and out as fast as you dare. We then talk about proper gear selection ("You want the gear that gives the bike responsiveness at the exit-60 to 80 percent of redline," says Martin), clutchless upshifting ("Load the shift pedal with your foot and fan the clutch"), the need to match revs during downshifting, and proper crash techniques, which everyone finds funny. "First, don't go there!" Martin says with a laugh. "And if you do crash, get wide. It helps keep you from flipping."
My final session is with the world champ himself, and we have an epic time, cutting, thrusting, dicing and passing each other just as we'd done a few months before at Barber Motorsports Park for our "Dream Rides" story. Kev is riding just a hair above my fast pace so I can live my moment, of course, but even so, watching him ride so smoothly and precisely from just 10 feet back is a revelation.
Forty-five minutes later all 30 of us-and the instructors-are in the classroom watching a full-lap video of Schwantz that Caylor had taken earlier. It's literally shocking, not only because Schwantz appears to be moving in almost fast-forward mode, but because of the uncanny efficiency he shows while negotiating Road Atlanta's 15 rollercoaster-like corners. He's going so quickly none of us can imagine doing what he's doing, but he's barely moving around on the bike. It's smoothness to the nth degree, hot syrup over a tall stack.
The guy is just amazing.
At the end, Schwantz puts the pedal down and jumps away from Caylor's GSX-R750 like he's hit the lightspeed lever. "And the train," Schwantz says with a big ol' grin, "has just left the station!" There's uproarious laughter, a perfect way to end the on-track activities for the day.
Flying home the following day, several ideas circulated through my cranium:
The first one was that it's not so much what they teach you at the Schwantz School, but how they teach it. Yeah, newbies will learn a lot of stuff they'd probably never heard before. But the repetition of basics-the discussion of something, actually doing it on the track, watching an instructor do it correctly 10 feet in front of you, the rehash back in the classroom, and then the video-is key to having the lessons stick and being able to repeat them correctly later, even to salty old street and track veterans.
The second was an objective realization of my abilities, and their limits. I've always ridden motorcycles in a seat-of-the-pants way-by feel and natural ability. It worked fine on a motocrosser, but it only gets you so far on the asphalt. Eventually, you hit a wall-which I did when I was about 25-because your technique isn't perfect (in my case, far from it). Sitting there, part of me wished I'd learned this stuff when I was 20. But, of course, Schwantz was only 18 at the time, a dirtbike-riding Texas teenager learning the bits and pieces of the two-wheel puzzle that would eventually launch him to the 1993 500cc world championship.
If someone had told me before I took the Schwantz School that I'd ride behind instructors 95 percent of my on-track time for three long days, have the time of my life, learn more than I'd ever learned on a racetrack and ride better and faster than ever, I'd have said, "bullshit."
But I'd have been wrong. The Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School is that good.
I have a suspicion I'll be calling Ms. Marnie Lincoln again next spring.