Track Time: Donnie Hansen Motocross Academy

Three decades later, he's still getting the holeshot

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Joe Bonello

"Practice doesn't make perfect. Good practice makes perfect."

So goes the sage advice given by Donnie Hansen, 1982 AMA Supercross and Motocross Champion, and one of the four teammates who started America's 13-year winning streak in the Motocross des Nations in '81. A head injury ended Hansen's professional racing career prematurely, and today he teaches the next generation of riders what he knows. Except on this particular Thursday and Friday before the annual Vet World Championship at Glen Helen, where he's coaching riders closer to his own age.

Why take a class taught by a 51-year-old former racer who hasn't won a championship since Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show? Well, aside from the fact that he won those two titles (and you've won how many?), he's also the father of current AMA Pro John Hansen, the X-Games gold medalist who as this is written is leading the 2010 Australasian Supercross Championship over the likes of Chad Reed and Kevin Windham. Considering who taught him how to ride, it's probably worth listening!

Class begins in the pits with a discussion of proper body position, from how to grip the bars (leave a little space between thumbs and grips, palms on top, not behind) to how to stand (knees slightly bent, head forward of the front numberplate).

We then discuss cornering: Weight outside peg, press against tank with outside knee, outside elbow up, inside leg extended, countersteer as you roll on the throttle and pick up the bike.

Multi-time Vet champ Doug Dubach joins us and demonstrates proper technique by running a variety of lines through one corner. First he hits the inside rut, sitting straight up on the outside edge of the saddle with his inside foot stuck out front. Next he hits the rut but runs it out toward the berm at the exit, where he changes his body position, sitting more square in the saddle. Last, he rails the berm, dipping his head to the inside like a roadracer. Looking on, Hansen reminds us to hit the lower part of the berm as the upper part can give way.

We then move onto braking, setting up cones on the start straight and running laps. At first I do it dirt-track style, backing it into the corners. But Donnie encourages me to do it roadrace-style, braking hard while straight up and down, then turning quickly and firing it off the corner. He warns us not to brake too hard, though; you need to squeeze the lever first to transfer weight and let the front tire get a good bite. We're told to keep the clutch engaged to maximize engine braking, except when downshifting or when pivoting the bike with the rear brake. I remark that it's hard to keep from locking up the rear brake with thick motocross boots on, and Donnie tells me not to use it so heavily: there's far more stopping power in the front anyway.

If I do one thing right in motocross, it's get good starts, but I still learned a lot from "Holeshot" Hansen. Dubach is likewise an exceptional starter, and was especially insightful as he described inspecting the area around the starting gate. Is it concrete or dirt? Is the grip consistent? Is it level? If not, line up crooked or start with one foot on the peg so the bike straightens itself out as you launch. How's the dirt in front of the gate? It might all look the same, but one side might be softer than the other. Get out there, walk around on it and see where you sink, then pick a spot, sweep the concrete clean and pack down a line with your boot to maximize traction.

There's also the starting procedure to consider. Watch a few starts and see how long it is between when the guy with the 30-second board turns it sideways and the gate drops. How fast does the gate fall? If it falls quickly, line up with your front tire right up against it. If it falls slowly, line up as far back as you can. Look at the mechanism; maybe you can see that move before the gate itself starts to fall? Having a sense of how long this all takes lets you look down at the gate a few seconds before it's going to fall instead of staring at it endlessly. Blink and you'll miss it.

We discuss how much rpm to use at the start, and how quickly to engage the clutch. On concrete, smoothly drive off the pad, then pin it in the dirt. On dirt, spin the rear tire just enough to keep the front end down; roll out and it'll wheelie.

We then move onto jumping. Donnie demonstrates how to "maximize" and "minimize" jumps, standing up to soar the farthest possible distance or collapsing knees and elbows to "soak up" a jump and stay closer to the ground. Not as stylish as the "Bubba Scrub," but just as effective. He then teaches us how to "seat bounce," remaining seated coming off the jump face and letting the bike fall away mid-air so we land standing. And he explains how to use the rear brake to bring the front end down if it's too high, and how to "panic rev" to bring the front end up if it's too low.

I've been racing motocross since I was a teenager, so I can't say I learned anything truly new at the Donnie Hansen Motocross Academy (www.dhma.com). But it did make me think about my riding, and about some of the fundamentals I'd long forgotten. Hitting the USGP track for one practice session on Friday afternoon, I didn't try to go fast; I just practiced what Donnie preached. Yeah, some guys named Hughes and Lechien left me for dead, but I found myself riding really well; maybe better than ever.

Good practice really does makes perfect-just like Donnie said.

By Brian Catterson
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