Jason Pridmore - Star Motorcycle School

Jason Pridmore's Star Motorcycle School

Standing a few precious feet from a hurtling motorcycle as it clips a high-speed apex teaches one many things. It teaches us how modern sportbikes can change direction faster than a low-polling politician in an election year. It teaches us that a track-day rider's biggest limitation is often his own lack of confidence. And after watching instructors at Jason Pridmore's STAR motorcycle school (www.starmotorcycle.com) in action from the sidelines, I've learned just how far an intermediate-level rider like me has to go. But learning how the experts flow is precisely why STAR instructor James Lickwar trucked us out to the shoulder of Turn 5. If we saw how fast this complex, double-apex corner could be taken, some of that velocity just might rub off. Being passed by faster riders during a track day is mostly just frustrating, but this demonstration gave a knee puck's view of the action.

For the uninitiated, Jason Pridmore is the son of three-time AMA Superbike Champion Reg Pridmore, who operates his own riding school. Jason himself is a former AMA Formula Xtreme and 750cc Supersport champion, and FIM World Endurance champ, and recently retired from the Jordan Suzuki Superbike team. He invited me along as his nine-year-old riding school took up residence at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Pahrump, Nevada, where he shared his two decades of racing wisdom.

"There are so many riding schools operating right now that it's important to offer students things they really can't get anywhere else," Pridmore explained. His bag of tricks includes awe-inspiring two-up laps behind him on his Suzuki GSX-R1000. There's also plentiful ride-along coaching from his team of talented instructors, including Motorcyclist's own Angie Loy and Sport Rider's Andrew Trevitt.

My hopes were not high for the day's schooling as the Pennsylvania winter had kept me out of the saddle. But after sitting in on both the street-level and advanced classroom sessions, I'd picked up enough of the headmaster's pointers to feel situated. Whether speaking with students new to track riding or seasoned experts with road-rashed leathers, the message was the same: Visualization and proper line discipline will get you around a circuit fastest. Repetition and personal goals are key. To this point, Pridmore insisted we maintain our gaze a few seconds ahead on the track, effectively slowing things down; to only use as much track as the throttle will allow; and to maintain a tight, efficient line close to the track's edge. It's a simple-but-effective mantra that keeps riders from wasting space and time.

During our pavement's-edge demonstration in T5, each of the instructors stayed close enough to the inside curb that the outer reaches of the corner were available should he overcook the entry or brake too late. As for the rest of us, it was a worthwhile lesson that I expect will pay for itself the first time we enter a corner carrying too much speed. Running wide in turns and crossing over the centerline into oncoming traffic is sportbiking's dirty little secret, an easily avoidable mishap that Pridmore believes is the result of too many riders choosing too powerful machines. To that end, students have the option of renting a humble Suzuki SV650 for $350 per day or $650 per weekend (a certain Ben Spies recently took the school aboard one of these easy-to-ride, 70-horsepower V-twins) or upgrading to a more potent Suzuki GSX-R600 for $500 and $900, respectively. "I wish I could get more people on 600s, because it keeps their straightaway speeds down so they're not panic-braking at the first corner," Pridmore said. Of course, students are welcome to ride their own machines.

Though the advanced students receive a full two days of track-biased instruction, it's the everyday lessons that are applicable to staying safe on the street that keep many students re-enrolling. Among the faithful is Bharath Redduy, a GSX-R600 pilot with 10 years' street-riding experience. Redduy had found himself virtually wrestling with the controls of his bike before attending a STAR school in '06, and proudly showed off the flattened knee pucks and ruined toe sliders that are the merit badges of increased confidence. "I'm not here to go Pro racing; I just want to go fast in the canyons, and they've been able to offer that for a reasonable price," he said. Enrollment ranges from $275 to $850, depending on whether you choose a one- or two-day curriculum and which of the school's 12 venues you attend.

Having missed the morning riding sessions while I sat in class, I suited up for some afternoon laps in the dry, cool desert air. Because I'd ridden this snaky little 2.2-mile circuit once before, I soon started to pass a few of my fellow street-level students who'd been riding all morning. But just when I was starting to feel like Mr. Whoopass, I was waved in by instructor Mark Gallardo. In a brief, to-the-point exchange, Gallardo revealed why my cornering was sluggish and how, if I wasn't careful, I might leave Nevada with a big, purple bruise. "You need to stay on the balls of your feet because you have no balance and you're dragging your weight across the seat, upsetting the suspension," he explained. Grasping my bike's fork between his knees, Gallardo secured the motorcycle while asking me to stand. With my heels draped over the pegs, I couldn't. But move my size-14 Sidis up and back, and balanced on the balls of my feet, I was suddenly able to scoot around like a 280-pound Dani Pedrosa. One session later, the instructors were all nodding at the improvements I'd made. I can't wait to apply what I've learned on my favorite back road.