“I didn’t just say no, I said hell no,” Walker quips, insisting that he had little desire to run a team. LaTrasse persisted anyway. Walker, thinking he could change LaTrasse’s mind started talking numbers. “I made it clear that we would take his large fortune and turn it into a small one,” Walker says. LaTrasse didn’t flinch. It was then that discussions became serious.
|[vs-jwplayer movieid="uhWK_l1mMnY" width="525" height="297" autoplay="1"]|
With the supply of talented racers far outnumbering the number of open seats available, Walker wanted to use this opportunity to help stars of the future — ones he’s personally coached — advance in their careers. Having worked extensively with Hayden Gillim and Tomas Puerta throughout the years, they were natural choices. The story was supposed to be finished there. All parties involved were convinced two riders were plenty to handle for a new team, but then Red Bull came calling.
“We got a call from Red Bull saying they needed somewhere to place their sponsored riders, J.D. Beach and Jake Gagne,” Walker says. “Jeremy [LaTrasse] struck a deal with Red Bull and now we’re a four-rider team with support from Red Bull.”
Under the team structure, Gillim and Puerta will contest the AMA Pro Motorcycle-Superstore.com SuperSport class under the RoadRace Factory banner, while Beach and Gagne will campaign the AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike Championship under RoadRace Factory/Red Bull moniker.
We pick up the story at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in Desert Center, California, as Walker invited members of the press to the team’s first test. All four riders will be Yamaha YZF-R6 mounted, with support from Leo Vince and Bell helmets. All three partnerships are a natural extension of their support with American Supercamp. In explaining the partnership with Leo Vince, Walker said Tim Calhoun, executive vice president of Leo Vince USA, was “aggressive” in pursuing new avenues for his products, and when he learned of Walker’s RoadRace Factory team, he was on board instantly.
The team will use Factory “R” full exhaust systems, but more importantly, will be a test bed and promotional tool for two of Leo Vince’s newest products, the SBK Street line of carbon fiber crash protection and the Fast Box II engine management system. Calhoun’s intent is to educate riders that Leo Vince is more than just an exhaust company, and that one day soon “we’ll be able to sell all three items to consumers — buy a pipe, buy a [Fast] box, buy carbon, and we’ll give you a discount.”
Bell’s participation with the team is an example of the company’s push to expand its presence in the AMA paddock, as Gillim, Puerta and Josh Herrin were the only Bell-sponsored riders prior to this year. Like Arai and Shoei, Bell will now have a presence at every AMA round, providing assistance for any and all Bell riders. Research and development teams will also attend select races in order to collect data for use on future Bell products.
For Walker, working with Bell has been a reunion to his early days. “I did my first race in 1970, and my dad made me wear an orange Bell Star helmet so he could see me wherever I was on the track.” He went on to note that safety is his chief concern for all his riders and that he respected his rider’s choice to use whatever helmet they wanted, “but after we toured the [Bell] facility, we were immediately impressed.”
Being a brand new team, expectations are cautiously optimistic at this point. Of course, all the riders believe they have what it takes to win, but both classes the team is competing in are stacked full of highly talented competition. For Walker, he’s not worried. During their team meetings every Thursday, he tells everyone to “enjoy the process.” He feels that as long as everyone is doing their job to the best of their ability then the results will come. The effervescent and young-spirited Walker was quick to point out, however, that he doesn’t take losing very well. He added, “I hate losing and clearly I want to win, but we’re not in this for the money, so let’s have some fun.”
It’s hard to say where the economy will take this sport in the future, but Walker has no intention of the RoadRace Factory team being a flash in the pan. As long as the funding is there, he plans on the team being a fixture in the AMA paddock as a stepping stone for riders to eventually make it to Europe. “At the end of the day we’re here to promote the riders, the school, and to develop future stars.”
RoadRace Factory School
As the main proprietor and lead instructor of American Supercamp for over a decade, Danny Walker had been having thoughts of starting a new school, a companion school to the dirt-based American Supercamp, only this one held on the pavement and geared towards roadracers. In fact, when Walker initially turned down LaTrasse’s offer to field a roadracing team, he said he’d rather start a new school.
When LaTrasse asked what was stopping him, Walker stated he simply couldn’t afford to purchase 15 Yamaha WR250Fs. Like a magic genie, LaTrasse made the dream a reality and the RoadRace Factory School was born. Each WR is converted from off-road to supermoto duties and ride on Dunlop D208F SM tires in front and D208 SM rubber in the rear. These buns aren’t Dunlop’s greatest racing tire, either — they are standard street tires.
Each bike then gets outfitted from Leo Vince with X3 “Works” carbon fiber protection and crash guards in key areas to withstand inevitable tumbles. Apart from teaching his own unique philosophy on riding, Walker was clear on the element that would separate this school from the rest. “As far as I know, this will be the only school where it’s okay to crash. I don’t care. I’m going to help you find your personal limits and extend them. But you can’t find your limits if you don’t crash.”
Using the WR250F school bikes on go-kart tracks or large parking lots, the speeds will be reduced and therefore Walker predicts injuries will be minimized. “You might get some bumps and bruises and need an Advil, but there won’t be anything preventing you from getting back on the bike and riding.”
Walker understands concepts like trail braking are difficult for riders to understand because they fear the front tire sliding or washing out from underneath them. With the RoadRace Factory School’s crash-all-you-want approach, Walker feels students will finally be able to explore this taboo subject with no lasting consequences. “The thing holding many riders back is fear,” Walker says, adding, “and it’s usually a fear of the tires sliding underneath them. At the school I’ll show you how to manage those slides, get rid of that fear and get on the gas sooner.”
Another taboo subject Walker tackles is body position. He’s quick to dismiss schools that teach the “hang-off” technique, where a rider’s upper body is so far removed from the centerline of the motorcycle. “It’s just wrong, in my opinion,” Walker says. “Sure, it’ll work under perfect conditions on brand new tires, but if you try that on these WR250s you’ll be on your ass in no time.” Instead, Walker’s approach is to keep the spine as close to the motorcycle’s centerline as possible. “You can hang your lower body off the bike as much as you want.”
In attendance at the team’s private test and school introduction was actor and avid motorcycle enthusiast/racer Dean McDermott. That morning, McDermott crashed his Ducati 1198 racebike, breaking his clutch lever in an incident he deemed a “rookie mistake.” When Walker introduced him to the WR250 school bikes and offered a little coaching, it turned out to be an eye-opening experience.
“I’ve been to a couple schools taught by well-respected instructors, and I felt like they were teaching how to ride like they ride,” McDermott said, adding, “but no two people ride the same.”
Walker took the time to teach McDermott techniques that would work best for a rider who’s 6-foot, 3 inches and 230 pounds. After swallowing everything Walker had to say, McDermott lapped the makeshift parking lot track over and over, getting visibly and progressively faster and more comfortable every time.
He even crashed the bike on the right side, his weaker side. After picking himself and the bike back up, he had a few words with Walker, explaining what happened. Walker reinforced the technique he demonstrated earlier and McDermott rode for another 45 minutes.
“I already feel like a better rider,” he said. “I’ve never slid the end out on my own bikes, but sliding the end out on this and learning how to correct that, it’s amazing. I would definitely recommend this school to riders of all levels.”
Commenting on the WR250F, McDermott confessed that he almost killed himself on a 450cc motocross machine in the past, and that a 250cc machine “would have been more than enough for me.”
I spent a brief amount of time riding the RoadRace Factory School bike myself, and it was enough to reaffirm McDermott’s claims. The power is perfect for a small course, with plenty of torque to spin the rear wheel. The whole motorcycle, especially the tires, reacts to changes in body movement and positioning. This is a positive in that it could potentially allow you to save yourself from a crash, but also a negative in that improper movement or positioning could initiate a crash in the first place.
Our time on the bikes and with Walker was only a tiny glimpse of what a real RoadRace Factory School experience would be like. Those will be only one-day courses and, depending on the location, will cost anywhere from $600 - $750. No damage deposit required. If possible, Walker would like to hold schools before or after AMA events, as many of the courses on the calendar also have suitable parking lots or go-kart tracks.
Gear is not provided and class size is capped at 20. At the beginning of the day, each student will receive a GoPro video camera, with mounts already attached to the front and rear of the motorcycle. After every session the student will have their own monitor and will be able to view their riding on the spot. Walker will then critique each student, teach something else from the lesson plan, and then release everyone back out to ride and record.
As of press time, neither a final 2012 schedule has been confirmed, nor an official website launched, but both will be soon and we’ll post that information when we get it. In the meantime, you can get more information on RoadRace Factory via its Facebook page.