Taking this job with Motorcycle.com has opened up an unbelievable set of opportunities for me. I’ve had the chance to ride some amazing motorcycles in some of the most awe-inspiring places. If you’d asked me when I moved from the Midwest ten years ago if I thought I would’ve had the experiences I’ve had so far, even though I’ve always been hopeful, I couldn’t have imagined just how incredible it has been. Not a day goes by, even the long ones in front of a computer, that I’m not truly grateful for this.

And in being truly grateful for these opportunities, I find a huge, sometimes crushing responsibility to you, our readers, to deliver the best, most honest and critical reviews I can. To deliver the facts and to let you ultimately make your own judgements. Without giving my all, why should I expect you to bother reading what I have to say? It’s my responsibility to continue improving and to stay hungry and to do everything I can to do my job in the best way possible.

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The morning of the ChampSchool introduction Nick Ienatsch said, “We’re going to give 100% of ourselves to you for the next two days, but we expect the same in return.” It resonated with me. It reminded me of why I’ve had so much success with attending schools or simply when listening to those who have more experience than I do. I do appreciate the instruction and I do try to apply myself, 100%. A lot of what I would learn in the following days on the racetrack and in the classroom apply to all disciplines of riding and some things, to everyday life. And that’s why the Yamaha Champions Riding School is based around what the crew calls Champions Habits.

Going Back to School

I attribute the relatively short amount of time it took me to pick up off-road riding to my willingness to realize that I was completely out of my element, the ability to then check my ego and to listen to what more experienced people were telling me and then, most importantly, to apply those techniques. I am by no means an expert off-road rider, but I’m passionate enough about it that I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to learn whenever I can. That experience has shown me how enjoyable a learning environment can be. If the subject is something we love doing, that we’re passionate about, it hardly feels like going to school. I was never passionate about algebra, and I still suck at it.

Guess who on the MO staff has the least amount of track experience? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not Troy. I attended the RiCKdiculous Racing School back in October of 2018, and while it was a fantastic learning opportunity, one that I felt I had gained a lot from, I’ve only done two trackdays since then. Part of that is on me, during my time away from work I like to head to the desert to ride dirtbikes, or maybe even hang out with my lovely wife and dog. I’ve fallen victim to the same old adage you’ve heard a dozen times before, if you don’t use it, you lose it. But this time, things are going to be different… I hope. 

Why YRCS?

When I started bringing up track schools to attend when chatting with industry colleagues, I was met with dozens of suggestions, but one program came up in nearly every conversation, YCRS. The Yamaha Champions Riding School, it seemed, was the standard among guys who know better than I. When ol’ Brasstacks hit me on the tellie to let me know I should start looking at dates because he had spoken to Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor of YCRS, I was excited to get back out there. 

Of course, as it does all too often around here, that got pushed to the side as off-road duties pulled me one way and necessary commerce posts yanked me (reluctantly) in the other. As the school’s dates began bouncing back and forth across the country, I had to wait for one of the final dates of the year to come around and would attend the school at the Inde Motorsports Ranch near Willcox, AZ, a nine-hour drive from the LA area. 

I’ve been privy to the school’s teachings and of Nick Ienatsch himself for some time. The “100 points of Grip” concept and video constantly makes its rounds across the internet and is a sampling of the way Nick and his crew break down the basics to deliver lessons in an easily digestible manner. The aforementioned concept is one I’d heard of quite a while ago, and I still think about nearly every time I ride. Nick also happens to write a column for another motorcycle publication, sharing what’s on his mind every Tuesday.

Fun fact: Nick Ienatsch, CEO and Founder of the Yamaha Champions School, helped found the now defunct Sport Rider magazine, a title that employed both Troy Siahaan and Evans Brasfield at one point in their print careers. Photo credit: 4theriders.com

But wait, who is Nick Ienatsch anyway? The Champ School’s CEO, has been involved in the industry for more than 35 years. A motorcycle enthusiast spanning all disciplines, Nick’s specialty should be obvious, he’s even got a couple of AMA #1 plates on the wall himself. Rather than just a racer turned instructor, motorcycle journalism and writing has been, and continues to be, a large part of what Nick does. Nick has the titles and books on his CV to prove it, not to mention his foray into instruction began with helping to develop the Freddie Spencer High Performance Riding School back in the late ‘90s. 

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and that’s why Nick has put so much time and effort into assembling the right crew to run a top-notch program. Photo credit: 4theriders.com

Ienatsch isn’t the only important part of YCRS though, it’s the team he’s assembled to help him organize and execute a world-class program. Lead instructors, in addition to Ienatsch, include Chris Peris, a YCRS co-owner whose resume includes more than ten years of professional racing in AMA, WSS, and CSBK as well as more than 15 years of instructing experience, Mark Schellinger whose professional career includes not only motorcycle instruction, but also high-level four-wheel training for law enforcement and military elite, and Kyle Wyman, current MotoAmerica Superbike contender. A short list of guest instructors depends on availability (many are actively racing during the year), and which part of the country the school is taking place in. 

Getting to work

Our two-day program got off to a wet start, and with rain in the forecast for day one, I was going to be happy to get any track time during the first day. Thankfully, the start of our day included some time in the classroom getting to know each other, chatting about what to expect, and hearing some hefty promises from the instructors.

“We don’t want you to leave this school with questions. If you leave, and you still have questions, we haven’t done our job.” – Nick Ienatsch

After covering some of the basics principles with even more of an emphasis on grip than usual, due to the conditions, we hopped on the track in a couple of Ford Transit vans to discuss trail braking, and cornering in real time. In a vehicle like a large passenger van, it’s easy to feel the chassis get upset when you’re not doing things right. This exercise allowed the instructor to discuss and demonstrate the difference between letting the brakes off prior to having the van pointed through the corner, versus holding the brakes lighter and longer to make sure you’re happy with your direction.

Keeping with the brakes helps tighten your radius as you decrease speed and that in turn helps the bike get pointed through the corner with less lean angle. Less lean angle = less risk. Again, in the van, when you’re just cranking the steering wheel (adding lean angle) as you’re driving too fast through a turn, it’s easy to feel the large vehicle reach the edge of its limits to the point that it will slide. The Transits are an invaluable part of getting the point across in a way that is easily understood. You might be sensing a theme. The Yamaha Champions Riding School has been around for a while. Nick and his fellow instructors are constantly changing and tweaking the curriculum to enhance the experience and that involves figuring out the best ways to get their lessons across. 

A little lead and follow on a wet, cold, and dirty track with YCRS instructor Eziah Davis on the first day of ChampSchool. Photo credit: 4theriders.com

For a brief portion of the day before lunch, we were able to suit up and get out on track for a little lead and follow. Instructor Eziah Davis, MotoAmerica racer and WERA Middleweight Endurance Champion, led myself and a couple of other riders. As we took turns following Eziah, we would stop for a moment to discuss some of the initial things he saw that we could start working on. It wasn’t long before the weather rolled back in and put more than a damper on riding for the day. Pouring rain turned to sleet and that brought a lot of debris onto the track. We went out for one more blast in the Transits where Nick and Kyle, piloting their own respective vans, showcased what it looks like to go through the corners all wrong as the other van practiced what we had been taught.

At the end of the day, I had dinner in the classroom with my fellow classmates and instructors which was a nice chance to debrief with Eziah about our day together and to chat with Nick. I was ready to head back to the hotel to wrap my head around everything I had learned from day one. As we discussed in the classroom, it’s important to have a plan. There’s no point in going out onto the racetrack and just sending it (at least when you’re focused on learning). It’s important to focus on the weak points and to develop a plan of attack, whether that’s for the next session, the next lap, or in my case, the next day.

The weather had moved through the area and promised smooth sailing for day two. The track was still wet and littered with debris in the morning. Thankfully, the Inde Motorsports Ranch is a first class facility complete with all the machinery needed to help clear and dry the otherwise dangerous track conditions. We spent some of the day watching on-track demonstrations from the instructors, as well as a short van ride, but our teachers put a focus on giving the students as many laps as possible. There’s no replacement for seat time. I put in as many laps as I could before they nearly had to escort me off the track themselves (“I forgot where track exit was!” “Again?!”). Everyone ran a lap while an instructor followed with a GoPro to later review in the classroom. Another great way to showcase just how wrong you’re getting it. I’m kidding, but it is incredibly beneficial to see the lap unfolding on the TV. This gives the instructor a chance to go over your line selection, body position, and braking (all of the YCRS bikes are equipped with brake lights for education purposes) as it unfolds before you on the screen.  

Seeing Nick’s lines as well as throttle and brake inputs was an eye-opener during our two-up lap around the Inde Motorsports Ranch. Photo credit: 4theriders.com

The ChampSchool wrapped up with some interesting one-lap drills. Going around the entire track in fifth gear showcased how important momentum and drive off a corner is, or how about doing your fastest lap using only the rear brake, an exercise to surprise people with how powerful the rear brake can be. We had a warm up activity one morning that involved racing our classmates across a parking lot using the clutch only. As the activity got more elaborate – “Alright guys, bikes in neutral, keys in the gas tank, come back here about 15 feet from your bike, gloves on the ground, come back another 10 feet. When I say go, you must run, grab your gloves, get them on, jump on the bike, and then race to the instructor without touching the throttle.” – it evolved from just showing riders how to be smooth with the clutch, to highlight the importance of being mindful of what you’re doing while under stress. 

This is another reason I really appreciated the ChampSchool. So much cleverness has been put into the instruction to ensure it’s a fun environment, whether it’s instructors making jokes at the other’s expense or fun and silly ways to drive home fundamental points, every minute of the school is calculated to deliver the most to the attendee, sometimes subconsciously without them realizing it.

At the end of the day…

There were riders with a wide spread of experience and age in our class. From a 73-year-old vintage racer to a guy in his early 20s with nine days of experience on a motorcycle, our class was plenty diverse. I think some of the newer riders showed the most improvement during our two days. Start with a nearly blank slate, and there aren’t a lot of bad habits to overcome. It was really fun to watch everyone mingle after a session and discuss their laps.

It’s one thing to go ride with your buddies and grab lunch. It’s another to ride with a bunch of people you don’t know at a race track during a school. Everyone is there for the same reason, everyone paid the (approx) $2,200, and everyone has the desire to learn. This built a pretty instant comradery amongst the students, and it really adds to the entire experience. 

Although I had never met him, I already had respect for Nick simply due to what I had heard and read, but after attending the YCRS ChampSchool, it’s grown ten-fold. He’s an intelligent person who’s heading up a fantastic crew of smart, fast, and thoughtful instructors. I’d describe Nick as one to never rest on his laurels, and that outlook is evident at YCRS.

The Yamaha Champions Riding School gave me the fundamentals of what it takes to go fast safely around a racetrack and the learning environment to get the feedback I need to work on my weaknesses. Nick Ienatsch gave me plenty to think about as a writer and a responsible part of the motorcycle industry. I still have plenty to work on without a doubt, but I have a plan and actionable items to focus on the next time out.