Jamie James Yamaha Champions Riding School

Racing newbie goes to school


Traveling about 140 feet per second, I approached turn five out on the picturesque Barber Motorsports Park racetrack. It is aptly named “Charlotte’s Web,” not just because of the gigantic metal sculpture of the famous spider and her offspring, but because this is the stickiest corner of the circuit. It has also been the turn I have been least aggressive in, and the most intimidated by thus far.

Nearing the end of my second day at Jamie James’ new Yamaha Champions Racing School, this is my last track session to put all of the pieces together. This time I am trying not to think too much about all of the instruction, but just do it. Staying wide on the track and downshifting earlier, I make a smooth transition leaning into the tight corner. Increasing the throttle through the apex, my Yamaha R6 exits in what feels like one fluid movement. It is an experience I’ve felt a few times in my life with other sports, but never on a motorcycle. It’s that feeling athletes refer to as being “In the Zone” where everything is automatic and flowing. It has me totally fired up, as I roll on the throttle to chase my instructor, hitting triple digit speeds heading toward the blind corner leading into the museum turn.

Acknowledging the fact that I have a need for speed and have been known to “leap before I look,” I began my two wheeled riding experience by taking the local rider safety course run by Camp Pendleton Marines and took to my Honda Nighthawk immediately. Five years and a few different bikes later, I am the happy owner of a perfectly suited Suzuki SV650.

Months ago I was introduced to Mr. Motorcycle himself, Neale Bayly, who has made his career traveling the world by motorcycle, testing new bikes and writing stories about his experiences. A couple of months back he stopped by a mutual friend’s house, not so fresh from tearing it up at our local racetrack in Kershaw, South Carolina. My crazy new friend Neale thought it would be a great idea to have a woman sport bike rider, who has never been on a race track, attend the school and write about it!

Weeks later, found me driving to Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama, to attend the Jamie James Yamaha Champions Riding School. It is a new program for 2008 and it will be holding only its second class. Day one offered introductions to former AMA Superbike Champion Jamie James himself, along with other superstars like Mr. Daytona, Scott Russell, Chuck Ivey, and instructor extraordinaire, Dave Sadowski, who was the 1990 Daytona 200 winner. Before I knew it Jamie was sizing me up for my Pilot Yamaha Racing Leathers, TCX boots, and Pilot gloves. All equipment is provided for students, including the schools brand new Yamaha FZ6s and R6s.

Our particular class mainly consisted of novice racers and track rats as well as ex-champion Deano Swims. A bit of unease started to creep in as I realized that not only was I the only female in the class, but also the only track virgin in the group. Jamie, along with classroom instructor Scott, began class time by setting the agenda and also the goals of the school. I felt slightly more at ease when he made the comment that, “It doesn’t matter what level of rider you are, just that you are comfortable on a motorcycle.” At least I had that going for me. A lot of what Jamie and the instructors teach about riding is related to a rider’s experience and etiquette.

After learning the track rules and signal flags, we were off to select our bikes from a sea of brand-new, shiny blue Yamaha R6s and FZ6s, which Bayly suggested would be the most comparable to my SV650. Once novice and experienced riders were separated into groups, I began to feel comfortable and think I was really flying, that is until the group started slowly pulling away from me. Almost immediately an instructor signaled for me to follow him - my own private instructor! Dooley checked with me continuously through the five laps to ensure I was taking the proper lines and comfortable with the pace.

Back in the classroom, instruction consisted of throttle feel and gear changing. I was excited to try out the clutchless shifting on the next track session. What a feeling of success as I mastered the new skill!  Heading back to the classroom after our second session, I ran into fellow classmate Dan, who tells me that he called his girlfriend, Reenie, to join the class after seeing me out on the track. She is an experienced Harley Davidson rider and he thinks she would love it. It felt awesome to be an inspiration for more females to hit the track already!  I’m excited for another track virgin to join the ranks. 

My third session out, Dave Sadowski, approached me to suggest I jump on the R6 this time. I quickly scanned the area for someone to confirm if this was actually a good idea, but I decide Sadowski knows a thing or two about motorcycling, so I jumped on. The tank is thicker, the riding position is more aggressive and it has way more power. Right away, I began to feel like I knew how to lean the bike and finally felt like I belonged out there.

On day two, Jamie James shared his philosophy of motorcycle riding being akin to dancing. The analogy being that you should listen to the engine to stay in tune with your bike, just like you would listen to the music to stay in time with the dance. Romantic as it sounds, it makes perfect sense. One of the most beneficial lessons the group received was the track tour. Sadowski took us around to different parts of the track to teach us about inspecting the pavement for grooves, patches and rough spots, just like a golfer inspecting the lie of the green for divots and the direction of the grass. This sport isn’t just about jumping on a bike and cracking the throttle, there is a lot to think about when it comes to riding fast on a racetrack, and this course covers them.

We were then ushered a safe distance off the track to watch the Champions show us how it’s done. The dance was never more evident to me than when we watched Scott Russell and Jamie James out on the track; their lines, when and where they initiate braking, and how smooth they are with their up and downshifts. Dave points out how and when they change their body positioning as they approach the turn, and when they pick up the throttle and exit the turn. I would liken the experience to watching dragonflies effortlessly changing direction - a truly a beautiful sight indeed. 

The following weekend, I went out riding with my friend Michelle in the North Carolina Mountains as she tried out her new Triumph Street Triple. She led as she has been riding a lot longer than I and she knows the area. I was right on her in the turns and had to give her distance so not to run into her. I reflected on my last session on the track at Barber and how smooth I had become with my braking and gear changes. Back on the street a dog ran out from a yard to chase Michelle, and more than a few times cars came across the yellow line at us. The Jamie James Champions Riding School gave me the opportunity to learn how to deal with these obstacles in a safe, secure and un-intimidating environment. There is no guarantee that Jamie’s school will give you the skills to become the next Danika Patrick of World Superbike (I can only dream), but there is no doubt that you will become a more safe and confident rider. Therefore, there is no better advanced training for the investment. Calling all riders, Charlotte’s Web awaits you!

For more information on Jamie James Champion Riding School go to: http://www.jamiejamesyamaha.com/.

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