Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Day at the Track: Jason Pridmore's STAR School

My buddy, Tigger, and I were invited to participate at STAR Motorcycle School, held at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, VA. You mean we can learn to drag our knees properly, on a professional closed-circuit racing course without buying full leathers or using our own bikes? Count us in! VIR is a four-hour drive from DC, a stone's throw from the North Carolina border. 

We finally made it down, signed the usual track waiver, and headed to the on-track accommodations.


Pretty sweet digs. Below is the view from the back patio.


Me, feigning nervousness about track day.
Tigger, on the other hand, couldn't wait to get on the track.
7 am: Time for class at Jason Pridmore's STAR school. What's STAR school, you ask?
The Skills and Techniques for Advanced Riding Motorcycle School was created to help you become a more proficient, more confident rider. Whether you're a street rider who wants to improve your skills to gain confidence and become a safer rider, or a track day junkie and racer looking for answers on how to go faster on the racetrack, the STAR Motorcycle School has a motorcycle training program designed specifically for you.
Chief instructor Jason Pridmore (center) is the 1997 AMA 750 Supersport Champion, 2002 AMA Formula Extreme Champion, and the 2003 FIM World Endurance Champion. He is also the only American to ever stand on the podium of a World Supersport race. JP has 21 AMA National wins and countless podiums. In 2012 he is contesting the FIM World Endurance Championship for Team BK Maco Racing.
We're about to learn from this guy? SWEET!

The first thing we saw before class was the awesome lineup of Suzuki GSXR 600s, 750s and SV650s for students who didn't bring their own bikes. More than half the class brought their own rides, including Yamaha R6s, R1s, Hayabusas, Harley's and even a Honda Goldwing.
We signed the injury waivers and equipment liability forms, got our wristbands and were issued leathers.

The school offers Dainese leather track suits. Ready for the track.

 Then, we head into the classroom for introductions by Jason Pridmore.



This is the track we rode for the day, VIR's 2.25 mile North Course. The classroom is located at the top of the track, where the red plus sign is, and that's also where we entered the track.
After the first session, the classroom was divided into an Advanced Group and Street Group, and we took turns between the classroom and running laps, drills, Jason called them, on the track. The purpose of these laps were to learn passing, the hand signals, and more importantly, the track itself. I was happy to ride a GSXR 750, which happens to be the same make and model as my own bike.


After about 10 or so laps, we headed back into class to learn techniques on downshifting, locating the true entry point, apex, and exit of a curve, and when to begin acceleration after a turn. Then we headed back out again to practice what we just learned. The goal here wasn't necessarily speed, but to learn and practice your new techniques. Once you've mastered the techniques, speed will come. Despite that guidance, everybody was MOVING on the track!! The experience out there was thrilling and exhilarating, but above all: SAFE. No need to worry about cars pulling out of driveways or side streets, no tractor trailers, no douchebags in M3s trying to race you, nothing but the wind and the track. Owwwwwwwww!!!!

What better way to follow that up? Lunch!


Turkey and provolone. Plus fries. Need fuel.



More classroom time. This time, we learned proper riding positioning for better cornering.

Then it was time to head back out and practice what we just learned.
One of the best parts of this class is that you can "2-up" with Jason. The purpose of this ride is to physically feel when Jason downshifts and accelerates, to watch his speed, to witness his lean angle, and to notice how often he moves in his seat. Everyone wanted an opportunity to 2-up with Jason, so between classes and practice laps, we waited for our turn.


After riding with Jason, all I have to say is WOW. Words can't describe the combination of thrill and fright that comes along with physically witnessing a pro rider's awesome, breathtaking speed and stance. I thought I was going to fly off the motorcycle no less than 10 times in a 2.25 mile lap. And we were told he was only riding at 40% of his ability. There are other words that I can use to describe the feeling I had while riding with Jason but they contain far too many expletives.

Below is a video of Jason riding the exact course at VIR's STAR School.




After a bit more classroom time, we ran more laps, combining all of the new techniques, including proper breathing, foot positioning, arm positioning, etc.

At the end of class, the track shooters allow you to purchase photos of yourself riding on the track. (I'll post those once I have them. The photographers take thousands of shots throughout the day.) Although the track shooters use Canon, they interestingly wear Nikon vests. Below is the 400 mm f/2.8 lens they use on the track.



Once class was over, Jason handed everyone their certificates of completion. Then folks politely mobbed him to thank him for such an awesome day and to ask follow-up questions.


We were so excited to get our certificates! What an awesome day. If I ever have the chance to do something like this again, I'm taking it. The skills learned in Jason's STAR school are beneficial to every type of rider, whether you are a road racer or a weekend warrior.

Thank you so much to Michael Jordan Motorsports, Jason Pridmore, and all of the instructors and employees at VIR and STAR school for the opportunity!