January 28-30, 2002
For my 30th birthday, my incredible girlfriend, Penny, sent me to three days of Freddie
Spencer's Riding School in Las Vegas. To say that I had a great time, and walked away with
a wealth of additional knowledge would be a huge understatement. Besides the "fan
appeal" of sharing the track with a 3-time world champion, the lessons that Freddie
teaches are centered around control, smoothness, and safety. They are not limited to
making you faster on the track, rather they make you a better rider regardless of where or
how you ride.
Freddie's knowledge of the sport is complimented by his enthusiasm and his obvious desire to make every attempt for his students to understand what he is taking about. His instructors are the same way, are very good at communication, and are unbelievable riders. Following a former AMA Superbike factory rider, Jeff Haney, around Las Vegas Motor speedway does wonders for one's riding. He and Dale Kieffer, the one of the other instructors, are absolutely incredible riders. We spent time on the track with Nick Ienatsch, the third instructor, watching Jeff and Dale demonstrate the techniques and lessons we discussed in the classroom (unfortunately, Nick had broken his wrist a few days prior). They would run good and bad lines, use good and bad techniques, and we could easily see the difference before we saddled up and went through the lessons ourselves.
The school was designed for a lot of drills, but also a lot of track time. The drills emphasized what was taught in the classroom, but rather than do the drill and return to the end of the line, the rest of the track was open for you to continue to work on things. There were open 15 minute lap sessions at the end of the second and third day, and all said and done, by day's end we had easily run 50 laps of the track (except for the second day, where the afternoon was spent on the dirt track). Lap times were never kept, as the emphasis was on lessons, not going fast. Instead, they used bike to bike video (and no, I didn't crash this time) to monitor your progress. Every single person improved dramatically from the first day video to the third day video. On the video, it was easy to see the things you were doing correctly, and even more obvious to see those things you needed to work on. It was a great tool and extremely useful.
Besides the lessons in the class that Freddie emphasizes (braking and throttle smoothness, body position, and getting the bike turned efficiently by using the brakes and throttle to turn the bike) the individual critiques that he and the instructors gave me, while little things, really helped. A little twist here, a tuck there, and I was riding faster (and safer) than ever and feeling more confident. When I was able to combine my personal corrections with the lessons of the school, the results were amazing to both me and the people watching me. I was smoother, faster, safer, and more comfortable.
By the end of the school, I was trail braking (front brake) way past the apex cone in turn 1, a 115 MPH left-hander at the end of the straightaway, something I never thought I could do. Freddie brakes all the way to the entry point of turn 2, but he's also going 140 into that corner...that, and he's Freddie Spencer.
Freddie is such a cool guy. He was easy to talk to, unbelievably nice, and it was obvious that since his name was on the school, he was going to do whatever he could to make it the best it could be. It was cold for Las Vegas (between 40-48 degrees) so he had the school purchase long underwear for everyone. When I was having trouble finding a pair of boots that fit right, he was right in there helping them find me a pair, and pulled a new pair off the shelf. I can't say enough good things about him - a true class act. He posed for pictures, signed autographs - whatever you needed.
I would recommend Freddie's school to anyone, regardless of riding level and experience. I had a great time, and more importantly, after three days of instruction, I was riding faster, and smoother while feeling more comfortable and safer. Mission accomplished.
Here are the pictures taken by the professional photographer, Dennis Morrison, of LehMorr Entertainment, Las Vegas, NV:
Tad on the number 3 Honda CBR600Fi
Tad through a right-hander hitting the apex cone
Tad (eyes up!!) through turn 5
Tad through turn 9 with bike 5 just behind
Tad (needing to get his eyes up) coming through turn 9
Tad (with Dale following) coming out of turn 9 (eyes better)
Tad (eyes much better) coming through turn 9
A picture of the entire class with Freddie and the instructors
Here are some pictures taken by Penny over two days at the track:
A follow the leader session, early in the first day
Tad coming out of turn 9 (way in the background)
Nick critiquing the students during the first day
Tad heading into turn one during the first day
Tad heading into turn 2 while an F-15 figher lands in the background
Tad posing for a picture
Day 3, Tad exiting turn 3 as an unknown Nascar turns left
Tad, with instructor Jeff Haney taping, goes through turn 5
Freddie Spencer teaching the students on the third day
Tad next to the number 3 Honda CBR600Fi after a great day of riding
Freddie Spencer and Tad Gralewski - we have 3 world championships between us