Shifting into 6th gear you notice all the vibrant colors of the grass passing beside you, the clear blue sky, the sweet sound of the exhaust coming from your bike and the enjoyment of being on two wheels. Then another a rider pulls up beside you clad in a blue and white Dainese race suit and gives you a thumbs up sign, taps the tail section of their bike and increases their speed and emblazoned on the back of the rider in bright orange letters you see the name SCHWANTZ! Welcome to Road Atlanta and the Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School!
As I was preparing to write this article I had a hard time trying to figure out how to start it then I remembered what I was feeling screaming down the back straight of Road Atlanta when the 1993 500CC Grand Prix World Champion Kevin Schwantz rode up next to me and wanted me to follow his line around his home track. The KSSS is a performance school and not necessarily a race school even though you are riding on a closed road racing track, donned in full leather race suit and riding a track prepped bike that is prominent in the 600cc class of AMA, CCS, WERA and NESBA.
The goal of the school is to teach riders proper riding techniques and how to directly apply them to the road and the race track. Do you have to be a “racer” to attend? No, the class is broken into two groups: advanced and street. And even those groups are further broken down into advanced, intermediate and beginner. With the groups designed as they are, the student can ride with the group they feel comfortable with and are not pushed to ride above their comfort and skill level.
Most schools are geared around a 2 day curriculum though KSSS does offer a 3 day World Champion’s Package. The opening of the first day each student is completing their registration for the school and then brought into the class room where you are introduced to the instructors/control riders, given a general lay out of how the school will operate during your time there This is followed by an introduction of the safety rules, track flag identification and what to do when they are used and broken down into 2 styles of riding groups.
The instructors not only include Champion Kevin Scwantz but also Tray Batey (46 National Titles, 11 WERA Endurance championships, FUSA National Champ), Ted Cobb (2005 Thruxton Cup Champ, 2000 won 88 times and 8 National Championships, 2004 won 2 WERA National Championships), Brad Coleman (began riding at age 5 and has been riding every since), John Jacobi (began racing in 1995, 2001 WERA 600 Superstock Champ, Jamie James (1989 AMA Superbike Champ, 1989 AMA 750 Superstock Champ, 1994 AMA 600 Superstock Champ), Michael Martin (1989 WERA 600 Superbike Champ, 1989 GTO National Champ, 1990 WERA 600 Superbike Champ, 1990 WERA 1100 production endurance champ), Ned Mataroso (Sales and Marketing Manager for Dainese USA), Harry Vanderlinden (25 years riding experience, over 500,000 sport riding miles logged, 1981 WERA National Endurance Champ). To say the instructors have “some” riding experience is as much of an understatement as saying the sun is just a large light in the sky! Every member of KSSS is top notch in their field, patient with students, always gave compliments to the students when the student did a good job and helped when a student had a problem. When a track session started each instructor took 3-4 students on the track and when they returned met with everyone to speak to each and everyone about what they saw they did well and where they had problems and how to correct them.
With two groups, one is in the classroom and the other is on the track and they alternate about every 20 minutes. The curriculum taught in the classroom is immediately encouraged to be applied in the student’s next track session. In the classroom students benefit from the use of a digital overhead projector that shows the entire group the exact same information, opens the floor for questions from students and techniques are even demonstrated by Kevin Schwantz himself.
Once on the track the student follows a control rider/instructor that sets the pace and shows the proper race lines through every section of the track, proper body position, entry and exit points as well as corner apexes. There is also a chase bike that is equipped with a video camera that records what is taking place on the track and carried back to the classroom for review. This is one of the most informative training devices because it shows what each student is actually doing on the track and that student is given the information on areas they had problems with on how to correct it and improve their techniques. Every rider will also ride directly behind a control rider/instructor by being rotated to the front of the front of the group every few laps. This not only lets the student fully see the instructor’s lines but also lets the students further back see other student’s techniques.
When it comes to equipment KSSS has some of the best in the business. You can bring your own leathers, gloves, helmet, boots and bike (Suzuki is the only bike permitted at the school since Suzuki sponsors the school ad provides the school with bikes). If you don’t have any of the equipment necessary you can rent the equipment from them! Leather gear is provided by Dainese as well as the boots, helmets by Arai and if you don’t have a Suzuki bike, no problem! KSSS has 2006 model (at the time of this article) GSXR 600s and SV-650s for rent that is already track prepped and shod with Michelin Pilot Power tires at the beginning of each school and some are equipped with Yoshimura exhaust systems. The instructors stay in communications with one another via Autocom radios equipped on their bikes.
During the school KSSS provides drinks and snacks as well as catered lunches on both days and dinner at Kevin’s favorite Mexican restaurant for some casual “bull sessions” and good food! All the instructors move around talking to the students in a casual environment and it’s just an all around good time.
At the end of the 1st day or the beginning of the 2nd day all the students do a track walk with Kevin and some of the instructors. During the walk Kevin shows the proper lines and reference points for the track and points out trouble spots that a student might want to watch for with the track and then you all step back while 3 of the instructors come blazing around the track demonstrating the same information Kevin had just pointed out. You are also encouraged at all times during the school to ask any and all questions you might have and the instructors are more than happy to answer the questions no matter how trivial you might think they are. Michael Martin made a comment during one session “feel free to ask any question because someone else in the group might have the same question but might not know exactly how to ask it”.
As you progress through the track sessions you may begin to ride at a faster pace than the rest of your group, if this happens the instructor will move you up to a faster group. Sometimes this is done at the end of a track session or the instructor from a faster group may come by and “pick” you up from the group to join their’s. This technique really helps the faster riders progress in their education.
As if the education, track time and experience wasn’t enough, KSSS also gives each student great literature they can take home with them. There are also “prizes” given away for each class. Prizes are given for best rider, safest rider, most improved and some students get prizes through a drawing.
A professional photographer is brought into the class and onto the track to take pictures of the students. Each student will receive their pictures through the mail a couple of weeks after the school that is on a CD. Each student will also have their picture taken with Kevin as well as when Kevin presents their certificate at the end of the school. All students that complete the school are also eligible for a Novice race license with the WERA and CCS race circuits.
As for my personal experience with KSSS, the office staff was very helpful in making arrangements to attend the school. A special thanks to Joyce and Marnie! I couldn’t have done it without their help.
As the days got closer I grew a little nervous but when you hit the track for the first time it all goes away. I was also a little nervous to be riding a bike I had never sat on before to take the laps around the Road Atlanta track. I have intentions of using the 2006 GSXR 600 to evaluate the bike as a potential track bike to run in the CCS, WERA and NESBA race circuits. I will come back to this later in the article.
As we all met one another and began the class the instructors were very friendly. The instructors never tried to appear better than anyone else on the track. They were very informative and helpful. All were open to any question I could fathom in my brain. As an example of how friendly everyone was, during one of the classroom sessions I was sitting in my chair and Michael Martin was going over braking techniques, out of the corner of my eye I saw someone handing me something…as I glanced down it was a brown sugar pop tart. As I said thank you I looked up and it was Kevin himself who was offering to share a pack of pop tarts with me (big smile).
The track was amazing to say the least. At the beginning of the first group session each person stands up and introduces themselves, where they are from, what type of bike they normally ride and give a few goals of what they plan improve on at the school. I ride a Triumph Daytona 600 and really wanted to work on my cornering speed. WOW did I ever work on it and improve.
The first few track sessions we all took it a little easy to familiarize ourselves with the track and as we progressed we picked up the speed. I have never had too much of a problem leaning off the bike and putting a knee down but doing it on a full out race track was going to be a new experience for me, not to mention running track speeds in a full lean. The instructors were very helpful in working with everyone that had any issues at all with the track and were more than happy to point out when you were doing it the right way. During one session as I was leading my group behind Jamie James, we got to the front straight and he moved to the side and motioned me in front of him. They do this quite a bit to see how you are riding and see how you will handle the track by yourself and not relying on the instructor as much.
I set the pace I felt comfortable with and just rode my pace. After three laps Jamie had not passed me yet and I looked for him and found another student behind me. At the end of the session Jamie, myself and the other rider came into the pits. Jamie told us we seemed to be riding great and saw no issues to correct but a third rider needed a little help and he wanted to work with him and just let us ride our own pace.
A few times an instructor would pull beside me and pull me out of my group and take me on a little one on one instruction around the track showing a little different lines, different body positions usually setting a faster pace. Every time they were spot on with their instruction and helped me not only increase my cornering speeds but also my speeds in general. They didn’t say I was slow (not by any means) but that I could run faster and WOW did I run faster. These guys can really scream around the track. I even got to enjoy riding behind Kevin for 2-3 laps and watch his riding technique and lines (yes even Kevin gets on the track to instruct as well). He made it seem like a Sunday ride on your favorite back road, as did the rest of the instructors.
As for my experience with the GSXR 600, I was very impressed with the bike as a whole. The brakes were excellent even when late braking deep. The slipper clutch was something I had never tried before and really wanted to test it out during my time at KSSS. Any track bike I run from here on out will be equipped with one. Going hot towards turn 6 and 10A I used it quite a bit and felt really comfortable with it. The bike held it’s line smoothly through the turns and I felt like I could almost run it one handed (not suggested on the race tracks).
On the back straight when you really open the bike up and hit the high speeds we had some cross winds due to the weather and the bike stayed planted very comfortably and didn’t have any issues with the winds trying to push the bike. The Pilot Powers stuck like glue to the track. These are the same tires I run on my street bike so I am more than a little familiar with them and had complete confidence in the tires sticking to the track which added a lot of confidence when you’re putting the bike on it’s side going around the track at high speeds.
Within only four days of graduating the school I am sitting here typing and wishing I was back there. For anyone that wants to learn from some of the best I highly recommend KSSS. The experience, the education and the chance to ride with some of the best people you could meet has to be some of the best money you could spend. For anyone that wants more information please check out the links at the end of this article or free to email me.
(screen name OFFICER737)