I want to improve my roadracing skills. I want to lower my lap times. I want to get that edge that’s the difference from being in the lead pack and bringing up the rear. So what am I doing sitting on a seven-horsepower Honda XR100 staring down an oval of Carolina red clay 100 miles away from the closest road course? Kenny Roberts said “You have to learn to go slow so that you can go fast.” Aaron Stevenson says “You have to learn to get dirty so that you can go fast.”
It’s Stevenson’s Cornerspin school that’s brought me to rural North Carolina, had me trade in my leathers for a motocross jersey, put on shin guards instead of knee pucks and swap my slicks for dualies. The concept is simple. Use a lightweight, underpowered dirt bike to push a road racer’s skills to the next level. As Cornerspin’s advertising literature points out it’s not a flat track school. It’s not a motard or an enduro school. It’s a self-proclaimed “roadracing school taught in the dirt.”
Located in rural North Carolina, the Cornerspin school is within driving distance of the mid-Atlantic and close to a major airport for those who need to fly in.
Does it work? First, take a look at some historical data. In 1978 a previously mentioned young American went to Europe to promptly claim the 500cc World Champion in his rookie season. Kenny Roberts had cut his teeth on the dirt tracks of America. Roberts claimed his success came from “steering with the rear” while his competitors “steered with the front.” Anyone who can get a 125 hp TZ750 dirt tracker sideways at the end of the Indy Mile straightaway probably knows a thing or two about sliding and spinning. Robert’s dirt skills seemed to transfer perfectly to asphalt.
Fast forward 20 years. World champs like Edwards, Hayden, and Bostrom all have one thing in common: They started their racing careers in the dirt. So what is it about dirt riding that translates to roadracing success?
Learning the intricacies of lean angle, sliding, brake and throttle control on a road racing motorcycle while surfing the asphalt can result in a high side that breaks bones and grinds an expensive machine to scrap. Going beyond the limit on a CRF100 in the clay results in a slow speed low-side that you can laugh and walk away from with nothing more than dirt on your pants. Stevenson calls his Cornerspin facility “The safest place to learn to ride beyond your limits, beyond the limits of traction.” Because once you learn the way traction feels as it’s slipping away from you, once you
A future champ in the making? Unlikely. But learning racing skills in the dirt has a proven track record with American champs like Kenny Roberts and Nicky Hayden.
develop the ability to hear the “whispers” that are your chassis telling you what your tires are doing, it’s the same whether you’re on dirt or you’re on pavement. As Stevenson says “the limit is always the limit.” His dirt theories are pavement tested at his Cornerspeed on-track roadracing schools.
As my classmates assemble, the first lesson I learn is just because your bike doesn’t have a number plate doesn’t mean Cornerspin isn’t for you. My fellow riders vary from roadracers to trackday enthusiasts, sport tourers to beginners, their ages spanning five decades. Although Cornerspin is designed as a high performance riding school for racers, the lessons you learn also translate well to the street. While racers are constantly pushing the limits of traction, for street riders lack of grip usually occurs in an emergency situation; the old lady pulling out in front of you or rounding a mountain corner only to find water running across the road. Cornerspin teaches street riders the skills so that when they get in a tight situation, their instinctual reaction will be the right one.
Cornerspin students vary from beginning riders to track day junkies, expert road racers to seasoned street riding veterans.
Head instructor Aaron Stevenson demonstrates proper body position.
After a quick walk through the basics, we hit the track. Those who are expecting a dirt oval with bleachers and a chain link fence will be disappointed. The Cornerspin course was designed with elevation and camber changes and turns of increasing and decreasing radius to mimic famous road courses from around the world. No whoops or tabletops either. Imagine your favorite road course except with dirt instead of asphalt.
The track is large enough that it can be divided into sections. The students are divided up amongst the instructors and sent to separate parts of the course for drills that hammer home a specific skill or technique from body position to braking. And drill we do, like a battalion of freshly shaved Marine boots, down to the instructors barking orders so that they can be heard over the buzz of 100cc four-stroke singles.
“Tomorrow’s the payoff. Today’s the wax-on,” said Cornerspin instructor Mike Dillon, a former AMA pro flat tracker and expert level road racer.
Stevenson promised that we’d get in more riding in half a day than we would at a two-day track school and we’re all panting by lunch time. No rest for the weary. Every moment we’re not on the bikes we’re in the “classroom” our instructors up front, introducing new concepts, demonstrating body positions like dance instructors. Even our lunch break isn’t sacred, with the instructors debriefing us on the morning and preparing us for the afternoon as we chow down. It’s a teaching style the school calls “feeding you with a fire hose.”
It’s not a flat track oval or a motocross course. The Cornerspin track is built to mimic a road course, but in the dirt.
Instructors Michael Dillon (left) and Aaron Stevenson show their students how it’s done.
But when you step out of the hose’s stream it’s one-on-one with the firemen. Stevenson and company learn each student, learn to speak their language and put concepts into terms they understand. There’s no strict vocabulary, no sacred words. Over and over I hear “If that doesn’t speak to you, think about it this way…”
“We don’t have a dogma here. We didn’t write the book 20 years ago and now we have to stick by it,” Dillon said.
As we gather in the morning for Day 2, there’s a certain walk to most of my classmates, a stiff, exaggerated style of walking, the way a drunken person overcompensates to mask debility. The previous day we’ve all crashed, fallen and used muscles we never knew we had and today it shows.
In Day 1 we learned the fundamentals. After a quick warm-up and review drills, Day 2 is all about putting it all together. The body positions or techniques that seemed awkward or clumsy at the low speeds that you were doing drills yesterday feel perfect when you’re railing into a corner at full speed. The two-day format of Cornerspin works out perfectly. For a beginning rider at a one day track school you may never realistically ever get to that pay-off.
“Corner” as in “cornering.” “Spin” as in “your back wheel fighting for traction as you exit.” By Day 2 of the Cornerspin school students are starting to put the pieces together.
Instructors often talk about things “clicking;” that moment when all of their lessons come together for a student and they “get it.” For me at Cornerspin, it “snapped.” In a moment all the drills I had done, all of the lessons I had learned combined with the freedom of not worrying about crashing, not worrying about damaging your expensive bike or rashing up your expensive leathers. You let it all go, sublimate everything you’ve learned and that good feeling that you get as you exit a corner, tire spinning , accelerating hard on a perfect line towards your next entrance is the realization that you’ve nailed it. And that is what Cornerspin is all about. We all know it worked for King Kenny. Cornerspin helps you discover that learning roadracing skills in the dirt can work for you.
The Cornerspin two-day school, with included bike, costs $500. Save a hundred bucks if you bring your own bike. For more information visit www.cornerspeed.net and to see an awesome video of what you can expect, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DX65cCZXpk.