There’s no question that off road training improves your road skill. Dirt track is particularly helpful, pushing you to explore the limits of traction, the influence of body position, the impact of thoughtful control inputs. Just ask Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi and countless others that hone their abilities in pursuit of world championships on the oval.
Plus, it’s fun as hell.
Add in the chance to learn from a group of highly accomplished racers, eat some phenomenal barbecue and burn up gun powder and you have a truly one-of-a-kind experience. That’s what Colin Edwards’ Texas Tornado Boot Camp is all about.
Edwards is a two-time World Superbike champion with more than 10 years’ experience competing in MotoGP after that. His early career includes amateur and AMA titles as well. The Texan retired from the big show in 2014, but stays plenty busy at the camp instructing by day and sharing war stories well into the night.
It’s far from a solo effort, however. The staff are accomplished riders and racers, but also longtime friends. Camp Director Mike Myers and Lead Instructor Joe Prussiano both go way back with Edwards, and both have numerous national championships on their resumes. During my weekend at the camp Shea Fouchek, Cory West and Shelia Paul were all on hand providing insight into the finer points of dirt track technique as well. Other camps will also feature two-time AMA Flat Track Grand National Champion Jake Johnson giving pointers to would-be trackers.
The closeness of the staff creates an immediately welcoming atmosphere for students. As soon as you arrive, you feel like part of the gang. That sense is part of what first got the camp going in the first place, according to Edwards.
“I bought this piece of land in ’03. We kept our toys in the shop and built a dirt track out here, and we’d come out and ride every chance we had. Me and Mike and Joe and, you know, all the guys that were here and basically it just turned into a hangout. We drank beer after we rode and we’d shoot some guns and do the whole nine yards.
“Mike came to me one day and said ‘you know what? I think people want to come do this, come hang out with us.’ So that’s when this kind of happened. We built the arena, we hauled in 4000 loads of dirt, built a few tracks and made Texas Tornado Boot Camp.”
The TTBC approach is a little different from other riding schools. Students stay on site, in bunkhouse rooms, enjoy three square meals prepared in the Saloon (plus plenty of mid-day snacks), and can ride as late as 10pm under the lights of the Arena.
“I’d been to riding schools and guest instructed at riding schools and it’s always the same,” Edwards explains. “Eight o’clock everybody shows up, a little continental breakfast, get on the bikes, ride. Five o’clock, see you later, see you at eight tomorrow.
“And I just wanted everyone to stay in the same area, you know, and tell stories on through the night. We could have some fun, so that’s when we built the hotel. We all just hangout here together, and it materialized into something a bit bigger than we thought in the beginning, but I love it. It’s awesome.”
A typical camp runs four days, providing plenty of time to take things as easy or go as hard as riders want. The opening day starts in the afternoon, with bike selection (all are Yamaha TTR 125s or 230s), a briefing on the rules and then some stretching. Riders then hit the track for some laps while instructors observe skill level and divide groups.
A Superpole lap is logged, which links the Arena TT track, Open TT track and Dirt Oval, with times recorded. Riders can choose to head over to the TTBC Gun Range for some clay pigeon shooting or free ride. Dinner comes next followed by more free riding, campfire communion and then bed.
Subsequent days follow a similar format, with instruction sessions, gun range activities, free riding, meals and selected seminars on things like bike set-up. Riders can choose to participate in all activities or if the hot Texas sun has zapped too much energy, can choose to post up in the shade on the porch with a cool beverage. Schedules are always flexible, with instructors tailoring camps to the needs and desires of students on site.
However things shake out, the intention of the camp remains the same. To get riders comfortable at the limits of traction and to become more refined while at the helm. That’s a big reason why the diminutive Yamahas are used.
“I learned this from Kenny Roberts Sr., riding small bikes with slick tires, years ago. With smaller bikes, if something happens, you normally pick it up and go again. You get into the 450s and the big bikes and you’re talking about a lot of risk, a lot of danger involved. Most of us have to get up and go to work tomorrow morning.
“As for the curriculum, we like to teach kind of opposite. You have to know where your point is to hit on the exit of the turn before you can know your mid-corner, before you can know your brake marker. A lot of guys will go out and bum rush a corner and get in and see where they’re at and then have to figure it out. We like to reverse that a little bit.
“But brake and neutral throttle, we have a ton of drills that we do. So in four days, we start to see people click, and when you see them click on that third day, it’s pretty cool.”
I didn’t get the full four days, attending a special two-day weekend camp with reps from Bridgestone tire. But getting a taste definitely left me wanting more.
Our schedule followed the standard format though, with plenty of late afternoon/evening riding the day we arrived, along with some drills and a Superpole session.
The next day was more drills, a few Superpole sessions and a five-gun competition on the range. We got some scrumptious Texas barbeque for dinner before heading off to bed. The final day was more of the same, capped off by a chance to pull the trigger on the .50 caliber.
Drills ran the gamut from hard braking competitions, eyes up exercises to get riders to look through corners, entry and exit point identification, one-handed laps, neutral throttle and trail braking practice and controlled slide slaloms. All emphasize different aspects of bike control and even after just a day and a half, the pieces of the puzzle start to come together.
Colin’s crew are attentive and continually provide suggestions for improvement to each rider. You can ask anyone questions at any point, Edwards included.
And their input is invaluable. They have broad experience teaching riders of all skill levels, from the absolute beginner to the world championship-winning racer. Even if you’ve never been on a bike before, you can sign up for a Boot Camp and get rolling. This is particularly nice due to the fact that TTBC actively encourages entire families to enjoy the experience, a much more appealing consideration when everyone from little Suzie to Grandpa Amos can hop on a bike and have fun, regardless of skill.
“I mean honestly we prefer somebody that’s never ridden a motorcycle in their life. That way they don’t have any bad habits,” Edwards adds. “But, you know from motocrossers, we’ve had some Supercross riders show up here, obviously road racers, trail riders, dirt track riders, it’s for everybody. Everything you learn on these bikes can translate to any motorcycle you get on in your life. The only difference on these in particular is the dirt track body position. But once you get that sorted out, everything translates.”
I can attest to that. Even with the abbreviated schedule there was still ample time to hone in on aspects of my riding that need refinement. Smoother and subtler control inputs with regard to trail braking and maintenance throttle through the corners were key points for me, but experimenting with body position, traction loss and line selection all proved helpful as well.
And the spirit of camaraderie at the camp is second to none. There’s something really special about bunking up with your fellow riders, hanging out with the TTBC crew late into to the evening and developing relationships with those that share your passion for two wheels. It’s something every motorcyclist should experience at least once in their life.