Barber Motorsports Park
When Barber Motorsports Park officially opened its gates in 2003, the USA gained a world-class road-course racing facility in the Southeast. Packing 16 turns into 2.38 miles of roller-coaster asphalt situated among lush grass-covered hills and forest deep in the heart of Alabama, BMP's layout is easily one of the most challenging circuits in the country. It basically throws everything at you: major elevation changes, differing cambers and radii throughout a turn, blind corner entrances, fast turns, slow turns...BMP's obstacles are multi-faceted and don't give you much time to rest. Noted racetrack designer Alan Wilson drafted every aspect of the circuit, so you know that any lap can and will test your skills to the limit.
Don't get us wrong, though; while BMP's layout will test the mettle of any expert rider, it's also forgiving and safe enough for novice riders to gain the necessary confidence that fosters the desire to push their comfort level and improve. There's tons of runoff area with well-groomed gravel traps in all the turns to keep a wayward rider out of trouble, and the modern supplementary facilities ensure that any problems can be handled quickly and efficiently. In other words, it's difficult not to look at BMP as one of the best classrooms we can think of.
Needless to say, having Barber as a home base for its activities would be a big advantage for any organization. So James didn't exactly take time to mull it over when he was offered the opportunity to host a Yamaha-sponsored riding school there.
Instructor Scott Carpenter...
Instructor Scott Carpenter leads the classroom chalk-talk lessons that don't try to douse students with information overload before they head out onto the track; just basic pointers that can be easily remembered and practiced during the riding sessions.
Part of the track walk also...
Part of the track walk also involves students watching riding demonstrations by the instructors, with James describing the techniques involved both beforehand and afterward.
Not too many schools can boast...
Not too many schools can boast having former World and AMA Superbike champion Scott "Mr. Daytona" Russell as a permanent member on their school faculty.
Jamie James Yamaha Champions School
With many good friends who also happen to be past AMA champions, James doesn't have any problems getting at least one star rider as a guest instructor at every school date. Champions like Colin Edwards II, Dave Sadowski, Tom Kipp, Thomas Stevens, Rich Oliver and Jimmy Filice are frequent visitors who are more than happy to share their vast knowledge of riding technique with students. Of course, the school's permanent instructors aren't slouches by any stretch of the imagination-for example, not many can boast former World and AMA Superbike champion Scott Russell as part of their faculty. Former AMA Pro Thunder champion and factory superbike rider Mike Smith, plus WERA champions Brian Stokes, Chuck Ivey, and Scott Carpenter are just part of what is surely one of the most experienced and capable school staffs anywhere. Kind of easy to see where the Jamie James Yamaha Champions School title came from, isn't it?
As with all top-flight riding schools, the JJYCS will let you ride your own bike as long as it and your riding gear meet the school's requirements (the first being that your bike is a Yamaha, of course). If you wish to use the school's equipment, there's a well-maintained fleet of R1s, R6s, and FZ6s shod with Michelin Pilot Power tires from which to choose, as well as Pilot leathers and gloves, Arai helmets and TCX boots if you need riding gear.
Former AMA 750 Supersport...
Former AMA 750 Supersport champion Tom Kipp was the guest instructor at our particular school. Not very many people can say they fit into their old race leathers from over a decade ago.
If you could only use one word to describe the JJYCS, it would have to be relaxed. While it's virtually impossible to make any novice rider truly comfortable out on the racetrack, the JJYCS's overall feel is very friendly and easygoing (not coincidentally like its lead instructor's personality). The low-pressure environment reduces the anxiety level that often afflicts racetrack first-timers; trying to deal with the usual information overload that accompanies the combination of chalkboard lessons and then venturing into the foreign surroundings of a racing circuit can be intimidating enough for a newbie, but the JJYCS's low-key atmosphere helps allay those fears. There are no forced marches through riding drills or long, drawn-out philosophical classroom discussions here; just straight-ahead, easily digestible classroom lessons followed by plenty of track time.
One aspect of the curriculum that we thought stood out was that many of the ideas and techniques taught in the JJYCS continually have their application to street riding emphasized where appropriate. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that the majority of riding school students are still street riders, and delving past the standard "take it to the track" preaching is a good way to ensure that the lessons learned will sink in and have more potential to be put into practice by everyone.