It’s not the first question you’d expect from the owner of a motorcycle riding school, but this was no ordinary riding school—and this was no ordinary owner.
The Texas Tornado Boot Camp is the creation of two-time World Superbike Champion Colin Edwards and a few fellow Texans. It’s a boy’s weekend away, most of it spent riding motorcycles or shooting guns, with plenty of food, fraternity, beer, and laughter. It isn’t exclusively for boys, though; this weekend there were five women, and they weren’t the first. It’s a seriously good time and if you’ve got the money, and you enjoy riding motorcycles, you should do it.
This was a four-day edition of the Texas Tornado Boot Camp (there used to be two-day camps, but they have since been dropped because Edwards and staff felt that it wasn't enough time...more on that later). For one it was Halloween weekend, and most all the students brought costumes for the Saturday night bash. And there was a special guest instructor: Three-time World Champion Freddie Spencer was helping out, when he wasn’t riding with his son Connor. Spencer had a roadracing school for years, but it was nothing like this. Nothing is.
The TTBC Saloon/Hotel has...
The TTBC Saloon/Hotel has several second-floor rooms with bunk beds where all the students sleep. The camp is completely self-contained; you eat, sleep, and ride all in the same place.
“We have no competition,” Edwards said, and he’s right. Of all the riding schools, for all the various surfaces, there’s none that are as self-contained as the TTBC. Once you arrive on Thursday, there’s no reason to leave the premises. You eat here and you sleep here. The TTBC revolves around the Saloon, the hotel/dining room where everyone eats, drinks, bench races, and sleeps. There were 26 “campers” on Halloween weekend, with most staying on the second floor in rooms fitted with bunk beds. There are also three VIP suites. The dining room is the epicenter of camp life. It’s here where breakfast (eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy), lunch (handmade deli sandwiches), and dinner are served, with fruit, snacks, and drinks available all day long, and plenty of beer at night. The food was very good to excellent, with authentic slow-cooked Texas barbecue on Saturday night.
You ride motorcycles, and you can shoot guns too, if that’s your pleasure. You can watch football on Sunday or troll the internet. You can drive go-karts, play paint ball, or drive RC cars. An earlier group of students wanted to go wakeboarding, so Edwards loaded them up and drove them to nearby Lake Conroe. There isn’t much the camp staff won’t do to be accommodating. The tenor of the camp is a reflection of Edwards’ personality; every camper gets personal treatment, not only from the instructors, but Edwards also.
Edwards’ wife Alyssia gets...
Edwards’ wife Alyssia gets sighted in on his .308 sniper rifle at a target 481 yards away. Don’t mess with Texas; she’s an expert shot, and consistently hits the bulls-eye.
Edwards is big on family and friends. His wife, Alyssia, helps out with the camp, as does Alyssia’s mother, Donna, who runs their various enterprises. Their daughter, Gracie Kayte, had the run of the place, including carving pumpkin, and son Hayes was a fast and fearless little terror on his KTM 50 SX two-stroke.
“Whenever I thought of building this, there’s only one way to do it,” recalled Edwards. “I do it my way and my style. I don’t want to do it for the money, and I don’t want to just charge people a bunch of money to hang out, (then) ‘see ya later.’ It’s got to be more personal to me. So first thing we built was ‘the roof’ (a giant fixed canopy). We can’t have anybody come and say, ‘Sorry, we’ll see you next week.’ If they’re flying from Europe, we had to have a ‘rain-out’ feature that we could still ride. And then the hotel was the second thing…the Saloon…I’m a people person. I like to hang around. I like the campfire stories. A lot of what I’ve learned through the years is that’s what a lot of people really want. That little bit of extra connection.”
The Saloon is where everyone...
The Saloon is where everyone eats, sleeps, and talks at the TTBC. It quickly builds a sense of camaraderie among the students when they spend so much time together over the course of four days.
Breakfast was called for 7:30 a.m. The students gradually rolled in, had breakfast, and settled in while Spencer gave a short presentation on proper cornering lines. Unlike most schools, the TTBC doesn’t use Powerpoint presentations or the like. Instead, it’s up to the instructors to get their points across verbally before the drills commence.
Before a single engine was fired up, the campers went through a short calisthenics program to loosen up. Then they gathered around the camp’s lead instructor Joe Prussiano, a former roadracer and longtime friend of Edwards. Seated on one of the camp’s mostly stock Yamaha TT-R125s, Prussiano started the first lesson with a discussion of body position, then braking. “Use both brakes in every corner,” he advised, after which Edwards gave a more detailed explanation about the effect of braking on the attitude of the motorcycle. In addition to stopping, he pointed out, braking creates load, which segued into an explanation of weight transfer and throttle control. “The goal is 100 percent of the time to have some sort of input,” he said. It was a lot for the students to take in, but they’d have plenty of time to put the fundamentals to the test on one of the facility’s many tracks.
Three-time world champion...
Three-time world champion Freddie Spencer was a guest instructor at this TTBC. And yes, that’s a woman rider; Edwards says the school averages at least three or four every camp.
All three groups were riding under the roof at first, before they moved out onto the tracks. At the rear of the roof is a TT track. Next to the TT track is a one-eighth-mile oval, which also has a short infield segment. The Superpole track includes the roof, the TT track, and parts of the oval. Next to the Saloon is a motocross track with very mild jumps. There are plans to put in a small paved raceway. The shooting range sits at the far end of the property’s 22 acres, which also includes a forest for trail riding.
The riders were broken up into three groups, with the smallest group the beginners, then the intermediates, then the intermediate/advanced. The curriculum is set, but advancement is done at the pace of the riders. If they’re quick studies, they advance more quickly. The drills get more difficult, the pace picks up. Front ends wash out. Explanations are given.
Guns are also a big part of...
Guns are also a big part of the Boot Camp, with the majority of students looking forward to the activity. Edwards and the staff take safety very seriously, and every student goes through a firearms safety course before they handle any guns.
After lunch, the students have some free time before the afternoon session. The diversions on offer include go-karts, RC cars, paint ball, pool, and ping-pong. But what a lot of students look forward to is the shooting range.
Guns are big in Texas, and legal. You can pretty much buy any kind of gun without a lot of stress. Edwards owns a lot, many of which he shares on camp weekends. Anyone who wants to shoot has to take a short gun safety course given by Gale Tynefield, a club-racing former Marine who teaches firearm safety and techniques. Tynefield and Edwards take safety very seriously and are diligent in making sure the guns are properly handled.
The shooting begins with Edwards’ wife, Alyssia, who is an excellent marksman. “She’s been shooting all her life,” Edward said while wearing a USAF Shooting Team sweatshirt. “She’s a redneck. She’ll tell you she’s not, but she is.” Lying prone in the bed of Edwards’ pickup truck, Alyssia sighted the .308 sniper rifle Edwards had built and fired at a target 481 yards away. The bullet missed the target, but it wasn’t her fault—Edwards later discovered the sight had been off. The next day she hit the bulls-eye from the same distance.
Friday’s weaponry was handguns: .22, .45 and 9mm; Saturday for skeet shooting with a shotgun. And on Sunday they brought out the ‘50’, a .50 caliber rifle known for its use in long-range sniper work and vaporizing varmints.
The TTBC instructors go at...
The TTBC instructors go at it in their own little "heat race".
At the end of each riding day, the students take on the Superpole course. It illustrated how quickly they forget everything they’ve learned. “It’s turned into a really good exercise, because we’re teaching them all this stuff,” Edwards said. “They get their body position right, they get everything working, looking good. As soon as the pressure’s on they go back to their instincts. All that shit goes out the window. And it’s a great exercise for them to see also. And they know it. As soon as they come in, they’re like, ‘Damn it. I was dipping my shoulder and I was doing this.’"
Edwards holds the record of 1:27.3. “Generally, most of us instructors, we’ll finish all within a second and a half,” he said. “And if it goes right, I’m usually the first. Most of the time.” Not this weekend. Four days before the start of the camp, Edwards was involved in the horrific crash that took the life of Marco Simoncelli in the Malaysian Grand Prix, resulting in a dislocated left shoulder. Scheduled for surgery two days after the camp, he was roaming from group to group on his Yamaha Grizzly, often in the background, deferring to his instructors—and always holding a can of some sort, either a Monster Energy drink or Coors Light or an empty that he used as a spittoon for the smokeless tobacco he enjoys. The shoulder popped out from time to time, but Edwards would nonchalantly jam it back into place.
There are five different tracks...
There are five different tracks on the TTBC’s 22 acres, so there are plenty of different riding drills that encompass a variety of skills.
Like most schools, the instructors at the TTBC are all first-rate. Besides Prussiano (“I think he’s won 14 national championships throughout his career,” described Edwards. “Pikes Peak a few times…he’s been around, done it all, dirt tracked and roadraced.”), there’s Shea Fouchek (“He’s ridden with the M4 EMGO Suzuki team. Fouchek kind of does our B group.”), Merle Scherb (“He’s our resident dirt track instructor, AMA National number 78. He roadraced a little bit a few years back, so he’s got knowledge of both the dirt and street. Scherb more or less does our A group.”), Steve Bodak (“Never raced motorcycles professionally, but I always say he’s got more patience than God. He’s our beginner instructor, just the best personality in the world, super nice guy, gets along with everybody.”), and Mike Meyers (“He and I started roadracing at the same time. He was just as fast as I was…but he was seven, eight years older than me and just too old to pursue it.”). Doug Lawrence, AMA national number 73 dirt tracker, was also along as a guest instructor.
Corner exit techniques were taught on Friday. Saturday would begin with mid-corner technique that incorporated what had been learned about corner exit.
Lead instructor Joe Prussiano...
Lead instructor Joe Prussiano gets the students filled on the days’ activities outside the Saloon. Despite the name, everything is low-key at the Boot Camp; it’s all about having fun, after all.
Prussiano spoke about keeping your head up, looking up the track, and also about finding neutral throttle, a concept some students had difficulty understanding at first.
Edwards told a story about learning the value of neutral throttle. At the 2006 Malaysian Grand Prix, the Texan was a second a lap slower than teammate Valentino Rossi early in practice, despite having equal top speed. “Why is he a second faster?” Edwards asked. Though this was his fourth season racing a GP bike, Edwards still had “some old Superbike ways to work my way out of.” What he saw on the data was that the interval between Rossi being off-throttle to back into it was negligible. “The brakes coming down and the throttle coming up creates heaps of load,” he said. “Just that little bit he did every corner, a half a tenth here, a half a tenth there, that’s a second.” He added, “When you don’t minimize that time, the bike’s riding you.”
The grounds are expansive...
The grounds are expansive enough that there are plenty of trails to go riding on, if that’s what you’d like to do.
Riding bikes at the TTBC is something there’s always plenty of. “Our curriculum is about six hours a day. That’s a lot of riding. That’s why we always say, ‘You don’t have to ride. Come get a water break, come watch the football game if you want to, then you can go ride.’ We have a curriculum, but we’re in Texas and we’re all pretty easygoing. The students are going to dictate what they want. We’re not going to go out here and hammer ‘em and hammer ‘em. Because four days of riding…you just can’t do it.
“We tell ‘em at the beginning of every camp, if you’re worried around ride time, don’t, because you’re going to get more than enough. And always that first day you want to go out and ride and ride and ride and ride. [Then] you’re screwed for the next two days.” The TTBC also has two-day camps, but “the two-days are a lot more intense. We’re trying to cram everything in two days and for me two days is not enough to really see progression. We’ve seen it, but generally that first day is getting familiar, trying to figure out body position, get everything right. Sleep on it, by the second day, just starting to get it and then everybody’s gonna go home. So that’s why we came up with the four-days. It’s a lot easier, a lot more relaxed pace, a lot more time to sleep on it, sleep on it again and then it comes.”
This four-day camp ended back at the Saloon, with a Texas barbecue and a bonfire. Edwards pointed out how many riders had improved their Superpole times, and thanked them for attending. There would be more improvement on Sunday, then the swapping of emails and phone numbers. Another class had graduated from the boot camp, and many were certain to return.
The Texas Tornado Boot Camp is now offering special one-week "racer only" camps designed for racers looking to tune up before the season starts. The next Racer Only camp is scheduled for Feb 6 - 12. Cost is $1950.
The rest of the TTBC 2012 schedule is as follows:
March 29th - April 1st 4 Day Camp
April 19th - 22nd 4 Day Camp
May 10th - 13th 4 Day Camp Women Only
June 21st - 24th 4 Day Camp
August 2nd - 5th After Laguna 4 Day Camp
August 9th - 12th Pre- Indy 4 Day Camp
September 20th - 23rd 4 Day Camp
October 4th - 7th 4 Day Camp
For more information, log onto www.texastornadobootcamp.com
, email email@example.com
or call (713)364-BOOT.