Not so many years ago, racetracks were pretty much reserved for, well, racers. Not anymore.
This past week, following the season-ending AMA Pro Road Racing doubleheader at Barber Motorsports Park, I took a refresher course at the Schwantz School. With just one exception—me—none of the 27 students at this particular school had ever taken the checkers on a racetrack, and more than half had never been on the business side of the crash fence. One newer rider signed up because the school is the only track-based program recognized by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
Now in its 10th year of operation and about to complete its second go-around at the 2.38-mile masterpiece created by local milk and real-estate magnate George Barber, the two-day program is staffed by a bright, energetic and friendly group of current and former club- and national-level racers. Southern hospitality at its finest.
Student backgrounds were a mixed bag. Most, but not all, had years of streetbike experience. Some were trackday regulars. A small number, like me, were returnees, back to broaden their on-bike skill set. Asked to describe his goals for the school, one graying student cracked, “I want to be a racer when I grow up.”
Everyone got a good chuckle from that response, but this isn’t a racing school. You’ll likely lap the circuit faster and lean over farther than you imagined possible, but progress is made in small, digestible increments, not chunks torn off aggressively. “Baby steps,” drawled instructor Brad Coleman, “baby steps…”
Unlike some schools that cater to two wheels, Schwantz isn’t just a nameplate. He’s at every school, usually arriving for the 8 a.m. starts before anyone else. He sits in on morning classroom sessions, injecting interesting and often funny anecdotes and patiently answering questions he’s surely been asked a million times before.
Each afternoon, the 1993 500cc world champion zips into his Dainese leathers, pulls on his Arai helmet, saddles up a Honda CBR1000RR or Suzuki GSX-R1000 (students ride CBR600RRs or GSX-R600s) and rips it up on-track with his eager scholars. And, yes, when the opportunity presents itself, he still hauls the mail.
Racetracks can be intimidating places. Not at the Schwantz School. All you have to do is show up, pay attention and have fun. No competition number needed.