School Daze

Don't look too closely at that picture just yet, okay? The true beginning of this account was when Danny Walker, headmaster of the dirt-track academy known as American Supercamp, asked the student body why they enrolled for the course.

I told the foolish truth.

When Chris Carr, seven-time national champion, land-speed record holder and artist-in-residence at the school, watched me at the races, he had words of advice: "Allan," he said. "Go back to school."

So, there I was, paid in full and suited up and one supposes, paying attention when Professor Walker said the first rule on campus was no stuffing.

We are expected to be good sports, he said, and that means don't run up inside of the chap ahead when you enter a turn. The safe and best way to pass, one of the key lessons at this school, is how to turn more efficiently and come out of the turns faster and earlier, so you overtake when there's room and it's safe.

I knew that. What I didn't do, though, was plan ahead. I thought I'd done the turn correctly and had the speed I needed, so instants before that photo was shot, I tucked inside the man ahead and gave 'er all she had. We were on Yamaha 125s, so "all she had" is relative. But I didn't get the jump I expected and was inside when we got to the next turn, when the other guy turned, I saw him just in time to ram him, at which point I fell over and the photographer, just doing his job, shot the picture.

No harm done to men or machines. We were untangled and I manfully told Danny, "No excuse, sir." And he said the stuff was only half of my mistakes.

"You looked at him. You had enough room—if you'd been looking where you wanted to go."

Another good lesson. As proved off-road and on the track, we go where we look, so we do best when we look where we want to go, at the apex of the smooth path, not the other guy or the big rock, and I suspect that's how the Pros get so close to each other and don't collide.

So much for comic relief.

As for the school itself, Walker divided the class into three groups: bird-leg kids with Pro ambitions, track-day guys and old folks.

I was in the old folks—as an aside, national champion roadracer Josh Hayes, and Mrs. Hayes, were in the class, in the Pro group—and when Walker outlined the correct way to go fast on a dirt-track, we geezers looked at each, puzzled and a bit scared because this wasn't how we'd been doing it all these years. It wasn't that we didn't agree, it was that it seemed like an awfully new trick for our pack of old dogs.

So, out we went. We followed instructions...and they worked. My best parallel here was when my son John was learning how to ski. He couldn't turn, no matter how he pointed his feet and ankles and knees.

"Start down the slope," I said, "and lift one ski."

He did and swoosh! There he was, carving downhill, all technique, no stress or strain.

Same with me here. In fact, by the end of the first day, I was using Body Italian. Like Valentino Rossi in MotoGP, I could pick up the inside boot and use it for balance, no kidding. And what was this new technique, you ask?

Ha, ha, fat chance.

One, I paid my own money for this improvement, and there's no way I'm giving it away.

Two, when class began, I looked around, hope against hope and, okay, there was only one guy from my racing club and he runs in another class. I was third in two classes this past season and the only way I will win a class is to go faster than the other chaps, always assuming they don't improve along with me. So, the last thing I wanted was my rivals learning what I learned.

When I mentioned this to the other guy, he said, well, in fact, this year's winner of my class, a retired expert who used to race at legendary Ascot, knew about the school but was too busy to attend.

Let's hope he's too busy to attend the spring semester, eh?

American Supercamp ( is too good to share with rivals, as in the truest lesson in sports is...there are no good sports, there are only good actors.

As the photo shows, I am acting badly.

—Allan Girdler