Memories of VIR – and why we’re still going there 18 years later…

By Gigi Pridmore

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Reg and his renowned chalkboard at Seattle circa 1999

Back in the late 90’s CLASS still made the rounds of the USA every summer. We would leave California in May and we wouldn’t be back until August. We’d go from Denver to Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas. Then it was on to Wisconsin — Road America for a fun and inspiring weekend at the AMA Nationals and CLASS following on the Monday and Tuesday. We’d visit Grattan in Michigan, Mid Ohio, Pocono, Road Atlanta and later Barber Motorsports Park where the fabulous museum is, and we’d sell out schools all summer long. Then around Labor Day we’d head north for a few weeks — to Portland, OR and then to Seattle. Oh man, those were fun times. As we’ve cut back our schedule the past decade, those tracks are no longer on the CLASS Calendar. Read on to find out why we still go to VIR.

When VIRginia International Raceway re-opened in 2000, Reg contacted them about getting dates there for CLASS. That track has been on the CLASS calendar every year since. Many a summer we sweltered in the Virginia sunshine and humidity, tires practically spinning on the rims from the heat. Then an afternoon thunderstorm would come and cool everything down as we finished for the day. One steamy July afternoon during the wrap up meeting, a longtime student asked if we would consider moving our VIR dates to the Fall. Virginia is beautiful in the Fall they said. And they were right.

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T3 in the background, Stuart, John and Al on the “track-walk” last year at VIR

And so for the past several years we’ve had October dates there. Brisk mornings and warm sunny afternoons have been the norm, though we have had a rain day or two which actually works into our program of smooth riding. But it is green! The VIR property is an amazing “country club” with huge lawns, a few ponds, lots of trees and the sweetest race track east of the Mississippi. Not to mention there are several places to stay right on the premises including The Lodge, outside of turn 6, which is where we’ve stayed for so many years. There’s also The Tavern, an old original Virginia Plantation house made into a restaurant — right on the premises — where you can get a good meal and wet your whistle without having to drive into town.

We run the North Course at VIR, the same 2.25 mile course used by MotoAmerica Pro Racing. It’s an amazing ribbon of asphalt that we cannot get enough of, and it’s a fantastic teaching track too.

Take a lap of VIR with Reg

Are you ready to find out what’s in you on the more than half mile front straight? Or the amazing and synchronized turn 3/4/5/6 segment (did you see The Lodge in the background?). When you get the line right it sings to you! Are you ready to attack Turn 7 and head up the hill into those super fun and challenging esses, then down the back and turn it on as you lean first left then right and accelerate back onto that beautiful long front straight? But you don’t have to be a racer and you don’t even really have to be super fast. You can go for a Sunday ride on this track under Reg and the team’s tutelage and have just as great a time as anybody. Taking your street bike, whatever it might be, onto this track is just an awesome experience.

Left: Mary joins us from IL on her S1000XR and improves every year.
Right: Some people ask if they can put a GS on the track. Um…Yes.

Not only is it the track and the area that seduces with Southern charm, there is something different about the students that attend at VIR. We get a lot of riders of course from VA, MD and NC, but we also get you guys and gals from Tennessee, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and even California. We feel a very strong bond with so many of you and for those who attend for the first time, it is often that they sign up again the next year.

We really love VIR and the students that attend there.  This is the reason after 18 years, while we have cut out all of our old stomping grounds outside Cali, VIR is still on the calendar. With our great association with Morton’s BMW in Fredericksburg, VA — key CLASS instructor Stu Beatson is the service manager there — and Morton’s willingness to help out and give support, our only school outside of California continues to shine.

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A CLASS fixture at VIR, Georg on his Dresser

CLASS is not just another track day and it’s not just any old school. Three time AMA Superbike Champ Reg Pridmore has been doing this, and doing it well, for decades. And his handpicked team gives you an unparalleled fun experience. CLASS is and has always been a track school for street riders. Whether you ride a sport bike, a dual sport, a sport tourer, or even the occasional Harley (right Georg?), we want to help you ride it well, better than ever, and have an absolute blast doing so.

Click here for the CLASS website

So in October Reg and I will be there along with Stuart, Aaron, John, Clark, Gary, Marcus, Gery, Allan, Kenny, and Dave. It’s maybe the friendliest, most helpful team on the planet and we’re there to coach you, ride with you, critique you and make you a better, safer, and even (if that’s what you’re looking for) faster rider.

We hope you’ll make plans now to join us for this two-day CLASS at VIR by registering today. Don’t miss this opportunity to ride once again — or for the first time with Reg and the CLASS crew. We will make you a better rider.

As a lot of you know, many times Reg has said “this is the last time”. But each year as we leave, the smiles on our faces and gladness in our hearts because of the fun we have at GigiFaceVIR brings us to set dates for the following year. You guys know one of these days will be the last, it has to, and as I sit here, I feel strongly that this may be the last one – I hope I’m wrong. And I will never say never because we don’t know what the future holds.

But what I do know is that we are scheduled to be at VIR for CLASS October 15 and 16, 2018 and I cannot wait! I hope you’ll join us.

Cheers,
Gigi Pridmore

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Thanks for the photos EtechPhoto and Tracey Joyce Photography

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Smooth Downshifting

Tips for becoming a better rider

By Gigi Pridmore

When it comes to learning to ride a motorcycle, I have to admit I have been blessed. I got to know Reg before I ever learned to ride. Our first day spent together consisted of an airplane ride in the morning, and a motorcycle ride in the afternoon. Once we were together more, it was the track. My first 500 laps were on the back of a 3X AMA Superbike Champ. To me, watching from pillion, the throttle, the clutch, the brake, the sound of the engine, the giddying acceleration and ridiculously late braking I likened to watching a concert pianist grace and make magic with the keys. What a rush! When Reg was in the classroom, I’d jump on the back with Jason. Who was better? Back in the 90’s I’m not sure there was any difference on those VFR750s.

The visual I was given was one of how a motorcycle should look, feel and sound. It was smooth and synchronized and it was perfection. For me, learning to ride, the learning curve – the trial and error was only in getting there. I didn’t have to figure out what was important.

Smooth Matters. There are a lot of phrases over the years that got my attention, but maybe the most memorable was from Nicky Hayden during a track walk at Sears Point: “How fast I get into turn 2 depends on how smooth I can make my downshift”.  How smooth

Matching Revs. When you close the throttle and pull in the clutch to downshift, the RPM drops dramatically but the rear wheel has no idea what’s going on. It’s happily humming along at speed. Kick it down a gear and dump the clutch and when the engine and rear wheel hook back up, the rear wheel locks up and it’s seriously un-coordinated. The bike is trying to tell you “stop this!” I do this on my dirt bike, usually without even using the clutch, just matching the revs. In the dirt, the tire is free to spin and it adds to the fun. But on the asphalt it’s a different story.

Now if you’re a really good rider, a racer and have perfect control while the rear wheel is wildly spinning on the asphalt, more power to you. In all those laps as a passenger, I saw a lot of downshifting and when a really good rider is late braking, the clutch, brake and throttle are moving together at a dizzying speed. But that is not where most of us are and getting it right starts with planning ahead. If you want to be a better rider, let’s put the horse back in front of the cart and get the sequence for smooth in order.

Plan Ahead. To make those downshifts smooth and seamless, I learned long ago (on the back) that planning ahead matters. For simplicity sake let’s say we’re on the track and we’re in 3rd gear going maybe 80 mph or so and we need to slow for a corner.  Before I get to the corner, I have planned my entry speed so I need to go down a gear. As I approach, while my revs and speed are still up (I have not yet closed the throttle), engine and rear wheel are in harmony, I lightly disengage the clutch, pulling it just enough to do its job. In synchrony I click the gear shift lever down one (still have not closed the throttle) and gently feed the clutch back in. This is basically one quick motion. The rear wheel and the engine now smoothly go to a higher note as my revs go up to match speed. With higher compression as I roll off the throttle now the bike responds with confidence to slow my speed for the corner. A little (or a lot of) brake, into my turn and back on the throttle. Planning that corner a little earlier just made that turn sweeter than ever. Did you notice I braked after I downshifted? Did you notice I had this all done before I began my turn? I’ve freed up my concentration on making that turn smooth and on the gas.

Blipping. In the example we’re not talking about blipping, just matching the throttle. The reason to blip the throttle is to match the revs with the speed to effectively do the same thing. It also sounds pretty cool. It’s especially useful if you have let off the throttle and your revs have dropped below rear wheel speed. It takes practice to do it smoothly and if your timing is off ie: blip before the clutch is disengaged, the bike will lurch. But practice in a large empty parking lot early on a Sunday morning or even statically imagining the timing can be a useful process.

On the Street. When you’re on city streets and running between traffic lights, style and early planning look a little different. In traffic your planning should include keeping the revs a little higher using lower gears for engine compression, and have your hand perched with fingers ready to brake. But on the open road or in the twisties, this plan ahead works well. You see the curve ahead and you smoothly downshift one (or more) to give you control for deceleration and acceleration as needed. When Reg and I are on the street two-up, if something comes into view, like an intersection with a car waiting for us to pass, or anything that might make him think he may have to brake, the first thing he does is downshift. It allows for control with the throttle and the rider and the bike are ready for what comes next.

There are many factors that will amend the process, especially where good experience and even trail braking come into play (and that’s a hack for another day). More than one downshift will also add another level of planning and skill to work on. But if your downshifting needs some help, it helps to make new habits to replace old bad ones – stop putting the cart before the horse. Plan ahead and make it smooth.

Slipper Clutches. Some of you have slipper clutches. To us, not being able to have exacting riding technique can really make bad habits feel like a comfortable old pair of slippers. Maybe they won’t get you today or even tomorrow because your bike takes skill out of the equation. If that’s you, we challenge you to add some spice to your life. Listen to your engine and transmission. Challenge yourself to be a better rider.

Using your engine in this way is a very confidence inspiring way of riding. Practice control and good technique and you will become a smoother, safer rider. Hope to see you at the track!

Disclaimer: To the maximum extent permitted by law, the authors accept no liability for any direct, indirect or consequential damages resulting from the use of these techniques or reliance on the information contained in them. Motorcycle riding is an inherently dangerous activity, and you use these techniques at your own risk.