The full Texas experience
Story by Misti Hurst
I mean seriously, can it get any better? I thought to myself while dirt riding, shooting guns and drinking beer at the Texas Tornado Boot Camp. I laughed and crashed, dirtier and sweatier than I’ve ever been before alongside a group of awesome riders from around the globe. Among them was two-time World Champion road racer and owner Colin Edwards, and his killer coaching crew: Joe Prussiano, Mike Myers, Shea Fouchek, Cory West and Sheila Paul.
Located in Montgomery, Texas, the Tornado Boot Camp is situated on 21 acres of “unrestricted” land, meaning, it’s a great place for motorcycle riding shenanigans to take place. Edwards bought the property in 2003 and built a little dirt track and a shop as a place for his friends to gather and hang out. “We used to meet every weekend and go ride, shoot guns and drink some beers,” he said. “It was the thing to do.”
One night, his long-time friend Mike Myers suggested converting it into a business and riding school. “I bet folks would pay to come out here and do this shit, because it doesn’t exist anywhere else! Build it and they will come,” Myers said.
So Edwards did.
Within the compound are three separate riding areas: the first, a TT-style layout covered by a 92-by-46-metre roof and lights to enable riding to continue in poor weather or after dark. There is also an open TT layout outside, and a dirt oval that allows different groups to be run at the same time for different drills. The three tracks are joined together once per day for the “Superpole,” a timed event that riders run alone so that they can see the improvements they make over the course of the camp. Plus, it provides some pretty entertaining competition.
Guests stay within the 465-square-metre western-style bunkhouse and saloon, which includes three VIP rooms with large en suites, as well as two large dorm rooms lined neatly with bunk beds. Every wall is adorned with some form of motorcycle memorabilia, photos of riding greats, helmets, crashed leathers and dirt jersey’s from some of the more famous guests of the camp, like Valentino Rossi. You could end up riding next to Moto GP, AMA or WSB champions on any given day.
Edwards really wanted everyone to stay in the same place so they could really get to know each other, instead of having it like regular track days, “where you show up and ride with people you don’t know and then go sit in a hotel room twiddling your thumbs until the next morning,” he says.
His first camp ran on March 24, 2011, and sold out at 24 guests. It’s been running strong ever since. Now it was my turn.
Better Late than Never
Camp doors opened up at 3 p.m. on a Thursday, with most guests arriving at or near that time for a welcome greeting, a tour of the facility, some free riding to get accustomed to the bikes, the first Superpole and dinner.
I arrived late after a flight delay and a rental car issue (don’t even ask), and a bit of difficulty finding the place in the dark. Let’s just say there were dogs, a barbed wire fence and a gun-toting Texan who wasn’t impressed that I was on his property.
After scarfing down some spaghetti and meatballs, and getting caught up around camp, instructor Sheila Paul asked if I wanted to ride under the lights.
“I didn’t come all this way to not ride tonight,” I said as she led me to a room filled with bins of FLY riding pants and jerseys, gloves, pads, Sidi boots and Arai helmets to gear up, then outside into the shop filled with dozens of Yamaha dirt bikes, and pointed me toward my TTR 125.
The dirt under the arena was unlike anything I’d ridden on before, more like red clay, which felt super-slick as I awkwardly tried to position my body in the exact opposite riding style to what I’m used to in road racing.
Paul demonstrated first, then reminded me over and over to sit closer to the tank with my elbows out, and to push the bike underneath me. After several laps, I made a rookie mistake; I grabbed too much front brake and instantly tucked the front and sailed over the handlebars. Dirt is hard and you stop immediately – head, shoulder, hip. Ouch. I thought, This is stupid. Don’t hurt yourself on the first day.
Noticing that I was trying too hard to ride fast, Paul cleverly told me to keep my left hand on the gas tank and to ride the course with only one hand on the bars, that way I would have no choice but to get into the correct body position.
It totally worked and I started to really feel that I was getting the hang of it. I quit riding for the night and joined the rest of the group for a much-needed beer or two. I slept well that night.
Camp atmosphere is relaxed and carefree, everyone sauntering around smiling. I officially met Edwards, and the program for the day got rolling around 8:30 a.m., after a filling breakfast and a quick little meeting. We started with a morning free ride where we could practise on any of the three tracks while instructors rode around pulling people over here and there to give tips and suggestions.
We also had more focused drills for that day, including a braking exercise where groups of four to six start on one white line, race to the next white line and see who could stop the quickest. Instructors gave pointers along the way, and Paul told the group that making it competitive helped push students closer to their limits.
Then we did a 90-degree control drill. Joe Prussiano instructed us to stay in first gear, keep our feet on the pegs, look at the exit of the turn and use the rear brake to fishtail into the turn, almost come to a full stop and then go again. “It’s not about speed here, but finesse, like ballet on a motorcycle,” he said.
After lunch, campers could choose to rest, keep riding or join Edwards and his crew for shooting practice. Most of us leapt at the chance, and so we bombed down to the end of the property on our minibikes and took turns shooting a 9 mm and a 45-calibre pistol at a target, and then trying our hand at hitting clay pigeons with shotguns.
“We live in Texas. It’s kind of lawless,” Edwards said with a laugh. “We have an unrestricted property, and that’s really what we did before; we just hung out and rode and did some shooting, so that’s what we do for the camps.” It really did feel lawless, as if we were motorcycle-riding bandits or something. There was a lot of laughing.
For the afternoon drills, we focused on working backwards from the end of the corners, getting the eyes up and looking through the turn to where you want to go. Staff put tires on the exit of the corners to help guide us to the line they wanted, and after more riding, it was time for the Superpole.
Pressure is on during the Superpole. Each rider takes a turn while Edwards holds the stopwatch and everyone else watches. I started last, as I had missed the previous night’s Superpole, and landed in the number two spot with a time of 1:38.63 – less than half a second off the number one time.
The competition was friendly. Everyone was hot, dusty, exhausted and smiling, and ready for a dinner of chicken breasts, vegetables and beer while watching some videos of Edwards and friends adventuring in the Baja 1000 and getting lost off-road riding in Costa Rica. I ate more food than I’ve ever eaten.
There may have been some beer drinking, bench racing, ping-pong, pool playing, storytelling and lots of laughing later that night as well.
For the first time ever, Edwards and his staff decided to take their students to a go-kart track for a morning of road riding. Those of us who wanted to go had brought our road-racing leathers and gear, while the ones who didn’t go stayed back at camp for more dirt.
“A lot of our clientele are road racers and want to know how riding in the dirt is going to help them,” instructor Shea Fouchek said. “This way, we have the opportunity to truly show them what we’re teaching.”
“And what better way to do it than put knobby tires to concrete and see what happens. I brought a crashed set of leathers, just in case!” Edwards said, laughing.
The staff worked tirelessly to load up over a dozen bikes, water, snacks and gear, and we all made the 45-minute drive to the kart track. I rode with Edwards and Fouchek and nearly died laughing at some of their incredible stories. Tales about Myers’ mom’s Suburban, or when Josh Hayes did the flying W over the backside of the oval, multiple rental car stories, the Max Biaggi smart car story, and the Curtis Roberts police bike story. Oh, and that story about when they stayed up all night putting a remote kill switch in Myers’ bike and then pranking him in front of TV cameras the next day.
My stomach muscles were sore from laughing.
At the kart track, we geared up in the high 30 C heat and listened to Prussiano, Edwards and Fouchek give a little briefing about the track and line selection.
The plan was to all follow Edwards around the track in a round robin exercise, but that went out the window instantly as a dozen super-competitive riders hit the track and just took off. It was hot and sweaty and exhausting, but we all just pounded the pavement and railed on the little bikes with the knobby front tires and really got a good sense of what they could do. It was easy to switch back to road-racing style, and I felt much more comfortable back in my element, but I was also able to learn a little more about front tire feel, especially when I tucked the front and crashed right in front of Fouchek.
He kindly suggested I drag a little bit of rear brake in the quick chicane to keep the weight off the front tire, and I really felt a difference in how planted the bike felt when I finally figured it out, and I didn’t crash again.
We all laughed when Prussiano came in. “Oh my god!” he shouted. “That is so much fun! I crashed three times without even falling down. The front was all mushy and folding and tucking everywhere, but I just picked it back up and didn’t crash.”
Then we did a one-hour endurance race with two people per team. The 15-minute stints were exhausting, but it was so much fun.
Back at camp, we participated in a shooting competition that involved a timed round of shooting targets with two kinds of shotguns, a pair of handguns and then a sighted rifle. I’m a terrible shot, apparently.
We rode again in the late afternoon for several more hours, this time doing drills that focused more on mid-corner throttle control and corner entry. I was a bit frustrated after having come from the kart track, because it felt harder for me to get the flat-tracking body position down again, but clearly I was better and faster, as my Superpole time that night went down to 1:33.69. I bumped to top spot until fellow student Mike bumped me down again by 0.20 of a second.
Dinner that night was the best barbecue ever. Brisket and sausages had been smoked on-site all day and were served with baked beans and potatoes, with gooey brownies for dessert.
Did I mention that beer is included in the US$2,400 price tag, which also covers all food, gear, bikes, accommodation, snacks, water, etc.? Basically, you show up and don’t need your wallet for the next four days. We took advantage during another enjoyable night.
On the final morning, every muscle in my body was sore, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to do more riding. We geared up and headed out for more free riding and a mid-morning Superpole. Then Edwards said he was pulling out the big gun, and we all gathered around to get a glimpse of the monstrous .50-cal. Holy doodle is that a big gun! And does that big gun ever emit a humongous boom when you shoot it. Welcome to Texas.
Edwards shot a few other guns and blew up a tire, to the delight of everyone as they hooted and hollered and laughed.
Awards were given out later, with medals for top endurance teams, top Superpole times, most improved, top shooter and so forth. Edwards passed around signed posters and swag bags before casually asking, “Anyone want to attend wheelie school?”
Wheelie School?! Back on went my gear, and even though I only had an hour before I had to race off to catch my flight, I spent it trying to get the front wheel off the ground more than a centimetre. Finally, somewhat successfully, I did a few decent wheelies with the assistance of the “wheelie school staff” before arm pump and exhaustion set in and it was time to go.
Hugs all around for an amazing staff, and kudos to Edwards for running a pretty slick operation that is not only insanely fun, but also beneficial in terms of skill building and rider improvement. A killer four days of learning how to judge feel on a motorcycle; the adventure, laughter and friendship were a bonus.
I mean seriously – motorcycles, guns and beer. The full Texas experience, indeed.