“The number one reason a rider goes faster is Maximum Throttle Time. Everything else is technique and application. The racer who spends more time on the throttle (all other factors being equal) will win.”
This dead-simple insight comes from the AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association) Academy of Roadracing class.
Race schools are crucial for any race organization. How else would you add members? CCS (Championship Cup Series) and WERA (formerly Western Eastern Racing Association) both offer classes or recognize other race school programs. There are numerous great programs or one-off classes across the country. But few offer the chance to both learn and race on the same weekend.
For more than 15 years, AHRMA has been teaching aspiring racers how to get on track, no pun intended. It’s one of the easiest ways in America to get an honest-to-god license to race. Then actually race.
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“Easiest” doesn’t apply to the class itself, 7 a.m. start time, or the lengthy list of rules and mandatories. But in essence, you need just three things: $305, a track-prepped street motorcycle, and 10 hours’ worth of attention span.
Check those three boxes, pass the written test and instructor observation, and you’ll earn the right to race a motorcycle around a track as fast as physics and abilities will allow. If you brought a class-legal motorcycle that passes tech inspection, you can race the next day. You’ll have to wear a yellow vest though.
Mark Morrow, a 28-year veteran of racing with CCS, WERA, and AHRMA, created the current course and curriculum in 2020. He estimates he’s had more than 300 students over the last three years. His self-effacing sense of humor belies the 50 or so various national titles he’s won. He doesn’t remember the exact number.
The same humor goes into his riding style. One of his favorite techniques is to show someone a wheel inside the same turn all race long, then pass on the outside on the final lap. Or inside, depending on how he feels.
“It’s OK to be fiendishly clever in a race.”
Class begins with a ride around the track in Mark’s van at GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan. This does two things. You can see the track while not clinging to a tank at 100 mph. And Mark can spend 45 minutes dissecting the turn radii, apexes, and their varying uphill or downhill tendencies. We review the curbs, cones and braking markers, and importantly, the rutted Michigan sand and soil in the runoff areas.
“You’ll want knobbies if you end up here.”
Morrow’s racing philosophy comes from decades of firsthand experience, but the class is tailored to beginners. First up, flags. You have to know them all, even the ones you might never encounter. Are they waving, still, or being pointed at you? It matters. We’re also covering basic theory on race lines and carrying speed. Not braking though. That comes later.
An intense hour and a half of instruction leads to a first track session. It’s time to hit apexes, aim for cones, and make the 2.21-mile track into the widest and fastest set of semi-circles possible. Every rider gets an instructor, enlisted by AHRMA to lead riders, then follow them. It’s already paying dividends. Turn 3 happens faster than ever before. Was it always uphill?
We’re back in the classroom. Now we’re covering braking. Despite nine years of racing, it turns out trail-braking does not mean using your rear brake into turns. Minus-10 racer points for the author. Without telling us to be Freddie Spencer, Mark challenges us to brake deeper and harder into turns. Every lap, brake just a little bit deeper into the brake markers. You made it last time, right? Keep pushing.
“Think of it this way. The more leaned over you are, the less distance you’ll fall.”
Hilarious but true. Unless there’s a waving green flag and 25 other riders, no road on earth is safer than the controlled environs of a track. Everybody’s traveling in the same direction, you’re covered in leather and polymer with ambulances on standby. If you’re going to push the limit, now is the time. Mark points out in course materials that “small mistakes can result in serious injury or death.” But that describes daily Chicago commutes too.
It’s track session number two. Just hitting good lines and apexes isn’t enough. It’s time to send it. That means applying braking theory and other tricks like speed-shifting and basic body position. Being a beginner course, Mark de-emphasizes body position in favor of nailing other basics first. Scraping elbows like Márquez won’t lower lap times if you’re not getting good exit speeds or correct lines.
After five hours, it’s time for lunch. We’re only halfway done. Michigan sun is making encased meats of riders. But it’s better than taking hot (and sweaty) leathers on and off again, so we tough it out. Mark’s riding assistants are on a motley assortment of modernish bikes, including a Zero electric bike. AHRMA’s Next Gen Superbike class and Battle of Twins class means late 20th and early 21st century machinery is a legal class. Mark’s bike? A 1976 Yamaha RD400. His 46-year-old, finicky but very high-revving two-stroke pulls double duty on race weekends.
Having mastered riding fast, it’s time to master the art of riding faster than the other guy. Here’s where the risk comes in. It’s somewhat easy to go fast. It’s another thing to do it with 25–30 other riders. You can’t always take the best line. You have to learn to take the right chances, not the wrong ones.
Like basketball, you can beat a defender to a spot and “box out” another rider with a block pass. But you can’t just switch race lines. You must be predictable to other riders. Cede any corner to the wheel in front; it’s their turn. Pass where appropriate, and stand by when not. You can play mind games with competitors, show a wheel, etc. But you find ways around fellow racers, not through them.
A fifth and final track session is meant to assign classroom memory into muscle memory. Did you try quick-shifting? Are you starting to hit apex points better? Did you start strategizing where you’ll pass, if given the opportunity? If so, get your yellow vest and get ready for the two-lap mock race. After a total of 10 intensive hours of Mark’s tips, tricks, and instruction, you’ve earned the right to race other racers. But only after passing the mandatory written test. Pro tip: Don’t get any of the flag questions wrong. You can take the class again for free if you fail, though.
Fellow classmate Adam Mashike is no newbie. He spent 12 years racing with CCS, WERA, and even the defunct Pro Thunder class with AMA. But he hung up his race leathers to start a family before rekindling his love of racing this year at GingerMan aboard his Ducati 848. He’s no slouch, but time off from the saddle means resharpening old skills and reflexes. And remembering flags.
“I’d be lying if I said I remembered all the flags or any of that stuff after 20 years of not doing it.”
Adam’s here to have fun, podiums be damned. And give his visiting family someone to root for. A camper means anywhere you park is technically camping. The kids are given light pit crew duty and get to see their dad suit up as a motorcycle racing Power Ranger. They are really into it. Adam’s drawn to the more collegial atmosphere of AHRMA.
“I raced for Suzuki Cup money. It was like sharks smelling blood in the water and the intensity was absolutely ridiculous. At 53 years old that’s the last thing I need!”
It doesn’t take long for Adam to stand out in our class, orange vest notwithstanding. Knee pucks get sanded, errant lines get sorted, and his 848 starts shaving seconds off lap times. Did the class help?
“I loved the class. Mark’s great.”
Adam’s short answer is understandable. We’re beat. After 10 hours, five practice rounds, and a mock race, we’ve lost several pounds in water weight. Learning to race is hard work. But Adam graduates with flying colors (flags, maybe?) and is again a card-carrying member of the motorcycle racing community. Nicely done, Adam.
While not recognized by most law enforcement agencies, it’s a real license to race. Nothing but extensive experience, disposable income, and hard-earned mechanical lessons stand in the way of armfuls of trophies and countless podium ceremonies.
Your winning race career can start now. Don’t forget your number plates.