Editorial by Crew Chief Marcus McBain
December 8, 2013
SUCCESS WITH KIDS IN RACING PART TWO
Copyright 2013 – Marcus McBain/RPSRaceTeam.com
XIII. THE SUCCESSFUL ATTITUDE
Across the board (for children and adults), a really destructive tendency is to show up at a track and really focus on, “I gotta win this weekend”. Winning/improving is a result of work before the race. What most riders never understand is the race itself is mostly a measuring stick of how well you did in practice to get your machine running well.
Specifically, a rider needs to work to setup their bike and improve their riding during the practices to have the opportunity to run up front and win. It (improvement) doesn’t happen because a rider decides to “ride to win that day”. It happens from good practice habits and elevating their skill levels through that practice…the same as it is for Football, Basketball, and Baseball. Lots of practice where the rider improves and develops the bike setup is what will enable them to improve and eventually win. Don’t overcomplicate the setup process. On tuning/setup focus on simple things like, “Does the bike feel stable in the turns? Does it feel stable when you accelerate?” If you keep the questions simple at first where the child only has to answer “Yes or No”, then you can slowly develop their setup skills.
Work to put this mindset in your child. Let them know that if they want to improve, they need to go out and get as many laps of practice as they can. Have them tell you where they are braking at (what brake markers they are using), what line they are using, and where they are accelerating at. Obviously you have to structure what they should be trying according to their age, understanding, and skill level. Walk the track with your child at the end of each day and discuss these again. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you can get your child to understand how to practice, they will always be challenged and will always improve.
XIV. HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR CHILD’S SKILLS
There are many opinions and many techniques employed to improve a rider’s abilities. The hardest thing to develop in any rider is a “solid riding base”. Specifically, it is difficult to get a rider to learn and have a “self-awareness” of how their riding technique, use of the engine, and chassis performance is determined by their choices of on the track.
The following key coaching points have been used in the “RPSRaceTeam.com Pro-Rider Development Program” that has been very successful. The four key things to focus on are:
Turn Techniques – If a rider doesn’t understand that you have to late apex decreasing radius turns (as an example) then they are going to be running off the track or crashing. If they don’t realize that an off-camber turn is usually best approached with a “tight-line”, again they will be running off the track or crashing. Going through all the turns and breaking them down in this manner provides an incredible education base for riders to always be able to reference when they are on the race track trying to improve and provides for solid long term development.
Suspension tuning – Spending two or three days and making suspension adjustments in a “dedicated environment of training” is invaluable. Suspension tuning discussion/training started off with discussions on the level of “does it feel good when you exit?” By the end of the two or three days, the rider could comfortably and effectively begin to communicate with the tuner.
Engine RPM on exit of a turn – Most riders don’t understand that the motor is “most usable” when the engine torque curve drops off. Work on getting the child to use the gearing so that most of the acceleration out of turns is on the “downside of the tourque curve”. On a normal 600 for example this would be at 8500 RPM and above.
Rider position/weight transfer and effect on the motorcycle – Being able to stand trackside (as the trainer) and communicate with the rider about body position and technique is also invaluable.
A key thing for most to know is body position is an arbitrary thing. Too many track day instructors focus on a “certain body position” with the belief that it (the body position) is what creates good riding. They are only right in the aspect that proper bodyweight distribution tends to have some consistency in the resulting body position(s). Body position is as much about proper bodyweight distribution and transferring that weight in a manner that is “smooth and fast”. Don’t get too caught up in being in a specific “body position”.
The most important thing to look for is “relaxed shoulders. If you see the shoulders tight on your child (like they are trying to get their shoulders to touch their ears), that is a VERY BAD THING. The upper body should be relaxed.
It is very difficult to conduct this type of training on a normal track day or practice day. All of these training goals can be accomplished simultaneously in about 2-3 days. I would really encourage parents to find a trainer/tuner/coach that is capable of providing this level of instruction, find a track that has a “member day” or low attendance practice day and spend two or three days out at the track. The ability for your child to operate the motorcycle proficiently and safely is invaluable.
One of the main reasons why this has been effective is that it focuses the rider’s attention on technique rather than the normal “wow I am going fast” that overcomes a rider when they are supposed to be practicing. It is very difficult to develop a base for a rider to work off of and employing these training technique has been invaluable to develop good practice habits. It should also be noted that all of this training can be done with no rider leading them and simply observing the rider from trackside and providing feedback.
Parents and sponsors should try to accomplish this type of training when it is deemed in the best interest of the child, because many times we get wrapped up in going to track days or race weekends trying to get your child to “the fast rider” status. It is really hard to improve that way. Employing this training event will create a base that the rider will learn from for the rest of their career…and most importantly allow safer operation of the motorcycle for the child.
The child’s age, maturity, and comprehension are going to be a significant factor to undertake this type of training. A mature 15 year old will be able to conduct this type of training and comprehend most of the points over a 3 day weekend. At the same time, the parent has to determine with the instructor/coach what to introduce to the child and at what rate.
XV. COMMON SENSE RULES
Enclosed are some “common sense rules” that will help you develop a good program for your child. These are random, but these “rules” will be relevant for most racing families.
“It is a long way home when you ride back with your riding coach, mechanic, and dad”- Exactly as it says, if a child is riding home with their dad…who is also the riding coach and mechanic…and then also is with dad at home until the next race…it is a long ride when you didn’t achieve your goals. MAKE SURE it doesn’t turn into “whose fault it was that your child didn’t win or beat somebody”. Although you may be trying to “make it constructive”, the child involved will probably hate the ride home when you are burying them with “constructive criticism” that isn’t as constructive as you may think. Still, try to always make any discussion constructive and positive. As a parent you have to control this…and it is difficult.
“It takes 4-5 years before a rider can master a 600cc machine” – Many parents and children expect too much too soon when jumping from a small bike (SV650/Mini) to a 600cc in-line four. It takes that many years before your child will be able to go out and run a “club winning pace under control”. Don’t push too hard too early when your child jumps on a 600. If your child really has “mastered” the SV650, then you can subtract two years from the curve.
“You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it” – This is the first thing to teach most kids (and parents). The point of the statement is you can’t learn until you unlearn. When kids and parents first start out what they think will work usually doesn’t. If someone that has the experience is willing to help you, don’t run around the paddock trying to get advice that corresponds to what you think should be true. Listen, take it in, and try the advice out…you and your child will likely learn something.
“Common sense is really uncommon”- This article is written to provide direction. Just like the fact your child came with no instruction manual to raise or develop them, there will be many instances and events that are unique to your child and motorcycle road racing where you as the parent have to make the decision of “what is best for them”.
Always take a step back and objectively use common sense when you have to address “unfamiliar territory” rather than “being caught up in the racing”. Almost every successful “child racer” has a parent that used an inordinate amount of common sense in managing their child’s participation in motorcycle road racing.
“If you need the super hot-rod bike to win club races, what is the point?” – It is true that competition in several of the clubs across the country is pretty fierce. If you need a $5000.00 motor, $7500.00 in electronics, and $4000.00 worth of suspension to win a club race, the rider has to look in the mirror and be honest with the person they are looking at.
Splitting the head gasket for some extra compression, getting the cams degreed, and a little race fuel should provide all the ponies you need to get on the box. Make sure as a parent, you reinforce to your child that they can always work to be a better rider.
“Problems at home are problems in everything a child does” – If mom and dad have an abrasive, difficult, or otherwise unhealthy relationship, the child will manifest those issues in their behavior. The most common issue the child will have is a hard time staying focused and “even keel” in their racing practice, approach, and races. When a couple “aggressively argue” at home or have a strained divorce, your child will reflect that in his her/behavior and coping skills. Again, kids will reflect their home environment in many of their behaviors.
XVI. RULES OF STUPIDITY
Along with the “common sense rules” are things you will hear repeatedly in the paddock. These are some really dumb things that can get your child injured or worse.
“My kid needs to be with fast riders to learn to go fast” – A completely idiotic statement. No doubt that your child will go a bit faster when running with some faster company, but if that is the primary way your child will “go faster”, get ready to write some checks for bike repairs…because they don’t know how to ride a motorcycle. Yes, any rider will follow other riders to learn a track, or maybe to learn a few things, but they have to be able to independently control their motorcycle and understand how and why to accomplish safe operation on the racetrack.
Focus on the basics with a rider from the beginning and they can learn to go fast themselves…because eventually they will lead a race and are going to be “the fast guy”. Get that out of the way immediately and teach them every turn is: BRAKE MARKER, REFERENCE POINT(S), TURN IN, APEX, ACCELERATE. They also need to understand how camber/turn radius dictate a line. You can use Keith Code’s books for a textbook if you want.
“You have to crash to learn” – Really? Has to be the single dumbest statement in the paddock. Crashing is usually a result of a rider significantly exceeding their skill level or the track conditions. Yeah Pro’s will toss it away, but your child isn’t a pro.
Crashing your motorcycle costs money and wastes approximately 30-50 laps of potential learning in most cases. Most importantly, the child can get hurt. Get the kid on a dirt bike for training if he is an excessive crasher and/or sit them down/out for a few races. Excessive crashing is a symptom of a bigger problem, not a learning institution.
“You got beat because the other guys have built motors” – You got to be kidding? It is club racing. When your child hears you tell everyone in the paddock that, “You don’t have this...” OR “So and so has that…”, your kid hears you and listens. He is defeated before he has even entered the track for the warm up lap. You will be shocked how well your child performs when you make the event about “what they can do to improve” rather than why they can’t win or beat “so and so”, because your child doesn’t have “part X”.
These types of statements and behaviors tend to be symptomatic of the “over competitive parent/sponsor”. Like it or not, there will always be someone out there that has a faster motor (legal or not). This is for fun. Keep it positive and continuously set goals for the child to achieve.
XVII. WHAT DO I DO IF I THINK MY CHILD IS EXCEPTIONALLY TALENTED?
If your child indeed has exceptional talent and are under 18, most likely people will approach you about your child’s future. In almost every region, the race director for the local organization will be able to give you candid and frank advice that will usually be “without an agenda”. Lean on the local race director for advice and to verify that they are “exceptionally talented” as well as “what to do”. The local clubs do want to see your child become a successful national competitor that will represent their organization well.
The real truth though is that you are going to have to figure out where to get money to keep your child’s career moving forward. It is not as difficult as people think to raise $50,000.00 in support, which will pay for top of the line club equipment to participate in the local series and a couple of AMA Nationals. At the same time many parents think, “If we spend this and win…a sponsor will come along”. It is very unlikely to happen and not a good plan.
Parents cannot start believing that if “my child goes and wins this race…or does well there will be a sponsor!” It just never really works out that way. You child will generally be judged by their performance over a number of years not that they won “the big race” by those that potentially “will write a check”.
There is little sponsorship for your child that you don’t generate yourself. If you position yourself with products/sponsors at the beginning of your child’s career that historically participate or want exposure in AMA Pro Racing, then that will be a benefit as your costs will be significantly reduced down the road. Unfortunately, most parents align themselves with product providers that give big discounts or free stuff and when you are moving up to the AMA Pro Level, you will need to have the “good stuff and sponsorship” for national competition. At that point though, you will have no relationship with product providers that you really want and need.
To get cash, you are going to have to scrounge around hard to get that. There is no one simple way to do it. The other reality is that if you can write six figure checks, there are plenty of teams that will take you on. Since you are reading this though, you most likely can’t write the check. That is the plain hard cold facts that a parent has to think about.
If you have limited financial means, at some point you are going to have to market on behalf of your child. Most sponsors are turned off by the “pushy dad”, so keep that in mind when you market your child. When you talk to potential sponsors, emphasize your child’s GPA, school activities, and other accomplishments outside of racing as much as their racing success. Good sponsors want to help “quality kids and families” as much as anything else.
There are usually one or two guys in the paddock that can help you put together a resume, develop contacts, and start a social media/internet platform. Carefully pick someone to help and have candid conversations with them. You may enlist their help for more than just a resume as most racers get more support when a third party is representing the effort vs. you doing it as a parent.
Don’t be discouraged by the advice in this section. If you know the challenges beforehand, you likely will be successful overcoming them when the time comes. If your child is truly talented and is setting track records at the local tracks and winning more races than they can count…things always seem to work out and your racing program will move forward.
XVIII. CASE STUDIES/REVIEW
Enclosed are “snapshots” of what I would consider successful tendencies gathered from observing behaviors and circumstances while working with Tyrg & Dane Westby and Matt & Joe Roberts.
Tryg and Dane Westby – If there was one example that parents could use to pattern how to structure a racing program for their child, Tryg and Dane would likely be the best modern working example.
No one in the paddock would have ever guessed that Dane was destined to be one of the best riders in the country the first four years of his riding career. The first three years (2001-2003) were about Dane just learning how to ride his mostly stock SV650 on the track. No high dollar motors or suspension and no “paddock marketing” to alert the world how Dane was going to be “the next great rider”. The only thing Tryg focused on was his son…and safely riding on the track and learning. In 2004, Tryg started providing improvements to the machinery with suspension and some mild engine/dyno work. In 2006, Dane won the Suzuki SV650 Cup national championship.
Did Tryg then decide to move Dane up to a 600 and discard the SV650 so that Dane would become faster? No! He kept him on the SV650 for a seventh straight year. Why? So that Dane would truly master the SV650 and ensure that he would learn everything possible. Although he did buy an inline 600 to race in 2006, Tryg made the 600 experience for Dane a low pressure “learning year”.
Again, in 2004 Tryg started “plugging in people” to help Dane. He added a suspension tech, mechanic, and others too. As Tryg removed himself directly from Dane’s racing, he actually had more influence over Dane’s program as he was directing his development with people now rather than hands on work and advice. Dane also had the luxury of using Tryg as a sounding board in working his suspension guy and mechanic.
Tryg spent no more money than the most budget challenged racer for the first several years of Dane’s career. Dane endurance raced on a team called, “Junkyard Dog Racing” that was a pieced together salvage bike that Sam Romeo put together. Tryg’s main concern was that Dane was progressing, learning, and having fun with no high dollar machinery or issues to interfere with Dane’s ability to compete.
In 2007, Dane quickly got up to speed on the 600 and was winning races. He additionally got a GSXR-1000 and set a track record. How did he get up to speed so quickly on these new machines? Talent obviously, but Tryg’s plan to have Dane master one bike and not worry about “what everyone else thought he needed to do” was the main driver behind success on the 600 and 1000. Most riders jump on too many different machines too often and don’t truly master riding their one bike.
It cannot be understated how rare and important it is for a young racer to be able to jump on a motorcycle that they can slide around, drive into turns, and otherwise “ride at the limit” (master) without worrying if they will crash the bike OR what it will do once it does slide, wobble, spin, etc. “Mastering a bike” allows a rider to learn so much. It does not happen in one year and parents are consequently encouraged not to constantly move your child onto a different primary bike too often.
There are four key items that need to be appreciated from Tryg’s management of his son’s racing program.
Started out as a “Grassroots Program” and was managed well by Tryg the first few years. It kept it fun and low pressure for all involved.
Tryg moved to become a “Bleacher Parent” and still continued to make sure his son was “on a good path” without having to be directly involved. Dane had an opportunity to grow as a rider by doing this…and started winning National Championships.
Tryg was more concerned that Dane was learning to master riding a motorcycle rather than trying to promote, hustle, and otherwise “tell the world how great his kid was”. Again, most parents don’t understand this and move their kids around too much (relative to different bikes) as well as trying to “sell their kids” much too often. It distracts the child from what should be their main focus when this happens.
You don’t have to run a 600 or 1000 to learn to ride well. Focusing on what your child can get out of mostly stock SV-650 is just as valuable for experience as a bigger displacement bike. The difference was not just winning races on the SV650, BUT truly riding the bike at its total limit.
Matt and Joe Roberts – In 2010, Matt Roberts was at Las Vegas with his son Joe during a WERA race. Although most of Joe’s peers were “practicing to be professionals”, Joe was playing on the ground with a friend of his. Matt was jetting the 125 in hopes of making it work better for Joe. If there was ever a perfect “snapshot of the grassroots racing effort with your kids”, this would have been it.
Although Joe’s peers were all “practicing to be professionals” with dads over encouraging performance on and off the track, Matt and Joe were just having fun. Make no mistake that Matt wanted Joe to do well, but safety and the family relationship were the primary drivers in their racing effort. I was fortunate enough to be invited to hang around and work with Joe and Matt that weekend.
At the end of the first weekend, Matt asked me, “what I thought and how could Joe improve?” I told him, “don’t change anything and that Joe was the best rider on the rider on the track.” Matt was confused as Joe didn’t win any races that weekend and was a few seconds off the “hot pace”.
I continued to reinforce my statement, “The only kid on the track that is comfortably riding and having fun is Joe. Look at the other riders, if a mouse farted on the bike in the turn, they would likely crash…they are tight as hell and riding like this is a contortionist exhibition. Joe is the only rider completely relaxed and when he comes off the track, he has a smile on his face. It may not be the next race or even this year, but if you let him to continue just riding like he is…he will be the best out here shortly.”
I worked/hung around for another weekend or so with Joe and Matt, but over the next year I talked to Matt for several hours about Joe. We talked about Joe going to do the MotoGP Red Bull Rookies Cup. I was (and still continue) to not be a big fan of putting young kids into a “fishbowl”. I probably warned him in every way I could that “it only has a small chance of working out”. Well, the rest is history as they say. What I took away from working with Joe and Matt that I believe people can benefit from was:
Matt could have easily “over pressured his son to win”, but he put his relationship with his son up front and just let him ride and have fun. Just as the case was with Dane Westby, Joe benefitted from his father Matt letting him develop as a rider that was at a level “best for Joe”, not for what everyone else around him thought.
At the end of the day, if a parent is really focused on the well-being of their child they will be able to keep that child “grounded”. The experience with the MotoGP Redbull Rookies cup is tough on a child. How do you keep a child grounded that is racing in front of all those thousands and thousands of fans, television, and media? Could you do it without negatively affecting your child?
Keeping a child grounded under those conditions is tough for even the most qualified parent, but Matt has done a great job of doing just that. Anyone that meets Joe at this point can realize not only the talent he has, but the maturity beyond his age.
Although every parent has to be the one to make “the best decisions for their child”, some parents are not going to be as capable as others in ensuring their child develops to meet the challenges of parental decisions made. Matt Roberts showed that being an exceptional parent can allow your child to navigate through any of life’s toughest challenges.
XIX. AUTHOR’S NOTES
I have worked with riders under 21 for almost 15 years. Most of the techniques I have used have been very successful, and along the way I have made mistakes too. Working with kids is like being a parent. There is no instruction manual where if you do “this, this, and this” it will all work out perfectly. My main concern with working riders under 21 is to ensure they learn the same lessons that they would if they took up any other organized sport. I also want to see them grow as a person from being challenged by the sport.
This article provided observations about racing, your child’s involvement, and recommendations for you as a parent. The sport of motorcycle road racing is suffering like all other sports from the recent economic challenges experienced globally. I believe it is important that parents ensure that their child’s participation be as much about being in an organized sporting activity as anything else.
It is tough to stay focused on this as you can easily start “drinking the punch” as so many other parents do. Almost all children in the paddock will have the opportunity to be “recognized”. At the same time, understand the economic realities described in this article. It is really important that you as a parent step in when needed to keep this a constructive and positive experience for your child more than anything else.
Remember, there are thousands of small circumstances that you will come across that will force you as the parent or sponsor to make “the right decision”. Your child is unique, and the advice provided is good for reference when you consider the options for your child.
Thank you to Tryg Westby and Matt Roberts for providing some time so that I could sort some of my recollections of what I observed around them to ensure accuracy for this article.Lastly, I want to thank Earl Hayden. I had the chance to talk to Earl at Mid-Ohio several times this year and he was kind enough to “give me a pat on the back” and compliment me on what I try to do for riders. I always felt that Earl was a model “race dad”, and it meant a lot for him to share some thoughts with me.
When we compared notes and talked, I felt comfortable enough to put this information out in a manner that definitely represents a “different take on the landscape”. Earl Hayden, John Ulrich, and others have put out very good and thorough information on this subject and any parent would do well to read their books, articles, and information when considering the options for your child.
This article is more “grass roots” with a “strong sprinkle of reality”. There are likely more “polished” articles for advice, but I believe this information to be relevant for the club racing family…and I hope it provides a constructive perspective on having success with your child in motorcycle road racing.