Penguin Road Racing School
June 11th and 12th, 2002
New Hampshire International Speedway, Loudon New Hampshire
NHIS Track Map
I recently took the two day street school offered by the Penguin Road Racing School. The school was held at New Hampshire International Speedway (NHIS) in Loudon, New Hampshire on June 11th and 12th, 2002. This was my second time at a motorcycle racing school as I had taken Keith Code's California Superbike School (CSS) just two weeks earlier.
Looking through turn two
Day 1 (June 11th) -
As is always the case at NHIS in June, the weather played a huge role. The first day was cloudy and overcast, but luckily the rain held off almost all day, only starting ten minutes before the track closed. I rode my bike to the track, so my day started out with me taping my headlights, mirrors and turnsignals. I had already replaced my antifreeze with water, so I was good to go after just a few minutes with the duct tape. That left me standing around feeling self-conscious in my new leathers (I had now spent all of two days in them) and my entirely unscuffed knee pucks.
Eric Wood, son of Jerry Wood (the school's founder) and one hell of a seriously fast racer, started the day out by getting us all divided into beginner and more advanced groups. For us beginners (anyone without a racer's license), it was off to the classroom for an orientation session led by Penguin instructor Peter Kates. The primary difference (besides price) between Penguin and Keith Code's school was apparent right from the start of this orientation. Though this two day school was billed as a "street riders" school, it seemed like there wasn't much of an adjustment from their regular curriculum. Penguin appears to be a real racing school specifically designed for people who want to go racing, not necessarily for street riders who simply want to have fun on the track. That is not to say it wasn't incredibly valuable to a street rider, it was. It's just that the expectation is that you will apply what you learn to racing at a track; it is up to you to interpret it for street use.
Looking tubby in turn 12
The beginners curriculum on the first day focused almost entirely on learning the racing line. We concentrated on choosing markers on the track for breaking, turn in, apex and exit and then worked on connecting them all together. All of the Penguin instructors have significant experience at NHIS, and after the orientation session, we were broken into groups of three or four to follow an individual instructor around the track and learn the line. We stopped twice on the track to go over both entering and exiting the track and went over in more detail the line and various markers for a few turns. After enough laps playing follow the leader that each person was able to be right behind the instructor at least twice, we broke off for lunch. One nice difference between Penguin and CSS is that Penguin provides you with an $8 voucher for lunch at the infield restaurant, despite being about half the cost of CSS.
The school has a very friendly and laid back atmosphere. All the instructors, including Eric Wood, his brother Jeff, and father Jerry, seemed very approachable, and we were encouraged to ask any questions relating to motorcycles on any subject we liked. Eric also suggested we snag an instructor to ride around with us for personal attention and advice.
My Instructor, John Donald, (#44, not 44C) follows me through turn 10 paying careful attention to my line. It took 100% of my concetration to go that fast, he was merely touring.
The afternoon consisted of timed riding sessions of about 15 minutes followed by hanging out for half an hour while the other two more advanced groups went out on the track. There was an afternoon classroom session for those wanting to get certified for their racer's license, but I chose to spend more time riding instead. I snagged the John Donald, the riding instructor who had lead me around in the morning, for some personal critique. He seemed to typify the Penguin instructor: extremely nice, eager to help, incredibly enthused about racing, and basically a blast to be around. He helped straighten me out in a couple of spots where I had gone off line and generally helped me to understand what I should be looking for. I asked him about getting my knee down on the ground in the turns, something I was desperately eager to do but hadn't yet managed. I don't remember exactly what he said, but whatever it was, it was very reassuring and made me feel comfortable with the pace I was going and what I was doing. It was with great satisfaction that during my next session on the track I heard the tell tale scrape of my knee pucks sliding across the asphalt.
Here I am getting ready to pass a bike with an engine twice as large as mine on the inside of the turn. Yes, I know it's a BMW and is generally pokey, but I don't have a picture of me with the GXSR
The afternoon wore on with me feeling more and more confident on the track. I felt reassured I had made the right choice to pursue my track outings on a 600cc bike as opposed to something bigger. I routinely passed bigger bikes in the turns, including a GSXR 1000 who could catch me on the straights, but I was able to pull away again in the turns every time. When the rain finally did begin just before the track closed at 5:00pm, I was tired and happy. The best time I had ever had on a motorcycle yet.
Day 2 (June 12th) -
Rain. Man, did it rain. I was able to get to the track from my hotel between the intermittent downpours that had been going on all night and the steady rain that filled the rest of the day, but that was the last time I was dry.
Down the hill and around turn 10 (Day 1)
We started the morning off with a track walk lead by Peter Kates. This was invaluable after having spent the previous day riding around the track. It showed me how, not just theoretically, every racer who knows what they are doing are using specific reference points on the track to be consistent on every lap. It was great to hear Peter, who really knows how to get around the track quickly, describe what he is looking at in every location in every turn.
Having completed our 1.6 mile stroll, we returned to our bikes for more follow the leader. As we were out on the track, the rain went from a kind of light steady misty thing to a full on deluge that pretty much continued the rest of the day. After follow the leader, it was on to lunch, and the slow realization that I wasn't going to be doing much on the track that day. In the afternoon, folks started to leave, anxious to get a jump on the long trip home, but as I was staying through to the weekend to watch the Loudon Classic anyway, I was there for the duration. Because our numbers were diminishing and so few of the people who did stay (including myself) wanted to go out on the track, they scrapped the rotating sessions and simply opened up the track all afternoon to anyone who wanted to go out.
I chose not to participate in the starting grid drill, as I'm not planning on racing and didn't want to abuse my clutch.It was fun to watch people try and control their wheelies off the line though. I decided to attended a suspension seminar given by Eric Wood, which is normally for the advanced students, rather than ride around in a lake. It was quite informative, covering spring preload, rebound, and compression damping. I had previously observed that when I had set my spring preload correctly, acceleration was enhanced. It was great to have my observation confirmed in the classroom with a scientific explanation. Better yet, after the classroom, we were invited to bring our motorcycles over to Peter Kates in the garage to personally check out our set up. Though Peter scoffed at my stock Kawasaki suspenders, he helped me get the compression and rebound damping closer to correct, something that would have taken me forever if I had tried to do it by experimentation alone.
The highlight of my rainy day was definitely the next exercise. Penguin has a Yamaha TTR125 fitted with street tires which allow you to experiment with loss of traction, the theory being that in a parking lot at slower speeds (where a crash is unlikely to have serious negative consequences), you can learn to slide both the front and rear wheel safely. This is preferable to trying to learn to slide a bigger bike on the track at higher speeds where the possibility of major damage to you and your bike is high. Unfortunately, it was explained to me that the rain pretty much shot the theory to hell, and basically, all we were going to end up doing was crashing. One of the other students had brought a Honda XR100 for the same purpose and was merrily crashing away in the rain. When she was ready for a break, she asked me if I wanted to try it, so out I went. It turned out to be harder to crash then I had imagined. With the light weight, serious lack of power, and decent rain tires, I had to resort to insane lean angles to get the thing to topple. When I finally did crash, it provoked a giddy feeling as I knew I was doing no harm. I certainly got used to feeling my knee puck scraping along the ground during this exercise. What an absolute blast. Not the most fun I have ever had on a motorcycle (that is reserved for the previous day's track riding), but close.
Here I am not slipping my rear tire on Day 1
After having so much fun on the little bike, I decided to go out on the track and see how fast I could go in the rain. Turns out, not very fast at all. I did two or three laps at a street rain pace, but as soon as I tried to add a little more oomph, I kept slipping the rear tire accelerating out of turn two onto the NASCAR loop. It wasn't much, just a miniscule slip, as I went across pavement transitions and paint, but it was enough to keep my confidence low and make me come in after only another two laps or so. As soon as I was in the pits, one of the four or five other riders that were out in the rain crashed in turn three, convincing me to definitely hang it up for the day. The rain was disappointing, but it had been a good two days. Definitely worth the $200 per day tuition.
The last thing I really got a kick out of wasn't during school at all. It was later that weekend when I got to watch Eric, Jeff, and Jerry Wood all race and win in different classes at the 79th Annual Loudon Classic. Seeing them at work really gave me a sense of just how slow I really am, but it also made me feel like the Penguin Road Racing School is the real deal. An exceptional experience all around.

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