Tucked up like a leather embryo, Head first like a dog. I twist my wrist down, knees constrict, cheeks suck in; the landscape fisheyes. The hot desert and all but one of my worries hemorrhage away to the periphery. Hunters ghost grousing "faster faster faster till the thrill of the speed overs the fear of death into my boxed ears.
My mind and my wrist conflict amid my will to live and my yearning to be ripped to death in nirvanic turbulence. The turns sees me befire i see it; three orange cones flail their arms at me; the braking marker.
Again my mind wins; I start the sequence.
Right hand- off accelerator
right hand front brake hard
Left hand clutch in
Left foot 4th gear down shift
Left hand Clutch in
Left foot downshift 3rd gear
Left hand clutch in
Left foot downshift 2nd gear
right hand brake hard
...wait wait. I sit up tall, commanding the bike to slow. My eyes searching for the marker- a chip in the asphalt the size of a nickel. I have .400 of a second. I release the brake, throw my arse hard over the side and twist the horns of this bull hard to the right so that he will fall perfectly onto his left side. But before it slams into the ground I bring life back with a little throttle. The flesh of my leathered knee centimeters from the gaussian blur of the track.
My eyes search the plexiglass letterbox for other bikes, oil, obstacles and my next marker. Gently I thread the bike through the apex. I feel my imaginary line without having to look down. My brain already calculating the next turn as I hit the exit marker.
Left hand in
Left foot shift up.
Three days ago i arrived at Keith Codes Superbike school as the most novice of twenty men that seem more like candidates for the French foreign legionaries that a school for motorcycle racing.
Since then King Keith, a very charismatic gentleman with grey hair and a Bowie smile and his superbike stormtroppers have taught me how to waltz with a 300lbs green and black Kawasaki.
For the past thirty years Keith Code and his instructors have trained over 100,000 people in the science of riding a motorcycle quickly through a turn. Seven of them went on to become world champions and the rest probably dodged an ambulance or two with their new found knowledge.
Keith takes over the first lesson with the comfort of Anthony Hopkins giving a best mans speech. Not a word wasted or question unanswered. Captivating. Knowing Keith has been doing this since the 70's amazes me as I watch him speak with the enthusiasm of a first timer. Something tells me this is a very special man.
We are introduce to the basic principles of cornering. Suspension, lean angle, traction, contra steer, throttle control and then ultimately confidence and clarity (something I'm lacking as Ive yet to reveal I've never been on a sports bike before).
We are unleashed onto the track and I decide this will be a particularly thrilling episode to my "fake it till you make it" approach to life. Each with an instructor shadowing. The bike feels alien compared to my 82 Suzuki GS 650G I use to get around Los Angeles. From the riding position to the incredible torque of the engine this is like making the transition from milkman to cosmonaut.
After a couple laps we are brought into the pits to download our experience in fine detail and critiqued by an instructor I'm convinced can read minds. These download sessions are VERY serious and focused. Like an intervention with an addict or a religious indoctrination but hyper effective all the same.
The combined weight of the motorcycle and the rider shift dramatically during braking or acceleration. Applying the front brake shifts up to 90% of the total weight to the front tires leaving only 10% for traction on the rear. The same is true in reverse during acceleration. All the weight transfers to the rear wheel leaving little grip on the front tire. To set the motorcycle up perfectly for a high speed turn it is critical to have the bike balanced so that both tires are achieving optimal traction. This is done by finishing all your braking in a straight line before the turn.
By days end we have become quiet familiar with the track. Its turns and markers etched into ones psyche as deeply as ones first kiss or breast feeding. For years to come I know I will be able to recall small details about the surface of the las vegas speedways inner course. We are being successfully taught how to read the track and find the optimal lines, rapidly compute complex survival data and all with an emphasis on smooth throttle. By days end I have improved my inaugural lap time by ten seconds.
The most theoretical understanding you bring over from the classroom the easier mistakes can be adjusted on the track. The clarity of the instruction leaves no child behind. The instructors, always one step ahead, allow the mistakes to be made and often self diagnosed. Again I find the process very unique and its only when I notice that every instructor is wearing a Church of Scientology patch on his racing leathers does it all make abrupt sense. They're a cult set on indoctrinating my soul through motorcycle instruction. Soon tom Cruise and I will be esoterically indistinguishable. Yet I decide against escape in favor of more track time.
Its difficult to look up, away from your handlebars and the track rushing at 150mph underneath your body but the further ahead you look the slower everything happens. My survival mode grows comfortable with the concept of my eyes leaving the immediate surroundings to just trust that my hands will do what theyve been instructed to do without supervision. As i master this it all becomes effortless. My fastest lap on the last day was 01:08:34 and felt like a leisurely stroll compared to the clumsy traumatic first lap of 01:30:48.
In the end my soul was not tempted into anything but the cult of cornering. The belief of our mentors remained private and we all gained immeasurable knowledge from an amazing group of inspired professionals. If i have L. Ron Hubbard to thank so be in. Jesus never shaved 00:22:14 off my lap time. Keith Code did.