Meet Mr. Mild Mannered. By night he uses his photography background in his professional life, and by weekend he’s winning racing championships. Not bad for a motorcyclist born as a cruiser rider! C.J.’s story is unique, and yet we think you’ll find some relevance in his experience even if you’ve never won a motorcycle racing championship. He is one of us and the story below is our story.
Birth of a Rebel
I should start by saying that as a youth, motorcycles were firmly forbidden by my parents. Not negotiable. But strict orders like that, to the budding young rebel I was becoming, just became a challenge. To be fair, my mother was an RN for many years. She had seen the results of vehicular misfortunes, and wanted to keep that out of the family. So I had to go undercover with my pursuit.
It was 1976 and I was 15 when I first got on a motorcycle. It was among a group of other under-aged suburban kids whose parents actually promoted motorcycling – what, are you kidding me? I could hardly believe it! It looked like so much fun! I asked if I could try and ride one of theirs, and one guy said “sure, just do this to go, and do this to stop”. Hmmm… not exactly your Basic RiderCourse, but man, the opportunity was ripe.
I straddled the bike, a mid-70’s Yamaha 125 Enduro, and I was ready to go. All of the controls were new to me and my right hand gripped the throttle as if I were going to rev it to the moon. I’m sure it was amusing to that group of kids to see me wheelie and stop, wheelie and stop, over and over down the street, trying to figure out how to control the damn thing. It was through sheer will and dumb luck that I didn’t end up in a heap on the ground, or worse.
After that circus show was over, one of them offered to show me how to ride. His name was Rick, and he is still to this day a great friend and accomplished dirt bike rider. He was patient and gave me what I would call backyard basic training. Not knowing any other kind, I was game and learned to function on a bike with those second hand skills. I loved the feeling of freedom it gave me, and I was hooked.
Rekindling the Fire
Along the way C.J. had dalliances with motorcycles here and there and even attended the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse. It wasn’t until a sign (actually a bumper sticker) opened the flood gates.
It was in Portland, OR, in 2010 when my inner rider demanded another bike. You know the bumper sticker, “Some people go to therapy, I ride a motorcycle”? Yeah, that. I started looking for bikes and right away found the prettiest, beefiest cruiser I had ever seen – a 2006 Honda VTX 1800N, with the drag-style tire-hugging fenders. It was clean and mean and knew how to get up and go. A couple of test rides and few signatures later, I had a new ride! The therapist is “in”!
The VTX was by far the biggest bike I’d had, and because of that, I felt the need for more proficient riding skills. So I looked up some local riding classes and took them. They were good, solid – basic “plus” I would call them, and progressed through them for a couple years. During this time, I would ride often through the canyon twisties and sweepers that led to higher elevations, surrounding the Valley of the Sun. I was glad for my move here, it was fantastic riding! Constantly pushing myself to get better, tighter, and faster through the corners. However, after a couple of near-misses and some dragging parts of the bike that weren’t meant for that sort of thing, I knew I had plateaued with my skills and reached the limits of my bike. I wanted more. More knowledge, more skills, more “oneness” with my machine. I look at it like each bike is a teacher of sorts – and this big cruiser had taught me all it could about itself and what I could do with it. I was in search of a more technical bike and teacher.
Advancing His Skills
C.J. acknowledges his inner desire for a more sporting motorcycling experience. His path to knee dragging stardom begins here:
In 2013, I broke my streak of cruiser styles and picked up a 2010 Kawasaki Concours in great shape. Right away I wanted more advanced training to bring me up to speed with my new steed. This bike was built to do way more than I knew how to do with it, and I wasn’t going to pretend otherwise. So, I talked with the dealer at Kelly’s Kawasaki and they suggested TEAM Arizona as some of the best local motorcycle training available. I also looked through the library and bookstores and picked up a few books on skills improvement. One of the books stood out and really resonated with me – the title was “Total Control” by Lee Parks. I had no idea then, that these connections I had been making would lead me to train with Lee personally in a few short months.
Right away I contacted TEAM Arizona, and because of the previous training I had, they recommended the Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic Level 1. That clinic was a game-changer for me. Bill and Kevin were two of my coaches, and they were amazing! They were able to explain exactly what goes on during the act of riding proficiently, and then showed us students how to do it. The drills were specific and repetitive to drive the concepts into muscle memory, creating new habits. I wanted more and went on to do their Skills Practice Series on the third Tuesday of every month. Counter steering, counter weighting, cornering, head turn, hazard avoidance, emergency braking, slow-speed maneuvering, friction zone, and many other techniques helped bring me closer to that “oneness” with the bike I was yearning for. I also learned the important lesson that motorcycling skills are perishable – if you don’t use ‘em, you lose ‘em. To this day, I practice a medley of these drills at some point during every ride I take.
Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic Track Day
The Total Control Track Day is not just for racers. Essentially, it is for anyone who wants to ride a mountain road better, with more skill, and more safety. Tracks offer the unique environment where all traffic is going in the same direction, the roadway is groomed and surface hazards are eliminated, and feedback from professional instructors is immediate.
Later that year, still pumped from the Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic (TCARC), I think it was Coach Bill who suggested that I sign up for the Lee Parks Total Control Track Clinic at Horsethief Mile in California. TEAM Arizona bases their curriculum on lessons from Lee Parks, and this clinic was yet another catapult of consciousness for me. Along with Lee, many of the TEAM Arizona coaches were there helping to make it all happen; Tealdo, Bill, Ron, and several other coaches from different parts of the country. It’s kind of a big deal! We explored all the skills from TCARC in a track environment, which takes everything to another level. You are not limited by the distractions, obstacles, and many of the hazards of street riding, which allowed me to really stretch what I had learned to new limits. By the end of the first day, I was even getting a knee down on that 670 lb. Kawasaki Concours! Wow – thoughts of doing that, or even being on a track were not on my radar just a few months prior!
This whole time, it feels like I am on a personal treasure hunt, and each new experience with my bike brings me closer and closer to the buried treasure within.
After that first track clinic with Lee, I knew I needed a track dedicated bike for my next goal – track days. Just as life presents opportunities when we seem to be ready for them, a little bit of research turned up a used bike within my limited budget, allowing me to keep the Concours 14 for daily riding. It was a craigslist special – a 2003 Kawasaki zx-6RR – somewhat neglected, but just what I was seeking.
Now that I had the bike, I signed up for another track clinic with Lee and the gang, to get the proper training on the same bike that I’d be taking to the track on a regular basis. Again, the coaching was outstanding – I was able to progress readily with some of the more track specific drills; picking a line through the corner, advanced body positioning, where to look, where to be on each section of track. All of it invaluable training, not to mention the solid camaraderie – I’m really looking forward to the next one.
Desert Road Racing
TEAM Arizona used to run its own track day organization. Due to a change of focus within the business, the school no longer runs a track day, but has aligned itself with the preeminent track day/ motorcycle racing organization in Arizona. Desert Road Racing is an organization run by TEAM Arizona friend Jayson Citron. C.J. and Desert Road Racing happen to make a match!
While I was logistically and emotionally working out the details for a track day experience, something pleasantly unexpected happened. A new track day organization emerged – Desert Road Racing. Apparently they had worked out a deal with Firebird Raceway (now called Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park), and were starting up with their 2014 series.
Here I was, on the verge of another paradigm shift with my riding goals. Desert Road Racing did track days and racing! I had no previous intentions to actually race, but this was another opportunity to take my current skills to the next level – and ideally learn some new ones. The excitement within me was pumping! I signed up, went to their race school, got my racing license, and began my amateur race career. (No, I didn’t quit my day job – ha!)
As an amateur, I entered every race in the Middleweight and Open categories in 2014, and while I wasn’t coming in 1st yet, I wasn’t coming in last either. It was incredible learning and ultimate fun! As it turns out, consistency pays off as I took the Championship for Amateur Middleweight 2014! I think I was as surprised as anyone, and because of that win, I was bumped up to Expert Class for 2015.
My goals for 2015 have been to get on the podium in the Expert Class, which I did in January, with a 3rd place in each of the Middleweight and Vintage categories. On a commitment level, I’m enrolled in Keith Code’s race school to sharpen my skill set, leading into my third big goal of getting into the top 3 for the 2015 Championship Expert Middleweight Class. Long term – thoughts of becoming a rider coach as a way to pass along the importance of pursuing total control on a bike, is a strong possibility… stay tuned!