We like to do something a little special for the kids when Spring rolls around each year. Two days of coaching on the actual track where they will be racing the mini nationals. Accommodation and food all sorted and included in the low fee of $200. Sounds even better when that figure that was cut in half again by the Southland MCC for its members. But don’t think that this was to be just a play time for the kids. We ran them until they hit the wall, and they seemed to love it even more for that fact.
To help keep the costs for this camp so low, I risked Jetstar direct to Dunedin. They have actually been quite reliable for me so long as I arrive before the very strict 30 minute cut off time, although I am writing this just before another flight with my arms firmly resting on wood just to avoid jinxing that record. Then it was the hospitality of people like the King family who carried me through the next few days which included an afternoon spent training the riders of Waitaki Boys high school.
With the houses of Central Oamaru a mere stones throw away, a coaching session just didn’t seem possible and yet there we were. My intention to take these lads to the next level of their riding ability was made surprisingly easy despite the small riding area. Ruts were the obvious choice for us to work on, with a myriad of the curving divets to choose from.
Divets and Bunkers
Greater entry speed and safety came together like magic. They needed that higher entry speed in order to use their front brake until late in the rut, helping their front wheel to stick and aiding their ability to correct how much they leant into the turn. It also made their throttle control a little less crucial so long as they had the patience to wait until they knew that the power wouldn’t stand them up too early.
Following that we used a pile of dirt to work on their jumping skills combined with wheelie practice on their way back to the jump. For the wheelies they first needed to get used to using their rear brake while doing a wheelie, and then to only use it when needed. All the while leaning back with the bike no matter how high the front got. There were a few loose moments but no falls and we finished the session with an excellent display of riding from Campbell King and the track owner’s Ryan Mason.
Back For Seconds
The next day I was hitching a ride down to Invercargill with the Wall family. Ben Wall had gone from getting third or fourth place finishes at his local races before my coaching last month, to suddenly winning his class quite convincingly. Apparently it made sense for them to keep the ball rolling and join me at our Southland camp, especially knowing that this would be the lads only chance to race a mini nationals.
We dropped in to the nationals track that night in time to see some of the locals tearing it up. An excellent job has been done by the likes of our friend Robbo to make for a flowing and safe facility. The excitement levels were quite high as we went our separate ways that evening.
Let the Fun Times Begin
Nine riders greeted us the next morning where we broke the mornings silence at 9.30am. Our focus for the first day was mostly on technique, which needed to be translated in the most focused manner possible. We mainly used the day to get them used to the track and the tweaks in their standing style. Most noticeable was their need to straighten their legs enough that they could grip the seat between their knees and keep their upper body close to the bike. But that was far from all that we did, especially when you look at how much we helped their concrete start skills.
“Carnage” was how one dad summarised the sideways skidding tendency of many kids who had raced at this venue the weekend prior. So we did something rather counter-intuitive and had them sitting back on the seat, with feet behind the foot pegs, as well and leaning their upper body back. This gave more traction but still saw them go sideways so to fix that problem I employed some Ballet techniques. They were to point their toes and then lift their knees until their toes were just barely touching the concrete or starting blocks. I would then go along the line dropping the gate individually for each rider, but only if they were doing the techniques I just mentioned. And it didn’t take long for us to see the improvement with no more sideways movement happening whatsoever.
A big feed was to follow, courtesy of the bbq that evening. Entertainment came in the form of my new friend Paul Espin who began an impromptu rugby training session finished up by a game which he was determined to win. We practically had to drag him off the field in order to get these boys in their beds for the night, as they were going to need that rest.
Day two began with a short practice followed by a series of two lap races. We used the start gates, flags and lap timers to help make it as realistic as possible, and each kid had someone to race. Lap times were smashed compared to the day before, and we were only just getting started!
Getting Down to Their Level
Aggression into turns was a big part of our speed work, backed up by some demonstrations where I was even able to use a 65 and a 50 as extra instruction and motivation on what they were capable of. There were some off track excursions and soil sampling achieved that day, but pushing them to their extremes in the safest place to do so caused a very noticeable increase in many of the riders corner speed.
By lunch time the kids were practically done, so there was just one more session followed by a pack up time that soon saw us heading back towards Otago. The generosity of the locals here, and the club, really blew me away. They are even inviting us back for one more camp before the mini nationals which we will do if there are enough riders keen to do it. What do you think mini riders of NZ, should we do it again?