The Privateer Racing League is, in the words of its creator Bryan McDonald, “a fraternity for racers who are excited about racer development.” The idea is to form a group of racers looking to improve their speed and race results without locking them into a team or any sort of sponsor obligation (read: future conflict when an opportunity opens up). Bryan McDonald is a racing coach who’s shared some great practice tips in Dirt Rider magazine’s Pro Riding Secrets, most recently a cornering tip about how turning your outstretched foot ‘toe-in’ toward the front tire forces a change of your whole body into a better cornering position (May 2013 issue). I recently caught up with Bryan as he readies camps for supercross training to prepare for 2014.
Pete Peterson: First off, who is this camp for?
Bryan McDonald: We do multiple camps for amateurs and pros. The camps that are coming up for supercross are for people who already have their pro license or are trying to get their pro license in supercross, or doing arenacross.
PP: Does the camp travel around?
BMD: We have multiple locations we use during the season. For supercross it’s mainly Nebraska, and then once the series starts we’re in Southern California.
PP: You’ve just built a supercross track, is that at this Nebraska facility?
BMD: Yes, Dr. Samani, who owns the facility at Husker Offroad, had Shane Schaefer, who does all the X Games tracks and the EnduroCross tracks build the supercross track for us.
PP: How does this track compare to a track these guys will race on in the stadium?
BMD: You could throw a roof over it and they could have an actual supercross on it.
PP: Are the supercross obstacles really that uniform from stadium to stadium?
BMD: Yeah. People don’t realize the jumps are very uniform from track to track. Supercross, I believe, is easier to tackle if you have the courage to do the jumps, just because a lot of the stuff is the same from week to week – a lot of your turns, a lot of the jumps, the distances and stuff. The jumps may be a little different in how they’re arranged, but the distances that you’re jumping, they’re pretty close every week.
PP: What are the new rules for privateers to enter a supercross race?
BMD: They have to have their license and I believe that after this summer you have to go through the AMA Arenacross series to get your points to get your license.
PP: Is there enough time to get enough points before 2014 starts? To get your license before Anaheim?
BMD: Not in Arenacross. That’s one of the things we’re a little frustrated with because the AMA series doesn’t start until the supercross series starts. Well, I haven’t seen the AMA Arenacross schedule for this year yet, but last year it didn’t start until the supercross season started, so that will make it tough.
PP: Is that a good rule to force your racers to race Arenacross first?
BMD: I think it helps because it gets them in a stadium, it gets them in – not the exact same environment because the supercrosses are much larger scale – but I think it helps. I don’t think it’s maybe the best way you could go about doing it, but for now it is.
PP: What’s a better method?
BMD: In my opinion it’d be great if they had some way that they could get racers seeking their supercross endorsement to actually come to the supercross races, do a special practice, and when they get their times close enough to that top 40 range, then they would be able to get their license. So they would actually be practicing in the same environment. I think having the arenacross point system is a good start, but maybe having a step between areanacross and the step to supercross, before they would fully endorse the license, is a good idea.
PP: What can you do for these racers specifically to improve their finishes
BMD: I’ve been doing this for a long time, and the one thing that we’ve realized, when you break racing down to its core, what creates success for these riders is confidence. If you look at a Ryan Villopoto versus to even a top five guy, it’s confidence. You can tell when you talk to them, there’s just a different level of confidence there. So what we’ve done is realized that it isn’t just about taking the steps that Ryan Villopoto’s taking but it’s finding ways to build the confidence. It’s about analyzing the stuff the top guys are doing and creating an experience with it that actually builds confidence, instead of just going through the motions. Because a lot of the time if you just go through the motions it doesn’t have the same – it doesn’t’ create the same experience as it did for when Villopoto used it, or Ryan Dungey or James Stewart. And it seems a lot of these top guys, their confidence – you see guys with natural ability, their confidence is usually built a lot easier.
BMD: Like I said it all comes down to confidence. If you have natural ability, of course you have an advantage because, whenever you take steps, you automatically have a more powerful experience from it because you have a natural ability. But at the same time, when you study other sports, most of the guys who are at the very top of the record books didn’t start off with a lot of natural ability. They had to work to build their confidence, actually create experiences. So I think it’s two-fold. The natural ability is great to have, but it’s also got a limit a lot of times on how many experiences it can create. So depending on how much you have it can be a blessing or it can be your worst enemy at times.
PP: Let’s say you have a guy coming into supercross in the 250F class, and he has a lot of ability to do really well, but he does horribly the first couple of races. How to you maintain his confidence when the race results aren’t there to start with?
BMD: You see, that’s where you get into a very important area. We video tape every weekened and we break everything down. Because a lot of times there will be really good things that happen even in a bad performance; if you break it down, there will be moments of greatness you’ll see. You’ve got to keep focused on that. Good example, I had a rider, David Buller at Houston last year. He didn’t have a good round. He was in qualifying position and crashed in the whoops. He was coming away from the weekend just frustrated. But I went back and went through the footage. And we had four turns, about twenty seconds of the track, that I matched him up with Wil Hahn on Wil Hahn’s fastest lap of his heat race, and he actually beat Hahn by a wheel when you matched them up on video. And once he saw that, we took a bad weekend that he was frustrated about because he crashed, and he goes into Minnesota the next weekend and he’s two bike lengths ahead of everybody going into the first turn in his heat race, and ends up running second for four or five laps out of the six and ended up finishing fifth… If they have the speed and are struggling you really have to pay attention to all the other stuff that’s going on because if you don’t it’s easy to get going in the wrong direction for sure.
PP: For any racer, pro or amateur, how much of their riding time should be at full race pace, and how much doing drills that you teach?
BMD: It’s not just about drills. Trust me, we work every aspect, but it’s really about building, like I said, confidence, building experiences, personal ones. It takes more time to do that but we do a lot of video and I go back through and for a lot of riders it’s about putting the pieces together. Each rider has their own obstacles they have to overcome, so it’s kind of identifying, ‘Okay, they’re weak in this area, what can we do to make them feel good about this area.’ Or say it’s starts. Alex Ray, a kid that we work with a lot, he struggled in starts the year before last, and it was because he was trying to do starts like everyone else, but he’s a little bigger guy and he’s not built the same. So we started from scratch, went through all kinds of techniques and different body positions. And what happens is, we go through something he connects with, okay we add that into it. And then we go through the rest of the stuff and find something else that he connects with. At the end of the day, you start putting all the things that he really connected with together, and then he’s got his own personal starting style. And the end result is we go into A1 the next year and he’s top three going into the first turn in the 450 heat race.
PP: How about for the average amateur guy who doesn’t have the benefit of a coach? How much of his time should be out there just doing laps as fast as he can and how much should he do drills like the ones you teach?
BMD: I think if you’re really looking to move forward you have to break your stuff down, you have to inspect it. You have to find out what you really need because the problem is there’s too much guessing going on. There are too many opinions, ‘Oh, you need to do this because so-and-so did this,’ well, maybe that’s what ‘so-and-so’ needed. And a lot of times people are getting advice from other people and the intentions are good, people are wanting to help out, but it may not be what that rider exactly needs. So if you’re really wanting to improve you have to break down your riding ability and find out where your strengths and weaknesses are and learn to build on those and learn to find out what you need to improve yourself.
PP: Okay, here’s the most important question of the interview. I can’t jump. I don’t feel like I know how the bike is going to launch each time I go off a jump. What’s a general tip you can give for novices what are reading this? Just a general jump tip.
BMD: Okay, I actually worked with a guy who doesn’t race, he just loves riding his dirt bike. He had a track built at his house, he just likes the challenge of riding his dirt bike and we actually worked on that just a week ago. When he jumps he kind of gets stiff and pulls up on bike when he goes over the jump, so it’s an awkward position. So I told him, ‘You just want to work with the bike. You’re going over a jump, you want to come forward with your upper body, kind of hunch your shoulders forward, and be in a position where you’re coming forward with the bike as you’re going over the jump.’ So the end result is, you’re coming off the jump face, you’re head is pretty much over the handlebars. I encourage people to start out on small tabletops and get a feel for it. But once you get a feel for coming forward on the bike as you’re coming up the face of the jump with the gas, you gain more confidence… I also encourage him to use the throttle different on the face of a jump. It’s almost like shooting a basketball. You overshoot it, you’ve got to adjust how much power you shoot the ball with. Well it’s just like a jump. If the front end’s coming up too high, you’re probably on the gas a little bit too hard. Or your body position, you didn’t come forward enough, so the coming forward part is really big. People [amateurs with poor jumping form], when the come off the jump they try to pull up and pull back. And that puts the bike in an awkward position… Also it’s very important to carry significant momentum toward the jump. A lot of times people don’t carry enough momentum and then they try to do the jump by hitting the gas at the last minute, on the face of the jump, and that makes it tough no matter what position you’re in technique-wise. It’s your body naturally reacting to, ‘Oh, this may not be good.’… It’s about testing and playing around with it. And if you work on something small and start to get a real good feel for it, you can then carry that on to bigger stuff. And it is a lot of testing. Working with that guy it was a lot of back and forth, ‘Okay, move a little bit farther forward,’ or, ‘Move a little bit back that was a little too far forward,’ But if you work on something small and not high speed then you can play around with it without getting yourself in a really bad position.
PP: What’s your program for your 2014 pro racers? Do you go with them to all the racers, or help them remotely?
BMD: The first six weeks is the first six rounds. We actually get to be like factory riders. We lease a place in Southern California, and it’s a private supercross track built by Shane Schaefer and we race the first six rounds of West Coast and during the week we’re training just like the factory guys get to do. The first six weeks is awesome, and then after that, once we head back to the East Coast it’s a little more spread out, we practice at different places like in Florida for Daytona, but it’s more being on the road after the first six rounds.
PP: Which of your racers are looking to have a breakout year in 2014?
BMD: I’ve got four right now: Alex Ray, he’s been at it several years but has had some injuries that have kept him from racing full seasons. Michael Akaydin’s another good one. His confidence has really gone up. We did some comparisons with him where he’s had some sections where he’s as fast as James Stewart is [through that section]. Luke Vonlinger is another kid that’s been with us for several years. He broke a femur at the beginning of last year so he didn’t really get to show all the stuff that he worked on. And then Matt Schneider, another kid that we started working with last year that really, as the year went on, really progressed. He just missed making main events by one or two spots three or four times. He was really knocking on the door in the 450 class to make some main events.
If you want to learn more about Bryan McDonald’s program to get involved in his camp as a racer or as a sponsor, check out www.privateerracingleague.com or email him at email@example.com. The next 2-week camp starts September 30th, 2013 in Denton, Nebraska (just outside of Lincoln). Yes, on that brand new track you see in the photo. And Bryan has told me the track will not be ridden on until the camp so they start with an immaculate supercross track.
Bryan thanks: The Samani Family, Husker Offroad, Schaefer Tracks, Team Gus, Spider Energy, Hyper X Raceware, Vertex, Hotcams, Gods Given Talent, Roost MX