20-YEAR AN­NIVER­SARY IT IS ROCKET SCI­ENCE

Take one rac­ing leg­end with a pas­sion for bikes, add in a sprin­kling of Der­byshire hos­pi­tal­ity and you’ve got the for­mula for the world’s most suc­cess­ful race school Con­tin­ued over

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Emma Franklin PRO­DUC­TION ED­I­TOR

For a leg­end who has stood on the podium of every­thing from 500GPS to the Isle of Man TT, Ron Haslam looks over­whelmed. “We’re here to­day to mark an amaz­ing oc­ca­sion and a phe­nom­e­nal achieve­ment,” says Honda UK’S top man Nick Cam­polucci. “We’re talk­ing about help­ing over 70,000 riders de­velop their skills and ex­pe­ri­ence the thrill of mo­tor­cy­cles, over an amaz­ing 20 years. No other rid­ing school can ri­val it for longevity or pro­fes­sion­al­ism.”

He’s right, noth­ing quite comes close to the Honda Ron Haslam Race School. Since its launch 20 years ago, the school has be­come a Great Bri­tish bik­ing in­sti­tu­tion. It’s a place where all riders, re­gard­less of ex­pe­ri­ence, age or abil­ity, are given di­rect ac­cess to the knowl­edge of a man who’s taken three world ti­tles, tri­umphed at the TT, and – af­ter Barry Sheene – has the hon­our of be­ing Bri­tain’s most suc­cess­ful GP rider. And, as if that wasn’t enough, vis­i­tors are ex­pertly guided around Doning­ton Park’s his­toric curves by a team of hand-picked in­struc­tors, them­selves cur­rent or for­mer rac­ers, on a fleet of brand new Hon­das. They’ll even kit you out from head to toe in top-qual­ity rid­ing gear if you need it.

As that af­ter­noon’s in­take of school riders get kit­ted up in the back­ground, the im­promptu cer­e­mony con­tin­ues over the hub­bub: “It’s been very hard to come up with a suitable prize to fit this oc­ca­sion, so the Honda Rac­ing work­shop cre­ated this tro­phy – it’s made us­ing en­gine com­po­nents from John Mcguin­ness’ 2015 Se­nior TTwin­ning Fire­blade.” The unique ac­co­lade is handed to Ron and his wife Ann – ef­fec­tively the team man­ager be­hind the race school’s star rider – and both ap­pear lost for words. Like many of the other tro­phies in the Haslams’ vast col­lec­tion, this one wasn’t earned eas­ily or with­out dig­ging deep.

In the mid 90s, af­ter a 170mph Snet­ter­ton hor­ror crash rac­ing the Nor­ton in the Bri­tish cham­pi­onship wound up Haslam’s own rac­ing ca­reer, then Honda boss Bob Mcmil­lan pro­posed a new chal­lenge – run­ning a rid­ing school on be­half of the Ja­panese man­u­fac­turer, with whom Ron had en­joyed his great­est suc­cesses, at Doning­ton Park.

“We were ter­ri­fied. It was way out of my com­fort zone,” Ron ad­mits af­ter the post-pre­sen­ta­tion hand­shakes, back slaps and photo calls. “Nei­ther Ann nor I had any ex­pe­ri­ence in busi­ness, plus we were on hard times. At first I thought Bob just wanted me to be chief in­struc­tor, which was fine as I’d coached riders like John Reynolds back in the late 80s, and also the young Team Bri­tain riders like James Hay­don and Karl Har­ris, as well as in­struct­ing at Yamaha’s school. I en­joyed help­ing peo­ple in the pad­dock, so shar­ing what I’d learned came eas­ily to me. But then Honda dropped the bomb­shell, they wanted us to set it up and run it com­pletely – the whole show.”

“We re­mort­gaged the farm­house – our fam­ily home,” con­tin­ues Ann. “Times were tough and we were fac­ing up to the fact we were prob­a­bly go­ing to lose the house any­way so, af­ter a lot of ag­o­nis­ing and stress, we de­cided to go for it. And we’ve not looked back.”

With no busi­ness plan and lit­tle fi­nan­cial guid­ance but a strong de­sire to of­fer ev­ery­day road riders the chance to share some of the highs that bikes had brought Ron through­out his ca­reer, the school was born in the spring of 1997. Honda sup­plied a fleet of CB500S, CBR600S and Fire­blades for the On Track, Premier and Elite cour­ses, and 20 sea­sons later it’s all still hap­pen­ing.

Out in Doning­ton’s pad­dock a swarm of riders as young as 12 are get­ting their first taste of two wheels on CBR125RS, learn­ing ma­chine con­trol, quick turn­ing, hard brak­ing and even the thrill of what it’s like to be in a race sit­u­a­tion, on the school’s On Track course. This is the en­try point for the non riders or the very in­ex­pe­ri­enced, but it’s def­i­nitely an eye-opener; hav­ing Ron Haslam per­son­ally teach you how to pull the big­gest stop­pie of

‘I en­joyed help­ing peo­ple in the pad­dock – shar­ing what I’d learned came eas­ily to me’

your life then bash­ing el­bows with you on a low-speed first-lap race sim­u­la­tion is some­thing you’ll never for­get. Young riders are vi­tal to the school.

Ann says: “Nine out of 10 of our cus­tomers are road riders who al­ready hold a full li­cence, but we en­joy teach­ing the young­sters bike con­trol so they have more un­der­stand­ing of what they’re do­ing be­fore they get a bike on the road. They’re the fu­ture of mo­tor­cy­cling and we need to share with the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion just how great rid­ing is oth­er­wise we’ll lose them.”

Then, of course, there are the rac­ers – the school’s more tan­gi­ble suc­cess sto­ries. “We had Sam and Alex Lowes (Moto2 and WSB) as young­sters beg­ging us for laps,” says Chief In­struc­tor Adrian Clarke. “It was just play­time for them, but at that age it’s vi­tal track­time. ‘Can we make you a drink Ady? Can we do any­thing to help?’ all so we’d give them track time. They loved it. And look where they are now: a World Su­pers­port cham­pion and Bri­tish Su­per­bike cham­pion.” The Haslams are even re­spon­si­ble for giv­ing a young lad called Jonathan Rea his very first taste of two wheels, now he’s a reign­ing World Su­per­bike cham­pion, and Cal Crutchlow scratched around on the school’s CB500S be­fore be­com­ing World Su­pers­port cham­pion and a Mo­togp su­per­star.

“We’ve also had some pretty big name in­struc­tors too,” Clarke con­tin­ues, “Bri­tish cham­pi­onship riders and even a few cham­pi­ons: Steve Plater, Michael Rut­ter, Glen Richards, Matt Llewellyn, Karl Har­ris, Guy Martin, Billy Mccon­nell, Steve Pa­trick­son, Steve Saw­ford, Mark Phillips... And of course we con­tinue that to­day with help from riders like BSB stars Tay­lor Macken­zie and James West­more­land.”

Yet the school’s great­est rac­ing achieve­ment is pos­si­bly the one clos­est to home, Ron and Ann’s son: GP, WSB and BSB star Leon Haslam. Grow­ing up with the school saw a 13-year-old Leon at the bars of a CB500 lap­ping Doning­ton with his dad perched on the pil­lion giv­ing the young­ster di­rect one- to-one in­struc­tion. “I loved teach­ing Leon, but then I love teach­ing full stop. It’s al­ways best to be out on track with some­one when you’re help­ing them. I hear about some schools send­ing their riders out while the in­struc­tors watch from the side­lines, but I al­ways pre­fer to be rid­ing with them. I even toyed with the idea of cre­at­ing a bike where the pupil could steer from the front, and then I’d have con­trol of the throt­tle and brake from the pil­lion seat. That way I could show them ex­actly what I was do­ing and tell them why. Ev­ery­one has the po­ten­tial to learn, and it’s my job to make it un­der­stand­able – if I see some­one’s not get­ting it, I’ll just ex­plain it in a dif­fer­ent way. I wish there’d been race schools when I was start­ing out, I would’ve saved my­self a lot of painful, un­nec­es­sary crashes!”

With Leon hav­ing grown up at the school, it seems al­most nat­u­ral that one day he might pick up the reins from his fa­ther and con­tinue the school’s suc- cess. “When the day comes that I get too old to do the school, says Ron – who hardly looks a day over 40 never mind a few months off 60, and cer­tainly rides like he’s still in his 20s - “I’d love it if Leon were to con­tinue it. He’s known it his whole life.”

On cue, Leon streaks past the pit wall, a blur of red, white and blue on a brand new Fire­blade in road trim, scrub­bing in a pair of the school’s Bridge­stone T30 sports-tour­ing tyres. He drifts it into Redgate be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing off down Craner Curves. “That’s a 1.37 lap!” an amazed pit­wall punter says to his mate, point­ing at his iphone. “That’s 25 sec­onds faster than you! Amaz­ing!”

In­stantly Ron be­comes dis­tracted, look­ing for where he left his hel­met, itch­ing to join his son on track. “Bikes have been my life,” says Ron as he locks eyes with the pharaoh, a per­ma­nent fix­ture on his hel­met for most of his ca­reer, painted on the back of his Arai. “All I’ve done with the school is to try and help peo­ple get the same en­joy-

‘I loved teach­ing Leon, but I love teach­ing full stop. Ev­ery­one has the po­ten­tial to learn’ ‘I’d love it if Leon were to con­tinue it. He’s known the school his whole life’

ment out of bikes as they’ve given me – to share that ex­pe­ri­ence of how bril­liant bikes are. That’s what I based the school on – just about shar­ing the en­joy­ment that I’ve been lucky enough to have. That still is the main aim, to get peo­ple to come away from a day on track with a big smile on their face.”

Ex­cus­ing him­self, Ron makes a bee­line to­wards his hel­met, fires up a Blade, then beck­ons one of the school’s guests, who climbs aboard the pil­lion and takes tight hold of the tank-mounted grab han­dle. Two min­utes later we see them again, pow­er­ing down Doning­ton’s start/fin­ish straight, the Fire­blade on its back wheel, Ron and his pil­lion clearly hav­ing the time of their lives.

“No other racer could do it,” says Chief In­struc­tor Adrian, who’s joined us to watch the show from pit wall. “Noone else I can think of would have the mass ap­peal, the way with peo­ple, the pa­tience and the pure love of bikes, rid­ing and help­ing peo­ple im­prove as Ron has. Maybe Barry Sheene... but no one ticks all the boxes like Ron does.”

Prodigy front man Keith Flint has learned from Ron Early days with the school’s Frank Thomas leathers

Ann and Ron with Honda boss Nick Cam­polucci

Ron and Leon Haslam pre­pare the next pil­lion... Tro­phy made from Mcguin­ness’ Blade Def Lep­pard star Joe El­liot (sec­ond left) joined Haslam to cel­e­brate school’s open­ing Team work – Ron and Ann Haslam Ron briefs the school’s in­struc­tors, a young Leon Hasla

There’s no bet­ter way to learn from Haslam than tak­ing a pil­lion ride with him Gra­ham with MCN’S Emma Franklin

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