March 14, 1999
5th of 10 in Big B class
This was the first race on the schedule for 1999 and I was anxious to
try out my new KTM 300EXC under race conditions. It's a long drive
up to Cuba; over 3 hours northwest of St. Louis. I went with my riding
buddy, Matt Sellers, who I had met earlier in the year at St. Joe State
Park in Missouri. He rides the same kind of bike, only it's a few years
older. As we drove north, we started noticing some snow on the
ground. Not a good sign. If we had been smart, we would have
turned the truck around right then. Cuba was a cool 40 degrees and
windy, so standing around before the race was uncomfortable at
best. The setup area was in the middle of an open field with no
shelter at all. Matt and I looked over the starting area and walked a
short way down the trail, and shivered back to the truck. There
appeared to be a little traction, but after the race I wound have to say
the key words here were little (as in none) and there (as in
somewhere other than where I am currently spinning my back tire). In
some places the ground was still frozen. Back in '96 I raced several
times on frozen ground and it was pure torture. Guys end up
pushing, pulling, dragging, tugging, kicking, and especially cursing
their bikes up all but the smallest hills.
When the race started, I found out just how lousy my stock
Bridgestone tires were in the slick stuff. The front end just went
wherever it felt like, and the rear spun way too much. Of course, no
tire would have helped me get through all that snot with ease, but
the Bridgestone's were designed for hard-packed terrain. Bad, bad
tires! A couple of the hills were barely passable in the first few laps,
and downright impossible near the end. Fortunately the race was
shortened to 1.5 hours (they're usually 2 hrs.), which was still about
an hour too long. I pretty sure that I pushed the bike at least as much
as I rode it. The course itself was only a couple miles long but it took
forever to get around. On the last lap, I was tired and just didn't have
the energy to push the bike up one of the last hills. I took a slight
shortcut, which is a no-no, but then I spent about 15 minutes
struggling up another hill on an "alternate route" (i.e. waaaay off the
marked course). O.K., I flat-out cheated. But cheating can always be
justified when you feel like you're breathing the last air of your life, so
I blamed it on the sadistic promoters who should have cancelled the
darned race to begin with.
While I pushed the bike up the last hill, it seemed to be overheating,
which tends to happen when you're averaging 5mph in the woods
and the engine is revving to the moon. I finished my lap, saw the
checkered flag, and then collapsed at the truck. Matt was already
there, ready to go home. I'm sure he wished he hadn't come. Our
bikes were a solid shade of black Illinois mud. We stuck around to
see the results, and my 5th place was good enough for a trophy. I
didn't deserve it because I cut the course, but sure as hell earned it.
Matt finished in the middle of the C class. It was a long ride home.
Damage report: Big gash in the seat cover from dragging the bike
down a hill for a second attempt at conquering.
March 21, 1999
7th of 12 in Open B
This day turned out to be a great day for racing. I had never seen
such a huge turnout for this type of event. I walked the course
beforehand with a guy named Jeff Smith, who was parked next to
me. Later on throughout the year I would run into Jeff at various
races. The club grounds where the race was held is an old strip
mine, so there were lots of short, steep hills. My friends Curtis and
Resmi, along with their friend Sue from Indianapolis and Curtis'
brother Mark came out to watch. Matt raced the C class (novice), but
because of the large number of riders, they ran the C class and
Trailriders (beginners) in a separate race after ours was done. I had a
decent start but got hung up in a bottleneck on the first lap. After
that, I rode a good race for awhile. The tight woods suit my riding
style, so I was riding well and feeling good. At one point I took a
shortcut up a hill and cut off a faster rider and he started yelling at
me. Apparently Curtis and company were nearby and saw the whole
thing, but I didn't notice them, and barely remembered the guy yelling
at me until they reminded me of it. When I'm racing I tend to tune out
most of the noise except that of the engine, the smack of my body
hitting trees, and of course the voices in my head telling me to ignore
the pain and get my slow ass moving faster. Resmi took some
pictures of me racing and gave them to me later. So far those are the
only photos I have of my racing exploits.
In the last half-hour of the race, I suddenly found myself on the
ground feeling woozy and with a headache, not knowing or
remembering why I was lying next to the trail with my bike on its side
several yards away. Apparently I crashed going down a steep hill and
hit my head pretty hard, knocking myself out. For a minute or two I
couldn't see straight, but then my senses kicked in and I realized that
I couldn't see right because one of my contact lenses was gone.
Some club members eventually found me and helped get me on my
feet and off the trail. One of the guys drove me in his jeep back to
the ambulance, where the EMT's checked me out and suggested I go
to a hospital (I didn't). I figured as long as I could remember my
name and still walk, I probably wasn't hurt too bad. Curtis and the
gang were amazed at my story and appearance afterwards. My face
was scratched up, my right eye was turning black and blue, my
tongue was bloody from where I bit off a chunk of it, and my elbow
was so sore that I couldn't push the bike up the ramp and into the
truck. They all still talk about how much fun they had watching the
race that day. Even with the crash I finished mid-pack but probably
could have finished in the top 5 if I had completed the race. Check
out these pictures.
Damage Report: Bent handlebars and triple clamps; helmet cracked
(it did its job...rest in peace, old friend).
April 11, 1999
13th of 24 in Open B
Another great day for racing...perfect weather and trail conditions.
Matt and I both raced the Open B class, so I figured it would be a
good test to see how close our riding skills really were. We had
ridden a few times down at St. Joe State Park, and he seemed to be
very close to my speed, but possibly just a bit faster in the rocks.
This race was the first in the Missouri Hare Scrambles Series, and the
turnout was large. Way bigger than any of the D-17 (Illinois) hare
scrambles I ever raced. On the pre-run (almost every Missouri race
allows riders to take a practice lap before the race begins) I noticed
some play in the steering head, apparently because I didn't get it
tightened down enough when I replaced the triple clamps after the
Belleville debacle. After a quick adjustment I was ready to go.
The start of the race was almost a disaster when a rider on my right
side somehow got hooked up on me. I'm not sure how he did it
because he was just out of my sight, but I think our handlebars got
tangled. His bike kept pulling me to the right, and then suddenly we
got separated. I glanced behind me, and I'll never forget the vision of
the poor guy's motorcycle doing cartwheels. That easily could have
been me. Needless to say his day was done, and I hope he didn't get
hurt too badly. Those starts can be tricky when 25 guys are all
gunning for the same corner. I caught up to Matt after a minute or
two and then passed him while he slowed down and pulled to the
side for some reason. The rest of the race was fairly uneventful...just
a typical rocky Missouri race. There was a tricky off-camber section
(basically riding parallel to the contour of a hill) in a place with a
natural spring making it wet and slippery. In another place the
promoter strategically routed the trail through a manure pile...nice
touch. The laps were about 12 miles long, so I was able to do three
in 2 hours, and was about 90 seconds short of getting in a fourth lap.
In a hare scramble, you get to keep doing laps until the time expires,
so if I had been 90 seconds faster then I would have completed 4 laps
(and probably run out of gas near the end). The Missouri series uses
an electronic scoring system. It's pretty cool...they stick a bar code to
your helmet and scan it as you stop at the main gate. The race
results are put on the Internet, so I was able to see all the lap times.
Matt ended up having a problem with his front fender. All the bolts fell
out, so it was just flopping around, which is why he was slowing down
as I passed him. He went back to his truck to fix it and lost a lot of
time, but still got in three laps. When I got home, I was very
disappointed to see the rear brake rotor totally warped beyond repair.
A rock must have wedged its way between the rotor and the spokes.
My disappointment turned to disgust after taking off the rotor and
finding a piece of the hub broken off. Many $$'s....
Damage Report: Bent rear brake rotor and cracked rear hub.