April 29, 2001
5th of 16 in Open B
This year's annual "Mule Kicker" (what the hell does that mean,
anyway?) was again on the National Hare Scrambles schedule. The
previous two times I raced here, in 1996 and 1999, the course kicked
me pretty hard. But for me, this event is the most enjoyable of all the
Missouri Series races, because it reminds me of Illinois terrain.
Actually, Kahoka is just a stone's throw from both the Illinois and Iowa
borders, so the woods are tight, the mud can get deep, and the rocks
are miles below the earth's surface (where they belong).
National events attract national-caliber racers, and several of the
world's fastest riders attended the Mule. While standing in line for the
signup, I suddenly realized that Shane Watts was standing directly in
front of me. Now here's the best thing about Pro riders in our sport:
they race on the same courses as we amateurs, they race at the
same time we do, and they stand in the same lines to sign up. How
cool is that? I would not have been able to live with myself if I hadn't
said something to Shane Watts when he was standing two feet in
front of me, so I talked to him just a little. I was very impressed that
the people standing around pretty much left him alone. If I ever
became a household name within our sport (a man can dream,
O.K.?), that's how I would want to be treated. The Garrahan brothers
cut ahead in line with Shane, but they seemed pretty cool, so I didn't
have to kick both their holeshot-grabbin' butts [editor's note:
fantasyland is lovely this time of year].
Since my buddy Matt wussed out on me, my only incentive was to
finish in the top ten in my class and bring home a trophy. I had never
done a 3-hour race before (the '99 National was shortened to 2.5
hours) and was not sure I would have enough stamina for the
duration. But the weather was perfect and the heat would not be a
factor this year. Plus, the course looked perfect, with just a hint of
moisture in the woods. I was pumped. Our class was combined with
the 250B class on the starting line, so there were about 30 bikes lined
up beside me. Off the start, I went into the first corner about
mid-pack, then blasted through a long open section that ended where
the motocross track began. About three turns into the motocross
track, at the bottom of one of the jumps was a mud bog that tried to
suck me in. While riding through it, I got blasted with mud that
covered up my goggles. I knew I was a little low on roll-off tape and
wanted to conserve it, so in the first minute of the race I had to use a
bunch to clear my vision...nice. After the race I heard one of the
Garrahan brothers mention that he got hung up in that same place.
As always, I continue to learn lessons the hard way. This time, I
learned dirt biker's rule #247: always test ride a new piece of
equipment before racing with it. In this case the new equipment was
a gripper seat cover. Nice concept, if you like to stand up a lot. But
after rubbing my arse on it for 3 hours, the resulting chafe job kept
me from sitting comfortably for another week. You just can't buy T.P.
soft enough for that.
The 9.5-mile course was in great shape and was very fun to ride, with
a mix of grass tracks, motocross track, fast woods, and tight woods.
About halfway through the race on lap #3, Shane Watts passed me
like I was standing still. We had just entered the woods and were
dropping down to creek-bank level. The drop-down had a couple of
whoop-like mounds of dirt that you could be brave and jump, or be
like me and ride through them and down into the lowland. Naturally,
Shane jumped them, got his back end sideways, landed hard, and
took off down the trail. I was able to see him for about 10 more
seconds before he disappeared ahead of me.
After lap #4 I stopped for gas, and that 60 second break did wonders
for my energy level. I rode two more laps without feeling overly tired,
finishing about three minutes past the 3-hour mark. The Pro riders
did 8 laps, with Shane Watts taking the overall win. He'd probably be
faster with a bit more duct tape on his KTM.
May 6, 2001
2nd of 14 in Open B
Today was one of those rare days in which I rode well, didn't make
very many mistakes, and the bike ran great. The only thing I could
have done better was win, but I settled for 2nd place and my best
ever finish in a Missouri race. The day started out with drizzle for
most of the morning, but only enough to keep down the dust that the
ATV's had kicked up. Before the race, I finally met PizzaMan in
person after a few e-mail conversations. He's a pretty cool guy and a
worthy competitor in the Open B class (and a KTM rider to boot).
At the starting line, the drizzle steadily continued. For about 10
minutes I struggled to get my roll-off tape to advance after moisture
made its way under the tape. Just in the nick of time I got it fixed and
after the flag dropped I entered the first corner in 5th place.
PizzaMan got a nice start with the big KTM 4-stroke and we all
followed each other for the first few miles. Steve Hemann came flying
by at the end of the spectator area and laid down his KTM going
around a slippery turn (a nice 3rd gear slide-out). I settled into my
usual 4th or 5th position for the first few laps and gradually moved up
as a couple of the regular fast guys in our class dropped out.
About halfway into the race, the rain came down steadily and made
for some slick riding. But a few minutes later the sun came out, dried
the course, and made for a beautiful day. One of the most fun
sections at Westphalia is an open, grassy pasture that has 5 or 6
terraces that make for great jumps. As soon as you land, the next
one is right ahead of you, one after the other. First you jump the
terraces going up the hill, then you jump them going down the hill.
Lots of fun.
My lap times were about 28 minutes, so I was on pace for 5 laps. I
never did get tired during the race and never crashed, so I figured I at
least finished in the top third of my class. When the results were
posted, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in 2nd place. Even
more satisfying was finishing that high on a course that shared the
ATV route in its entirety. Normally I do better in tight singletrack, but I
succeeded in my weakest area: fast, open, rocky two-track trails.