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
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.