Belleville, Illinois
1st of 3 in Open B
Ahhhh, Belleville....scene of past concussions, mud, and mechanical
problems.  This race had two out of three (no injuries), but I still
claimed victory in my class.  Thanks to a heavy rain a couple days
before, Sunday's conditions were wet and cold, but sunny the entire
day. Had the race been held the previous weekend, we would have
been riding in snow (or, more likely, other people would have been
riding in snow...I would have been relaxing in the comfort of my warm,
dry house).

During the approximately 7 hours that Matt and I arrived prior to the
race (not one, but two races prior to ours), we walked the course and
noticed a few interesting new things about B.E.T.:

  • The club, in their continuing search for creative new uses for the
    property, had obtained a huge bulldozer and an even larger
    excavator for the purpose of building a hill climb area.  Judging
    from the size of the equipment, the club apparently intended the
    hill to approach the St. Louis Arch in height.
  • More side-hill trails. From what I could tell, the club uses shovels
    and a walk-behind roto-tiller to gradually cut out the side of the
    hill until it's wide enough to ride.  The drop-off is severe -
    overshoot a corner and you take a tumble down a steep hill and
    land in a deep lake.
  • This year's hot new "pit bike" is a basic two-wheeled, un-powered
    scooter, modified with a chainsaw engine attached to the frame.  
    The driveshaft rests on top of the back tire, and with a little help
    from friction and the weight of the engine, the driveshaft propels
    the scooter.  If there were a Junior Division of "Junkyard Wars,"
    this little creation would be a winner.

By the time our race began (around 2:00 p.m.), the starting area on
the motocross track was tacking up nicely. With a few of the B
classes lined up on my row, I got a decent start and was the 4th guy
into the woods.  After a mile or so, I passed two riders and settled into
a decent pace.

About 3/4 of the way into each lap was a section in the back corner of
the club grounds that winds around a small lake.  The trail is cut into
the sides of steep slopes that rise from the water level. The weekend
rains raised the lake level, which submerged a short stretch of trail
(10-15 feet) in about a foot of water.  Now, to the casual observer that
would seem like a fairly short distance to overcome, even in the
nastiest of conditions. But as the ruts got deeper, so did the water,
and alternate routes were virtually nonexistent. On the left was a
steep, muddy slope densely packed with trees, and on the right was
the lake, the bottom of which could have been one foot or 100 yards
under the surface - no way to tell. Scotland has Nessie, the Loch
Ness Monster; B.E.T. has Bessie, the Belleville Swamp Thing, known
to suck unsuspecting dirt bikers into the black abyss of crud-water.

The first time through was no problem, but the second time around
the main trail was rutted too deep to be passable.  Several guys were
on hand to point out alternate lines (but mostly to entertain
themselves with our misery), and one of them suggested that I cut
through the edge of the lake.  I figured he was an honest guy, had
probably tested the depth of the water, and had seen other guys
successfully cut through the lake before me. Surely he wouldn't send
me through deep water purely for his own amusement and giggle as
my bike dropped down into a death dive rivaling that of the Kursk. Or
would he?  Turns out he gave me good advice, and even though the
depth was a little past my comfort level, I successfully navigated the
lake and didn't lose any time getting through.  Others, however, were
not so lucky.  The Swamp Thing had already made a brief
appearance, as evidenced by a few less fortunate souls who were
attempting to rid their engines of water along the edge of the lake.

As I neared my third pass through this section, I saw what appeared
to be Lars Valin (newly advanced to the AA class and no longer
pulling his bike trailer with an early-1990's Prelude) going backwards
on the trail, apparently searching for another way around the water.  
Not a good sign.  At the water hole bottleneck, several guys sat idle
on their bikes, heads down, apparently praying for that Bible-dude
Moses to come on back and part the waters. I respectfully
maneuvered around to the front of the pack, where I was advised that
the water was now about 4 feet deep.  John Banes, club member and
fast Vet racer, was perched a few feet up the side of the hill, armed
with a shovel.  He had dug out a narrow off-camber path about 2 feet
above the level of the main trail.  While the prayer group continued
their devotions and rogations (it's a word...I looked it up), with the
help of another club guy I pushed my bike up to Banes Trail and
made it around the water hole, apparently the first to traverse this new
path.  Other riders followed, and after that the section caused no
more bottlenecks.

The rest of the ride was fun, with tight, rocky 1st gear trails, a grass-
turned-to-mud track, and a wide-open stretch through the backside of
the club grounds.  My favorite spot was a jump that I could hit in 4th
gear, sail down the trail and land semi-gracefully, just in time to slam
on the brakes and make a hard left back into the woods. Somewhere
in the last lap I flattened the back tire but kept on riding to the finish.  
On the one hand, I destroyed a tube.  On the other hand, I won the
race.  Which would you have chosen? Yep, thought so....

March 17, 2002
St. Joe State Park
Park Hills, Missouri
3rd of 28 in Open B
Now I know what motocross guys experience at the start of a race - 28
guys on one row, all gunning for the same corner.  But then, it could
have been worse....the Open C class had 56 entries. The large
turnout was plainly evident at the race signup, where I waited for
nearly an hour to get keyed into the computer.  Sort of like the DMV,
except the people in line are generally glad to be there and the
workers are way more friendly.  Parked near the signup tent was the
same CR250 decorated with red, yellow, and black electrical tape
(disguised as racing stripes, apparently), part of the Cape Girardeau
contingent at Belleville the previous Sunday.  Also present was RJ the
DJ playing all the great hits from 1983, Steve Levian strolling gingerly
with healing bones (been there, man), and park rangers issuing
tickets.

After more rain during the week, the course looked to be pretty
sloppy. I opted out of a practice lap, as did most others, in an attempt
to save energy for the race.  At the starting line, I chose an inside line
and figured I could out-gun most of the guys and jam up the ones
who were ahead of me at the first turn, just like a real wannabe
motocross dude.  And what a great strategy that would have been if
only the bike had started.  Three kicks later I was on my way, just in
time to see what appeared to be Pizza Man crash shortly after takeoff
(but with 28 guys to keep track of, it could have been anyone). The
first quarter-mile was sandy whoops in an open area and I passed a
bunch of guys before we entered the woods.  That's when the mud
really started flying.  In my old age, I've finally learned that a tear-off
taped over roll-off's adds a lot of value to the usefulness of goggles
during a mud race.  Enduring mud spray shooting from the spinning
rear tires of 3 or 4 dirt bikes is like standing directly in front of an
industrial wood chipper, firing it up and letting your best friend feed it
with assorted fruits, vegetables, and cuts of raw meat (at least that's
how it looked on an episode of MTV's Jackass).  Once I got around
the offending riders, I ripped away the temporary tear-off and found
new vision.  Without it, the goggles would have lasted until
approximately four minutes into the race.  Yeah, I'm smart.

With riders now spread out, I gradually caught up to several of the
other B class guys that had started in rows ahead of me.  Some of the
passes were easy (a block pass here and there) and others were hard
(4th gear with inches separating bike and trees).  I finally decided that
my passes would have to be more calculated (read: safer) or I was
sure to feel some sort of pain, so I eased up and looked for little
shortcuts.  I found one that got me ahead of 3 guys and was feeling
pretty good about it, but then I noticed an object poking me in my
right knee.  I glanced down and could see the end of a tree branch
attached to some part of the bike, so I tried to kick at it to break it
loose.  After three or four kicks and no success I tried to pull it loose
with my hand (all while navigating rocks, trees, and mud), but lost
balance and dumped over the bike.  On the ground I discovered that
during my fancy pass, the front fork and axle grabbed onto a small
tree and carried it with the bike.  While I was on the ground pulling
the tree out, the three guys who I had passed, passed me back.  So
much for shortcuts, smart guy.

Still, I rode solidly through the rest of the race and didn't crash.  By
the third lap some bottlenecks had developed around the steeper
climbs but there were plenty of alternate routes.  By the end of the
race I was tired, wet, and ready for a nap.  But the goggles stayed on
the whole time.  Lap times showed that if I had been one minute
quicker, I would have won. Now that's a confidence builder.
Belleville, Illinois
Park Hills, Missouri