2002 Race Reports
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