2002 Race Reports
April 28, 2002
Kahoka, Missouri
2nd of 13 in Open B
For the average dirt bike racer, the starting line of a hare scramble rarely
determines the outcome of a race, since 2 or 3 hours in the woods is an
eternity compared to a couple-second deficit going into the first turn.  But
when you give your competitors a 2-minute head start and lose by 36
seconds, the start seems just a little bit important -- more on that later.

The 2002 version of "The Mulekicker" National Hare Scramble was held in
the familiar surroundings of Mike Burkhart's backyard motocross track a
few miles outside of Kahoka, Missouri.  This event falls on the schedules
of several hare scrambles series and attracts riders from the
mud-infested District 17, the Iowa guys recently out of hibernation, some
national-caliber pro's, and the usual handful of racers who drive very long
distances to attend a national event.  Burkhart's meticulously prepared
course was punished with steady rains for much of Saturday's races, and
by Sunday the formerly grassy parking area looked like a cattle feedlot in
November. But the rains had ended and some course re-routes kept the
trails rideable...sort of.

At the starting line, the Open B class shared the 5th row with the 250 B
class in the same open field as past Mulekickers.  As the green flag
started each row, the mud spray from spinning wheels shot up in a high
arch, landing about 3 rows back.  The AA's mud only made it to row in
front of me, but the next three rows pelted me with enough mud to make
the bike look like I had already been around the course. When the green
flag signaled our start, my engine was silent as the 20 or so riders on my
row charged for the first turn.  Several kicks later, still nothing.  I pushed
the bike off to the side and kept on kicking while the two rows behind me
departed. I don't really believe in the whole plug-fouling thing.  I just keep
kicking, swearing, and kicking some more until the bike starts.  Usually it
does.  After two minutes I was beginning to wonder.  Eventually the bike
fired up and I began my journey through one of the nastiest courses I've
ridden in a long time.  The first groups of riders had turned the trails into
a series of ruts, some already so deep that riders were struggling and I
had to wait my turn to get through.  In one particularly deep rut, I patiently
waited for the guy in front of me to spin his way out. I dropped my head
down to keep his mud spray from contaminating my goggles, and when I
lifted my head, it was about 3 pounds heavier thanks to a fresh coating of
sticky clay on the top of my visor.

After a couple of slide-outs, I slowly got accustomed to the track and
plodded my way through the course.  The layout was similar to previous
years, with the woods sections connected by wide-open blasts through
open fields.  Except this time, the open fields were complete slop and
anything less than third gear was risky.  I was averaging about 10 mph
but slowly caught and passed several riders by the time we first made our
way onto the motocross track.  The track is laid out on a hillside and to
make it rideable in the mud, over the years Burkhart has dumped
truckloads of sawdust on the track and worked it into the soil.  In the
summer, it resembles a sand track.  While sand is more fun to ride when
wet, saturated sawdust is somewhat like riding through the loose silt found
in creek beds, except it's softer.  It required a good deal of power to climb
the hills on the track, and over the whoops the bike's front end tended to
dive down into the soft stuff.  The first short run through the motocross
track contained one of the steepest hills and the bike needed every
ounce of power to make it to the top.  After another few miles of woods
and open fields, we came back to the track for an extended ride around
most of it, then back to the woods and a long stretch of
grass-turned-slime track.  After that, another quick return to the track
preceded the scoring trailer.  I thought that first lap would never end.

Lap #2 was eerily quiet and I encountered few bikes and lots of creative
alternate routes around the deep ruts and mud holes.  In some cases,
riders had abandoned the woods altogether and cut through the open
fields.  The semi-honest racer that I am, I tried to keep within spitting
distance of the arrows until I dumped the bike in an off-camber section.  
With an extra 40 pounds of mud, the bike was not easy to pick up.  In fact,
The Rock would have cooked up a sweat trying to get the thing back on
two wheels.  After that, I took every advantage of the shortcuts created by
others and may have added some new ones myself.  Just past the
halfway point, I picked the wrong rut after navigating a nasty gully and got
stuck just as the pro's were lapping me.  A group of 4 or 5 came through
that section like a friggin' 100-car freight train and literally slammed their
bikes through the gully.  One guy fell over but was quickly helped by
spectators and the rest charged through like they were riding in dry loam.  
Unbelievable.

Just after the start of Lap #3, I gassed up near the staging area.  Matt's
fancy transparent gas can was sitting next to my red Wal-Mart special,
apparently unused.  I couldn't remember passing him and wondered if
something went wrong, but I couldn't see him at the truck.  By this time,
the boys were flat-out cheating on the course.  But who could blame
anyone - most of the original course was made up of 2-foot ruts.  In this
part of the country, there is no rock base to contain the ruts...they'll get
as deep as your bike can make them.  The creek crossings were still in
good shape, thanks to many logs laid down in 5-foot sections to help us
get through.  But the trails that were close to the fields were mostly being
bypassed entirely.  Only one checkpoint had been set up in the woods,
and I even saw guys bypassing that to keep out of the woods.  About
halfway through the lap I came upon Matt sitting along the trail with an
overheated bike.  I stopped for about half a minute to see that he was
O.K. and then took off.  Within a couple minutes my bike started steaming
heavily and I pulled into an open field (now part of the trail) and shut it
down.  Another poor guy on an air-cooled Honda XR was having similar
problems.  I dribbled some water on the radiators and they immediately
sizzled, a sure sign of a hot engine.  So much mud had packed its way
into the radiator guards that only about half the normal airflow was
reaching the radiators.  A few minutes later I restarted the bike and took it
easy for the rest of the lap.  At the scoring trailer I was told I had finished
in 2nd place.  Not bad, considering the conditions.  When I saw that I had
missed the win by 36 seconds, the "what-if's" started playing in my
head...what if the bike had started normally?  What if I hadn't got stuck in
that one nasty rut, or had only stopped for 4 minutes to cool off the bike
instead of 5? As they say, that's racing.

The sweep guys came and went, but an hour after I had changed clothes
and loaded up my bike, I still had not seen Matt. Finally, just before the
trophy presentation I saw him walking across the motocross track.  After
three hours sitting idle in the woods and getting hosed by the sweep
guys, Matt gave up and started walking.  He did not look pleased.  But his
7th place trophy was a testament to the attrition rate.

As I'm writing this, the Disney Channel is re-running Motocrossed for the
umpteenth time, the story of a girl mixing it up with the boys at the track.  
Missouri's own Amanda Lappe was one of only two entrants in the
women's class brave enough to mix it up with the boys at the
Mulekicker...as the hottie-mom on Motocrossed said, You Go Girl!
(coincidently, the same words used by the boyz at the playground the last
time I displayed my stellar ball handling skills). After protests, Chuck
Woodford was awarded the overall win, followed closely by Scott
Plessinger and Jason Raines.  Their 5 laps in 2.5 hours is nothing short
of amazing.

May 26, 2002
Kingman, Indiana
5th of 18 in Big B
Every so often I get the urge to take in a race near the Motherland, also
known as God's Country, the place I grew up in Eastern Illinois.  The
riding there is much like Kahoka, Missouri, where the dirt is black, the mud
is even blacker, and rocks are something people read about in National
Geographic.  At the farm where I used to play ride, I once buried the back
end so deep that I had to borrow a winch to extricate my bike from a
Finger Lakes-style mud hole. In that part of the world, water-filled gullys
and ruts are like Al Gore on the campaign trail: appears fairly innocuous,
but you suspect there's something dark and dirty beneath, the depths of
which can only be surmised until you get sucked in and have to be pulled
out with help from powerful Republicans, er, a really strong winch.

Anyway, the Memorial Day extended weekend was a good excuse to visit
the farm and race the Kingman, Indiana hare scramble.  Since the
location is not too far across the Illinois border, Kingman is part of both
the Indiana (D-15) and upper-Illinois (D-17) district series.  I had ridden
the course two years ago and it was the most like our old farm trails as
anything I had ever raced. Dense woods, deep mud, moderate hills, and
slower speeds were highlights of that race. As I walked the course this
time, the trails were in decent shape despite some rain earlier in the week.

Before the race, I was reacquainted with the D15/17-style parade lap, in
which a club member leads all the riders around the course.  Unlike a
Missouri-style practice lap, where you can start anytime after the club
clears out the ATV's and can ride at race speeds if you choose, the
Kingman parade lap was a sluggish freight-train of 100 riders slowly
navigating the course.  The parade lap wasn't much of a warm-up, but
more of a chance to preview the course without having to walk it.  So the
arm pump that normally works its way out of my system on a Missouri
practice lap was in full effect just after the race began. I had a decent
start but killed the engine about 200 yards later, after rubbing bars with
another rider.  Most of the woods were tight, but there were a couple of
short GNCC-type sections to get up some speed.

Near the end of the first lap, we were directed back to the starting area for
a restart.  While waiting for the other riders to emerge from the woods, we
learned that shortly after my row left the line, someone in a row behind us
had been injured and the back row had not been able to start while the
injured rider was attended to.  Strange that the only times I've ever seen a
restart at a hare scramble have been at this race (see the
Kingman race
report from 2000).  The second start was similar to the first, except that I
didn't kill the engine in the first 200 yards.  I settled into a decent pace
and got to know the course pretty well over the next 7 or 8 laps. In some
ways, it's nice to be able to remember the finer points of the trail in a 3-4
mile-per-lap D17 race, versus an MHSC race where guys like me get in 3
or 4 laps on an 8-10 mile loop.  The downside is knowing those nasty
places will come up twice as often.  The toughest section was near the
end of the course, where the trail dropped down into a water-filled ravine
with some very large rocks that many from that part of the country had
probably not seen since their last trip to the Punch Bowl at
Turkey Run
(Indiana folks will get that one).  Finally, I was able to use my rock-riding
experience somewhere besides Missouri.  But just after that section was a
rapidly deteriorating creek crossing to remind me that I was still in Indiana.

At the last uphill climb before the scoring barrels, I saw my sister and
nephew cheering me on as I finished my second lap.  Laura and Kyle
came to see firsthand what their crazy brother/uncle does on the
weekends. I saw them a few more times as I completed the next 5 or 6
laps.  Most of the creek crossings were kept in good shape with the help
of bridges, but I did manage to get hung up on the worst one on my
next-to-last lap.  Fortunately there were plenty of guys standing around to
pull me up the creek bank. I finished the race a respectable 5th place in
my class.  While I was loading up the bike and waiting for the results to be
posted, Kyle, age 7, watched the mini-bike (50-65cc) race and asked the
question few mothers want to hear: "When can I start racing?"  The
answer was something to the effect of "when you don't live in my house
anymore."  Tough luck, kid.
Kahoka, Missouri
Kingman, Indiana