2002 Race Reports
July 28, 2002
Florence, Missouri
1st of 10 in Open B
Florence was the site of last year's rainout, and since I didn't attend the
race on its make-up date, this year was my first look at the full course.  
Sometimes you can tell how the race is going to be just by driving into the
staging area.  The gravel road leading into the place was rough, very
rocky and dusty.  As it turned out, so was the course.

But what a difference a year makes.  Instead of raining the entire morning,
we had drought conditions and temperatures in the 90's.  Matt and I took
a quick look at the course as the ATV's were racing, and around every
corner they had scraped off the top surface and left a small berm of fine
powder.  Dust was everywhere.  The course passed by the pit area in a
quarter-mile straight, wide open.  The ATV's were flying through there so
fast that I could feel them coming.

The first part of the course was laid out similar to last year, except where
there had been rushing streams of floodwater, only dry creeks and gullies
remained.  A mile or so into the practice lap, the dusty trail left the staging
area and we headed out to the main creek.  The dust subsided for a bit
and the first creek crossing took us up a short, steep bank that was slick
and muddy.  That 15 feet of mud was all we would see in the 8-9 mile
course.  After that it was loose, gravelly terrain with some sections
surprisingly tight, considering that ATV's had been through there. I tried to
go easy on the practice lap and not wear down the tire with unnecessary
wheel spin, but some of the hills were tough to climb without getting
aggressive.  Near the end of the course was a fast section down a dry
creek bed, then through some standing water and back towards the
staging area. As we finished the last mile of the course, the trail led us
through an old cattle chute, then meandered back to the far end of the
staging area, and finally down the long WFO straightaway past the pits,
around the old farmhouse and to the scoring trailer (note to promoters:
next year, please run us THROUGH the old farmhouse, maybe up and
down the stairs...actually dreamed about that once, it was cool).  The
course was incredibly rough, thanks in part to the ATV's that uncovered
every rock on the trail.  Between the heat, dust, and rocks, I was
expecting an average finish. A Newark-style course is where I usually do
best, but the Florence course wasn't anything close to that.

On the starting line, the Open B class was several rows behind the A and
Double-A riders.  We watched the fast guys take off and kick up a huge
cloud of dust, with the guys in the back of the pack struggling to see much
of anything.  A stiff breeze cleared out the dust quickly, but then another
row would take off and bring back the dust cloud.  When our row finally
took off, I got a decent start and came out of the first turn wide, back
wheel sliding out dangerously.  I was in third place and Matt was just
behind me as we ate the leaders' dust for a half-mile or so.  The lone
Yamaha in our group of KTM's took the lead, followed by a KTM and then
me.  When we came out into an open pasture near the staging area, the
KTM guy ahead of me went left and the trail went straight.  So I took over
second place and set my sights on the Yamaha.  I caught up to him when
he got hung up on the muddy creek bank, then followed him as he
struggled up a rocky hill and had trouble with some nasty tree roots.  He
finally let me by and I took over the lead.

In a Missouri race, I can't recall ever leading my class, at least not
knowingly.  And especially not at a nasty race like Florence.  Now the
pressure was on to maintain the lead, which is a big advantage in the
dust.  I had a few miles of clean air before catching up to riders in the
other classes ahead of me. Each time, passing was a struggle.  In some of
the open areas, the dust was thick enough that I had to back off and let
the dust clear before attempting a pass.  I kept the lead for the first lap
and tried to maintain a decent pace over the second lap.  Despite a
couple of near crashes, I kept it together but was starting to warm up from
the heat.  The only chance to cool down was in the big creek that had
some standing water, but even that didn't help much.  After lap two, I
checked my watch and was less than an hour into the race, so it was
looking like I'd get five laps in total.

Lap three was more of the same.  No major mistakes, but I had no idea
how much of a lead I still had.  I kept pushing, banged my knuckles on a
tree and splashed some spectators in the creek.  On lap four, I came up
on a guy on a KTM who appeared to be slower, so I tried the 'ole block
pass technique in the woods and came out of the corner literally
bar-to-bar with the guy.  It was a race to the next turn, dead even until I
braked late and forced my way by.  Not sure where this new aggression is
coming from, but my apologies to what appeared to be the #30 bike of
Adam Ashcroft in the 250B class (he got back around me quickly and
finished a minute or two ahead of me overall--justice served).

I kept up the pace on my fifth and final lap and was a couple miles from
the end when I came up on some course marshals riding ATV's on the
trail. They stayed clear of me, but their dust obscured the main rut
through an opening in a fence, and I dropped the bike in a gentle
slide-out. When you're in the lead and don't know where the second place
guy is, strange things start to happen when you drop the bike. I was in
near-panic mode while picking up the bike, even more so when the bike
didn't fire up on the first kick.  At that point my lead was about 6 minutes,
but for all I knew it could have been 6 seconds. I began to think of what a
sick feeling it was going to be to give up the lead in the last two miles of
the race, after leading every lap up to that point.

The engine came to life on the second kick.

Total time lost: about 10 highly stressful seconds.  Still in second gear, I
dumped the clutch and rode like hell to the finish a few minutes later.  The
results confirmed that I had, indeed, achieved my first MHSC class win,
almost exactly four years after my initiation into the Missouri hare
scrambles scene (Flat River, '98 March of Dimes) and on a course that
has traditionally been unkind to me.  Brandon Forrester and Steve Leivan
continued their battle for the MHSC series, with Brandon taking the overall
win and Steve close behind.  Last year's top Open B racers, Tracy
Bauman (MHSC #137) and David Taylor (MHSC #17), continued to
rep-uh-zent in the A class, as Bauman took the win at Florence and
Taylor won the previous round at Tebbetts (and they were each in the top
10 overall at both races).  Nice job, guys.

August 11, 2002
Polo, Missouri
1st of 8 in Open B
The last part of the MHSC series takes me to the furthest reaches of the
state, and Polo is about the longest drive of the year.  The highlight of the
trip is crossing the Missouri River at Lexington on a bridge so narrow that
you could high-five oncoming drivers without even extending your arm.  
From my house, it's just under 4 hours if you can hold your bowels that
long without stopping (Matt never can).

We pulled into the staging area and chose our customary spot next to the
port-a-potties.  Wade Hall and the Shake's Pizza group were already
there, minus PizzaMan who had a different two-wheeled off-road activity to
attend to that day.  Polo is a bike-only race, and the absence of ATV
noise created a quiet, relaxed atmosphere as we signed up.  The weather
was warm but not unbearably hot, and the course looked very dry.  We
got started on the practice lap with Matt leading me around the course
until we got to a bottleneck at a short hill climb.  The route to the top was
rocky and loose, but the main problem was a two-foot rock ledge at the
top. I didn't have much patience for waiting my turn, so I cut off to the right
and took an alternate route around several guys parked on the side of
the hill.  After that, I had clean air.  The trail was really nice and it didn't
take long to get into a fast groove.  Matt was somewhere behind me as I
came to the spot where I had crashed so hard
last year.  This year, a
check was placed in just about the same spot as my wipeout, so that was
one less area of concern.  After I finished my practice lap, maybe it was
the confidence from my class win at Florence, or the quick pace from the
practice lap, but one thought burst into my mind: If I can get a good start
and ride smart, I will do well today.  As it turned out, I was correct.

As we lined up for the start, our class size seemed a bit small, with only 8
guys racing Open B.  Some of the regulars, like PizzaMan, Ray Osia, and
Matt Coffman were no-shows, but overall attendance was about what
you'd expect for the middle of August.  Brandon Forrester, in the hunt to
end Steve Leivan's 8-year run as MHSC champ, caught a bad break with
a fouled plug just before the start.  He was still sorting it out as our class
started, 5 minutes behind the AA's.  I got off to a good start, albeit a
slightly scary one as a 4-stroke KTM leaned into me as we were heading
for the woods.  It was basically a straight shot to the woods and I kept the
gas on the longest to take the holeshot, something I've never done
before.  After many, many races of eating other guys' dust and mud on
the first lap, I was happy to have a clean path ahead of me. A couple
miles later, I couldn't hear anyone behind me and I started catching up to
the dust of the guys in the classes ahead of me.  The trail was fairly tight,
so passing was a challenge, but near the end of the first lap I had caught
up to most of the guys I was going to catch, and the air was clean.

The course was filled with flat chunks of rock, the kind we used as
stepping stones back home on the farm.  On some of the hills, all I could
hear besides my screaming engine was the clinking of rocks, like clay pots
bumping together.  I saw a guy in the Junior class launching his bike up
one of those hills, just letting it fly on its own, but all it did was flip
backwards and fall back down the hill.  The trail also had some rock ledge
drop-offs, which I was too tame to jump over.  I just let the front wheel fall
down, carefully, figuring it was better to be safe than risk relinquishing my
lead.  Even when the HammerDown video crew was filming at one of the
drop-offs and I was tempted to show off, I still played it safe.

On my second lap, I came out of the woods into the first open pasture
section and saw Matt standing beside his bike.  I figured he broke
something on his bike, shook my head as if to say "What'd you do this
time?" and kept on riding.  When he was still there on my third lap, I knew
something must be wrong, but he was being helped by 200B rider Jeff
Neathery, who had suffered a flat tire on his Gas Gas.  By this time I was
gradually catching up to lapped riders, who were easy to spot from the
dust left behind.

Later in lap 3, my engine bogged a couple times on small jumps, which
from past experience suggested that I was running low on gas. On a tight
course like Polo, I shouldn't have been close to empty after only 90
minutes.  On the fourth lap I backed off a bit, trying to conserve fuel.  I
finally had to switch to reserve with about 10 minutes left, but I finished
without incident and took the victory.

The celebration was short-lived, as Matt was in pain back at the truck.  In
the open field, he had drifted right and found some nasty ruts while
braking before re-entering the woods.  The bike bucked him off and Matt
took a nasty impact on his right side.  The EMT's were attending to him
while I packed up our stuff and loaded the bikes.  We drove straight back
to the emergency room at Lake Saint Louis, where X-rays showed three
broken ribs and a broken collarbone.  Polo strikes again.
Florence, Missouri
Polo, Missouri