July 28, 2002
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
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
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
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.