2002 Race Reports
White City, Illinois
With bike maintenance, and maybe life in general, sometimes I don't see
the big picture. I'll drill down to the minutia of trying to get the clutch lever
to stop flopping around the pivot bolt, all the while failing to notice the
engine has virtually no compression. Actually, I knew the bike was kicking
over a little too easily at Eugene, but it still fired up, so where's the
problem with that? When I hooked up with my buddy Jeff Smith at Flat
River in late-September, the old bike wouldn't start (I knew there was a
reason to have two bikes!) and the subsequent engine tear-down
produced the culprit: ring-end gap of approximately 0.090". No, that's not
a misprint and yes, it was just a smidgen above the recommended gap of
0.020".  Also, one of the hose connections at the bottom of the right-side
radiator was severely kinked, which explained the coolant loss after
Eugene. So I had ridden Eugene on a bike with virtually no compression
and a radiator leak, and somehow finished 20th overall. Any bike that can
survive my harsh riding style and 8th grade shop class mechanical ability
is tougher than Brett Favre with a handful of painkillers.

When I put the finishing touches on the top-end job at about 9:00 p.m. the
night before the White City enduro, I noticed that one of the cylinder head
bolts wouldn't tighten down to torque specs*. I thought, what the heck, it's
snug enough and there's 5 other bolts to hold down the head and I want
to race tomorrow! To hell with the head bolt! With the garage doors
closed so as not to annoy the neighbors any more than usual, the bike
fired up. Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m., the bike fired up again. With
mostly dry weather the past month, never was there a better opportunity
to finish the White City enduro for the first time ever.

note to '99 KTM riders: do NOT tighten the head bolts to the KTM
owner's manual specs of 35 N-m. Wrong, wrong, wrong!! The '02
owner's manual shows 18 N-m....now that's more like it.

Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to see an 18-mph average on the
route sheet. As usual, the total miles were high enough that finishing
would require 6 hours in the saddle. That is just a long freakin' time.
Naturally I didn't bother to bring an 18-mph roll chart, so I took my 24-mph
chart and modified it accordingly. The result was a 12-foot long, 3-inch
wide chicken-scratch-filled paper that looked more like a chart from a
seismograph than a roll chart for an enduro. No fancy-dancy computers
for this guy. I was on minute 20, which would be far enough back for the
earlier riders to blaze a nicely defined trail. The good news this year was
that the gas stops were both at the club grounds, meaning that I wouldn't
have to beg someone to take out my gas jug to some remote location.

Three of us began on the 20th row, and I let one of the guys lead for the
first 5 miles or so. The route started in the club grounds, which, when dry,
are some of the best trails I've ever ridden. The lead guy let me pass
when I started to get my groove on, and soon Jeff Fredette, freshly back
from the ISDE in the Czech Republic, caught up to me as he always does.
Watching him is ride is seeing grace in motion...he really makes it look
easy. We left the club grounds after about 8.5 miles and headed out to
the remote trails on the Mount Olive side of I-55. The 18-mph average
kept speeds down on the road sections, and I had time to stop for a snack
and witness Fredette showing perfect form while on his knees, balancing
his bike in a ditch while taking a leak. All those years of experience,
paying off yet again for the crafty veteran.

The club grounds were like a 4-lane highway compared to the outlying
trails in the next 20 miles, with mostly first and second gear stuff. The dirt
was just perfect, slightly damp with plenty of traction, and easy to ride
smoothly in. After each reset, the tighter it got, the quicker Fredette
caught up to me. I was enjoying myself and counting down the miles to my
first-ever finish of this old-school enduro, imagining the satisfaction of
riding 100 miles in a day...WHAM...thump...what the hell??!? Is that my
bike on the ground 20 feet ahead of me? Why am I sitting on the ground
with a sore ass? Oh yeah, tree. Big tree. Should have ducked a little
lower. In a daze, I walked up the trail to my bike as a couple of guys asked
if I was O.K. and I gave them the thumbs up, even though I couldn't see
straight. The bike was on its side, engine still running and back wheel
spinning in second gear. I pulled in the clutch, righted the bike and
continued onward in a slight haze. A few minutes my later my head
cleared and I was back...I was sooo back. Trees be damned, I was going
to finish.

During most of the race I had been detecting a slight aroma of antifreeze,
and during one of the road sections after my tree encounter, I stopped to
look at the cylinder head. I didn't like what I saw. Coolant was seeping out
the head bolt that had been stripped, although it didn't appear that I was
losing much. Even so, I didn't want to risk overheating, especially when I
could be many miles from the club grounds if and when it happened. The
last road section before the gas stop led back to the club grounds, and
just before checking into the woods I took one last look at the cylinder
head. A couple more miles (and another pass by Fredette) and I was
back at my truck, giving one last thought to continuing. I didn't...beaten
again. But it was a great day. For the club, the turnout was very
disappointing, with only 55 guys riding. Apparently the previous two years
scared away many. But I will be back. And I will finish.

October 27, 2002
Knob Noster, Misouri
1st of 8 in Open B
Fifteen races, and it all came down to this.

Actually, only a few class winners were determined at the 16th and final
round of the 2002 Missouri Hare Scrambles Championship. Most notably,
the overall champion would be crowned on this day, with the battle
between Steve Leivan and Brandon Forrester culminating with a final
showdown. The highly competitive Vet class winner would also be
determined, with Kevin Ruckdeschell in the driver's seat, and the Junior
class also came down to the wire.

Throughout the year, the MHSC has been testing a new scoring method
in which plastic cards, about the size of a credit card, are placed under
helmet visors. A PVC pipe contraption rigged up to the scoring trailer
detects the cards as riders pass through. The cards take the place of bar
code stickers, so there's no manual scanning involved. As I found out
while attempting to run the scanner at Smithville Lake, there is a certain
technique to its operation, which can lead to scoring errors. With the
cards, it's all automatic. A sampling of riders had been using the cards in
past races, but today everyone would get a plastic card duct-taped to the
underside of their helmet visors. What happens if your visor gets ripped
off your helmet, you ask? "Better go back and find it," said Tom Eidam.

After I signed up and received my card, I walked down to the big creek to
check out the water level. The Knob Noster area had apparently been dry
for some time, as the creek was fairly low and easily passable, unlike last
year when it was just high enough to make for an uncomfortable crossing.
I suited up with an extra jersey and shivered in the 45-degree air, hoping
my bike would start after its second engine tear-down in two weeks. It
came to life after a few good kicks and I began my practice lap.

What I found on the trails was pure joy. The course was nearly identical to
White City the previous week, with twisty trails on loamy ground with very
few rocks. Most of the woods could be ridden at a very fast pace in
second and third gear, except for two drop-downs into small, narrow creek
beds that were first gear and a lot of clutch. The first creek bed run was
relatively short, but the second run was longer and tougher and ended
with a rock garden, just to remind everyone that we were still in Missouri.
Anyone caught behind a slower rider would have no choice but to follow.
The 9-mile course had a few wide-open areas and a small track laid out in
an open field, but no major obstacles. Today, everyone could ride at an
aggressive pace.

Back at the truck, once again I smelled antifreeze on the bike, but this
time it was just the radiator bleed bolt that I forgot to tighten. The heli-coil
was doing its job in the cylinder and the bike was running perfectly. My
fingertips were cold, so I switched to winter gloves and headed to the
starting area to wait in the cold for our row to start. The Open B class was
about 7 rows back, which meant a total of around 15 minutes on the line
trying to shake off the chill and get a good view of the other classes
starting their races. On my left was Dwayne Parrish, riding a KTM
300MXC, and Pat Welch was on my right with his big 520SX. When the
board dropped, I had to two-kick the bike and went into the first corner in
the back of the pack. The trail wandered in and around the pit area
before crossing the big creek. I charged through the creek and passed
Pat, sending a nice cool splash of water his way, but he immediately
passed me back in the open area on the opposite side. My 300 was no
match for his big 4-stroke and with watered-up goggles I followed him in a
train of riders that included Dwayne and Marty Smith. Pat eventually let
me by, but Dwayne and Marty were riding strong. I had a chance to get by
Marty on a tricky hill that had two lines to the top, but I foolishly followed
him while he spun out on some rocks at the top. We both lost momentum
but Marty recovered as I continued to spin, so I had to play catch-up. Pat
passed me in the long stretch of narrow creek bed after I got hung up on
a nasty tree root. The bike fell over upside-down and I had to drag it out
of the way. At the end of the first lap, Dwayne checked in first, followed by
Marty and then me. Pat and Wayne Hatfield were another 30 seconds

I was finally able to get around Marty near the end of lap two, where we
crossed the big creek for the second time. I learned from my previous
mistake and took a different line up the creek bank, which was just
enough of an advantage to get around him and focus on Dwayne. I took
the lead just before the scoring trailer, but lurking behind me was Wayne,
who passed me somewhere in the third lap. By then, I was starting to
encounter traffic as we began lapping riders. Other than a few deep ruts
in creek banks, the trail held up very well for the entire race, so the fast
guys kept going fast. Just after the first woods check on the fourth lap, the
AA's were already lapping me. Steve Levian and Doug Stone had set a
blistering pace, with Brandon Forrester close behind. I got around Wayne
somewhere in that fourth lap, but he was on my back tire when we passed
through the scoring trailer to start our fifth and final lap. I put just a small
amount of distance on him, but then got caught behind a slow rider in the
long stretch of narrow creek. After the long creek run, passing was still a
challenge. I rode hard for the last lap and could see Wayne behind me
when I came through the last section of grass track around the pits. Once
again, I took the win, but the margin was only 15 seconds. As the lap
times showed, everyone was riding fast at Knob Noster. The top 25
overall finishers included exactly one person who wasn't an A or AA rider.
Funny how perfect conditions can bring out the best in bikes and riders.

The overall winner was Steve Leivan, who also took home the series with
his victory. Doug Stone placed second while Brandon Forrester, poised to
de-throne Leivan as King of the MHSC, suffered a mechanical problem
and finished as runner-up for the series. The final standings will be
permanently marked with controversy, as Forrester was denied his
request to work the Knob Noster race and earn work average points that
would have given him the overall championship.  But congratulations are
well-deserved for Leivan, who came back from nasty off-season injuries to
win the series against some very tough odds. Congrats are also in order
for K-Ruck, who secured the Vet class series with his 4th place finish.

For me, the 2002 season brought the most success I've ever had, with 5
MHSC class wins and the Open B series win. A milestone this year was
three top-20 overall finishes in the MHSC, which left me tied for 49th
overall in the series. The only real disappointment was not finishing that
friggin' White City enduro for the 4th year in a row. People ask me where
the speed came from this year, but there's no magic to it. I kept the
mistakes to a minimum, added some new aggression to my riding style (as
Adam Ashcroft can attest to), and built up a pretty good resistance to the
summer heat.  But the real success this year was no visits to my friendly
doctor, who probably wonders why I don't come around anymore.

See you next year....
White City, Illinois
Knob Noster, Missouri