2003 Race Reports
March 30, 2003
Bixby, Missouri
3rd of 14 in Vet
The Viburnum Trend Riding Area is a great example of local industry
working with the surrounding communities for the benefit of recreation.
Doe Run Co., a multinational mining company, donated the 600-acre
property on which the 3rd round of the MHSC series was held. The land
will soon be open to the public for weekend riding, but MHSC racers were
able to preview the property in advance of its anticipated opening later
this year.

A cold wind greeted us at signup, where I traded in my damaged RFID
card for a new one, free of charge, thanks to the Nasty Creek club and
their generous donation to the MHSC. Matt and I went out for a practice
lap that seemed to go on forever, or at least 11 miles, and found a nice
mix of singletrack, ATV trails and plenty of rocks. The trail passed through
several ass-punishing, first-gear boulder gardens and a high-speed
power line section full of no-see'em rocks. Surprisingly, a few deep mud
holes had developed from Saturday's ATV race, and alternate routes
were already forming on the practice lap.

I lined up near the outside of the 14-member Vet class, with '02 class
winner Kevin Ruckdeschell on my right. Matt was a couple rows behind me
in the Open B class. After the class ahead of us took off, I began my
normal starting routine: run the engine until the 30-second board
appears; pull in the clutch; shift into 2nd gear; hit the kill switch; as the
engine is nearly dead, give a short burst of throttle to fill the combustion
chamber with fuel; gently push down kick starter and feel for piston's top
dead center position, then give it one hell of a kick when the board drops.
Works like a charm - unless it's my 300MXC. For the second week in a
row, the routine failed me. Even worse, this time multiple kicks were not
enough to start the bike. One of the unwritten rules (or maybe it is written
somewhere) of dead engine starts at hare scrambles is that you better
have your bike in motion or pushed off the starting line before the board
drops for the row behind you. When the 30-second board was raised for
the class lined up behind me, I pushed my bike to a spectator area and
made a few more attempts to get the engine running. Matt witnessed this
and gave me a shout, possibly for encouragement but probably for
harassment. Hare scramble etiquette dictates that when the 15-second
board is up and the next class is set to start, spodes like me should
refrain from attempting to start their bikes until the board drops and they
are on their way - somewhat like a call for quiet during a tee-off.

I resumed my frantic kicking, trying various combinations of fuel-on/no
throttle, throttle/fuel-off, throttle/fuel-on with swearing, no throttle/fuel-off
with begging, pleading, and more swear words. Finally, as the 30-second
board went up for Matt's Open B class, the engine fired and I made my
way towards the first corner in 2nd gear while fumbling to turn the gas
tank petcock back to the "on" position. In case you are wondering, the
answer is yes, I had remembered to turn on the gas prior to the
occurrence of all these events.

The only real upside to starting 90 seconds later than the rest of my class
is that the riders were well-spaced by the time I finally caught up. I was
able to focus on passing one rider at a time, rather than groups of riders.
Being relatively new to the Vet class, I had no idea who was or wasn't in
my class, so everyone was fair game. I passed early and I passed often,
using the block pass and my personal favorite, the "bump pass", as
effectively as ever. Since a large portion of the course was singletrack, I
chose my lines carefully and somehow managed not to fall while taking
out, I mean, passing other riders. Lap times would later show that I made it
through half the Vet class pack on the first lap.

I continued to make progress on the second loop, with a time only 4
seconds slower than the quickest lap recorded for the Vet class, Neal
Soenksen's 37:57 lap that vaulted him from 5th to 1st at the start of lap 3.
A quick look at my watch suggested that I could probably do 4 laps, but
barely, and I'd be racing well past the 2.5 hour mark as I finished my final
lap. Fuel capacity became a slight concern as I began the third lap.
Should I stop and put in a splash of gas to start the 4th lap? Before I
could think about it any further, I dumped the bike going around a tight
corner and a couple guys that I'd already passed got around me. I was
able to pass them back in short order, but then the bike began acting as if
one of the brakes was locking up. I let off the throttle and came to a very
rapid stop without even trying. After examining both calipers and seeing
nothing visibly wrong, I noticed that the rear brake lever was locked in its
down position. I yanked on it a couple times and heard the satisfying
"plop" of a small stone fall to the ground, and like magic, the brake
unlocked. Although I'd come within 10 seconds of K-Ruck at the end of
the second lap, this delay on lap 3 ruined my chances of catching him.

At least 10 guys had passed by while I was parked on the trail, including
who I assumed to be Steve Crews on his Kawasaki. I finally caught up to
him on my 4th and final lap and managed to follow him for several miles.
But I took a minor spill that ended with me and the bike at rest against a
fallen tree, and Steve increased his lead. After the race I would discover
that the tree had left my seat cover with a huge hole in the top center,
directly underneath my backside. This was the seat I had borrowed from
my old EXC because it is softer and has better grip for what I assumed
would be a muddy race at Columbia the week before. I had intended to
remove it and use the MXC seat at Bixby, but naturally I was too lazy to
spend the approximately 25 seconds it would have taken to do the swap.
So now I have an EXC that I'm trying to sell with a massive hole in the seat
cover.

Later in the 4th lap, I caught back up to Steve and got around him near
the end of the lap. I finished in 3rd place, a couple minutes behind K-Ruck
and the Vet class winner, Rick Kinkelaar. In the Open B class, Matt had
one of his best rides, finishing in 3rd place. The overall victory went to
Steve Leivan, who blazed his way to his first victory of the year.

April 13, 2003
Westphalia, Missouri
3rd of 17 in Vet
April weather in Missouri is always hit-or-miss, but this day was just about
perfect for Round 4 of the MHSC series near Westphalia. Once again,
parking was plentiful as the ATV race was held the previous day. Matt and
I took an early practice lap and found some familiar ATV trails mixed with
two sections of new singletrack. The new trails had been ridden sparingly,
and I was reminded of the annual White City enduro as I refined my
arrow-navigating skills.

Near the starting line, I took some time to practice my starting routine and
figure out what I had been doing wrong the previous two races.
Apparently the bike doesn't like that last blip of throttle while the kill switch
is on. Or maybe the bike just doesn't like me. Anyway, after a couple of
successful practice starts I lined up near the inside of the Vet class row.
After further review, I could see two lines at the left-hand turn into the
woods. The inside line looked to be a sharp, abrupt turn, while the outside
line appeared to be a faster, sweeping turn. I moved over to the right side
of our row, thinking I could get a better approach to the outside line into
the woods and carry more speed. My theory didn't look so good when
Doug Stone, lined up on the far left side of the AA row, easily got the
holeshot by taking the inside line. When the board dropped for the Vet
class, my bike started on the first kick, but I got pushed too far to the
outside and was mid-pack at the first turn.

The first couple miles of the course were tight ATV trails, with passing
opportunities limited and challenging. Some creative lines got me around
a few guys and the pack was spread out by the time we entered the first
wide-open blast through a pasture. With little rain the previous week, the
open areas were very dusty and I was riding blind whenever more than a
couple bikes were ahead of me. We cruised through a fun section of open
woods and continued on the ATV trails for another mile or two. The first
stage of new singletrack was much more established by now, which meant
the rocks were at least visible. I had put on a new SDG tall-soft seat to
replace the concrete slab that KTM calls seat foam, and for the first time
on the MXC I didn't notice my bony ass getting spanked the whole ride. To
give you an idea of how hard the KTM seat is, think of the last time you
visited the primate house at the zoo. Think about those monkeys with
bright red posteriors that scream "I was just dragged on my bare butt over
pea-gravel for three miles." Yeah, that's me after two hours on a KTM
seat.

Back to the race...the middle part of the course had an interesting run
through a narrow creek bed that was clogged with riders the first time
through. From there it was a drag race to a grass track that contained a
set of terraces that doubled as awesome 3rd and 4th gear jumps. The
track had been laid out so that some of the turns were placed around the
terraces, so we were jumping at an angle. On our first pass through this
section, lines had developed in the grass and it was kind of fun to blast
through the series of jumps and 180-degree turns. After another drag
race to exit the grass track, we were routed back into the woods and
entered the second stage of virgin singletrack. This section was nearly
Illinois-style, with dense woods and only one way through the initial
quarter-mile.

I came through the scoring lane in 6th place after the first lap. By that time
Steve Crews had broken out into the lead and would not be challenged
the rest of the race. I passed Elston Moore, Jerry McCasland, and Wade
Hall somewhere in the 2nd lap, but Elston and Matt Weis were right on my
tail. In the terrace section, the EMT crew was attending to 200C rider
Jason Clark, unconscious after a nasty get-off  (Uncle K-Ruck thinks he
needs a steering damper). Matt Weis came flying by a passed me within
the first mile of lap 3, making a charge to the front of the pack that put him
in 2nd place by the end of that lap. Elston also got around me on the third
lap but I kept him within shouting distance for the next two laps.

My lap times were showing the potential for 6 laps if I hurried, and that I
did on the 5th lap. The new sections of trail were breaking in nicely but
the faster ATV sections were getting rough. Just after the scoring lane at
the start of my 6th and final lap, the trail dropped down into a gully and
coming out of it I caught a rut that kicked the back end sideways. I kept
the bike on the trail but it stalled and wouldn't fire up right away. The
15-20 seconds I lost might have been the difference between 2nd and 3rd
place, and that incident was the only time-consuming mistake I made the
whole race. After Uncle K-Ruck stopped to check on the status of his
nephew, I had gained some ground. On my last lap I finally caught up to
him in the narrow creek section. The exit of that section had developed
quite a bit of slop and a deepening rut. I cut to the inside of the slop and
K-Ruck took the outside line, and I was able to get around him as his front
wheel slid out. At the time I didn't realize it was him, but as I've learned
many times before, the guy you choose to let by late in the race might just
be the guy who finishes a spot ahead of you (see
Sedalia '00). K-Ruck
put on the heat in a big way, from the drag race to the grassy terrace
section, around the grass track, and back into the woods. I held him off
and pulled away in the singletrack, taking 3rd place and 29th overall.

Matt Weis was only 5 seconds ahead of me at the end, and had I not
stalled the bike I might have had a chance to challenge him. Steve Crews
had a great race and took the win with a healthy margin over Matt, myself,
and K-Ruck. In the overall results, Steve Leivan took another victory by
just a few seconds over Doug Stone. The fight for the 26th thru 32nd  
spots in the overall results was intense, as the 7 riders in that order were
only 20 seconds apart. Another fun, challenging race.
Bixby, Missouri
Westphalia, Missouri