June 1, 2003
2nd of 13 in Vet (11th overall)
Experienced racers know that simple things are often the difference
between winning and losing. Simple things like Loctite, the stuff that
keeps KTM's, those paint shakers on wheels, from shedding their bolts.
One would expect that after owning KTM's since 1999, I would fully
understand and appreciate the consequences of absent-minded bike
But this is me we're talkin' about.
Matt and I drove down to Marshfield in his new Chevy 1500 HD with 4
doors, leather seats (heated), a really big engine, and New Car Smell
(standard). I remember a time when a Silverado was the quintessential
farm truck, parked next to F-150's at the town café, lightly coated in
gravel dust, a soybean-encrusted vinyl front seat (bench), an interior
aroma of dirt, sweat, and corn, and more often than not, a grungy farm
dog along for the ride. Times have changed, and I ain't complaining.
There was certainly no griping about the weather, as the day was about
as pleasant as anyone could have hoped for in June.
After signup we watched the last of the ATV racers cross the creek just
before the scoring trailer. The riders were only moderately muddy, which
suggested a relatively dry course. The practice lap confirmed this,
although a few mud holes were scattered throughout. The first half of the
10-mile course was bike-only singletrack, some trails freshly cut and most
very tight. Along with paper-plate mile markers stapled to trees, the
course workers added encouraging paper-plate messages like "Got Arm
Pump?" and "If You Can Read This You Might Want To Start Using the
Throttle." This part of the course seemed never to end, and as the miles
passed the paper-plate taunting became bolder. While I cannot confirm
this, I believe one message read "Trees Are Moving Faster Than You."
After bouncing off nearly every rock and tree in the practice lap, I had my
sights set on nothing more than finishing in the top half of the Vet class.
Like the '02 Marshfield race, I didn't feel like I ever found my groove.
Earlier in the week I had replaced the Brembo master cylinder with a
Nissin (Honda-style) and added sintered metal front brake pads after
Kahoka chewed up the old ones and asked for seconds. The sintered
metal pads had not yet broken in and are less "grippy" to begin with, so
the faster, more open part of the course gave me plenty of
sphincter-tightening moments. Back in the pits, I topped off the gas tank
and lined up next to K-Ruck #94 on the starting line.
When the 15-second board dropped, I kicked the engine to life and saw
K-Ruck blast off beside me. He was a good 5 feet ahead of me before I
could even let out the clutch, which I promptly dumped like an 11-year-old
learning to ride for the first time. The bike stalled, took two kicks to re-fire,
and I was dead last heading into the first turn. The course began with a
short grass track, where I passed one guy, then a high-speed section
next to the pits. Just before we entered the woods, a guy went down while
braking around a turn. Two down, ten to go.
Inside the woods, I made some progress despite the lack of passing
opportunities. A couple miles into the course was a tricky step-up on a
small hill, infested with roots and rocks. This spot had given me fits on the
practice lap and was now holding up a number of riders, but I avoided the
bottleneck by taking an alternate line to the right. After that, traffic thinned
out. In these instances, coming back from dead last, I generally have no
idea what position I'm in or how many guys are ahead of me. Near the
end of the tight singletrack, I advanced on Neal Soenksen and his familiar
all-gray KTM. Neal always sets a fast pace, so in catching up to him I
figured I was finding my groove. For the first time in racing history, I had
actually made a mental note of a passing opportunity during the practice
lap, at a point where Neal and I were rapidly approaching. One
squared-off corner later, the pass was made and I pushed ahead.
In the second half of the course, I blazed through the ATV trails and
caught up with Tom Eidam, Senior class fast guy and MHSC scorekeeper.
As I approached him, Tom collected a nasty bark sample, bounced off a
tree and crashed hard ("Scared the s--- out of me," he would say after
the race). He gave me the thumbs-up sign and I charged onward. As I
came to the final creek crossing before the scoring trailer, K-Ruck was
pulling into the scoring lane. Beyond the trailer the course continued
straight and K-Ruck inexplicably turned right, victim of a navigational
error. I passed through the grass track where the race had begun and
met up with him where the pit area started. The fair racer that he is, Kevin
let me by and unbeknownst to me, I was now leading.
During the second lap I put a few seconds on K-Ruck and kept riding
hard, figuring the other fast guys in our class were still ahead. The two
largest mud holes in the first half of the course were deepening, but still
passable. In the second half I dumped the bike around a corner and
tumbled down a hill, but no harm done. I remounted and finished the lap
in the lead position. On Lap 3, Kevin caught back up to me near the end
of the singletrack. The course dropped us down into a wide-open
quarter-mile stretch of pasture, where I slowed to pull out a small tree
branch lodged in the pipe. Kevin flew by and I followed him for the
remainder of the lap. The two of us were running strong, but lurking
behind us and setting a blistering pace were Elston Moore and Steve
On the final lap, I waited for an opportunity to get around Kevin and found
it at a creek crossing in the singletrack. The main trail went wide right to
avoid some tree roots on the opposite creek bank. On the practice lap I
had tried the straighter line over the roots, but didn't think it was any
faster. Even so, I gave it a try and squeezed in ahead of Kevin where the
trails converged. After another mile or so I couldn't hear him behind me.
In a section of winding grass track I looked back and saw who I thought
was Kevin just emerging from the woods, maybe 10 seconds behind. In
the last high-speed run through the pasture, I let off a bit to take a drink
from my Camelbak, and got passed by...Kevin? In stealth mode, he beat
me to the woods and I followed him for several miles. I had one last
passing opportunity in mind, a creek crossing that had been slightly
re-routed. I figured Kevin would take the safe line to the left, and I'd
charge through the more risky (but shorter) main line.
I never got the opportunity. In a run through a dry creek bed, I let the
back wheel slide out on a side hill and Kevin was gone. After that minor
fall, the front brake assembly became loose around the handlebar,
thanks to a lack of Loctite on the bolts that clamp it tight. While the brake
was still usable, it didn't exactly inspire confidence in the higher-speed
ATV trails. Around the 8-mile marker I heard the unmistakable buzz of a
small bore engine, gradually closing in on me. Closer and closer it came,
and I had a suspicion it might be Steve Crews, a Fredette-like freak (and I
mean that in the best possible way) who can ride a KDX200 very, very
fast. I held him off until the last creek crossing before the scoring trailer,
where he did a kamikaze charge through the creek and beat me to the
scoring lane. We congratulated each other, and soon after Elston Moore
came through, followed by K-Ruck. Somewhere in those last couple of
miles Kevin dropped his bike, dropping from 1st to 4th. I felt his pain after
the race when I realized I gave up the win in the last 100 feet, which
reminded me of how I felt when Matt passed me in the last 300 yards of
the Sedalia race in 2000.
Even so, it was a good ride, more fun than the Bush twins, and I was
shocked to see my name in the #11 spot in the overall standings. The Vet
class placed four riders in the top 20, a testament to our competitiveness.
Doug Stone took the overall win, followed closely by Steve Leivan. Tom
Eidam recovered from his bark sampling and won the Senior class. Matt
equaled his best finish in the Open B class, taking home the third place
June 15, 2003
1st in Vet A (4th overall)
Sounds pretty impressive, eh? It's not, really, when you consider that I
was the sole member of my class and only 22 guys showed up to race. I
continue to be confounded by the organization of District 17 hare
scrambles, as there were two AMA-sanctioned races scheduled on this
day (the other in Northern Illinois). When two clubs have to compete for
the same set of riders, nobody wins...but I digress.
The South Fork Dirt Riders hosted the race on their club grounds
adjacent to Route 104 and easily accessible from I-55. If you are
fascinated with electrical power generation (and who isn't?), the road to
South Fork passes through Dominion Energy's Kincaid power plant, a
1,108 mega-watt coal-fire-breathing mass of concrete and steel. The
club's name is derived not from the famous cattle ranch in Texas, but
from the South Fork creek that borders the property. A nicely constructed
motocross track is the center point of the gently rolling property.
Each year I try to take in a couple of D-17 races to hone my mud-riding
skills, and South Fork did not disappoint. The thick clay soil inside the
woods was still wet from a few inches of rain the previous week, but
wherever the sun was able to shine, the clay was dusty and hard as
concrete. A pre-race walk through most of the course revealed
surprisingly wide, fast trails in open woods and grass tracks. Ruts and
depressions in the hard clay were filled with standing water, most of it
crap-brown and smelly, the kind even your dog wouldn't drink. The creek
had risen just above its banks and was encroaching on the trail in several
places. In one spot, the trail appeared to continue following the creek, but
sparsely placed arrows pointed left to avoid a deep, water-filled hole.
Anyone missing the turn was going for a swim.
With so few riders, the start was only two rows, one for the trail riders and
another for everyone else. I took a wide line into the first turn and was
about mid-pack through a half-mile of grass track. Several man-made
jumps made things interesting before we turned into the woods. The trail
was sloppy, but the tightly packed clay was difficult for the rear tires to
chew up and no significant ruts developed. Passing opportunities were
ample as we followed the creek. In one of the few "virgin" sections of
woods (about 100 yards in total) I managed to clip a tree with my
handguard and crashed, nearly damaging a highly sensitive area of my
body with the end of the handlebar. I remounted quickly but the small
group I had followed was long gone.
We exited the woods on a very rough, high-speed section of the property.
The hard clay was causing an abnormal amount of headshake in 5th
gear, the kind where you wonder if you'd still be on the bike if not for the
steering damper. As we re-entered the woods, I caught up to one of the
guys I had followed before crashing. He missed the arrow directing us
around the deep water hole and took a plunge, his race surely over on
the first lap (a few laps later I saw a Suzuki turned upside down near the
water hole, having water drained from the engine, apparently victim #2).
The last section of the course was basically motocross in the grass, with
some medium-sized jumps that would have been fun if not for the
landings. This part of the course I had not walked before the race and
after the first jump wished I had. I launched the bike over the center of the
jump and was shocked to see a large water-filled, deeply rutted mud pit in
the landing zone. RC could have cleared the mud pit with ease, but I
landed in the center and somehow kept the bike on two wheels. The next
two jumps were more of the same, but I went wide left and missed the
worst of the mud landings.
In about 12 minutes I had completed the first of what would be many laps
around the course. With such a small turnout, the trails stayed in decent
shape and I did my best to clear out the water-filled ruts. In the open
areas, some of the stagnant pools of water had been baked by the sun
long enough to be warm as I splashed through. The next hour went by
quickly and I began catching up to the trail riders. Passing was very, very
easy. On my last lap I came up on a guy laboring through a slimy mud
hole, his back tire spinning aimlessly, no momentum, and both feet
hanging out for balance. Nine years ago, almost to the day, that was me. I
did my first race on Father's Day in 1994. As I flew by this struggling rider,
I had a thought: I've come a long way, and it sure feels good.
|South Fork - with oil wells
|South Fork - no oil wells