2003 Race Reports
October 5, 2003
Warrensburg, Missouri
4th of 16 in A class
When I started racing 9 years ago, hare scrambles starting lines were
ruled by the four primary colors of off-roading at that time: red, green,
blue, and yellow. A few KTM's and Husky's would break up complete
Japanese dominance, but if you weren't riding a KDX, RMX, WR
(2-stroke), XR or converted motocrosser, you were generally considered
to have an abnormal affinity for quirky European dirt bikes and a lot more
money than most folks to spend on parts.

Fast-forward to a hare scramble near you, and the Japanese have lost a
lot of ground. If not for a healthy amount of Yamaha Blue (thumpers,
primarily), the Far East would be a bit player in the off-road racing scene.
With so many good woods bikes to choose from these days, it's guys like
me, riding green motocross bikes in the woods, who are the
nonconformists of the off-road world. Strolling through the staging area of
the Warrensburg property, I could just about count on one hand the
number of green bikes in attendance. This race was part of the Kansas
Offroad series, which occasionally ventures eastward into Missouri.
Sometimes referred to as Knob Noster, the Warrensburg course is one of
my favorites, with lots of singletrack and fewer rocks than most Missouri
venues.

The course was laid out in reverse, more or less, of the earlier MHSC race
in June. Conditions were nearly identical, with mostly dry trails, moderate
temperatures and very little dust. The Warrensburg property has some
interesting features that make for challenging, but fun, racing. The
promoters like to make use of small streams that carve out narrow
passages paved with silt and rocks. Some were very tight; others were
more open and fast, but they all eventually dumped into the main creek
that passes through the property. The first deepwater crossing came
where one of the smaller streams flowed into the creek. After a fast run
through this stream, we made a hard left turn where it dumped into the
creek, then rode 30 yards upstream (or downstream - couldn't tell) in
about 18 inches of water. The right half of the creek had been marked off
with yellow tape, presumably to keep us out of deeper water on the far
side. Where the yellow tape ended, we made a hard right and exited the
creek at the wide crossing nearest the staging area. The 90-degree turn
in the center of the creek was a bit tricky, as the murky water clouded my
view of the rocks. After my previous race at Eugene, in which I tested the
KTM's underwater capacity (it failed miserably), I rode very carefully
through this section. Later in the course, the crossing that returned us
back to the staging area was much easier because the water there wasn't
very deep, but the climb up the creek bank was steep. The main route up
the opposite bank was off-camber and sure to be sloppy after a couple
laps.

At the starting line, the A class was large and full of familiar MHSC
regulars, including Zach Bryant, Gary Pilant, Brad Crain, Ralph Gerding,
and others. Said AA rider Brian Jahelka after the race, "I didn't like turning
around and counting 17 bikes that would like to run me over..." As the
board dropped, the KX fired up and I dumped the clutch. I heard the whine
of an over-revving engine and that was about it. The bike was in
neutral...oops. I kicked it in gear and raced to the first corner, near the
back of the pack. In my first venture into the A class, I didn't have great
expectations of a high finish and tried to remind myself of that. I was there
to test out the KX under full-on race conditions. But I still wanted to keep
up with the pack.

With help from a few mistakes by other riders, I moved up a couple spots
early in the race. Zach Bryant and another guy got tangled up in the first
half of the course and appeared to have taken it out on a tree that was
missing large chunks of bark at foot peg and handlebar levels. In a
section of new trail, fast guy Caleb Wohletz was pulled over, victim of a
loose oil drain bolt. Zach stopped to help and later brought back some oil
after a pit stop, which explained why I never again heard his
throttle-pinned RM125 behind me. The first lap went smoothly and the A
class gradually spread out. I settled in behind a guy on a KTM 4-stroke
who was keeping up a good pace despite the fact that his pants were
nearly falling off. For two laps I had full view of the guy's half-moon (with
crack). Had the course been at all muddy, the pants would have been
around his knees. I passed him after he got hung up on some tree roots,
but the big thumper blew by me in one of the open areas so I had to look
at his ass for another lap.

In woods mode, the KX did remarkably well on the 9-mile course. A couple
more clicks of rebound on the fork would have helped, and finding easier
clutch pull will need to be a priority, but the bike flat-out rips. As I was
warned, the KX does require more effort to ride fast for extended periods
of time, as the narrower power band begs to be ridden aggressively. But
the rewards for this kind of intense riding are sweet. A mile or so after the
main creek crossing was a long grass track with some nice berms around
the corners. The KX shined in this section, producing healthy bursts of
power out of every corner. In the wide-open grass straights, it felt much
more stable than the KTM, with less headshake. On the downside, the KX
is loud. Above ¾ throttle, I don't envy guys riding behind me. It also
doesn't have as tight a turning radius as KTM's and has no adjustable
steering stops. Near the end of the course was a very tight 90-degree left
turn down a steep ravine marked "Hard" (the "Easy" route was apparently
longer, though I never tried it), and I struggled to get the KX turned
sharply enough to make the corner. Other than that, I had no complaints.
The forks were much less harsh than the 43mm WP's with which KTM
cursed its bikes from 2000-02.
W.E.R. did an excellent job with the valving
on both ends. Best of all, the front brake is firm as Jennifer Garner's abs
(that's firm, trust me).

At the end of Lap 1, I was in 10th place behind the guy I'll call Britches.
We both moved up a spot in the second lap, and began our third lap just
a few seconds apart. Somewhere during Lap 3 we both passed Gary
Pilant, and in the second half of the lap Britches appeared to be tiring. I
was on his back wheel in the section of new trails but he maintained just
enough speed to make it difficult to pass. Finally, as we dropped down a
steep creek bank to cross back over the deep water, Britches let me by.
As the white flag came out, I ended the third lap in 7th place with Britches
hanging close behind. He fell off the pace on Lap 4 while I continued to
ride faster. By the end of the fourth lap I had caught up to Kansas regular
Dan Johnson on his KTM, but since I had seen the white flag on the third
lap, I thought the fourth lap would be my last. However, no flag was
displayed at the end of the lap and I began a 5th and final journey around
the course.

After I had slowed down thinking my race was over, Dan Johnson pulled
away. But within a half-mile I caught him in the short run through the small
creek that dumped into the deep water. Despite my concerns with again
submerging my bike, I attempted a pass. As we made the 90-degree turn
in the center of the creek, I charged through the water and used the KX's
nitrous-like powerband to exit the creek just ahead of Dan. I have to
admit, dumping the clutch and flying up that creek bank was pretty cool. It
may not be as easy to ride in the woods as a KTM, but there's something
to be said about having that burst of power from a motocross-tuned
engine.

I held off Dan for the remainder of the last lap and finished in 4th place in
the A class and 9th overall. My lap times showed that I rode faster each
lap, which was very satisfying in light of the warnings given by several
former MX-bike woods racers that a motocross bike would wear me out
(I'm talkin' about you, K-Ruck). Expect to see more of the Green Machine
in '04.

October 26, 2003
White City, Illinois
3rd in +30A
Looking back at the 86 events I've entered and reported on during my
time here in St. Louis, White City is the only venue that I've attended at
least once every year. At each race, I either love it or hate it, but more
often than not I have a great time. Sunday's race had the makings of a
tough challenge after steady rains on Saturday, but the showers fell
sparingly over the Cahokia Creek club grounds and the course was in
good shape.

Like most of our trips across the river in Illinois, Matt was less than
enthusiastic about racing in what we expected would be mud. Don't get
me wrong, anyone who is kind enough to e-mail me photos of panty-less
Hilton sisters has got to be flowing with testosterone, but sometimes Matt
sounds like a girl when it comes to riding wet Illinois trails. When we
arrived at the club grounds, the sun was shining and the course looked to
be in better condition than we had expected. The light rains from the day
before left the exposed surfaces slick, but we guessed that after one lap
the course would tack up and offer plenty of traction. In some places the
club had been thoughtful enough to remove crab apples from the main
line of the trail. Anyone who's ever had a surprise encounter with those
green, soft-ball-sized bastards can appreciate their removal.

To the east of the staging area was a little 5-turn dirt track that served as
a warm-up area for the bikes. The KX really does love to be thrown into a
berm wide open, but a motocross bike rarely gets ridden to its full
potential by a to-the-core woods rider like me. To put it mildly, I'd suck at a
Six Days enduro. That brief ride would be the only warm-up for the bike
and my already pumped-up arms, since there are no practice laps at
Cahokia Creek. At the rider's meeting, it was announced that the course
would be 10.7 miles long and we should "stay on the grass track." As I
would find out later, there was a good reason for that warning.

At the starting line I took a position on the right side of the first row, which
included all the various A classes. To my right, I saw fast guy John Yarnell
riding a '03 KX250, just like me. Yarnell picked up his new ride at about
the same time I did during the summer and naturally, his looked prettier
than mine. I'm fairly certain it had seen less time on its side or upside
down against a tree, like my poor KX during its inaugural ride at St. Joe
State Park after a crash that had left Matt particularly impressed (I believe
in complete break-in rides that should include the destruction of at least
one major bike component). My KX fired up easily as the flag dropped,
and I sprinted straight ahead to a narrow opening in the woods, about 100
yards ahead. Of the 15 or so guys in the front row, I entered the woods
somewhere in the middle. Just inside the woods, a couple riders passed
me by cutting off a slick corner. Matt and I had seen the shortcut while
walking the course beforehand, but thinking like the smart racer I am not, I
didn't want to give away this great secret. After all, I would surely need
that shortcut later in the race, after dicing with the fast guys for several
laps, so why reveal my superior knowledge of the course any sooner than
I needed to?

Reality set in when at least 5 guys took the shortcut. So much for secrets.
The group of riders ahead of me quickly distanced themselves while I tried
to stay ahead of a screaming Zach Bryant-like small-bore 2-stroke behind
me. I soon gave up and let the guy around. After that, I was pretty much
on my own.

Roughly one-third of the course was on the opposite side of the highway
that paralleled the club grounds. We had passed under the road bridge
over Cahokia Creek and crossed the creek a mile or so later. The
toughest hill on the course was just after the creek crossing, but it wasn't
much of a problem in dry dirt (I've scaled that hill when the course was
muddy, and it's a bear of a climb). By this time my arms were severely
pumped up, and the stiff pull of the KX's clutch lever was wearing on me.
But by the time we passed back under the highway bridge, I had relaxed
enough that I didn't notice my arms very much for the rest of the race.

The White City course is mostly smooth dirt when dry or sloppy mud when
wet, but it does have very brief sand whoops along the creek and some
Missouri-style rocks around the road bridge. But these sections were just
a tiny fraction of the beautiful trails that had been laid out for this race.
After crossing the creek a second time, a couple guys caught up and
passed me. A few minutes later I overshot a turn, had some trouble
getting turned around, and two more guys passed me. I was able to catch
up to this second pair of riders and re-passed one of them by taking an
inside line down a steep hill, but I followed the other guy closely for the
rest of the lap.

Somewhere in the middle of the club grounds is a large grassy area that
has been used minimally for past races, usually just the perimeter. This
time, a long grass track had been laid out. When I say long, I mean really,
really long....probably two continuous miles. Due to its length, it was not
staked out with yellow ribbon, which is why we were warned to stay on the
established path (spotters were on hand to keep riders reasonably on
course). Back inside the woods, the course ended after another mile or
so. The guy I had been following the second half of the lap checked in
through the "A" barrels and continued moving along at an aggressive
pace. I couldn't get close enough to make a pass in the trails north of the
highway and as usual, I followed his lines in places where I should have
known there were shortcuts. About half of the second lap was spent trying
to find a way around, but then he appeared to tire out a bit. After planting
my front tire next to his leg a couple times, he let me around just before a
muddy section that cut through a field of 6-foot-tall reeds. I was able to
make it through this section without incident, unlike my first time through
when I slid out around a corner. Soon enough, I was all by myself in the
woods.

On the third lap I encountered the first group of lappers who were kind
enough to clear out of the way. I felt like I was making good time but
pushing a bit beyond my comfort zone. This was confirmed just after the
second creek crossing, on a well-traveled line up a hill that was chopped
up from previous mud races. Both of my feet slipped off the pegs and I
rode most of the way up the hill superman-style with my only my arms
attached to the bike and the "twins" smacking against the rear fender.
With that, I backed off a little and finished the lap without incident.

The fourth and final lap was more of the same. Fun trails, at this point
plenty tacky, and the bike continued running perfectly. I had upped the
rebound damping on both ends after feeling a little too much bounce at
Warrensburg, and apparently it did the trick. I didn't notice the suspension
at all during the race, other than the fact that it was there and it was doing
exactly what I paid W.E.R. to make it do. At the grass track I slowly reeled
in a guy on a Gas Gas and passed him just before we entered the last
mile of woods. Somewhere in the KX literature I read that it has some sort
of two-stage power valve, and on the grass track I could feel the second
stage kick in. Each time the engine reached this point, it would try to make
the back tire spin on the grass in 5th gear. Very cool. And I continued to
be impressed with the KX's stability at speed. I've got it geared with a
14/50 sprocket combo, which gives me nearly the same final gear ratios
as my 300MXC, but somehow it seems a bit faster on top. Or maybe the
lack of headshake just makes me feel like I'm riding faster. Either way, it
felt good.

I ended the race in 3rd place in the +30A class and had money coming if
I'd stuck around. But my ride was leaving. Even so, it was nice to be home
by 4:00 and have time to wash the bike and gear and reflect on another
fun race at White City.
Warrensburg, MO
White City, Illinois
My new ride