2004 Race Reports
April 4, 2004
Lebanon, Missouri
3rd of 16 in A Sportsman
Every once in awhile a personal experience makes a tired old cliché finally
have real meaning. Thanks to the Lebanon opening round of the MHSC, I
can now fully appreciate that sometimes ignorance is bliss. In the middle
of a race when the bike feels different, and not in a good way, but you don’
t know for sure what the problem is, that is ignorance. And when you keep
on riding to a decent finish, not knowing how bad the problem is, that’s
bliss.

Such was the case at Lebanon, a highly technical affair with some
surprisingly challenging obstacles throughout its 8.5-mile course. With
regular riding partner Matt Sellers out of action for the next several weeks
(broken thumb), I teamed up with one of the Boyz from Illinoiz, Jeff Smith,
for the ride to the race site. In the pits, the talk of the ’04 series was the
new “A Sportsman” class, also called “Not Quite Ready For Primetime.”
This class was designed for the 26th through 40th overall finishers from
2003, who are not eligible for the “regular” A class but would typically
dominate their respective B, Vet, Senior, etc. classes. Especially
appealing was a perpetual 3rd row starting line for the A Sportsmen,
instead of the rotating starting line system for non-A classes that often
leaves the fast non-A riders in constant first lap battles to get around
slower riders in classes that start ahead of them.  

When we arrived at the staging area, we saw many jagged rocks poking
out of the grassy pit area and #587 David Brewster changing a flat front
tire on his truck. The rocks had already claimed their first victim and
hardly a bike had been unloaded. We backed up to Pit Row next to Mike
Goforth, fellow A Sportsman, and the rest of the Illinois contingent. After
signup I took some time to ride the KX around the staging area and try out
my new Hebo hydraulic clutch. Unlike me on a Saturday night, it felt
smooth and easy (except I’m easy, pretty much) so I took off for the
practice lap.

What I found was one of the most technically challenging courses ever put
together for a Missouri hare scramble. Within a mile of the start was a
long pass through a creek bed filled with every imaginable type of rock.
Big, small, wet, dry, stationary, moveable, flat, sharp, jagged, you name it,
we rode through it. And that was just the first creek. The second creek
was wider, faster and wetter. Most of it could be ridden in 4th gear and
with some of the water a foot deep or more, it left me completely
drenched. Next up was a very steep hill with a tricky left turn on the way
up, then another small creek with even more rocks. To exit this creek, we
made a hard left up another steep hill with very little approach. I was
already visualizing multiple bottlenecks and I’d traveled less than half the
course. But many of the trails were nice singletrack, some of which
appeared to be new for this race. And the course shared very little with
what the ATV’s had ridden the day before. Still, as soon as I got
comfortable with any part of the trail, a rock ledge would appear, another
hideous creek bed would show up, or a leaning tree would attempt to
separate me from my bike.

At the starting area, I lined up to the inside of #29 Steve Crews and #35
Kevin Ruckdeschell. When the 15-second board dropped, Kevin got a
great start while I was near the middle of the pack. Mike Goforth soon
edged his way around me while we negotiated the fastest of the grass
tracks on the course. Once we entered the woods, the pace was a little
slower than what I felt capable of, but fast enough considering the
abundance of obstacles we would face over the next two hours. On an off-
camber side hill trail, Gary Mittleberg took a minor detour down the side of
the hill and waited as several of us passed. Shortly after, in the first rocky
creek I was able to get around Steve Crews as he battled with another
guy. Next up was Mike Goforth, who got caught behind a rider having
problems and had to watch as I went around both of them. The first lap
was a freight train of Sportsmen, with only 37 seconds separating the lap
leader (K-Ruck) from #237 Elston Moore in the 10th spot.

I began the second lap in 7th place and quickly felt the heat of Gary
Mittleberg close behind on his Yamaha 250 thumper. In the wide, fast
creek, Gary powered his way by, just as we were approaching some
slower riders. With water flying high into the air and limited vision, I
attempted to go around a guy on the far right side of a gravel bar. Just as
I was starting to pass, I noticed a rather large fallen tree hanging several
feet into the creek and directly into my path. In 4th gear, there was not
much I could do except brace for the impact. As luck would have it, the
end of the tree caught the radiator shroud, appeared to have yanked out
the lower shroud bolt, and left nothing except a piece of wood wedged
between the frame and my kickstarter. Or so I thought.

I slowed down to try dislodging the wood from the kickstarter area, then
continued on. A short distance later was the second of the highly
technical creek beds, where I found K-Ruck stopped behind Chili Roberts
on his side. Kevin had lost a few spots earlier on that lap after stalling his
engine (“Took me 3/10ths of a second to restart it and three guys passed
me!”). With Chili on the ground, Kevin let me by but stayed right on my
tail. The hard left exiting the creek had now developed two lines, one to
the inside and the main line up the steep hill. I took the main line and
Kevin cut to the inside, where we met at the top and Kevin let out a loud
whoop to express the fun he was having. I edged by him but knew he
would be in hot pursuit, so I turned up the pace and tried to put some
distance between us.

By the end of the second lap I had worked my way into third place,
knowing full well that my pants had a huge tear where I’d hit the tree limb.
Every time I passed through water, I felt a booty-numbing chill. And the
rubbing against the seat…I was cursing that friggin’ gripper cover. But the
real problem showed up about halfway into the 3rd lap, when I entered a
section of tight singletrack. I noticed the engine struggling for power,
similar to how it feels when the rear brake is dragging or something gets
caught in the chain guide. Or when the engine is running with no coolant. I
couldn’t see it, but the tree limb had made its impact
between the bottom
of the right-side radiator and the pipe. While it didn’t puncture the
radiator, it shoved one of the hoses against the engine, causing a hole
that eventually drained all the coolant. In full-on racer mode, I tried my
best to pretend there was no problem even as #38 Todd passed me and
my weakened KX. I’d blast through a creek and the engine would cool off
and run better, then I’d catch up to Todd again. On the fourth and final
lap, I was trailing him through a section of singletrack and finally stopped
to check the rear wheel. Nothing wrong there, and naturally Mr. Oblivious
didn’t notice the right radiator shroud sticking out a good 3 inches wider
than the left shroud. I caught back up to Todd and had one last chance to
get around him at the top of the steep hill where K-Ruck and I had our
close encounter. He was struggling at the top but got it together just in
time to stay ahead of me. I tried one last alternate line at a rock ledge
bottleneck, but it didn’t work. At that point I was pretty sure it would be
futile to get around him with an ailing bike, so I backed off in hopes of
finishing before the bike gave out.

I made it to the finish line about 15 seconds behind Todd, taking home the
3rd place trophy and 22nd overall. My mangled radiator was quite a hit in
the pits, as were my ass-baring pants. Gary Mittleberg picked up where
he left off last year in the Vet class by winning the ”A-minus” class. Mike
Goforth was fifth-best Sportsman, while K-Ruck was 9th despite stopping
for a couple minutes to help out a guy who had knocked himself silly.
Kudos to Kevin for exemplifying the spirit of our racing community, as he
has done many times in the past (start casting your Racer of the Year
ballots, folks). Caleb Wohletz, to quote Ken Wabel , appeared to be riding
a different course as he took the overall win by nearly six minutes. Tracy
Bauman finished an outstanding second overall, his best-ever result in
the MHSC. Other notable finishers racing in new classes for ’04 were
#587 David Brewster (4th in 250B), #149 Ryan Rohleder (1st in 200C),
and #9 David Taylor (7th in AA). And finally, driving partner Jeff Smith
rode his new CR250, affectionately named Vickie, to a 15th place finish in
the Open C class. Lebanon was a great start to the 2004 MHSC, and with
a new ride and a new class, I’m looking forward to the season.

April 18, 2004
Steelville, Missouri
6th of 12 in A Sportsman
Based on the first two rounds of the MHSC, the planning of the 2004
schedule must have included, at some point, a friendly wager among the
clubs on who could assemble the most technical, challenging motorcycle
course of the series. Round two at Nasty Creek picked up where Lebanon
left off two weeks prior: another rough and tough race on one of the
longer loops seen in quite some time. This race venue was back on the
series schedule after a one-year sabbatical, which gave the club plenty of
time to find some fresh, punishing terrain.

After the tree encounter at Lebanon, my relatively new KX250 was
garnished with some even newer parts, including a right radiator, Devol
radiator guards, Wiseco top end, FMF Gnarly pipe and a fresh set of
radiator shrouds (with graphics, no less). To those of you questioning why
my radiator shrouds are a de facto Pro Circuit advertisement when my KX
goodies include not a single Pro Circuit product, it’s called eBay, folks. Try
it. The KX had been prettified more than any race bike I've ever owned,
far too attractive for the abuse my bikes must withstand. Even the rear tire
was new, but that was only because of poor tire management. Based on
past experience, I try to never use new tires at Nasty Creek because of
the destruction it wreaks on knobbies. But Lebanon was my fourth race on
the same rear tire and it was ready to join the stack of eaten-up rubber in
my basement, destined for cremation in the burn pile by the railroad
tracks back home on the farm (the country boy’s method of recycling).

Upon arrival in the pits, the signup line was already 100 yards long. Kurt
“PizzaMan” Mirtsching, newly sponsored by Miller Lite, stopped by to show
off his helmet cam, which he intended to use out on the course. Kurt had
a huge bulge under his jersey, presumably a bundle of electronic
gadgetry in a backpack but large enough to make me wonder if I’d see
him along the trail enjoying a PizzaMan picnic (the contrast of cultural
sophistication that is PizzaMan, my bet was on proscuitto and brie
sandwiches with rosemary fig confit, washed down with 16-ounce cans of
Miller Lite). As the minutes in line turned into hours, it became clear that I
wouldn't get a full practice lap before the race started. I was able to ride
about 1/3 of the course before being pointed back toward the pit area.
With temperatures in the 80’s and very little rain the previous week, the
course was dry and slightly dusty in the open sections. In one spot, a
large tree was leaning over the trail so low that I was looking eye-to-gas-
cap with the tank as I passed under it. Another tricky section was a climb
out of a ravine with square-edged boulders all the way to the top. Some
sections were moderately tight, others were very fast and wide, and most
trails were rocky and rough.

I lined up next to Gary Mittleberg on the starting line with the idea that
keeping close to him the entire race could pretty much guarantee a good
finish. Other notable riders making their first appearance in the “A-“ class
were my former Open B opponent Matt Coffman and from the Vet class
last year, Matt Weis. The starting area was in the same open field used in
past races, and I assumed my usual mid-pack position at the first turn.
Before entering the woods, we weaved back and forth across the pasture,
over an earthen dam, and then into the trees. I followed Kevin
Ruckdeschell under the leaning tree, then passed by him after he stalled
at the bottom of a rocky ravine. Heading up the first boulder-filled hill, I
could feel #38 Todd Corwin on my back tire. The KX struggled up the
rocky hill while Todd’s KTM 4-stroke seemed to climb with ease. I rode
pretty poorly those first couple miles and Todd was growing impatient.
While his exact words were difficult to make out, I believe they included
“This is not the Trail Rider class” and “Please move over before I make
traction out of your helmet.” I held off Todd until we reached the point in
the course where I had been waived back to the pits on the practice lap.
Shortly thereafter I came around a tight corner leading down a steep hill
and couldn't react quickly enough to avoid a large tree that wasn't visible
until it was too late. I grabbed too much front brake and the bike fell over.
The KX stopped but I rolled another 30 feet down the trail and watched as
Todd got by, then #487 Tom Huber, #425 Rick Helmick, and #121 Matt
Coffman. A small tree had wedged its way between the front wheel and
fender, and I struggled to get the bike upright. After several kicks, the
engine finally fired up and I got back on track. But the warm weather and
the effort of righting the bike made me feel tired and lethargic. A few
minutes later I was just getting back up to speed, and eventually I caught
up to Tom and Rick. I followed them for several miles, getting close to
Tom and his Yamaha in the fast open trails and then watching him pull
away in the tight stuff.

One of the highlights of the course was a long stretch of old horse trail
along a creek. The path was a couple feet wide, flat, mostly straight and
free of rocks and trees. Tom and Rick led me through this section the first
time and it was a blast in 5th gear. In the twisty trails that followed, Tom
put on some distance but I closed the gap when the trail opened up near
the end of the lap. A mile into the second lap, Tom waived me by after we
crossed over the earthen dam. I led for a couple miles until the next nasty
rock climb, where Tom’s 4-stroke scaled the hill as easily as Todd
Corwin's KTM the previous lap. Again, I followed Tom and traded spots
with him now and again. At the end of the lap I was 13 seconds behind
him and had just realized I’d neglected my pre-race ritual of putting band-
aids on my thumbs. My blistering thumb on my throttle hand would irritate
me all 13.4 miles of the last lap.

At the exact same place Tom Huber had waived me by on the previous
lap, I caught up to him on the final lap and once again he motioned for me
to pass. I finally found my groove and posted my quickest lap of the day,
but by that time it was too late. I was able to hold off Tom on the last lap
but Todd Corwin, one spot ahead in 5th place, was already several
minutes in front of me. A mistake-free, aggressive ride is about the only
way to finish near the top of the A Sportsman class, and on this day I was
off my game for most of the race. But it was still a fun day on a
challenging course. Crafty veteran Steve Leivan held off young gun Caleb
Wohletz for the overall win, in another battle of youth versus experience.
Lebanon, Missouri
Steelville, Missouri
Not good.
No wonder my ass
was so cold.
Me being chased
down by Todd Corwin