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