September 12, 2004
Fosterburg, Illinois
1st in A Intermediate
Getting a lot from a little is something the Splinter Creek Dirt Riders
do very well. Their club property near Fosterburg is no more than 80
acres, yet the hare scramble loop laid out for this race was nearly 5
miles in length. With help from tight, twisty trails and generous use of
the club’s motocross track, the course challenged many riders to
complete laps in less than 20 minutes. The day before the race I was
given an advance preview, helping friend and club member Jeff Smith
sort out potential trouble spots. The course was a mix of old
singletrack and ATV trails, some freshly cut new trails, and a nearly
full run through the motocross track.

In the pits on Sunday morning were several MHSC regulars who had
made the trip across the river. Matt Sellers, Mark Gay and Keith Voss
were already set up when I arrived, and John Yarnell pulled in shortly
after I did. A fellow KX250 racer, John had asked me to bring along
my fancy $1.50 PVC fork cartridge holder and I has happy to show it
off. My limited abilities on a dirt bike may someday fade, but I will
always be the King of Cheap.

Mark Gay and I were the only A class participants on the first row of
the starting line, placed in its usual spot on the motocross course.
The hare scrambler that I am, I had little interest in doing anything
with the jumps except rolling over them. This plan presented a mild
conundrum for a guy on the first row: presumably, the other race
participants and the spectators gathered in the stands would be
expecting the fast guys to clear the doubles and the tabletops. If that
were the case, they would be sorely disappointed. Neither Mark nor I
attempted any of the doubles or tabletops. The discomfort of the
motocross track ended quickly when we entered the woods. Mark led
the way and kicked up some minor dust on the dry course. Club
member Mike Goforth, not entered in the race but willing to eat some
dust for fun, dropped in behind me. The bike route jumped in and out
of the ATV course, and much like the Florence race in July, the
various lines the ATV’s had established during their race weren't
ideally suited for motorcycles. Mark was cruising a few seconds
ahead and Mike was on my back wheel the whole first lap. For a guy
about to have rotator cuff surgery, Mike was riding very well on his
home course.

On the second lap, Mark began to pull away and John Yarnell caught
up from the second row. The course was gradually breaking in its
own lines where the ATV’s had ridden and the freshly cut new trails
were gaining some definition. After John passed me, he quickly faded
from sight until about a mile from the motocross track, where he was
on his side. The dry hard-pack soil was a bit slick on flat corners, a
discovery John made the hard way.

I caught up to the first group of lappers on the third lap, passing one
with no problem. The second lapper missed a turn where someone
had blown through yellow tape and I followed him off the course. It
was pretty clear I’d made a mistake after seeing no arrows for about
100 yards. Up to that point the course had averaged about one arrow
every 20 feet. Also, I’d been following John Yarnell’s dust cloud after
he had re-mounted and re-passed me just before that, but when I got
back on the marked trail I was breathing clean air. The course weaved
its way back to the motocross track next to the scoring barrels, and
the scorers confirmed that neither Mark nor John had come through
yet. I waited a few minutes until they arrived, first Mark and then John,
and dropped in behind them.

The next four laps went by relatively quickly, but each pass through
the motocross track came with the same anxiety. I wanted to at least
try out my impression of a motocrosser by attempting a double, but at
every opportunity I let off the gas and did each jump one at a time.
The tallest gap between jumps was at the step-up jump ahead of the
tabletop in front of the stands. The idea was to launch off the step-up
jump, clear the gap between it and the face of the tabletop and land
on the downside (or top) of the tabletop. It seemed to be the most
forgiving of all the doubles, but the step-up jump had a steep face
and potential for lots of air. I’d seen an ATV do this jump in the
morning race, but fear of heights kept me off the throttle as I
approached the face of the step-up. I rolled over it with a little too
much speed on lap 5 or so and dropped about six feet straight down
into the chasm that separated the step-up from the tabletop. My
plush suspension, while excellent in the woods, was not designed for
six-foot drops. It was a hard landing.

On my 8th and final lap, I cruised along what were now familiar trails.
This sense of comfort on the course turned into near disaster about a
mile after the motocross track. In a fast, third gear section I braked
hard to make the next turn and found a slight problem. The front
brake was gone, completely. The ensuing panic reminded me of a
story once told by Harold Kronseder of Germany, heir to the Krones
bottling equipment fortune. Harold, at the time solidifying his role in
the Kronseder group of companies as Chief Spender of the Family
Fortune, was skiing in the Alps and admiring the abilities of another
skier weaving through the forest. An accomplished skier himself,
Harold darted into the woods to follow the guy. He kept the skier in
view for a short while, but the guy suddenly disappeared from sight.
An instant later Harold noticed a burst of color and, following another
brief instant, realized what he’d just seen: a parachute. Much like
Harold frantically grasping for anything stationary to stop his
progress, I did the same on the KX250. Good fortune was with me, as
the small trees I slammed into broke before I did.

With that, I limped back to my truck and called it a day. For the first
time in my racing “career”, I took home some cash to go along with a
trophy. It was a good day.

September 19, 2004
Eugene, Missouri
5th of 11 in A Sportsman
In the week leading up to a hare scramble I don’t usually give the
race a whole lot of critical thought, other than reviewing directions to
the race site, planning when to leave in the morning, and estimating
how soon the first round of crap pains will come during the drive. But
in advance of the Eugene hare scramble I made the mistake of
checking the overall MHSC point standings. Decent showings at
Marshfield and Florence had put me comfortably within the top 40
overall, and with a few work average points thrown in, it seemed
reasonable that I could maintain my “official” status as an A
Sportsman even if I didn't earn any more points in the overall scoring.
After further review, however, I decided that only two top 20 finishes
just wouldn't satisfy me. I had to get another.

Two years before, during my run toward the Open B championship,
Eugene had been the first race I’d ever finished in the top 20 without
the help of large quantities of mud. So I knew it was possible to do it
again. But how? I thrive on attrition in the ranks…give me deep mud,
punishing heat or blinding dust and my odds generally improve.
Advance reports from Eugene didn't mention any of that, only perfect
course conditions and a favorable weather forecast. So I decided to
take a different approach. Deep within the archives of the 1980’s
section of my memory, sandwiched between the Pythagorean
Theorum and Dexy's Midnight Runners, was an 1883 quote from Lord
Kelvin, a/k/a William Thompson, a physicist dude who lives eternal in
science textbooks around the world:

…when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it
in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot
measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is
of a meager and unsatisfactory kind.…


So what does that have to do with racing hare scrambles? More than
you might think, actually. Consider this: after you master the ability to
make good decisions on the course, reduce your mistakes and raise
your physical fitness to an adequate level, improvement in technique
is about all that’s left in the quest for more speed. And there’s no
better area to work on than that which we do more than anything else
during a race: turn, turn, turn. On a typical 10-mile course, it wouldn't
be unusual to have 500 directional changes each lap, which sounds
like a lot until you do the math. Then it’s only one turn every 106 feet.
Actually, there could be even more, depending on the course. Who
knows, but if there really are 500 turns on a 10-mile course, then
there’s at least 500 opportunities for improvement. Turning one tenth
of a second quicker through a corner may not seem like much until
you apply it 500 times, which is 50 seconds per lap and 3 minutes, 20
seconds during a four-lap race.

Ready for more numbers? So far this season the time gap between
25th and 20th overall has averaged 2:35, if you throw out the three
races this year where mud influenced the outcomes (Polo, Marshfield,
and Florence). Throwing out my best (12) and worst (105) overall
finishes thus far in the season, my average result is 25th overall. So,
thanks to Lord Kelvin, during the week leading up to the Eugene race
I could express in numbers what I needed to do.
Corner Speed was
my mantra. Every berm, each rutted corner or slightest edge would
be attacked with greater aggression. And I absolutely, positively
would
not be taking a bath in the creek. If that meant walking the bike
through deep water, so be it. My once-a-year limit on draining the
engine of water had already been used up at Florence in July, so
no
mas
.

When Matt and I arrived at the race site and took a practice lap, the
advance reports proved to be correct. The course was in excellent
condition and the weather was beautiful. The first half of the course
was similar to most Missouri races, with moderately fast trails and
plenty of rocks. Near the middle of the course was the first pass
through the infamous 30-foot-wide creek that ran the full length of the
property. It had already claimed its first victim in #85 Jeff Wendell,
who was in the process of removing the spark plug on his Gas Gas
after taking an unplanned swim. Following the creek was a grass
track with about ten 180-degree turns, back and forth, one after
another. Next up was a long section of freshly cut, tight singletrack on
the side of a hill. It was so tight that the KX250 was spitting out a bit
of coolant through its overflow tube as the engine strained to keep
cool. The course ended with a long pass through the creek, which as
usual was filled with boulders and slippery flat rock. The scoring
trailer was positioned next to the creek at about the midpoint of its
straight run through the property, and after being scored we would
start a new lap by dropping back down into the creek and doing
another long, tricky pass through the most boulder-iffic stretch.

On the starting line I picked a spot next to #266 John McDaniel who
was trying out a numberless KTM 200 instead of his usual 300.
Making a rare appearance in the A Sportsman class was last year’s
Veteran champ #29 Steve Crews on his Kawasaki. Kevin Ruckdeshell,
bike-less for the first time in decades, greeted the A Sportsmen on the
line and asked for a show of hands of anyone under the age of 30. No
hands. When the 15-second board dropped, John was nearly a bike
length ahead before I was even moving. A couple more guys passed
me in the short grass track leading up to the woods. We ran at a
modest pace in single file next to an old railroad grade, then followed
a section of singletrack used in past races. The course opened up
where it joined with old ATV trails. I caught up to Steve Crews and
looked to pass him, something that probably wouldn't have been
possible had he been racing the whole season. Slade Morlang,
whose name will surely be used someday in a Hollywood action movie
(“
Incidental Contact, starring The Rock as Slade Morlang, a fearless
bounty hunter seeking revenge for the brutal destruction of his lime-
green I-Pod….”), passed both of us as he made his charge to the
front of the pack. Steve let me around shortly after Slade’s pass and
the pack began to spread out. I passed John McDaniel and #237
Elston Moore after various hang-ups left them stopped briefly along
the trail, but John was on my back tire in no time. I held him off as we
entered the grass track switchbacks, and by that time a pair of KTM
200’s from the 200B class were already caught up to us. Ben
Alexander and Jeremy Wisecup, both destined for the A Intermediate
class in ’05, got around me in the tight section of new singletrack
when I got hung up on a small tree. John also passed me and this
trio of KTM 200’s was long gone by the time I got moving again.

The tight singletrack ended where the long creek began, and I was
extra cautious. Behind me, Elston Moore and his bike were getting a
taste for manure-rich creek water. After checking into the scoring
trailer and re-entering the creek, I downshifted into first gear at the
spot I drowned the bike last year. John Rohleder, a.k.a. Crazy Jesus,
was filming this section for what I can only assume will be years of
laughs.

With the riders now spread out, I spent most of the second lap by
myself. I managed to keep my mind focused on riding hard, unlike
some races where my thoughts occasionally turn to topics such as
television (did
The Apprentice women win the first task because they
were led by a man, or
in spite of him?), dating (I can’t believe that #!
*&^% did [
insert coldhearted action here] to me!!), and other stuff
(sure hope the port-a-potties still have some TP in them). Kevin
Ruckdeshell made an appearance in the woods with video camera in
hand, looking for photo-ops and shouting some words of
encouragement. Other than a minor slide-out around a slippery
corner, I finished the second lap without incident.

The third time around the course I began to lap some riders, most of
who were very accommodating about letting me by. I’d have to say
that’s the most pleasant aspect of riding on the third row each race –
after the A’s and AA’s ahead of me start passing the beginners and C-
riders, by the time I get there the slower riders know the routine. The
section of tight singletrack was a difficult place to pass, but even then
the slower riders did their best to move over. There was a small gully
in the middle of that section that had two large, angular rocks at the
bottom and about 12 inches between them. On the first two passes I’
d made some contact with these rocks, but the third time through I
smacked the right rock hard. I thought it was the pipe that took the
hit, but it was the skid plate, which I've now confirmed is worth its
weight in water pumps.

I continued riding aggressively on the fourth and final lap. In the first
part of that lap I was surprised to see #10 Jon “Spud” Simons on a
rather un-Husky-like bike. His pace was fast enough that I would have
followed him to the end, if needed, but Spud let me by and I finished
the lap with a final, very careful run through the creek. When the
class results were posted, I counted the number of races who’d
finished the four laps more quickly than me. For a top-20 finish, it was
going to be close. When the overall results were posted, I’d squeaked
in by a mere 12 seconds over #588 Jake Johnson in the A
Intermediate class.

I give credit to Lord Kelvin.
Fosterburg, Illinois
Eugene, Missouri
Click on picture to see "before" and "after" pics