2004 Race Reports
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