2004 Race Reports
October 17, 2004
Smithville Lake, Missouri
7th of 17 in A Sportsman
In the battle for hare scramble supremacy in Missouri, the Smithville race
brought an end to another outstanding MHSC season. If there's a better
course outside of Newark and Warrensburg, it's yet to be found. Simply
put, I just can't ride a lap at Smithville without a smile on my face. It’s too
good, especially when the weather is beautiful and the course is in
perfect shape.

Attendance was massive, thanks to Smithville’s proximity to Kansas and
its Forward Motion series racers. Around 260 guys and gals lined up in
the starting area, which was a multicolored sea of bikes and riders. Mr.
Can’t-Buy-a-Good-Start made his presence known with a three kick effort
on the starting line. Even the four-strokes were gone before I was. In the
narrow woods just beyond the first turn, I caught up to the rear of the
pack in a group that included #53 Chili Roberts, #35 Kevin “I Can’t Stand
My KTM But That Won’t Keep Me From Buying Another” Ruckdeschell,
and our newest A Sportsman, 2004 Open B champion Dwayne Parish. A
small pileup about a mile into the course got me around Dwayne and
Chili, and for this small piece of good fortune I was rewarded with a bruise
to my lower leg as I grazed a piece of a motorcycle and/or rider on the
way by. A mile or two later I found K-Ruck on his new KTM 450 thumping
quietly ahead of me. Considering the recentness of his switch from
smoker to stroker, Kevin was riding pretty well. At that point Chili had
remounted and was on my rear wheel. He didn't waste much time passing
both me and Kevin but we all stayed close together. The three of us,
along with Dwayne Parish behind me, checked into the scoring trailer just
a few seconds apart at the end of the first lap.

To start the second lap, we blasted through more than a mile of grass
track that, due to the position of the starting area, wasn't part of the first
lap. Chili and Kevin on their four-strokes were untouchable here, and it
was all I could do to hold off Dwayne. At the woods re-entry point was one
of the trickiest sections of the course, a quarter-mile of rock-bottom
creek/gully that was the only significant mud we encountered. Some
position-swapping occurred on this lap, where or when is no longer clear,
but I moved up five spots from 13th to 8th as I checked into the scoring
trailer to finish lap 2. I do remember passing Kevin at the end of a small
grass track and putting a filthy block pass on Chili where my alternate line
through an off-camber section converged with his. Block passes
generally involve two types of blocking: a) the other rider; and b) from
ears, the expletives shouted by the blocked rider. Since I didn't hear my
own name, specifically, in Chili’s outburst, I assumed he was simply giving
his own self some words of encouragement (arguably, the blocking out of
reality could be considered a third component of the block pass).  He and
#32 Matt Weis were only seconds behind me to start the third lap. Soon
enough, Chili got around me and I tried to keep him in sight the rest of
the race.

Near the middle of the course was the only significant bottleneck, a small
gully followed by a hill filled with sharp, flat rocks. The hill would have
offered little resistance if not for the gully, but many riders were passive
through it and attacked the hill without enough momentum. My second
and third passes through this section were slowed by riders stuck on the
hill, and each time I lost a position. Chili pulled a small gap on the third
lap, while I put some distance on Matt. Still, we were close enough that
any small mistake would compromise our positions.

After checking through the scoring trailer for the third time, I brushed
away mud on the face of my watch and saw that I’d probably get in a fifth
lap. Just beyond the spot of prior bottlenecks, I caught up to #29 Steve
Crews on his Kawasaki. In the same place I’d passed K-Ruck, I got
around Steve but he stayed close for the rest of the lap. His “little” KDX
was remarkably fast on the long grass track. Back in the woods, I was
soon riding mostly by myself. Despite the sheer size of the C and
Beginner classes (112 riders in total), lapped traffic was only an
occasionally problem, with most of the slower riders very accommodating.

On the fifth and final lap, although Matt Weis was only 9 seconds behind
me, it was enough gap that I still felt I was riding alone. Twelve seconds
ahead of me was Chili, who I hadn't seen since the third lap. To my
surprise, he reappeared in the second half of the last lap. I followed him
with the intention of attempting a pass in the same spot I’d passed K-
Ruck and Steve Crews. The attempt failed, and I fully expected to follow
Chili to the end. And I almost did. In the last section of woods before a
grass track that ended the race, I kept on his back wheel and a distinct
thought passed through my mind: one small edge could get me around
Chili, but it better come quick.

It did.

For reasons I would understand shortly, Chili appeared to be grabbing at
his goggles, which slowed him just enough for me to make a pass.
Needless to say, he was not particularly happy. I was sure he’d put his big
Husky 450 on my back tire and attempt a pass in the grass track. In
response, I rode as hard as I’m capable and held off Chili at the end. In
racing, what goes around tends to come back around, as I've both
passed and been passed in the late moments of races (
Sedalia '00,
Warrensburg ‘01, Marshfield ‘03, and Warrensburg ‘04). But I have to
admit, it’s a lot more fun to be the guy doing the passing. I stopped after
the scoring trailer to get the scoop on Chili’s problem near the end, and
he showed me how the duct tape holding his RFID card under his helmet
visor came loose. If you’re curious, the answer is yes, in terms of vision, a
hanging RFID card is remarkably similar to riding with your helmet on
backwards.

Unbelievably, our class winner was not a guy named Slade. Kansas guy
Troy Taff took the win (and the highest overall finish by a non-MHSC
regular), followed by Slade and a hard-charging Elston Moore. Steve
Leivan finished the season by taking the overall win for the billionth time.
Once again, the long drive was worth every mile, as Tom Eidam and the
Platte County Trail Riders Association put on another fantastic race.

October 24, 2004
White City, Illinois
1st of 3 in Vet A (4th overall)
A race at White City is an exercise in smooth. More than the rock-free
dirt, it’s the technique necessary to go fast here that defines smooth. You
don’t ride the course so much as you finesse your way around it. Just
when you think it’s time to shift into third, it’s actually time to hit the brakes
– hard – and slide around the next corner. When things are going well,
White City is magic. But when rhythm is lost, it can feel like you forgot how
to ride a motorcycle.

I rolled out of bed around 8:00, stretched my arms and decided I’d give
White City a go. That's the beauty of a race less than an hour from my
home – late decisions don’t matter so much. And without a practice lap, I
had little reason to show up much earlier than 10:00 for the noon race.
With plenty of time to spare, after signup I took a look at the course near
the highway bridge and saw unofficial RocketRacing team photographer
Jeff Henderson working the junior class race. I walked across the bridge
to join Jeff on the other side of the creek, where he was helping young
guys get through a tricky section with the only rocks on the entire course
(courtesy of the Illinois Department of Transportation, often abbreviated
as IDOT, or if you actually have to live and drive in Illinois, IDIOT). Some
made it, others gave it their best effort, and a select few narrowly avoided
a drop-kick into the creek by
demanding, not asking, “Help me!!!”

RocketRacing’s very own Jim Walker made the trip from Missouri, as did
the Boyz from Illinoiz, David and John Brewster. The familiar face of Lee
Lankutis, hare scramble coordinator for the Cahokia Creek Dirt Riders,
appeared on the starting line with the green starter’s flag. With a wave of
the flag he set loose the A classes, about 15 of us heading for a small
opening in the woods about 50 yards ahead. And somewhere in the
middle of that group of 15 was me, Mr. Just Bought an Average Start,
Finally. We all converged in the woods without incident and passed under
the highway bridge. The course layout was similar to past hare
scrambles, where we twisted through the woods for half a mile, crossed
Cahokia Creek at the northernmost edge of the property, then headed
back to the highway bridge.

This year a new grass track was added on the west side of the creek in a
picturesque valley. Over the 1.7-mile track I caught and passed two of the
several Husky bikes that had started on the first row. Thanks to Jay Hall’s
support of D-17 hare scrambles and enduros, Hall’s Husky has sold a lot
of bikes to off-roaders in Illinois, and many of them were present on this
day. On this first lap the front row guys had nothing but damp grass to
work with, the effects of which were demonstrated gracefully by one of the
Husky guys while laying down his bike in a gentle slide around a corner.
The grass track ended, mercifully, where the course dropped down into
the creek. At the opposite bank was a sandy exit that was already
showing signs of breaking down after only a handful of bikes had scaled
it. The next few miles were the best of what the Cahokia Creek club has
to offer: smooth singletrack. It’s not the tightest stuff you’ll ever
encounter, but the corners come quicker than most Missouri-style
courses. With the soil still a bit slick from rain earlier in the week, I
reacquainted myself with third gear slides and riding at the edge of a fine
line between control and fear.

A misread arrow let one of the Husky guys get back around me, but I re-
passed him when he took a bath in a creek crossing just before the
scoring barrels. After checking into the wrong scoring lane and hoping
the A-class scorekeeper heard me shout my number, I pulled off my
goggles. The roll-off tape had broken almost immediately after the start
and by now the goggles were mostly useless. The second lap was much
more fun than the first, especially at the grass track where a few corners
were showing signs of berms.  With the exception of one small creek
crossing, the muddy areas were relatively hard-packed. I finished the
second lap about the same as the first, just under 20 minutes.

On lap three I paid a small price for taking off my goggles when I caught
up to an A rider on a Honda four-stroke. I almost made a pass in some
loamy whoops following the first creek crossing but couldn't make it stick
and continued to follow. Even though the Honda guy’s pace was about
the same as mine and I could have been content to observe his line
choices for a few more laps, my lack of goggles and his roost were
concerns. And sure as a John Kerry flip-flop, a chunk of mud flew off the
Honda’s tire and smacked against my eyeball. I blinked in time,
fortunately, but it hurt. It also blurred my vision for the rest of the race
(and the rest of the day). I kept the guy in sight on the grass track and for
most of the lap, but never could get close enough to pass.

With the Honda guy gone, I rode mostly by myself with only a lapper here
and there to keep me company. Somewhere in the second half of the
fourth lap I apparently forgot how to ride a dirt bike. I lost my balance in a
slippery rut and wasted a ton of energy trying to keep the bike on two
wheels (I didn't). A minute later I crashed again, righted the bike, rode
about 100 feet and fell down a third time, all within about a quarter-mile.
But I wasn't finished. My final crash came directly in front of Lee Lankutis
doing some trail maintenance. A minute later I got my skills back and
finished the lap without incident. But the minute or two lost from crashing
and regrouping might have been the difference between me and two of
the three guys with higher overall finishes.

The next three laps flew by quickly, and soon enough the race was over.
My Vet A class win earned me a $28 payback, enough to buy the last hot
dog at the concession stand and not quite a tank of gas for the ride
home. Another awesome Sunday.
Smithville, Missouri
White City, Illinois