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