2005 Race Reports
February 27, 2005
Lebanon, Missouri
5th of 11 in A Sportsman
The months between October and March constitute the average racer's
off-season, save for those fanatics who can’t stay off the bike during the
time most folks just want to sit by a warm fire. I am not one of those
fanatics. The off-season for me is just that – off the bike, trying to rid my
body of a season’s worth of O.P.P. (Old People Pain). I also try to spend
some quality time on all the maintenance items I put off during the racing
season. What starts out as an ambitious three-month plan for examining
every last detail of the motorcycle’s mechanics usually ends up a tire
change and spray-on chain lube the night before the first race. This year
was no different.

During the fall and winter months I had the best intentions of physical
fitness leading up to the MHSC opener at Lebanon. On one end of the off-
season fitness spectrum is #85 Jeff Wendel, who attends spinning class
three times each week. On the other end is Team RocketRacing, with a
nutritional program heavy on Stag and pork rinds dipped in used
restaurant grease. I wanted to fall somewhere in the middle, but drifted
toward the RocketRacing plan after learning that my local spinning place
charged nearly $10 per session. When I asked if those prices included an
after-spin massage with a happy ending, the conversation took a
noticeably serious tone. So much for spinning...pass me the pork rinds.

Race day anticipation was still building as Matt and I found a parking spot
in the staging area. Last year’s Lebanon race was one of the tougher
courses on the schedule, which I reminded Matt after he said he’d told
our novice riding buddy Scott Maxwell that Lebanon “wasn't that bad.”
Following the practice lap, which was Matt’s first ride on the “new”
Lebanon motorcycle loop rolled out in 2004, his first words were,
approximately, these:  “If he’s here, Scott might be kinda pissed at me.”

The motorcycle loop was laid out mostly in reverse of last year, and that
didn't change its level of difficulty in the least. The loop made use of the
same rocky, off-camber singletrack and never offered much chance to
relax on the bike. A tricky obstacle appeared around every corner. Left
out this year was the quarter-mile run through the largest of the creeks
on the property, the same creek I hold responsible for destroying one of
my radiators last year. But the other smaller creeks remained, rocky as
ever, and the various jagged rock ledges were still part of the loop.

A few new faces joined the A Sportsman starting line, while a couple of
old faces departed into different classes for 2005. Gary Mittelberg and
Slade Morlang moved up to the A Intermediate class, while #237 Elston
Moore switched to the Senior class and new dad Aaron “Chili” Roberts
used his Sunday hall pass to race the Vet class. Also notably absent from
the A Sportsman class was #644 Carl Dobson, proud to be fifth off the
line in the Senior class until realizing he had actually lined up one row
behind the Seniors and was riding with the Open B class (a true “senior”
moment, per Kevin Ruckdeschell). For once race anyway, Mr. Can’t Buy a
Decent Start shed his long history of first corner futility. I rounded the first
turn in the third spot, thanks in part to #56 Jesse Faulstich (not to be
confused with the other #56-stickered bike in our class, also a Yamaha,
ridden by MHSC #410 Shane Roberts), who fell down thoughtfully and
blocked out several guys for me.

We blasted up and down a grass track containing the bulk of the sloppy
mud on the course. When following big four-stroke thumpers, roll-offs and
huge grass-caked chunks of mud rarely mix well. Like mammary glands
on a male pig (or tits on a boar, whichever), my goggles were pretty much
useless only a mile into the race. So off they went. After a couple miles of
riding as a pack, we caught up to a rider from the row ahead of us who’d
fallen victim to one of the infamous Lebanon Diagonal Tree Roots. This
natural feature is caused by an area so rocky that tree roots sometimes
grow horizontally until they can find a gap in the rock base and head
underground. The spot of our bottleneck was a narrow patch of ground
between a creek and a fence. If you think a tree root protruding a couple
inches above the ground should be a relatively easy obstacle, in most
cases you would be correct. But lay it across the trail at an angle, place it
in a very confined space, add a little moisture, and seasoned racers will
start to resemble trail riders. We waited impatiently until the first guy was
able to spin his rear tire over the root, then resumed our freight train for
the rest of the lap.

My own experience with a Lebanon Diagonal Tree Root came near the
end of the first lap, where I approached a rider who was off the trail and
pointed down a short hill. I couldn't figure out how he got there until I
attempted to cross over a series of roots and found my bike rapidly
spinning around in the same direction. My bike ended up right next to the
other guy’s, not quite 180 degrees opposite the trail direction. I managed
to get back on the trail in a matter of seconds, but by that time #26 Todd
Corwin and Shane Roberts had conquered the roots and checked into
the scoring trailer ahead of me.   

On the second lap I caught up to John McDaniel when he got hung up on
a nasty little rock climb. To really understand what the Lebanon course is
made of, think of this: in most places you could push a shovel straight into
the ground and probably hit a solid rock base before the shovel head was
halfway into the dirt. Once the dirt is removed by spinning dirt bike tires,
all that’s left is solid rock. When I came up behind him, John was getting
to know how much traction is afforded by solid rock. It’s not much. In
similar situations in the past, I’d bump the rear tire of the bike ahead of
me to offer up some extra momentum, which I tried with John but kept
missing his rear tire. He was able to get out on his own, no thanks to my
front tire whacking his boot. Later in that lap, at the same Lebanon
Diagonal Tree Root that had created a minor bottleneck on the first lap, a
group of lapped traffic was lined up waiting for someone to get through.
Little did I know I’d eventually take my turn at holding up traffic at that very
spot.

During the initial half-mile of the third lap, where the trail passed through
the pit area, a guy held a sign that read “Chili”. I believe that’s all it said,
although the process of slowing from 70 mph to 15 mph in about 40 feet
tends to cloud one’s vision a bit. Whatever the purpose of the sign, it
didn't take a Mensa intellect to surmise that Chili was just behind me. And
soon enough, he was in front of me, riding like a sleep-deprived new dad
still buzzing from a Red Bull binge. Halfway into the lap, while dropping
down a steep hill, he passed me again. Say what? I didn't remember
getting around him. I finished the lap wishing it was my last, yearning for a
nice sit-down in the port-a-potty.

On the last lap I tried to stay close to #37 Nick Crawford, another new
addition to the A Sportsman class. He had passed me on the previous lap
and put a small gap between us. At that point I was feeling the effects of
my off-season pork rind program. A general lack of energy kept me from
coming any closer to Nick than about half a minute. Each time I tried to
turn in the tight singletrack, the steady barrage of baseball-size rocks
pushed the front wheel in odd directions. For the second year in a row I
found myself marveling at the planning that went into the course routing.
A few corner-cutting options were possible in the tight woods, but most of
the directional changes had to be done staying close to the arrows.

My battle with Lebanon Diagonal Tree Roots continued on the last lap, at
the same location where I’d been held up on the first two laps. This time it
was
me sliding sideways, and I was holding up none other than Chili.
Huh? Again, I didn't remember passing him. He waited patiently, at that
point thoroughly smoking the Vet class and in no particular hurry. Later,
in the place I had earlier tried to bump John McDaniel over a rock, I was
held up by a guy struggling over the same rock. Chili took a better line
and left both of us spinning. Glen Osia was also struggling through that
section with a poorly running Suzuki. I followed him to the nastiest solid
rock off-camber section on the course, which by now was full of riders in
various forms of distress. This was a section where, if hiking through the
woods, you’d walk around it. We on the other hand, were expected to ride
through it. I pointed my KX at the same line I’d been using all day and
somehow pulled through.

At the end, Chili and Nick Crawford were chatting near the scoring trailer,
and Chili gave me the scoop on the brake problems that caused me to
unknowingly pass him twice. His front master cylinder bracket was
flopping around the bars, just like mine at Marshfield in 2003. I finished in
5th place, 27th overall. Ryan Portell took the win in our class, while Aaron
Shaw was the overall winner. And to Matt’s relief, Scott Maxwell did just
fine in the Open C class, completing three laps. Another great start to the
MHSC season.

March 13, 2005
Sedalia, Missouri
4th of 9 in A Sportsman
Most of my regular race report followers should know by now that I
probably tolerate mud more than the average Missouri guy. Strange as it
may sound, I look forward to it, for the simple reason that many MHSC
racers do not. And yes, part of it may be that I knew nothing but black dirt
and muck for the first 26 years of my life and spent many a wet spring
riding one continuous rut. This I call
Illinois Style, and it’s an acquired
taste. You either learn to like it or quit riding. Few hare scrambling events
in Missouri have true
Illinois Style, but on this day, despite its location in
the lower half of the state, Sedalia came close.

Official weather statistics for the Sedalia area would later report a high of
41 degrees for the day, but it felt colder in the signup line. Eventually I
had to put on my orange Illini sock hat which served the dual purpose of
warming my ears and, like Vail in 2002, demonstrating a complete lack of
style. Matt and I crammed into my little Sonoma truck to put on our gear,
which for both of us included cold weather riding jackets. A lean physique
may have its advantages, but if not dressed properly, skinny dudes like
me can end up miserable during a cold weather ride. After the practice
lap I couldn't feel two of my fingers, so I upgraded to winter riding gloves.
While I was adding warmer gear, Matt was shedding his riding jacket.

On the starting line I was back to my usual self with a two-kick effort that
put me in last place at the first corner. Bad starts seem to add to bad luck
in general, as witnessed by spectators when I crashed in a rough section
in sight of the staging area. Shortly after restarting, I caught up to the rest
of the class riding in a tight pack. Never was it more evident that 8 guys
racing against each other are a whole lot slower than one guy racing
against the course. In the first half of the 8-mile course, the same route
ridden by the ATV’s the prior day, I passed #37 Nick Crawford and got
around #40 Adam Ashcroft. We loosely followed a couple of small creeks,
dropping into rock bottom streams and charging up the muddy banks.
After passing Adam, our class had spread out and I didn't see anyone
else for a few miles.

About halfway into the course, the motorcycle route split from the ATV
trails and began a long section of excellent singletrack. Just after this
section began, I arrived at #36 Jon “Spud” Simons helping #3 Caleb
Wohletz and his Kawasaki get going after either a crash or a mechanical
problem. Caleb shrugged off the problem and passed by a few minutes
later, just in time for me to watch him get some air over a half-buried tree
stump. In a section with trees spaced narrower than my handlebars, I
caught up to #442 Steve Crews on his familiar Kawasaki KDX. After a full
season of banging bars with Steve in 2003, his absence from most of the
series in 2004 left a void in the A Sportsman class. I was glad to be
seeing more of him this year. I followed Steve for a few minutes, then
edged him out in a drag race to a sharp turn.

I finished the first lap in 6th place, about 15 seconds behind #83 Ryan
Portell. Somewhere in the second lap I passed Ryan and caught up to
#26 Todd Corwin in the singletrack section. He was chasing down another
rider and about to make a pass when his bike got sideways. His rear end
swapped back and forth a couple times, which might have been
recoverable if only a pair of trees hadn't interfered. Todd was ejected
from his KTM in a manner which, had it been captured on video, would
surely have been a season highlight. I asked him twice if he was alright,
and the second time he answered yes. Evidently this was correct, as a
few minutes later I could hear his KTM thumper behind me. I pushed hard
to the scoring trailer and checked in a few seconds ahead of Todd.

Traffic became a steady challenge on the third lap. The beginners and C
riders, one after another, struggled through deepening ruts. Todd and I
worked our way through them in the ATV trails, but soon I couldn't hear
him behind me. By the quickness in which I was approaching lapped
riders, I could sense that I might be having a decent ride on a course that
fit my style very well. On that lap alone, I must have passed 40 riders,
sometimes one at a time, other times in groups. Two guys I passed were
Ryan Portell and #446 Greg Surdyke, which put me in second place.

One minute ahead of me was #56 Jesse Faulstich on his Yamaha, now in
first place after overtaking #410 Shane Roberts for the lead. Shortly after
I began my fourth lap, I noticed an unusual rattle coming from the front of
my KX250. I couldn't feel any noticeable change in the bike, but the metal-
on-metal sound was concerning. Nothing unusual was evident when I
pulled over to do a quick check of the bike, so I continued. Eventually I
glanced down at my handlebars and saw the steering damper flopping
against the bar clamp. One of the mounting bolts had come loose, which
on a vibrating 2-stroke motorcycle can only mean that eventually both the
mounting bolts would fall out. The damper was to be trail junk if I didn't do
something quickly.

When parts leave my bike during a race, certain items can be sacrificed
without damaging the bike or significantly impairing my final results. A lost
fender or handguard would fall into this category and, in theory, a
steering damper. But for those of us on any form of a racing budget, the
economical impact of losing a $300 part blows that theory right out the
antelope’s wazoo. So in addition to the challenges of navigating deep
ruts, searching for alternate lines and power-sliding between narrowly
spaced trees, I also had to keep my ears wide open for the absence of a
metal-on-metal rattle. If the damper fell off, I was going to find it.

In the singletrack part of the course I saw Lars Valin doing spotter duty
along the trail and asked if he had any tools. Lars had taken a nasty fall
two week earlier at Lebanon and broke his collarbone, which was a
painfully good reason to work the race. While he explained his lack of
tools, Ryan Portell passed by. I caught up to Ryan in the tightest part of
the singletrack, but after following him for a minute or two the steering
damper finally lost its mounting bolts completely. The tower pin kept it
from falling completely off the bike, so I didn't have to search for it in
chewed-up mud. I stuffed the damper into my jacket pocket and praised
the Lord for making the weather cold enough that I had to wear the jacket
in the first place. Without pockets, the damper probably would have been
stuffed inside my pants, next to the most precious part of my body (you
guessed it: my ass).

I finished the fourth lap without further incident, losing three places during
my struggle with the steering damper. In the final lap, somewhere in the
myriad of lapped riders I was able to get around Greg Surdyke to take
over the 4th position, but the others in my class were too far ahead. In a
race like this one, riders with similar overall speed can be separated by
their ability to cut through traffic. I felt like I did a decent job of it, often
being more creative than I would have liked. In one section of singletrack,
we followed a fence line for about a quarter-mile and dropped down a
short ravine to cross a small stream. Two lines had developed coming up
out of the ravine, neither one much easier or quicker than the other. I had
used both lines in previous laps to get around slower riders, and I
planned to do the same while following three or four guys through this
section. Problem was, some riders took the line on the left; others went
right. Just as I began riding down to the stream, I noticed a little-used third
line farther to the left. It hadn't seen much use for good reason: to cross
the stream at that point required jumping a 10-foot gap to clear the
opposite stream bank. With hardly a second though, I grabbed the
throttle and charged down the hill in 2nd gear. The gap was a little wider
than I expected, but my momentum carried me across the gap and the KX
handled the impact without incident. I beat all the guys in front of me to
the top of the hill.

I held on to the 4th spot in the A Sportsman class, 20th overall. Shane
Roberts rebounded from a slow third lap to take the win on the final lap.
Aaron Shaw and Chris Nesbitt battled most of the race before Aaron
pulled away to take the overall win. And everyone else is still thawing out.
Lebanon, Missouri
Sedalia, Missouri