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