March 19, 2006
2nd of 7 in +30A
Experienced racers, over time, usually develop some sort of weekend
ritual during the racing season. Up until a year ago, mine was remarkably
uncomplicated. On Saturday morning, I’d walk into my spacious, well-
lighted garage, roll my motorcycle over to an organized workbench, turn
on the radio, open the tool chest and start wrenching. When thirsty, I
walked back inside the house and grabbed a Mountain Dew from the
refrigerator; maybe even relieved myself in one of the two bathrooms (it’s
nice to have a choice). Sunday mornings, I opened the garage door,
loaded my motorcycle into my pickup truck and went racing. Simplicity at
Things have changed.
The ritual still begins on Saturday mornings, but now I drive 25 miles from
my urban Chicago domicile to my suburban rented 10x20 storage unit. It
has no electricity, no refrigerator, no indoor plumbing. A 50-foot extension
cord solves the power predicament, but the lack of restroom facilities
requires some creativity (let's just say it involves an empty bottle of Mobil
1 and a steady hand). About one-third of my time is spent searching for
things – tools, parts, another empty bottle of Mobil 1. Once the bike is
ready for racing, my Hummer-yellow Blazer trades spots with the red
pickup truck inside the storage unit, and the bike and truck go back to my
condo for a sleepover in the city.
Such was the ritual for my first race of the year, Round 2 of the United Off-
Road Racing Association’s MXC series near Prophetstown, Illinois. Bill
Gusse, of Moose Run fame, organizes this competitive series along with
the quasi-national OMA cross country series. My only experience with Mr.
Gusse’s sadistic philosophy on course design was the 2005 Moose Run,
which even in nearly perfect conditions was treacherous at best. I was
expecting the same when I prepared my new KX250 for its inaugural
competition, but for unknown reasons decided the bike must be prepped
with a new number plate and side panels and their fancy custom graphics.
Actually, I do know the reason and it was purely based on pride. I would
never have believed it possible, but I reserved the same number – 407 –
for District 17, the Missouri Hare Scrambles Championship, and Mr. Gusse’
s OMA/MXC series (it shall be called The Trifecta). In celebration of this
profound achievement, I paid serious money (by Stichnoth definition) for a
set of custom graphics from Decal Works. Of all the many custom
graphics companies to choose from, I chose Decal Works for one simple
reason: for no extra cost, they apply the graphics to the side panels.
Anyone who’s ever seen my attempts at side panel graphic installation
should understand this decision completely. My 4-year-old nephew could
do it better, using only his left thumb and eye teeth.
The race site, as the crow would fly, is only a few miles from Morrison, the
Peat Capital of the World and home of the Moose Run. Prophetstown soil
has a sandy flavor uncommon to most of Illinois. Judging from the pair of
4-wheelers parked next to me, each having ventured into the woods at
some point during the morning, the soil was dry. But knowing his habits,
lack of mud in Mr. Gusse's woods was about as likely as me taking home
any part of an NCAA basketball pool. After registering for the race inside
a school bus that serves as both race headquarters and a food stand, I
strolled over to the small motocross track. The junior class race was in
progress and the pre-teens were attacking the jumps on assorted 65cc
and 85cc motocross bikes. The Dad Patrol was out in force, ready to
upright fallen riders and help restart engines. In a show of tough love, one
small racer was told to get back going after stopping next to his dad and
asking for some water. It was an early lesson of off-road racing: our sport
is not for the meek or the thirsty.
In a departure from typical race formats, Mr. Gusse gave the A classes
their own separate race in the afternoon. Although it meant waiting 90
minutes for the B, C, and Schoolboy classes to compete, I was happy to
oblige and avoid the mid-race lapped traffic that is so common in smaller
courses. My fancy number plates matched colors with a handful of riders
in the front row, so I lined up there initially until noticing that most of the
front fender cards read “Pro” at the top. I asked the 20-something racer
next to me how the MXC starting lines are organized, and with complete
seriousness he said “Front row is the Pro’s; old guys are behind us.” I
moved to the second row.
The new KX sprang to life with relative ease when the flag dropped. In un-
Stichnoth-like fashion I opened the throttle as wide as it would go and
sprinted to the first corner with only 4 or 5 guys ahead of me. In a tight
corner just after the first turn, I made an outside pass and fell in line with
just a few riders in front. We rode as a pack for several minutes, in which
time I passed one guy and got passed by another. Ahead of me was a
guy with a vanity motorcycle license plate zip-tied to the back of his chest
protector. It read “DISCO”. I followed Disco for much of the first lap,
through unending whoops, loamy singletrack and a very wide, 4th gear
section of sandy loam. The small motocross track was next, a sure crowd
pleaser as I rolled the first two jumps and bravely “doubled” a jump that
may have started out as a true double, but the space in between was
mostly filled in with sand. Barely a double; not quite a tabletop.
Somewhere between the motocross track and the starting area, I stuffed a
guy in a corner when he tried to pass me. The old guy (read: me) didn't
really want to be passed at that point in the race. I also was not in the
mood for logs or mud, which was good because logs and mud were
remarkably absent. In fact, the purposefully placed log a few feet ahead of
the scorekeeper duo at the finish line was one of less than a handful of
logs on the entire course. The Moose Run it was not.
What it was, however, was a punishing race for my upper body. And lower
body, and everything in between. The combination of a general lack of
physical fitness, City Boy Hands (blisters) and arm pump was keeping me
from riding as aggressively as I liked. About halfway into the race my
forearms finally loosened up, just in time for my clutch hand blisters to
crack open. Through all of this I had just one stumble, a minor tip-over in
a narrow off-camber section.
A major stumble was narrowly avoided on the motocross track. The
second of two hybrid double/tabletop jumps nearly bit me hard when the
KX cross-rutted on the face of the jump and flew through the air sideways.
The front wheel planted firmly in the sand upon landing, but somehow I
kept the bike on two wheels. Even so, the impact was heavy enough to
rattle my jaw. I’m sure it was a crowd-pleaser.
Lap times were 12-13 minutes, which put me on pace for 7 or 8 laps.
During that time I never touched my roll-offs and only took a few gulps
from the Camelbak. When the race ended, my tires had bits of sand stuck
between the knobs but the bike was otherwise clean. So clean, in fact, I
didn't have to wash it afterwards. In Illinois, in March, I’m confident that
was a first for me. I finished in 2nd place, which was satisfying in light of
my lack of riding over the winter. But the next day, I felt like an old guy. A
really old guy.
March 26, 2006
2nd in +30A
In these parts, racing during the month of March is much like a Cubs
game in April: most days, you’re going to get cold or wet (or both).
Although in the technical sense much of March qualifies as spring, most of
the time you’d have to look at a calendar to prove it. And since dirt around
here turns to mud on Columbus Day and stays that way until Memorial
Day, my expectation of the Colona hare scramble course was a cold,
continuous 3-mile rut, just like last year in May.
My expectation was wrong. This year the course was moist but not
particularly muddy, and WFO Promotions added another mile or so of
trails that weren't part of the May ’05 race. The result was a 3.9-mile
course made up of equal parts singletrack and four-wheeler trails, and
even a Missouri-style, top gear sprint across a flat field. On this day, my
KX250 would use all five of its gears and beg for a 6th.
After the parade lap just before noon, I joined a few other A riders in the
starting area without returning to my truck. The turnout was large and I
wanted to stake out a good spot somewhere in the middle of the A class
row. Eventually, 42 other riders joined me on the first row, including #26
Rick Kinkelaar who hasn't learned the fine art of sandbagging and is now
advanced to the AA class. Together, we aimed our bikes at an A-frame
construction barricade about 100 yards ahead in the grassy field. The
barricade would serve as the first turn, a 180-degree right-hander, and
head back toward the woods next to the starting area. Needless to say, 43
riders attempting this simultaneously was not going to work very well, so
the “old guy” A classes were separated and moved to their own row
behind the AA and other A classes.
In Illinois, we like our firearms. So much that we sometimes use a gun
blast to signal the start of a hare scramble. One pull of the trigger and our
race began. I reached the construction barricade at the same time as
about 10 others, went wide as I rounded the turn and made contact with
another rider. As with Steelville in 1999, we hooked together for a second
and I yanked my handlebars to the right, separating the two of us. This
time, I didn't look back.
Behind the starting area, the entry point of the woods was clogged with
several bikes. Eventually we all found ourselves in a single file line and
made our way to an old foundation from some abandoned structure. The
course curved across a concrete driveway, which gave me a taste of
Supermoto-style riding for about 2 seconds. Each time I passed through
this section I better understood why Supermoto riders’ tire choices usually
sacrifice dirt hookup for road stiction: on pavement, knobbies corner as if
the concrete was greased. The trail bounced us out into a high-speed
grassy area next to the pits, then back into the woods for some off-
camber singletrack. The pack was still together through the tight trails, but
I briefly lost sight of them while hanging myself up on a log at the top of a
small ravine. Within a few seconds, I caught up and fell in line with the
The muddiest section on the course was next – a wide, rutted creek
crossing. I charged into it with plenty of speed and made it up the other
side, then navigated a tight turn at the top. Two natural jumps followed the
creek, the first a 5-foot dip with a steep exit on the opposite side. The
angle of exit reminded me of the manicured jumps at the Dutch
Motosports motocross track in Michigan, capable of launching the bike as
high as I dared. The second jump was on the topside of a downhill,
created by a root across the trail that had held back trail erosion to that
point. Below the root, a couple feet of trail had eroded and a nice drop-off
remained. The trick was to hit the jump with enough speed to clear a very
soft, tire-sucking landing area, which I accomplished each lap with a
healthy dose of throttle in 3rd gear. Fun stuff.
At the bottom of this hill was the start of a wide, rough 4-wheeler trail with
Missouri-style whoops. With these whoops were a random scattering of
old tires and a very large, low-hanging tree that was perfectly capable of
removing riders from bikes with little effort. Each time through here
reminded me of Westphalia, Missouri and I was glad to see the rough
whoops on just a quarter-mile of the course, rather than 80% of it. After
this section was another quarter-mile of wide-open field, then back into
the woods for an observation check and the trickiest logs on the course.
Two sets of 18-inchers were lying across the trail with about a bike length
of space between them. Just when the front tire was firmly planted in the
dirt after the first log, it had to scale the second. The racers ahead of me
navigated the logs without much trouble, then led me through another
series of smaller logs before spreading out over “clean” trail. More tricky
off-cambers were next, followed by another short blast across a field. We
quickly made it back to the original point of entry to the woods, near the
starting area, and then checked into the scoring barrels for the first time.
The laps clicked by, about 13 minutes each, and I focused on minimizing
stupidity. Each time through the wide-open field, the KX showed enough
headshake to put some fear into me. The nasty logs got nastier as the
race went on, until course workers routed the trail a few feet to the right.
About halfway into the race, lappers became challenging, especially in the
muddy creek crossing. The approach was down a hill with a left hand
sweeper that took us to the base of the creek, where riders were
struggling to scale the rutted opposite bank. I took a line on the left side to
get around a rider and ended up on my side. I picked up the bike and
restarted as a guy I’d just lapped came up behind me. After I was back on
two wheels, the guy yelled “Hey!”, as if he was going to pass, and I yelled
back “Hey what?” and left him in my roost.
With about 2 laps to go, a Kawasaki KDX came up on me in a hurry and I
let him by. For a brief moment I thought this was Jeff Fredette, overall
winner of last year’s May race at Colona. But I was able to hang with him
too long and it quickly became apparent that this was not Mr. Fredette.
Had it been, he would have disappeared in about half a minute. The KDX
was just a fast B rider who caught me from behind. The two of us rode
together for the rest of the race and eventually settled in with a freight
train of 4 or 5 bikes. I had a chance to pass the KDX when it struggled
around a rutted corner, but only managed to whack the guy’s arm with my
After two hours, the race ended and I finished behind Shawn Minnaert for
2nd place in +30A. The overall win went to +40A rider Phil Converse, still
riding fast after a long, successful off-roading career. Expectations for
Colona were wrong, gloriously.
new ride for 2006
The new 2004 KX250, in race form, set up exactly like the '03 KX250.