2007 Race Reports
August 26, 2007
Wedron, Illinois
2nd of 5 in Vet A
I will admit, I was skeptical when Gerhard “Wardy” Ward advertised a
rideable hare scramble course just two days in advance of Round 4 of the
Fox Valley Offroad series. He also advertised free T-shirts for all racers
and even challenged motocross riders to harden up and put some mud
on their pristine rides for 90 minutes, all in time to be home for Denim
Hour on QVC. Something was fishy. Being the farm kid that I am, I've seen
what five inches of rain can do to the lowlands of Central Illinois over a
period of a week. And with a decent portion of those five inches coming
only three days in advance of the race, it had ugly potential.

Thursday’s storms leading up to the Sunday event were fierce – the kind
that turn trickling streams into raging rivers. As evidence, the creek
through the center of the property, always a highlight of any Fox Valley
hare scramble, was rearranged a bit. A three-foot diameter log in the
center of the creek had laid waste to a pair of Wardy’s tow straps, neither
strong enough to do anything but shift the log so bikes could fit on either
side of it. Another spot had a pool of water deep enough to produce a
resounding “ker-PLUNK” when I tossed a 5-pound rock into its center.

The rains held off on Friday and Saturday, leaving the Fox Valley
grounds mostly devoid of the kind of standing water that cancels races.
On hand to enjoy a slippery course was #104 Jeff Snedecor, gracious
enough to park beside my pickup truck and share his pop-up awning.
Tony Smith also made the trip from Warrenville and stopped by to
introduce himself to Jeff as his dirtrider.net handle,
Dist1740b, to which
Jeff responded, “I’m
jsned.” It’s the world we live in, folks.

As for the racing, the start was eventful for me for the sole reason that I
actually got a good one, following the surprising holeshot of #401 Will
Heitman and #418 Paul Mitzelfelt. Paul’s been riding pretty well since I
took him out at
Prophetstown back in April. He passed Will shortly into the
first lap, while I followed the pair in the third spot through the flat trails on
the northeast side of the riding area. The transition out of this section was
an open field, next to which was a water-filled trench that Wardy had
warned us to avoid. Naturally, the front end of my KX250 was pointed
straight at it in 3rd gear as I rounded a sweeping corner. My rear wheel
had a particularly strong attraction to the water. As the wheel slid down
the side of the trench, I could do nothing but crack open the throttle as far
as it would let me and hope for the best. As luck would have it, my front
wheel stayed dry and somehow the rear tire chewed its way up the side of
the trench. Disaster averted.

Later in the lap I missed a turn and stalled the engine while attempting to
duck under ribbon meant to keep me on the marked trail. Paul and Will
were long gone, as were most of the rest of the riders on my row. Shortly
after, an odd sight appeared ahead of me: lappers.
On the first lap? Did I
cut off part of the course where I’d ducked under the ribbon? Granted, it
wouldn't have been the first time (see
Wedron, May 2007), but I wasn't in
the mood to start that kind of trend. I felt a little better when I caught up to
some of the same riders who’d passed me earlier, and felt lots better
when the second lap appeared to be exactly the same trail as the first.

The scoring system would show me as being ahead of Paul for nearly the
entire race, but inside the course was another story. After a miscue early
in the race, he slowly narrowed the gap until passing me like a AA rider
with about 30 minutes to go. Jim Wancket in the +40A class also passed
me at about the same time, then got caught up in some lappers inside the
creek. I got back around him by taking the long way around the 3-foot log.
Later, I saw Paul again, held up behind several lappers trying to climb a
steep hill. I bullied my way through the single-file line of bikes, performed
what Elston Moore once coined as a “sucker pass”, and took off around
Paul and shot up the hill.

On the last lap, Paul was right behind me as I waited for a guy move out
of the way while stuck at the bottom of another steep hill. On my way past,
ISDE-bound #27 Dan Janus screamed around both of us and
disappeared quickly from sight. A few minutes later, I came to Wardy’s
familiar log ahead of the finish line and saw Dan Janus pulling off the
track. The checkered flag was out. My race was over.

My performance was good enough for 2nd place behind Will Heitman,
who pretty much smoked the +30A class on his way to 7th overall. Jeff
Snedcor followed #100 Mike Armstrong’s rear wheel for all but the second
half of the last lap, then tried a shorter route across a nasty gully and saw
Mike ride away to the A class win and 2nd overall behind Dan Janus. In
the end, Wardy was not baiting anyone into riding. My bike was only
moderately muddy and I was home in time to buy some new denim
drawers on QVC.

September 16, 2007
New Berlin, New York
Grand National Cross Country
8th of 37 in Vet B
It’s a rare occasion that I make a New Years resolution. Until 2007 I’d
made exactly two: beat my brother at Donkey Kong (an impossibility) and
consummate my non-existent relationship with Debbie Kinsey in college
(turns out I’d actually wanted to date her roommate but got their names
mixed up). I made another resolution this year, a promise to do a better
job of combining business with pleasure. The Unadilla round of the
Grand
National Cross Country (GNCC) series, the NASCAR of my sport, gave
just such an opportunity. A business client in upstate New York was
conveniently located just 90 miles from the
Unadilla Valley Sports Center,
home to the legendary Unadilla AMA Pro National Motocross race for
more years running than most folks can calculate without an algorithm.
Turns out there's some woods surrounding the mostly natural-terrain
track, and with the ability to host many thousands of spectators and off-
road vehicles, Unadilla makes for a great GNCC venue.

It's a long drive from Chicago to New Berlin (744 buttock-numbing miles,
to be exact), fresh off its 200th birthday in the rolling hills of central New
York. The motocross track rolls throughout those hills a few miles north of
town. New Berlin sees more than its fair share of off-road vehicles and
spectators, for sure a contributor to its economy when 20,000 show up for
the national motocross race and another 5,000 or so attend a weekend of
GNCC racing. The official number of racers competing over the two day
GNCC event was 1,600. Think about that: ATV's on Saturday, bikes on
Sunday; all ride on more or less the same course, and 1,600 guys, gals,
kids and adults show up to race.

With those numbers, the course was predictably choppy. The talk over
the huge PA system was of last year's terrible mud, but this year the
weather cooperated very well and some of the Pro class interviews
reflected appreciation for the excellent course conditions. I had a slightly
different opinion. Just before the morning race began for the C classes
and various others who would not be racing with the A and B classes in
the afternoon, I took a walk through the woods. Only the ATV's had
ridden the course the day before, along with the kid's bike classes first
thing Sunday morning, and already the course was similar to what a
typical local hare scramble course looks like after everyone is done
racing. Beat up, rutted, whooped-out, alternate lines everywhere, and
nothing even remotely resembling singletrack. And 474 more riders would
be spending two hours on the course before my tires touched even a
square inch of it.

On my way down a gravel road leading to the back side of the motocross
track, I paused for a half-hour to watch the first groups of riders tackle a
special obstacle called
The Wall. Conveniently situated next to the road,
The Wall was the manmade result of dirt removed for what was
presumably the sculpting of the motocross track, into the shape of a large
half-bowl. A winding, slightly longer but easier route around The Wall
would get most riders to the top just fine, but the fast line was straight up
its 20-foot face. I took a closer look at the top of the wall and saw its main
line had a slight lip at the top, which suggested that if a guy were give his
bike a blip of throttle just before sailing over (as many would surely do),
the rear wheel would kick up and force the front end down. Remarkably,
this is exactly what happened - to the first few riders in each class. The
ensuing carnage would slow down the rest of the group, but the first guy
to hit the wall with a healthy twist of throttle at the top was always the most
entertaining.

For the afternoon race, I signed up in the Vet B class. Consistent with
most other average guys at GNCC races, I dropped down a class mostly
to avoid being run over by aggressive riders looking for national glory in
the form of a 12x14-inch plaque. My class was positioned in the very last
row and would depart 14 minutes behind the Pro's. As such, I had 13
opportunities to observe guys racing around the first turns of a grass
track. After the 375 riders ahead of me had their way with the grass, it
was mulch. I two-kicked the KX and took off near the back of our 37-bike
class.

Passing at the beginning of a heavily attended race is as simple as
keeping your bike on two wheels. The first tightly rutted corner on the
track was littered with bikes and riders on the ground. I gained several
spots before arriving at The Wall a mile later, where the morning classes
had shaved off the lip at the top and it was now a much less entertaining
obstacle for spectators. I bounced my way through the wide trails to the
first stretch of motocross track, then headed back into the woods. The 9-
mile course was set up in a cloverleaf shape, where we would spend
some time in the woods, loop back to the track, do a short section of it,
and then head back into the woods again. The track itself was the
highlight of the course. For anyone who's watched national motocross
races at Unadilla, it's as cool to ride as it looks on TV. The approach to
the Gravity Cavity looks innocent enough, until you drop down into it and
realize if you'd taken it in 3rd gear instead of 2nd, you'd have been a
mess of broken bones 40 feet below.

With my late start and the fact that the Pro class was turning laps 10
minutes quicker than me, overall winner David Knight passed me on his
KTM about 2/3 of the way through my first lap. The Pro's make it look
easy, but not necessarily 10 minutes per lap easier. Somehow, though,
they churn through the choppy trails and the lappers effortlessly. The
faster guys of the A classes were close behind, and in GNCC racing,
these are the racers to clear a path for. In most local off-road circuits, the
leaders of Unadilla's 200, 250, and Open A classes would challenge for
overall wins. Here, however, they were riding their collective asses off to
see how they ranked with the top dogs of off-road racing in the United
States. At one of the checkpoints inside the woods, a bike emblazoned
with Monster Energy graphics tried to shove his way around me while I
was in line to get my helmet-mounted bar code sticker scanned. The
scanner guy yelled at him to get back in line, but the message was clear:
move or you will get moved.

After the Pro and A classes began lapping me, I battled constantly to get
out of the way. Every so often I'd come up to slower B riders and work my
around with a complete understanding of why GNCC courses must be
designed as they are. Guys like
David Knight will usually lap almost
everyone at least once and some of the B classes will get lapped twice.
Odds are, Knight is passing close to 500 riders every time he takes to a
GNCC course. A tight course couldn't work - the best riders simply
wouldn't race.

About two hours into the race, I was finally figuring out some of the
trouble spots and rode a couple of laps without hang-ups. The woods
were relatively free of large rocks, but the small round ones made hill
climbs challenging. At my first pause on the side of a hill, waiting for traffic
to clear out, I thought I'd just ease my way up a side route. Slight problem:
the clutch released, yet I went nowhere. The round stones wouldn't let me
spin my way up the hill. Abundant alternate routes eventually got me past
all of these obstacles, but not without some effort.

I stopped for fuel just after the two hour mark and tried to ride a decent
pace for the rest of my 6 laps. The sight of the checkered flag felt good,
but half an hour later my body felt bad. Three hours at a race pace is just
plain hard. The guys who do this regularly are fantastic athletes, and the
athletes who win these races are freaks of nature –
glorious freaks.

Epilogue:
The overall results had an international flavor, with Isle of Man, Australia
and New Zealand represented in the top 5 (in the runner-up spot, Jimmy
Jarrett was the lone American to fill out the first five). Once again I was
bested in the overall results by a guy named Jeff Smith of Fraziers
Bottom, West Virginia, who two years ago finished ahead of me in the
Crawfordsville, Indiana GNCC race. The Alton, Illinois version of Jeff Smith
considers the Fraziers Bottom version of his namesake to be his alter ego
and surely took some enjoyment in beating Chicago Boy. The Unadilla
race was the first I’d attended with the
Blazer and its Ultimate MX Hauler.
If you don’t have a trailer or a pickup truck, it’s the real deal.
Wedron, Illinois
New Berlin, New York
8th Place, Baby!!!!
(yeah, they had trophies all the way to 10th)