2009 Race Reports
Byron, Illinois
Glasford, Illinois
May 31, 2009
Byron, Illinois
2nd of 5 in +30A
The Byron Motorsports Park, host of round #5 of the WFO hare scramble series,
needs little in the way of driving directions. In the shadow of the
twin cooling towers of
Exelon’s nuclear generating station, the motocross track can easily be found simply
by honing in on the 495-foot stacks. With another 500 feet of condensation typically
visible from 30 miles or more, locating the track is as easy as routing your way to the
general proximity of Byron and setting your sights on the largest object anywhere on
the horizon.

The motocross track is well known in
AMA District 17, but for several years the hare
scrambles scene here was lost to the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The ensuing
paranoia closed off the land surrounding the nuclear power plant until restrictions
finally eased and the
Forest City Riders were able to lay out a course in the woods
this year. Ron Whipple and the WFO crew put the Byron race on their schedule, giving
me the closest venue to my home since the
B.E.T. hare scrambles in my St. Louis
days.

When I arrived at the track, it was obvious why Byron has been a frequent area
qualifying venue for the amateur national motocross championships at the famed
Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Tennessee. Rolling, wooded terrain had been cleared just
enough to carve out the jumps and berms and whoops that are part of every
motocross track, but most everywhere else was shady grass and endless spots to
stake out for spectation. I parked
Big Bird, now my regular bike hauler after the
Sonoma’s transmission finally died, under leafy trees within eyesight of a particularly
fast uphill section of the track. The C classes were in the midst of their morning race,
charging through a corner at the bottom of a hill and opening the throttle to sprint
toward a small but widely spaced double jump. Halfway up the hill, most let off the
gas just enough to clear the first jump without interference from the second. A handful
of riders accomplished the double as it was intended and quickly disappeared inside
the woods. I followed on foot, with some time to spare before my afternoon race with
the A and B classes. The trail was damp but not soggy. Perfect.

After changing the piston rings in the KX250’s engine, compression was back to
normal and I started well when the green flag was waved. On a row of 20 or so riders,
I was 6th or 7th at the first turn and held that position as we weaved through a few
corners on the track and then slipped into the woods. Now that the WFO series is
running the C classes separately ahead of the A & B race, the trails were well
established on the first lap. A C-class rider parked next to me had warned that some
of the hills were treacherous, usually carved with one established rut and only a few
options on the way to the top. He had struggled through the course during the
morning race and described to his companion the various bottlenecks along the
route. As I encountered all of this for the first time, I could see how a C rider would
have felt beaten after the race. The trails were tight and twisty, allowing no more than
2nd gear anywhere except the motocross track and a few select open areas.

The first half-mile of the course had us riding down a mostly dry, silty creek bed and
then darting up the bank into higher ground. This particular spot was littered with tree
roots and required all momentum to be gathered down in the creek bed. Scaling the
roots was as simple as coasting over them after a quick handful of throttle on the way
up. Others had already discovered the consequences of holding the throttle open as
their rear tires met the roots. Several were stranded on the side of the creek bank,
spinning their rear wheels futilely as the rest of us found other ways around.

Although I generally detest the presence of ATV’s inside woods, the middle section of
the Byron course could have used some fat tires to smooth out the ruts. In some
areas were multiple paths slicing in and around trees, all with a 6-inch-deep
trenches about the same width as a rear motorcycle tire. Jumping from one rut to
another was sketchier than a Sarah Palin joke on Letterman, but sometimes
necessary. On this final Sunday of May, the woods of Northern Illinois were fully
engulfed in leafy green, so each corner was an adventure on the first lap.

Near the end of the course was the motocross track, with a large tabletop jump just
ahead of the scoring barrels. To separate the wimps from the men, a 30-inch log was
placed in full view of the final checkpoint. A narrow trail beside the log appeared to be
an easier alternative than lofting the front wheel high and hoping for the best, so I took
it without knowing I had been baited to a much longer way around. Instead of
rounding the log, the trail routed me through a longer section boxed in by ribbon, then
returned back to the log. Anyone who scaled the log would gain 5-10 seconds on
someone taking the wimp route. Luckily for me, at the end of this initial lap the riders
on my row were spaced far enough apart enough that I didn't lose any positions, but I
swore off the wimp route. Next time, it would be up and over.

After the scoring barrels, the second lap took us through a part of the motocross track
that we hadn't already ridden, due to the layout of the start. A few timing jumps and a
large step-up took me to the uphill double jump I’d seen most of the C riders singling
in the morning. After attempting it for the first time, I could understand why they had
seemed so tentative. A rutted turn at the base of the hill forced me to scrub some
speed and choose the appropriate line; from there, in third gear I dumped the clutch
and up-shifted into fourth just as the first jump approached. As fast as the KX climbed
the hill, my momentum was barely enough to skate over the top of the second jump. A
sweeping left turn followed, but the arrows pointed me back into the woods near the
apex of the turn. It was a tough jump, and the handful of C-riders who did it well now
had my respect.

My second lap was fairly mistake-free, other than a low hanging tree branch that met
my helmet with what would have been enough force to knock me off the seat if I hadn't
seen it coming. My third lap through here, I was so determined not to whack my head
that I leaned in too far and fell over. While the laps moved along about 14 minutes at
a time, certain areas of the course deteriorated much more quickly. The toughest
spot was a small creek crossing with ruts rapidly deepening on each side. Ryan
Moss was on hand to direct riders to the right side of a large rock at the opposite
bank, which seemed to be the last line any rider would want. But it worked, every time.
Course workers were also gracious enough to help clear a better path up to higher
ground than the original off-camber line.

More challenges lurked ahead, mainly in the form of some deep ruts which were
interrupted by tree roots. After the tough creek crossing, my front wheel dropped down
into a 14-inch rut, then smashed into a 2-inch root held firmly in place just a few
inches below ground level. Several of these types of ruts littered the course. Halfway
through the race, the obstacles were wearing me down.

Also being worn down was Jeff Snedcor on his YZ250, who I could see ahead of me
during the next-to-last lap. He had started a minute ahead of me in the Open A class,
and somehow I was now edging closer to his rear tire, despite the fact that he has
been much faster than me for pretty much as long as I've known him. Leading up to
this was my own fatigue, which showed when I tried to scale the huge “spectator” log
near the scoring barrels. Up until about my 6th lap, I was able to find enough
momentum to propel the KX up and over. But then I just couldn't make it happen. With
a few laps to go, the bike came to a stop on top of the log and I had to push it over.
The lap after that, I didn't even get the front wheel over the log. I decided the wimp
route was the place to be, so I finished the last couple of laps taking the longer path
around the log..

Meanwhile, back at that nasty creek crossing, Jeff Snedcor stalled in the mud and I
used Ryan’s line once again. From there, I made a couple of halfhearted attempts at
properly executing the large tabletop jump on the motocross course, then realized I
had to be at work the next day. So I continued to land about 5 feet short and used
rebound to help hop down the other side (sort of two jumps for the price of one). Once
again the WFO method of establishing a race cutoff time gave me one more lap than I
expected. I usually go into the scoring barrels with my eyes fixated on the number the
race workers write on my fender card, which in this case was the number of minutes
elapsed in the race each time I checked through the barrels. The magic number
should have been 105, as in one hour and 45 minutes, but somehow 105 came and
went and I was given another lap.

In the end, John Ryan took the +30A win, followed by me and Tim Farrell. Overall
winner Adam Bonneur lapped me effortlessly about halfway into the race. His style in
the tight woods was extraordinary. Jeff Snedcor’s energy ran out due to limited riding
this year – the only reason I was anywhere close to him. The post-race amenities at
Byron were enjoyed by all, at a location notable not just for its view of nuclear power
generation. Between the main track, the kids moto track and the surrounding woods,
the Byron hare scramble had a little something for everyone.

July 26, 2009
Glasford, Illinois
4th of 6 in +30A
I can’t say I planned to take off the entire month of June, and most of July, from so
much as strapping a leg over a motorcycle. But I should have expected a condensed
racing schedule this year. After all, any one of my changes of geography over the last
11 years has come with a little less racing the first season I settled into a new
environment. Other than a brief ride around my property on the Gas Gas, just a test to
see if the bike would still run well after sitting idle for the past 8 months, the bikes
were parked. A couple of rain cancellations and a much too late Saturday night out
with the new neighbors were partly responsible, but it also came down to – dare I say
– a general lack of interest in light of the constant work associated with a new home
purchase (word to the wise: new does not mean less work than used).

Glasford and the 5th round of the
WFO hare scrambles series brought me back into
the racing scene, and none too soon. The KX250 had been 100% ready to race, or so
I thought, for about 6 weeks. Then I made the mistake of peeking my head under the
rear fender, about 15 minutes before race time, where a backed-out muffler bolt
stood out like Barack Obama trying to throw out a first pitch. Kankakee-area native Jeff
Snedcor, parked next to me with his YZ250, commented on my resemblance to our
old pal Ryan Baker, who often performed his mechanical work right up until the green
flag waved.

The KX250, now showing its age like Joan Rivers at a Friar’s Club roast, was still a
worthy choice for the tight trails around the farm property which hosted the Glasford
hare scramble. Earlier in the morning I’d navigated the nearly 3-hour drive through
about the same number of 2-lane roads as your average
RAGBRAI, proving once
again that there is no good way to or from Dakota. The C classes were lined up for
their morning race when I arrived, each row aimed en mass for an ATV parked near
the corner of a recently harvested field of wheat. The brave utility ATV marked the first
turn, an 180-degree change of direction which put the riders screaming past the
starting grid to a football-field-sized area behind the remaining rows of riders. After
steering through a series of tight chicanes marked by ribbon, the riders entered the
woods.

After most of the motorcycles disappeared into the trees, I walked the woods for
about an hour and found damp trails with reasonable traction. A creek crossing
behind the staging area, already rutted after only one lap, was causing problems for
the novice riders their next trip around the course. By this time I had seen enough of
the trail, so I hiked back to my pickup truck to unload my bike.

Jeff Snedcor, like me riding a somewhat dated but reliable Japanese motocross
bike, was hard to miss when I pulled into the wheat field parking area. His bike
transport was reminiscent of perennial ISDE rider Lars Valin circa 1999, with a
passenger car pulling a fold-up trailer, but Jeff makes the most out of his setup. A
pair of patio-style umbrellas were attached to the trailer for shade, and a small pump
submerged in a 5-gallon bucket of water provided a makeshift shower for post-race
cleanup. I was just a little jealous.

At the starting line for the A and B riders, the +30A & +40A riders formed a long row
behind the other A classes on the first row. My eyes followed the path of these riders
charging toward the utility ATV, in hopes that I’d pick up some intel on the hot line. As
with the C-class race in the morning, the fast guys were quickly discovering that the
wheat stubble was deceptively slick. After the riders passed by and the dust began to
settle, from behind me came the words of a rider still viewing the first row of riders
entering the chicanes: “Uh-oh, look at that.” I turned in time to view a cloud of dust and
about 25 riders careening in multiple directions. The A riders had completely
destroyed the ribbon.

With that, the customary boom of the WFO shotgun brought our row to life and my
KX250 leaped forward with another 15 or so riders. I rounded the ATV in about 6th or
7th place, then opened the throttle for the sprint to the chicanes. When I arrived, all
that was left were two-foot fencing stakes and a few random arrows. The ribbon was
being churned into the wheat stubble and only the tracks from the morning race were
still visible. Few were able or willing to try to figure out exactly where we should go. A
wave of riders headed straight for me, so I turned quickly and tried to jump into the
pack. Another rider copied my act of desperation and lost his balance. His Yamaha
leaned into me gradually, neither of us able to prevent the inevitable conjoining of
bikes and bodies. As I uprighted my KX250, the seat flopped around the gas tank
mount. A random part of the Yamaha had pried the seat from a gas tank bolt which
secures the forward end. I could have attempted to ride with a floppy seat, but I had
no interest in being continually annoyed by it for the next 2 hours. I rode not toward the
woods, but straight to my pickup truck.

In the midst of this, #445 Clint Pherigo found his own little adventure. While riders
scattered through the remnants of the chicanes, another rider hit Clint head-on.
Uninjured, he remounted in next-to-last place (the last place rider being…you
guessed it). I arrived back at the starting area about 5 minutes later, dodging a crowd
of spectators now leaving the site of the most interesting action they’d see all day. In
the wheat field, I found the entry to the woods and rode an odd first lap with few riders
anywhere in sight. Most first laps are filled with tightly bunched riders and dirty air, but
my initial lap was peaceful and solitary. Any encounters with other riders were usually
at one of the many tough obstacles located by the WFO crew and included in the
marked course. Glasford is filled with short, steep ravines dropping straight down,
flattening out for all of 2 feet, and then rising straight back up. When dry, they are
rough and unforgiving; when wet, they’re slippery and unforgiving. When they are
slippery and wet and have 18-inch (or larger) logs lying across the uphill side of the
ravine, they can be a genuine pain in the scrotum. I cleared all the logs on the first
lap, despite the technically challenging middle third of the course. This terrain was
some of the toughest I’d seen thus far in 2009.

What should have been about a 21-minute lap turned into 26 minutes, thanks to my
seat repair. I knew I was more or less trail riding now, but pride kicked me into a
more aggressive pace. Then one of those treacherous 18-inch logs appeared on the
uphill side of a ravine and in half a nanosecond, put me back into trail riding mode.
Only my front wheel cleared the log. I was straddling it in the middle of the trail and
holding up other riders waiting for me to move out of the way. After coasting
backwards to the bottom of the ravine for another attempt, I failed to consider a few
important characteristics of my surroundings. There was no way I could lurch from a
dead stop at the deepest point in the ravine and hope to scale the log. Attempting
that, for sure, would have been foolish. Instead, as bikes screamed by I pointed the
KX250 towards an opening in the ravine where it joined an even deeper ravine. This
was not good, for now I was mostly committed to use that opening to find a diagonal
path to backtrack up to the top of the ravine, where I could reconnect with the marked
trail and try again.

The outcome of all this was bad luck assisted by idiocy. I found myself descending
too far into the deeper ravine, unable to climb because of wayward logs blocking the
way to higher ground. I did consider riding all the way to the bottom of the deeper
ravine, since I was pretty sure the trail did follow the bottom of this ravine for 100
yards or so. In fact, I was quite certain the marked trail was just a short distance from
where I was stranded. But you never know what unpleasantries you’ll find when
trailblazing like this. So I wasted a few minutes clearing logs and found a path that,
with the help of walking with the bike, did eventually lead me back up to the trail.

From there, I was rewarded with another attempt at the ravine with the log. Again, I
failed. This time, however, I had at least been able to heave most of the bike over the
log. As I was pulling the rear wheel up and over the log, Jeff Snedcor scaled the it
easily while lapping me about 45 minutes into the race. He was already that far
ahead.

This excruciatingly slow second lap was followed by much more competitive 3rd and
4th laps. Alternate lines were developing around the most offensive obstacles. I still
managed to lose more time when I stalled the engine and the kick starter wouldn't
pivot out so I could restart the engine. I tugged and pulled on that thing for a full
minute before the pivot finally broke free from the dirt, mud and assorted crud that had
locked it in one position (note to self: grease the damn kickstarter). It was at that point
I finally realized the potential awesomeness of electric-starting 2-strokes. The week
before, after consulting with local fast guy and Rockton, Illinois native Ryan Moss, I’d
planned to drive up to
Motosports Factory in Waukesha, Wisconsin to check out a
leftover KTM 250XC as a potential 2010 race bike. The day after the Glasford hare
scramble, I would in fact drive home from Waukesha with an ’09 version of the
250XC
and be amazed at the electrical gadget mounted to the flywheel side of the engine
case. Electric start on 2-stroke motorcycle engines…who would have thought? At
Glasford, I wished for it, eagerly.

Later in the 4th lap I would yearn for electric starting one more time, while stuck in a
rut. Once again, the kick starter would provoke many high-volume, unusually creative
expletives.

Back to the ravines for one final example of their treachery. On the first two laps, I
encountered a ravine with one line leading up to the topside. At the bottom of the
ravine, I twisted the throttle to its stop, intending to blast up the opposite side. My first
pass through here I felt I’d miss-shifted halfway up the hill and found a false neutral.
But I hadn't. The opposite side of this ravine was so clay-packed that the engine
revved high and yet the bike barely moved. On the second lap, this line was even
more defined and smooth as glass. My feet and legs were the only reasons the bike
scaled the ravine. By the third lap, I’d memorized the location of this ravine and found
an alternate line. Had I not, the KX might still be there.

Two hours into the race, I found the checkered flag at the scoring barrels. The results
showed me in 4th place, although I suspect the lower finishers may not have
completed the race. Clint Pherigo rebounded from the first-lap carnage to claim first
place in +30A, while Trey Verardo took the overall victory. I took the Sonoma and
pointed it northward, tired but happy to be back on the bike.