2009 Race Reports
Geneseo, Illinois
Thayer, Missouri
September 27, 2009
Geneseo, Illinois
6th of 9 in +30A
September, the most pleasant 30 days on a Midwesterner’s calendar, did not
disappoint in 2009. At the annual Silver Dollar Shootout, a San Diego-like climate
permeated the atmosphere. This year’s event was a Sunday-only race, rather than
the two-day affair of 2008, when at the conclusion of the Saturday race I could not
comprehend the idea of being flogged on the same trails the very next day (I didn't
even try).

One of the primary attractions of the Silver Dollar Shootout, besides the actual racing,
is the door prizes. In addition to a complimentary ticket that came with each race
entry, offering each rider a chance at such prizes as a new helmet or a tire or (for me)
a new hat, a separate one-off raffle was gaining much attention as the riders filed in
to register. The Springfield Armory had donated a handgun. Anyone with $5 and no
felony convictions or mental illness was eligible to win a shiny new certificate which
could be redeemed at a gun shop, subject to the necessary background check. While
it could be argued that what we enduro racers do is, at minimum, a form of mental
instability, this did not slow the $5 bills pouring into the raffle lady’s coffers. Seeing as
my only personal experience with firearms is my dad’s antique .22 rifle and a couple
of rounds from Uncle Fred’s 30-30 back in ’94 (with bullets the size of my middle
finger!), the appeal of a handgun wasn't enough to pry open my wallet to buy a raffle
ticket. Jeff Snedcor, on the other hand, had already found a source to sell the gun,
should he be the lucky winner, at what was described to me as a sort of flea market
for gun traders. The handgun raffle was a hit.

On the other hand, the Gas Gas was not a hit, in terms of its engine’s power delivery
characteristics. While that is mostly by design, I had made a few jetting changes
which amplified this lack of hit, which I shall explain shortly. In only its second action
of 2009, the 300EC would carry me through the race on row 24. For a change, I had
arrived plenty early and actually felt somewhat relaxed as I prepared for the race. The
course would be 2 loops around a 30-mile route, with no need for a remote gas fill-
up. The loops began and ended at the staging area. My Watchdog computer had
already been programmed the night before, the bike was totally ready to race, and I
was able to take a leisurely 15 minutes to warm up the engine.

Two other riders joined me at the starting checkpoint next to a barn, located about a
quarter-mile from the staging area. I took the lead when our minute came up and
sprinted through the same opening trails as had been used in the previous year’s
race. With rains earlier in the week, the trails were a bit slick, but still rideable. This
part of Western Illinois is laced with steep ravines which shape the countryside as
the last of Illinois’ water runoff makes its way to the Mississippi River, about 15 miles
west of the race site. These ravines were the setting for the initial timed section. The
enduro followed a restart format, so upon arrival at each checkpoint, we sprinted as
fast as we could. This worked well for me until I arrived at the first steep hill, where a
rider and his bike were sprawled across the trail about halfway up. I attempted to cut
my own path up the hill, but quickly discovered the slickness of the dark clay soil. After
coasting backwards down the hill, I had no other choice but to wait until the rider
pulled himself off the trail.

Once I passed by this rider, Tim Taber caught up to me from row 25. I couldn't come
close to matching his speed, and should not have even been trying. The trails were
narrow, twisting up and down the ravines. The Gas Gas was struggling up each hill,
thanks to my earlier jetting changes which were proving to be a disaster whenever I
needed a quick handful of throttle. This bike has been a jetting mystery from the start,
and leaning out the main jet was clearly not the way to solve it. On the other side of
the RPM spectrum, the low end was perfect. Grunting the two-stroke through
technical trails was almost magical, as if the engine had morphed into a 4-stroke.
But once I opened up the throttle to climb a steep hill, the power delivery morphed
once again, this time into something similar to my old
Suzuki SP200 dual sport.

Since most of the trials were not suitable for much beyond second gear, the jetting
woes probably had only a limited affect on my overall speed, but it sure was
annoying. At the end of the opening 5.7-mile test section, I dropped 11 points but felt
like it should have been less. From there, we exited the woods and traveled down
country roads to a new section of trails. I knew we weren't being timed through these
woods, but the tight trails and my slow pace had me wondering if the free time
between test sections would be generous enough to keep me on track for the next
restart. After a mile or so, the trails led back to open road and I arrived at the second
test section with plenty of time to spare.

This next timed section was a mix of tight woods and open fields, where we passed
through just about every type of terrain Illinois has to offer. The highlight was a hog
farm, where we entered a swampy low area and exited to higher ground only after
slogging our way around what smelled like fresh piles of excrement. A couple miles
into this 5.3-mile section, Tim Tabor passed me in an area carved through fields of
giant ragweed. The trail was wide but gooey on top and offered almost no traction at
all. I dropped another 6 points through here and on the way out of the hog farm, saw
that the swamp section had its own spectators. It would surely be even more
entertaining for them on the second loop.

A long road section took us back to the woods around the staging area for 5 more
miles of tight trails. I came across one poor lad pushing his KTM down the road and
offered to help. With no tow rope, I could do little, so I continued onward. Inside the
final section of woods in this first loop, Tim Tabor once again caught up to me in
about the same amount of time it took him during the previous test. Some of the
larger hills on the course were inside these woods and the Gas Gas struggled up
each one. The end of the loop was a sprint through a curvy route around the
harvested cornfield next to the staging area. I dropped another 5 points and ended up
carding a 22 for the first half of the race.

The trails on the second loop were now broken in well, and with several classes
running only the first loop, the riders were more spread out. A mile or two into the 4th
timed section of the day, a repeat of our first test, I found an area where the trails
were a little
too broken in. A narrow, muddy gully cut through the woods and forced us
to cross. The parallel approach to the gully and thick underbrush made it difficult to
navigate. Thirty feet of space would have been enough room to gain speed and
wheelie across, but we had no such area to work with. Now that a couple hundred
dirt bikes had churned their way through the gully, it was a mass of black muck. I took
a wide line to the left and tried to locate the least imposing rut to drop my front wheel
into. As luck would have it, the rut I chose stopped me dead in my tracks. The mud
had sucked in my rear tire and it refused to be lifted out. Tim Tabor arrived shortly
after and launched his bike across a rut to my right. His bike immediately went
horizontal and his body followed about 18 inches above, until both slammed into the
slimy ground. Tim was wet and muddy, but his bike was on the other side of the gully.
Mine was not.

On the far opposite end of the mud hole was a rider in the same predicament. “I’ll
help you if you help me,” he said. “Deal,” I replied. We lifted his bike out of rut, then
trudged back over to mine. About that time Jeff Snedcor arrived and I pointed him to a
better line. He crossed easily. My recovery partner and I tugged on the Gas Gas, but it
would hardly move. He suggested firing up the engine and maybe we would pull it
out with the help of a spinning rear tire. This actually worked very well and in no time I
was free of the mud hole. However, the engine was slow to start, so I turned off the
gas and started kicking, hoping to un-flood the carburetor. As the engine fired to life, I
wasted no time in moving forward down the trail. My partner had already taken off and
about 100 yards later, was stuck on a tree root near the top of a steep hill. While
examining my options for scaling this hill, my engine died. Naturally, I’d forgotten to
turn the gas back on. I kicked over the engine for a solid minute before it restarted,
then found an alternate trail a few feet to the left of the main line. In an instant, I was
up the hill and on my way.

The mud hole cost me about 7 minutes, as I dropped 18 points at the end of the
section. Along the route to the next checkpoint was a pile of logs which had been cut
into approximately 2-foot sections and stacked vertically. On the previous loop, a
narrow path took me through this minefield of logs, but this time it was arranged
differently. A group of ATV riders were leaving the area just as I arrived to a wall of
upright logs, each about 18 inches in diameter. Those bastards had restacked the
logs so that I had no choice but to ride over them, EnduroCross-style. I managed to
wheelie my way on top of the stumps, but the front wheel fell into a small gap
between them and I lost my balance. After rolling a couple stumps out of the way, I
restarted the Gas Gas and continued to the next test section.

The trails within this section were in much better condition on my second pass, save
for the swampy area next to the hog farm. I let another rider lead the way, then
passed him before re-entering the woods. In the giant ragweed fields, small ruts had
formed through the turns, so at least the tires had something to bite into. Tim Tabor
caught up to me just after this, at almost the same spot in the trail as he’d blown by
me on the first loop. Even though I was slightly further down the trail when he passed
me, which suggested an accelerated pace, somehow I arrived one minute later at the
checkpoint in comparison to the previous loop.

At the final section of the day, the speed average was bumped up from 24 mph to 30
mph. Tim’s Tabor’s consistency matched my own, as he passed me exactly where
he did in the first loop. The Gas Gas, itself a model of consistency, chugged its way
through the last of the singletrack. As I approached the cornfield track, I felt like I could
do a third loop. Instead, I finished the race by dropping 6 points in the final section. My
final score: 53. The mud hole probably cost me a couple spots, but I didn't care. My
satisfaction from the trails nearly matched the pleasure of winning a
new Moose hat
as a door prize. It was a good day.

October 11, 2009
Thayer, Missouri
4th of 10 in A Sportsman
New bikes tend to make me do things I would otherwise not. Consider Thayer,
Missouri and the next-to-last round of the 2009
Missouri Hare Scrambles
Championship. Google Maps shows this location as 545 miles from Dakota, Illinois.
Each way. Yet that distance was seen as not unattractive for two reasons: 1) I had a
new race-ready KTM 250XC waiting to be trail tested; and 2) I've attended at least one
MHSC race for 11 years running and didn't want to mess up the streak. For various
reasons I’d not had an opportunity to race in Missouri yet this year and knew my
schedule wouldn't allow for the most convenient event, the final round of the series at
St. Joe State Park in Park Hills, Missouri. So on Saturday afternoon I loaded up the
KTM and headed for the Matt Sellers estate outside of Wright City, stop #1 on the road
to Thayer.

The Sunday morning drive to Thayer was almost 4 hours from Wright City, making for
an early wakeup call. Along the way we drove through Franklin County, the
methamphetamine capital of the world; Bourbon, believed to be the only town in the
United States named after Bourbon whiskey; Houston, the county seat of – what
else? – Texas County; and West Plains, home of the
Fighting Zizzers. The Thayer
race site was located a few miles northeast of town at a
motocross track surrounded
by enough woods to make a 6-mile hare scramble course. Upon arrival, Matt fiddled
with carburetor problems on his KTM 300XC-W while I took a practice lap.
Jon “Spud”
Simons had laid out a classic “Spud-cut” trail which could have been mistaken for a
typical Illinois hare scramble, other than the generous scattering of rocks throughout.
These were not your typical Missouri woods, with widely spaced trees and third gear
trails. In fact, my new KTM could barely pull second gear through most of it.

And speaking of the new KTM, this first lap identified a few interesting facts about the

  1. It is designed for the fast guys. The suspension is set up with a harsh initial
    stroke, or at least it felt that way while putzing around the staging area. Once
    you reach A-class race speeds, you can hit various trail obstacles
    aggressively without feeling suspension components clunking together and
    wondering what expensive parts are bending inside. The rocks were a little
    too punishing for me on the practice lap, so I backed off the stock
    compression settings by one click on each end.
  2. The stock sprockets (14/50) are geared a bit high for such tight woods. Upon
    further analysis of the XC’s transmission gearing, a 13/49 sprocket combo,
    also shared by my KX250, is better.
  3. Finally, KTM gave me a bike with a strong front brake and spot-on carburetion.
    The front brake was as solid as my KX250 and the jetting was perfect.
  4. The XC feels more like a Japanese motocrosser than any KTM I've owned. It
    absolutely loved the moto track.

Before the race began, #500 Marty Smith had to adjust his eyesight to confirm that he
was seeing yours truly at a race less than 10 miles from the Arkansas border. I did
the same when I pulled up to the A Sportsman class starting line and saw Rick
Kinkelaar next to me. While his home at Shumway, Illinois is a more reasonable 315
miles to Thayer, he had used a weekend hunting trip in Southern Illinois as a
convenient excuse to bring along his motorcycle and make a diversion to the MHSC
event. As the first two rows of AA and A-Intermediate riders blasted down the
motocross track to start the race, I fingered the magic E-start button on my bike,
practically drooling over the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I could finally achieve
a decent start at a Missouri race. Through my purchase of an electrically-started
250XC in July, I had figuratively bought myself a chance at the holeshot, which all
sounded good until the sign board dropped. I pushed the red button and the only
result was a lot of bikes around me moving forward at high speeds. My head dropped
in disbelief. The E-start had failed me. Fortunately the kick starter did not, and a
couple seconds later I was rounding the first turn of the motocross track.

Two riders in my class, including #53 Chili Roberts, had even worse starts, so I
wasn't quite dead last entering the woods. I quickly caught up to other riders, trading
positions for the first few miles until I reached for the tear-off covering my roll-offs. The
tear-off is a little
trick I use to preserve my vision in the early stages of a race, where
tightly packed dirt bikes create the greatest risk of a large, messy chunk of mud
finding its way to my face. Even with roll-offs, a thick splattering of goopy black clay
can disturb the clear plastic film enough so that the next two hours seem like I’m
peering out of a fox hole on the Red River, a couple clicks north of Hanoi. The
problem is, I sometimes go a little overboard with the tiny pieces of duct tape used to
secure the tear-off to the goggles. When the duct tape sticks a little too well,
sometimes the goggle strap pulls down my helmet as I yank away the tear-off. Such
was the case here, as I ripped away the tear-off and the goggle strap ended up
around my neck. While I pulled over to reset the strap around my helmet, Chili and
another rider passed by. I was now officially in last place.

Eventually I caught back up to Chili and followed him for two laps. The biggest
surprise of the day came when I nearly passed him on the motocross track. I couldn't
make the pass stick, but that was the closest I've been to passing someone in my
class on a motocross track in years. I stayed close to Chili for another lap, but
gradually he pulled away. I was now mostly alone in the woods, trying to ride smartly
and smoothly. The XC’s gearing was too tall for such narrow, twisty trails. My original
KX250, the 2003 model
sourced through Canada, had been set up with similar-sized
sprockets when I first began racing the green bike in Missouri. This kept me on pace
in the fast hare scrambles courses of the MHSC, but when I moved to Illinois, the
gearing for its tight woods was as tall then as it was today on the KTM. Though I was
spending more time in first gear than I preferred, my results would show a gradual
progression through the ranks of the A Sportsman class during the remainder of the
race. My lap times, however, slowed in the second half of the race. The softer areas
of the course, helped by rain earlier in the week, had developed ruts and the
motorcycles were churning up more and more rocks as the laps added up. Traction
was difficult, even though the stock Bridgestone tires on my KTM were as good a
choice as any I’d used when I was a regular on the MHSC circuit.

One very pleasant change in the MHSC over the past few seasons is the complete
separation of the motorcycle and ATV series. Gone are the days when the ATV’s
would uncover every rock and leave a dusty, gravelly, 3-foot-wide trail. The
motorcycles now enjoy generous singletrack, mostly unadulterated by the fat tires of
Satan’s destroyers. The RFID transponder scoring system, one of the first to be used
in hare scrambles racing, works as well as ever. The only stopping I had to do at the
scoring lane was to wait for a guy who fell over while navigating a 180-degree turn
that led us through the RFID pickup apparatus. The rules say no passing is allowed
within the scoring lanes, so there I sat, waiting for this guy to slowly upright his bike
and then kick over its 4-stroke engine, again and again and again.

The course was consistent in its terrain and was absent of any “No, not again!”
obstacles. Other than a series of logs and/or tree roots here and there which
required some patience and technical skills, the trails were challenging but
enjoyable. I finished up my two hours of racing a few minutes behind Rick Kinkelaar,
Chili, and Jim Yeager. Those guys were flying through the trees and deserved their
top-20 overall results. I finished just outside the top-20 and took home 4th place in
my class. On the ride home, I thought back to the good old days of driving with Matt to
endless races in every imaginable type of terrain and weather conditions, chatting it
up with the MHSC regulars, seeing kids on mini-bikes evolve into accomplished
racers and mature young adults, and pushing myself to my absolute physical limits
to prove to nobody in particular that I could hang with some of the best racers in the
land. I miss that.
The #791 KTM of
Matt Sellers