June 1, 2003
Marshfield, Missouri
2nd of 13 in Vet (11th overall)
Experienced racers know that simple things are often the difference
between winning and losing. Simple things like Loctite, the stuff that
keeps KTM's, those paint shakers on wheels, from shedding their
bolts. One would expect that after owning KTM's since 1999, I would
fully understand and appreciate the consequences of absent-minded
bike maintenance.

But this is me we're talkin' about.

Matt and I drove down to Marshfield in his new Chevy 1500 HD with 4
doors, leather seats (heated), a really big engine, and New Car Smell
(standard). I remember a time when a Silverado was the
quintessential farm truck, parked next to F-150's at the town café,
lightly coated in gravel dust, a soybean-encrusted vinyl front seat
(bench), an interior aroma of dirt, sweat, and corn, and more often
than not, a grungy farm dog along for the ride. Times have changed,
and I ain't complaining. There was certainly no griping about the
weather, as the day was about as pleasant as anyone could have
hoped for in June.

After signup we watched the last of the ATV racers cross the creek
just before the scoring trailer. The riders were only moderately
muddy, which suggested a relatively dry course. The practice lap
confirmed this, although a few mud holes were scattered throughout.
The first half of the 10-mile course was bike-only singletrack, some
trails freshly cut and most very tight. Along with paper-plate mile
markers stapled to trees, the course workers added encouraging
paper-plate messages like "Got Arm Pump?" and "If You Can Read
This You Might Want To Start Using the Throttle." This part of the
course seemed never to end, and as the miles passed the
paper-plate taunting became bolder. While I cannot confirm this, I
believe one message read "Trees Are Moving Faster Than You."

After bouncing off nearly every rock and tree in the practice lap, I had
my sights set on nothing more than finishing in the top half of the Vet
class. Like the '02 Marshfield race, I didn't feel like I ever found my
groove. Earlier in the week I had replaced the Brembo master cylinder
with a Nissin (Honda-style) and added sintered metal front brake
pads after Kahoka chewed up the old ones and asked for seconds.
The sintered metal pads had not yet broken in and are less "grippy"
to begin with, so the faster, more open part of the course gave me
plenty of sphincter-tightening moments. Back in the pits, I topped off
the gas tank and lined up next to K-Ruck #94 on the starting line.

When the 15-second board dropped, I kicked the engine to life and
saw K-Ruck blast off beside me. He was a good 5 feet ahead of me
before I could even let out the clutch, which I promptly dumped like
an 11-year-old learning to ride for the first time. The bike stalled, took
two kicks to re-fire, and I was dead last heading into the first turn. The
course began with a short grass track, where I passed one guy, then
a high-speed section next to the pits. Just before we entered the
woods, a guy went down while braking around a turn. Two down, ten
to go.

Inside the woods, I made some progress despite the lack of passing
opportunities. A couple miles into the course was a tricky step-up on a
small hill, infested with roots and rocks. This spot had given me fits
on the practice lap and was now holding up a number of riders, but I
avoided the bottleneck by taking an alternate line to the right. After
that, traffic thinned out. In these instances, coming back from dead
last, I generally have no idea what position I'm in or how many guys
are ahead of me. Near the end of the tight singletrack, I advanced on
Neal Soenksen and his familiar all-gray KTM. Neal always sets a fast
pace, so in catching up to him I figured I was finding my groove. For
the first time in racing history, I had actually made a mental note of a
passing opportunity during the practice lap, at a point where Neal and
I were rapidly approaching. One squared-off corner later, the pass
was made and I pushed ahead.

In the second half of the course, I blazed through the ATV trails and
caught up with Tom Eidam, Senior class fast guy and MHSC
scorekeeper. As I approached him, Tom collected a nasty bark
sample, bounced off a tree and crashed hard ("Scared the s--- out of
me," he would say after the race). He gave me the thumbs-up sign
and I charged onward. As I came to the final creek crossing before
the scoring trailer, K-Ruck was pulling into the scoring lane. Beyond
the trailer the course continued straight and K-Ruck inexplicably
turned right, victim of a navigational error. I passed through the grass
track where the race had begun and met up with him where the pit
area started. The fair racer that he is, Kevin let me by and
unbeknownst to me, I was now leading.

During the second lap I put a few seconds on K-Ruck and kept riding
hard, figuring the other fast guys in our class were still ahead. The
two largest mud holes in the first half of the course were deepening,
but still passable. In the second half I dumped the bike around a
corner and tumbled down a hill, but no harm done. I remounted and
finished the lap in the lead position. On Lap 3, Kevin caught back up
to me near the end of the singletrack. The course dropped us down
into a wide-open quarter-mile stretch of pasture, where I slowed to
pull out a small tree branch lodged in the pipe. Kevin flew by and
followed him for the remainder of the lap. The two of us were running
strong, but lurking behind us and setting a blistering pace were
Elston Moore and Steve Crews.

On the final lap, I waited for an opportunity to get around Kevin and
found it at a creek crossing in the singletrack. The main trail went
wide right to avoid some tree roots on the opposite creek bank. On
the practice lap I had tried the straighter line over the roots, but didn't
think it was any faster. Even so, I gave it a try and squeezed in ahead
of Kevin where the trails converged. After another mile or so I couldn't
hear him behind me. In a section of winding grass track I looked back
and saw who I thought was Kevin just emerging from the woods,
maybe 10 seconds behind. In the last high-speed run through the
pasture, I let off a bit to take a drink from my Camelbak, and got
passed by...Kevin? In stealth mode, he beat me to the woods and I
followed him for several miles. I had one last passing opportunity in
mind, a creek crossing that had been slightly re-routed. I figured
Kevin would take the safe line to the left, and I'd charge through the
more risky (but shorter) main line.

I never got the opportunity. In a run through a dry creek bed, I let the
back wheel slide out on a side hill and Kevin was gone.  After that
minor fall, the front brake assembly became loose around the
handlebar, thanks to a lack of Loctite on the bolts that clamp it tight.
While the brake was still usable, it didn't exactly inspire confidence in
the higher-speed ATV trails. Around the 8-mile marker I heard the
unmistakable buzz of a small bore engine, gradually closing in on
me. Closer and closer it came, and I had a suspicion it might be Steve
Crews, a Fredette-like freak (and I mean that in the best possible
way) who can ride a KDX200 very, very fast. I held him off until the
last creek crossing before the scoring trailer, where he did a kamikaze
charge through the creek and beat me to the scoring lane. We
congratulated each other, and soon after Elston Moore came through,
followed by K-Ruck. Somewhere in those last couple of miles Kevin
dropped his bike, dropping from 1st to 4th. I felt his pain after the race
when I realized I gave up the win in the last 100 feet, which reminded
me of how I felt when Matt passed me in the last 300 yards of the
Sedalia race in 2000.

Even so, it was a good ride, more fun than the Bush twins, and I was
shocked to see my name in the #11 spot in the overall standings. The
Vet class placed four riders in the top 20, a testament to our
competitiveness. Doug Stone took the overall win, followed closely by
Steve Leivan. Tom Eidam recovered from his bark sampling and won
the Senior class. Matt equaled his best finish in the Open B class,
taking home the third place trophy.

June 15, 2003
Taylorville, Illinois
1st in Vet A (4th overall)
Sounds pretty impressive, eh? It's not, really, when you consider that
I was the sole member of my class and only 22 guys showed up to
race. I continue to be confounded by the organization of District 17
hare scrambles, as there were two AMA-sanctioned races scheduled
on this day (the other in Northern Illinois). When two clubs have to
compete for the same set of riders, nobody wins...but I digress.

South Fork Dirt Riders hosted the race on their club grounds
adjacent to Route 104 and easily accessible from I-55. If you are
fascinated with electrical power generation (and who isn't?), the road
to South Fork passes through Dominion Energy's Kincaid power
plant, a 1,108 mega-watt coal-fire-breathing mass of concrete and
steel. The club's name is derived not from the
famous cattle ranch in
Texas, but from the South Fork creek that borders the property. A
nicely constructed motocross track is the center point of the gently
rolling property.

Each year I try to take in a couple of D-17 races to hone my
mud-riding skills, and South Fork did not disappoint. The thick clay
soil inside the woods was still wet from a few inches of rain the
previous week, but wherever the sun was able to shine, the clay was
dusty and hard as concrete. A pre-race walk through most of the
course revealed surprisingly wide, fast trails in open woods and grass
tracks. Ruts and depressions in the hard clay were filled with
standing water, most of it crap-brown and smelly, the kind even your
dog wouldn't drink. The creek had risen just above its banks and was
encroaching on the trail in several places. In one spot, the trail
appeared to continue following the creek, but sparsely placed arrows
pointed left to avoid a deep, water-filled hole. Anyone missing the turn
was going for a swim.

With so few riders, the start was only two rows, one for the trail riders
and another for everyone else. I took a wide line into the first turn and
was about mid-pack through a half-mile of grass track. Several
man-made jumps made things interesting before we turned into the
woods. The trail was sloppy, but the tightly packed clay was difficult
for the rear tires to chew up and no significant ruts developed.
Passing opportunities were ample as we followed the creek. In one of
the few "virgin" sections of woods (about 100 yards in total) I
managed to clip a tree with my handguard and crashed, nearly
damaging a highly sensitive area of my body with the end of the
handlebar. I remounted quickly but the small group I had followed
was long gone.

We exited the woods on a very rough, high-speed section of the
property. The hard clay was causing an abnormal amount of
headshake in 5th gear, the kind where you wonder if you'd still be on
the bike if not for the steering damper. As we re-entered the woods, I
caught up to one of the guys I had followed before crashing. He
missed the arrow directing us around the deep water hole and took a
plunge, his race surely over on the first lap (a few laps later I saw a
Suzuki turned upside down near the water hole, having water drained
from the engine, apparently victim #2).

The last section of the course was basically motocross in the grass,
with some medium-sized jumps that would have been fun if not for
the landings. This part of the course I had not walked before the race
and after the first jump wished I had. I launched the bike over the
center of the jump and was shocked to see a large water-filled,
deeply rutted mud pit in the landing zone. RC could have cleared the
mud pit with ease, but I landed in the center and somehow kept the
bike on two wheels. The next two jumps were more of the same, but I
went wide left and missed the worst of the mud landings.

In about 12 minutes I had completed the first of what would be many
laps around the course. With such a small turnout, the trails stayed in
decent shape and I did my best to clear out the water-filled ruts. In
the open areas, some of the stagnant pools of water had been baked
by the sun long enough to be warm as I splashed through. The next
hour went by quickly and I began catching up to the trail riders.
Passing was very, very easy. On my last lap I came up on a guy
laboring through a slimy mud hole, his back tire spinning aimlessly,
no momentum, and both feet hanging out for balance. Nine years
ago, almost to the day, that was me. I did
my first race on Father's
Day in 1994. As I flew by this struggling rider, I had a thought:
come a long way, and it sure feels good.
Marshfield, Missouri
Taylorville, Illinois
South Fork - with oil
South Fork - no oil