So all of the hype might have been about all the riders being healthy for the real first round of the Lucas Oils Outdoor National Motocross Series, maybe all the new faces in the 250cc class or it finally being a change from the Supercross season, but I was into the sideshow they call the two-stroke exhibition race.
Why is that so important? Well, I’m about a big a fan of watching the top pros as anyone, but give me the opportunity to ride and a lot of that sit on the sidelines being a spectator goes right out the window. So like usual I finagled an entry to the invite-only two-stroke class where you are supposed to be a pro-level rider or some kind of hero. I applied as the later and fit in as the former, albeit a bit older than most, except for maybe Doug Dubach or Chuck Sun. Those guys are old and heroes too. I’m a magazine guy and sometimes they are nice to me.
Being an exhibition racer means you are a second-class citizen yet we still got to park in the factory pits. This was pretty cool. Then we were informed our only practice was going to be first thing in the morning. It was clear we were also going to be the mud sweepers too! Then, if everything went well, we’d be racing during the intermission.
I’ve been riding and racing a 2009 KTM 125SX for a most of 2009 and have been having the most fun I’ve had in a long time on it. So there wasn’t much of a transition or change-up for me to get ready for this race. I simply put on a new Dunlop MX51 rear tire, cleaned my air filter, changed the tranny fluid and was ready to race. Why was I racing a 125 when a 500, or at least a 250 would have been a much better choice. Well, we have to take a step back a realize that racing is a word I hesitate to use so loosely. I was riding in a race, not actually racing in it. And riding the 125, I had my stage one excusatron wound up tight if I were to end up in dead last looking like I shouldn’t even be out there. After all, I was on a 125, right?
So during the practice session we got to see what a glassy smooth Glen Helen national track is like when you dream about riding around it. No bumps, few ruts and really ripped deep. Oh, and a few turns rivaled a GNCC after two days of rain, thanks to over-zealous hose toting water boys. I got stuck in a turn and the bike was just standing there, wheel-deep in a rut that sucked every ounce of power from the pee-pee bike. I used off-road skills to pry it out and remembered not to go into ruts in some turns, they were all really deep even though they didn’t look like it.
Later, watching the pros through a number of the same sections made me feel real small. I guess it is like watching masters of any sport you participate in and wonder and amaze at how someone can be so good at something, and I feel I can do dirt bikes to a pretty high level. Knowing how fast I felt like I was going and then seeing how it should be done are two different things completely. I won’t even throw the 125 excuse into it. Just sitting there and seeing this was why I come to a national in the first place, being able to ride the track and feel this is the icing on the cake.
So half-way through the first 250 moto I ran back to my pit to quickly change into my gear, only to be rewarded with the opportunity to take the gear right back off. Our sideshow was postponed till the last moto of the day. Good thing we practiced first thing in the morning! TV schedules and making sure the important things take precedence even though I’m sure a lot of people would have liked to see the two-strokes in the intermission. At least hear it while in line for a beer!
So near the end of the day, after ten hours of intense moto activities we were finally lined up on the gate ready to rock. Luckily a sighting lap was allowed so we could see the carnage left by the continuous beating of all the practices, qualifying sessions, girl’s races and full-on national battles that had taken place. The track was a minefield of bumps connected by train tracks of ruts intermixed with rocks, mud patches, sand and the occasional smooth patch of dirt where the fast guys were flying over.
Lined up behind the gate, we were not bestowed with a Monster Girl holding the 30-second board, yet a grumpy starter called us to position and ran and dropped the gate just like it was a REM Saturday MX. The gate fell and I rocketed to one of the best launches I’ve had in my 30-odd years of moto experience. Too bad it was on a 125 and I was going to lose any advantage it gave me by the time I shifted to third. I was just a fat old guy on a 125 and I was going to go out and have some fun. Hopefully I wouldn’t finish last, and there was one other guy on a YZ125 I could race against if we were going for class victory.
I have no idea where I was come the first turn but I managed to pass a few guys down the first hill. I love holding the bike wide open going into turns and watch riders get out of the way for fear of getting plowed. I weaved my way in and out of riders swapping places with a few guys and even managed to bag DR Test rider Ryan Orr on his KTM 250. Inside lines and a slow bike can work when everyone is going nuts. In fact I was pretty stoked on the control the pro level guys have, racing with the 40-plus classes lately reminds me that we do lose our reaction timing as we get older, and with a lot of old dudes, you usually have trouble brewing.
Half-way round the lap and things started to settle. Because there was a steep hill. So the fast guys blew by me and I was able to block anyone who wasn’t fast. And that seemed to be the way the rest of the race really played out. I could make up almost as much time as I’d lose going up the hills on the way down and I could have rode a lot faster if I were a better rider. But as I was looking for smoother ways around turns and along the straights I was catching another of our DR testers Chris Barrett. He was on an ill-handling borrowed Honda CR500 and was fading fast. Or scared for his life. After likely pulling the holeshot (check out the video!) he was just trying to keep the beast on the track. I was going to humiliate him by passing him on a bike one-quarter the size of his. I was getting closer and closer on the third lap when just as I was going to somehow stuff him in the next turn, he pulled off the track and robbed me of the small amount of glory I might have gained by making the pass. Oh well, there were still a pretty fair amount of dedicated fans still sticking to the fence and cheering at every turn. Even for a fat guy on a 125. You’ll never believe this, but I was using lines the top pros never saw. See what happens when you ride such a powerful bike and go too fast!
I ended up finishing ninth, not bad, I think. Up front a youngster named Austin Howell took a Suzuki RM250 to the race win beating out some old guy named Doug Dubach. Tevin Tapia rounded out the podium after a huge get off in the morning practice Somehow Chris Barrett was not rewarded with the holeshot award, but we don’t really know where the actual line was in the first place.
Overall I had a great time and hopefully will get to do this race again. Maybe I can make a few more Nationals with two-stroke exhibition races during the year, they will be having them at a few select rounds this year. And if you see the fat guy on the 125, it was me.
I’ll see you next week for the Monster Crossover and Media Challenge at Hangtown!–Jimmy Lewis
Thanks to Pete Peterson, Karel Kramer and Chris Denison for shooting photos while I went out and had fun!