Story and photos by Ben Baucum
Early morning New Year’s Day 2013…
The usually fluffy loam at Washougal Motocross Park was frozen solid and a steady wind made its way beneath the massive Washington evergreens. As the sun crept above the horizon, hundreds of thermal clad racers lined the entrance for the 42nd Hangover Scrambles.
Clear skies and no rain are a rarity this time of year in the Pacific Northwest, but freezing temps would make traction scarce around the hilly landscape. Washougal soil is already unforgiving, composed of very hard packed clay with a lot of imbedded and exposed rock. The dirt on the MX portion of the track has a lot of off-site additives, which allows for more moisture absorption. This is an enhancement in the summer months, but when frozen it transforms into chocolate colored asphalt. Before the first race began, it was clear that screws or studded tires would be required to have a controlled ride and any shot at a class win.
Waves of beginners and amateurs beat in the majority of the course before the premiere class took to the track midday. Nearly 100 Experts and Pros began the race in a field south of the old starting gate. Within three turns there was mass carnage. Past Hangover victor and 2013 favorite, Rory Sullivan, was a part of the mess.
“I was running about 10th when two bikes in front of me tangled up and I had no where to go. I got run into by a lot of riders behind me and I was concerned that I was going to get cut up because mostly everyone was using studded tires. Fortunately I just lost a little time and not skin.”
Don Boespflug, a skilled motocrosser and Erzberg veteran, took advantage of the pandemonium and sprinted off to an early lead. He was followed by Jason Matheney (another past Hangover winner) and Joey Lancaster in the third spot. During the first few laps positions shuffled dramatically following the bottleneck start. The sun began to thaw the exposed portions of the MX and grass sections causing conditions to change significantly with each lap. The semi-frozen loam developed stretches of quicksand that didn’t exist the lap prior. The ground elsewhere developed a thin greasy layer of clay over icy dirt.
At the midpoint it was an entirely different race. Sullivan slipped into the lead after pushing through the mid-pack traffic. Lancaster lost too many screws to make decent traction and backpedaled. Matheney was forced to call it when his knee bent the wrong direction trying to save a sliding wheel. Boespflug would continue to mix it up with the hard charging Odus Lambert and Eric Stevenson.
The Boespflug, Lambert and Stevenson battle would last the rest of the race while Sullivan skated to his 4th victory at the Hangover Scrambles. His race wasn’t without adversity though. Besides being a part of the pileup, “my roll offs broke on the starting line. I hadn’t used them in a long time and the film had become dry and snapped about a minute before the start. It made me ride a little smarter when trying to pass.”
Stevenson edged out Lambert for the second spot. The talented motocrosser showed off-road grit and was extremely agile over the slick conditions. Lambert was happy with this third position and said the Hangover, “was easily my favorite race of the year.”
A few weeks prior to the race I contacted Mike Ames, the Vice President of Operations for the Jones Creek Trail Riders’ Association (JCTRA). He was enthusiastic about the coverage from Dirt Rider but also intent on expressing the objectives for holding the event in the first place. The roughly 100 members of the JCTRA use the Hangover as a fundraiser to help keep the local riding area open. This includes both maintenance of established routes and the creation of new trails. They are a highly motivated and well-organized bunch, focused on the future of sustainable off-road recreation.
How long have you been hosting the Hangover?
JCTRA took over the HOS (Hangover Scrambles) from another local club called the LOBO’s back in ‘92 when the event was still held at Jones Creek OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) area in Southwestern Washington. This will be the 42nd year of the HOS event itself.
How many years has it been at Washougal?
The event used to be held in our backyard at the Jones Creek OHV area just East of Vancouver, Washington. The Washington Department of Natural Resources who manages that section of public land began having too many complaints from the Department of Fish and Game and other environmental concerns about the amount of mud and sediment that was being introduced into the local creeks and streams. Even though they had no scientific proof that the race was the cause of the problem they said we had to find another place to hold the event. It’s been at Washougal MXP since 2000. We did host a race at a track in Longview, Washington back in 2005 and then thankfully went back to Washougal. It’s hard to beat Washougal MXP.
What do you think draws people to race on New Year’s Day?
Depending on the weather it can be a real challenge just to finish this race for many people, and we think a lot of people come just for the challenge. Most people have the day off and they’ve just gotten new toys for Christmas, and like most kids (and kids at heart) they want to go play with them. There’s also the idea that the winners can call themselves that fastest on dirt in the NW for the New Year.
What is your goal as an organization?
Our primary purpose as an organization is to maintain the dirt bike and ATV trails of the Jones Creek OHV area just East of Vancouver, Washington. The area is managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and we work closely with them to do our best to keep the trails safe and fun. We hold monthly work parties, which are open to the public and are all volunteer. Our club owns four Polaris 6X6’s which we use to haul in gravel, blocks and other supplies. The 6X6’s along with the rock and blocks we use on the trails were primarily purchased using money obtained from Federal Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grants. JCTRA has successfully competed for and executed seven of these RTP grants since 1997. The money we get from the RTP grants goes almost 100% directly into the trails in the form of trail maintenance efforts. RTP grants require the organization receiving them to add around 30% matching funds, which in our case comes from the hundreds of hours of trail work put in by JCTRA volunteers out on the trails. Without the RTP program we would very likely not be able to keep places like the Jones Creek OHV area open.
We are also involved in a 10-year planning effort with the DNR, which will allow us to build another 35 miles of dirt bike and ATV trails in the area. It’s been a very long process with almost five years of government red tape to get through, but we hope to begin building the first legal new trails in SW Washington in more than 20 years this coming summer. That will be a great experience!
Beyond the RTP grants, the profits from the annual JCTRA Hangover Scrambles are our only source of funding for the year. We cannot use the RTP funds to build new trails as they are for maintenance of existing trails only, so the money we make on the HOS will primarily go to new trail building.
What is the greatest challenge in organizing the event?
It’s the weather. We never know what it will be like on race day up there. We do the best we can to design a course that gives riders a fun and challenging experience, but the forever-changing weather makes it impossible to plan more than a day in advance, if that. One year we were up there plowing 2-3 feet of snow around the course with Cats a few days before the event. Then it warmed up and started to pour rain, all that snow melted and created one of the muddiest Hangover Scrambles yet. Another year it was dry and mild until the middle of race day, then it started to dump rain and changed the whole picture. We try to have a few contingency plans to move the course routes around if the surfaces get way out of control.
How many people do you need to operate the day of the race and how many folks to set up/clean up?
The HOS is an all volunteer run event, so basically we need as many people out on the course as we can get. We’d have a hard time running it safely without a minimum of 15-20 people. It takes close to 10 people just to handle the gate, sign-up, and scoring, the rest are out on the course. As far as setup and cleanup, we get the job done with about a dozen volunteers doing most of the work.
Mud, snow or ice, which is a greater challenge?
Well it depends on what you’re riding and how it’s equipped. The ice or snow can be really tough especially for the bikes, unless of course you’re running screws or studs. The 2WD quads are in a similar boat if it’s icy as almost none of them run studs. Probably the biggest challenge for the most people is the mud if it is or has been raining which is most often the case.
I’ve done three Hangover races prior to this year and have never faced the same conditions in any event. The first year was nearly perfect, a little slick but not raining. The second year was extremely muddy and the rain was pouring. It was after that lesson when decided that studded tires were the only way to go. The third year was ice cold, with no chance of the ground thawing out. I had bought two boxes of ice screws and was riding a 2-stroke 250. I had a great start and was doing well until my rear screws ripped out. Mid race I had less than a dozen left out of 250 (I might have installed them incorrectly).
This year I chose a stock 2009 KX250F for its strong little motor, good brakes, consistent handling and because it is currently the only bike I own. I focused 95% of my attention to the rear tire. I have a hard time justifying the expense of buying a full set of studded tires when I will only use them once every couple years for an hour-long race, so I went the homemade route. I selected a well-used Bridgestone M404 and drilled pilot holes through each knob all the way through the tire carcass, then ran carriage bolts from the inside out and fastened nuts on the outside. I trimmed each thread to size with bolt cutters. I installed a heavy-duty tube and used an old tube as a liner. I’m not sure this was necessary, but I had just invested several hours into one tire and wasn’t going to run the risk of getting a flat.
Up front I used the same screwed up tire I had used two years prior. Unlike the old rear, every thread was still imbedded in rubber and I assumed would work well enough.
My other concerns were vision and glove choice. I selected some roll offs because that is always a good idea if mud maybe involved. To help keep the feeling in my hands I glued fishing gloves to the top of my moto gloves. It looked as dumb as it sounds.
When I stepped out of the truck in the parking area at Washougal, the grass crunched under my feet. You really don’t know what the conditions will be like until you get there. I didn’t have any time to test the tires so I rode reserved the first few turns and even more so when it got faster. I was blow away by the traction out on the grass. I still felt like I would wreck if I pushed harder, but the feedback was so consistent it eventually increased my confidence.
There were some things I struggled with as I reaped the rewards for my hard work. My homemade gloves gave me the dexterity of a lobster and my roll offs snapped after a half pull. But on a positive note, it wasn’t muddy and my hands were warm.
After the first lap I began to notice the front tire wasn’t performing the way it had in the beginning. It would push in turns, but braking seemed to be all right. It only got worse as the race went on. In the prior icy Hangover I hadn’t encountered the need for the front to bite because the shedding rear screws prevented me from carrying speed. It is an oversight I won’t duplicate in following years.
The Hangover Scrambles is for fun a good cause. It is an island refuge of racing in the off-season and is a great way to start the New Year.