In his first full season on the Rekluse/AMA National Enduro circuit, Charlie Mullins has without a doubt established himself as the man to beat. Out of the eight rounds held so far, Mullins has won six – and that’s after suffering a DNF at the second round of the series in Florida.Mullins’ latest conquest is the Jack Pine Enduro, which is the country’s oldest enduro, and perhaps it’s most celebrated. Established in 1923 by the Lancing Motorcycle Club and held in Moorestown, Michigan, the Jack Pine is now in its 85th year and its list of winners, which now includes Mullins, literally reads like a who’s who of off-road motorcycling.
This year’s race served as round eight of the national enduro series and Mullins came into the event riding a four-round win streak, in addition to holding a substantial lead in the series standings. And after 70 miles of tight, gnarly woods racing, the Obermeyer/Am Pro/FMF rider walked away with win number six – and a cowbell. Yes, a cowbell. Since its inception, the Jack Pine Enduro has awarded a special travelling trophy to each year’s winner – a cowbell – that is passed on each year from winner to winner. Mullins will take it home, have his name engraved on it, and then next year he will try to defend his right to keep it for another year.
True story: The Jack Pine Enduro is steeped in tradition and it has a rich history. There are lots of really cool bench-racing stories that get told year after year and here is a bit of visual evidence to back this up. This is the 1958 NSU Maxi 175 that John Penton rode from Ohio to Michigan to compete in the 1958 Jack Pine Enduro. He won the race, strapped the trophy to the rear fender and rode back home to Ohio. That was when real men raced in the woods!
In his first full year of competition on the national enduro circuit, Charlie Mullins has surprised a lot of people with his proficiency in the really tight stuff. One rider at the Jack Pine called him a “wild man” because he doesn’t cut down his bars for the tight woods. But Mullins says that since he also rides the GNCC series he likes to keep his bike set-up consistent. He’s been winning a lot of GNCC races too so maybe there’s something to that. “Since I race GNCC everyone thinks I like the wide-open events, but I grew riding tight stuff my whole life and I actually prefer this kind of race,” Mullins says. In Michigan, he was nearly perfect. Out of the six tests, Mullins won five. The test he didn’t win – the fourth test – he stalled his bike and had trouble getting it started right away. “I got out of shape in the tight trees and I went down. I didn’t crash too hard but I stalled my bike and it took a while to get it going because it was so hot. But other than that one mistake it was a pretty solid day and I’m happy with it.”
Russell Bobbitt finished 36 seconds behind Mullins to claim the runner-up position. Bobbitt, the defending series champ, has finished in the runner-up position three other times this year, but he was off the podium in the last two races due to a shoulder injury he suffered while practicing. His finish in Michigan signaled a return to from for the FMF/KTM rider, and moves him to within two points of second place in the series standings. “I didn’t really feel like I set the world on fire today, but I felt strong and my shoulder felt good and, overall, it was a good day,” said Bobbitt. “I just tried to ride aggressive but smooth all day, and I think that strategy paid off in this tight stuff.” Bobbitt won the fourth test, the only rider besides Mullins to post a fastest time.
Cory Buttrick put his FMF/KTM on the final step of the podium, edging out Husaberg’s Nick Fahringer in the final test to claim that honor. Buttrick is another GNCC regular, however, he takes a different approach from Mullins. Mullins rides his 2009 YX450F in both disciplines, GNCC and enduro, while Buttrick likes to ride his KTM 450 four-stroke in the GNCCs and a 250 two-stroke in enduro competition. He likes the light weight of the two-stroke for the tight woods and the power of the 450 for GNCC. Buttrick used the 250 to his advantage in Michigan. “My two-stroke is just easier to maneuver and easier to stop in this kind of stuff,” said Buttrick. “Today you just had to take your time – kind of stand up and be smooth. You had to really pick your lines and play it smart.” Buttrick sits second in the series standings, but is only two points ahead of Bobbitt.
Nick Fahringer has gradually worked his way up the enduro order this year, and the Husaberg rider finishing a strong fourth in Michigan. Fahringer has two podiums to date and he’s been a consistent top-five guy, although he’s crashed himself out of a couple of top finishes. Nick was sitting on a podium finish heading into the final test, but two crashes when he decided to push the envelope dropped him behind Buttrick. Despite the bobble at the end, Fahringer had an impressive day in the tight, sandy trail. “A lot of the sections were first gear, just twisting through the trees,” said Fahringer. “It took a lot of strength to muscle the bike through and I just tried not to clip a tree. Every time you would clip a tree it would mess you up for the next corner. And when there are hundreds of turns in a sections, you can save a lot of time by being smooth.”
Eight-time National Enduro Champ Michael Lafferty finished fifth overall, some 30 seconds behind his Husaberg teammate, Fahringer. “Junior” made the move to the blue bikes at the start of the season after 10 years with KTM. He scored a big win for Husaberg at the Alligator Enduro, one of the toughest tests on the tour, but in Michigan Lafferty was a few seconds off the pace in each of the tests.
WORCS rider Nathan Woods made the trip to Michigan for a Husaberg press launch (the company presented its 2011 models to the press on Saturday before the enduro) and to ride his first eastern enduro. Understandably, the Husaberg rider had problems with the tight spots in the course and ultimately finished 14th. “I survived, which is always good, but it was a big learning experience for me,” said Woods. “I’ve been told this is one of the tighter events and I realize I need to work on my tree skills a little bit. I just crashed too many times, which was a big part of my problem.”
With only two rounds remaining in the series (Maine and Indiana), Mullins seems to have a handle on things, after extending his lead in the series standings to 29 points with the Jack Pine win. And unless someone is able to step it up, Hotrod is looking like a good bet to sweep the remaining rounds. Maine comes up on August 22, while the series finale is October 2, in Matthews, Indiana.