Story And Photos By Ben Baucum
The Big K Ranch in Elkton, OR was the fifth venue for the AMA Western Hare Scrambles Championship Series. Though the ranch is covered with cattle the race is commonly known as the Funky Chicken. Organized and operated by the dedicated crew of the ETRA (Emerald Trail Riders’ Association) who clearly recognize the significance and scarcity of national caliber events in the Northwest and puts forth a tremendous amount of effort to cater to the riders’ experience. The course is laid out over the hillsides of the Central Oregon Coast Range and the topography of the area is a mix of rolling to rigid elevation changes. Well before race day the ETRA crew braved groves of poison oak and blackberry bushes to put in a lot of new trail for 2013.
The weeks leading up to the race had been unseasonably warm and dry for the area, baking the pure clay soil to a color and consistency of rusty chalk. The 14-mile course would lead riders through a variety of conditions with both technical and high speed sections. The grass hills would allow riders to tap into top gear, but would also bend into off-camber and decreasing radius slow spots. In the woods racers would face steep elevation change with critical braking and acceleration points. The older trees allowed for higher speeds and better visibility, while the young growth eclipsed almost all the natural light and in some sections, were barely spaced farther than handlebar width. Exposed roots were another obstacle given all of the trees and elevation change. Fortunately the baked clay soil would prevent rut formation. There is hardly any rock on the ranch, but there is an abundance of chop square edge hack that gives feedback like riding a road bike on railroad tracks. With all the obstacles that lie in wait, there would be none more bountiful than dust. Small particulates hanging like a curtain and concealing like a turtleneck hiding a hickey.
On the starting line in the Pro race there were several contenders eager for the BatteryStuff.com holeshot. Steven Godman on a two-stroke YZ250 was the first to the turn, but it was Ross Neely aboard the Dick’s Racing WR450F that was able to lead the way off the grass track and into the woods. KTM rider Alex Dorsey was in close pursuit and had this to say about the first lap. ”I didn’t think the dust was going to be that bad, but as I headed in the trees behind Ross I quickly changed my mind. Once we headed into the dark tree sections I couldn’t see anything; I could hardly see the front fender on my bike. Dust is always a common part of a race, but the Funky Chicken this year was an extreme situation.”
With one lap completed Neely had a clean air filter, clear vision and accumulated a minute gap over Dorsey. The following positions were fairly tight. Godman had settled into the third spot and was being hounded by the dirty faces of Jon Seehorn (SXS KTM) and Rory Sullivan (Pro Caliber Motorsports Kawasaki). The train of riders that followed looked like they were from the Oklahoma panhandle fleeing the Dust Bowl.
Then next couple of laps saw some shifting in position among the top riders. Godman had slid down a few spots while Seehorn and Sullivan filled in the vacancy. It wasn’t too long after when Seehorn’s day would end with a big crash in the grass section due to a flat front tire. Meanwhile, the distance between Neely and Dorsey was decreasing.
The course didn’t alter much during the race because of the hard-packed ground and there was no breeze to help clear the dust from the air. The ETRA crew members made efforts to help those that had trouble on the trail, repaired ribbon and even threw water down at the base of 100mph Hill to give riders visibility of the takeoff and landing on the road jump.
The battle for the overall changed significantly in the last two laps. Rory Sullivan got by Alex Dorsey in the woods and then picked off Ross Neely in the pits. Sullivan took the victory at the 2012 Funky Chicken and was in the perfect position repeat with the lead going into the last lap. The rest of his race wasn’t without its issues though. Sullivan explained, “On the last lap I crash three times with lapped riders (its ok they are racing too). I would come up and let them know I was there with a few shouts then pass with a loud thank you. Sometimes this scares people and they don’t make the best moves. One rider looked back and then rode into a tree. His bike then blocked the trail and I hit it a good speed.”
Despite the collisions Rory was able to ride to victory on a challenging course with tough conditions. He went on to say that, “This might be the dustiest event I’ve ever raced. The course was a great combo of tight and fast and I really enjoy the Oregon woods. It feels great to get my third National win and anytime I race my heart out for three hours and win it’s a rad feeling. I hope I can repeat my 2011 win at Big Sky in August. Thanks to Pro Caliber Motorsports, Bell Powersports, Smith optics, Novik Gloves Virus Intl, Evo Ind, Devol Eng, Fasst Co and Fusion Graphixs for helping me out.”
Ross Neely snagged the second position while Alex Dorsey held on to the third spot. Dorsey who is still healing from a broken hand, was glad to be a contender. He said, “I was happy to be on the podium and secure second place in the Nationals for this year.”
- Rory Sullivan, Kawasaki
- Ross Neely, Yamaha
- Alex Dorsey, KTM
- Steve Godman, Yamaha
- Jason Matheney, KTM
- Ryan Turner, Honda