Fear, Loathing, Band-Aids and EnduroCross With Drake McElroy - Dirt Rider Magazine

Barry Hawk is part of the set-up crew at the GNCCs. Photo by Shan Moore

I have always been a fan of what some people might call "dovetailing." Most everyone knows this phenomenon as "the six degrees of separation"; basically, a phrase that states that everything is interconnected. A few connections from my past had recently come together. The Smoking Seagulls now have a new cycle in the fleet. And I have a chance to enlighten you on an activity that could be dubbed "Obstaclecross."The new addition of two-wheeled gems is my 1994 Honda CR125R. The first big bike I owned and had paid for myself was a '97 CR125R, so I have a bit of a soft spot for mid-'90s Hondas. My longtime friend Scott Stillmock of Mach 2 Motorsports had resurrected the '94 CR125R for his daughter. I traded a 2007 CRF250R for said 125 and a '71 Yamaha R5 350. The trade took place two weeks before the EX finals in Vegas.Connection:

•Scott worked in the service department at the shop where I purchased my very first Honda 125.

•I had actually bought a '94 CR125R from him in the past as a practice and parts bike when I was racing my '97 125.

•He also happens to jam on the track and rode some of the early four-stroke national races. Back when dudes would put Powroll kits in an XR and cross-pollinate them with CR wheels, suspension and ergonomic components. I rode a few of these races, and to me and for my time and racing experience, these events seemed to be the first "good times" races where people would do things a little differently and have a blast riding them. Good-times events and new experiences have sucked in my two-wheeled talents ever since.

During the 2010 Anaheim Supercross opening round, I bumped into Chris Denison, an old FMX chum. We talked about Dirt Rider and I told him I was keen for any excuse to get into motorcycle mischief. We exchanged contacts and Chris asked if I was willing to try EnduroCross. I'm not going to lie and say I didn't sort of laugh it off and blab, "You mean that event where dudes arenacross race on a track made from one of everything you can find at the outdoor/garden section of Home Depot?"Connection:

•I had met Chris in my earliest of FMX participant years, back when he could barely grow pimples.

•We both grew up in outdoor states and have ridden a little of everything.

•Chris had given me an invitation to an adventure trip completed this spring, which was featured in Dirt Rider (November 2010 issue).

One afternoon, I crack open the laptop and browse through some emails. I find an email from Mr. Denison. Chris asks if I want to try out the EnduroCross in Las Vegas and write up a little something on my experience. It is less than three weeks before the event and I reply, "Why not?" I ring him up and tell him I am about to acquire this late-model 125. I say that's the bike I will ride for the EX. I can tell he's grinning and get a chuckle of approval. A few days later I proceed with the gypsy motorcycle swap and take home my score. I give the old one-two-five a once-over and take her out for a spin.I had prior plans to tag along with the Metal Mulisha crew on a freeride trip that overlapped the dates of the Vegas event. It worked out well because the first leg of the trip was in Northern Arizona. I would join the tattooed marketing force for a fun-filled day of big air and hit the EX in Vegas on my way home to Reno.Since there was relatively no time between my date of promised cooperation and the event date, I chose the zero preparation route-not that I would have prepared anyhow. I like to take the things I have yet to experience in a blind, full stride. I've always had a natural-ability-meets-hard-lessons-learned approach to two-wheeled competition. This is a great way to really have the skills you need to work on thrown right in your face.

Barry Hawk is part of the set-up crew at the GNCCs. Photo by Shan Moore

Did I have any pre-race thoughts about the EnduroCross? Absolutely! I did, how-ever, try to separate them from expectations. This event was to be held in the Orleans Arena in Sin City. I have ridden this arena plenty of times. There had been at least four FMX events in that same building. I can ride indoors. I rode a few arenacross races prior to my FMX career. Two-thirds of the freestyle events I've done were indoors. I like to trail ride. It is actually one of my favorite motorcycle-related activities. And the older I get, the more trails I want to ride. Logs and rocks on your trails make it fun and technical. Technical is fun, right? These were the cloud top pre-race thoughts I had about EX.Then came that little voice. Actually, it was a bigger voice, and it sounded so familiar because it was my dad's voice. And his words of wisdom were clear: "Have you seen an EX event? Do you see what those guys have to ride over? You are going to get your ass handed to you!" Thanks Pop! A true-blue realist. My subconscious knew he was on to something. I planned on riding the CR125R. I changed my mind for a bit knowing that my overall performance may look better on paper if I had ridden another machine, but I decided to stick to my guns. I stuck with the little Honda for a couple of reasons. Not to have an excuse that I did poorly because of the dated machine, but because on paper the bike is worth about $700 (USD). And there was a strong possibility I could be wearing it as a backpack for most of the day. Being pummeled by the mass of my 125 versus the mass of my 450 was an easy choice.Bike prep was a breeze, thanks to Cliffy and Kenny from the Hart and Huntington race team. The new season's switch to Kawasaki made it quite easy to find Honda gearing lying around the shop. Fitted with a 13/54, the bike was sure to have a little more grunt and not completely cook the clutch on the two-smoke, and with just the right amount of MacGyvery, you can apply a modern CR skid plate to the late model. Thanks also to Enduro Engineering for the wicked set of bark busters. A fresh FMF Fatty pipe not only blinded my competition but also gave the steed a bit of bark until its demise. The '94 Hondas still came with an 18-inch rear wheel, so flats became less of a worry. The one call I regret not making to prepare the bike was to Dunlop. The late model came with a set of Sedona tires. All I can say about them is, "Yuck!"It was Friday before I knew it. I had been on the road for a few days and had an incredible freeride day in Cameron, Arizona, that Wednesday. I was a little worn from van camping and filming but eager to see the course. I met up with Chris for a track walk and all the pass collection/sign-up nonsense necessary to compete in the alien event. When I walked out on the course I almost broke into laughter. Laughing because it seemed downright silly to me to be riding over some of the-I'm sorry-most of the obstacles that made up the track. As I counted the growing number of items strewn across the arena floor that I had never attempted to ride over on a motorcycle and looked at the room they didn't provide to build speed, my dad's words of wisdom rang in my head. We did a few press photos that afternoon. I rode one full lap around the track and tried to spastically blitz a few individual sections. These actions did merit a few crashes I never saw coming and arm-pump after three sections. Not laps...sections. I went to bed that night trying to harness my chi and ignore the newly acquired Charlie horses from that evening.

Barry Hawk is part of the set-up crew at the GNCCs. Photo by Shan Moore

Saturday morning was an early one. Luckily, I am a Nevada native, so unlike some characters, I can handle my Vegas. Plus, "the man" has me on a pretty limiting budget these days and sponsoring an all-nighter was out of the question. Other than my pride being a little sore, I felt ready to rip. Being an absolute newbie to the EnduroCross meant daytime qualifiers. There were two practice sessions, one heat and one LCQ that lay between the night show and me.Did I make it? As in make it to the night show? Yeah, right! It's not that the concept of EX was impossible. It is, in fact, quite possible. EnduroCross is just really, really, really, really hard, and hard as in difficult, on many different levels. And apparently it was only difficult for me, because some people were shredding the daytime quallies. I never knew that many log-slithering Jedis existed. This is the part where I could claim the bike, but EX would be hard on any bike. I'm sure there are a few setup tips that would help. Like the day you put a slipper clutch (aka training wheels) on your supermoto bike. No matter what, the course is intense, or at least it was in Las Vegas for the finals. My only exposure to EX prior to Las Vegas was drinking a cold one in Indianapolis and watching a live event. The course at Indy looked like it had more speed and the obstacles were pretty straight on with some wacky tire jumps. Vegas looked tight and torturous, no pun intended. But eyes and beer in hand from the seats gives a completely different perspective when compared to eyes behind the Oakleys on the ground. And speaking of Oakleys on the ground, I couldn't remember another day that I picked myself up off the ground an equal amount of times as the day I learned how to snowboard, until now. Except for every time I had to get up, there was a motorcycle pinning some part of me to the ground.Why do this? In a sadistic way, it is fun. EX seemed sadistic because it was rather grueling. I'm going to be honest and say I was never an FMX dude with racer envy, wanting to spend half of my life in the gym. Being fit doesn't make you good at riding bikes. Riding bikes makes you good at riding bikes. I sure would like to have been fit on this particular Saturday, however. I literally got arm-pump in three-quarters of a lap, or my thumb went on strike and threw a wrench in my clutch pull program. And you're not jumping up and over a tractor tire lying flat, on a 125cc machine, without that precious clutch.I yanked the holeshot in the LCQ moto. This glorious moment was followed up by the lamest lap I put in at the EX. I was so tired I would have been sucking wind in the night show. Chris had mentioned something about holding your breath while running sprints on a treadmill and comparing the similarities to riding EX. He hit the nail on the head. If I were to train for EnduroCross I might have to meditate and find my inner attack monk. Part of the battle is not getting frustrated because you put your foot down and it is three feet from the ground. Again! The name of the game was smooth consistency. Which is what the pros like Geoff Aaron and Taddy Blazusiak rub in your face while you watch them tear it up lap after lap. And Neo was the one who taught us to show no fear when you are about to face "The Matrix." You have to be in full attack mode for every part of the track. Another effective training exercise might be blitzing a set of supercross whoops without your feet on the pegs. This will condition your body and strengthen your "when in doubt" skills.

Staying consistent was the most challenging part of my EnduroCross experience. You can have a lap where you just sneak through the nastiest element on the course. The next lap you can be in exactly the same line and be hung up on every sharp peaked edge of the same feature. I've always been able to summon my skills to get through any major two-wheeled task, but this event on a whole was the biggest "you might be getting old" slap in the face I have ever received. It was a good thing the event took place in Las Vegas and it took no time at all to put a big fear and loathing bandage on my post-EnduroCross pride.