What Really Happened: Cherokee National Enduro

Charlie Mullins kicked off 2013 with a solid win in Georgia. Photo by Shan Moore

The Rekluse AMA National Enduro Series kicked off its schedule this past weekend in Greensboro, Georgia, with some pretty fast action on some uber-tight and gnarly single-track at the Cherokee National Enduro, round one of the 10-round series.

Drawing first blood was FMF/KTM rider Charlie Mullins, who took the first win of the season by 39 seconds over Nick Fahringer. Mullins had some pretty bad luck last year, but he seems to be all the wiser for it and this year he says he’s prepared to do what ever it takes to bring home another national enduro title.

One of the changes Mullins made for 2013 was to switch from his familiar KTM 450 SX-F to one of the 350 XC-Fs, saying that the 350 is much easier to handle in the tight woods than the 450.

“I’m really excited about the 350, I think it was a smart choice,” said Mullins. “If you’ve ever ridden a 450 in tight Georgia pine trees then you’ll agree the 350 is a good choice. The 450 is a great bike and for GNCC races it’s awesome, but I think for tight woods the 350 is exactly what I was looking for in the motor.”

The 350 seemed to suit Charlie’s needs quite well in the tight stuff, as he kicked off the Georgia race by winning the first two tests of the day and opening up nearly a minute lead over second place before anyone else even knew what happened.

“I think I had a pretty good day,” said Mullins. “I won the first two tests and I had a pretty good third test. The fourth test was really tight and I wouldn’t say I struggled but I was a little off pace and didn’t really ride up to my potential. In the fifth test I broke a rear brake pedal about a mile in and thought I threw everything away. I don’t know what it is about this place, this is the third time I’ve broken a brake pedal here. It’s kind of a freak thing. In the last test I just kind of rode conservative; I had a big enough lead that I just rode a smart race and brought it on in.”

Nick Fahringer turned a few heads with his runner-up finish. Photo by Shan Moore

Nick Fahringer turned a few heads, for sure, by winning two tests and taking the second place trophy back home with him to Ohio.

Even though he finished off last year with a second place finish at the season finale in Alabama, “Ringer” was a bit disappointed in his performance in 2012, going all year without a win after winning three rounds the year before. And when his contract was not renewed by Husaberg, Nick signed with a satellite team out of Nebraska called AirGroup Racing and the move seemed to have paid off in spades.

“With my new team, it seems as though there’s not as much pressure,” says Fahringer. “Sure we want to win, but it’s about having fun too, and that’s put me in a better state of mind; that philosophy really works with me. When I was a factory rider I felt as though I had a lot of pressure on me to do things a certain way and look a certain way and there is this team atmosphere and sort of an “un-team” atmosphere when you’re not winning. So everything here is very relaxed and I have access to everything I need, a great bike and good support.”

Fahringer says his newfound “relaxed” style seems to have reduced his tendency to get arm-pump, and though he’s always been known as a slow starter, he got off to a fast start in Georgia, which was one of the keys to his runner-up finish.

“To start the first test and be in the running, that was a big deal for me,” said Fahringer. “I basically had a good day; I had a few issues with slower riders, but it’s the first national for everyone and we all have to get used to the flow of things. Overall, I rode good, but Charlie just rode better. I would dig deeper and think I would have him, but then I just couldn’t close the gap. But, for sure, getting that fast start was huge for me and key to the finish.”

Russell Bobbitt was third in his national debut with Husaberg. Photo by Shan Moore

Russell Bobbitt was fast at the Cherokee, and finished just 31 seconds behind Fahringer for third, but admitted he is still adapting to his new Husaberg. After years and years with KTM, the four-time national enduro champ signed with Husaberg during the off-season and

“I like the Husaberg and I think it’s going to be really good for me once I get it dialed in,” said Bobbitt. “But I’m still getting used to the new bike, but to come away with third is not where I wanted. I for sure wanted to do better than that, but at least I got some good points and I know that my speed is there; it was just off a little bit today. I wasn’t 100% comfortable, but it’s gonna come and we’ll be ready for the next one.”

Bobbitt is one of the hardest trainers on the circuit and his conditioning is a big reason for is success.

“I felt strong, I’m in shape and that’s not an issue, I just felt like I wasn’t riding up to my full potential. Toward the end of the day I was trying to make up lost ground and we tried a little change to the bike, and it was kind of an indifferent change. I was just trying too hard and I had a couple of mistakes like stalling the bike and stuff, but it will come around.”

Brad Bakken won one test and finished fourth. Photo by Shan Moore

After riding a shop-sponsored KTM during the last few years, Brad Bakken signed with Obermeyer Yamaha/Raines Riding University/Offroadvikings and rewarded his new team with a solid fourth despite having a few problems.

“It was kind of an up and down day,” said Bakken. “I actually kind of struggled at first because my clutch was slipping pretty bad, and I had to shift up a gear before the bike would even move, so that was a little rough. We switched out the clutch going into the third test and I just put the hammer down and I ended up winning that test. In the fourth test I was riding good but I started losing my brakes with about a mile to go, so I lost a little bit there. We changed brakes and it did well in the fifth test but in the last test my brakes started sticking a bit and the rear wheel would slide on me a little, which made it kind of sketchy. But I never crashed and I never made any huge mistakes, so overall it was a really good day and I’m happy with a fourth.”

Mike Lafferty is going for a ninth enduro title in 2013. Photo by Shan Moore

Fifth isn’t exactly where Mike Lafferty wanted to be at the end of the day, but the factory Husaberg rider knows it’s a long series and consistency is the name of the game, although a podium finish would have made him a lot happier.

“I started off decent and I felt good early on,” said Lafferty. “I had a couple of good tests, but it seemed like when I felt good I didn’t have that good of times. I don’t really have an answer; it definitely wasn’t the result I wanted. I wanted to at least get on the podium, but I don’t have any excuses, other than I didn’t ride very well.”

Stu Baylor started the race but dropped out after the third test. Photo by Shan Moore

After saying he would skip the Georgia race to let his wrist heal, Stu Baylor made a last minute decision to race the Cherokee to try and score a few points before he goes back under the knife next week.

Baylor had an operation to repair a broken bone in his wrist a few months ago, but it hasn’t healed like he had hoped, so he made a decision to have the same surgery that Ryan Villopoto had where part of the bone is removed. He goes in next week for the surgery and will be out of action for an unknown period of time, although he says he’ll race the River Ranch GNCC in a few weeks.

“I’ll go home and have surgery next week,” said Baylor. “The bone hasn’t healed at all and I’m hoping this surgery will take care of it once and for all.”

“I’ve had two surgeries on the wrist and one on my collarbone and I’ve been off the bike for 15 weeks, and I rode a little bit yesterday and I thought I could come out here and get some points,” said Baylor. “I had some problems in the first section but we weren’t that far off. We thought we were outside the top 20, but we were actually in the points in 16th, but I had a slow time in section three and we decided to call it a day.”