Hahn and Stewart Revisited, East And West Hare Scrambles Action, And The Opening Round of the OMA Series! – The Weekly Dirt: February 27, 2013

Welcome to Weekly Dirt, your place on the Internet for off-road news from around the world. We’re halway through the Supercross schedule and so far we’ve had five different winners! That’s amazing stuff. There’s a lot of other racing to dig into, too, so let’s get to it!

James Stewart and Wil Hahn Shine In Atlanta

James Stewart got on the winning track in Atlanta. Photo by Shan Moore.

Here we are at the halfway point of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series and already we’ve had five different winners. No one is really dominating this year’s series, which means that it’s boiling down to consistency. And up to this point, Davi Millsaps has been the best in that category, landing on the podium at every round but one, so far this year.

In Atlanta, James Stewart finally got untracked and came away with his first win of the season. If you remember, the Yoshimura Suzuki rider injured his knee in practice at the opening round at Anaheim I and it has taken a few weeks for him to get to where he could go hard for a full evening. Until now, the inability to practice during the week has the main thing holding James back, but look for him to be challenging for a whole lot more wins from here on out.

“Coming into the season I felt like I could do this, I felt like I could win, but after those first two races and being hurt and dealing with that, then that’s a different story,” Stewart said after his Atlanta win. “After getting hurt, I was just trying to get out of those races with some kind of points. At Anaheim II I started feeling better, and I thought maybe I could be on the podium. Then at Oakland I felt a lot better, but not as good as now. So every weekend I was getting better and better. At Anaheim III, I got out front, but I just got tired from not getting all the time on the bike that I needed. At San Diego, I felt like I could have won, too. So, I don’t think I could have won in those early races, because of the injury, but the last few races, if I could have got the start, then I think I could have won.”

Wil Hahn got his first-ever 250 SX win in Atlanta. Photo by Shan Moore

Also at Atlanta, Wil Hahn took a popular win in the 250 class, leading all 15 laps ahead of Arlington-winner Dean Wilson. This win has been a long time coming for Wil and there were a lot of people happy to see him finally get it. It was cool to see how really stoked he was after the race!

“I can’t tell you how great this feels,” Hahn said. “I just tried to maintain composure but that was the longest 15 laps I’ve done in a long time.”

Zach Bell led his 250-class heat race until the final lap. Photo by Shan Moore

Putting on another good show this weekend was GEICO Honda’s Zach Bell, who led his heat race until the final lap, when he made a mistake and let Hahn by. Immediately afterwards, Bell’s front wheel started to lock up, so it wasn’t clear if the problem had anything to do with the first bobble or not. At any rate, this kid is going to be a star.

Sode Wins Elko Hare Scrambles

Justin Sode won the Elko Hare Scramble, round two of the AMA East National HS Series. Photo by Kenny King

250A rider Justin Sode, riding a 250 Beta, took the overall at the Elko Hare Scrambles, round two of the AMA East National Series. Sode stayed consistent all day, never dropping lower than fifth. Heavy rains before the race created very muddy conditions where making just a single lap was a challenge. The course was shortened from 21 miles to eight just to make it ride-able. KTM-mounted Sam Evans took the runner-up position moving there on lap nine. Meanwhile, Husky rider Robby Norwood stayed in thrid for most of the day to round out the podium. Japanese cross-country champion Takeshi Kolkeda led the race for two laps before his rear tire came off when the bib mousse came apart. Only four riders managed to finish nine laps. The next round is in Berwick, PA on March 20th.

Sutherland Wins Rock Stars Classic VII Hare Scrambles

Out west, round three of the AMA West Hare Scrambles Championship Series in Globe, Arizona – the Rock Stars Classic VII – proved to be an epic event thanks to unpredictable weather and some highly talented and dedicated racers.

Gary Sutherlin raced Saturday in Mesquite, Nevada, but managed to drive all night to arrive in Globe in time for the green flag to drop on Sunday morning. A surprise snowfall had started during the night, which didn't stick but made conditions slick. Sutherlin got out to a fast start and grabbed the lead by the second turn. By the end of the first lap, he held the lead followed closely by Alex Dorsey, reigning AMA West Hare Scrambles Champion Cory Graffunder, Anson Maloney, and AMRA AA Champion David Broderick.

At the start of the second lap, the dirt was getting tacky and the riders were throwing down some fast lap times. Sutherlin dug deep to open up a gap on Dorsey, who was charging hard to get the top spot. Graffunder suffered mechanical issues halfway through the lap and had to limp back to the pits. This moved Broderick to third and Maloney into fourth, with Ian Betschart rounding out the top five.

By the time laps three and four rolled around, the snow started to fall again, bringing back the slick conditions to Globe’s clay soil. It was only temporary, though, as the snow made the dirt perfect the last three laps of the seven-lap race. Fatigue never set in for Sutherlin, who kept it pinned all race long and made it look like he hadn't even raced the day before. In the end, Sutherlin brought out the checkers first, followed by Dorsey, Broderick, Maloney and Ian Betschart.

Straight Talk About Neck Braces

Be sure to look for a very thorough and in-depth look into the world of neck braces in the May issue of Dirt Rider magazine. But in the meantime, here's a cool and very informative video from Leatt on how neck braces work: http://leatt.us5.list-manage.com/track/click?u=de6a015ab5d1d8cc0d65ee36d&id;=93cad90f61&e;=fa1d1191d2

Off-Road Cluster Takes Next Export Step

Idaho's Off-Road Cluster, featuring Klim in Idaho Falls (www.KLIM.com), Rekluse in Boise (www.rekluse.com) and Pro Moto Billet in Nampa (www.promotobillet.com), are going to apply what they learned in the classroom to the global marketplace, specifically South America and Australia. The first week of March, 2013, Klim and Rekluse will be traveling to São Paulo, Brazil, and Santiago, Chile, to meet with potential customers. Off-road importers from Australia are being invited to visit Idaho and members of the Cluster in late May/early June.

According to Amy Benson, U.S. Commercial Service Boise, “all three markets are showing robust growth in the off-road industry and provide tremendous long term opportunities”. The U.S. Commercial Service Boise is arranging both trade missions with the assistance of the Idaho Department of Commerce.

The Export Program is the next logical step for these companies. Each of them recently graduated from the Export Excellence Program, a collaboration between the U.S. Commercial Service Boise, the Idaho District Export Council, the Idaho Department of Commerce, Techhelp and the Idaho Department of Agriculture. Companies selected have demonstrated they have a product with export potential, have seen interest from foreign buyers and need a plan to develop that interest or want to expand current exports.

After three months of extensive class work, conducted by export professionals in various disciplines, they are now ready to step out and apply what they have learned. "This program is a wonderful example of federal and state economic development agencies working together to grow the exports of the Idaho Recreational Technology Industry", stated Gary A. White, President, P'Chelle International, the consultant on the project. P'Chelle International specializes in industrial cluster development, best known in Idaho for the Snake River Boat Builders Export Program in Lewiston and the River Ridge Recreational Technology Center in Potlatch.—Shan Moore

New blood and new names at the top of OMA opener

Two years ago at the OMA opener, Russell Bobbitt won after a very tight battle with eventual series champ Paul Whibley. This year, Bobbitt emerged victorious after fighting off tenacious series newcomer Kailub Russell in what\'s shaping up to be a very competitive season. Photo by Mark Kariya
There’s no ignoring Kailub Russell, either on the track or in the pits in his new RV. Photo by Mark Kariya
Five-time and defending series champ Paul Whibley had a rare off day and finished fifth behind teammate Jordan Ashburn (10), with Nick Fahringer (901) claiming third. The only highlight of the day for Whibley was grabbing the $200 FMF Holeshot Award, but better days are surely ahead for the champ. Photo by Mark Kariya

Add Kailub Russell to the list of riders hoping to stop Paul Whibley’s championship streak in the Off-road Motorcycle and ATV Nationals at five--and if the FMF/KTM Factory Off-road Racing Team star’s performance at the OMA kickoff is any indication, he could very well earn that number one plate by the end of the year.

But he’ll have to go through former teammate Russell Bobbitt first--as well as Whibley.

The Seven Springs Cross-country National outside of Tuscumbia, Alabama, served as the kickoff to the OMA’s nine-round series, and Russell generated plenty of speculation as soon as he announced he’d compete in both the OMAs and GNCCs this year. He continued to raise eyebrows when he rolled into the venue on Saturday in his huge RV with its eye-catching graphics treatment.

But Russell is still new to the OMA game and it was Husaberg’s Bobbitt employing his vast tight-woods riding experience to great effect and winning after a race-long, back-and-forth tussle with Russell. The 37 seconds separating them at the end was the biggest gap between them for the entire two and a half hours. AirGroup Radiant Racing Husaberg’s Nick Fahringer claimed third, 1:17 back.

“It kind of caught me by surprise--kind of a little culture shock,” Russell said of the hectic early going as he tried to acclimate to the fresh trail and the OMA style course marking.

Russell’s speed wasn’t a question mark, though, and before long he found himself in front. However, after leading a couple laps, he snapped both hand guards off, which affected his pace.

“After that, it was really tough to stay up because there’s so many slappers and stuff that grabbed my front brake,” he explained. “I was hitting the ground a bunch today just because of the vines and stuff grabbing my front brake lever.”

Running the full metal hand guards is something that Bobbitt’s used to, of course, so he had no such problems. Despite a somewhat disappointing National enduro debut on his TE 300 the previous Sunday, he made some changes to dial in his bike more during the week and it paid off in Alabama, but Bobbitt realizes one win doesn’t promise him his first OMA championship; there are still eight rounds with plenty of tough racing still to go.

“For sure, Paul’s going to be tough to beat ; it’s not like he had a perfect race .

“I know it’s going to be tough racing this year. Everyone’s, I think, picked up their pace. Nick’s riding really well, Kailub’s riding really well, ‘Whibs’ is multi-time OMA champion--so we’ve got our hands full.”

Despite earning the $200 FMF Holeshot Award, AmPro/FMF Yamaha’s Whibley had an otherwise disappointing day after finishing fifth, a few minutes behind teammate Jordan Ashburn, the victim of several small problems mostly with native vegetation snagging parts of his bike.

“It was just a whole bunch of little things that just kind of made it a crappy day,” he said, adding, “I’m probably a little rusty after being home . We don’t have this tight stuff at home. I’ve done a couple races since I’ve been back, but they weren’t as tight as this and the level has been a little different, too.”

Expect Whibley to get back into his normal groove quickly and stay up front longer at round two next month in Kentucky, but with Bobbitt, Russell and Fahringer getting the jump in confidence from the opener, this has the potential to be the most competitive OMA season yet.

Russell promised, “We’ll figure something out. We’ll probably have to end up using Bark Busters. It’s not my first choice, obviously, but I don’t want to be hitting the ground like that all the time!”

Late last week on his Facebook page, Destry Abbott finally revealed he'd finalized his racing plans for the year and those plans see him remain green. The five-time AMA National Hare & Hound Champion will concentrate on the four global X Games as well as the AMA Racing/GEICO EnduroCross Series, primary support coming from Kawasaki's P.R. department and Monster Energy. In addition, he'll be offering training camps on a larger scale than in the past, sharing his vast wealth of riding knowledge and techniques. (Justin Soulé remains a former Monster Energy Kawasaki off-road star without a ride, and he continues to successfully race bicycles.) . —Mark Kariya

That’s all for this week, be sure to check in next week for more news from the off-road world.