That’s right! I went back to my desert racing roots and attended round two of the AMA National Hare & Hound series in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The course was laid out near the White Sands National Monument and it provided all the racers with a fast, sandy, whooped out, dust-filled 110 miles. The Pro’s did three loops, one-40 mile loop and the last two were the same 36 miles done twice. Usually there is a long bomb run that racers can pre-run just before the banner drop, but for round two racers were only allowed to walk the bomb, which was only about 200 feet in length. With Taylor Robert having internal injuries suffered at King Of The Motos last week, he was not able to make this round in Alamogordo. Desert racing is the backbone of our sport. If you think about it most consumers ride OHV areas and not a closed course motocross track. The people that attend these off-road racing events are the most down to earth and helpful humans you will ever meet. Unlike motocross where people will most likely keep to themselves, the off-road crowd will come up and strike a conversation and tell you ‘if you need anything, don’t hesitate to let us know”. I wanted to shed some light on some of the top racers and give you all a quick rundown of some of the things I viewed and heard from some of the top riders of the series.

Gary Sutherlin: To say Gary has had a hard road the last year and a half would be an understatement. The Montana turned high desert native ruptured his spleen in a head on collision crash in Phoenix in late December 2015. After healing from that injury, he won a National Hare and Hound race in 2016 but had another crash and had to have his spleen removed in May of 2016. Sutherlin has been working hard for a win to get his confidence back and to prove to himself and his new team (Purvines Racing) that he was the right choice. Sutherlin also switched to Yamaha's in the off-season, which meant more testing than he would of liked, instead of just putting in solid training time on the bike. Sutherlin got a good start and lead from mile marker 3 until the checkered flag. The sandy, rough course was right up the alley of 'the Weston Peick' of off-road racing, AKA Sutherlin. The win put him in second in the points and gives him the confidence that him and his team needed to maybe start a little win streak.

New Mexico National Hare & Hound 2017
Pro riders charge into the first left hand corner.Photo by Mark Kariya
New Mexico National Hare & Hound 2017
Gary Sutherlin navigates his way up a hill to his first win of the season.Photo by Mark Kariya

Ricky Brabec: Ricky Brabec or "The Black Knight" as I like to call him got a horrible start when the flag dropped. Brabec commented that his bike died out after he went to dump the clutch off the start. This didn't stop Ricky from charging through the pack and came into the first gas stop in second, 30 seconds behind Sutherlin. Brabec tried to make some time up on Sutherlin and put the hammer down, but he couldn't quite close the gap. Ricky has been testing the new 2017 CRF450RX, but instead has been racing his trusty CRF450X the first two rounds. He mentioned to me that him and the JCR Honda team will be on the new bike come round three and that he is really enjoying the new Honda RX chassis. Ricky crosses over from racing Hare & Hounds to rally racing, which he is having great success with. Look for RB1 to get a better start next round with his all new race steed. Fun Fact: If you are a dog lover ask Ricky about his two dogs and get ready to stand there for about ten minutes when he proceeds to talk about them.

New Mexico National Hare & Hound 2017
Friends and rivals Gary Sutherlin and Ricky Brabec bench race a little after the checkers.Photo by Mark Kariya

Jacob Argubright: I don't know Jake that well, but every time I see him he smiles and says "hello". This is what I like about this guy, he's friendly. He's a quiet man and just puts in solid rides. I do know he has been putting in a lot of work on the local sand tracks in California and is improving on his speed/intensity. Argubright has all of the tools to succeed in 2017 with Factory Husqvarna support so look for him to be a constant threat to the two guys above him all year long. When the series heads to Utah and Idaho Jake seems to catch fire and starts to gain momentum, so be on the lookout for a "W" soon. Some bad news came when Jake finished the race however. His father Steve had a heart attack while Jake was racing and immediately got rushed to a local hospital. At the time of this article, Jake's dad was in stable condition and hopefully would be going back home soon.

New Mexico National Hare & Hound 2017
Jake Argubright lands on the podium for the first time in 2017.Photo by Mark Kariya

Justin Morgan: Morgan hasn't been a huge podium threat in the past, but he was on the gas all day and was actually in third place at the first gas stop. Justin rode Yamaha's last year and decided on riding a Honda CRF450X for pure comfort. Bob Bell from Precision Concepts helps Morgan and his racing efforts, and in Alamogordo it showed that he could be up in the mix with the top three.

New Mexico National Hare & Hound 2017
Justin Morgan rode impressively for fourth overall.Photo by Mark Kariya

Axel Pearson: Little Axel Pearson looks like he could ride a 125 from the size of him, but handles the big boy class very well. Axel is the little brother of famous Hare and Hound champions Nick and Russ Pearson. The fruit doesn't fall from the tree as he can twist the throttle and is always in the top five mix. Ron Purvines from Purvines Racing loves how hard this kid works. From what I see, Axel is a very humble and quiet rider. Next time you see Axel out in the desert take a look at his arms! They are ripped and I like that when he shakes a hand, he shakes it like a man. Good Job Axel!

New Mexico National Hare & Hound 2017
Axel Pearson drifts it in for a fifth place finish.Photo by Mark Kariya

Nick Burson: Another Purvines Racing rider! That is right Nick Burson fresh off of a AMA ISDE Qualifier win got a mid-pack start and just couldn't reach Axel at the checkered flag. Nick has won many desert races and is your current AMA West Coast Hare Scrambles Champion. Look for Nick to get more comfortable on the blue bike and improve his results, especially when the series heads to Lucerne Valley, California where he is familiar with the terrain. Oh and Nick, please lose the Raider hat ok? Thanks!

New Mexico National Hare & Hound 2017
Nick Burson gets around a lapped rider en route to sixth place.Photo by Mark Kariya

Cody Schafer: The Colorado native was a regular in the WORCS series for a while, but has since cut back on some racing to go to work. He obviously hasn't lost his speed, as Cody was the first real privateer on the day. I met him and his parents at dinner the night before the race and they were happy to come back to New Mexico where Cody has raced many times. This was a nice ride for Schafer and maybe we will see him at more Hare and Hounds this season?

New Mexico National Hare & Hound 2017
Cody Schafer was first privateer and seventh overall.Photo by Mark Kariya

Travis Porter: Travis is your local New Mexico number one racer and let me tell you when I say he came from way back to finish inside the top ten. He looked to be quite a bit faster than any other local rider there and worked his way up in the dust to grab eighth o/a. I don't much about Travis, but I have to give him some props for getting a top ten in a National Hare & Hound, even if he does know the local stomping grounds.

Nic Garvin: Nic works as a test rider for dirtbikes.com and has put in two top ten finishes to start the year. I mean I am not biased, but I am rooting for this kid, because he is a fellow test rider and is doing it on him and his dad's own dime.

Notes From New Mexico:

Best Looking Gear Award: So I do this every week with the Supercross riders, but I thought I would reward the rider who had the best overall gear presence on Sunday. With off-road riders they are all about function over fashion as they endure more over the course of their race than the average moto guy. Ricky Brabec took the cake as far as putting together all of his colors with his Red Fly Lite Hydrogen set up. The red and black looked great on the Honda and with his all black Monster lid, I had no choice to tip my hat off to you Mr. Brabec. Who says off-road guys don't care about their look? Ricky is slowly but surely getting into the look of his appearance when it comes race day and I approve. Nice job Black Knight!

New Mexico National Hare & Hound 2017
The “Best Dressed” award goes to JCR Honda rider Ricky Brabec.Photo by Mark Kariya

Joe Wasson: Our prayers go out to Beta Factory off-road rider National number 4 Joe Wasson, as he had a big crash just after the start and went into surgery to repair a badly broken arm. Joe is an Idaho native that moved his family to Arizona to pursue his off-road racing career. All of us here at Dirt Rider hope for a full recovery Joe.

Purvines/DA8 Racing: Ron Purvines is a businessman with a passion for off-road racing and it shows. His passion has leaked into a full blown off-road team that consists of Gary Sutherlin, Axel Pearson and Nick Burson. He hired these three riders to contest the series and not only supply bikes to them, but supply them with a salary. This is rare! Off-road racing doesn't have a lot of "paying rides" nowadays, but Ron puts a lot of effort and his own money to provide a solid foundation for his riders. If it wasn't for people like Ron, off-road racing would be hurting and missing out on some serious talent. Kudos goes out to you Ron (and the whole team) for keeping these Vikings of the desert on their bikes and letting them put food on the table for their families.

Friendly Rivalries: When is the last time you saw the top two racers in any series train together, have dinner and genuinely are just friends? Usually never right? Well Ricky Brabec and Gary Sutherlin do just this. It's funny to hear these two talk friendly trash to one another and get each other fired up on bicycle rides (near their home in Hesperia) and on the start line come race day. Ricky likes to joke around on the start and Gary is more of a quiet guy and wants to focus. Ricky knows this and pushes Gary's buttons when the race draws near. It's comical! It's rare in a sport that is so mental and ego driven to have such friendships, but these two are the first to congratulate one another and wake up Monday morning to go on a training spin or trail ride. If you ever happen to eavesdrop on their conversations on the start line you will be sure to crack a smile. Thank me later.

KC66 Foundation: The KC66 Foundation is a big supporter of the AMA National Hare And Hound Series. The foundation has multi-time District 37 winner and ex Factory Kawasaki star Paul Krause pre-run and ride the complete course beforehand. He will then write down any danger areas (that are on the course) that need to be marked better and give the information to the promoting club to fix. Having this introduced to the series helps with safety of the course and the riders.

New Mexico National Hare & Hound 2017
Your overall Pro podium.Photo by Mark Kariya