April 2nd, 2016 | 29 Palms, CA
Photos courtesy of Jean Turner and Cindi Fears
The 29 Palms racecourse has never been lacking in the speed department. It seems like half of the course requires 4th and 5th gear, which makes for somewhat unique conditions when it comes to the normally tighter, slower grand prix circuits, but the track ended up being a ton of fun, as it roughened up well, and made line selection a little more important.
As “ride-able” as the track was, though, it didn’t end up being very “race-able” for one unfortunate reason: dust. The dust was absolutely billowing in most of the sections, so even if you were quicker than the rider ahead, the lack of vision would force you to sit five-or-so-seconds back, sucking in cloud after cloud of dust. This isn’t meant to lay blame on the club; there was a decent breeze for most of the day, with temperatures in the eighties, so any water they did put down in the afternoon would evaporate rather quickly. One thing that may have helped would have been to water the course for a few days straight, in advance, allowing the water to soak down below the top few layers, but on race day, once the temperature rose and the breeze picked up, there was no catching back up.
I don’t want to sound like a prima donna pro, I do appreciate that this is “off-road” racing, with more natural conditions taking precedence over man-made variables, but it does make it very frustrating to feel held back from riding to potential by the conditions. Plus, in a closed-course situation, with over ninety racers on the track, and such a disparity between the speeds of the fastest racers and the slowest, the dust can make it a little more dangerous to really push the pace, but everyone has to deal with the same thing, so in the end, it’s on us to race hard, but smart.
All that being said, the conditions made the start unbelievably important and I had been struggling with my starts in the Big 6 series this season. In contrast, Blayne Thompson has been nailing his starts all year, and so when he lined up right next to me, I focused all of my energy on getting off the line well, pushing my bike into the ground and nailing my shift-points.
When the green lights lit afire, signaling the start of the ninety-minute pro race, I felt my bike launch off the line, tracking perfectly straight, and pulling hard. I had the jump on Blayne to my right, along with most of the other riders, but Jeff Loop and Eric Yorba were level with me, and lined up to my left, controlling the inside line into the first corner. I tried to line up a pass on Jeff as we exited the second corner, but he was quick to pinch me off, and I settled into third place as we headed towards the off road.
Through the first few corners, the dust wasn’t too bad…and then we entered a sweeping right-hander. Upon exiting the corner, the dust seemed to spread the entire width of the course, and the only option was to chop the throttle, riding more by memory than by vision through a few corners until the course shifted and the dust blew off the track just enough to be able to see again.
I had instantly dropped back about seven or eight seconds behind Loop, as Yorba started to stretch away, and for the next five laps I ebbed and flowed between five and ten seconds behind Jeff, depending on the dust, hoping for a mistake from him as I just couldn’t quite get close enough to make a pass before getting dusted out and dropping back. To be fair, Jeff was riding really well, but I finally got the little bit of fortune I needed (though it was at the expense of Loop) when he got a flat tire near the end of the fifth lap, handing my second place. Unfortunately for me, Eric had pulled out nearly forty seconds by that point and with less than half the race to go, making up that gap was going to be tough, especially on Eric who’s always shown that on his day, he has the speed to match anyone.
I could see that I was closing the lead that Eric had over me down, cutting it nearly in half, but the laps were winding down as well. There hadn’t yet been a white flag, so I figured I had one more lap to close the distance. I was ready to send it for a final time around the circuit to see if I could get close enough to maybe put a little pressure on Eric and make for a late-race battle, but to my surprise, the checkered flag came straight out, signaling the end of the race.
The lack of a white flag wasn’t really a big deal; I realize it is just a courtesy (not mandatory). I just can’t help but wonder whether I would have been able to close enough time on Eric to make for a thriller of a last lap, because even if I had caught up to him, making the pass would have been a whole lot harder.
All in all, I’m happy with how the race turned out for me, especially getting off the start line inside the top three, which has been an issue for me lately. I’m also very happy that my body felt like it was back to normal after my wall-hitting, super-fading, anchor-throwing performance at Havasu, as I felt I was able to push myself all the way through the race-length, getting stronger each lap.
I want to thank my mechanic Phil, suspension tech John, my wife (and McKenna), my family, all of my personal supporters—Precision Concepts, MSR, Shoei, Sidi, 100%, EVS, USWE, Focus apparel, BRP, RAD custom graphics, GoPro, A’ME grips, IWC motorsports, ATP mechanix, Rekluse, CryoHeat, and the MotoXerciser—and all of our race team sponsors for all of the continued support. I’m looking forward to continuing to build on this momentum and get back on top of the box at the Sand Hollow, UT WORCS race—another incredibly unique venue—in a couple weeks!
*I want to give a quick shout out to Gary Sutherlin for getting the win in Idaho (great to see him back to form so quickly); to Jake Argubright who lead most of it, but just can’t seem to catch a break yet this year; and a quick recovery to Justin Morgan, who, like Jake, just can’t seem to get the rub of the green.
Thank you to each of our team sponsors: Rocky Mountain ATV/MC, Precision Concepts, Maxxis tires, FMF exhaust, Maxima USA, Renthal, Dubya USA, Acerbis, Matrix Concepts, GPR stabilizer, CryoHeat, Rekluse, VP Race Fuels, IMS, BRP, LA Piston Co., A’ME grips, Braking, RK/Excel America, ARC levers, DT1 filters, RAD custom graphics, Zip-Ty, Boyesen, Seal Savers, MotoSeat, MotoHose, Next Components, Rigid Industries.