My Oklahoma National Enduro experience shadowing seasoned media pros and quaffing local beers.
When I had the idea to embark on a journey to an offroad race for Dirt Buzz I had a shortlist of racing series and events in mind that I thought would be fun. The J Day series in New England, Jason Hooper’s Full Gas Sprint Enduro Series, and the National Enduro Series were ones that interested me the most and that would offer up a unique new travel experience. Come to find out, autumn in New England is a popular time of the year with all of the beautiful fall colors, and I hadn’t even thought about that when I looked into going to the J Day round at MX 207 in Maine. So J Day was out, but it’s definitely still on my bucket list. That left Full Gas and National Enduro; however, I quickly found out that flying from Boise, Idaho to anywhere on the east coast is really, really expensive. But a round-trip flight to Tulsa, Oklahoma was not only reasonably inexpensive, it was a one-connection flight and (as a bonus) there are some decent breweries in Tulsa. So Full Gas was out and National Enduro was in.
After a bit of research, I realized Tulsa is a pretty rad city located on the Arkansas River with a college town vibe, a burgeoning culinary scene, and is a city known for its art deco architecture. Tulsa also has some good breweries to choose from, which sealed the deal for me. So I booked my ticket for round eight of the NEPG (National Enduro Promoters Group) National Enduro Series and got to work building a trip itinerary that would not only take in the race but also allow me to explore the local scene. I decided to build in some extra time by flying in on Friday and out on Monday so there was no hurry and plenty of time to take in the area.
Upon landing on Friday I grabbed my rental car and immediately made a beeline for Phat Philly's Cheesesteaks located on South Peoria Avenue. I ordered up their specialty namesake sandwich which is loaded with steak, grilled bell peppers and onions, and melted cheese on top of a delicious hoagie bun. “Things are starting out well,” I thought to myself, although in hindsight maybe a cheesesteak sandwich at two in the afternoon may not have been the best choice seeing as how I had plans to hit up a few breweries but I hadn’t had a really good Philly cheesesteak in a while—so I went for it.
After a quick stop to check into my hotel in San Springs, I headed out to visit American Solera Brewing. Located in a nondescript warehouse/railroad district on the south side of the Arkansas River, the place had a decent number of cars in the parking lot when I rolled up—likely from those who decided to bust out of work a little early on Friday and tip back a few pints.
American Solera did not disappoint. I started out with a sample of their Cranbarrel, a 5.6% sour ale that I’d seen pictures of on their Instagram page. Then I sampled “Precious Moments,” an 8% double IPA with Citra, Simcoe & El Dorado hops and that is amazingly juicy and delicious. Both were top notch and I’d recommend the place to anyone living close to Tulsa that enjoys craft beer as much as we do.
As much as I wanted to hang out, it was time to head downtown and meet-up with my good friend, and Purveyor of Awesome, Brian “Woody” Pierce of Seat Time fame. He and Papa Pierce had driven up from North Dallas and we had decided to meet up at another brewery on Woody’s recommendation, Prairie Artisan Ales. Bench racing and beer drinking ensued (in moderation, as Woody was racing on Sunday) as we kept it mellow and sampled some Prairie and a few other regional beers, including a standout for me from Roughtail Brewing Co. out of Oklahoma City called “Everything Rhymes with Orange.” Wow! Holy juiciness, this beer looked like a glass of orange juice when they brought it out. Total deliciousness.
I awoke to clear skies and warm temperatures on Saturday and headed to the race location after picking up a carbon monoxide tester at the request of Woody and Papa Pierce after they woke up with crushing headaches and dizziness. (No, it was not the beer. Come to find out they had a motorhome generator exhaust leak.) The race site is located about ten miles northwest of Tulsa on the John Zink Ranch, a beautiful piece of land that encompasses 30,000+ acres of private land that has been put to use for not only offroad races (including the 1994 ISDE event) but includes a scout camp, a shooting club, and is open to horseback riders and other sportsmen. I was surprised by how hilly the terrain is on the drive to the race location and hadn’t expected the rolling terrain. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place to hold a dirt bike race.
Saturdays are laid back and relaxed at the NEPG races and the day consisted of riders and crew setting up their pit areas, doing last-minute bike maintenance and talking shop and smack amongst one another. I cruised around meeting riders that I’d only had correspondence with online and handed out Dirt Buzz Joy tees to as many riders as I could. I met up with series videographer Rob Mitchell of Rob Mitchell Films and we lined out a plan for Sunday and agreed to meet up for dinner later. Towards the end of the day Woody and I knocked back a few beers and then I headed for my hotel and a cool shower. First impression: if you want a laid back, chill vibe then NEPG racing is for you.
Sunday was race day and I rolled out of my hotel to wet roads and a 30-degree drop in temperature: the recipe for a perfect day of racing. The first row rolled off the line for Test #1 at 9:00 am and the day was off and running and the chase began. NEPG promoters Alan and Melissa Randt kindly allowed me to ride along in SUVs with regular series photographers Shan Moore and Darrin Chapman, along with series videographer Rob Mitchell as they captured as many tests and sections as possible.
Seeing what these guys do to capture the race coverage that likely all of us take for granted was an eye-opening experience. Capturing content at an offroad race spread out across such a vast section of land as the Zink Ranch is an exercise in efficiency and planning. Melissa Randt knew ahead of time all of the directions and locations to get us to tests #1, #3, #5, and #7 with plenty of time to capture as much of the action as possible. It was five hours of driving to remote locations, hiking to water crossings and other cool sections, getting back in the vehicles and rushing to next location—only to do it all over again. To say that I have a new level of respect for these guys is an understatement. I also have a huge amount of respect for Melissa Randt and her knowledge of the course layout. Without her, it would have been so much more difficult to get the content that we did. I found out how much effort it takes to get those photos you see in race reports and the footage for that 3-4-minute video you watch. It was cool to shadow these pros and see how they operate. I appreciate them taking me in.
It was also mind-blowing to see the top A and Pro riders finesse, swerve, and smash their way through the tight trees and across the undulating terrain of the Zink Ranch woods. Coming into the final test Thad Duvall, Grant Baylor and Steward Baylor were separated by a mere 15 seconds after four hours on the bike and six special tests! These guys are machines and it was impressive to watch how consistent and precise they are on the motorcycle.
My Oklahoma Enduro experience was a good one and riders that live within a short drive of one of these National Enduro events or riders that haven’t been to one yet: give it a shot, you won’t regret it. The people are nice, the format is excellent, and the vibe is chill. After the race, I was able to hang out for a while and smash a few more beers that Texan Mark Koch had hand-delivered to me. At the end of the day, I was tired but content. Thank you for a great time Tulsa, and thank you people of the National Enduro Series—I’ll definitely be back!
[A big thank you to Alan and Melissa Randt for their hospitality and for allowing me to feel like a real media person by riding along with seasoned pros Shan Moore, Darrin Chapman, and Rob Mitchell.]
Zink Ranch National Enduro Bonus Photo Gallery
[Click on an image to see enlarged view]