Thomas Takes the Win at 42nd Moose Run

If you want to find the easy way around Morrison, make sure you don’t ask Bill Gusse.

Riders line up for the start of the 42nd Moose Run. John Gasso photo.

By Jerry Bernardo

By Jerry Bernardo

Photos by John Gasso – www.photobyjohn.com

This year’s Moose Racing Moose Run was the season finale of the 2017 OMA Nationals and as usual, it put every rider and machine to the test. In the woods around Morrison, Illinois there are no ‘safe places’ for anyone whose feelings are easily hurt. The faint-hearted need not apply and if you are at all inclined to be a bit emo when the going gets rough—tough shit. This race always will be an ass kicker and OMA promoter Bill Gusse wouldn’t have it any other way.

Each year, in cooperation with many of the landowners near his property, Bill and his son Monty manage to lay out 50 miles of pristine trail. The Pros and A classes run two full loops while all other classes pack it in after one. Bill Gusse prides himself on finding challenging trail and as many downed trees as he can. It is his love for what he calls ‘timber’ that stands out in the minds of those who have raced the Moose Run. There is nothing like turning a corner and sighting another 3’ ft. high log when you are sucking eggs and can barely kick over your bike. Let’s just say the pile at the bottom of the Gusse Christmas tree is usually quite small each year.

This year Jason “UK” Thomas was the first man to see the checkered flag. Thomas, who had been looking over his shoulder during the last few sections just edged out the newly crowned OMA champion Mike Witkowski by 25 seconds after four-plus hours of hard work [Cody Barnes placed third].

Monty Gusse tells us what makes a race like the Moose Run so unique yet often dreaded by some.

Dirt Buzz: Did you ever think this race would see 42 years?

Monty Gusse: This race has been happening for a long time, a couple of generations now it seems. Some of the old guys that won [it] back in the day are old men now: Tom Reese, John Martin, and Jeff Fredette just to name a few. This event just will not die off although a few people would like it to (laughs).

GNCC XC3 champ Jason Thomas took the win at this year's Moose Run. John Gasso photo.

DB: How long does it take you and your Dad to create 50 miles of serpentine bliss?

MG: It takes my Dad and I about 3 weeks—that’s from 9:00 am until dark. We work 7 days a week in conjunction with the local farmers. If the crops aren’t out we have to beg them to pick the corn or soybeans so we can get through the fields. We have asked them to pick straight across a cornfield just so we can get the bikes through. We are lucky; there are some very understanding landowners and neighbors here.

"We work 7 days a week in conjunction with the local farmers. If the crops aren’t out we have to beg them to pick the corn or soybeans so we can get through the fields .... We are lucky; there are some very understanding landowners and neighbors here." – Monty Gusse

DB: Can you tell if your Dad, who I may add has a bit of a reputation, is trying to outdo himself [each year] and torture a few riders in the process while he plots out the loop?

MG: Dad used to be really bad about that but he has gotten a little soft lately. He doesn’t like hauling dirt bikes out until midnight on Sunday night anymore. When the trophies are handed out he is ready for bed. Back in the day, he used to drive out in a van with a quad and some tie downs.

Mike Witkowski charged all the way to finish for 2nd place, 25 seconds behind Thomas. John Gasso photo.

DB: While some go just to finish, the guys in the pro ranks are focused on taking the win.  I heard a couple of mechanical gremlins snuck in and burst that bubble, what happened?

MG: A few of the top contenders running up front suffered DNF’s. Four-time OMA champion Jimmy Jarrett was poised to race for the overall until his mousse let go and last year’s defending champion Nick Fahringer blew up his Sherco 300 just 37 miles in. The rider to capitalize on all that was Jason Thomas, he quickly moved into the lead and took over from there.

Nick Fahringer vents to us after a disappointing DNF: “I took control of the Moose Run about 12 miles in. Things turned bad [for me] when a mile of trail markers were pulled down by a hunter. I searched until Jason Thomas and Jarrett caught up then eventually Witkowski and Cody Barnes. We eventually found the track and the racing commenced. I was last seen pushing my bike from the end of a field after a cold seizure. I was running her in deep and hard to regain my race. All I can say is: ‘Size your main jets accordingly!’ I guess for some reason the two-stroke God's were unhappy with me. The Moose Run is one of those grueling, long and tough races without a break. It's the kind of race that I thrive on and before I really started to gel and dig my teeth in I lost the trail and my lead. Of course, the overkill in the fields cost me a Sherco 300.”

DB: Monty, did Jason Thomas have to fight for the win or was it pretty smooth sailing after he moved to the front?

MG: Mike Witkowski was closing in on Thomas and with about six miles to go Mikey had closed the gap down to 30 seconds. Jason pretty much had the race in the bag, the only way he would have lost is if he had made a mistake.

Young gun Cody Barnes finished third overall. John Gasso photo.

"The Moose Run is one of those grueling, long and tough races without a break. It's the kind of race that I thrive on and before I really started to gel and dig my teeth in I lost the trail and my lead. Of course, the overkill in the fields cost me a Sherco 300." – Nick Fahringer

DB: The pace of the trail network at the Moose Run has a bit of a dynamic: tight woods for a while and then riders pop out into fifth gear tapped cornfields. Do you guys consider the cornfields rest sections or are they used just to get to the next section of woods?

MG: If the whole race could be in the woods we would definitely do it. The fields are usually to get from one section to the next. If you are fifth gear pinned over the rolling hills in the fields sometimes it feels as if the bottom falls out when you go over the top of them.

Back when I was riding I tried chasing Paul Whibley across the fields one time and my eyes started watering so bad (even with goggles on) that I couldn’t see…I don’t know how he does it. I talked to him after the race and asked him: “How do you do that, go 80 mph. across the cornfields?” He just laughed at me.

Four-time OMA champion Jimmy Jarrett and winner Jason Thomas navigate some Moose Run "Timber." John Gasso photo.

DB: You had mentioned to us that your Dad doesn’t have many Moose Runs left in him. Does it bother him knowing he will soon have to finally succumb to his weary bones and pass on the torch?

MG: I think it keeps him up at night—it pisses him off. It is amazing at his age that he still goes out and cuts trail all day like he does. Cutting these trails is not for sissies especially with the locust trees and thorny vines and stuff, it’s not a lot of fun at times.

DB: The Moose Run is on the bucket list for many off-roaders and to just finish two loops is a hell of an achievement for the blue-collar rider. Do you agree?

MG: I respect anyone that even signs up for this race nowadays. You don’t find a lot of riders that are willing to put themselves through that kind of torture for 4.5 hours anymore.

42nd Moose Run Overall Results

  1. Jason Thomas (Hus)
  2. Mike Witkowski (KTM)
  3. Cody Barnes (Yam)
  4. Mark Heresco (KTM)
  5. Logan Lowrey (Bet)

Moose Run Photo Gallery

Photos by John Gasso – www.photobyjohn.com

(Click on any image to see its full-frame enlarged version.)

Photos by John Gasso – www.photobyjohn.com