All photos courtesy of Ciaran Wilcox.
The third annual Northeast 24 Hour Challenge was held on July 14th–15th, 2017 at Tall Pines ATV Park located in Andover, New York. I attended the race as part of the support crew and a spectator along with my husband, Chip, who was riding on Team FAHQ2 for their second year in the 30+ class.
To call it “just a dirt bike race” is a gross understatement and does a disservice to such a prestigious event. This race is a test of physical and mental endurance, team work, determination and drive for the ultimate goal—to make it all the way until the checkered flag. It is an achievement, a sense of accomplishment and pride to persevere through the challenges that the race has in store and to come out the other side as a finisher, and with any luck—a winner.
After promoting some local WYNOA (Western New York Offroad Association) races, the Arcadia Bark Busters (“ABB”) club took a chance on creating a race similar in format to an event held in Alabama, and in 2015, so began the Northeast 24 Hour Challenge. With registration for the race allowing only 120 available entries opening on New Year’s Day, the 2017 race reached capacity within a record 20 days. Word of the event is spreading and is attracting some of the most elite offroad riders in the region.
After arriving at Tall Pines, each team selects their pit on a first-come-first-claimed basis. The vehicle entrance to the pits closes an hour prior to the start of the race at which point all bikes are to be retained within the area and no more vehicles are allowed to pass through. Having a well-prepared pit is a key element to a successful race since you are essentially held to what you have available in your pit should any issues arise. The race is a relay format with the transponder serving as the baton. The team decides amongst themselves the order that their riders will go out to do their stint and how many laps each rider will do. You can alter the order or number of laps at any time as long as whoever is on the track for your team has the transponder on them.
The green flag drops at 10:00 AM on Saturday morning with classes released in waves starting first with a sprint to the bike and then a dead engine start. The racing continues straight through the day, night and morning until the checkered flag flies at around 10:00 AM on Sunday morning.
With the caliber of riders attending the event to fight for the title, it was clear that there would be no easy win for any of the teams. There would undoubtedly be epic racing to witness. Top riders from WYNOA, GNCC and the J Day series were prepared to leave it all on the track to earn the win. The title contenders, New England’s Finest Savages (led by Beau Veins and joined by Johnny Girroir, Jason Connell, and Curtis White) faced the Loud Fuel Mother Truckers (Ben Kelley, Jason Klammer, Drew Torrence), Trail Pros (Billy Schlag, Craig DeLong, Nick Davis and Zach Nolan), as well as four additional teams that were all vying for the win.
Conditions were going to be extreme with the area receiving extensive rain up until the day prior to the race. All of the riders would all be pushed to the fullest extent and challenged from green flag until checkered flag. Just reaching the pit area through the extreme mud started the challenge which only continued the next day. The dirt in the region being clay-like caused it to hold water and once saturated, the mud was a smooth silty slurry.
At 26 minutes after the race began, the distinct sound of engines at full throttle could be heard through the pines well before there was any sight of them. You just knew that the battle was on and the premier train was coming in fast and hard. Johnny Girroir, riding for the title contender New England’s Finest Savages team, came through with the lead on the initial lap and held it for the first three laps of the race. Second place was held down by the Loud Fuel Mother Trucker team but the battle was tight and they were right on the heels of the leader.
Goggle-less riders onboard their mud-drenched bikes began to come through the last turn before scoring, slinging mud and grass as they went. Their faces exemplified sheer exhaustion and it had only just begun. The mud and expressions told a clear tale of what the conditions were like out on the track, and they would only continue to worsen throughout the day and night.
Activity in the pits began to pick up around an hour after the race began. The first rider swaps started to occur and while the transponder was being transferred to the new rider, the finishing rider had the ability to give an overview of current obstacles or areas of concern. With a fist bump, the next rider was off to complete their leg on the rotation.
From that point on, the pits remained alive, becoming more and more active by the hour. Riders get ready for their leg of the race, bikes pass on their way to or from their pit, mechanical issues and maintenance on bikes is completed along with the sound of friendly banter in the background. Once the race begins, bikes are only allowed to be repaired inside the pit area, and with no vendors at the event, if you forgot a tool or a part or had an unforeseen mechanical issue, your team and those pitting around you were your only saving grace. Without fail, there always seem to be people who step up to assist with repairs or spare parts or help to troubleshoot mechanical issues. The vibe is electric and full of adrenaline and happiness. As an observer, it is an exhilarating experience to witness and I cannot fathom how much more so it must feel to race the event. This race is a “bucket list” experience and once you do it, you are sure to be hooked!
With the track being so expansive and conditions as difficult as they were, any mechanical issues that may arise while out on the course can cripple your lap times and potentially the race. Safety workers are out on the track to assist and will tow bikes back into the pits but it takes time. The workers had their hands full and were non-stop busy yet they continued to give their all through the day and night to get to everyone as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, New England’s Finest Savages experienced such a situation that put them into sixth position four hours or so into the race. The time lost was seemingly detrimental but with 20 hours in the race still left to go, there was no ruling anyone out. Anything can happen within such a long period of time.
As the racing went on, Team Trail Pros (Billy Schlag, Craig DeLong, Zach Nolan, and Nick Davis) and Team Mother Truckers (Ben Kelley, Jason Klammer, Drew Torrance and Bubtz Tasha) were banging bars and battling throughout the whole 24 hours. The racing between the two teams was intense with the lead swapping every few laps. The Trail Pros claimed the lead shortly after 2AM and from there they held it for the remainder of the race.
As the sun set and night set in, out came light bars and helmet lights. Pits were lit up like an offroad carnival. There would be many hours of adversity still to come through the rapidly worsening track conditions which would test the will of even the strongest of riders. The ABB worked tirelessly to keep up with the course and several changes were made throughout the night to cut out the dangerously grueling sections of the track. In the early morning hours, a heavy mist filled the air which added a new layer of moisture while it was dark causing already difficult conditions to become more extreme.
When morning arrived, it brought a bold, beautiful sunrise and blue skies. Fatigue had clearly set in on the riders. You could hear it as you walked through the pits and you could see it in their eyes. Everyone had given all that they had but about four hours of riding in daylight remained. For some, it was more than could be tolerated and for others, it was the motivation needed to push harder and finish strong.
The racing continued and finally, with 23 hours behind them, there was roughly one hour remaining. Most teams were expecting to go out to have the white flag drop as they finished the initial lap and then they would have just one final lap for checkers. When the Premier team leader came through scoring at 9:18AM, it was premature to throw the white flag with the lap times being what they were. Seeing a yellow flag when the white was anticipated changed the strategy of teams to finish out the race. Some riders returned to the pits for an unexpected final rider change while others dug deep and went out for one additional lap. As the leader, Billy Schlag with the Trail Pros came through scoring, a flood gate of riders suddenly appeared in a huge wave. They had held back around the corner from scoring to wait for the leader to pass and receive the checkered flag. After that pack cleared out, the typical flow of riders finishing out the race resumed. Each rider coming through scoring on the final lap received a Finisher medal from the club as evidence of each person’s accomplishments.
The racing in the Sportsman class went down to the last feet of the track with the Bushwackers 2.0 finishing only 90 seconds ahead of Team Bunch of Drunks. The Bushwackers put in their fastest lap on the final lap at 28:43 to end the race with an impressive 44 laps and the win in the class by 1:39.
Team FAHQ2 remained steady in 4th place from lap 10 through the duration of the race. They remained consistent in their riding and had no mechanical issues. The team was successful in chipping away at their position in the overall standings finishing in 4th place for their class and 22nd overall out of 140 teams.
Two Junior classes finished in the top 10 overall, which is incredibly impressive. The future of offroad racing appears promising with such an exhibition of talent at such young ages.
Once the race was finished, the pits were packed up and cleared out faster than they appeared and the fields began to empty. The racing on the track may have ended, but the bench racing had only just begun. The exhilaration of the whole experience is a feeling that remains with you for some time after the race and perhaps never completely leaves. The next race is a full year away, but the plans have already begun. Social media is buzzing with excitement for the 2018 24 Hour Challenge.
If the Northeast 24 Hour Challenge is something that you are considering, I can assure you that it is something that you will never regret nor forget. It is an achievement that will stay with you for years to come. Be prepared in early January to get your registration in because spaces are limited and fill up faster with each passing year!
A link to the list of riders registered for the race as well as scoring results are attached.
Rider List: http://www.arcadiabarkbusters.com/who-s-in.html