I’d never raced at the Twenty-nine Palms circuit before, but I was informed by everyone I talked to that it was fast…real fast. They weren’t kidding. The course was very enjoyable as it flowed through sweeping third, fourth and even fifth gear corners, double blade wide, well prepped and maintained throughout the day by the Hilltoppers crew. One fact I learned really quick was just how much the roost hurts in the upper part of the race course where the terrain is made up of more shale and rock. Nobody wanted to follow at this race.
I had been working on my dead engine starts and as I practiced a few on the line of the first expert race on Saturday I was feeling confident I could get off to a quick start. As the lights flashed green I was in too much of a rush and got a sissy kick, leading to three more before the bike would finally start; I was dead last. I worked my way through a few riders pretty quickly and it was cool to have a few of them actually wave me on as I came by them, but I definitely wasn’t enjoying the amount of roost I was taking. One rock hit my nose and as I started to feel a little blood trickle down I actually got mad; I don’t quite remember making any sense of what I was mad at, but I was mad and kept charging. I came through on the second lap in fifth as the JCR boys, Timmy and Colton were one-two, Justin Seeds was running third and Mark Samuels was just ahead of me. I caught up to the back of Mark, but he was riding really well and I couldn’t get a good run on him. We came into the infield motocross section and I figured it was a good time to get push for a pass. I shot up the inside and had plans of out braking him into the following right hand corner, but, as racers sometimes put it, I forgot where I was, and the corner was coming up a lot quicker than I had anticipated. Mark was taking the good line, cutting to the inside rut and I knew I was going to hit him so I figured I may as well pull the clutch in, hold the throttle wide open and let him know, or maybe get lucky and scare him out of his line. He didn’t even flinch. As I came into the back of him I had nowhere to go but straight to the ground and I swear he stuck his butt out at me just to taunt me, but I digress. I picked the bike back up and got going, losing a few seconds, but caught back up to him later that lap. He went a little wide around a third gear right hand corner and I took the opportunity to cut inside of him and get by. I was on the back of Justin and pressing to get by as we came into the motocross infield and down one of the long straights I held it on a little longer and made it by and into third. I was happy to have some clean air (the Honda boys were around forty seconds ahead by this point) and I took the opportunity to calm down a little and take a breath. I’ve since taken a mental note not to do this in a whoop section as I dropped the front end and for the next twenty yards felt like I was riding a bucking bull, wondering when it was going to throw me off. Somehow I saved it, but I gave Justin front row seats to a wild ride; he later said he was laughing at me, wondering which way I was going to shoot off the track. Good times. From there I started feeling really good and was making time on Timmy and Colton out front, but ran out of time and at the finish I was around ten seconds off the lead.
For the second expert race I focused on getting a non-sissy kick and getting off the line better. It worked and my bike fired up first kick, but I still couldn’t quite beat those electric start Hondas off the line and was third heading into the first turn. I have to admit I wasn’t really feeling it for this race as my back was tightening up (residual from Baja) and I didn’t have the same pace I had found in the first race. I rode a lonely ride and crossed the line with another third.
For Sunday’s pro race I was feeling good; my back had loosened up and I was ready to get out there and adjust the throttle to maximum. My start was good as I fired the bike right up and got into the first turn in third behind Kurt Caselli and Timmy, only to have Kyle Summers get around the outside of me as I was trying to duck inside of Timmy. I settled into fourth as we all kind of single filed, staying just outside of the roost until we hit the asphalt straightaway in the back. Kurt later said he forgot the course turned so soon and he flew wide open past it, dropping him back to fifth by the time he got back on to the track. I was in third and feeling frisky as I saw I was making time on the two leaders, but passing was a tough proposition as heavy winds had dried out the track and made for a bit of dust. Kyle had made it into the lead and I was right on the back of Timmy, but I couldn’t quite pull the trigger in the motocross section and as we got back into the off road I blew high over a berm in the dust and squirreled out, almost crashing, and losing a few seconds in the process. As I was getting back to the task of catching Timmy again, Kurt was coming like a freight train. I didn’t even know he was behind me and then all of the sudden he shot past me on the outside edge of the course, just inches away from clipping me at 60mph. It was a sketchy pass, he even admitted, but it was a clean one and I locked on to the back of him. I stayed just behind him as the front four of us were separated by maybe twelve seconds, but felt as though my motor was laboring a little bit. I thought, in that “in-race logic”, that it was just running a little flat and dismissed it, but half a lap later the bike really started slowing down and down the next fast straight it quit all together. Unfortunately I had to face a very rare DNF.
All in all the weekend was ok for me. Two thirds on Saturday wasn’t my goal, but I’m still recovering from my Baja tumble so getting points was a priority as I continue to get my body back to full fitness. It’s a bummer, but DNF’s happen and all we can do is learn from it and be better prepared at the next race. I want to thank my team, THR Motorsports, Monster Energy, Precision Concepts Kawasaki as well as Fox and Asterisk, and all of the fantastic team sponsors for their support and effort. I get a little break now as I have three weeks until the next race at Speedworld for round five of WORCS and I’m looking forward to completing my full recovery and getting back to full speed on the dirt bike. I want to give a big thanks to the Hilltoppers MC for putting on a great event and being a great group of guys as well, and everyone who still comes up and wishes me well after Baja, it’s really appreciated.
Thank you to all the team sponsors: THR Motorsports, Monster Energy, Precision Concepts, Kawasaki, FMF Racing, Hoosier Precision Machining, BRP, Renthal, Dunlop, VP Racing Fuels, IMS Products, Kalgard, DT1 Filters, Hinson, Matrix Concepts, ZLT, QTM, RK/Excel, Acerbis, Works Connection, Zip-Ty Racing.
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