Photos courtesy of Harlen Foley
Taft has to be one of the more unpredictable stops on the WORCS tour. The terrain is comprised mostly of hard pack roads, but the twist is that as the surface breaks down, seemingly bottomless silt arises, which conceals any square edges and holes and makes it a veritable guessing game as to what your hitting. Adding any water to the track, obviously a necessity to suppress the dust and prevent the silt, only fuels the unpredictability as it brings the traction level on par with an ice skating rink, making the terms speed and control slightly mutually exclusive. On top of it all, the weather report was calling for triple digit highs so there was no denying it was going to be one tough, physically demanding weekend of racing.
As I lined up for the start of the pro race I had a goal in mind: no matter how my race was going, I wanted to test myself in the heat; I was focused on maintaining my lap times for the entire two hours, basically testing my preparation. In the past I’ve been pretty susceptible to heat exhaustion so this was a perfect opportunity to test my limits. It was a pretty ambitious goal.
Lately I’ve become quite the master of the two-kick start and as the green flag flew, I didn’t disappoint. I was instantly deflated as I wanted to be up front quickly, but as my bike fired to life, I realized the only bikes thundering down the start straight ahead of me were the three (electric start) KTMs of Eric Yorba, Starr Savage and Ty Tremaine, and the Kawasaki of Justin Seeds; apparently everyone else was struggling to get their bikes fired and the fact that I wasn’t going to be mired in the back of the pack filled me with glee.
I wanted to get to the lead in a hurry, set my own pace, and I was able to make a pretty quick pass on Tremaine. Next in my sights was Justin Seeds and we accelerated down a choppy straightaway nearly side-by-side. As we approached the following corner, Justin was stuck in the main line, hitting the biggest bumps, and I was out on the far edge of the track, allowing me to brake later and sweep by just before we reached the turn. Upon exiting the corner I caught the tail end of a pretty exciting crash as Starr fell victim to some freshly laid water. He lost traction, sliding the bike sideways and once his bike caught, he was high-sided into the air and up the following hill while his bike actually low-sided to a sliding stop, leaving him looking back at a thundering pack of 450s heading straight for him, all struggling for traction just as he had done (I’m pretty sure everyone avoided him). His crash definitely exemplified how unpredictable the track conditions can be and it also gifted me second position, leaving just Eric Yorba ahead of me.
Eric was riding really well. We were both feeling out the track conditions slightly, but I wasn’t able to make too much time on him during the first lap. It wasn’t until the second lap that I made a pretty good push and got right up behind him, just in time to get a front row seat to Eric’s wild ride…
As we crested the top of a fifth gear hill, the course turned right, then lazily left and there was a small oil pipe just protruding from the ground on the inside of the left-handed corner. Eric trimmed the corner a little tight, clipped the pipe just wrong and tucked his front end, which sent his back end violently swapping out to the side. The speed of the swap whipped both of his legs high into the air and I thought he was done for, but somehow he managed to muscle the bike straight and get his legs back in their proper places. I think the fact that his entire race flashed before his eyes, along with almost crashing on an asphalt road, lead him to sit up and give me free passage into the lead and I still can’t believe he saved that swap; it was incredibly violent.
From here I went about pushing the pace and testing my limits, but as I came into the Endurocross section on the second lap, the only limits I was about to test were the limits of tire traction on a wet log. As I rounded a corner and headed towards a small log double (nothing incredibly difficult) I remember thinking that there was a lot of fresh water on the ground, which I knew would make doubling the logs a little tougher, but I was committed. I took to the air and as I approached the second log, I clipped it just slightly with the front tire. I landed in the dirt, front wheel first with my back end teetering on the brink of falling forward. It seemed like it took ages for my bike to decide whether or not to send me over the bars and I remember arguing with myself over the idea that I could save it. Finally my bike came to the decision that there was just enough momentum to tip me forward and I was forced to step through the bars as my bike came to a perfect stop, upside-down, resting on its seat and handlebars. Luckily, it never stalled and I was able to remount and take off without losing the lead.
It took a couple laps to beat the clutch perch back into a comfortable position, but once I did, the rest of the race was smooth sailing. I had pulled a decent lead and was focusing on achieving my goal of keeping my laps consistent, not dropping off the pace, which worked out well for the majority of the race. It wasn’t until the final couple of laps that my times began to drop, and even then it was more due to my hands getting hot spots than my body fatiguing. All in all, I was quite satisfied with how I held up in the heat as I crossed the finish line and took my third win of the series.
It was another great weekend for me, and my team: Precision Concepts, Alamo Alarms Racing. The team made some adjustments after practice to help with the square-edged chop and it made a big difference on race day as my bike handled the challenging conditions very well. The WORCS crew did a stellar job with the facility; especially considering the conditions weren’t ideal for keeping water on the course. Thanks to my personal sponsors: Fox Racing, Alamo Alarms, PODmx knee braces, USWE hydration systems (the hands-free device made such a huge difference on a blisteringly hot weekend), THR Motorsports, Northland Motorsports and Ryan Abbatoye Designs. Congratulations to Ryan Abbatoye for earning his first ever WORCS podium (not bad for sitting at a desk all day). Thanks to my family and friends, my fiancé for everything she does, my mechanic Phil, and Ty and John back at Precision for working their butts off in preparation for the Baja 500.
Speaking of the Baja 500: it’s always such a fun race and I can’t wait to get down there and start riding. I feel we have a great team. I’m thrilled to again be partnered with David Pearson and Steve Hengeveld, and excited to have Taylor Robert joining us, adding more speed and depth to an already stacked group of talent. After winning last year’s 500, we’re definitely planning on repeating and I’m looking forward to having another close battle with the KTM and Honda boys. See you all down south!
Thank you to all the Precision Concepts, Alamo Alarm Kawasaki team sponsors: FMF Exhaust, GPR Stabilizers, IMS Racing, BRP Triple Clamps, AME Grips, Kalgard Oils/Lubricants, Ryan Abbatoye Designs, AP Brakes, LAPC Pistons, Renthal Handlebars/Sprockets, Dunlop Tires, VP Racing Fuels, DT1 Air Filters, K&N Oil Filters, Hinson, Matrix Concepts, RK/Excel, Acerbis, Works Connection, Zip-Ty Racing, SealSavers, Baja Designs.