My third official desert race was held in Parker Arizona the first weekend in November of 2001. After my disappointing break down in my previous race I was determined to not let that happen again. My sponsors helped me with a few more “go fast” parts for my bike and some new tires. I worked at a machine shop in those days and my rear axle nut was drilled and safety wired so it would not come loose again during a race. I meticulously prepped my race bike the week of the race, going over every nut and bolt to ensure it was in tip top shape. A Scott’s steering stabilizer was added also. Terry Glass, a sponsor, owned two of them and donated one to my racing effort. I purchased the mount and with the help of a co-worker modified another part at work to make it fit.
During the month of October I continued with my training program, but also began to eat healthier. I rode in the desert with Terry for the better part of one or two days a week. I rode my mountain bike several times a week also. Terry was a former desert and Baja racer and still possessed one of his old Kawasaki KX 500 race bikes. The bike’s name was Big Pete. It sat in pristine condition in his garage. The bike was still sporting the race numbers from its last Baja 1000 race. I had been itching to throw my leg over it for quite some time and finally talked him into letting me ride it one Sunday. I fell in love with that big 2 stroke engine immediately. It was a completely different animal than my Yamaha 4 stroke. I think Terry enjoyed watching me rip up the trails on his old bike and he let me throw it into the trailer along with my bike.
Terry and I drove out to Parker early Saturday morning pulling the toy hauler with our bikes. My race was scheduled for Sunday. After completing registration and tech inspection the course was opened for practice the rest of the afternoon. What we call a “Gran Prix” motorcycle race is typically held at a motocross track with some more mileage thrown it to make it more like a long distance desert race. The Parker Gran Prix course wasn’t really a motocross track, but it wasn’t a true desert course either. The course is actually nick named “The Anaconda” because it consists of a number of long obstacle filled straights with 180 degree turns connecting them. About half of the turns consisted of deep sand with berms around the outside and the other half consisted of hard packed dirt littered with shallow ruts and not much of a berm. This race was also known for its “land rush” start where all the bikes would line up across the desert and begin the race at the same time drag racing to the first turn. My race length did not necessitate a pit stop for gas.
I took advantage of the open practice time and completed a number of laps around the course. While it wasn’t a difficult course, there were some areas that could really save time if executed properly. I learned a few places that I could “double jump” which not only lowered my lap times, I also made those places flow much better and helped conserve energy. I spent the rest of the afternoon looking over my bike again, I was determined not to have another mechanical failure.
My other main sponsor, Cuffy Crabbe was also going to race in the 50+ class. He may have been one of the “old guys” but he did not have any fear when it came to twisting the throttle. He was racing his Kawasaki KX 500 that was highly modified, and quite frankly much more bike than he needed. My good friend Brian VanAllen and his brother Andrew also came out to the race to hang out and help where needed.
After a trip into town for some excellent Mexican food I decided it was time to fire up Big Pete and spin a few laps in the dark. Big Pete was set up for Baja racing, including two 8” headlights. I donned my riding gear and headed out. I was having a blast ripping around the course in the dark. Night riding can be extremely enjoyable. Technically practice was over and I shouldn’t have been out there, but nobody stopped me. I believe I was on my 4th lap when my rear tire caught a rut on the exit of a corner. I already had a handful of throttle and the sudden jerk of the rear wheel to the left caused me to twist the throttle harder. On a bike with as much power and throttle response as a KX 500 this is not a good combination and the situation turned ugly rather quickly. Before I could react, my rapidly spinning rear wheel swapped to my right. I tried to correct the situation, but before I could I found myself flying through the air. My bike spit me off over the handlebars and I tumbled across the hard packed, gravel covered desert. I jumped to my feet quickly and extremely embarrassed. I happened to crash right in front of a number of racer’s pit areas. A few people came out to check on me, one of which was a volunteer course worker. He informed me that I needed to go park my bike and call it a night. Since my race number was displayed on the back of my chest protector, he told me he would have me disqualified if he saw me out there again.
Disqualification was just about the least of my worries at that moment. I had just crashed my sponsor’s personal bike for the first time. And I could have thrown another race away. The bike didn’t seem any worse for wear other than a little road rash from the gravel. After a few kicks the engine fired up and I rode slowly back to my pit area. I was extremely embarrassed as I informed the guys what had transpired. Immediately, Cuffy started giving me grief over being irresponsible and possibly tearing up Terry’s bike. To my relief, Terry wasn’t concerned about the bike, but rather my well-being. I wasn’t hurt, but I knew I would be sore the next day.
Sunday dawned a crisp cool morning. November in Arizona is beautiful. I woke to sore muscles from my crash the night before. My back and right shoulder hurt the worst. I wasn’t about to complain about my self-inflicted injuries. The race promotor divided the day into three races, two for bikes and one for quads. My class raced in the first race, and would be the fastest class of the race. Terry threw some breakfast together while I donned my riding gear. I cleaned my goggles and refilled my Camelback. I preferred to have some flavor in my water, so a bottle of Propel was poured in and then topped off with cold water. Straight Propel or Gatorade did not quench my thirst. I also attempted to stretch some of the stiffness and soreness out of my muscles.
I didn’t want to eat much, but Terry insisted so I scarfed down a banana and headed to the start line. About 75 bikes were lined up across the desert. I picked a spot about a third of the way down the line. The riders on either side were in slower classes so I hoped they wouldn’t hinder my start. The young man on my right was quite short and was resting one foot on his bike stand, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to touch the ground. Finally we were signaled that the race was about to start and I warmed up my engine and stretched my arms and shoulders one last time.
A man walked past the row of bikes with a green flag in his hand and without warning started waving it vigorously. I was expecting some sort of 5 second warning and was caught completely off guard. The short rider to my right got the jump on me and I found myself eating rocks and dirt as we accelerated across the desert. I was determined to catch up and twisted the throttle as far as I could while shifting through the gears. My Yamaha YZ 400 was giving me all it had. I had to lean forward to keep the front tire on the ground as my rear tire found traction. The first turn was more than half a mile away and I was running mid pack as I entered the sweeping left hand turn. The long turn became increasingly tighter and sandy. Many of the riders carried too much momentum and over shot the turn. I managed to carve a nice tight line through the deep sand berm and exited several places ahead of where I entered. I knew my speed was on point, so I reminded myself to stay calm and ride consistently and hit my marks. The course was freshly watered which is great for the sandy sections and detrimental to the hard pack sections. The hard packed Arizona desert becomes extremely slippery when wet, and this course was no exception. I tip-toed through the next few turns because I knew a crash here would be horrible with all the riders behind me.
The last leg of the Anaconda was a long smooth straight and about three quarters of the way down an easy high speed jump was located. As I entered the turn leading into the straight I spotted two riders in my class right ahead of me. I opened the throttle and jerked the shifter through the gears toward the jump. My two competitors were side by side and I was not far behind in the middle of the course. As we approached the jump both the other riders slowed and I kept the throttle on. My practice the day before taught me that I didn’t need to slow down, so I precisely split the two competitors and sailed over the jump. Shortly after the jump a 90 degree turn to the right led into a few speed robbing, deep sandy zig zags that brought us back around to the first turn from the opposite direction of the start line.
After two laps I found myself near the front of the pack, but I wasn’t able to keep track of my position because riders from other classes were mixed in with us. Slower lap traffic became an issue fairly quickly also. I continued to charge hard and hit my marks lap after lap. It was a fairly uneventful race and after the checkered flag flew I returned to my pit area not knowing how I placed.
Cuffy’s race was next as well as some of my Pro class friends. I pulled up a chair with Terry, Brian, and Andrew to watch the next race. Cuffy was not very fast over the rough areas or jumps, but he twisted the throttle when it was smooth and that big Kawasaki ran well.
After the second motorcycle race the quads raced. Terry and I loaded up our bikes and packed up the trailer. Neither one of us had much interest in watching the quads race. We also wanted to head home as soon as possible. Once we were ready to go Terry and I walked over to the organizer’s trailer to see the results from my race. I learned that I had placed in 3rd. I wasn’t disappointed with the result, but wished I had done better. If I could have known my position during the race I may have been able to charge harder and finish better, but there was nothing I could do about that.
We returned to our pit area. I decided we didn’t need to wait for the awards ceremony since I could pick up my trophy that week at their office in Phoenix. So we jumped in the truck made the several hour drive home. The next race on the schedule was called “Point to Point” which was held right across the border in main land Mexico. There was no doubt in my mind I would be there.