The name says it all. Brian had the bike, gear and support network of a full-blown race team. The rest was up to him.
After proving itself for two years, we decided to grace the 2006 EnduroCross with our MotoUSA presence. The entire show had an awesome crowd, hot competition, storybook racing and went off without a hitch, none of which had anything to do with MotoUSA, but we encourage positive thinking around here. Our contribution was really very minor, and much less significant that we had originally hoped.
You might have seen the EnduroCross Bike Build article we posted earlier. Once we got the approval of promoter Tim Clark to participate we set about creating our weapon of choice. Since our Creative Director, Brian Chamberlain, spends the weekends roosting the bejesus out of me and the rest of our riding buddies, he was chosen as the official rider representative. After all our hard work with the bike prep, BC and I loaded the van and embarked on a 14-hour marathon drive through the Nevada wastelands.
To make a long story short, we arrived in Las Vegas on Wednesday night without mishap. The following day was registration where Brian picked up his goody bags and was assigned his respective practice and qualifying race order for both the 4-stroke Open division and EX Qualifier. Once the formalities were taken care of we got our first look at the track as workers built the amateur version for Friday. Mainly we spent the day trying to calm the increasing nerves and subsiding effects of cardio-bursting levels of energy drinks consumed during the drive. Talking with Clark revealed that the track would be much rougher for the pros on Saturday. He also half-jokingly mentioned that he would toss a few boulders into the water crossing later that night after all the amateurs had already finished their track walk. Having dealt with Clark before we half-jokingly believed him and his sadistic plan. Fortunately, the water pool never changed further than becoming a muddy brown.
Friday dawned bright and early, too early in Brian’s shaky opinion. As nervous as he was he was mostly anxious to get on the track so that he could stop all the butterflies and second-guessing. MotoUSA president, Don Becklin, had flown in to witness his employee/buddy in action and remind him that MotoUSA’s inaugural EnduroX race should remain a groundbreaking attempt rather than bone-breaking. With our encouraging words still ringing in his ears, BC set out for his first practice session. Watching him turn sub-minute laps during his four-circuit outing was a relief for everyone and confirmed our hopes that he would be more than competitive.
We hadn’t seen anything quite like the EnduroCross course until we showed up in Vegas. Watching video from the 2005 event hardly prepared us for the hellish reality.
The second practice session didn’t go quite as well with a pair of falls marring his final chance for familiarization. He was obviously riding a little tight, an unexplained yet common side affect of wearing the helmet camera, and after picking up that big 450 a couple times fatigue was becoming a factor. His lap times of 1:00, 1:03, 1:08 and 1:31 showed how drastically a simple fall could have serious consequences, and he didn’t even stall the motor.
As the official race team manager, videographer, mechanic and ego-pumper-upper, I saw the fatigue as more of a concern than minor spills. Everyone was bound to crash on that course at some point, so the playing field is leveled to some degree. But, we had a potential 34 to 51 laps ahead depending on how Brian managed to qualify his two main events. It could, of course, be a lot less if he failed to qualify, but that wasn’t something we were considering. Remember, positive thinking.
With a batch of fluids and a snack, Brian donned his customized Fly Racing BC74 jersey once again and pushed his bike through the staging area for the 6-lap 4-stroke Open qualifier. As the gate dropped, the big 450 put the power down for the one section of racetrack where the throttle was allowed wide open. A mid-pack start forced Chamberlain to the outside where he was able to avoid a small pileup on the inside, sandy rut. Emerging in fourth, things looked great as he hopped and bounced across the logs and rocks littering the second straight. A 180-degree right-hander, up and over the Maxxis Tires, across the balance beam and BC reached the rock pile. Climbing up and in, he began his downward exit with a little boost of throttle which sent his front wheel skyward, not the ideal situation in a field of bathtub-sized boulders. A quick dab of his right foot to regain balance and something went painfully wrong in his knee.
From behind the eyepiece of my camera I could tell instantly that something had happened, even though he didn’t crash. Back in the pits, even Brian wasn’t sure what had gone wrong and decided to sit around for awhile hoping that it was a minor tweak. The instant swelling and increasing pain was a good sign that the knee wasn’t going to come back so we gloomily admitted defeat and turned our attention to finding a reliable source of strong painkillers.
Just like that our day, and my story, was over – 1/2 lap. Since our grand trip wound up in total failure, I’ll turn it over to the man responsible. I had to wait until now before I could get any Vicodin-free impressions from him, but here’s the results of my interview with, as he’s now called, Brian “I’m too old for this shit” Chamberlain:
MotoUSA: So tell me what you thought about EnduroCross as an event.
BC: As an event I thought it was fantastic. As a rider the track was fun and challenging. As a spectator the racing was tight and unpredictable, the fans were cool. I thought the event was well put together and ran smoothly. Definitely one of the better events I’ve been to.
MotoUSA: This was your first shot at actually competing. It didn’t go quite how you had hoped; explain what it was like building up the event with the bike preparation and the mental and physical exercises that you did in order to be ready for this.
BC: Leading up to it we did quite a bit of bike prep getting the bike to what we thought would be competitive at the event and basically trying to avoid any sort of damage, protecting the bike and just getting it set up to handle that type of abuse. That went really well.
I did quite a bit of practice riding and tried to hit as many logs and stuff as I could when I was out practicing. I did fall about a week before the event and broke a rib, so that was sort of lingering on my mind coming into the event.
MotoUSA: Any other injuries, physical or mental before the event even started? A broken rib is bad enough.
BC: No. I don’t think I had the endurance that I needed. I felt pretty good out there but I think I could have been in a little better shape going in. Mentally I just basically tried to put myself in a mental state of just go have fun and see what happens. It’s an unpredictable race where mistakes will kill you, so just try to ride smooth, have fun and not worry about the big names out there and fast guys. Just do what you do and do it smoothly.
Thank god for these Works Connection add-ons. Heavier protection is necessary for this kind of racing. The stock guards would have been hard pressed to survive the day.
MotoUSA: What about the bike did we get right and what about the preparation did we get wrong? Was it the right machine for the job?
BC: Everything we did to the bike I thought was fantastic. The Works Connection skidplate and engine guards and the radiator braces worked phenomenal. I hit a lot of rocks out there in practice and early on and they just took a lot of abuse that otherwise would have probably damaged the engine. You know, I did fall over once in the rocks and the Acerbis hand guards definitely kept the levers and throttle intact.
That trials tire, the thing was gripping like crazy. I’m definitely glad we went with the 18 (inch rim) and Dunlop trials tire. I think the components worked fantastic, but the bike we stared with was probably the wrong choice. The 450 was just way too much power for that tight of a track. I was in first gear the entire track and barely cracking on the throttle, usually slipping the clutch over every obstacle trying to keep it running the whole time because it’s bogging down so low. I think a 250 4-stroke or 2-stroke would have been a lot better. Plus it’s so tight and it’s so physically demanding that the extra weight is a factor.
MotoUSA: Nathan Woods said that he thought the 450 was the right bike for the job. What’s the difference between him an you?
BC: (Stuttering disbelief) Did he really say that? He’s crazy.
Seeing riders jump into the rock pile on amateur day like Matthew Karlsen does here wasn’t uncommon. A nice dirt lip allowed racers with enough sack to drop the hammer and clear a large portion of the nasty section.
MotoUSA: He said it. He told me the 450 is what he’s comfortable on and hell, he got second. He almost won. Why couldn’t you do that?
BC: Was he running a Rekluse (automatic clutch)?
MotoUSA: Yeah, he was.
BC: Okay, the Rekluse would definitely help the situation. I just thought the bike was way too powerful. I was using like 5% of the engine’s power. He’s a lot faster rider than I am so he’s probably using a lot more than I am, but there’s so much motor there it’s going to waste.
MotoUSA: Talk about the track. What were the hardest things about it, was there anything easy about it and why was it as difficult as it seemed for a lot of the amateur guys?
BC: You know, when we first saw and walked the track I thought it looked really difficult and I was worried about just getting around it. I went out there on my first lap and just tried to hit all the hard lines right off the bat and it really wasn’t as difficult as it first appeared. You can get through it. The challenge comes when you try to race through it. There are a few sections that proved to be difficult for me. The most difficult was the rock section. I could get through it every time no problem but when you try to hit it with some speed, you’ve got some guys that are jumping into it so you’re playing with that in your mind – you know, how can I get through this thing a little faster. And that’s where it starts to become a little sketchy.
On the amateur day, the rock pile was definitely the hardest thing. They had a nice lip built up to it which made it easier to get through but it also made it to where you were able to hit it faster. Therefore it was easier to make a mistake.
Charging down the balance beam, most riders hopped off the left side to set themselves up for a right-hander into the rock pile.
MotoUSA: You made it through two practice sessions where you did eight laps and overall you were starting to get a little tired just after that. Then you lined up for your first race, you were in great position, tell me what happened.
BC: Yeah, I felt good in practice. I wasn’t trying to go out and win anything in practice, I was just trying to find the different lines and not wear myself out since there was a lot of racing ahead of me. I was trying to see what the other people were doing and I think that went really well. I did get a little tired but it’s one of those things where you pump up in the beginning and as the day progresses that sort of wears off and I think I would have come around eventually.
I lined up for the race where there were 10 guys and they take the top two. I got a mid-pack start and going into Turn 1 a guy in front of me looked like he was about to crash. He almost endoed on the brakes and there was kind of a big pileup on the inside so at the last minute I swung wide around him and sure enough he crashed. I was able to rail around the outside and get into fourth. I was feeling really good and went through the first couple sections fine just sort of looking at the leaders and they weren’t pulling away or anything. I just tried to ride my race and I went through the rock pile nothing stood out where I was in trouble or doing anything wrong I just kind of got hung up a little bit on top and gave it some gas to get going again. I kind of wheelied out of the pile and didn’t quite clear the whole thing. I came down a little off the side of the bike with my leg out and jammed my knee and basically ended the day.
I didn’t feel like I was riding over my head or did anything drastically wrong. I just stuck my leg out at the wrong time. I’ve done it every day for my whole life and never blown a knee out before.
The Moment of Truth. This photo happened to capture the exact moment when Brian’s knee transitioned from healthy and strong to mushy and useless.
MotoUSA: Maybe you’re getting old.
BC: Maybe. (Laughs, with crinkles around his eyes)
MotoUSA: So you made it half a lap, blew your knee out and ruined your weekend. You basically traveled all that way only to get supremely disappointed. What did you do afterward?
BC: Yeah, I was extremely disappointed. Not only did I put a lot of effort into this but there’s a lot of people who helped me out – to get me down there, to get the bike set up. I was really looking forward to this. I don’t think I had a shot at winning the overall event but I thought I could make it to my class main and if things went well get into the EX Qualifier.
So I was very disappointed. The rest of the day, initially when I hurt my knee, I thought I’d just give it a little time and see if it was something that would come around and enable me to come around and still ride. But, it just continued to get worse, swelled up and I couldn’t even walk on it. Basically I just gimped around and watched the racing. The amateur day was fun to watch and the pro day was even better, so at least there was some good racing to watch for the rest of the weekend.
MotoUSA: Overall, are you glad that you at least tried it? Are you happy that you went out there and busted up your knee?
BC: Oh yeah. I’m not happy about the knee but I’m totally glad that I gave it a shot. Like I said, I’m disappointed that that happened but that’s racing I guess. I’m already looking forward to next year and I want to give it a shot again and hopefully I can walk a little better by then. (Crinkle, crinkle)
Overall we had a good time on the EnduroCross trip. BC didn’t achieve his personal goals, but what we discovered was that stadium off-road races are an awesome format for everyone involved. We’d like to see more of them.
MotoUSA: I was just going to ask if you were going to head out and try to get some redemption. Are you going to ride the 450 again or are you going to try to change up your program, be a little better prepared with better fitness levels? What next?
BC: Yeah, if the opportunity arises I would definitely like to do it next year. I wasn’t in horrible shape. I did both practice session without getting too tired. My left hand kind of cramped up from using the clutch so much. I definitely could have been in better shape and raced it harder so I’ll work on physical training over the next year. I would like to get a smaller, lighter bike or something more manageable like a 250F – maybe an electric start. I didn’t’ stall it during the race but then I was only out there for a half-lap. Had I stalled it that could have been the end of it.
Next year I’ll be 35 so I’ll be eligible for the Old Man’s class so maybe that will work out better.
Talk about our stab at tackling the EnduroCross in the forum.