The first race of the year is always exciting since that’s where we find out who did their homework during the off-season and who didn’t. It’s a safe bet that defending series champ Charlie Mullins will be fit and ready for the series opener. As the winner of last year’s championship, Mullins will be the first pro on the course from row 21, which means he’ll be breaking in the trail – an advantage for some, and a disadvantage for others.
Mullins, a two-time national enduro champ and one of America’s top off-road racers, will once again head up the mighty KTM factory team effort, which will also feature 2012 champ Stu Baylor and eight-time champ Mike Lafferty. After 20 years of competition, Lafferty will be retiring at the end of the year, so he’ll be making his farewell appearance during the 2014 season. Baylor grew up in South Carolina and he’s a great sand rider so he’ll be one of the favorites this weekend. He’s also starting from row 36, which will give him the advantage of knowing the scores of the riders on the earlier rows.
Husqvarna will also be making a big push in this year’s series, having recently been acquired by KTM. Four-time champ Russell Bobbitt will join Andrew DeLong as the team’s top enduro riders, while EnduroCross star Mike Brown will make a few national enduro appearances at select events. Bobbitt has a great track record at the Sandlapper, having won in 2011, and should be another one of the riders to watch.
The Beta factory will be making a big venture into the series, having signed Cory Buttrick to team with series regular Justin Sode. Buttrick is a former national winner and is making his return to the series after missing two years due to injury and illness.
Among the satellite teams trying the break the “factory” stranglehold is AirGroup Racing, who signed young Ryder Lafferty to complement last year’s series runner-up Nick Fahringer. Fahringer is one of the most consistent riders on the circuit, as well as being one of the most flamboyant, two attributes that don’t normally go together. The team is mounted on Husqvarna this year and will be running Kenda tires.
Yamaha will be represented well by Randy Hawkin’s Am Pro Yamaha team and for 2014 Hawkins has signed Brad Bakken to ride the all-new YZ250F. Meanwhile, former Am Pro rider Jesse Groemm has switched to Shane Watt’s Dirt Wise KTM team where he’ll be riding a two-stroke. Australian off-roader Rory Mead will also join Groemm on the Dirt Wise team.
Suzuki makes a highly anticipated return to the series with support from Obermeyer Suzuki and former Husky rider Nick Davis will handle the riding chores.
Finally, KR4 Performance will be bringing its “Arrive-n-Ride” program to the series opener and every round thereafter with Colorado’s Ian Blythe expected to do well in the Pro division.
Hosted by the Columbia Enduro Riders, this year marks the 39th running of the Sandlapper Enduro, named for its tight sandy trails through the pine trees, the event is known for its spectacular trail and good traction.
For directions and other information, go to www.nationalenduro.com.