Taft is always a rough course, but it seemed like the holes at the second round of the MSR Big 6 Championship were on another level—depth-wise. I believe is was due to the recent rains, which made for a soft underbelly of soil, but whatever the reason, the holes and square-edges were DEEP! I don’t mind it rough; it makes bike set-up and line choice a bit more important, but when the sun starts to set on the pro race, the shadows begin to hide the holes, making it feel a bit like Russian Roulette when you’re trying to travel at speed.
My start in the ninety-minute pro main wasn’t awful, but it also wasn’t great. Blayne Thompson was just to my left and pulled me out of the hole—that Yamaha is fast—so I had to lift slightly when he came over on me, allowing a few riders to pull ahead of me as we sped into the first turn. I came out around eighth and quickly made a few moves to get up into fifth while everyone was still bunched up.
I slotted in behind Justin Jones and settled in to a comfortable pace on the first lap, feeling the track out to see where the roughest parts were, but behind me, Colton Udall and Dalton Shirey were coming like a freight train. Down a fast asphalt road Colton sized me up and used those Baja skills to carry more momentum by me out of a sweeping corner. Then, as we began to brake into the following corner, Dalton came skidding past me, sliding sideways, hard under braking, but making the corner and the pass. I tried not to let losing a couple positions early on bother me, but I couldn’t help feeling like a bit of a novice for losing two spots in the matter of just a few hundred yards.
As we got into the second lap, I started to feel more comfortable with the course and began to close the distance back up to Shirey. We rounded a tight left-hander and as he stayed close to the inside, I was able to keep more speed around his outside, taking sixth place back. A little later on in the second lap I had reeled in Justin Jones; this time I was the one to take advantage of the asphalt section, maintaining more momentum through a fast corner and speeding by into fifth.
By lap three I really felt like I was able to express myself on the track and had caught back up to Udall, who was in fourth. We sped down a fifth gear straightaway and I was lined up to the outside of Colton entering the following sweeping left-handed corner. I held the throttle on in an effort to speed around Colton, but he felt me coming and goosed it to pinch me off. I stayed in it, fourth gear, standing up on the pegs, leaning into Colton around the corner and was able to make the pass stick as we powered down the next straightaway.
My momentum had closed me right onto the heels of Michael Del Fante—with Eric Yorba just ahead of him, and Blayne Thompson (who was leading) just six or seven seconds ahead of me—as we came into the finish-line scoring-shoot. Through the tight, hay-bail-lined scoring chicane Del Fante cross-rutted, lost his balance and fell. I was literally right behind him and had nowhere to go but to hit him, falling on top of his bike. In a scene of comedy, Colton tried to foot-plant over my bike, but lost his balance and fell on top of me. Here we lay, three top pro riders, piled one on top of the other in one of the slowest sections of racecourse. The seconds seemed like minutes as I waited for Colton to regain his balance and get going, and then it took me even longer to get up out of the rut I was in and get around Michael. It was a simple racing incident, no one’s fault that we all dog-piled, but it definitely took the wind out of my sails as I dropped back over twenty seconds behind the lead and ten or so behind Udall.
Later that lap I had caught up to Eric Yorba, who had fallen to third behind Colton, and once again took advantage of the asphalt straight as I caught Eric by surprise and sped by. At this point in the race the sun was really starting to set. Long shadows were hiding deep holes, and as much as I wanted to push my pace up a notch to close on the two leaders, a cooler head prevailed as I felt it would be so easy to make a big mistake in the conditions. I maintained a steady speed and rode home to a safe third place.
On the day, I feel third was a good finish. I think that, if I wouldn’t have had the coming together with Del Fante in the scoring shoot, I had the win in me, but all things considered I was happy with the way I rode and came away safe, with solid points toward the championship, on a track where it was easy to throw it away. It’s still a long season, but I do realize that it pays to win in the Big 6 series because of the points system, so I’ll definitely be looking to find that winning form at Glen Helen.
Congrats to Blayne and Colton for putting in great rides on the day, and to my teammate Justin Seeds for earning a solid fourth. Thank you to my mechanic Phil, suspension tech John, my wife (and our little bean), family, all of my personal supporters—Precision Concepts, MSR, Shoei, Sidi, 100%, EVS, USWE, Focus apparel, BRP, RAD custom graphics, GoPro, A’ME grips, IWC motorsports, ATP mechanix, Rekluse, CryoHeat, and the MotoXerciser—and the entire team.
I have a welcome two-week break before the next round of the WORCS series in Las Vegas—time to spend with family and friends before we get into the heart of the season, where being on top form week after week will really start to count.
Thank you to each of our team sponsors: Rocky Mountain ATV/MC, Precision Concepts, Maxxis tires, FMF exhaust, Maxima USA, Renthal, Dubya USA, Acerbis, Matrix Concepts, GPR stabilizer, CryoHeat, Rekluse, VP Race Fuels, IMS, BRP, LA Piston Co., A’ME grips, Braking, RK/Excel America, ARC levers, DT1 filters, RAD custom graphics, Zip-Ty, Boyesen, Seal Savers, MotoSeat, MotoHose, Next Components, Rigid Industries.