It’s been a few years since the WORCS series visited the lush green scenery and tight, wooded trails of the American Northwest, but many saw it as a welcome change from the last couple rounds of wide-open (quite literally as far as the throttle was concerned) desert. Personally, I have always enjoyed the races north of the Oregon border- the terrain is enjoyable and the green surroundings are surely a welcome change from the browns and yellows of Southern California- though I’ve never enjoyed particularly good results in the trees. It’s not for a lack of trying, it’s more down to my relationship with trees in general: I’m doing my best to ride smoothly in between them but their roots, branches and trunks always seem move themselves right in my way. Joking aside, I’ve never been able to find the speed necessary to run with the fastest riders in the tighter terrain, but as we headed north I felt my skill on the bike in general had improved since the last time I raced in the forest and there was the added impetus of a championship battle with Gary Sutherlin; I needed to beat him.
The start would be dead engine and though I had been finding some consistency in my technique I hadn’t been able to match the way my teammate Justin Seeds absolutely rifles off of the line; he seems to have it down to a science (I wonder if he gives lessons…). As we waited for the starter pistol release everyone on the line had a similar train of thought: tight trees and single track are not conducive to passing, a good start would be crucial.
When the gun went off I swung my leg through the kick starter and my bike fired up right away. To my right, Ricky Russell shot off the line a little better and it was no surprise to see Justin sweeping around from the outside to take the holeshot; I funneled into third. Down the next straightaway of the motocross track I was on the inside of Russell, trying to accelerate by, but I didn’t have the drive and around the next right-handed corner I was committed to a much slower inside rut. Sutherlin was right behind me and took the opportunity to rail the outside berm and slingshot by not only me, but Russell as well, moving him up to second and pushing me back to fourth.
A little way into the trees Sutherlin had pushed into the lead and Russell had made the move into second. I was just behind my teammate, accelerating up a long winding hill when he hit one of those moving tree roots. It sent him into an immediate “crazy Ivan” to the right and off the course, allowing me by and dropping him back a few positions.
After securing third I had my own “nearly” moment as I clipped a rock and almost flew off the course in a similar fashion to Seeds. I was able to save it, only losing a few seconds and maintaining third place, with the fresh-out-of-retirement Brenden Ritzman right behind me. I was pushing through the trails, but riding somewhat ragged compared to how I normally ride and in my haste to stay with the leaders I was making small mistake after small mistake, losing time in the process. I knew I needed to find more speed, but the more I tried to up my pace the less I’d flow and the slower I’d actually go. Then my race took a turn for the worse.
I was exiting a downhill single-track trail that linked to a faster jeep road and at the last second I saw that a skinny tree had fallen onto the trail (See I told you they move!). I saw it too late to change my line and I wasn’t in the right body position to wheelie over it- it was hanging a foot or so above the ground- and so as my front tire hit it, the bike stopped and flung me forward head first into the ground. I heard the impact of my head hitting the bank on the far side of the trail and though I didn’t go out at all, it definitely knocked my dizzy.
It took me a few moments to get my bearings. It was as if I flipped the switch to autopilot but I got to my feet, fired my bike up and took off again, losing two spots to Ritzman and Rory Sullivan in the process.
The next couple laps were kind of hazy; I didn’t really recognize the trail for a while, but I remember thinking to myself, “you’ll get it back; just keep moving forward.” At the start of the fourth lap Justin Morgan had caught me and I actually let him by thinking that having someone to follow would help drag me into a good pace as I was shaking out the cobwebs. This didn’t turn out to be a good decision.
As Morgan accelerated up a hill, he tagged a softball-sized rock with his rear wheel, moving it just enough so that it fell into the line that I was committed to (seriously, it seemed like everything was out to get me). I didn’t even have time to react; before I knew it my bike hit the rock, kicked sideways, spat me off and I was flying backwards down the side of the course. The impact of hitting the ground knocked a little bit of wind out of me and though I didn’t land straight on my head this time, I managed to make pretty good contact with the ground with my helmet. I laid there a minute to make sure I was ok.
I want to thank Brenden Ritzman for stopping and offering to give me a ride back to the pits, and my teammate Justin Seeds as well, who stopped to make sure I was ok; also thank you to the random spectator who picked my bike up and out of the trail- I was too dingy to recognize him. After taking a little time to gather myself I got back to my bike and continued on. At this point I needed to at least finish and salvage as many points as possible.
Over the next few laps I started to feel a little better and with just a couple laps to go I found myself catching up to the back of Justin Jones. We had a fun little battle for about a quarter of a lap and then heading up a hill with a split line I was able to take a little smoother line and out-power him back to where the lines merged.
As it turned out, through a little bit of luck involving some other riders suffering mechanical issues, the pass on Jones landed me in fourth position- where I would finish. What could have been a disastrous day was somewhat salvaged, keeping me within a mathematical chance of winning the championship - though with Sutherlin having a great ride and taking the win, I definitely have my work cut out if I hope to narrow an 18-point gap in the two remaining races.
The weekend didn’t turn out nearly the way I’d planned but I’d like to thank all of my supporters for standing behind me: Precision Concepts, Kawasaki, Alamo Alarms, MSR, Shoei, Sidi, Spy, Focus Apparel, EVS, USWE, THR Motorsports, Ryan Abbatoye Designs, FMF, BRP, Northland Motorsports, ATP Mechanix, and Jan’s Towing. Thanks to my wife and her family for coming up and supporting me through a tough event and thanks to my mechanic Phil and my dad for continuing to do so much for me.
I had a lot of momentum coming into this round, closing the point’s gap and making up for some early season woes, but I definitely hit a set-back. All I can do is focus forward and win the final two rounds letting everything else sort itself out. See you at Glen Helen!
Thank you to each of the team sponsors: Dunlop, FMF, Renthal, GPR stabilizer, Hinson, VP Race Fuels IMS, BRP, Kalgard lubricants, LA Piston Co., A’ME grips, Braking, RK/Excel, ARC levers, DT1 filters, Acerbis, Zip-Ty, Ryan Abbatoye Designs, Seal Savers, Baja Designs, Northland Motorsports, CryoHeat, Hoosier Precision Machining