The start to my 2014 season officially kicked off at the Best in the Desert Parker 250 in Parker, Arizona. The race is made up an 80-plus-mile loop that competitors are required to complete three times. I’ve always enjoyed the terrain there; the Parker desert offers an entertaining mix of high-speed, flat-tracking roads, intimidating rock gardens, fast sand washes and rolling whoop sections. This year the added bonus was that the temperature first thing in the morning would be above freezing, meaning there was an above average chance that I’d be able to feel my fingers 10 miles into the my ride.
I would be teaming with Ricky Brabec on the THR Motorsports, Monster Energy, Precision Concepts Kawasaki with our main competitors being our teammates: David and Tuffy Pearson, and the Beta team of Nick Burson and Justin Morrow. Our plan, like most of the teams, was to have one rider start (Ricky would start for us) and ride about 30 miles to the “midway” pit where the second rider would hop on (that would be me) and take it a full loop, through the main pit, back around to midway. From there Ricky would do a full loop and then I would hop on for the final 50 miles or so. It was a good plan.
As always, the green flag flew at the first possible light with David first off the line, followed a minute later by Ricky and the Beta team starting a couple minutes further back, behind a few other teams. I waited for Ricky at midway and was happy to see him come in within a minute of Dave; usually the dust is quite thick, and with the course heading straight into the rising sun it’s hard to stay close to the rider ahead. With Tuffy mounted on the Kawasaki ahead I set off with the task of trying to run him down and get into the physical lead.
It was no surprise that Tuffy was riding well; he’s a top competitor in the Hare & Hound series and it showed as he was holding his lead well ahead of me. I knew I needed to close in some as about 20 miles after midway there is a stretch of rock sections where the dust wouldn’t be as thick and that would undoubtedly be my best opportunity for overtaking. I pushed hard into the dust, feeling like I was gaining ground and as we came into the rock gardens I could just start to see glimpses of Tuffy ahead of me.
At one point I closed to within probably 20 seconds, but Tuffy had a good pace, not allowing me to get close enough and when the course hopped onto some faster roads, the dust began to billow once more. It was a little frustrating feeling that if I had clean air I had a shot of pulling away, but I decided to keep calm and not push past the edge of safety. I knew Ricky had the speed and talent to get us into the lead and I didn’t want to risk our race in the dust.
With a 25 mph speed limit and a length of over a mile, the main pit can often be one of the most frustrating sections of the course. I rounded the corner to head towards the pit crew, maybe 20 seconds or so away, to see Tuffy just leaving the gas-stop. For the next mile we both had to cruise through the pits, Tuffy dangling like a carrot in front of me. If only I could twist the throttle and just get by him…
Once we resumed race speed the course headed through a set of high-speed rolling whoops and then into 20 miles of fast, flowing sand wash. This is a fun section of the track, but can also be a challenge on the second lap as we began catching the back markers of the UTV class, and they can be extremely frustrating when you’re trying to get past them. Twice the dust ahead of me started to get thicker and I couldn’t deny the thought that I was catching Tuffy from entering my head, only to be disappointed when I’d catch a glimpse of the blue and red flashing lights that are mandatory on the rear end of the UTVs. Then, just a few miles from the midway pit, the course dropped into a narrow, silty canyon and the blinding dust of a UTV ahead of me forced me to slow to a crawl, even downshifting to first gear for almost half a mile, leaving me to brood over the thought that Tuffy was pulling away from me.
Finally, after a couple more miles I came into the midway pit to hand the bike to Ricky, though in my tunnel vision I actually rode right past the pit and had to flip a quick U-turn to get him the bike. As Ricky took off I learned that after the full loop I had actually come into the pit with around the same deficit that Ricky had given me of just under a minute. I knew the dust would be thick, but I had hoped to at least come in a little closer to the bike ahead. In the end it was a credit to Tuffy’s speed but I still felt really confident that Ricky could pass Dave and get us into the lead; he’s been on fire lately.
Sure enough, we started hearing radio reports that Ricky had made the pass and was even starting to pull a lead; a report from main pit said he had over two minutes. I started to gear back up and as I waited for Ricky to return, I focused on riding smooth and really enjoying my last 50 miles of the race.
It’s always a bit of a guessing game as to when exactly your rider is going to come into the pits, but as I waited for Ricky, I started to get the sensation that he was overdue. I was starting to feel slightly anxious, and when David rounded the corner to head down pit row my worst fears were confirmed. After handing the bike the Tuffy, David informed us that Ricky was loading the bike into a truck about five miles from the pit. We had suffered a DNF.
A DNF definitely isn’t the way we wanted to start the year, but with any motorized sport, things happen. We later learned that a cracked case put us out of the race; we’ll have to diagnose whether this was from a rock impact. In the end I do feel we showed the speed to win, especially Ricky. I have no idea how he can go so fast in the dust, but he’s my hero for doing so.
I want to congratulate David and Tuffy on the win; they each had a great race and it was fun competing against them. I want to give thanks to Casey and the entire BITD crew, as I know it gets tougher each year to put on events like this and they still host one classy operation. I’d like to thank the team: THR Motorsports, Monster Energy, Precision Concepts Kawasaki for providing us the opportunity, all of the team sponsors for their continued support and thank you to all of my personal sponsors: Kawasaki, Precision Concepts, Focus Apparel, USWE Sports, EVS Sports, FMF Racing, Alamo Alarm, Northland Motorsports, ATP Mechanix and Ryan Abbatoye Designs.
I actually have some big news having to do with racing on a personal level: this was my last race wearing Fox. I’ve been with Fox since 2006 and I’m very grateful for everything they did for me and for the opportunities they provided me, but our relationship has come to a close. I’m happy to announce that I’m going to be representing the company I started my professional career with: MSR MX. I’m also going to be representing Shoei helmets, Sidi boots and Spy goggles and I’d like to say how grateful I am to these companies for offering to support me and how excited I am to be starting relationships with each of them.
From here it’s off to Taft, California, for the first round of WORCS and the word is there’s going to be a pretty stacked Pro class. I really enjoy the WORCS series; Sean, Timmy and everyone on the WORCS staff are dear to me. I can’t wait to get out there and hold the throttle to the stop for two hours!
Thank you to each of the team sponsors: Dunlop
, GPR stabilizer, Hinson
, IMS, BRP, Kalgard lubricants, LA Piston Co., A’ME grips, AP brakes, RK/Excel, ARC levers, DT1 filters, Acerbis, Zip-Ty, Ryan Abbatoye Designs, Seal Savers, Baja Designs, Northland Motorsports