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It started with a text message. Steve Matthes sent a photo to Kris and me Sunday evening, November 1, of a freshly installed MICHELIN® StarCross® 5 Soft front tire along with the comment “World Vet prep”. Ever being the jokester, my quick reply was; “When do I need to fly in?”From there, things escalated really quickly. Their plan, that I’d invited myself to be a part of, was to race the Saturday motos of the 36thAnnual Dubya USA World Vet MX Championships. The race is rich in history and continues to honor the late Tom White whose passion for motorcycles has inspired many. If you’re like me, hearing last year’s Medals Up episode of the PulpMX Show and the epic banter and laughter regarding the event was something I regretted missing out on in 2019 and I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of this year’s event. Thankfully I was able to move some meetings around allowing me to take vacation days from my job at Michelin and redeem some Delta Sky Miles to book my flights for would certainly be an unforgettable trip.
Being as much a fan of E-MTB’s as #StravaSteve , I flew into Las Vegas early Thursday morning to enjoy a nice mid-day ride with the Intense Tazer elite athlete before loading up and heading off for the drive down to the Hi Dez. Friday morning, I felt like I was sitting in on an episode of “Coffee With The Keefers” as I was, you guessed it, having coffee with the Keefers. Steve and I arrived to Glen Helen Raceway for the Friday practice and unloaded our matching 2021 Yamaha machines. Steve’s an official #blUcrU Ambassador and would be riding his YZ450F that is set up for his weight and/or speed. I’d be riding a new Yamaha YZ250F thanks to Mike Ulrich of Yamaha Motor USA that thankfully I didn’t even have to install Michelin tires on as my buddy Matt Sirevaag had already taken care of that. Thanks Vaag! After going out in separate sessions for our first practice, I snuck out in Steve’s second practice session and dropped in behind him. After witnessing 4-Time’s smooth style and line selection first hand, I don’t know how that 5thManitoba title escaped him. Once finished, I leaned my bike against Steve’s Honda Ridgeline truck as my back had begun aching after only two practice sessions and placing it on the bike stand was not an option. I thought Steve would be OK with this parking technique made famous by his favorite rider’s son Beckett Ferry. Boy was wrong as he was not happy with me, which was only the first of many times during our time together.
We left the track then met Kris and Aden for lunch, where I told them about my lower back pain and limited range of motion. Kris quickly diagnosed this as Glen Helen Back as apparently GHB is a common condition due to the numerous square edges and braking bumps found throughout the famous hilly circuit. Needing numbers for my bike, Kris took us deep into the bowels of the Hi-Dez to a local shop called Mojave Motorsports in hopes of finding three packs of 2’s that I needed. Though many motorcycle enthusiasts have shifted from brick & mortar dealerships to the larger click & order online retailers, I love visiting smaller family run Dealerships as they are the heart and soul of the power sports industry. Surprisingly enough, they had countless packs of 100% brand numbers available and I was able to purchase three packs for my number, 222.
After installing the numbers, I stuck pretty much every random sticker we could find onto the front fender in hopes of having the same style as DarksideMX’s signature graphics kit. The remainder of the day included visiting with all of the Keefer’s friends that dropped by unannounced, much to Steve’s annoyance. After Heather prepared us a home cooked dinner, which Kris put less effort into than I did parking the bike after practice, we sat around and listened to Kris tell us how a much needed rain was coming and how great the desert would be if we’d skip the race the next day. Though he made it sound appealing, I’d come to race and I went to bed early as my body clock was still on East Coast time. I quickly fell asleep hearing Kris in the living room still repeating his famous phrase “Desert Rats Assemble”!!!!!! We awoke to cool temps and overcast skies Saturday morning and my lower back was tighter than Jason Weigandt is with money. We piled into the Keefer Inc. Testing sprinter van and headed down I-15 and into the rain. We parked with the regular crew of Vaag, Janky Mike, Fireman Dave, and photographer Dallas Dunn who’d captured Steve and me riding in the perfect conditions during Friday’s practice.
We unloaded the bikes and set up the canopies for shelter from the increasing rain. Ironically, Steve helped with the tents. As the rain began to fall harder, I overheard Kris talking with everyone in the sprinter about how we could just load back up and go ride the Hi-Dez where it hadn’t rained in over 150+ days. Once the conversation made its way to outside to me, I quickly vetoed that idea by reminding them that I had never raced at Glen Helen in over 54yrs and that I hadn’t flown across the country to go ride around burned couches, dishwashers, and abandoned cars in the desert.
My first Moto was race 8 on the day and I think it was possibly the worst conditions possible. Having just finished race number 7, Janky and Vaag gave me some quick pointers as I selected my spot on the gate. Their key message was to take the inside line in the second turn prior to a steep uphill that lead to the highest point on the track. While Steve’s personal starts may not be his greatest strength, he is a former factory mechanic so his support on the starting line was greatly appreciated. He told me all the great tips he used to share with Timmy Ferry, who was known for his mid-pack starts, so I was excited when Mike Alessi walked up to us. Known for his holeshots and let’s just say creative technics, I asked Mike what number I should count to before dropping the clutch. With a blank stare back at me, I realized that either my sarcasm had eluded him or he didn’t find it funny. Thankfully Steve laughed as I hate wasted humor.
When the gate dropped, I got a good jump and began clicking thru the gearbox of the Yamaha YZ250F and secured a pretty good start against the mostly 450cc bikes. Mid-way thru Glen Helen’s first turn “Talladega”, I pulled an outer tear-off from the EKS Brand Goggles they’d professionally prepared for me and headed down towards that second turn. I tucked the bike into the inside line just like they’d suggested and any hopes of me becoming the 23rdStar Racing Yamaha racer in 2021 went away quickly as I also tucked the front end mid-corner falling into the muddy slop. Though I was still suffering from GHB, I was able to somehow pick the bike up and remount to begin climbing the steep hill in first gear. Despite rumors about how much I revved the YZ250F, I did NOT remain in first gear the entire race. During the remainder of the first lap I had a few close calls with other riders as I began working my way back towards the position I was in prior to my fall. I could hear the Keefer clan yelling for me as I ended the first lap and I headed back onto the start straight. Entering that second turn again, I decided to move out to the middle line as that inside line and I didn’t seem to get along very well.
Though I’m not sure where the San Andreas fault-line is located, I do know that gravity is much stronger in the second corner as another sudden gust of gravity pulled me to the ground a second time. I yelled “What the Helen?!?”. Frustrated with myself, I remounted once again vowing to not fall in that corner the next lap. I guess you could say the third time around was an improvement as I did make it thru the corner that lap only to come together about a third of the way up the hill with a rider who I was passing. Laughing at the situation rather than crying, I picked my bike up again, downshifted into first gear and somehow was able to climb up the hill ahead of the guy whom I’m sure I roosted with mud the entire way up. I’m sorry Sir. The track was very one-lined and I was mostly able to keep the bike in that one line, though sometimes drifting unpredictably similar to Musquin in a rhythm section. I was so proud of myself for not falling in that turn on the fourth lap that I gave the Glen Helen crowd, or at least my friends that were watching and laughing at me, a big fist pump as I cleared the top of that hill for the first time without issue. Having caught and passed many riders during the race, many of them multiple times due to my crashes, I finished the 50+ Intermediate first moto with a 3rd. Thankfully, the only thing that was more clear than my problems staying upright was the clear vision provided by the EKS Brand Goggles Zip-Off system that worked flawlessly throughout the moto.
I didn’t get as good of a jump in my second moto but my riding was much improved and I didn’t fall in that corner that’d been my nemesis during the first moto. Maybe the main reason was because immediately after my first moto, they’d blocked that corner with orange cones and re-routed the turn. You’re welcome everyone. One of the funny highlights of that second moto was me yelling “A-Ray” at a guy whose Akrapovic muffler was dangling down by the swingarm of his KTM450. I’d hoped that bringing attention to his misfortune would make passing him easier on the now even more one-lined track. Winning my class in the second moto was similar to when Lloyd rode the hog up to Harry in Dumb and Dumber as I’d totally redeemed myself! I was thankful that GHB was my only injury and I was proud of my 3-1 for 2nd overall results.
We all headed out to watch Steve’s final moto of the day and though he’d gotten off the gate without incident in his first moto, I definitely didn’t want to miss any opportunity to witness something like his 2019 performance. Steve’s start issues couldn’t escape him as the rider to his right inadvertently hung a hard left just over the gate taking down 4-Time in the process. Knowing the incident would be talked about after the race, on Monday night’s PulpMX Show, and for years to come, I sure was glad I’d captured it all on video as it’d be proof for any differences of open as to who owned what percentage of the Blame Pie. Ok, let’s be honest, I was really happy that I had the video so I could create edits with the countless songs that immediately began popping into my child-like mind. We all watched Steve continue to push forward all the way to the end of the moto as the lyrics “I get knocked down, but I get up again”and “Stop! Drop!” ran thru my head. Fast forward to Monday night’s PulpMX Show. Ever the perfectionist that has resulted in his fan favorite platforms, Steve was NOT happy with my derailing of his show by airing some of the videos I’d created. In the studio, there was more tension than in the spokes of a brand new set of Dubya USA wheels. If you didn’t get a chance to watch PulpMX Show #444, please do as it’s a classic with Steve angrily removing his headphones similar to Kenny Watson prior to one of his many mid-show walkouts. I truly am sorry Steve and you’re welcome Pulp Nation.
I simply can’t thank the Keefers and the Matthes’ enough for their hospitality and for making this fun trip possible for me. Your friendships are a blessing and if you’re ever in Piedmont, SC, you’re more than welcome to stop by my house anytime, even unannounced.