If the opening round of the Kenda/SRT AMA Hare & Hound National Championship Series is any indication, this could be the most competitive season in several decades.
Of course, almost unprecedented wet weather at the 50th Annual Winter Classic—hosted by the Desert Motorcycle Club at the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area outside of Lucerne Valley, California—played a big part. Rain and cold in the days leading up to and during the race meant the usually ever-present desert dust wouldn’t be a factor.
This meant much closer racing than usual throughout the pack, and it was most intense at the front, with no less than five riders taking a turn in the lead at least once during the two different 40-mile loops. Those five—Jacob Argubright, Ricky Brabec, Taylor Robert, Gary Sutherlin and Joe Wasson—separated themselves from the rest of the pack as they jockeyed for position throughout the race.
Making his debut for the Purvines DA8 Racing Yamaha team, Sutherlin summed it up best, saying, “I went all the way from fourth to first [on the second loop] in, probably, five miles. I was like, ‘You know what? I want to get out front and see if I can win this thing.’ I got out front and tried to pin it for maybe 10 miles and, man, couldn’t get away from them! We were all just keying off each other.”
With only a couple miles to go, Sutherlin made one last pass on Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Off-road Team’s Argubright to secure third, with Argubright fourth and Beta’s Wasson—the 2015 FMF Pro 250-class champion—a strong fifth. They weren’t far off the lead pair, either. In fact, they were about 30 seconds behind winner and runner-up Brabec and Robert, those two having managed to build a slight gap that could easily have disappeared with one mistake.
After winning his Hare & Hound debut last year, FMF KTM Factory Off-road Team’s Robert backed it up by coming from a dead-last start to join the leaders just after the bomb.
“I just rode easy the first loop and got the hang of it, and we all threw down on the second loop,” he said.
With dust absent from the equation, it proved to be impossible for anyone to break away. Brabec noted, “The rain played a big part today. It kept all of us closer together; we were going back and forth ALL day! To read the terrain was almost impossible. To lead the race today was slower than to follow, just because of the dangers and the arrows. You had to do a lot more thinking and I felt like leading out was kind of like navigating [at Dakar]—your eyeballs are always wandering.”
As the miles wound down, it came down to Robert and Brabec, but the Johnny Campbell Racing (JCR) Honda star saw the door crack open when Robert drifted a little wide in one turn and cut underneath his rival in a move that’d make a supercross racer proud.
“I had to do that. It was clean, but it had to be done in order to win,” Brabec said, and though Robert tried to retaliate at the finish, he came up just inches short.
Only a couple years ago, Braydon Bland won the Super Mini championship. He’s now on big bikes and made his first start in the FMF Pro 250 division a winning one after coming from behind on the last loop.
Slightly farther back in the pack, former Super Mini champion Braydon Bland made his debut in the FMF Pro 250 class a winning one aboard his Mom and Dad-backed KTM after coming from behind on the second loop. Chidester Transport Racing Yamaha teammates Tyler Lynn and Daemon Woolslayer rounded out the podium.
After two GNCC championships, FMF KTM’s Kacy Martinez has switched to the hare & hound Nationals, despite having never raced in the desert before. However, the rainy conditions eased her transition and she dominated with Britney Gallegos and Rachel Gutish , who finished second and third, respectively.
2017 Kenda/SRT AMA Hare & Hound National Championship Series
Desert Motorcycle Club 50th Annual Winter Classic
Johnson Valley OHV Area
Johnson Valley, California
Results: January 22, 2017 (Round 1 of 10)
1. Ricky Brabec-Hon (first Pro)
2. Taylor Robert-KTM
3. Gary Sutherlin-Yam
4. Jacob Argubright-Hus
5. Joseph Wasson-Bet
6. Nick Burson-Yam
7. Axel Pearson-Yam
8. Justin Morgan-Hon
9. Nic Garvin-Hon
10. Ryan Smith-Yam
11. Braydon Bland-KTM (first Pro 250)
12. Jeff Trulov-KTM
13. Nick Stover-TM
14. Andrew Puckett-Yam
15. Tyler Lynn-Yam
16. Grant Statley-Yam
17. Jason Ramsey-KTM (first A Open)
18. Craig Sanders-Yam
19. Kevin Murphy-Hus (first A Vet)
20. Jim Herrero-Kaw