Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Colton Haaker is the new King of the Motos.
Burning Man for gearheads.
That’s how race organizer Jimmy Lewis describes, the Klim King of the Motos presented by Trail-Tech, the sadistic two-wheeled spectacle that kicks off the Nitto King of the Hammers week at the Johnson Valley OHV Park in Southern California. But if you’re an extreme off-road rider, hell would be a more fitting description.
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Colton Haaker not only survived today’s fourth running of the Klim King of the Motos, he became the third King of the Motos champion in the four-year history of the event.
Haaker completed three laps of the 12.6-mile second loop with a winning time of 3 hours and 21 minutes flat. The 25-year-old AMA EnduroCross series regular was strong right from the start of the second loop, although he battled with SRT/BTO Sports KTM’s Cory Graffunder for much of the middle portion of the race. When all was said and done, however, Haaker became the third man to wear the King of the Motos crown, joining Graham Jarvis and Cody Webb; Jarvis and Webb missed the event this year.
Haaker said that the race, which marked his first career extreme enduro win, was one of the most difficult he has ever experienced. How tough was it? Of the 79 competitors that started the race, 56 made it to the afternoon session where only 44 completed one lap. Of the 44, only 11 completed a second lap, and only five completed a final third lap.
“You had to rest wherever you could,” Haaker said. “When you hit the canyons, they were just grueling. In the later laps it got so chunked up by the other riders that it made it a lot more difficult than the first lap.
“But I think my race plan was pretty good,” Haaker continued. “I got lost a few times, but I kept it on two wheels for the whole race, and that was the most important thing.”
Graffunder finished second, posting a time of 3:26:43, putting him 5 minutes and 43 second behind Haaker after the two practically shadowed each other while Graffunder effectively helped Haaker navigate the second loop. Beta USA’s Max Gerston, an AMA EnduroCross and XGames veteran, finished third in the race, with a time of 3:28:35.
This year’s King of the Motos was once again split into two loops, one starting in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The amateurs started the single 27-mile morning loop at 8 a.m., with the pros starting at 9 a.m. The finishing order of the morning loop only determined the starting position for loop two, but in order to be eligible for the loop, riders had to make it to check one by 10:30 a.m.
Approximately 60 amateurs took to the course, which featured a land-rush start down into the sandy ravine that led to Chocolate Thunder. This was the site of mass carnage last year, and while this year’s start didn’t exactly replicate those chills and spills, it quickly separated the wheat from the chaff. One rider, number 146, practically wore out his bike and his body just trying to clear the first obstacle, and he was the last rider to clear the spectator area albeit with a little help from some of the pro riders who were already out scouting lines for their start.
When the pros left the line, Christini rider Wally Palmer put his two-wheel-drive machine to good use, scampering through the rain-dampened sand and slick rocks to pull the holeshot with most of the pros making it look easy.
The first loop included Chocolate Thunder, Claw Hammer and Spooners, and it was expected to be tough enough to seriously test the mettle of the amateurs if not most of the pros. Race organizer Jimmy Lewis even went so far as to offer a free entry to the 2016 King of the Motos for any amateur that could finish ahead of the pros in the first loop. Surprise, surprise—one amateur did just that. SRTP/BTO Sports/509 KTM rider Kevin Murphy of Camarillo, California, was the first rider to make the finish line, completing the 27-mile course in 1 hour and 53 minutes.
“I’d really like to thank Craig Thompson from SRT for loaning me this bike,” Murphy said. “The course was great—no dust. I think I got off the start about fourth or so, and I just made some passes on some guys. It was awesome.”
Gerston and Graffunder came through 9 minutes and 15 seconds later after having an excellent dice down the final hill and through the finish line. Gerston just beat Graffunder to the finish line by 1 second to top the pros.
“It was a good, clean race,” Gerston said. Me and Graffiunder and Haaker went back and forth a few times.”
When asked if he knew why Haaker wasn’t with him and Graffunder at the finish, Gerston smirked, “Not my problem.”
But it was Haaker’s turn to shine when the grueling second loop commenced, as he grabbed the early lead in the race. Event officials predicted that the leaders would make four laps during the timed 3-hour second loop, but apparently they underestimated Jimmy Lewis’ level of sadism. The second loop featured 90 percent virgin terrain with sections that redefined the word “extreme.” One section in particular, known as “Waterfall,” would make a mountain goat nervous.
Haaker was clearly fast in the tight stuff, but his lack of navigation experience kept him from being able to get away early.
“I would get a lead, and then I would get lost,” Haaker said. “Then I’d turn around and get going in the right direction, and Graffunder would be there. So I pretty much just gave up on trying to lead, and just followed him. Then once I knew where I was going, I was able to charge a little harder.
Even so, when Haaker and Graffunder came through Waterfall on lap two, the race got really interesting. The two riders were less than 10 seconds apart, and Haaker’s time advantage vanished when he encountered a traffic jam at the top of the section. The two even had time to pull off their goggles and shoot the breeze for a moment while the lapped riders tried to clear enough room for them to pass on the narrow trail.
Once back underway, Haaker managed to get through the section cleanly, but Graffunder struggled, and that would prove to be the difference. Although Haaker, Graffunder and Gerston came through to start their final lap about 3 minutes apart, Haaker was able to stretch his lead to nearly 6 minutes at the finish.
“That was a pretty hard race,” Haaker said. “My whole body was cramping on the first loop, and it was basically five hours of racing. That race was more than twice as tough as last year’s race.”
Graffunder said that he got stuck at the top of Waterfall, and that once he cleared the section, Haaker was gone, and Graffunder said he never saw him again. But even though Haaker beat him, Graffunder couldn’t help but laugh when asked about Haaker’s navigation skills.
“He went the wrong way so many times!” Graffunder said with a laugh. “I was just like, ‘Ah, I’ll just go the right way, and he will figure it out.’ I guess I just have a little more experience at navigating than most people. On the first lap, I wasn’t so concerned with racing forward.”
Graffunder also acknowledged that this year’s King of the Motos set a new benchmark for extreme enduro racing in Ameica.
“It is definitely getting there,” said Graffunder, who has contested extreme enduros such as the Red Bull Romaniacs in Europe. “In the past years we used a lot of the truck canyons and they’re so wide and big. They’re truck tracks, not bike tracks. This year there was a lot of fresh stuff and bike-specific stuff, which was good. The navigation was key, and there some really tough sections that are more like the extreme enduros I’m used to.”
Gerston said he was happy with third place.
“I’ve had a lot of bad luck here in the past, so it was nice to just have a good, strong finish. That’s kind of a big improvement for me. I’m happy just to be here without bike issues or body issues. I saved myself for the end of the race, and I reeled those guys in, but I just didn’t have enough to…pin the tail on the donkey.”
And naturally, race organizer Jimmy Lewis was pleased to hear comments that this year’s King of the Motos was the toughest yet. That’s the goal, to make it the toughest off-road race in the world.
“I guessed that it would take the riders 50 minutes to an hour and 10 per lap on the second loop, and that’s what they were doing, so I think that I’ve finally learned what their level is,” Lewis said. “That level requires me to use a trials bike when I set up some parts of the course. Some of the stuff was sadistic, but that is the level at which these guys want to be pushed. When people ask me, ‘Is King of the Motos tougher than a Hare and Hound or tougher than the Baja 500?’ I tell them that the King of the Motos start is tougher than those entire races put together. And then it gets worse!”
2015 Klim King of the Motos presented by Trail-Tech
Johnson Valley OHV Park
Johnson Valley, California
Results: February 1, 2015
Top 3 Pro Finishers
1. Colton Haaker
2. Cory Graffunder
3. Max Gerston
Top 3 Amateur Finishers
1. Kevin Murphy
2. Chris Lencioni
3. Jordan Rock
Top Women Finishers
1. Morgan Tanke
2. Rachel Gutish
Place Bike# Rider Name Class Laps Total Time
1 10 Colton Haaker MP 3 3:21:07.079
2 118 Cory Graffunder MP 3 3:26:43.361
3 15 Max Gerston MP 3 3:28:35.274
4 177 Mitch Carvolth MP 3 4:32:27.497
5 44 Kale Elworthy MP 3 4:48:22.908
6 27 Wally Palmer MP 2 3:24:29.515
7 696 Noah Kepple MP 2 3:25:24.184
8 41 Jordan Brandt MP 2 3:30:24.756
9 200 Eric Rhoten MP 2 4:00:29.790
10 40 Don Boespflug MP 2 4:09:49.229
11 529 Eric Bailey MP 2 4:35:34.569
12 150 Kevin Murphy MA 2 4:35:35.412
13 34 Brady Elton MP 1 2:16:14.170
14 815 Tyler Kinkade MP 1 2:23:34.987
15 140 Chris Lencioni MA 1 2:25:36.193
16 4 Quinn Wentzel MP 1 2:37:22.945
17 111 David Kamo MP 1 2:54:29.890
18 56 Marty Mann MP 1 2:55:24.531
19 618 Jordan Rock MA 1 2:55:28.890
20 6G Jason Gitchel MA 1 2:59:43.650
21 360T Michael Salsman Ryan Koch MT 1 3:02:57.370
22 59T Todd Bennett Brad Hannon MT 1 3:04:41.054
23 517 Bucky Hill MA 1 3:11:52.267
24 502 Nathan Brown MA 1 3:32:26.177
25 305 Wayne Dickert MP 1 3:54:21.723
26 514 Steve Deines MP 1 3:54:24.792
27 131 Kyle Deines MP 1 3:54:26.676
28 88 Drew Dickson MA 1 3:54:56.264
29 11 Ryan Gouveia MA 1 3:57:52.100
30 256 Jesse Beck MA 1 4:00:27.658
31 239V Kevin Driver MA 1 4:01:21.488
32 V37 Craig Thompson MA 1 4:34:02.342
33 101 Alex Lehr MA 1 4:34:04.453
34 717 Kelly Gelhaus MA 1 4:34:08.159
35 959 Tim Wussow MP 1 4:41:45.049
36 143 Garett Carlson MA 1 4:42:56.187
37 727 James King MA 1 4:55:21.912
38 223 Chris Murphy MA 1 5:19:17.509
39 217 Rachel Gutish MW 1 5:25:47.419
40 31 Morgan Tanke MW 1 5:25:48.701
41 74 Radek Burkat MA 1 5:25:51.310
42 107 John Bennett MA 1 5:25:52.675
43 15ZQ Robert Katz MA 1 6:08:31.446
44 328V Roger Flud MA 1 6:08:49.711
DNF N1M John Kearney MA 0
DNF 84 Tom Walker MA 0
DNF 6T Tom Pira Phil Pira MT 0
DNF 17 Bernard Unhassobisky MA 0
DNF 175L Chris Gage MA 0
DNF F62 Corbin Reed MA 0
DNF 262R Darell Collins MA 0
DNF 325 Dexter Dickenson MA 0
DNF 79 Erik Schaffer MA 0
DNF 75 Garry Cassidy MA 0
DNF V2 Greg Gilbert MA 0
DNF 723 Jaminson Moses MA 0
DNF 579 John Scoleri MA 0
DNF 374 Justin Leineweber MA 0
DNF 7 Luis Gonzales MA 0
DNF 1008 Nicole Bradford MW 0
DNF 151 Randall Dubois MA 0
DNF 394 Rhyan Marshall MA 0
DNF 454 Ryus Finch MA 0
DNF 23 Scotty King MA 0
DNF 222 Tim Robel MA 0
DNF 16T Shane Reed Cameron Steele MT 0
DNF 142 Yoram Lavee MA 0
DNF 144 Nick Saia MA 0
DNF 160 Randy Duke MA 0
DNF 106 Bryan Nelson MP 0
DNF 50 Dalton Dietz MP 0
DNF 145 Matt Martin MA 0
DNF 141 Dave Sanchez MA 0
DNF 247 Tyler Little MA 0
DNF 307 Steven Gerber MP 0
DNF 62 Taylor Duprau MA 0
DNF 146 Andrew Hughes MA 0
DNF 127 Tim Oreilly MP 0
DNF 203 Mike Aranda MP 0
DNF 302 Shane McNulty MA 0