You thought you knew excitement. Then, you watch EnduroCross.
Not many people really know the world of dirt bike racing. Less care at all. For instance, the underground racing circuit we now know as the AMA National EnduroCross Series is, even to the motorcycling community, an underappreciated endeavor. So much so that champions on an international level are presented, within the glamorous confines of a spotlight, to speckled rows of seats more empty than full. They know their circumstance and are gracious despite it. Athletes who dedicate their lives to succeeding in a sport which most Americans don’t know exist. Like the underground prize fighter – passionate and determined and poor.
Our hero started strong. Practice was the first test and Geoff Chain, nervous as he was, sailed past formidable riders by the boat-load. Not bad for two weeks’ notice. Justin Coffey – co-creator of the multi-media company WESTx1000 – got the call. Then he called Matt Scott who then called his brother-in-law Geoff, the only capable Trials racer we collectively knew. There were new opportunities in EnduroCross with the coming of new owners and a new season. And we, Geoff and the WESTx1000 team, were on the ground floor ready to hit the penthouse.
It was a good opportunity for Geoff as a rider to grow. And WESTx1000 as team to come to fruition. So, we jumped at the offer to send a local dirt track enthusiast to try their luck, and test their lungs, against every range of rider. Plus, he’d been itching to hop on an EnduroCross track, never thinking the inaugural tournament would be among the Big Boys, in a full-size arena… “in two Saturdays.” The Amateur and Vet classes are seeded with pro-level talent. The Average Joe often better a lawn ornament than a contender.
Because still, however good, you’re not as good as the really good guys. Even the best of the average is chum floating in dark sharky waters. Geoff is associated with the AJ’s, not by choice or merit. He’s got gumption, but nonetheless, he’s chum. And knowing that, Geoff said yes anyway, proving to his friends and loved-ones once and for all that his balls are in fact bigger than his brains. Kudos. Geoff’s a seasoned mountain biker, AMRA competitor and, of course, trials rider. His day job keeps him braaping along the Arizona backcountry as a GID and Remote Sensing Technician–whatever that means.
And now, he was looking for a challenge. Somehow he finished seventh out of 13 from dead last at the Amateur Qualifying round, one away from being plucked and placed into the Amateur Open Main–the last obstacle to overcome before riding with the pros in the Super EndurCross main event. His second wave (the LCQ), well, it was mayhem out there. Bikes and bodies lay in front of him like Mayan slaves draping over the dirt and mud to keep the pristine sandaled tootsies of their golden Prince immaculate. But the combo of man and machine shoved between rocks and slumped over logs, coming from here… There… Everywhere! was cumbersome and bulky. And the riders were less than appreciative when tread would stamp their limbs.
It looked like a slaughterhouse and until now, after several grueling waves, Geoff had gingerly lifted and spun his YZ250. But this round, he was exhausted. Enduro is aptly named. Because endurance is the true key to success on an amateur level. That, or maybe four Baja 1000 titles, an ISDE podium and some notable stints in motocross. This round, Geoff didn’t do so hot. A nut slap on the first lap sealed his fate,
“I swear this is the reason cups were invented!” he said.
Luckily, under new management and a smattering of Hard Enduro visionaries, EnduroCross welcomed idiots like Geoff and his comrades to the starting line every race this season to aim high again and again. Each time a slightly different course–a different pace. This track was fast. It was more geared toward the big air junkies. And those who could take advantage did. Geoff’s a technical guy. He maneuvers the dreaded log “Matrix” like an English gentleman stepping over fallen peasants. The precarious rock piles have a hard time tipping him over, as they intend to. Though it doesn’t hurt his inseam is 38-inches. To add to the debauchery, some genius in the Fun Department added bracket racing to the mix so we can witness even more rivalry with three-man and one-on-one single lap shoot outs. Again, mayhem. You’ll never see such a pissed off pro rider so up-close. There’s no one to conceal his frustrations.
EnduroCross, like I’ve said about Rally Raid (Flat Track is too popular these days to include), is an unsung hero of a sport. Tractor tires loom like castle walls waiting to be scaled. Heaps of boulders, big and small, especially followed by a wet log or two, produce the best view in the house. Conquering riders better than all of us. Literally, all of us. The familiar MX style jumps and whoops bounce and buck and launch the men and women in a way most Americans understand. Even the start is exciting. A swarm of hungry dirt bikes buzz around corner one, fighting for a clear line. Position is key. And many eat shit. And those who lead the pack tend to own the pack, so the wasps must dominate the bumble bees in what looks like 50 feet.
Colton Haaker and Cody Webb battled all-out for first from Practice to Main. According to the crowd, Haaker had pulled a slick and jeer-worthy move on Webb in Qualifying. A move that clinched first and secured him ‘boos’ with every podium speech. Long-story short, Webb had snuck into first and an aggressive Haaker gave him a close shave from the inside of a shifty berm. It led to a crash [Webb’s] and the aforementioned ‘boos’ [Haaker]. Evermore reason to watch EnduroCross. It’s intimate. We can see the entire track at one time. The track can make an absolute animal like Destry Abbott look greenhorn. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. Done “right,” the course looks easy. Like a ballerina with her graceful prose.
Geoff had outdone his expectations, though his heavy old Yamaha and lack of proper training took him out of the race sooner than he’d hoped. What he and the team learned from this experience was invaluable. Jumping into a competition of this caliber may tell a good story, but it takes a toll on a grassroots competitor, his gear, the bike…
But it didn’t break his spirit. Months have passed, and he still recalls those arduous moments. What he could have done different–training, prepping, using gadgets and a machine better suited for the task. He talks about the race not with disappointment, but with hope for the future. To show respect to the many demands of EnduroCross and homage to those who spend their lives pursuing this passion. Giving himself a year to become ready for the 2018 season. The only real obstacle he’s not well-equipped to overcome is funding, which is what WESTx1000 is so adamant to obtain on his behalf. Maybe for Geoff, racing EnduroCross won’t become a career or lucrative, or maybe he’ll never even qualify for a Main Event. But what’s certain is his love for an unlikely sport. One which revealed his limits as well as his strengths. An event that offered him new goals. Forging a romance, to quote Kate from Titanic, he’ll “never let go.”