Wakker’s dream of being an X Games athlete all rests on the result of just one race – will he win big or fold like a fool in Las Vegas’ Orleans Arena?
Sometimes dreams and aspirations are the only things that keep us going. Throughout my life and magazine adventures I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world riding, spannering and racing dirt bikes sometimes in the awesome company of legends like Kaptain Lawless, SuttDawg, Spodey, Robino, J Stumps, Irish Stu, Philip the Coulter, Keith ‘KP’ Patstone, Fordy, The Bear, Uncle Dinham and The Mayor of Neva Rite…
Every adventure is like a dream come true even though most are planned on the spur of the moment and are a little chaotic. That said on my recent American race trips there has been a whole new level of organisation due to a fine human who goes by the name of Scotty Denison.
The USA crew of Team Denison, Eric Narvaez and Eric Peronnard all helped in getting me to the final round of the AMA Endurocross series last year and as the first round of the 2012 season approached it was time to get the flight booked and get over there for some intensive riding and training before hitting the track in my most favourite of venues – the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The story goes a little like this. I’ve been training and working my butt off to get into shape so I can live out my dream. That dream is to ride at the 2012 X Games in Los Angeles. Basically, I was given a wildcard ride earlier in the year which was an awesome thing to happen and I was absolutely over the moon to be given the chance. To say this was a big opportunity would be an understatement because after almost losing the use of my left arm last year I have been working hard to get everything operational again. A second chance so to speak…
As you can imagine I was very excited and very nervous about being offered the ride but I couldn’t just leave it at that and bask in the glory of making it to X Games. That would be way too simple and, me being me, I had to try to prepare as best I could. Preparation after all is key.
With no endurocross series going on here in Europe once the world indoors had finished in Barcelona the only way to get better in this ever evolving sport was to get out there and race with the very best. That meant heading Stateside to take part in round one of the AMA championship.
Rounds one and two count as X Games qualifiers and when I spoke to promoter Eric P he basically laid it on the line – if I raced Vegas I had to perform and get some good results or my X Games ride would be in jeopardy. No pressure then. I could have missed Vegas and concentrated on X Games as a one off but f*ck that – if you’re going to improve you have to race at the highest level. End of.
Showing a new serious side I started training hard and even had my flights booked nice and early so I could ride a couple of times in America before the race itself. Dirt Rider magazine’s Chris Denison hooked me up with a Husaberg 300 for the event and from the moment I landed Stateside it was on.
Straight away Scotty D and I hit out two great days riding at Glen Helen with Mike Brown, Taddy B, Cory Grafunder and a lot of other pros who were there putting in the laps. It was daunting at first – these guys make their living from endurocross and the pace at their regular training track was high. After slowly finding my feet, the dirt and then my man-up sack I began to find some pace.
The 300 was running great although the suspension was a little on the soft side. A more supercross style setting is now required for endurocross as the pace is way higher than ever before and there are more jumpable sections where zip from the motor and firmness from the chassis are required.
We kept the long trail silencer on the bike and the only other change I made was to fit a soft mousse into a Michelin rear tyre I recovered from Scotty’s bin! I like a worn out tyre for these occasions and as I didn’t have my preferred Metzelers with me the used and abused Michelin would have to do just fine. With the bike fully prepped and looking great in all of its Evoke Concepts glory the #777 machine was loaded up and en route to Vegas in the Team Denison machine.
To make an already epic adventure take another step up, there were a few team members coming out to the States to watch, help, support and take the p*ss. Team ISO2 were heading straight to Vegas to catch the action and Stolen BMX and XXX Demo supremos Anthony and Glenn Revell flew into Los Angeles which is where I hooked up with them. From there we drove out to the city in the desert to get signed up and ready for the next day’s action…
Nerves are a funny thing. They can sometimes get the better of you and they had a tight hold of my nuts all morning long while I waited around for my afternoon practice and hot lap session. A day programme of qualifiers runs flat out all morning before the pro class practice sessions so there’s always plenty of action going on.
Watching from the seats is okay but you never have an idea of the difficulty of this sport until you are down there and in amongst it. I just wanted to get out there and get some laps under my belt. I felt worse than ever with my nerves and this burns energy. The pressure of knowing I couldn’t afford to mess this up was getting to me so I was happy to get on to the slippery watered track for my first five minute session.
The track needed to be dealt with straight away and I knew I had to clear the fast log doubles within the first lap or two. Trouble was I didn’t feel confident to hit them as I was already bottoming out the ‘berg and the session slipped away with one last crash coming out of the matrix just about topping it off. The fact that my man nuts got caught in the spinning back wheel added insult to injury – or vice versa!
Low in confidence and wondering where my early week pace had gone I tried to fix it up in the next session. That was a slight improvement but still way off what I wanted. The hot lap came around and as usual all 36 pro riders lined up for our individual shot at the qualifying lap.
It was at this point I realised how much of the track had to be jumped. Every log section was being doubled or tripled but there wasn’t much I could do now. I put in a pretty smooth lap until I had a full on stoppage in the matrix within metres of the flag. Having to reverse up mid hot lap makes for a loss of time but although I felt shit on the track I still managed 25th place. That was pretty good considering I was walking like John Wayne and didn’t double one section of track.
The afternoon work was done. I knew I wasn’t riding well due to my support crew of G Man, Revs and The Mayor of Neva Rite not hanging around much afterwards. I sat on my own trying to work it out but there was nothing else for it but to try to stick to my plan of staying smooth during the night show and letting the races develop.
The build up to the race is great and the Orleans Arena holds a great atmosphere. With AMA Supercross in town the same weekend the stars of that sport were out in force to watch the endurocross action so it was time for us all to deliver the show.
I was in heat two and as usual I had Taddy B in my heat race. Great! The start was outside the arena so we left the gate then turned into a fast 90 degree left hander before entering the main arena. I pinned it out of the start and hooked a left to follow the fast guys into the first log section. The heat – like every other race I have done indoors – turns into a blur as there are no prisoners taken. Every position is vital for gate position in the semis so even if you aren’t going to win the heat the battle is on until the flag drops. I found myself riding around instead of racing the track but a few bar bashing moments and a crash started to wake me up a bit – I even took out Taddy on the last lap.
The event runs at a great pace and there’s no time to relax once things get going. I had to get loosened up and ready for my semi final. I was aiming for a top finish in my semi to try to qualify through to the final and my X Games dream. My pace was way off so it was time to pull the finger out and try to make the bike work harder in its strong areas while just pushing as hard as possible on the sections of track where I lacked confidence to go for it.
For the semi final the only two European riders in the pro class – that’s me and Taddy – sat side by side on the inside two gates. He didn’t say anything about my take out in the heat race but he had more issues to worry about than that as he was way off from his usual level of dominance. I was pumped to get the inside gate as it meant I’d be well away from the carnage on the outside of the turn. The gate dropped and Taddy cut me off pretty hard but I still came out of the first turn only a couple of bike lengths behind.
The battles began again but this time things were different – I had loosened up a bit and everything was starting to flow and the track seemed totally different now. I stayed feet up through the matrix and was finding everything much easier. On the second lap I pumped into and over the fast log double. The bike bottomed and protested but the time difference and energy saving was unreal. I was at last racing again and it felt good.
Battling with Aussie ace Josh Strang was cool and we were running a similar pace now. I was in seventh place but I needed top five. Strang crashed in the downhill rock section and I made the pass for sixth – if things kept going like this I could hopefully sneak a top five.
Going into the final lap I wanted to hit both log doubles on the fast straight so I pre-loaded into the first log to get the extra height I needed. What happened next is a bit of a blur…
The bike bottomed hard and as soon as I took off I started on my merry way over the handlebars. My front wheel nosedived into the second log and my head slammed the dirt while my feet carried on over – still tangled with the bike. I think my heels must have hit the back of my helmet as the last thing I remember before the lights went out was a crunching sound coming from my neck and one last thought – no X Games for me!
I came round to the faces of the track crew who were peering into my goggles and asking if I was okay. I was winded badly but I was more concerned to see if my hands and feet would move. They did so I got my ass up and off the track so they could get on with the show. That was the worst crash of my many years riding but I had kind of gotten away with it.
My dream was over and all the work towards it seemed like a waste of time – or it did at the time. It’s not of course and although the X Games will happen without this Ulsterman I took the chance to go and better myself instead of taking the easy option. It’s what we do here at DBR – we take it to the world loud and proud (that explains the moustache then – AS) and give it 100 per cent!
Geoff Walker scorpioned in Las Vegas Endurocross
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