USRA Utah Sportsman Racers Association Desert Series
Round 2: Wizards MC Rhino Rally
By Skyler Howes, Open Expert
Photos by Randy Christiansen/www.HiDesertPhotos.com and Terrie Bland
Courtesy of Blais Racing Services
ST. GEORGE, UT, FEB. 28, 2015
Race Report by Skyler Howes, Open Expert
The nerves always run high coming into the USRA Rhino Rally. This year marked the 32nd annual running of the race, and it was mine to lose. I had won the previous two years against some stiff competition, and 2015 was turning out to be an action-packed year. There was some heavy hitters signed up, like previous two-time winner David Pearson, the reigning USRA champ, Josh Knight and much more.
The weekend before the race, we had a big storm drop in a bunch of rain and snow, which put the original loop one out of commission. There was another storm rolling in for the weekend of the race, which meant wet dirt and that the racing would be close! My dad and the rest of the Wizards had to redesign the race course and they put together a great course the Wednesday before the race! A ton of hard work comes out of this club to put on this race, and it is much appreciated!
I woke up early Saturday morning to the sound of rain and started the slippery drive out to the race site. It was a little sketchy trying to stay on the road, with how muddy it was. Josh Knight’s family actually slid into a ditch just before the pits!
I knew today was going to be an exciting day! I immediately took my practice bike over to the start line to reserve my spot. The “Arizona Strip” start line is gnarly; a ton of big g-outs and lava rock means a good start is priority. There was quite the delay for the start, so we had plenty of time to make sure our lines were dialed, and we were ready to roll.
Finally the banner raised, and the tunnel vision set in. They dropped the banner and we were off!
I was able to grab the main line first and focus in on the trail. Walking the start earlier, I knew I had to be very careful with some of the slick spots and making sure I kept it upright. I played it safe all the way to the end of the bomb and was able to grab the holeshot!
Now it was time for the real test. No dust, slippery clay, and exposed rocks meant some perfect riding.
We hit the washes, and I put my head down to hopefully put a gap on whoever was behind me. I held my Blais Racing Services KTM 300 XC to the stop. The dirt was primo! The consistency in the washes was unreal – unlimited traction, especially with my Kenda tires. We hit a hairpin corner that basically made us do a 180, and I took a glance over to see Josh Knight only seconds behind. The race was on! I was able to keep him at bay just about to check one. As I dropped off of a road into a wash, there was a thin layer of muddy clay on top of slick rock. I jumped in and slid out! Josh was just in the right spot to capitalize on my mistake. He slowed and yelled, “You all right?” as I was getting up. I swung my leg over and hit the electric start to jump in right behind Josh and lock on to his rear tire.
It was pretty brutal; the roost was gnarly! I knew I had to deal with it if I wanted any chance at getting the lead back. It was such a crazy-good battle – I was trying my hardest to brake later and stuff it in on a corner, doing nose-wheelies into almost every corner. We hit some more muddy sections and it was pretty funny; we both just putted through to avoid any mistakes. Riding in second was much easier, besides the roost. You were able to read them and react to obstacles much better!
I followed right on Josh for a few miles through the washes and then we hit the whoops. I let my ESR Race Tech suspension do all the work and put me right in striking distance. I took a sweet line on the inside and put the pass back on Josh. I could hear him right there, reading my lines and waiting for the next opportunity to make a pass.
I held the lead for just a couple of miles, and as I crested this hill, the arrow pointed right, so I started to hook right. Well, it turns out the course kept going straight, and I ended up in a little ravine, so Josh got back around.
We dropped in to another rocky wash, turned a corner, and there was the hare… Josh got him and took home the prize! Just as we came up to him, I caught a small rock that made me tip over, losing even more ground to Josh. This was only 10 miles from the pits, and he held this gap all the way in.
I came in to get a full tank of AMSOIL mixed fuel from Bundy Inc. and headed back out. I had about five to six seconds to make up from my mistakes, but I also knew that Josh was going to be on it. I had some hard work to do.
The second loop had a lot of common course, and it started to get pretty choppy! I was so stoked to have my Flexx handlebars taking the abuse away and keeping me able to push on. My Fastway steering stabilizer made things so much easier as well!
Josh was riding so good and keeping this five-second gap true all the way ’til we got back to the whoops. I knew if I had a chance at getting close, this was going to be my last option, unless he had a big mistake.
I kept inching closer and closer over the next three miles and dropped in right behind him as we entered a really fast wash. I was really pushing hard and feeling good! I got closer and closer, and as we hit the same rocky wash that we caught the hare in, Josh took the left line and I took the outside line on the right. He had a little more rocks to deal with on the inside, and I was able to just barely squeeze by him right as we got into the check!
I pinned it, doing anything I could to put a gap on Josh, as we only had about 10 miles to go ’til the finish. I got into the lappers really heavy but made quick work [of them] and got around them fast. I took a quick glance back and didn’t see anyone – I figured Josh had gotten hung up with the lappers, and I was able to put a healthy gap on him! I was so stoked but knew that he could still have the potential to make time up, so I didn’t chance anything and I kept pushing hard all the way in to the finish.
I crested the last hill in and took the win! As I stopped, one of the course workers told me that Josh hit his chain guide on a rock and it caused it to sheer off, derailing his chain and bunching the chain all the way up in the countershaft. Turns out this happened at the exact moment that I was making the pass on him for the lead. As he cut on the inside into the check, he hit the rock, and that ended his day right there! I couldn’t believe it: The whole race with only about five seconds between us at most, and one rock could end the most epic battle as we were side by side. We had pushed so hard that we had almost a six-minute lead on third place at the pits, and a 10- to 12-minute lead by the finish. David Pearson had an off day; a bad start put him very far back in the pack, and from what I was told, shortly into the first loop, he had a tire failure. After watching some helmet-cam footage, I spotted him on the side of the trail, helping downed riders; what a boss!
That night, we all attended the awards banquet. As I was accepting the overall trophy, Scott Snow told me that since I had won it three years in a row that I got to keep the traveling trophy! This is seriously such a huge honor, to be able to keep this thing. The names on it tell a huge tale, most of them being my biggest heroes. It has been a dream of mine since I was 3 years old to even have my name on this trophy, and now to be able to keep it is beyond a dream come true.
The biggest “thank you” to all of my sponsors: Blais Racing Services, Mom and Dad, Fasst Co., KTM, Rebellious Status Clothing, ESR Suspension, Race Tech, Dubya, DVS, AMSOIL, Alpinestars, Kenda, Pro Moto Billet, Fastway, FMF, Rekluse, RmorFX, TLD, BRP, Bullet Proof, Asterisk, DirtTricks, REEL Cameras, IMS, No-Toil, Maxilube, X Brand Goggles, Tunex of Washington, A’ME Grips, Samco, Hot Rods, Vertex, C&J Powder Coating, BeHot, and Suzie Potts!
[For more from this event, please see “2015 0228 Race Report from USRA Desert Series, Round 2, Take 1: Braydon Bland”… Editor]