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“Bringin’ Home the Bacon”

AMA/NATC National Trials Series

Rounds 7 and 8

July 24th & 25th, 2010

Howard, Colorado

By Ron Pocher

Photos By Herb Jonke

 

No matter the discipline, motorcycle racing has always been a family affair. Every corner of the sport has seen it’s famous families through the years. Road Racing can’t be mentioned without thinking of names like Roberts, Emde, Duhamel, Bostrom, Rossi and Hayden. When you bring up Dirt Track – Armstrong, Kretz, Palmgren, Poovey and Scott are a few names that come to mind. You can’t talk about Hillclimb and leave out the Uebelackers while the Pearsons have garnered their fair share of Desert Racing victories in recent years. Before Speedway knew of the daring Bast brothers, the Milnes were burning up the ovals. Enduro and Off-road have seen a great deal of racers sharing the same last name; but few are as prestigious as Penton, Lafferty, Ekins and Uhl. Motocross has boasted a whole plethora of fast families; but Jones, Bailey, Everts, Grossi, Pomeroy, and Rickman would all have to be pushed near the top. In the Trials world, the bloodline runs just as thick and plentiful as a new generation of trials hopefuls, with recognizable surnames, are now entering the traps. Commo, Roper, Head and Webb are but a few of the talented lads following in the footsteps of their well-balanced dads.

 

Ron Commo, Jr.

Ron Commo III

Ron Commo, Jr., who now minds for his son Ron III, competed on the national trials circuit for nine years. Ron Jr. was able to claim six top five’s and reached as high as fourth in the final standings in both ’91 and ’92 during his impressive run. Todd Roper tried his hand at the tour in the early nineties where he twice tallied eighth place points; a spot that son Bryan looks to be on pace to better. Scott Head needed one year of “warm-up”, 1983, before clinching three consecutive national championships in the following years, ’84 thru ’86. Head’s son William is now enjoying success in the Junior ranks. Kip Webb, son Cody’s minder, competed on the circuit for ten years beginning in 1983. Webb ended up in the top five on four occasions and finished fourth three times, in ’86, ’87 and ’89.

With the beautiful “Twin Sisters” peaks serving as a backdrop, this year’s Colorado rounds were held at the Turkey Rock riding area in the peaceful community of Howard. Turkey Rock was recently designated for “trials only”, by the state, and this spacious venue holds plenty of challenging obstacles. The Rocky Mountain Trials Association, which through the years has held more national events than any other club, was hosting its fourth NATC contest at this central Colorado site, and its first since 1999. Stan Hensley was the Head Trials Master for Saturday’s Round 7, while Dr. Larry Lund sported that same title for Sunday’s Round 8. Even though the previous week had seen substantial afternoon showers, conditions were a bit dusty. Temperatures were pleasantly lower than those originally forecast, so the heat endured in prior weeks wasn’t a factor.

The “word on the street” was that Saturday’s event would probably be a bit more difficult than Sunday – as far as the pros and experts were concerned, anyway. This rumor panned out, as day one’s section two never saw a pro-level contestant reaching the exit gates. California’s Cody Webb was the only rider game enough to attempt the formidable “up” as the rest of the class wisely punched their fives. Webb was obviously concerned that the approach ramp would pitch him up but not forward, as he spent a good deal of time trying to chip a bit of slant into the sandstone face.

Colorado’s Keith Wineland was the only premier class gent who was able to clean section one with all three of his tries, while both Webb and three-time national champ Pat Smage, of Wisconsin, each needed a dab on one of their three attempts. Andrew Oldar, another Californian, fared pretty well with the first trap as he yielded just 5 points to this opening obstacle throughout the day.

 

Andrew Oldar

Andrew Oldar

Saturday’s section six was yet another that the talented group won’t soon forget. Here again, Webb was the only plonker who attempted the dreaded pinnacle rock, lurking mid-section, on all three circuits. Smage finally gave it a go on the third loop, to no avail, while Webb looked to have it licked on his third attempt before taking a dab toward the end of the trap on an obstacle that he was yet to visit. Webb was the only Pro class rider to pass through the section six exit gates with his final loop one.

 

Cody Webb

Cody Webb

Webb also had the only real success with the outrageous obstacles in section nine. Cody punched one-cards on his final two attempts while Ron Commo, III was able to get through the trap with a three on loop one. The rest of the class showed fives across the board. Wineland had a lap three crash, on nine’s poor approach “up”, that would have literally killed about 80% of the mere mortals reading this story. Wineland was flung backwards, after striking the vertical rock face short of the crest, and used his vast experience to escape an injury that could have surely ended his day. Just before landing flat on his back, the crafty Coloradan tossed his Gas Gas aside; thus preventing another 150 pounds from intensifying the impact. Though severely shaken, Wineland soldiered on albeit with only about one-third of his silencer still intact.

Webb, who also posted the day’s best scores in section seven, didn’t drop a single mark in any of the last three traps – 10, 11 and 12. The performance he displayed in the latter portion of the day one loop certainly factored into his success.

After the initial circuit Smage was pulling Webb by four, 21 to 25. Wineland sat in third with 31 while Commo and Karl Davis, Jr. found themselves knotted in fourth with 41 apiece. Webb threw the coals to the fire on loop two and gapped Smage considerably, where he was nineteen dabs stronger, with his 14-card. Wineland and Smage both posted 33. Webb Handily claimed Round 7 with a last loop 8-card that brought his winning total to 47. Wineland was able to nip Smage on the third lap, 18 to 21, but Pat held on for the silver – 75 to 82. Commo held Davis at bay with his 111 being good enough for fourth.

 

Keith Wineland

Keith Wineland

Smage had to be feeling that his “back was against the wall” going into Sunday’s Round 8. Saturday certainly hadn’t gone as planned as both Smage and his mount seemed slightly off kilter. Some local Mexican food, enjoyed Friday night, certainly wasn’t helping the young champ in acclimating himself to the unfamiliar altitude. In Saturday’s section eleven, Smage suddenly “exited stage right” while attempting a climb up a steep, razorback rock. Either vision problems or questionable power, both symptoms that Smage was battling, forced his hand on the loop two try. The young phenom was able to clean this trap, without issue, on his other two attempts.

Unlike Saturday, Sunday’s event was unable to boast a section that the top riders in the nation just flat couldn’t ride. Section two, which looked easy enough in the eyes of the casual observer, yet again proved that age-old adage that “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. This little “sleeper” certainly took its share of fives and was the only section, throughout the day, that Wineland failed to clean with any of his three attempts. The same couldn’t be said for Señor Webb who did manage to clean all of the traps at one time or another, but could only make it through two, pointless, once on his final circuit.

Colorado’s Dustin Hedwall had a shining moment when he was the only rider to clean the long, steep section ten on Sunday’s opening lap. Hedwall finished seventh in each round. Webb and Smage didn’t plant a pod here on either of their final two attempts while Wineland couldn’t figure things out until his closing circuit.

 

Dustin Hedwall

Dustin Hedwall

“Day two had a few sections that, because of their length, you really had to hustle through to make the time limit,” said Wineland. “You had to set up; make a quick attempt at the harder obstacles; then be quick about getting to the end gates.”

Webb had topped Smage with a pair of 5-cards on the first two loops. Smage sat in second with cards reading 10 and 6 while Wineland was perched comfortably in third with his 20 and 13-point tallies.

Smage started the event’s final circuit knowing that he would need both a clean last loop and a bit of help from Mr. Webb. Although all of the traps were technical, section twelve proved to hold the day’s deciding obstacle. Webb came into the closing section with the single dab he had acquired in trap number three. Smage had kept up his end of the bargain by cleaning all of the previous eleven sections, but Webb had failed to cooperate and would snatch the round regardless of his section twelve score. For the third time on this “memorable” day, or “forgettable” if you were aboard the number one-plated Sherco, Smage just couldn’t find a way up the short approach rock in section twelve. Smage lost his clean last loop, yet another round, and most likely the title, in one fail swoop at this unforgiving obstacle. Webb and Wineland each cleared this steep face with cleans on two of their three attempts while Commo managed to reach the top, and the exit gates, with a pair of two’s. The rest of the class had to settle for five’s.

Webb stood atop the podium, yet again, with his stellar 11-point total. Smage rolled home in second with 21 while Wineland steered his way to third for the eighth consecutive round with 40. Davis turned the tables on Commo by edging him on cleans, 7 to 5. Both gents finished things up with 105 marks dropped.

If my math is correct, which isn’t something I’d bet the farm on, Webb heads home to California having all but won the 2010 NATC Championship. With nine of the ten rounds counting toward the title, Webb has built a points spread that sits beyond the reach of the talented Mr. Smage. If the six riders who have attended all eight rounds make an appearance at Donner’s Round 9, Webb could punch fives for all 36 sections and Saturday’s sixth place points would put him out of touch. Round 10 would then just be what they simply refer to as “gravy”.

When Cody Webb cleaned Sunday’s final section, the difficult number twelve, father Kip was probably pretty sure that this would be enough for both the Round 8 victory and the NATC crown. The always stoic Kip, for the briefest of moments, showed just a wee bit of emotion. You had to really be paying attention to catch it, and I was.

Kip Webb, though certainly a worthy contender, was never quite able to hoist the national championship trophy that his son now all but has in his grasp. Kip came up a tad short throughout his run in the eighties, but helping his kid reach the top of the heap isn’t just “the next best thing” – it’s probably “an even better thing.” After all, getting to share your children’s joy is what family’s all about.

 

Pat Smage

Pat Smage