How important is the start of a hare scrambles? It’s either crucial, or it’s completely insignificant, or it’s both, depending on what happens. It’s inconsequential if everything goes right, yet it’s the most important part of the race if you do it wrong.

That’s because you can’t win a race on the first lap, but you can certainly lose one. If you get a perfect start and lead the way into the first lap, there’s absolutely no guarantee that you will win the race. In fact, the statistics actually are against you. I have won 42 Nationals in my career (editor?s note, Scott?s victory tally is easily twice that today), and of those 42 races, I have never been first into the first turn. I have only been first into the second turn twice. Time and time again, though, I have seen riders put too much emphasis on that start and the first lap, and throw the race away as a result.

My goal for the start is to be within sight of the leaders. Of course, that’s a pretty good start in itself and it does require a little work.


The day before that race, I walk the course. Sometimes I will ride my mountain bike. This is so important to do that it mystifies me when I talk to someone who doesn’t. Why would you spend over $4000 on a race bike, travel miles and miles to get to a race, then not want to spend a couple of hours walking to guarantee a better finish? I know, this can be quite a hike, but it’s absolutely necessary if you want to do well. When you get on the bike, you want to know where you are going.
There are certain things to pay attention to on your walk. First of all, take note of any landmarks. If you see an old car on its side or a road crossing, remember it. Otherwise, the course can become impossible to remember; it will just be a jumble of lefts, rights, uphills and downhills and you won’t remember what came after what. The second time you do an event, it’s amazing how much you will remember from the year before. The most important thing to look for is the passing line. It might not be the shortest distance or even the quickest line, but as long as it’s an alternate, you can use it.

So now you have worn out your walking shoes and have nothing to do but wait for the flag to drop. It’s important not to get nervous before the start. When you are nervous, you waste energy and probably don’t think clearly. I ride my best when I’m relaxed and having fun. Easier said than done, you say? Fred Bramblett helps in that respect. He comes to the start with me and makes conversation about anything. It helps to get your mind off the race.

When I line up, I pick the shortest distance to the first turn. The bike will be plenty warm from just riding to the start line, so I usually ignore the warm-up period. I kill the bike with the kill button, then click it into second gear. With the clutch in, I then roll the bike back and forth to free the clutch plates. This makes it more willing to start in gear. At the ten-second mark, Fred will raise his arm and I will stand up with my left foot on a little plastic stool that I carried to the line. This gives me more leverage to kick the bike harder with my right foot.

One disadvantage I have is that the XR leaves the line slower than a twostroke. I have to kick the bike with no throttle, then wait a fraction of a second before I gas it. So I have to make up as much as I can by braking late into the first turn. Like I said, I have never been first into the first turn in a race that I won.


A lot of people don’t like leading their class on the first lap. Even though you have walked the course, it will look different at speed. The guy in front discovers all the hairy parts of the course; if there are rocks and things buried under the leaves, he will hit them first. Every time he gets out of shape, it sends a warning to the guys following him, and they learn from his mistakes. As a result, everyone usually goes a little slower than full speed on the first lap.

If you find yourself leading, though, take advantage of it. If you have walked the course well, you will be able to ride hard while everyone else is still trying to figure out where to go. The best situation is to get out of their sight; then they can’t learn from you. If you can’t break away, then you are just giving your knowledge of the course to them.


Okay, so you have come off the line poorly. Don’t give up, it’s not the end of the world. I’m an expert on this subject.

It’s important to remember two things: First, you have three hours to make up time, so don’t get discouraged. Second, you don’t want to use all three hours to get up front. The easiest time to pass people is on the first lap. One time we were draining brake fluid when the race started. I left after everyone else was long gone, but by the end of the first lap I was leading. If I hadn’t gotten past so many people on that first lap, I probably would never have passed them. I was angry at myself for missing the start, so I rode hard. Also, I knew the course well from walking it several times.

One of the worst ruts you can fall into on that first lap is to get too involved with racing any single rider. When you start racing against a person instead of the course, then you tend to concentrate too much on him. That means you will follow him, make all the mistakes he makes and quite possibly never pass him. If you concentrate on the course, then you will pass him without even realizing it. He will eventually take a poor line and you will be long gone.

Almost any advice you get on how to handle that first lap is going to have a ‘but.’ You need to be aggressive, hut careful not to throw away the entire race. You have to pass riders quickly, but don’t take bad lines that allow you to be passed. I know, it sounds impossible, and the truth is that sometimes you are going to do everything right and still have a race go badly. But, when you are confident, you will discover that things just seem to go right. Self-confidence will come naturally as you do better? and the better you do, the more self-confident you will become.


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