Editor’s Note: Rick Daniel is the toughest man alive. Years after his hayday as a top national enduro rider he still rides any place and every place he can. Last weekend he won Dirt Bike’s 24 hours of Glen Helen. This is his story.
WHY?!? This was the overwhelming response that I heard whenever I mentioned to someone that I was going to ride the HYR 24 Hours of Glen Helen as a solo Ironman entrant. Why indeed. If I was asked this question fifty times, then I gave fifty different answers. I figured if I stated every possible reason for embarking on this adventure, I might eventually hit on the answer.
In case you didn?t know, the HYR 24 Hours of Glen Helen is an endurance race. On motorcycles. On dirt. For 24 hours straight. Picture in your mind what it would have been like if they had run the 24 Hours of Lemans during World War II using Jeeps and you wouldn?t be far off. Of course, in my case this still doesn?t aptly describe the full scope of what I was attempting. You see, this race is designed to be a team affair, where either four professionals (you know, the guys that get paid to race motorcycles) ride one bike, or six Walter Mitty types can ride with the aid of two motorcycles. There is also one other scenario that makes the thought of four guys riding one bike for 24 hours seem like a barber shop quartet at Karaoke night. It is called the Ironman class. It means that one person rides one bike as far as they can in 24 hours. As in “solo”. As in “by yourself” As in “what-er-you, crazy”. Oh, by the way, they don?t even list this class on the event flyer. It?s kind of like all those special burgers at In-N-Out that you can only get if you know their secret names. Only a little more painful. Okay, a lot more painful.
Anyway, in the 2002 rendition of this event, 56 teams signed up to do battle. In addition to this, there were six deranged souls who were off of their medication long enough to think they could ride a dirt bike longer than it takes Imelda Marcos to count her shoes. I was one of them. Heck, I may have been the king of them. This would be the seventh long distance team-race that I would “Ironman” this year. So far I had pretty good results, a couple of firsts and a couple of seconds. Of course, there was that nasty bump on the head at the Wiseco 12 Hours of Glen Helen, that left me feeling like one of Mike Tyson?s girlfriends, but I couldn?t live in the past if I was going to conquer this challenge. No sir, this one race was going to take the stamina of a telemarketer, combined with the mental fortitude of a spoon-bender.
I think I read somewhere that the 24 Hours of Glen Helen is “A team race for hardy souls”. I guess that would make racing 24 hours in the Ironman class ” A nut race for foolhardy soles”. Suits me perfectly, I have always liked Mrs. Paul?s fish sticks.
Why? Uhmm, because it?s there? No, that one didn?t go over very well when used by the guys trying to be the first to climb Mount Everest and besides, this was the 4th Annual 24 hour race at Glen Helen Raceway Park and I would not be the first Nurse Ratchet escapee to attempt this feat of Horror.
Why? Uhmm, because you are only young once? Well, that would have been a fine answer in 1982, but the year is 2002 and I am now a 39 year-old “experienced” motorcycle racer. Experienced, meaning more injuries than Travis Pastrana, but less than Evel Knievel. Therefore, I am long past being referred to as young. Childish, yes. Young? Not for a long time.
Why? Uhmm, because I want to see if I can do it? With that kind of logic, it is only a matter of time before a person shows up on one of those home video shows with a pickle up his nose.
Saturday, 9/7/02; 9:00 AM Riders meeting. The General Manager of Glen Helen Raceway Park, Lori Yarnell, thanks us all for showing up and assures us that we will all have a wonderful time as long as we don?t speed in the pits. Mark , the head race official, thanks us all for showing up and assures us that we will all have a wonderful time as long as we don?t take any short cuts. Ron Lawson, of Dirt Bike fame, and the person who laid out the course, thanks us all for showing up and assures us that we will all have a wonderful time as long as we stay out of the dust and avoid the bumps. I followed the advice of Lori and Mark to the letter, but that Lawson guy must be a stark raving lunatic! Hmmm, seems like he and I must be twin brothers from different mothers.
Saturday, 9/7/02; 9:59 AM Starting line. My KTM 520MXC is prepped, the pit is stocked and I am ready to take on the world. They say that dog?s have no sense of their size in relation to other dogs. That is why you see Yorkshire Terriers standing up to German Shepard?s. I must be a Chihuahua. And the runt of the litter at that.
Saturday, 9/7/02; 10:30 AM End of first lap. The course is fairly rugged I think to myself, but if I pace myself, I?ll be okay. Which is a little like the sign at the entrance to Death Valley that says “yeah, but it?s a dry heat”.
Saturday, 9/7/02; 12:05 PM Pit stop number 1. Before the race, my chief mechanic, Mark Zoller, asked me if I had a plan. Of course I had a plan. I was going to split this event into three parts. The first part, from 10am till 3am, would be treated like seven separate trail rides of two hours each. Each “trail ride” would be followed by a 30-minute “bench racing” session, while my mechanics swarmed over the bike like Nascar?s finest. The second session would be the R&R stage where I would sleep soundly from 3am till 6am, while my entire pit crew repaired all of the major damage that Lawson?s course had done to my bike, in addition to keeping tabs on my fellow competitors nocturnal progress. The third and final session would be treated like a National Hare and Hound race. After a refreshing 3 hours of sleep (hey, I have seen plenty of desert racers that would have given up their left grip to be racing with that much sleep) I felt that I would be able to attack the course like I was the peanut butter in a Ty and Destry sandwich. Oh you silly, silly boy!
Saturday, 9/7/02; 12:21 PM First bench racing session. My girlfriend /crew chief /head chef / inspirational guru, Dodie Webster, is telling me that it is time to get back on the course. So far I feel pretty good, the bike is working sweet, and I have five laps under my belt. I do some quick math in my head and calculate that at this pace I will do about 45 laps. I figure that should be good enough to win the coveted Ironman title. I pull out of the pits with a big wheelie and an ear-piercing yippee-kaiyay!
Saturday, 9/7/02; 12:32 PM Lap number 6. Jiggle the handle! Shortly after leaving the pits, I come around a corner only to find an Ohio-style mud bog covering the entire turn. I had heard that the track?s state-of-the-art watering system was precisely calibrated to supply the exact amount of water necessary to keep the track in that perfect state of dampness. “Hero-Dirt” it is called. However, the problem was, that all of this water was put into one turn. Now I am a California boy born and raised. I hate mud! If I see a dog pee on the trail, I am looking for an alternate route. On this day, I flounder in the pig slop like a newborn calf and fall over in the deepest part. My bike and I look like we are at an exclusive spa enjoying a soothing mud mask. Thanks Lawson, would you put a little lotion on my back, too?
Saturday, 9/7/02; 2:34 PM Pit stop number 2. I now have 10 laps completed. My crew informs me that I am one lap ahead of second place. I love it when a plan comes together! Clint Eastwood once said in a movie that a man?s got to know his limitations. Ol? Clint probably never raced in a 24-hour dirt bike race, but he sure could ride a horse, so I figure he must know something. Since I had a slight lead, I decide to adjust my plan slightly. Because it is hot and it is going to get worse before it gets better, I decide to cut my “trail rides” down to four laps. This will give me a little more time to cool down in the shade. I figure that I can always pick up the pace if my competitors start gaining on me.
Saturday, 9/7/02; 3:43 PM Lap number 13. The first thread of doubt begins to creep into my mind. My hands are beginning to feel tender, and I am beginning to worry about how the tough the course is going to be in the dark. The only night racing that I had ever done was a family enduro back in 1985. The week before the 24-hour, I rode for two hours on the Motocross des Nations track at Competition Park to get used to the Baja Designs HID light setup. I was really impressed with how the light allowed me to see the ground in all conditions even over jumps. However, on those occasions, I was the only one on the track, so there was no dust and no hills and no goblins standing in the middle of the track. As I am trying to keep these negative thoughts out of my mind, I notice oil on my left boot. It seems that my fork seal has begun to leak. Apparently I was not following Lawson?s advice. I kept hitting every bump on the track lap after lap no matter how hard I tried to avoid them. The blanket of Napalm dust wasn?t helping things either. I began looking forward to the brief reprieve that “Pig-Slop” corner gave me each lap.
Saturday, 9/7/02; 4:27 PM Pit stop number 3. Mark and Tim from Z Racing are looking at my leaking fork. They want to put the forks from my 380EXC on, but that means they will have to take the triple clamps off as well. I want to complete as many laps as I can before dark, so I tell them that I will ride three more laps, to give them time to strip the 380. They simply shrug and change the air filter instead. I think that I could have told them to take the engine out of my truck and they would have it lying on the carpet in an hour. It?s great to have a crew that is just as warped as me. We are the fighting Chihuahuas!!
Saturday, 9/7/02; 6:11 PM Pit stop number 4. I change into dry gear while the crew changes the forks. They want to mount the light on the bike, since it will be dark in about an hour, but I make up a story of how I don?t want to put the light on too soon because it might get broken. I want to ride two laps before we put the light on. This ploy works to my advantage, because I am looking for a good excuse to shorten my “trail rides”. I am beginning to feel the effects of having ridden 170 miles. Anytime someone would ask me how I felt, I would put on a brave face and say something like, “never felt better” or “just getting warmed up” or ” I just can?t wait until I get to race”. It?s a good thing that I?m not Pinocchio or my helmet wouldn?t have fit over my nose!
Saturday, 9/7/02; 6:57 PM Lap number 19. I am riding in a section of the course that I have named the “Haunted Forest”. It is a single-track trail winding through a stand of gnarled trees. Around every corner I expect to see two little kids dropping breadcrumbs. At this time of day, it is quite dark in there. I struggle to keep from pin-balling from tree to tree. A voice in the back of my head says, “Way to go Einstein! That was a great idea to leave the light off. Maybe if you?re lucky, someone will find you before the troll that lives under the I-15 bridge does”! I name this annoying voice “Wilson”.
Saturday, 9/7/02; 9:02 PM Pit stop number 6. My crew says that it is time to change the engine oil. I ask them to put on a new rear tire as well. They go about their task like Santa?s Elves. I swear I even heard them whistling. I have just completed my first two night laps. The light actually helped me to find the smoothest lines by casting shadows over the bumps. The bigger the shadows, the bigger the bumps. It was actually quite a fun experience. Until I hit the dust. Now I have ridden in dust my whole life. I don?t really like it, but I am used to it in an annoying-little-sister kind of way. But this wasn?t just any old dust. The light hitting the dust created a seemingly impenetrable wall of fog. I would keep leaning forward to try and focus my eyes on the trail until my chest was nearly resting on my Scott?s steering damper. When I couldn?t lean forward any more, I would slide back into position only to repeat the process all over again.
Saturday, 9/7/02; 11:12 PM Lap number 24. My vision is beginning to play tricks on me. When I was in high school, I learned how to scuba dive. When I would go diving in the ocean the sand particles that were floating in the water would reflect what little light penetrated through to the depths and it was a very weird sensation like floating through stars or something. Now as I am riding through the “Haunted Forest” the scuba diving sensation comes rushing back. The little particles of dust are twinkling from my light. It makes me feel like I am riding underwater. Kind of like a Great White Shark, I think. More like a squid, says “Wilson”.
Saturday, 9/7/02; 11:49 PM Pit stop number 8. I have decided that the “trail rides” are over. I am not really sleepy, but I figure that it would be a good idea to try and get some sleep now, before I do get sleepy and possibly start making mistakes that could put me out of contention. I am still one lap ahead, so I figure that I can afford a little extra sleep. I ask Dodie to wake me up at 3am and also keep an eye on my closest competition. I take my gear off and crawl into the sleeping bag. As I lie there in the dark, my eyes are closed and my mind is calm, but my ears are wide open to the raucous noise of 61 angry, bellowing motorcycles that seem to be going by every 15 seconds or so. It doesn?t look like it?s going to be the sound restful sleep that I had hoped for.
Sunday, 9/7/02; 3:35 AM Lap number 26. I am pretty sure that I actually ended up getting a solid 38 seconds of sleep. Dodie had informed me that I had dropped back to second place behind the #117 Honda. “Wilson” names him “The Red Baron”. I have to agree. Dodie had said that I was one lap down and that “double-one-seven” was on the course about 20 minutes in front of me. I tried to do some quick calculations as I was riding. Fifteen minutes later I had concluded that “Baron von Richtofen” must have already taken his sleep stop and that he was probably going to try and soldier on to the finish in true “tortoise” fashion. Before I had gone to sleep, my lap times had been 3 to 5 minutes quicker than anyone else?s in my class. However, even if I could maintain this pace, it was going to be tough to make up a lap and a half, unless I took shorter pit stops than everyone else. I decided that it was time to dig deep and I would ride 4 laps before stopping again. It is still dark, and I still feel like I am riding in “Davy Jones? Locker”, but I feel amazingly refreshed from my 3-hour rest. My mind seems sharp, but my hands feel like they have been through a meat grinder. I am also getting a case of “monkey butt”. I take to sitting on the seat sideways to ease the pain. “Wilson” says I look like “Queen Victoria riding on a donkey”. I tell “Wilson” that while I may be “Queen Victoria”, he is the “donkey”. That shuts him up for a while.
Sunday, 9/7/02; 6:00 AM Lap number 30. This is my last lap that will require the light. I feel very lucky to have completed 11 night laps with no mishaps. I have made up enough time to be back on the same lap as “The Red Baron”, but I am still 10 or 15 minutes behind him. In my original plan, this is the point where I was going to begin racing, and that is exactly what I need to do to get the lead back. Unfortunately, my hands just don?t feel like they could take the pounding that trying to go faster would dish out. “Wilson ” points out that the rest of my body is suffering a bit too. I decide to just stick to “plan B”, where I keep my “trail ride” pace, but keep the pit stops short.
Sunday, 9/7/02; 7:52 AM Pit stop number 11. I have finally taken the lead back, but Mark wants to change the air filter again. I don?t want to take the time, but he is telling me that it would not be wise to risk having the air filter clog completely up. “Wilson” reminds me of the three tricky uphills on the course that many people have been struggling with all night. I definitely don?t want to have to use any extra energy by getting stuck at this stage in the game. These hills have gotten so chewed up, that it is a real challenge just to climb them when I am the only one on the hill. If there are a couple of guys struggling up them when I come along, the extreme dust and added obstacles sends the difficulty factor off the chart. Mark changes the air filter.
Sunday, 9/7/02; 9:00 AM Pit stop number 12. This is the very last pit stop! I have completed 35 laps and I should be able to do 2 or 3 more. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had already won the race. “The Red Baron” had apparently decided that discretion was the better part of valor and parked his bike near the finish line so that he could take the checkered flag and be credited with a finish. Since I still think that I am in the middle of a “dogfight”, I rush out of the pits in a surge of energy, sensing that the entire race has come down to the last hour.
Sunday, 9/7/02; 9:51 AM Lap number 37. As I complete the final ? mile of track before the finish line, I notice about 8 or 10 riders and their bikes lined up waiting for the leader to come around and take the checkered flag so they don?t have to ride another lap. “Wilson” suggests that I do the same, since I noticed “The Red Baron” parked on the side of the track for two laps and now realize that I have won the race. However, in pure “Tin Cup” fashion, I bolt past the waiting zombies to begin my 38th and final lap. There is no turning back now. “Wilson” is having a fit. He begins reciting a list of things that could go wrong on this last lap to snatch the victory from my grasp. I calmly tell him that I must do one last lap in order to say goodbye to the course. As “Wilson” sulks, I feel a tinge of sadness on this final circuit. Goodbye, Sheriffs Training Center. Goodbye Scary Levee. Goodbye Pig-Slop corner. Goodbye Bud?s Creek. Goodbye Slippery Slide. Goodbye baking-flour turn that I hate so much. Goodbye Sewer Pipe. Goodbye Mount Saint Helen. Goodbye giant American flag. Goodbye bumpy jeep trail. Goodbye rain-rutted downhill. Goodbye Haunted Forest. Goodbye nasty uphill. Goodbye Honey-Truck Hill. Goodbye Boy Scout Trail. Goodbye Water-Tank Chicane. Goodbye Glen Helen Autobahn. Goodbye Log Jump. Goodbye Talladega turn where Animal Leap used to be. Goodbye 24 hours of Glen Helen! “Wilson” chokes back a tear when the crowd erupts into applause as I cross the finish line. A throng of people begins congratulating me and shaking my hand and slapping me on the back. It is one of the most satisfying moments of my life.
Sunday, 9/7/02; 10:50 AM Loading up. I am sitting in a lawn-chair like a heap of dirty clothes. I think that I would rather go ride 5 more laps than have to load up all of the junk that is scattered throughout my pit. As I am sitting here pondering my navel, a newspaper reporter walks up to interview me. The first question that he asks me is what possessed me to ride this race all by myself. For the first time ever, in a moment of clarity, I realize the answer. It is a phrase that my good friend, Ron Pocher, uses all the time. “Hey I?m sick and I need help”. Obviously!
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