We’re back from XGames and it was definitely an interesting experience. The whole deal, from finding a bike to race and then building it in a few days before actually getting on the track at the XGames, was a whirlwind of a few weeks. We’ll recap the build in a separate post in more detail, but for now here’s how the XGames experience shook out.
We finished the bike the night before we had to leave (Tuesday) and loaded up first thing Wednesday morning. Me and my 13 year old headed north east to Minneapolis. It was a fairly short 2 1/2 hour drive and junior was stoked, talking my leg off for the first part of the drive, but I couldn’t help being distracted by the task ahead. I saw a spy pic of the track being built and knew it was going to be a 3/8 mile, the largest track I had been on to date. Generally speaking, that’s not a large track in the flat track world, but keeping in mind that this was only my 5th time on the dirt, racing or otherwise, it made me wonder how it was going to play out.
We rolled into the pits and immediately saw familiar faces, the OG hooligan crews were were all there along with the core hooligans from the Midwest. As always the hooligan pits were laid back and inviting (same cannot be said about a lot of racing pits). We had to make adjustments to the bike and mount the number plate, then we went out to walk the track…..
Now I haven’t been on too many dirt tracks but I can tell you this…it wasn’t great. The track was built in the middle of a parking lot and seemed to consist of that grey silt they use to cover landfills and junkyards and few baseball sized rocks. It was really dry and dusty but they hit it with some water and we headed out for practice. I hadn’t been on a 3/8 track before and was a little nervous. But the speed didn’t bother me at all and I enjoyed the bigger track . What was bothersome was the track surface and in particular a giant ass bump as you exited turn 4. I settled into the bumpy and dry slick track as best I could and got semi comfortable even after almost exiting the bike as the bump in turn 4 sent the bike semi airborne and then landed it in a dry, sandy patch. The bike spun and bucked, and my ass exited the seat as both legs did the “stanky leg” down the front straight away. As practice clipped along I realized I had two problems that needed solving. The first was that my rear suspension was WAY to stiff. The reason behind that fact was that I had stolen the Fox RC1’s from my Dyna in my rush to get some worthy suspension on the bike. While these baby’s work like a dream on the Dyna they were making for a rough ride on the much lighter Sportster. The second issue was carb jetting. As I got more comfortable I got faster and as I got faster the bike was breaking up on the second half of the straight aways. The unquestioned bright spot was the Gigacycle Leroy front end, as rough as the track was the front end was planted in the dirt and ultra responsive to say the least. I couldn’t wait to get the rear suspension on par with the front, on the sketchiest, fasted track I had been on. Confidence wasn’t an issue, in large part due to the performance of the radical front end. Back in the pits my eagle eyed buddy Jason from Fox had already spotted the erroneously placed shocks in a Instagram post and texted me asking about my judgment and suggesting the best case scenario settings. I made the adjustments he had laid out for me and proceeded to tackle the jetting issue. At first I thought it might be too rich and the plugs were fouling but after a quick check of the plugs it was clear that it was starving for fuel. I shot a text to Brad (bike owner) who confirmed he had a small jet in the Mikuni (I’m assuming for fuel consumption’s sake going to EDR and back). I started making calls to see if I could get some jets brought up the next morning from home but had no luck. As it turned out I didn’t need to look very far, the generosity of the hooligan pits struck again. Brawny from the Speed Merchant team set me up with the jet I needed, after a quick jet swap we headed over to watch the pros practice. Track prep was better than it had been all day and the track was starting to come around a little. The pro’s were acting like pro’s and absolutely sending it into the corners. We watched in awe for a while then headed to Mall of America for a burger.
We rolled into the track and were told we were going to get another practice session. Which was good news because I had yet to run the bike with the new jetting. The track looked like it was in the same decent form that the pros had to practice on. And it was, it was definitely more tacky and packed, unfortunately the bumps were still there and that resulted in a much faster track with the same wicked ruts and bumps, including the monster in turn 4. My first set of practice laps were tentative and slow, so I came back into the pits for some fuel and a quick drink. I blasted back out feeling much more confident and went much quicker. A few laps in my peg on the left got folded up and wouldn’t come back down. I buzzed into the pits to fix it and just when I was ready to head back out my son came running over and told me that Terry Vestal’s bike had blown up.
Now I didn’t know Terry real well but I knew he was a Midwest guy I had raced against at Flat Out Friday. Terry is friends with some mutual friends of mine, the Babers, and…he was fast, really fast. Terry is a older gentleman that is a bit quiet and hauls ass, and today was no different. Most of the pits knew Terry was the guy to beat that day so what I did next probably ruffled a few feathers. I had a quick talk with my son and decided to give Terry my ride. I was probably mid-pack fast if I was lucky that day (lots of fast hooligans there) and I was in a murderers row of a heat. Chances are I wasn’t going to come out of that heat in one of the top 5 spots needed to advance to the semi and Terry had a real shot at winning the shooting match. I hustled over to see if Terry was interested and he he took me up on the offer. We had just enough time to get him on the bike and get him acclimated to a bike he had never even thrown a leg over much less raced. He went out and spun a few laps and in true Terry fashion he was pretty freaking fast. He came back in and wanted to make a gearing change which resulted in us swapping his wheel over. He rolled out to the heat and got a not so great start and was running 5th. Within a few laps he had passed all five bikes and won the most stacked heat in the program by 8 bike lengths! He rolled back in and the story had spread through the pits, both the XGames and Harley Davidson reporters swooped in to interview him. We were pretty stoked on his chances as he went back out for the semi, he got a little better start and was just starting to pick off bikes when disaster struck and he pulled off the track….a plug wire had came loose and ended his night. It was a huge bummer but a bad day at the track is still a pretty good day.
The excitement was far from over, while we were caught up in watching Terry’s run at potential gold there was some other excitement unfolding. My good buddy Jordan Baber was another favorite to possibly win the race. He stalled his bike at the start of his heat race, gave the rest of the field an entire straight away of a head start before he ran most of them down to finish 4th and advance to the semi. Turns out his tank cracked around the fuel valve and it was vibrating shut. He hot footed it back to the pits and grabbed the tank off of Terry’s incapacitated machine. The fuel valve on Jordan’s borrowed tank was stock and wasn’t flowing enough for his modified S&S mill. Consequently the bike would break up upon corner exit. Still, Jordan rode his ass off and made the main. The main was fast and the fast guys moved to the front, Jordan was running 4th and moved into 3rd while Dave Kilkenny was running 2nd just off the back wheel of JJ Flairty. Flairty was a story all to himself, the long time pro BMX’r was only in his 3rd ever flat track race and was making the most of it leading the XGames main event, and running a thumb throttle no less! After a restart due to a rough wreck on the back straight the Midwest trio of Flairty, Kilkenny and Baber battled it out for the remaining few laps and completed a Midwest sweep of the XGames podium.
The XGames experience was great but it wasn’t necessarily great because of the exposure and visibility of the “big show”. It was because of the hooligan racing. Every hooligan race I’ve been apart of has been a great experience with awesome people. There’s no ego’s in the pits and there is hard racing on the track. At the end of the day everyone is there for the love of being on a dirt track. If you have the chance to take part in a hooligan race don’t pass up the opportunity, you won’t regret it. I’m hooked and looking forward to my next laps turning left.
It takes a village…and it took a handful of great folks to help us get on the XGames track. Obviously huge thanks to Brad Gregory for coming through with the bike to use, Gigacycle for the bitchen front end, Hunter Klee for the wheels and exhaust, Biltwell for the Lanesplitter lid and their continued support. Stay tuned for a post documenting the bike build.