This past weekend the Unadilla Pro National came back around, and the forecast was up in the air whether it was going to be a repeat of last years mudder or actually turn out to be a nice day. Some news that had been active in the pits was that Kailub Russell, the 5 time GNCC champ was joining Red Bull KTM for the last three nationals while the GNCC’s were on their summer break, and the riders who would represent team USA at Motocross des nations this coming October would be named. Along with this some rookies would be making their pro debut’s after graduating through the amateur ranks with last weeks events at Loretta Lynn’s, so all in all it was set to be an interesting weekend, here are some of my personal takeaways;
BY COLE BEACH
1. It rained, and it rained pretty good as soon as practice finished up, totally changing the track conditions from practice to racing. The track conditions got so bad to the point where the famous “screw you” section of the track was actually removed due to the fact bikes would not make it up the steep incline. Racers elected not to take a parade lap prior to their motos, in fear of getting their bikes or themselves caked in mud before the race even began.
2. Mud is a great equalizer and shows who trains in all conditions – with some surprise breakout performances out of select riders from both classes we saw “Filthy” Phil Nicoletti actually lead some laps and going 3-5 on the day for a 3rd overall! For being a “Phil in” ride, I was extremely impressed especially since he hasn’t had all that much time on the Husqvarna ever since switching from JGR Suzuki. Mitchell Harrison as well had a breakout performance, leading laps just like Phil and eventually making a small mistake but still settled with a 3rd overall for the first podium overall of his career, and you could just see how stoked and happy he was on the podium. Both these performances come from Rockstar Husqvarna riders, coincidence?
3. The fans of Unadilla truly do not care about the weather and when they go to watch the national, that’s what they’re going to do even if it means buying ponchos from the moto tee trailer and sitting in the rain all day. As you looked around, you saw giant masses of umbrellas filling the stands and hillsides of the track, and I’m sure those grassy hills got pretty tricky to walk up and down with all that rain.
4. With Unadilla being the round following the week off due to Loretta’s the last few years, you would always see some new faces making their pro debut directly following racing their last amateur race at the Ranch, but this year it seemed pretty quiet with only riders like Luke Neese (30-DNS) and Joe Tait, a good friend of mine, and a few others making the step up to the big leagues. In years past it seemed multiple factory names would make their debut at ‘Dilla and play a role in the racing but something was different this year.
5. Team USA is looking very strong this year after being revealed on Saturday with Eli Tomac, Justin Barcia, and Aaron Plessinger filling the team to attempt to take back the world title on home soil at Redbud. All riders have shown great rides this past season, with Tomac being the 450 points leader, Barcia contesting for podiums, and Plessinger leading the 250 class, I don’t think we could have picked a better team and Team USA’s chances are looking stronger than ever going into Redbud, to try to dethrone Team France from winning the last few years.
6. Clutches had a bad day at Unadilla, with mechanics scrambling to change them as you walked through the pits, you knew the riders were going to be tough on them, in order to keep those bikes moving in the deep mud. After the first motos you could actually smell clutches burning as bikes rolled by you off the track.
7. Riders were preparing for the conditions anyway they could. Walking along the starting gate prior to moto one, you saw riders with foam all over their helmets, their bikes, and even Dylan Ferrandis sporting two goggles at once. With weight reduction and vision in mind, bikes and riders do all that they can to prevent the mud from altering their riding, with foam reducing the chance of mud sticking to the bike, teams had foam placed on the top of helmets, lining the bike, and fenders and had multiple sets of goggles ready on hand with plenty of rolls offs equiped, if you can’t see then you most likely can’t ride. Many riders also took trips to the mechanic’s area during the moto for a goggle change, and darted back off before losing much time, overall it was interesting to see just how different the prep for the race was because of the rain.
8. If you only wear your vans instead of boots while photographing the event, you’re going to have a bad time.
9. We were able to see how a GNCC Champion would do against the top motocross riders in the country, and I think once the rain came down, it all went in Kaliub’s favor. Being a woods rider, you face adversity in conditions and layouts and it’s not often where they don’t find mud at one of the GNCC’s, where the Pro Motocross Nationals are different and most of the time the tracks are not muddy, and groomed and prepped for a day of hard riding. I think some fans were stoked for Russell, and how he was able to play a big role in the day, but others were almost upset by his performance with saying things like “He wouldn’t have gotten even in the top 20 if that track was dry” or “He’s got nothing on Tomac and those top guys” like people were defensive about Motocross versus Woods racing and thinking with Russell’s performance, it would imply woods riders are more skilled, when in reality Kaliub is just an unreal human and certainly can ride a dirtbike.
10. As the rain settled and passed, all that was left was a muddy race track that started to dry up. With the rain stopping it almost made conditions tougher in my opinion (in certain sections), by tacking up it made ruts form and solidify and those are much more difficult than wet lines that can push over. Ruts got dug deeper and deeper and riders were forced to follow them and if they got cross rutted it was going to bring them to a meeting with the ground beneath them. Once one line formed up, it was the line that everyone chose, and with the repeating of bikes going over that same line, it eventually dried out and left the rest of the track still wet, so the track got one lined in a way and was hard to get around lappers and make the pass on the guy in front of you with the only option to go into the wet line that hadn’t been touched and risk disaster.
Well tose were some of my takeaways from this past weekends gnarly race! Thanks for the read.
Cole Beach (Contributor)