Tracks in the Sand 

Owyhees host national desert race

Desert racers: giving meaning to the phrase "Eat my dust."

Steve Silva

Desert racers: giving meaning to the phrase "Eat my dust."

They call it the Bomb Run. It's either the most anticipated or most feared portion of the desert race referred to as a Hare and Hound event. One hundred dirt bikes line up, side-by-side, silent. A large banner is raised, and from just behind the line the riders tense. With adrenaline skyrocketing, the banner is dropped. A dragon-like roar erupts as the motorcycles start and race at speeds close to 80 mph across a trail-less expanse to be the first in line at the start of the course.

On March 21, somewhere near Murphy, RVs, trailers, trucks and hundreds of people mill about amid the sage. More than 175 riders of all ages and abilities came here to ride in round four of the National Hare and Hound Series, Dirt Inc.'s 2010 Rabbit Creek 100. The very best riders from the West converge on Owyhee County to battle across more than 100 miles of sage, sand and rocks.

A race of this magnitude and quality is a huge undertaking. Dirt Inc., the hosting club, has put in untold hours with the Bureau of Land Management, State of Idaho and local landowners, working to map out a course that is challenging but also responsible. Dirt's President Bill Walsh was ecstatic about the cooperation with the locals.

"It was incredible. Everyone worked together. We are having a national race here in Idaho, and BLM totally supported what we wanted to do and accomplish. It couldn't have gone any better working with them. The course is just incredible," Walsh said.

The local sanctioning body for desert racing, the Southwest Idaho Desert Racing Association, has been involved in promoting and staging race events for more than 25 years. Idaho racing pioneer Phil White, better known as "Howlin Phil" was at the recent race near Murphy, and he spoke of the early days.

"We weren't happy with the state of desert racing back in the day, so a few of us got together, started our own association, incorporated it in 1983 or something like that, and we've been doing it ever since," White said.

A typical desert race is roughly 100 miles long. The course is run either on one 50-mile loop with two laps, or like the Rabbit Creek national, on two separate 50-mile loops with the mechanics' pits at the center. The action in the pits is nonstop, from the fully equipped factory race semis to the local pickup trucks; tools, parts, fuel and lots of duct tape flow freely.

Before the race, 16-year-old Nathan Bulmer of Nampa, or "Nuclear Nate" as he is known in his club, the Desert Rats, found a small hole in his engine case. A quick stop at national points leader Destry Abbott's factory truck lands Nuclear some instant weld to get him ready for race time.

The course winds its way north from the Old Stage Road behind Murphy, catching single track trails, winding sand washes and rough terrain until it reaches the OHV trailhead at Hemingway Butte. From there, riders wind their way back south to the pit area and a NASCAR-type fuel stop. Specially designed gas jugs and tanks let riders take on gallons in mere seconds. This is serious business, and time means positions.

The second loop winds off to the south for another 50-plus miles, this time dropping into the tight and rocky canyons of Sinker Creek and finally turning north again near the Fossil Creek OHV trailhead. The folks at Rekluse Clutch (manufacturer and sponsor from Boise) have named one such technical area Rekluse Canyon. Barely wider than the handlebars, it boasts a sandy bottom and rock ledges that drop 5 feet in places. Riders are warned of upcoming dangers by flagging and signs. Blue means danger, and "down arrows" indicate how dangerous. One arrow, no problem; two arrows, serious; three arrows, you better watch it no matter how good you are.

From one two-arrow rock ledge, the pros ride off, landing below on two wheels. The lesser riders roll over slowly, almost going vertical onto the front wheel. Some dismount and "bulldog" the bikes over.

Rider David Kamo, a Fruitland native, began riding at age 4 and at age 12 entered his first desert race in Murphy. Now 23, he is ranked third nationally, has raced all over the world, and is a full-time factory rider for KTM motorcycles.

"I train hard, do cardio, eat well and ride almost every day," Kamo said.

Finishing in the top three nationally the last couple of years has made Kamo a well-known rider on the tour and in the industry.

"My greatest accomplishment?" He thinks for a moment, "probably riding and winning the Vegas to Reno 1000 with teammate David Pearson. We were ahead, and then with about 50 miles or so to go, I took this really bad crash at like 80 mph. I just wrecked the bike, but I limped it in to David and we were able to fix it enough to finish the race and still win."

Would he have a home field advantage here in Idaho? "I'm hoping; my goal is to win!" he smiles, crossing his fingers.

The course is set with checkpoints, and as each rider passes, they are marked on a scorecard taped to the front fender of their bikes. Electronic transponders are attached to each rider's chest protectors. At the end of each lap they are electronically timed and scored.

At Murphy, Kamo placed second overall, 10 seconds behind race winner Kendall Norman of Santa Barbara, Calif. Just 10 seconds, after 104 miles. Kamo is now in second place in the national points tally, seven points behind leader Norman, and one point ahead of 2009 champion Destry Abbott. The fourth round is behind them, and five more rounds await.

At the end of the day, the wind blows a dusty plume from under the tires as a line of cars, trucks, vans and motor homes makes its way from the pits and race finish area, leaving the desert. It's quiet with the smell of sage, and rain threatens. The race is over, many have done well; many are disappointed. Some have broken bikes ... a few, broken body parts.

Steve Silva is a Desert Rat and member of SIDRA.

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