On Nov. 8, 150 dirt bike racers from around the Southeast gathered in beautiful Bybee, Tenn. for the Volunteer Hare Scrambles, round four of the 14-round SETRA Hare Scramble series. In case you are wondering, Bybee is the community located off of I-81 at exit 12, close to Newport. This was same location where the BMW Adventure ride was based earlier this year.
The race was promoted and organized by John Strange (aka John B) who has been putting on this yearly Hare Scramble for 18 straight years. John himself is very accomplished woods racer, attaining "A" level status several years ago, and has not only proven his skills on a bike, but also proves his ability as an event organizer at every event he promotes. Racers come back to John's events every year because of the organization, great trails, and the fact that John's events are just plain fun.
For those of you who don't know, Hare Scramble races are two-hour timed events over a closed course, as opposed to Enduros where you travel a large single course and try to average a predetermined speed between sections. Hare Scrambles are more about speed, but you still have to have plenty of endurance to race through the woods over tough terrain for two non-stop hours. For this year's race John was able to gain access to some property adjacent to his, and the trail was longer than in previous years, a little over 15 miles. This is double the length of many Hare Scramble courses, and allows the racers to be more spread out, and decreases the wear on the trail.
There are several races within the race, as there are 29 classes for adults, and six classes for kids. Regardless of your age or ability level, there is a class for you. It starts with the Peewee class for ages 4 to 6, and goes all the way to the oldest class, 66+. The little kids race in a separate race over a shorter five mile loop, and only for 45 minutes. Some of the older racers probably wish that they did the same.
At noon the racers all started gathering in the small mountaintop field that would serve as the stating line, or more correctly, starting lines. Each class starts in a line of its own, arranged fasted class to slowest.
After all of the racers where lined up in the correct rows, John stood on an ATV and held a quick riders meeting. After thanking them for coming, he proceeded to tell them what the course was like. Keep in mind nobody has ridden the course yet, and the riders have no idea what to expect. John yelled out to the racers, "I'm not going to lie to you, it's pretty tough!" Nothing like great words of encouragement before you go charging of into the woods with 150 other racers!
As friends and family watched in anticipation from the side of the field, the tension mounted. These races are all dead-engine starts, which means that all bikes are shut off, the flag is dropped, and you pray that your bike starts on the fist kick. Each subsequent class fires off in exactly 1-minute intervals, so you better be getting out of the way.
There is always some poor soul whose bike won't start, and the crowd cheers, or laughs, as he kicks frantically to get it started as all of his same class competitors rush off into the woods, and the next class behind him gets ready to fire off.
For the start of this race, the riders hammered across the open field for about 50 yards to the first turn, a 180 switchback that brought them back around the starting area and them dropped off the top of the mountain onto a hard packed trail. It was really a great set up because you got to see not only the start, but also the order the guys got into the woods.
The course was all woods, and all single-track trails, the widest parts being wide enough for a small ATV. Also there is no level ground, its either uphill, downhill, or on the side of a hill. The only level spot was the starting area. Racers who have been here before know what to expect. There is very little margin for error in this kind of racing, and conflicts between motorcycles and trees are almost always won by Mother Nature.
It's amazing how quick the fast guys are through the woods. Watching them come by made me realize just how slow I am, even on my best day. The fast guy at the end of the race, and overall winner, was AA rider Stewart Baylor Jr. Riding a KTM, Stewart finished a total of three laps, and was 1 minute 14 seconds ahead of second place after two hard hours of racing. That's pretty tight competition.
Compared to other forms of motor sports, off-road racing like this is very affordable. Entry fees for adults are only $40, plus a one-day SETRA membership if you aren't already a SETRA Member. You also don't have to have a super-trick bike to race. There were several guys riding older machines. Motorcycle racing more than any other form of racing is more about the racer's abilities, and not the bike they're on. A fast guy on a slow bike beats a slow guy on a fast bike every time.
If you like to ride single-track trails, and would like to try a Hare Scramble race, check out the SETRA website www.setra.org for the 2009-2010 schedule. You'll find more races like this one, plus the Enduro schedule. If you would like to ride this race next year you can do it. John plans on number 19 in 2010.
Russ Townsend has been riding on and off road motorcycles for over 25 years. He has been active in promoting new legislation for OHV users, is a lifetime AMA member, former racer, and current Secretary of the Volunteer Riders dirt-bike club.