Off road race becomes country’s east/west shootout

By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

BIG SKY – Jed Haines came from Fairfield, Penn. to compete in the Big Sky XC off-road motorcycle race. The 2012 Eastern Hare Scrambles Champion, Haines made seventh place in the Big Sky race.

“[Western] courses are usually fast and open, and the East Coast has the tighter, more technical trails,” Haines said. But the Big Sky pro course had “a good variety, a good mix of the East and the West. The course is good for everyone, from beginners to pros.”

Maybe that’s why the race, which is an American Motorcycle Association sanctioned event in the Hare Scrambles Series, has become an unofficial east-meets-west shootout for the top riders.

More than 350 racers came from 23 states and three Canadian provinces, said race organizer Joe Miller. It also had the largest credential pro turnout of any off-road dirt bike event this year, outside of the X Games.

That, and the fact that it was very well organized.

“The race was awesome, definitely well-run,” Haines said. “They knew what they were doing laying out the course—there was nothing too challenging that gave everyone problems or created bottle necks. It was a lot of fun, definitely different than anything I’ve ever done before.”

Many of the top racers from both the East and the West competed, something Miller said rarely happens in off-road motorcycle racing.

“There were a lot of nerves at the starting line,” Miller said. “It’s a true opportunity to prove who’s the fastest person in the country.”

The top eastern racer, Paul Whibley, won the pro event, taking home the biggest share of the $10,000 Yamaha/Blitz Motorsports Pro Purse. The second place finisher, Brenden Ritzeman competes in the WORCS series, a popular west coast series. Cory Graffunder of Canada scored enough points in the race to be crowned AMA West Hare Scrambles Champion, and Haines was awarded his AMA East Hare Scrambles number one plate at the awards ceremony—an AMA decision caused by the amount of national media coverage present in Big Sky.

Two well known professional racers that ride the notorious Red Bull sponsored Erzberg race in Austria, known to be the world’s hardest, said Big Sky was even tougher, Miller said.

Three Montanans rode in the pro class, and the top Montana rider, Cameron Weaver from Bozeman, was 16th. Of the weekend’s 27 events, Montanans won five. That, Miller says, means the competition was very high.

Substantiating that claim, the X Games Endurocross silver medalist, Cody Webb, got fifth place in Big Sky, and top pros such as Kyle Redmond, Kevin Rookstool, Jacob Arugbright and Rory Sullivan failed to finish in the top 20.

“It wasn’t a local Montana race,” Miller said. “It was a national event.”

The parking lot at Big Sky Resort was full of RVs and campers, and lodging numbers were up from last year, said Brandon Bang, Sales Manager at the resort.

“More and more folks are becoming familiar with the event and realizing how nice a resort atmosphere is for an event like this—to be able to bring family and be more comfortable.”

Bang said he was surprised there weren’t more local spectators, particularly with the Swift Current chairlift offering aerial viewing and easy access to the higher parts of the course. “It’s a really fun day and a fun event to watch,” Bang said.

Whiskey Jack’s was busy over the weekend, according to the restaurant’s general manger Vickey Bryant. “It was a good crowd,” she said. “There weren’t as many families as I thought, but there were a lot of people.”

Mike Tosch, a rep for the event’s title sponsor Kenda Tires, flew from New York for the Big Sky XC.

“It was exactly the kind of event we want to be aligned with and put on in the future,” Tosch said. “I was really impressed with everything about it—the venue, the promoters, the whole thing was just incredible. We will be back absolutely, and we hope to continue it long-term.”

Haines, the Eastern Champion, may have said it best:

“I’d seen pictures of [Big Sky], and they definitely didn’t do justice to how big it is out there.”

Pro class top 20

1 Paul Whibley – YAM (GNCC, OMA)
2 Brenden Ritzman – KAW (WORCS)
3 Jordan Ashburn – YAM (GNCC, National Enduro)
4 Bobby Prochnau – KTM (Endurocross, Canadian National Enduro)
5 Jimmy Jarrett – HON (GNCC, OMA)
6 Cody Webb – Beta (Endurocross, Extreme Enduros)
7 Jed Haines – YAM (GNCC, AMA East Hare Scrambles)
8 Jason Schrage – HON (Canadian National Enduro)
9 Jason Thomas – KTM (GNCC)
10 Colton Udall – HON (H&H, SCORE)
11 Justin Bonita – KTM (AMA West Hare Scrambles)
12 Ross Neely – YAM (WORCS)
13 Jon Seehorn – KTM (WORCS)
14 Colton Haaker – KAW (Endurocross)
15 Max Gerston – Beta (Endurocross, Extreme Enduros)
16 Cameron Weaver – YAM (AMA West Hare Scrambles)
17 Alex Dorsey – KTM (AMA West Hare Scrambles)
18 Cory Graffunder – Husky (AMA West Hare Scrambles, Endurocross)
19 Kale Elworthy – KTM (AMA West Hare Scrambles)
20 Eric Rhoten – YAM (AMA West Hare Scrambles, Endurocross)