A Unadilla Experience

I wrote this story for Offroad Junkies as a examination of a race experience for one rider.

It’s more than often that we see various riders on the track and never know exactly what is going on behind the scenes with their race experience. Chances are it’s not too much different than your own.

Well, let’s take the 2010 Unadilla GNCC as a perfect opportunity to see exactly what factors went into the race weekend experience for one rider. I spent the weekend with a rider, took in their experience, pitted for them and more. Who is that rider? Well, it’s Womens class rider, Shelby Rolen.

Some of the work being done to the bike.

Before examining the race itself for Shelby, you have to understand the other factors coming into this round of the 2010 GNCC season. The previous weekend she made her WMA Pro debut at the Steel City National in Delmont, Pennsylvania. Upon completion of that weekend, did she return home to Tennessee? Well, no. She left from Pennsylvania with fellow GNCC Womens racer Samantha Steiner to spend the week at her house in New York.

Her KTM 250XC-F that she contests the GNCC series on made the trip with her to get some seat time in as well as pre-race prep. Prior to that week, Shelby had rode in the woods a grand total of once since the Snowshoe GNCC back in June. Additionally, she had been dealing with issues on the KTM since The General GNCC back in March. Everything that should have fixed it, had not.

Another factor coming into this race weekend was that the biggest part of her race program, her dad, was not going to be able to make it to the race. Luckily, her mom was able to come which ended up making things a little easier. Additionally, the support from the Steiner family and myself would help as well. However, she commented to me that it still just wasn’t as easy as it would be with her dad.

Fast forward to the race weekend and the bike is still having the same issues. It bounced back and fourth back and forth between KTM, Rekluse and Maxxis Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. James Steiner cleaned the carburetor Saturday night and KTM worked on it for a good portion of Sunday morning. Unfortunately the bike still never overcame the issue, so going into the race itself, the bike still wasn’t 100% even after everyone did everything they could.

During the warm up time on the starting line the bike fired perfectly and was ready to go. Although the bike itself wasn’t 100%, I was still pretty confident at this point. However, when the flag flew on the Womens class, it decided not to fire. With each hit of the electric start and no fire, my stomach sunk lower and lower. Finally, after nearly 30 seconds and a click into neutral, the bike fired and Shelby was off the line, dead last. As Shelby’s mom (Monica, by the way) and I made our way back up to the finish line all the riders started cycling through, and we ended up missing her on the first lap since it was a short lap.

Offical starting line bike holder... and I look really creepy.

The scoring screen showed Shelby in an impressive fifth place at the end of that lap! Talk about putting on a charge, right? We then started prepping for the gas stop. Gas in the quick fill, extra goggles and gloves ready to go, as well as a bottle of Gatorade.

I was standing just past scoring cutting a hole in a Gatorade bottle to vent it so she would be able to drink out of the ‘straw’ (tubing) easily. At one point I look up to see Shelby making her way through scoring in third place, and charging! It took us all by surprise as we weren’t expecting her that soon.

The gas stop would end up happening on the start of the fourth lap and Shelby ended up coming through in second place behind Maria Forsberg. Honestly, that stop all happened pretty quick and all I remember is we fumbled around with the goggles because she ended up not wanting the pair we had ready. Next thing I knew the gas was in and she was gone.

Apparently the stop went smooth enough and Shelby got back out quick enough to maintain her lead over third place rider LeeAnn Bange. As the race wore on, it became apparent that a second gas stop would probably be needed since the top 6 girls were staying on the lead lap.

The second stop was a little more clear to me since I wasn’t quite as hyped up about making it happen. This time I would be gas while Maria Forsberg’s boyfriend, Teddy, would get the cap off and Monica would hand off the Gatorade. Now, to be honest, I haven’t done a great deal of gas stops over the years so I still had the adrenaline flowing.

Since I remember more about this one, let’s break it down.

Shelby rolls to stop and I’m focusing right on the gas cap. As soon as I see the cap come off, I’m hitting it with the gas can and letting it flow. I couldn’t get a good view of how much was going in but luckily Shelby kept an eye on it and told me when it was good. It seemed as if as fast as I got the nozzle of the gas can out, the cap was back on and she was roosting her way down the trail… and I mean that literally. She roosted us. It was a pretty quick stop and went smooth enough for me to not be too jumpy while it was going on.

After the stop I realized how much my adrenaline was going as I looked at my hand shaking a bit. I think that between the way I didn’t want to screw it up, and the fact that I had watched a bike catch on fire about 20 minutes before that, I ended up psyching myself out a bit. Luckily it all still went great.

Check out the post race grin!

Going back to the race itself, at this point we were fairly certain that if Shelby kept going like she’s going, then the second place was definitely in the bag as long as the bike stayed running. Once the overall leader crossed the finish line it was all eyes on the motocross track waiting to see when she would be around. Maria made her way around, and a few minutes later, there was Shelby.

She held on to take second place after bike issues and being 30 seconds down from a dead last start. Honestly, it was one of the best rides I’ve seen in a long time and I was totally pumped for her.

After the race she mentioned that the whole race she was just hoping that the bike would stay running. While it still had it’s moments where it was cutting out, it managed to survive the race, which from the way things were looking Sunday morning, that’s another accomplishment all in itself.

So that’s one experience for a particular rider from the point of view of a pit supporter. It goes to show that when you give all you got, it can pay off in the end. Chances are some of you have had similar race experiences, so you know what it’s like to triumph over all the mishaps that seems to drag you down.

It’s always a successful weekend when you can go home with a smile on your face. For most of us, no matter what, win or lose, that smile is there. It’s just even better when you can feel even more accomplished than normal.

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