(From our Feb 2003 Issue)
Cross-country racing gives you the best of all worlds. After going for the holeshot, you race in tight woods trails, open fields, up treacherous hillclimbs, through creeks and even on a short section of motocross track.
While the ever-changing scenery makes for interesting racing, it can also be difficult to get into a racing rhythm. After all, one moment you’re avoiding the trees in the woods at high speed, where the slightest error could result in a head-on collision with a pine, and then suddenly you’re in the open, doing a drag race to the next corner. You’ve just adjusted to the wide-open speeds when the MX section appears. How can you keep it all together and do well at the finish?
What better person to ask than Chad Duvall? He races the Pro-Production class on a trick quad that places him consistently in the top spots. We called up Chad and spent a few minutes picking his brain on how to do well in the hectic cross-country race scene.
DIRT WHEELS: What do you do before the race starts?
CHAD: I always try to walk the course, if that’s permitted, especially the woods section. I check out the lines that are obvious and store them mentally. Then I look for other alternate lines, places where I can cut a corner or pull a swoop on someone. It’s important to see the lines and remember them. I keep my eyes open at all times, making mental notes that I can use later when the rest of the field is still using the same old lines. Then I can remember an alternate line and do a pass on someone.
DW: And once the race starts?
CHAD: I always try to get ahead at the start because it can be so difficult to pass later on. But if I’m in the top three, or even the top five by the second lap, I’m happy. I can check out the leaders, watch their lines, wait for a mistake. I don’t mind reeling in the leaders as long as I’m in the top five. I always use my head when I’m racing and that includes having patience.
DW: So by the second lap, you’re making your move?
CHAD: Yes, by the second lap the track is getting broken in a bit and the lines are getting clearer. That can be a two-edged sword, however. A lot of the tracks today have been in use for years now and are actually faster as a result. The main line is the fast line. If you get stuck mid-pack, it’s darn near impossible to get a good line and pass on people. Thus, seeing an alternate line is critical to being able to move up in the pack.
I actually get excited when I get to race on a new, virgin track. There are no set lines, and anything is possible. Now take a track like Loretta Lynn’s, for example. It’s a pretty fast, one-line track. It’s a ten-mile track, but if you get a bad start, you’ll have to wait for the motocross section, then go all-out in an attempt to move up.
DW: What do you do when you enter the MX section?
CHAD: It’s an open door for passing. You have to make it count. I probably do fifty percent of my passing on the motocross section. A lot of riders in cross-country are weakest in the motocross section, and I pass a lot of slower riders there. One basic thing is to out-brake the competition. I can nail a lot of guys in corners because I can brake harder and later than they can. They’re slowing down for the corner but I’m still on the gas. Then I brake hard, take the corner and open up again. By then, I’ve passed them.
Another basic technique I use is if they go low, I try a wide corner, then sweep low and get underneath them for the swoop. Plus, if you’re right on them, they might get nervous and make a mistake. Practice your braking skills in corners and that will help open passing opportunities. Brake late, gas early!
DW: How about the other sections of the race?
CHAD: Well, one thing I can tell you is that momentum is ninety-nine percent of any race. For instance, if there’s a mud bog or a creek crossing before a big hill, you have to make sure you carry enough momentum through that creek that you’re not lagging up the hill. You should have enough speed through the obstacle that you can go at least halfway up the hill before you even need to let off the gas for the crest. That’s another great place to pass people. If they bogged too much in an obstacle but you’re keeping your momentum up, you’ll blow by them and be on to the next corner.
It can be hard to keep a rhythm in cross-country. You’ve got tight woods sections, which is mostly tree-to-tree, point A to point B racing. Then you’re in a wide-open field. Then suddenly you’re bouncing through the whoops on a motocross track. You’ve got to be equally comfortable in all of the sections you’re going to face. Some racers are good on the MX track but slower in the woods. Keep an eye on the guy in front of you, watch his lines and his weak areas, then make your move in that area.
DW: What kind of risks do you take to win a race?
CHAD: I’m not going to jeopardize my bike or my body for a race. I only have one body and for that matter, I usually only have one bike! I just stay loose and have a good time. Like I said, if I’m in the top five I feel good and confident that I can move up for a win. It’s all about patience, using your head, and staying in a groove that wins races, not about extreme risks. If you need to do risky moves to win, you probably need to focus more on your basic riding skills. It’s all about having fun?you can’t win them all.
DW: Do you train for races with weights, or by doing practice laps?
CHAD: No. I work and live on a farm and I get plenty of workouts right here. Weeding, haying, mowing, those are my workouts. I have a God-given talent for riding that I feel blessed to have. I seldom do riding practice because I don’t want to wear my parts out prematurely. But I will go out and do test rides to make sure my suspension setup is correct, for example.
DW: How do you stay motivated to ride?
CHAD: You know, it’s all about having fun. I mean, I love the speed and the competition, but the more fun you have, the less fatigue you’ll feel, and the better you’ll ride. I really believe in a positive attitude. I want to win, but I know I can’t win them all. If I’m in the top five, I think that’s great. If I’m in the top five I can ride in a relaxed state because I know I’m right there in the race. I guess that means that a good start is important, because it can be stressful to find yourself mid-pack and fighting tooth-and-claw the whole race to work your way up. That’s not a lot of fun.
Plus, you know, my whole family is into it. My wife and son, they’re into it, so it’s really a family affair. They support me and keep me motivated, and I’m grateful to them.
DW: Any final words?
CHAD: I’ll be racing for a few more years. I’m enjoying the Pro Production class a lot more, now that I’m a bit more experienced in it. At first, I was like, what have I gotten myself into? But I adjusted my riding style and now I’m really getting into it. Even so, I don’t mind being the underdog. I’ve had a ball learning and riding this new class. When I overalled at Sparta, Kentucky, that was quite a thrill, too. I like riding against guys like Brad Page, Brian Baker and Greg True. If all goes well, I’ll stay healthy and keep racing. I love this sport and as long as I’m having fun, you’ll see me at the races!