Some folks consider cross-country events to be the purest form of ATV racing. Rather than racing for 15 or 20 minutes around a man-made motocross course or the groomed speedway-like surface of TT tracks, a cross- country race takes place on wooded trails?the same type of terrain most of us ride on every weekend. On any given cross-country track there are hillclimbs, ruts, rocks, stream crossings, high-speed straights and jumps. And the races themselves are no quick sprint through the woods? everyone races for at least two hours, and many don’t finish until about 20 or 30 minutes after that.
The appeal of varying terrain and lots of track time all add up to make cross country one of the most popular forms of ATV racing today. Although the AMA Grand National Cross-Country series has been considered the premiere circuit for almost 15 years now, there are a number of other series popping up throughout the east coast, south and midwest, as well as several non-sanctioned events. Another plus for cross-country racing is the fact that you don?t have to add as many modifications to your quad as you would for motocross or TT, with the focus being more on reliability than all-out speed.
During the off-season we spoke with the #1 and #2 AMA GNCC Pro Class Champions Barry Hawk of Pennsylvania and Kentucky?s Bill Ballance, and asked them what sort of advice they would give to beginning racers on how to run up front this year. We talked about machine prep as well as how to get your body in shape for the sometimes grueling events.
Ballance: “Make your quad like a tank. Loctite nuts and bolts that you wouldn?t normally do, especially the ones that you don?t plan on taking apart for some time. Almost every race I see two or three skid plates laying on the trail in the final laps?it?s extra important to Loctite the skidplate bolts.”
Hawk: “Before each race, clean your quad thoroughly and inspect every part, looking for missing bolts, bent, broken or rusted components, loose bearings and excessively worn items. Keep all your controls cleaned and well-lubed. Also check the fluids to make sure they?re clean and at the right level. Next, there are a whole bunch of things you can do to increase performance and reliability without spending a whole lot of money. Make sure you?re jetted properly, have a clean airtrack, no carbon buildup in the exhaust and a repacked muffler, and proper front wheel alignment and suspension sag.”
Ballance: “The tracks have been getting faster and more wide open lately, so with a four-stroke you?ll want to try and get more top-end, since four-strokes already have the low-end torque for the mud and tight stuff. The least expensive way to get a little more top-end is with a pipe?check with other racers to see which ones work best, since some of the four-stroke pipes don?t seem to do a whole lot. With a two-stroke, you?ll want to add grunt on the bottom [of the powerband] and smooth the power out. This can be done with a pipe as well. You don?t want the power so explosive that you?re fighting with wheelies all the time. Of course, as you get better, you can add more significant motor mods to both the four-stroke and two-stroke to get more power.”
Hawk: “You can of course run your engine stock for the first race. As you get more involved, a performance exhaust is next on the list. Later, two-stroke riders can invest in a reed cage, carb mods and porting to help get the best starts. Four-stroke riders can look into a racing cam, bigger carb, or big-bore kit. Your best bet is to keep the airbox stock since that keeps out the two big enemies, dirt and water. You can get better flow by replacing the stock filter with a better aftermarket unit?I use Twin-Air and then an OuterWears cover. Those things are great.”
TIRES & WHEELS
Ballance: “I used the six-ply Maxxis Razrs last year and those things are tough?I only got one flat during the whole season. I wouldn?t try to race on stockers; you?re just asking to get a flat. For wheels I use Douglas beadlocks; they?re the number one choice if you can afford them. Don?t use 1.25 aluminum wheels that aren?t reinforced?they can?t take the hits from rocks. Most stock wheels are actually better for cross country than the aluminum racing wheels which are really made for MX or TT.”
Hawk: “Choose tires with good puncture resistance and a heavy-duty sidewall construction with a four- or six-ply rating. I run ITP Holeshot XCs with about 5 pounds of air pressure in each?more for extra-rocky tracks. Beadlocks and reinforcing rings keep the wheels from bending and losing air, and if you do get a flat, they also keep the tire on the rim. A taller tire, even though it has better ground clearance, isn?t always better since it affects your cornering. I run 23″ in the 22″ in the rear.”
WORKOUT & STRATEGY
Ballance: “As far as working out, I?ve tried weightlifting and other things, but there?s nothing like riding. If you can, ride every day for as long as you can?there?s nothing better for getting ready for cross-country. Of course, the first goal when you start racing is to make sure you and your quad finish. You may have to pace yourself through the first half of the race and if you have any energy left put the hammer down for the second half. You?ll also want to start working on getting the best possible start, since that will save you energy by not having to pass so many people. Once you get to the Pro level, you better be prepared to hold it wide open for two hours, ?cause that?s the only way you?ll get a win.”
Hawk: “In my part of the country (Pennsylvania) it?s hard to ride in the winter, so I go to the gym three or four times a week. Riding hard and fast on the trails is still the best training for cross-country. As far as race strategy goes, it?s always important to get a good start. If I?m in a good position in the first two laps I can ride at a comfortable pace and get a good look at the track, looking for alternate lines if I need them later in the race. Then in the last two laps I can go all-out. Eventually, after you have a few races under your belt, you?ll have a feel for how much energy you can afford to spend in the first half of the race so you still have something left for the finish.”