The sounds of revving motorcycle engines ravage the stadium, as adrenaline speeds through the veins of the racers who prepare to take their positions at the start line. Riders straddle 200-pound speed-demons, with thoughts of the race that await them. The atmosphere on the track is tense with competition, while the dirt pits are filled with friendly conversations. The flash of the green light signals the beginning of the race, as riders throttle their bikes into blinding speeds. Gripping handlebars, while maneuvering over and around course obstacles, six members of the California National Guard teamed up to compete in a six-hour motocross endurance relay race, at the Southern California Glen Helen Raceway, March 10.
“In a highly competitive or stressful situation we count on each other and get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which of course brings us closer together, making the team stronger,” said Maj. Jon Dahl, 147th Combat Communications Squadron. “I think most people would find similarities with how we organize ourselves for a mission and how we prepare for a competitive event. In a team event such as this one, members are assigned tasks that need to be completed prior to the event – the team depends on each member to do his or her share to ensure all requirements are met.”
Event participation was open to the public, requiring teams comprised of three riders. Each team had to provide two bikes, with one on the course at a time.
Dahl began recruiting throughout the CNG for those interested in dirt bike riding. He thought it would be a great team- building experience and a way to forge new friendships with other members of the CNG.
“Maj. Dahl was the one who put the team together; he has been trying to get some members of the 147th together for some time now,” said Master Sgt. Daryl Kinney, 147th CCS. “When we agreed to do this race, he thought it would be cool to branch out to all of the CNG members throughout the state.”
The Guardsmen formed two teams of three, to bond in this physically demanding sport. It allowed them to meet others with the same interests. Staff Sgt. Stephen Bucaro, 147th CCS and Senior Airman Jarrett Smith, 163d Reconnaissance Wing, joined Kinney to make up one team. The second team included Dahl, matched with Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Garcia and Master Sgt. Eric Viamonte, both 163d RW members. The teams were assembled according to dirt bike skill levels, as well as unit integration.
“This was a great event for team building; anytime you do something outside of the normal duty, you build camaraderie,” Kinney said. “With this type of event, you put your safety in the hands of others, which builds a strong trust. This trust can carry back into the mission and give you a sense of security knowing these individuals care about your well-being.”
The race resembled how teamwork is done in the Guard: work as a team, have clear goals and involve families — we attained our mission and really had fun with everyone, said Garcia.
The CNG team strategy involved swapping out riders every one to two laps – this would allow members to sustain a competitive pace without getting too fatigued. The teams were not able to scope out the course or practice beforehand, so they had no idea what to expect.
Team 1 placed second in their class, 14 minutes behind the leader. In the last four laps of the race, they were on pace with the leader.
“Apparently their endurance started to dwindle, while ours remained constant,” Dahl said. “If the race was longer, I believe we would have gained because their energy levels would have continued to diminish. Garcia had the fastest overall lap in our class with 21 minutes and 24 seconds. Way to go Garcia!”
Team 2 finished 13th place, in their class. Each lap with obstacles, was approximately 10 miles, which took the teams approximately 20 to 25 minutes to complete.
“It looked like our times had improved after making some suspension adjustments,” said Dahl. “Considering two members of the other team had never raced before and had very little time on a motocross track — that was an incredible accomplishment.”
Most of the members were classified as beginners, but Smith was considered an expert because of his experience level and he had also previously ‘run’ the Glen Helen 6-, 12- and 24-hour race solo.
“Smith hardly looked winded at the exchange point, after coming in from completing his two laps,” recounted Dahl. “His previous Glen Helen experience really helped both teams out with preparation and pit efficiency.
Riding motocross requires a number of skills, but of noted importance are mental and physical fitness. It is a multi-demanding sport because it is essential that a rider be able to lift and manipulate an extraordinarily heavy piece of equipment, while wearing all their gear. In addition, riders must maintain constant awareness of the track and competing riders.
“You aren’t just sitting on a bike and twisting the throttle around a flat piece of dirt. You have to endure long periods of standing, constantly having to shift your weight and navigate through the various obstacles the track throws at you. Plus, other riders are constantly trying to outmaneuver you or put you out of the race,” said Kinney. “Research conducted in 1979, at the National Athletic Health Institute in Inglewood, Calif., involved testing several professional motocross racers, as part of a comparative study of the cardiovascular, muscle endurance and flexibility fitness of athletes. As a group, the motocross riders tested in a higher overall fitness level than any sport group tested.”
Motocross racers get their heart rate up to around 180 to 190 beats per minute and hold it there for about 35 minutes. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Sports Complex reconfirmed the result in 2002, he said.
The physical and mental demands of staying focused directly correlates to the mission these members perform daily. The teams pulled experience from their motocross skills, in addition to the skills used to perform their Guard mission.
“Professionally, this event allowed us to foster stronger partnerships.” Dahl explained. “At some point, the people we met may be able provide enhanced mission support or may be able to collaborate on a training tasks, making us better Guardsmen. I also see this as an opportunity for CNG exposure. This event received a lot of public attention and seeing the CNG working together, presented positive exposure.”
The down-time together brought wingmen out to support each other, along with their families. Mental and physical wellness supports the members and the overall effectiveness of the mission.
“It brought us together during pit stops, which consisted of fueling, water, food, cleaning, gear maintenance and strategy-talk,” said Bucaro. “It also involved the families — my wife who enjoys riding herself, helped out in the pits. I consider myself a hobbyist, although now I plan on racing a couple of the local tracks.”
“The support the families provided the racers was absolutely phenomenal,” said Dahl. “Daryl and Stephen’s wife’s kept track of the lap times and numbers. Tiff ensured Jarrett was in top health, my wife put together a basket of nutritious food and of course our friend Chad, ran us like a professional team, reminding the next rider to get ready, fueling the bikes and helping the riders.”
“This was a fun team event with no pressure to trophy, so most of the people participating were in beginners class,” Dahl said. “I tried to pair up people with similar skill levels and my goal was for everyone to enjoy the competition and camaraderie.”
Those interested in future team building motocross events, contact Maj. Jon Dahl at 323-578-4384.