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Best in the Desert - Tonopah “300”

Motorcycles & Quads

            BY DIANE DELAUR

 Shane Esposito, riding for Kawasaki Team Green, wins the 2002 Tonopah "300" in 4 hours 48 minutes and 11 seconds (4:48:11)! Partner Destry Abbott has been out for half of the 2002 race season, recovering from knee and shoulder surgery, forcing Esposito to ride solo for the second time this year in a Best In The Desert event. However, that hasn't seemed to slow down Esposito, he's in a zone right now, riding like the true champion that he is.

 Esposito/Abbott have also won the Adelanto Grand Prix, the Terrible's Town "250", the KTM Vegas "150", and placed second in the Nevada "1000", riding solo in the Open Pro Class in Best In The Desert. At the Awards Presentation on Sunday, Shane Esposito took his hat off to all of the Best In The Desert Ironman competitors and said that riding solo, race after race, is very difficult.

 Esposito commented that it is very difficult to maintain your concentration, after about 150 miles your mind starts to wander and you have to stay alert and concentrate on the course at all times. It isn't easy to do it race after race and I want to give credit where credit is due, and that's to the guys that come out and ride solo, race after race, and are able to maintain the kind of concentration it takes to finish a long, endurance race, like the Tonopah "300". Actually, two other Open Pro teams, Cooper/Grider and Ondas/Braasch had to ride solo due to partner injuries, all three teams finished and all three Open Pro "Ironman" teams finished in the top 6! That's why these men are all Pros, they are all capable in their own right of riding long distances and finishing first!

 In the case of the Tonopah "300" the luck of the draw was exactly that "the luck of the draw!" The Open Pro's came in in the order that they drew, with the exception of Stephensen / Naughton who had ignition problems coming out of Pit 6 and weren't able to finish. Hengeveld/Campbell physically came in to the finish line fifth but after corrected time finished third. All of the Open Pro's said they rode in a pack the entire day and said dust was definitely a factor, they just could not find an opening to pass.

 But, the Tonopah "300" isn't over in regards to the Best In The Desert's "Silver State Series" Championship! Best In The Desert gave the racers a choice to race either the Tonopah "300" and/or the Baja Mex "300", choosing their best finish. If the racers choose to race both events they could pick their best finish, technically making one race a throw out race. So, after the Tonopah "300" the "Silver State Series" Championship is still up in the air!

 The team of Ty Davis and Russell Pearson, riding for Montclair Yamaha, finished the Tonopah "300" in second place, in 5:04:36. Ty reported that he was having problems with the gears and after Pit 5 lost fifth gear. Ty said he was just trying to catch Shane all day and was happy to finish second since he was having gear problems. Davis really liked the course and it had a good balance of speed and tight sections, "Tight sections are always fun. It's always great to finish!”

 Steve Hengeveld and Johnny Campbell, riding for American Honda, finished third in 5:07:19. Hengeveld was the defending champion of the Tonopah "300" and worked hard to try to repeat his victory. Steve started the race and Johnny took over at Pit 4. Johnny said that he was sucking dust most of the day and had to back off a little bit and rode with the pack. The Honda team knew after the pre-fun fun and at the time of the draw, which they drew sixth, that it would be tough to pass the pack. Johnny commented that in a more technical course the rider has a better chance of changing positions, in a faster race, like the Tonopah "300", it is harder to change positions. He said that all of the Open Pros are so even in their riding ability that if something doesn't happen to the bike the starting position is always a factor.

 Brian Brown and David Pearson, riding for Kawasaki Team Green, placed fourth in 5:07:41. Pearson rode the bike to the finish and reported that they had a good ride, but had a hard time trying to the pass the Stephensen KTM and just had to stay in the pack.

 The second "Ironman" Open Pro team was Danny Cooper and Andy Grider. Andy Grider had to ride solo due to an elbow injury Cooper sustained at the pre-fun run (wear your elbow guards!) Cooper/Grider ride for American Honda and Grider finished in fifth in 5:08:21. Andy said that he was a little nervous going in to this race, "It's my first time riding solo, I've ridden the distance before, so I knew I could do that, but I've always ridden with a partner, and I was just a little nervous about it. It feels good to finish solo, now that I've crossed the finish line! I felt good until the last pit, Pit 6, after the road crossing it was pretty tight in there and it wore me out. Now that I've finished I feel great! I am so happy to have finished and to have done so well!"

 The third "Ironman" Open Pro team was Dave Ondas and John Braasch, riding for Kawasaki Team Green. Dave Ondas rode solo and finished sixth overall in 5:17:23. Dave has a different story about the Tonopah "300", he was about five to ten minutes behind fifth place all day and said he had a great race and rode in clean air all day long, "I loved it, I had a good time," said Ondas.

 Finishing seventh overall and first in the 4-Stroke Pro Class was Mike Childress and Beau Hayden, riding a Honda, in 5:22:58. Mike had been behind the Folks/Krause team all day, he said about fifteen miles before the finish line the Folks KTM stirred up some cows, who then came running back in the direction of Childress, Childress swerved to avoid hitting a cow and hit a burm instead and endoed. He got back on the bike with no injury's and still came in to the finish on the tail of the Folks KTM.

 The KTM Factory Team, Daryl Folks and Paul Krause, finishing eighth overall and second in the 4-Stroke Pro Class, in 5:23:51, actually came to the finish line ahead of the Childress/Hayden team. Folks said, "It was a great race, the KTM bike ran great and I loved the course. I just couldn't get the 'young kid' off my tail all day." The young kids ended up beating him in corrected time, just 53 seconds ahead of the Folks/Krause team. Folks and Krause are a great team and have a long history of first place finishes. They haven't been beaten often and I think it's a good thing it happened in corrected time! Can you believe at the finish line Childress said "It's time for the 'Old Men' to move over!" Everybody laughed but I think Folks and Krause didn't think it was too funny!

 Clint Braun and David Fry, riding a KTM, placed third in the 4-Stroke Class, in 5:25:54. Fry said they had some problems with their race gas at the beginning of the race, they cleaned it out at Pit 1 and said it was a fast drag race all day. Fry commented that dust was not a factor for him and he thought the course was great!

 The KTM Factory team of Bryan Folks and Wade Phillips, finished first in the 250 Pro Class, and tenth overall, in 5:34:24. Wade Phillips started the race and said he was dicing with Bert Bradford, a 4-Stroke Pro, most of the morning. Phillips said Bradford started having problems with his clutch and Phillips was able to pull ahead. Phillips said "It was an awesome course, I liked the tree section, the backwards "Vegas to Reno" course was my favorite part!" Bryan Folks rode the second section and is just coming off an elbow injury. He was a happy man at the finish line, Folks commented, "The KTM 250 worked great, it ran clean, and we didn't have any problems all day, it was a fun day of racing!" Bryan said he would like to thank all of his sponsors, KTM USA, ProCircuit, Sportsman Cycle Sales, Dunlop, Spectro, F&L, GPR, Acerbis, Thor, Scott, Bieffe, and Beam R.P. for all of the support they offer to his team.

 Tom Willis and David Warren, riding a Honda, finished thirteenth overall and first in the Over-30 Pro Class in 5:55:45. At the finish line Willis said, "This is one of the best races I have raced in over ten years. We just came out to ride and we had a great time! There were some fast sections and technical sections. I knew one section looked familiar but I didn't know for sure, it ended up being the "Vegas to Reno" section backwards. There were sections with the Pinon Pines and sections with cow pastures, it was beautiful!"

 Since Shane Esposito mentioned the Ironmen, we have to mention just how fast the Ironmen are. Christopher Blais was the first Ironman in and finished fourteenth overall in 5:57:03. Christopher Blais, riding a Honda, had to fight with the Quad Pro's all day. He said if he had started in front of the Quad Pro's he could have shaved off a half an hour off his time. Blais said, "Even though I was behind the Quad Pro's all day I still had a good time. It was a great race and my 650 Honda got me to the finish. I had a lot of support from my friends at Honda and the Honda Pit got me in and out." Again, Blais finished fourteenth overall and the first Quad Pro, Eichner finished seventeenth. Keep in mind the Quad Pro's started in the ninth class off the line and the Ironmen Experts started thirteenth off the line. Blais made up a lot of time to be fourteenth overall, that is awesome!

 Riding right up in the fast pack are the Quad Pro's, again they were ninth off the start line. The team of Doug Eichner and William Yokley, riding a Roll Design, and riding for Golden West Cycle, finished first in the Quad Pro Class in 6:07:19. Eichner and Yokley had a great race, they had one flat and said it was a great course. The Eichner team also mentioned that they loved the tree section and commented that with this win they got a few more points on their competition, the Stephensen/Cafro team, who finished second in 6:20:03, riding a Honda. Stephensen mentioned that it was a battle with the Quads all the way to Pit 4. He had trouble at Pit 4 with a flat and almost ran out of gas, he said he ran on reserve to Pit 5. Eichner is leading the Class Championship points with 1110 and Stephensen has 1015. The Championship is still up in the air and it's going to come down to who wins the last race of the season, the Las Vegas "200".

 The Tonopah "300" is a favorite with all of the Best In The Desert racers. Casey Folks, Director of Best In The Desert, has over 1000 miles of course to work with in the area and loves the logistics of laying out a course. This year the Tonopah "300" course went to the North and in to the town of Gabbs, Nevada. There hasn't been a race in Gabbs since 1985 with the running of the HDRA Nevada "500." At the finish line the racers mentioned again, that they are always so surprised how different the Tonopah "300" is every year. The racers appreciate the variety of the Best In The Desert courses and Casey certainly has a knack for laying out a course. His expertise is in laying out a course; he's raced motorcycles for over 26 years and knows how a course should be layed out. He lays out a tight and technical section and knows when to give a racer a rest and throws in a fast section. The racers like that and appreciate what Folks puts in to his courses. The racers that have raced Best In The Desert long enough know that they are getting the best course that the terrain has to offer.


TOP TEN 1. Destry Abbott, Shane Esposito, Kaw 2. Ty Davis, Russell Pearson, Yam 3. Steve Hengeveld, Johnny Campbell, Hon 4. Brian Brown, David Pearson, Kaw 5. Danny Cooper, Andy Grider, Hon 6. David Ondas, John Braasch, Kaw 7. Mike Childress, Beau Hayden 8. Daryl Folks, Paul Krause, KTM 9. Clint Braun, David Fry, KTM 10. Bryan Folks, Wade Phillips, KTM


 Open Pro 1. Destry Abbott, Shane Esposito, Kaw 2. Ty Davis, Russell Pearson, Yam 3. Steve Hengeveld, Johnny Campbell, Hon 4. Brian Brown, David Pearson, Kaw 5. David Ondas, John Braasch, Kaw 4Stk Pro 1. Mike Childress, Beau Hayden 2. Daryl Folks, Paul Krause, KTM 3. Clint Braun, David Fry, KTM 4. Bert Bradford, Rob Phillips, KTM 250 Pro 1. Bryan Folks, Wade Phillips, KTM Open 1. Billy Hagan, Danny Linnell, Yam 2. Donnie Campbell, Luke Dodson, KTM 3. Sam Jones, Carl Maassberg, Kaw 4. Alan Cameron, Titan McKibben, Yam 5. Kurt Carlson, Jim Finerty, Hon O-30 Pro 1. Tom E. Willis, David Warren, Hon Ironman Exp 1. Christopher Blais, Hon 2. Josh Wilson, Hon 3. Brendan Lutes, Hon 4. Donald Bird, Hon 5. Dan Lorenze, Yam 6. Jett Peery, Hon Quad 1. Doug Eichner, William Yokley, Roll Design 2. Jimmy Stephensen, Michael Cafro, Hon 3. Mike Johnson, Dwight Lowell, Hon 4. Allen White, Danny Rudd, Roll Design 5. Leonard Duncan, John Gregory, Roll Design 6. Tim Gillespie, Charles Lamson, Roll Design 4 Stk Exp 1. Brian Pinard, Bo M. Harris, Hon 2. Jimmy McKay, Robert Lightfeldt, KTM 3. Jason Keys, Ben Hutchinson, Yam 4. Damon Gill, Eric Shenberger, Yam 5. Clay Flippin, Brandon Conrad, Yam 250 Exp 1. Dal Trubey, Anna Cody 2. Tony Aguilera, Mike Aguilera, KTM O-40 Exp 1. Kenny Hayden, Joe Villegas, Hon 2. Randy Blevins, Kurt Sofka Jr., Hon 3. Dan Natal, Terry West 4Stk Am 1. Josh Kauffman, Luke Garcia, Yam O-30 Exp 1. Brett Marshall, Tim Pindell, Husa O-30 Am 1. James Embro, Duane Schwab, Yam 125 Exp 1. Jonathan Martinez, Kyle Gibson, KTM 2. Ben Amboy, Patrick Wells, KTM 250 Am 1. Jason Licitra, Gerald Milam, Gas Gas O-35 Exp 1. Rex Fleck, Kaw.

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