Craig Decker: North of The Border

Our very own TransWorld Motocross Test Rider, Craig Decker, is spending the next several weekends north of the border as he contests the 2003 Extreme Sports Canadian Motocross Championships. As a Team Kawasaki Race Team Tester, Craig is seen most often aboard a green KX, but due to a lack of available spots on the Kawasaki Canada team, Decker worked a deal to race the Canadian Nationals for the Yamaha Canada/Blair Morgan Race Team. To follow this initial installment will be a series of race-day diaries, eight to be exact, from Craig himself. Tune in each week to get a taste of Canadian Motocross as Craig rips his YZ450F through the “far North” American soil.

Round 1: Mission Raceway, Mission, B.C.
By Craig Decker

Due to some other obligations, I’m not able to contest the entire U.S. Outdoor National Series, but I end up with some downtime in the summer. The scheduling of the Canadian Nationals works out perfect, however, so I became pretty excited when I got my deal set up to race the entire eight race series. I’m a Race Team Tester for Kawasaki, so I initially looked into getting a ride with the Kawasaki Canada Team. When I found out that they already had their spots secured with other riders, I began searching for another ride. After some negotiation, and a bit of red tape to get through, I landed a ride with the Yamaha Canada/Blair Morgan Race Team aboard a factory-supported YZ450F. It just so happens that the team is sponsored by Enzo Racing, of which my dad/mechanic is an employee, so the deal was perfect. I raced the 2000 Four-Stroke Nationals on a YZ426, so I am already pretty comfortable on the big thumper. With that, the stage was set and I began my preparation for the series.

After racing Glen Helen on a Factory KX250 as a part of my race team testing for Kawasaki, I switched bikes before Hangtown to start getting up to speed on the four-stroke. At Hangtown, unfortunately, I had some bike problems and didn’t finish. We’ve since worked out the bugs though, and I felt very confident in the bike heading into the first National north of the border.

Round one was this past weekend at Mission Raceway in Mission, B.C. It’s a new facility so I’d never seen the layout before. The area that the track was on was pretty small. It actually reminded me a bit of Perris Raceway in Perris, CA., only this place was sandy! With lap times coming in under two minutes, we pounded out a ton of laps, leaving the track pretty hammered by moto time. By the end of the day I think the rough track worked out to my advantage, however, as it really separated the tougher, better conditioned riders from the rest of the pack.

Although the Sunday racing format is pretty much the same as the U.S. Nationals, the Canadian Nationals have adopted a new qualifying format that I am not totally thrilled with. Qualifying takes place on Saturdays and every racer has to qualify each week. It doesn’t matter if you win the week prior, you still have to go through qualifying at the next event. My qualifier on Saturday didn’t go exactly as planned. I was involved in a first turn crash and picked my bike up in last place. After charging through the pack the best I could on this tight circuit, I ended the moto in fourth place, leaving me with the eighth pick of the gate for moto one on Sunday. Greg Schnell and Damon Huffman won the Saturday qualifiers.

The weather Sunday morning looked great for a perfect day of racing and I was ready to go! With a short start straight and a 180-degree left-hander in turn one, getting an inside gate pick was critical. With the eighth pick I wasn’t able to line up as far inside as I’d have liked, but I had to deal. Coming out of the first corner I felt buried in the pack, but once things spread out slightly I found myself in about eighth place by turn four. I put my head down and began picking off riders one by one. The track was tight, so passing was pretty tough. I got by Schnell and Huffman and moved into third place behind Jean Sebastian Roy (JSR) and my teammate Blair Morgan. I was able to put a pass on Blair with about five laps left, but by that time JSR had built about a 10-second lead. As we moved through lapped traffic our gap fluctuated, but I was never able to close it in and we finished in that order.

With the second pick of the gate for moto two, I took full advantage and grabbed the holeshot. JSR got passed me just a few turns into the first lap and sprinted to about a five to six second lead. Once things settled and I picked up my pace, I wasn’t able to catch him. Again the gap fluctuated a bit as we charged through lapped traffic, but I couldn’t get close enough to pose a threat. Morgan stayed pretty close in third in the beginning of the race but eventually fell back about 10-15 seconds by the finish. I ended the day with 2-2 moto scores for second overall.

All in all I am pretty pleased with the way things turned out. The heavier thumper was probably not the weapon of choice on this tight, sandy circuit, but we’ll have our day! Next week the race is at The Wastelands in Nanaimo, B.C. where I’ve raced before. It’s a longer track that I expect to be harder packed and slick. My four-stroke should work really well there. It appears at this point that JSR, Blair, and myself are the guys who’ll be the strongest contenders for the championship. Track preference and bike set-up will certainly play a big factor in the weeks to come. This should be a great series! I’ll check in next week to let you know how things went in Nanaimo. Hopefully I’ll be reporting my win!