Desert racing is hard. It’s hard on equipment and it’s hard on bodies. The speeds can reach triple digits and there’s no Airfence or other protective measures other than the riding gear one wears—and that isn’t always enough.
Joe Wasson knows this all too well now.
After winning the FMF Pro 250 championship and finishing fourth overall in the 2016 Kenda/SRT AMA Hare & Hound National Championship Series, he signed a contract to be Beta’s sole factory racer in the 2017 Nationals, this time in the Pro class—pretty heady stuff for a young man who raced some as a kid, took some years off, and only began racing Nationals full-time last year.
Thus, he really had only limited racing experience and figured the only way to run at the front with the big names this year was to pin it. That worked pretty well at round one this year where he finished fifth. But at round two in New Mexico, that strategy bit him—hard. A few miles off the start and flying down a long, whooped-out powerline road, Wasson basically overjumped a rise and landed on the face of a wall of dirt.
The impact was devastating. “The force from just holding onto the handlebars bent my bars down and blew my wrist out the side [of the top of my forearm],” he shared. “Basically, all my bones and [nerves and tendons] came out [of the end of my arm].”
That left his throttle hand at a 90-degree angle, loosely attached to his arm by skin and overstretched nerves and tendons in what was technically a severe wrist dislocation. Remarkably, though, it only resulted in one broken bone.
Several surgeries (including a skin graft) later, Wasson was back home where he faced months of recovery, but recover he, did and eight months later, he’d healed enough to be cleared to race again. Thus, he rode the final two rounds of the 2017 season, finishing a conservative ninth overall at both. (His three finishes for the year put him 12th in Pro points with 42.)
“Beta didn’t really expect me to be back until January ,” he said, “but I didn’t want to come back and just do my first race in January and be [untested] for the season—I wanted to get a couple races under my belt [this year]. I just went out there with no expectations, and Beta didn’t have any expectations either so they basically said, ‘Go out there and ride your race and get a solid finish under your belt.’ No pressure or anything like that, so it was really good to know I could just go out there and ride and just get it out of the way, get all the nerves and stuff loosened up.”
He continued, “I’ve been pretty much riding every day so I’ve been training a lot. I’m feeling a lot more confident every day that I ride. I feel like this whole accident made me smarter over time. Before, I didn’t have a lot of experience because I’d only been racing for a year. I feel [now] that I almost got too fast, too quick and I didn’t really know [how to manage my races] and I would make some bad decisions here and there. I feel like I got smarter over the whole deal, and so I’m going to be faster where I need to be faster and not go crazy where I don’t need to go crazy.”
Wasson executed his plan perfectly at the series finale, the 67th Annual Check Chase, put on by the Checkers Motorcycle Club outside of Barstow, California. A notoriously rocky, rough, dusty area used a lot by the off-road truck and car racers, the Checkers laid out two comparatively short loops of 32 and 37 miles, but they featured quality “Checker miles” with plenty of virgin trail that challenged all.
FMF KTM Factory Off-road Racing Team’s Taylor Robert led from the start aboard his 450 XC-F, notching his fourth win of the season (more than anyone else) and ending up second in final points to Purvines DA8 Racing Yamaha rider Gary Sutherlin who was third behind Robert and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Off-road Team’s Jacob Argubright.
Despite the dust, the top three remained close for every mile, Robert remarked, “I kept an eye on the guys behind me and they kept me honest the whole time. I was surprised for how dusty it was; I felt like I was riding pretty good and I’d be able to gap them in the dust, but they were all riding really good.” Robert took the checkered flag 10 seconds ahead of Argubright with Sutherlin another 15 seconds back.
A strong fourth belonged to someone who’s been absent from racing for several years now: 2010 champion Kendall Norman. Nick Burson and Axel Pearson made it three Purvines DA8 Racing riders in the top six, while Chidester Transport Racing YZ250-mounted Tyler Lynn won FMF Pro 250 for the fifth time this year, earning seventh overall in the process. Travis Damon, Wasson, and FMF Pro 250 runner-up (on his Zip-Ty Racing Husky TC 125, no less) Jake Alvarez rounded out the top 10 overall.
The final points saw Sutherlin top the list with 215 followed by Robert (184), Pearson (155), Argubright (144), Burson (134), and 2016 champ Ricky Brabec (131). Brabec didn’t race, though he did ride his works Monster Energy Honda Team CRF450 Rally practice bike over to spectate.
FMF KTM’s Kacy Martinez-Coy is another who skipped the finale, having wrapped up her championship at the previous round. So Britney Gallegos solidified her second in final Women A points with her third win of the season over training partner Brandy Richards.
And Wasson? After riding fairly conservatively and finishing eighth Pro again at the finale, he pronounced himself satisfied: “Like I said, I haven’t pushed the issue any. I would hate to come back and do something silly, but I definitely have some more speed tucked away. I’m just trying to get back in the flow of things [now]. Now I’ll have the winter to get a lot stronger and more comfortable on the bike so I’ll definitely be coming out with a little more speed next year.”
Pro 1. Gary Sutherlin (Yam) 215 2. Taylor Robert (KTM) 184 3. Axel Pearson (Yam) 155 4. Jacob Argubright (Hsq) 144
5. Nicholas Burson (Yam) 134