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Countdown to EnduroCross: Interview with GasGas' Noah Kepple

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Gas Gas’ Noah Kepple is one of the young guns in the EnduroCross series. The 20-year-old racer from San Diego, California finished second overall in the Junior Championship in 2015 and was ranked eighth overall in the series point standings last season. We caught up with Kepple to hear about his thoughts leading into the 2017 season aboard his new GasGas machine.

When did you begin racing EnduroCross and what got you into it? “I began racing EnduroCross in about 2014. That was my first full year. In 2013, I tried one round. The year before that in 2012, we went to our first EnduroCross. From there, we just kind of saw it, watched it, and thought it would be cool to just try one because they had a cool amateur entry program where you can just go sign up as an amateur and compete during the morning qualifiers to try and make it into the night program. In 2013, we tried the Ontario and Vegas rounds. I made it into the Amateur night show in Vegas in the second round I tried to qualify for. The next year, we tried to do all of them in Amateur and I never won a race. I turned Pro in 2015 and from there, we were doing all of them. What got me into EnduroCross was attending a race as well as the trail riding and fun stuff I was doing at the time. I wanted to see how I could do.”

What are some of the challenges of going to college while racing? Is it difficult for you to balance the two? "Being in college and balancing racing is kind of tough. It’s gotten easier over the past two years with me figuring out more time management and just learning what I need to do on my end to keep up the good grades and also be competitive to the best of my abilities in racing, too. This year for EnduroCross, I’ll be taking two or three more classes during the Fall semester. I’ll be taking a summer class this summer as well. That will be a little tough, but not as bad as I think because I have managed my time very well lately and I know what I need to do.”

What is it like being on a team with Geoff Aaron? “Geoff is a really great competitor, great rider, and great friend. He’s got a lot of knowledge. He’s the longest competitor that’s been in the EnduroCross game since the beginning. Taddy [Blazusiak] isn’t here anymore, so that kind of puts the onus on Geoff. He’s the one that’s been at every single race practically since the start. He’s evolved so much with the sport and the tracks that are ever-changing with the jumps and technicality of it. Geoff’s just a really great rider. Riding trials with him and learning from him is really great, too. He’s an awesome teacher and with all of the knowledge he has, it’s tough to compete with someone who is as good as he is.”

Gas Gas produces trials bikes and you have 10-time National Trials Champion Geoff Aaron as a teammate. Have you spent more time cross training on a trials bike this off season than in years past? If so, has that helped your EnduroCross riding? “Signing with Gas Gas this year has brought a trials bike into my arsenal of bikes. It’s super fun to go out and ride and practice and do silly stuff, or be serious and compete in a trial. It really opens your mind to what you should practice or stuff you can practice more of to better your riding as a whole. Riding motocross and trials, it all transfers over such as weighting the pegs and when to lean the bike over here or there. It’s really good to practice that with Geoff as well because he’s super knowledgeable.”

Your best finish last season was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with a fifth place. What factors would you say helped you achieve that result at that round? “I guess you could say I like being outside [laughs]. The South Dakota track last year was kind of easy, but it was a little faster paced. It didn’t seem to wear me out so fast. During the closing laps, I realized we were down to four laps to go and I still felt really good, so I could kind of turn it up at the end. I also had a really good start at that race, too. That probably played a huge factor in being there at the end because I didn’t have to work my way through so many guys in the back. I kind of started where I felt like I belonged, so that was good.”

The EnduroCross tracks have become progressively more jumpy over the years. Do you like that or would you prefer the tracks to be more technical? “I think a mix of both is really good. It’s hard to please everyone and it always will be. With a jumpy track, it’s cool because the crowd likes that. It really pushes the riders too because jumping some huge kickered-out log and trying to launch as far as you can over some firewood or something like that is pretty hairy. And then having a gnarly rock section where you need to have a lot of bike handling skills to make it through is really cool too because people get stuck and the crowd is going crazy because guys are trying to pass each other when they’re all stuck in one spot. That’s really cool and entertaining for the crowd, too. But back to the question, I probably prefer tracks that are a little more jumpy just because not everyone can always hit the jumps. It’s kind of one of those things where you kind of just have to pull the trigger on it and hope you make it.”

Have you done anything differently to prepare for this season than in the past? “I’ve probably started off training a little earlier than I did last year for EnduroCross. I do know something I lacked last year was more towards the anaerobic side of things. Just all out sprinting speed when you’re not breathing or anything like that. You just have to go for like 15 minutes at a time and just sprint. I’ve been doing that and I feel like I’m off to a pretty good start so far this year. I feel really strong already, so hopefully we can keep that up.”

What is your favorite EnduroCross obstacle? “My favorite EnduroCross obstacle is probably the Matrix because it’s super technical. It’s different at every round and no matter how much you practice the one at your house, you’re going to get to a race and it’s going to be completely different.”

What is your most memorable race? “My most memorable race is probably the Denver EnduroCross last year. I had a good heat race going and barely missed out on the transfer to the main event. Then I had to go to the LCQ and had a good start until the first corner. I was the first one to the first corner and someone tagged me from behind and I ended up going down. I picked my bike up and got going again and I was in last place. From there, I watched everyone pile up in the firewood pit on the first lap and I was last going into that. I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll go to the right side and take a different line.’ Then I cartwheeled out of the firewood pit, the bike landed on top of me, everyone was in front of me, and I was in last place again. Since the LCQs are so short and only five lap races, I just figured I would go for broke and see what I could do. I was just thinking about making up good points. I ended up passing for second place on the last lap and got the transfer to the main. In that main event, I finished sixth place. That was a pretty memorable race for me because it was such a crazy and hectic night. I still made it positive even with all of those crashes and struggles, so that was good.”

What is the most difficult part of EnduroCross for you? “The most difficult part of EnduroCross for me, and I think probably everyone, is the firewood. It’s always changing and you never know what you’re going to get every lap. You could go in there and a piece of wood could flip up and run into your skidplate and basically just put you at a dead stop. Or it could stand your bike straight up and down or even get caught somewhere in the swingarm. It’s such a hit or miss obstacle. You really never know, so that’s probably the toughest part for me.”

If there was one thing you could change about EnduroCross, what would it be? “The change in format for this season is cool with shorter races and more action-packed racing. If they could do something regarding the tracks, that would be good. I know that’s really hard to do because the people who build the tracks are riders, but they’re not pro-level riders like Colton [Haaker] and Cody [Webb] are. Shane at Schaefer Tracks does a really good job, though. It would be cool if they could kind of even out the track so it’s a little better for racing, which is really hard to do because they could build a track for racing one weekend and the next weekend they could think it would be good for racing and it would just not be so. It’s really hard to find the perfect formula for that. I do credit those guys on their work because they do a great job at every race. Sometimes it’s not as good as we want it to be, but most of the time it’s really good.”