“Here’s the scoop on the desert racing scene in Utah. Each year there is a schedule of approximately 10 races that make up the “Utah Desert Racing Series”. They usually start the first race in January or February starting in Mesquite or St. George and they run 1-2 races every month from then until early June. Sometimes there is a race in the summer, and it picks up again in the Fall.
All of the desert races are sanctioned by the USRA (Utah Sportsman Riders Association). Their website with race schedule and contact info is http://www.usraracing.org/ (you can link to the site from motoutah.com).
Although USRA sanctions the races, each of the races are put on by one of the riding clubs in the state. The clubs are the “bread and butter” that make it work. Without clubs, there would be no races. There are several clubs (Sage Riders, Wizards, Sugarloafers, Desert Foxes, Firebirds, etc.). The clubs work with the USRA to get the schedule set up and then each club usually puts on 1-2 races a year. The club members “work” the event and by virtue of doing so, they earn points just as if they had raced. This provides an incentive for the club members to put on a race and makes the whole system work. The points are tracked by the USRA and they are the ones that move people up through the different classes and organize the whole series, but it is the individual clubs that actually put on the races.
In order to race any of the USRA races you have to have either a one day USRA membership or an annual USRA membership. To be eligible for year-end points, you have to purchase an annual USRA membership. If you just want to race for the day and don’t care about points, then you can just sign up for USRA for the day. If you plan to do 5 or more races and are interested in points, it is more cost effective to pay for the annual membership.
The best way to obtain race info is to join the USRA and then you will get a flyer in the mail for all of the races. The flyer’s contain all of the info as far as dates, locations, costs, mileage of loops, special restrictions, etc. There are also always contact people listed on the flyer in case you have specific questions about the race.
The entry cost for each race is usually between $35-$55 dollars. Most of the clubs will make the entry fee $5.00 cheaper if you mail it in before a certain date. If not, you can sign up the day of the event.
The only other cost is an AMA membership. This is only required if the race is part of a national series. The Sage Riders and Sugarloafers both have races on the USRA schedule that are also part of the National Hare n’Hound series and therefore require AMA memberships ($39 annual fee). If the race is not a national then you only need to pay the entrance fee and the USRA fee if you have don’t have a USRA membership
All bikes require a U.S. Forest Service approved Spark Arrestor. There are no exceptions to this. Before each race they will do a tech inspection. This basically just consists of them sticking a hanger down the exhaust to see if it is restricted. If you pass, they will put a little sticker on your bike indicating to the guys at the starting line that you have passed tech inspection.
Another thing that is required is the proper number plate background color combination. There are three main divisions of riders: Novice, Amateur, Expert. All novices have to run green backgrounds. Amateurs run Yellow backgrounds, and Experts run either white or black backgrounds. Then, within each of the divisions, you several different classes such as 250, Open, Over 30, Over 40, Senior, Sportsman, etc. For each of those classes you have a specific letter that you have to run in combination with your number. For example, the over 35 class uses a “P”, and the Over 30 class uses a “V” . There is nothing really special about the numbers. You can pretty much pick whatever number you want to run as long as no one else in your specific class is running the same number. Some people run their “earned” number, but if you pick a double digit or triple digit number, you can pretty much run what you want.
The total number of racers varies by race. Some of the Nationals receive a larger turnout (anywhere from 200-300 people) and often the earlier races in the season have larger turnouts. You’re racing on the course against everyone else, but trophy placement is determined by those in your immediate class (i.e. Over 40 Amateur). You get to see how you placed overall in the entire race, as well as against those in your class. For example, you could be 8th overall Amateur to cross the finish line, but you may be 2nd in your class.
Depending on the race, they will start you using different methods. A common desert start is a mass start. During a mass start they line everyone up in a line, bar to bar, all the way across a large opening. All of the experts line up first, then the Amateurs behind them, and then the Novices behind them. They then have a banner held up by a couple of guys usually a couple hundred yards away. Everyone is required to have their engines off. They will raise the banner and hold it up for a period of time no less than 60 seconds. You have to sit and watch the banner and be ready to kickstart (or push the happy button) your bike the moment the banner drops. It is a pretty cool experience, and an eerie silence while everyone is sitting there waiting. Then when the banner drops it is an instant thunderous roar as 100+ bikes take off. After about a ¼ mile run they will funnel everyone into a more confined course. They increment the starts of the expert, amateurs, and novices by a few minutes. They usually just make sure everyone gets through the start OK and then they will get the next row ready.
Once the race is started, and you get through the start OK, then you are funneled into a more defined course. They mark the course with fluorescent ribbons tied to bushes, trees, and other vegetation alongside the course. It is typically very easy to follow the course, especially after 200 plus guys have been on it before you. They also mark all of the known dangerous areas with spraypainted (orange) pie plates on little posts. They use 1 plate for moderate danger, 2 plates for increasing danger, and 3 plates for “you better really slow down”. They also have the course marked with “W’s” for Wrong-Way in the event you come to a fork in the trail. Depending on where the race is held, the terrain can really differ. Most people that have never done it think that it is sort of a bonsai full-throttle screaming across the desert type of race. Out at Knolls and other places where it lot more technical type of stuff. I think the clubs intentionally try and do that because it is much safer.
It is wise to carry a fanny pack with tools and a camelback for drinking water. Keeping yourself hydrated before and during the race is critical.
When you start the race they will give you a fender tape. This has your number and class written on it. The tape is actual white medical tape and they give you about a 10 inch strip. You put this on your front fender along with a smaller matching piece that you put on your helmet. While out on the course they have 3-4 checkpoints (you don’t know the location beforehand). When you come up on a check they will have a bunch of course workers there with magic markers. You come to a quick stop and they will put a mark on your fender tape and then send you on your way. When you get to the end of the race, they will tear off the fender tape and put it up on a finisher board. This helps the club figure out the placement of everyone, additionally they can verify that you hit all of the checks. If you didn’t, then you are disqualified. They also hand out trophies right at the finish line, usually for the top 33% of finishers in each class.
The other type of race they do sometimes is a “timed race” known as a Grand Prix style event. In this type of race, rather than having a massive start for each division, they start you by class in the same manner. So, you would line up with the other guys in your specific class and they would do a dead engine start (sometimes it is a live engine) the same way previously described, but they would just increment all the classes by about 30 seconds or a minute. This is a much safer way to start a race because you have fewer guys going for the first corner together. They keep track of the minute that you started on and then “start the clock” for your class. You are still on the course with everyone else but because others got a “head start” you are racing the clock too. Because you started at the same time as the other immediate racers in your class, you “place” against them (for trophy purposes). But, when the final race results are in, you can compare your overall race time against everyone else (all other Novices, Amateurs, and Experts).
In most of the other races you usually have 2 loops. Most of the loops are 40-50 miles long on average. However, with recent land-use issues, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for clubs to obtain approval for such long loops. This is changing the face of racing and forcing shorter loops on redundant courses, or having clubs look at racing on private land (which also results in shorter loops).
If your bike will go 40+ miles on a tank of gas, then you usually don’t have to worry about gas checks out on the loops. Most loops don’t exceed 40 miles and if they do, they will have an advertised gas check where you can send a gas can out on a truck before the race starts. If the race is multiple loops, you will have the opportunity to come into the pits and gas up, swap goggles and anything else you need to venture out on the course again. Most people have some type of support there to help them with this. But if not, the desert racing crowd is a friendly bunch and there are usually always supporters standing around on pit row that are more than happy to help you gas up and get a drink of water. If in doubt, just ask somebody. In my experience the folks hanging out in the pits just love to have additional people to “pit”. This is another benefit of being part of a club as most clubs have a general area where fellow club members will help you.
When you get to the end of your race the course workers will funnel you into a single file line and a nice person will slip a finisher pin inside of your glove. Once your fender tape has been taken and you get a minute to catch your breath (or puke), and get a good drink of water, then you can congratulate yourself on the achievement of finishing a desert race. If you’re like most, you’ll wonder to yourself why you put yourself through such punishment and vow that you’ll never do it again. However, usually within about 24 hours you’ll start realizing how incredible the experience really was and you’ll start dreaming and planning for the next race.”