By Erek Kudla
Helping line up the post-vintage hare scrambles classes during AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days.
It has been a few months since the press release announcing I’m the new guy at the AMA. I’ve been doing a lot with moving into a new place, getting accommodated to the desk during the week and my role out at the races on the weekends. I’ve been figuring out which airlines I like (and don’t like), what the best carry-on is, what I need to pack and where I can fit in downtime.
Since I started here at the AMA, we’ve been full throttle catching up. On top of that, the off-road coordinator had been out on extended leave. And on top of that, there was some restructuring in the racing department to streamline and improve a lot of the processes, forms and website -- the list goes on!
To say it was a bit overwhelming is an understatement, especially when everyone is too busy with their own jobs to hold my hand as I learn mine. Still, while everyone did offer help, I was not exactly sure what help was needed.
Now that I’ve started to learn the ins and outs of the position, things are starting to roll a little more smoothly. There is still a lot of work to do, from getting results submissions from the more than 400 events we have sanctioned in off-road so far this season, handling appeal after appeal, ensuring all the events coming up are sanctioned and insured with their membership packets in the mail, organizing meetings here, there and everywhere, booking flights, writing event recaps, organizing notes for meetings, being in the meetings, negotiating contracts with all of our regional, national and featured series -- oh yeah, and don’t forget AMA Congress and the International Six Days Enduro!
I also go to lots of events to represent the AMA and offer assistance anyway I can. I went to Pennsylvania for the AMA National Enduro and AMA East Hare Scrambles, Tennessee for the Tennessee Knockout Enduro, Indiana for the Full Gas Sprint Enduro, California for an AMA National Hare and Hound, and New York and West Virginia for a Grand National Cross Country. And I also race sometimes in between all that. I ride the local ACES (Appalachian Championship Enduro Series) events whenever I get a chance, and I also compete when it makes sense at GNCCs, National Enduros, Full Gas Enduros, and East Hare Scrambles.
And speaking of the racing…out of everything new here in Ohio, the terrain has been the biggest change for me. Office life? I’ve been there. Working with clubs and promoters? That’s been the last six years of my life. Riding in the mud and roots with more mud and rocks? Now that’s something I don’t do well. It has probably been the toughest transition of any aspect of my move eastward. Even in Northern California you don’t have mud or trees or roots like this. It is a completely different thing. I’m used to “the more it rains, the better it gets” where here in Ohio if it sprinkles I’m pretty much done.
For frame of reference, I was the 2015 AMA District 37 30+ 250 A Enduro Champion. In August, here in Ohio, it rained at the Jake-Tom Enduro hosted by Hocking Valley MC, and I houred out of the first enduro of my entire life. The day started out perfect, and then it dumped rain and then the course was literally impassible for me. Pretty much everyone else finished, but I couldn’t get past a 1 percent grade with a little pipe across it. I still got to the end of the sixth test but missed the hour by about 3 minutes. At all of the National Enduros I have raced this season, I have basically been the last Vet 30+ A to finish all the tests. At the Full Gas Enduro, the only reason I wasn’t last was a guy forgot to turn his gas on in the first test. Finally, at a GNCC, I ended up 20th out of 25 Sportsmen A. I’m staying in the Sportsmen class until I don’t get beat by any C riders.
Instead of not racing just because it rains or is supposed to rain, trying in vain to put together an appeal board that would bump me back or just throwing up my hands and giving up, I’ve taken the high road. I’ve spent the last few months building some really technical trail sections on the side of the hill behind my place along with a quick little grass track and a few creek crossings. I have everything I might see that I can’t do very well (side hills with roots and mud, steep uphills with roots and mud, rocks in the water, logs, flat turns, 270-degree bars-to-the-stop switchbacks in the trees…with roots), and I do what I can to hit it hard several times during the week. My dog Rowlee chases me until he gives up and lays in the middle of the trail waiting for my next time around to get out of the way.
My lap times are usually around 1:45 but when it rains they go down to closer to 8 minutes. It goes from “shredding the gnar” to genuinely not being able to make it up the two hills and having to throw my bike, hopefully far enough to get to the top. I know there is a technique—everyone has just told me “don’t let off”—and I will learn it in time! I literally have no choice when it comes to the East Coast. A recent GNCC was “dry and dusty,” according to the series regulars, and I still thought it was muddy and slippery. Give me a good solid two years of practice, and I think I’ll finally be comfortable enough to really race in the mud.
Aside from my constant struggle with the dirt out here, the fact that I even line up has made a world of difference! More than anything, people are surprised that I race at all and they feel a lot better that their AMA representative and the manager of their discipline actively participates. It also gives me a much better sense of each event from every aspect. That includes the sanctioning and chartering process with the host club and organization, the rules, the sign up and organization, then actually seeing how the event works in practice -- all the way to the post-race follow up with results, articles, post-event promotion and how it feels to be a racer in each series.
The move to Ohio has been a great one, and I am in it for the long haul. In my interview for the job, they asked how long I was looking to be in this position, and my answer was forever. After my first few months here, I can say I definitely still feel that way! Thank you to everyone at all the races and all around for the warm welcome. It is great to be a new part of your racing lives, and I look forward to making things better and more awesome in the off-road community.
See you at the races!