Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mind if we play through?

Have you ever played golf with a dirt bike rider? Have you ever been a dirt bike rider that played golf? What is our fascination with hopping on a freshly prepped, Kawasaki KX450F with a shiny new set of Dunlop tires, and heading out to the closest golf course and riding in a heavenly bliss until the sun goes down? Some people dream of hanging the perfect 10 on a huge wave while a cute island girl watches his every move. Some people dream about being a rock star. Not pure MX people, we dream about golf courses and a good bike (and a good-looking cart girl to bring us a cold beverage when we get hot and tired would not be bad either).

Trust me; this has nothing to do with the desire to ride some place that is off limits or being destructive and tearing up some upscale, schwanky, private club. No, this is about Zin. As motocross or off road riders, we get chills at the thought of perfect traction. We drool at the thought of launching our bikes out of a perfectly groomed sand trap. We get giddy at the thought of no dust and just think of the roost a rear tire would launch as you accelerated across a green as smooth as silk!

I think of this every time I play or even drive by a golf course, but Tuesday was different. My 9-year-old son, Joshua, and I went down the street to the 500 Club Golf Course. This fantastic, 18 hole desert course in north Phoenix is owned by Tom Sneava (the 1983 Indy 500 winner) and they have just recently opened up a small, 9 hole, par-3, executive course that my son asked me several times if we could play. Tuesday was the perfect day because it was 72F, slightly breezy and my son’s school had an early release. We had not even hit our first tee shot when Josh said to me, “Dad? Could you imagine what it would be like to ride our bikes here?” I just smiled and said, “Pure heaven, son.” A couple of holes later, I was waiting for Josh to grab a club and approach his ball….nothing. He was just staring out across the course. I said, “Hey, kiddo, you ok?” and he snapped to and said, “Yeah dad, I was just wondering if you could make that double,” as he pointed to two huge hills on either side of the green behind us. “No,” I said “the take off is way too short and that is about 100 feet across. But I think it is do-able if you hit that takeoff,” as I pointed to another hill. We stood in that fairway looking at jump possibilities and racetrack designs for 10 minutes.

As we walked the rest of the course, we made tracks and jumps out of everything we saw and both agreed that it was a good thing they did not offer golf carts on this small course. We might have been tempted to try some of our mental creations with the EZ-GO cart and who knows what might have happened. Oh sure, our golf scores went the wrong way as we were no longer focused on the “perfect golf shot” but it was a day I will never forget.

I will be attending the FBR, Phoenix Open being held at the T.P.C. in Scottsdale on Friday so if you hear about some nut job that jumped a golf cart into the sand trap on hole 17, you will know that one of the Thunderbirds left the keys in his empty cart as I walked by. See you out there!

Jason Cobb

I Got the Call!!

How many times in life do we wait for “the call”? You know….the call to inform you that you got the job, or the call to the bullpen to let you know that you will be the next pitcher in the ball game. Well, I never got the call. You see, I used to be an up and coming motocross racer that got started a little too late in life and never got the call to be on a team. That was until last Wednesday, New Years Eve. I was asked to attend the Anaheim Supercross to kick off the 2009 SX season, but not just as a fan in the stands, as part of motorcycle racing’s newest and most exciting team, the CANIDAE / Motosport / Kawasaki team.

This new team will consist of four riders in the “Supercross Lites” Class (a class for 250cc machines) and one rider in the “Supercross” Class (a class for machines with 450cc’s). The “Lites” Class is split up into to two regions. Kyle Cunningham and P.J. Larson will ride the eight “west coast” rounds and Branden Jesseman and Hunter Hewitt will handle the “east coast” events. In the premier class, Tommy Hahn will ride the big KX450F starting at the fourth round of the 2009 season in Houston, Texas due to a broken hand suffered while training for the upcoming season.

I arrived almost 2 hours before the gates were open (to say I was excited was an understatement). After what seemed like an eternity, I met with Jim Mantych of CANIDAE Racing. Jim is responsible for the marketing and promotions of CANIDAE Pet Foods. Jim provided the necessary credentials, and we headed past the gates and security guards who have kept me out since I started attending Supercross races in the late eighties. As I wandered the pits and got used to the fact that some huge rent-a-cop was not going to ask me “How did you get in here?” and briskly escort me to the parking lot, I was amazed at the size and extravagance of the small city that had been erected by the race teams and sponsors in this former parking lot. Huge, outfitted, race team trailers with gigantic awnings served as rolling shops for the teams. The trailers formed the temporary city and under each was a well-polished team that hustled with excitement and purpose. Even in the “Privateer Section” (a “privateer” is a rider that does not ride for a large, sponsored team and pays for most of his expenses out of his or mom and dad’s pocket), most were in large motor homes or in trailers that were stocked with bikes, parts, and riding gear. I was in awe!

When we approached the CANIDAE / Motosport / Kawasaki team, I was impressed by the team’s size and professionalism. This did not look like a new team searching to find its way, but a team that had a plan. The riders were getting ready for their first practice session while the mechanics attended to every detail on the bikes. Bill Keefe, the team’s manager, never had to bark orders because everyone knew exactly what to do. He had hand built this team to ensure everyone knew their roll at this first event. He obviously had done a great job as this team moved with the precision of an expensive timepiece.

Later, as I walked down the tunnel that led the riders onto the track, I could not help but daydream of what it would be like to make this walk as a racer. I shivered with excitement and goose bumps covered my arms, as I got closer to the entrance to the stadium. I could see the track with its huge jumps and deep whoops covering the stadium floor. Wwatching Team CANIDAE rider P.J. Larson prepare to ride, I reflected on my childhood when a BMX bike was my make-believe motocross motorcycle and I was pretending to be David Bailey winning the Supercross in the L.A. Coliseum. I was truly a kid in a candy store. Jamie Ellis, P.J.’s mechanic, looked into the eyes of the team’s rookie sensation and reminded him, “Just take it easy the first few laps!” P.J. clicked the bike down into first gear and rolled out to the stadium floor for the first race of his Supercross career. P.J. did not listen very well. He apparently had a different plan. He attacked the track and quickly established himself as the one to beat during practice session #1. As each lap progressed, the leader board consistently listed #87 on top. In Supercross, the bikes have transponders that record the lap times during each practice session. The fastest riders receive first choice for starting position in the actual race. P.J. was carving up the track with the precision of a surgeon as he tried different race lines and worked out the jump sequences. P.J was ready for the challenge that lay ahead.

The second practice showcased Team CANIDAE’s other Supercross West “Lites” rider, Kyle Cunningham. Kyle is well known in the sport, although he is new to the CANIDAE team this year. Kyle has been touted as one of the best up and coming riders on the circuit. In 2008, Kyle finished in 11th place in the West championship. Like P.J. during practice, Kyle was on the gas and wasted little time moving up the leader board. He was in the top spot on several occasions and placed third. Team CANIDAE was ready for the show!

Back in the Team CANIDAE pits, I watched the riders signing autographs and spoke with Robert Bemis from CANIDAE about CANIDAE’s line of pet foods and the connection with Supercross. He explained how Supercross fans are predominantly not the type of people to sit on the couch when not sitting in their seat inside Angle Stadium. They live very family oriented, active lifestyles and most, if not all, have pets whom they care about very much. As Robert told me about CANIDAE’s All Natural Pet Foods, I realized that I had been neglecting my own best friend at home by not serving him the very best food possible. I could also see that their marketing strategy was working, because fans came by the booth by the thousands to get a sample of all natural food for their dogs or cats and to catch a glimpse of the team riders and bikes. There was a great time had by all, and it was terrific to see the children’s faces light up, as they talked about their family pets.

Just after dusk, we headed into the stadium for the races and we found almost every one of the 45,050 seats filled. The crowd was electric with anticipation. As the lights came back on after the opening ceremony, which included fireworks and lasers, it became obvious it was time to get serious about racing. Heat 1 for the “Lites” was in the starting gate and Team CANIDAE’s P.J. Larson was lined up right where he wanted to be. The gate dropped and the 2009 SX season was underway as 20 riders fought for a spot wide enough for only two or three riders in corner #1. The mayhem had begun. It was difficult to think that only nine riders from this heat would move on to the main event. P.J. got pinched off on the start and was way behind as the riders flashed by on the opening lap. As his nerves subsided, P.J. began to charge toward the front passing riders. By the second lap, he had moved up to 8th and was 11.119 seconds behind the leader, in a transfer position to the main event. On lap 3 of the 6-lap heat, P.J. had gained on the leaders by over a second and moved into 7th place. With two laps to go, Larson was trailing Jeff Alessi, who had been battling Michael LaPaglia for 5th place. The CANIDAE rider stormed through the whoops so fast that LaPaglia had no idea he was there and turned down into P.J. causing a violent collision. With too much damage to the bike and his hand from this crash, the rookie sensation would have to try to make the main through the L.C.Q.

Heat Race 2 was just as exciting with a much better result for the team. Kyle and his #36 Kawasaki had a mid-pack start and had trouble getting around slower riders. The track was littered with fallen bikes and riders as Kyle skillfully maneuvered through them. On lap 3, Cunningham was in 11th place with only 3 laps to go and 3 spots outside of a transfer position. Kyle passed five riders in the next three laps to not only secure a spot in the main event, but to also give him a top ten gate pick. The CANIDAE / Motosport / Kawasaki team was officially in the big show!

The CANIDAE, “Lucky Dog” Last Chance Qualifier is the toughest race of the night and no place to be if you can help it, but that is where Team CANIDAE / Kawasaki’s, P.J. Larson found himself. In the L.C.Q., only the top two riders of the twenty at the gate transfer to the main. A rider needs a great start and no crashes to give him any chance of success. As the gate dropped, it was obvious that something was wrong with P.J. The crash in the first heat hyper extended P.J.’s thumb much worse than originally thought, and P.J. wisely pulled out of the L.C.Q. to ensure his safety. It was the right choice, but he obviously was dissapointed.

The main event showcased 22 of the best Lites riders on the planet with only one thing on their minds... WIN! The #36 Kawasaki of Kyle Cunningham carried the hopes of the entire CANIDAE / Motosport / Kawasaki team with him as he launched out of the gate with a good start in 6th place right behind last year’s West Coast champion, Jason Lawrence. As the pack rounded the second corner after the torturous whoop section, Jason Lawrence went down hard leaving Kyle no where to go but into the back of him causing the 19 year old rider to hit the ground with several other racers. Surprisingly, Kyle was able to continue the race and resumed in 20th place Within 1 lap, he had made his way up to 18th. Cunningham tried to work his way to the front, but on lap 4, he was slammed by last years East Coast Champion, Trey Canard. The crash was too severe, as his shift lever twisted under the engine case and put a hole in the ignition cover. The bike was stuck in second gear and Kyle was forced to pull into the pits to try to repair his bike. Kyle’s mechanic, Steve Westfall, worked feverishly to get the bike fixed, but it was too damaged and too late so the team called it a night.

It was a wonderful start to what promises to be an exciting year of racing for this great team. The riders proved they have the speed to contend. The team showed they have great leadership and direction as well as great backing from its sponsors CANIDAE All Natural Pet Foods, and Kawasaki USA. This team will be a major force in this ultra competitive racing series, and I cannot wait to watch the race on Speed Channel tomorrow even though I was there tonight.

As I drove home and reflected on an incredible night with a terrific team, I could not help but think of how wonderful this sport is and clearly see that it is in good hands with the stars of today and CANIDAE’s stars of tomorrow. I also thought about Sunday. Sunday is the day when all the fans will travel to their local motocross track to ride and enjoy this great sport, albeit at a much slower pace. Know I will be out at the track with my son and we will ride all day, of course, right after I stop by my local CANIDAE dealer to take care of my best buddy. See you out there.

Jason Cobb

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Houston SX - CANIDAE Motosport Kawasaki kicks off the East Coast Lites Series

While it was cold outside Reliant Stadium in Houston, it was blistering hot inside as the 1st round of the Monster Supercross Lites, East Series got underway. The CANIDAE Motosport Kawasaki team has a great shot at a championship this year with a perfect combination of youth and experience. Rookie sensation Hunter Hewitt (#126) kicked off his Supercross career at this event with the help of his veteran teammate Branden Jesseman (#74). Jesseman was the series champion in 2003 and hopes to repeat that performance this year.

The night started as planned for Jesseman, as he easily qualified for the main event with a great, late race charge from 11th to 8th place in Heat #1. Hewitt was pushed off the track in Heat #2 into a huge sponsor sign at the end of the start at full speed! The impact was brutal, but Hunter picked himself up quickly and remounted. His charge through the pack was impressive, ending up in 12th. Hewitt would have to try to qualify through the CANIDAE "Lucky Dog" Last Chance Qualifier.

The CANIDAE "Lucky Dog" L.C.Q. is a short 4-lap dash that sends only 2 of the 22 remaining riders to the Main Event. Hewitt had a good start and found himself within striking distance at the end of lap 1 in 4th place. He quickly moved up into 3rd place behind the #552 bike of Fred Karrel, in the final transfer position. On the last lap, Hewitt had set up Karrel perfectly for a pass in the tricky "step on" timing section of the track. The pass worked to perfection as Hunter slid by with ease and went on to finish 2nd and qualify for the Main Event in his first ever Supercross!

The Main Event featured the 20 best East Coast "Lites" riders. Off the start line, the riders battled down the long straightaway, through the tricky chicane section, and into the first set of jumps. By lap 6, Hunter Hewitt worked himself inside the top ten, into 9th place while Branden Jesseman was in 12th. On lap 8, Jacob Saylor tried to keep Jesseman from passing just before the backside triple, and Jesseman went down hard. The next lap, in the same corner, Hewitt went down as he lost the front end in the loose Texas soil moving him back to 12th. Jesseman put on a terrific charge as he moved up six positions in just a few laps. Hunter was in still in 12th when his bike stalled in a tricky corner. Fortunately, this only set him back one position. On lap 13, the CANIDAE Motosport Kawasaki teammates would swap positions, as the #126 rookie succumbed to the crafty veteran on the #74 Kawasaki moving Hewitt back to 14th where he would finish the night. It was a great start to what will be a fantastic career for this young standout. Jesseman, however, was not quite finished as he would gain one more position before the checkered flags flew, ending his night in 12th. Jesseman put on a great effort to stay in the Championship points fight.

Look for the CANIDAE Motosport Kawasaki Race team next week in San Francisco at AT&T Park as round 4 of the West Coast Series resumes for P.J. Larsen and Kyle Cunningham.

Jason Cobb