Kendall Norman Wins First Hare & Hound Race of Season
The rumors spread most of the weekend: “Kendall Norman’s here and he’s gonna race!”
It’s been a while since the 2010 series champ has raced regularly; in fact, he rarely raced at all last year, his last race of note being a solo run to fourth in Class 22 at the Baja 500 last year.
So it was fairly easy to dismiss Norman as a less of a threat for the win at the Desert Motorcycle Club’s 46th Annual Winter Classic, the opening round of the AMA Racing/FMF/GPR National Hare & Hound Championship Series at the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area near Lucerne Valley, California, than, say, two-time and defending series champ Kurt Caselli.
The FMF/KTM Factory Off-Road Racing Team star, of course, was fresh off a stunning debut at the Dakar Rally with two stage triumphs to his credit. But he wasn’t the only threat to win--almost every one of last year’s top 20 in points turned up, seemingly half of them on new bikes or teams. The biggest numbers-wise had to be Purvines Racing Beta with last year’s third- and fourth-place in points, Nick Burson and Justin Morrow. Joining them in the saturation theory were Utah’s T.J. Hannfin and Shawn Strong, plus several others in age-group or displacement categories. There was also the newly formed Western Designs Racing TM squad, with Tuffy Pearson its best shot at a top 10 finish aboard his new 300 MX two-stroke. Speaking of two-strokes, Skyler Howes had traded in his trusty YZ250 during the off-season to assume the controls of a Blais Racing Services KTM 300 XC.
And there were others.
When the banner dropped to send the first wave in a field of more than 400 racers on their way, Caselli took his customary place near the front of the pack, but Howes put the extra top speed in his new ride to good use and, surprising himself, passed Caselli to lead for several significant miles of the early going.
Meanwhile, Norman patiently waited after getting off to about a fifth-place start and closing on the leaders, aided by the fact that the desert was almost devoid of dust following welcome rains on Friday.
“Kind of gauging myself off the guys [in front of me] and pacing [myself], I had one of the Pearsons (Tuffy) make a good pass on me on the TM--it was awesome!” Norman exclaimed. “We were going back and forth, and once I kind of started finding my rhythm, I started pushing forward. Once I found my rhythm, it was like my old self.”
And when Caselli dropped out with an unspecified bike problem, it cleared the way for Norman’s conquest, his first since he last raced a National at the end of 2011 (coincidentally, he won three out of those last four rounds).
Kamo also enjoyed a banner day on his borrowed Johnny Campbell Racing Honda, though it was the one he’d finally gotten sorted at the end of last year. It showed. He hounded Jacob Argubright and finally made the pass to claim runner-up with Off-Road Support Kawasaki’s Argubright a close third.
Burson and Hannafin did Purvines Racing proud with fourth and fifth on bikes that are still very new and in the process of getting dialed in. Ross Neely, Howes, Morrow, Pearson and 250cc A winner Nic Garvin rounded out the top 10 overall.
1. Kendall Norman (Honda CRF450X)
2. David Kamo (Honda CRF450X)
3. Jacob Argubright (Kawasaski KX450F)
4. Nick Burson (Beta 498 RR)
5. T.J. Hannafin (Beta 498 RR)
6. Ross Neely (Yamaha WR450F)
7. Skyler Howes (KTM 300 XC)
8. Justin Morrow (Beta 498 RR)
9. Tuffy Pearson (TM 300 MX)
10. Nic Garvin (KTM 250 XC)