This past Saturday was a great test for the amateur racing scene in lower Michigan. Baja Acres stepped out of their comfort zone and ran a new “flex race program” for their inaugural FarkenGruven event. The concept was simple: less classes, longer motos, and a timed schedule that enabled racers to come and go throughout the day. Anyone who's been to a few local amateur races around Michigan the past few years will quickly notice there aren't many people lined up on the gates, the races are short 4-5 laps (10 minutes) and it's typically an all day affair trying to get through 18 plus motos twice. There's a lot of critics out there (me included) so I loaded up to show my support for the new concept!
The breakdown of the “flex race program” is pretty simple. Groups of 3-4 classes each had a block of time scheduled during the day. Each class received a 10 minute practice session back-to-back with the motos immediately after. With the longer 20 minute motos, racers in each class had ample time to fuel up, make bike adjustments, get your goggles ready, and recover & hydrate while the other classes were racing. Moreover, racers weren't sitting around for 2 hours in between motos like a typical straight race program. The staff at Baja Acres whittled the typical 22 plus Loretta Lynn classes down to 12. They scrapped the AMA racer classifications and created classes based on generic age and ability. For example, Vet 1 was beginner and novice riders age 30 or over, Vet 2 was intermediate and advanced riders age 30 and over. It's difficult to cut half of the typical classes at a race and make everyone happy, but Baja Acres did a great job of making sure all racers from beginner 50's to current Pros had a class to race.
With transponder timing and a computer based schedule, the event ran exactly on time which is key for a successful flex race program. I was scheduled to start practice at 2:50 pm, arrived around 1:45pm to make sure I had enough time to unload and sign up. The typical mile long sign up line was non-existent. Instead of getting your transponder at a separate trailer, it was all done right at sign up. Only a deposit required, no rental fee for the transponder (the way it should be). I had plenty of time to watch some racing on the track, chat with friends and vendors, and get ready to race. For a busy holiday weekend, it was good too see a lot of racers come out to support the new event.
While I was enjoying a nice Saturday morning breakfast with my parents followed up with a little bit of work in the shop, the morning group of classes were racing away. I checked in with a few racers in the morning classes and the main takeaway was how much they enjoyed the flex race program. The Vet and Mini classes had great turnouts, the longer motos were tough but greatly needed, and everyone felt like they received their monies worth! Jeff Curry does what he always does and made the Baja circuit look easy, taking the overall win in Vet 2 with both moto wins. Don Leddy, Chris Lamont, Jeff Plawecki and Brian Anderson rounded out the top 5 in Vet 2.
The second block of racing featured the 250cc – 2 class with some young and talented racers. I watched the second moto as Matt Klann put on a clinic, taking both moto wins in a strong effort coming back from a wrist injury.
The Open 2 class in the 3rd group of the day featured some great racing with local pro's and up in coming amateurs testing their endurance with the longer moto format. The second half of each moto was painful for many riders. It was survival mode for most of the pack. Mike Bidus ran great up front in both motos, battling with Hunter Braun before an unfortunate stall left Braun trying to get his bike started on the last lap of moto one. Trenton Beyer put in two solid motos and ended up with the overall, along with Earl Roberts and Travis Thompson both showing great speed. By the end of the day, the Baja circuit was rough and challenging, giving even the best riders a physical test.
The FarkenGruven event at Baja Acres was definitely a success! Introducing changes can be difficult but the amateur racing in Michigan could use some changes to boost rider turnouts and help people feel they are getting their money's worth on race day. Hopefully other tracks and race series take can see the success of the FarkenGruven event and begin to implement unique race programs.
Thanks to Patrick Grzebinski for the Race Pics.