The 30 second board is up, and you tilt your head down to lock in on the top bar of your gate...it's time to go racing!
For most riders, racing is the next step in their Motocross journey. You've been riding and training for most of your career, and now it's time to line up and race- so let's break down everything that goes into what it takes to have safe, structured race craft:
Racing can be overwhelming - especially when mixed with a high heart rate, pre-race jitters, and an overactive mind. The easiest way to break down race craft is to take it step by step, starting at the staging area and finishing (hopefully) on the podium!
Most racetracks keep a posted schedule of each moto near their office location or entry way - take a photo of the board and have your mechanic or friends/family keep track. Sometimes at the riders meeting they'll have extra copies of the schedule, where you can keep a copy at your pits (we recommend highlighting your moto times to help make them stand out). This will be your racing bible to stick to throughout the day or weekend. This is important because this will dictate when you need to go to the staging area. For example, your first moto is at 12:00 PM - staging usually begins 2 gate drops prior to yours - which means you'll want to start heading out around 11:30 AM.
Once you get to staging, most racetracks have numbers along a fence or post- depending on your qualifying position (or stick pull), you'll stage at that number. In some instances, racetracks have the promotor call your number instead to lineup at the gate - which means when you get to staging, you'll simply wait in line amongst your fellow racers.
Staging is the one of the most mentally challenging when it comes to staying focused on your race plan. Here is where you'll experience the most pre-race jitters, anxiety, and high heart rate. It's important to keep all this to a minimum- what we want to avoid is spiking your heart rate before you even get to the line! Something I used to do as an amateur was socialize with everyone around me- almost as a distraction to lower my heart rate and maintain control of my adrenaline. Although I wouldn't recommend this tactic, it worked for my program, and kept me cool before lining up. When I turned pro, I kept my socializing between my twin sister and my mechanic, allowing me to home in early on my focus. We'd discuss tire pressure, race lines, gate pick, and other miscellaneous topics to keep our mind off what our bodies wanted to do to counteract the nerves.
Staging is another opportunity to size up your competition. For some, this can be an aggressive tactic, but for others it helps tap into their competitive side. When your helmet is on, self-talk is your best friend. For our bigger more intense races, I used to stay quiet behind my helmet - sizing up the other riders I was about to race. I would tell myself things like you're faster than them, you brake harder than them, you're more aggressive than them... slowly building up my confidence before heading to the line. Most of the time the other riders are doing the exact same thing - which is why it's important to have positive self-talk in staging, while also standing tall and presenting yourself accordingly. Being confident and looking confident is a major leg up on your competition, and the staging area is the first opportunity to show it. It's time to go to the line.
Being confident and looking confident is a major leg up on your competition, and the staging area is the first opportunity to show it.
PICKING YOUR GATE
There are so many opinions on how to pick your gate that I'll share a few things I did to help define what your strategy can be - there's no wrong way to pick.
During staging, one thing I did was watch the races before us to see what the best gate was. Although throughout the day you'll be watching a lot of racing, it's important to note that the gate lines change dramatically all day- which is why it's more important to pay attention during staging since it'll be the most relevant before you line up. When it's time for you to pick a gate, do your best to focus on yourself- it's easy to let your mind wonder on what everyone else is doing than focusing on yourself. The few times I was first to pick a gate, the pressure was at an all-time high- I had 40 lines to choose from?! This is where I would rely heavily on my study of the previous gate drops. A few things to consider when you're walking the line to choose your gate:
The first corner - which direction does it turn? Is it wide or narrow? Is it rutted up or freshly groomed? If the first corner is a left hand freshly groomed wide corner, I would choose to go on the inside of the dog-house, about 3-5 gates, leaving me enough room to push my competition to the right, but enough room to defend the inside corner.
Your closest competitors - by now you should know which racers qualified around you- I want to make sure those riders are on the outside of me, so I have an opportunity to push them wide if needed in the first corner.
Gate & rut conditions - it's equally as important to choose a gate that isn't bent out of shape as it is to make sure the line just on the other side isn't zig-zagged and chopped up. What you want to avoid is a bumpy exit off the line - this cuts into your acceleration, and traction - something we need all we can get when the gate drops! Usually, all the ruts on the other side of the gate are far from perfect- just find the gate and line that is the least destroyed to better ensure maximum traction and stability on the bike.
Choosing your gate can be challenging, but it's the most important part - the start is the only place where you can make or break your entire race in 5 seconds or less. This is your only opportunity to pass your entire class in one swoop!
ON THE LINE
Before you pull your bike onto the starting line, here's a few things you'll want to complete:
Concrete: ensure the entire pad is swept and free of pebbles and loose dirt - if there's fresh oil from the race before, have your mechanic toss a light handful of dry dirt on top of it, smear it, and then re-sweep the gate.
Dirt: make sure the existing rut is packed down as much as possible - at this time your mechanic is allowed to cross beyond the gate to grab more dirt to pack in the rut for a flatter surface. You'll want to make sure this line is as solid as possible!
Once your gate is set, pull your bike onto the line, making sure your bike is straight in line to the bar. This is where you'll also set your starting blocks if you choose to use them. Once you're on the line, here's a few things you'll want to do before its time to fire up:
Check your goggles: take them out of their case, shake them free of any debris, and double check your tear-offs.
Adjust your body: make sure your elbows are comfortable in charge position - sometimes the gates are tight, meaning your elbows may touch the riders beside you. Pro-tip: when it's time to drop the gate, make sure your elbows are in front of the riders beside you.
Focus on the race line: don't pay attention to anyone next to you- your focus should be directly in front of you, homing in on the starting line to the first corner. Envision getting to that corner first.
Raise your heart rate: don't wait until after the gate drops to get that heart rate in the right zone, but this doesn't mean spike it to an ungodly number; simply pump yourself up to set your body to race mode. Some things we used to do were jumping jacks, arm raises, stretching, and breathing exercises.
Pro-tip: when it's time to drop the gate, make sure your elbows are in front of the riders beside you.
The race official signals the line to fire up- it's go time! You've prepped your gate, your bike, and your body for this moment. Once you fire up your bike, here's a few things to consider:
Listen to your bike: let your bike idle for a moment before giving it a few high revs- don't overdo this - we want to avoid any overflow dripping onto your gate.
Put your goggles on: make sure you wait to do this step until now - avoid fogging up or prematurely sweating inside your goggles too early. Now is the time to put them on and make sure they feel comfortable - give your tear-offs a final check as well!
Finalize your body position: this is the time to make sure your butt is high on the seat if you're on a concrete pad OR mid-way if on dirt. Check your feet positions as well (either one foot on the shifter or both feet down).
Now is the time to pay attention to the race official- when they point to you, make sure you give a noticeable yes, shift into 1st or 2nd gear, and get ready to lock in on the bar in front of you.
Watch for the 30 second board.
It's sideways and leaving the track- this is the time you zone in on that bar, and ONLY that bar.
Get your bike in a steady mid to high rev and wait patiently- avoid jumping the gate!
The gate drops, and you maintain steady throttle, body position, and clutch to get you to the first turn.
The first lap may be difficult after the anxiety dump post gate drop- hopefully you maintained control and got the holeshot! But- most of us aren't always hitting that corner first- which means it's time to put your head down and charge.
Once you pass the finish line and see that green flag waiving, you're in the clear to put the hammer down, and get back to the front where you belong! Here's a few things to remind yourself in that first lap:
BREATHE! I liked when my pit board read "breathe" for my first pass through the mechanics area - you need all the oxygen you can get. This will help loosen your body and lower the tension.
Follow the leader: this can be controversial - some coaches tell their riders to go all out and get to the front as fast as you can - but when you study riders like Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac, they analyze riders in front of them before making the move. Let your first lap be strategic, not panicky. For amateur races you may only have 5 laps to seal the deal, but don't let lap 1 be the trigger. Study the leader's lines, figure out how the racetrack is different than practice, and start to get in the flow.
Be confident: remind yourself of the self-talk in staging- this is the time to dig into those one-liners and apply them. You ARE faster than them. You ARE stronger than them.
Maintaining your energy and confidence throughout the entire race is key to getting on the box in the end. Here's a few tips on keeping yourself consistent:
Charge, controllably: you'll want to push yourself enough to decrease your lap time each lap, but always maintain control. If you focus on how you can scrub a few milliseconds off each corner every lap, you'll find yourself closer to the front, or open up a good gap between you and second place.
Pay attention: watch what the rider in front of you is doing - what line they're taking- how quick they corner out- these little details will set you up to make a pass on the next lap.
Be strategic: just like on the first lap, you want to be analytical when you make the pass. Always know what lap you're on so that you know how much time you have left to make the move. If you pay attention to the rider in front of you, you'll know where their weak spot is, and THAT's where you'll make your move.
Maintaining control of the entire race (and who's around you) is imperative to having strong race craft. This is something you'll continue to develop over time! It takes practice to have good racing discipline.
The gate dropped, you survived the first corner, you remembered to breathe and maintain control throughout the entire race, and now you crossed the finish line. It's a big accomplishment to finish a race- but it's an even bigger accomplishment to have applied all the techniques needed to have a safe and structured moto.
Remember: while racing can be a serious event, always have fun, and remember why you started in the first place.
Have some tips of your own? Share with us below!