Steamboat’s top off-road racers look to keep sport alive in Yampa Valley | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat’s top off-road racers look to keep sport alive in Yampa Valley

Dave Shively

— Randy Osborn has been fixing motorcycles in Steamboat Springs for nearly 40 years. For the past year, Osborn has been quietly wrenching the bikes of a dedicated clientele who entrust their two-wheelers to his one-man, hole-in-the-wall operation, The Motorcycle Shop.

You might miss the garage on Downhill Drive if you didn’t know it was there. But it’s far from sleepy. Osborn jokes that with all the bikes he’s working on, he might have some free time in, say, 2010.

While Osborn has noticed resurgence in the popularity of motorcycling, he looks back with nostalgia on Steamboat’s booming motorcycle “heyday,” from the mid-’70s through the ’80s.

“Me and five buddies started up the Steamboat Mountain Road Race that ran from 1981 to 1998,” Osborn said at the shop Thursday, busily jetting the carburetor of a Yamaha TTR-125. “That grew into probably the premier vintage and modern event in the country.”

What started as a counter-clockwise road race around Mt. Werner Circle and through hay bale obstacles in the Knoll Parking Lot became five days of five events. Riders could pick from vintage or modern road races, motocross races at a track in the Meadows lot, a trials event at Howelsen Hill and a vintage flat-track race in Hayden.

In 1974, this same core group of enthusiasts hosted the first Timberline Enduro race – an 80- to 130-mile haul divided into time trial stages throughout the national forest and public lands near and around Big and Little Red parks.

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Organizers had to limit the challenging off-road race to 350 riders as it grew in popularity and people began “coming from coast to coast and border to border.”

But as the energy of the main group of volunteers began to fade throughout the years, the races disappeared. The last Timberline Enduro was hosted in 1992. The resort base began to change.

“Every year, there was more and more construction,” Osborn said of the growth around Mt. Werner Circle that made hosting a road race tricky. “It got the point where it just wasn’t feasible.”

With these staple races gone and the open land for riding quickly shrinking in the face of development, Steamboat’s riders began loading up their cars in search of quality off-road riding. Not much has changed since.

“There’s just so many neighbors now that it’s hard to get a place to ride,” said Travis Newbold, a Steamboat native and 2001 Hayden High School graduate who recently has relocated to Montrose – what he considers a fertile training environment inundated with access to the rides he hopes will help him compete at the pro level in World Off Road Championship Series events. WORCS is a high-profile, 12-race series with events across the West where riders work up through divisions by acquiring points. Last year, Newbold wrapped up a national title as the overall winner of the 250-B class, earning him points and experience to race semi-pro as well as invitations to November’s Baja 1000, where he and Steamboat’s Jeff Crochiere took 12th in the Sportsman class in 30 hours. Newbold also was invited to February’s Maxxis Asia Open, a 520-mile Enduro in Thailand, where he took fifth place overall in a huge international field.

But WORCS has no stops in Colorado. Newbold knows all about the challenges of supporting a race habit that requires a monthly haul to places such as Toutle, Wash., and Victorville, Calif., and how it can squander the local expansion of the sport.

“A lot of guys ride, but there’s no track,” Newbold said. “There’s one in Craig (July 29), but it’s disappearing because there’s only one (Rocky Mountain Motocross Association) race there. It’s kind of sad, because there’s enough riders to support a track.”

Scott Borden, another Steamboat native who grew up watching his father compete in the Timbeline Enduro, was determined to rally together a Steamboat team to practice and caravan to as many WORCS races as possible.

Borden, Eric Sjostrom and Newbold represented Steamboat well at the March WORCS event in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., with a string of successful finishes in the Veteran 30+ B, 250 A and Sport 15-29 A classes, respectively.

But things can change fast in high-impact, off-road racing. Osborn knows the truth that “part of riding a dirt bike is falling off.”

Borden took a spill in May on a training ride near Rand that ended with a blown ACL and a broken hand in need of surgeries. With a short riding season and a string of similar injuries, Borden and many of his riding buddies also have struggled with the time and money commitments needed to compete.

“I can only race a couple times a month,” Hayden resident Brian Blake, 26, said of what becomes budget travel for he and Newbold to make racing a reality. “We’re privateers together – we have very little support, no travel mechanics or $300,000 RVs. We show up in a pickup, sleep in the dirt and race in the morning.”

Blake’s unencumbered approach has paid off. On June 16, he won the four-stroke amateur class at a Utah Sportsman Riders Association Desert Series race in Monticello, Utah.

“It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike,” Blake said of his win in the 103-degree temperatures and tough sand riding. “It’s also the best feeling I’ve had on a dirt bike : It takes a different mindset to race 1 1/2 hours through nowhere. It’s different than just hitting a ramp.”

Blake also wants to find ways to invigorate the dormant interest of area riders and to help the next generation of racers.

“Everyone has dirt bikes in their garages, but there’s not even a local track,” Blake said. “There’s enough riders in Steamboat where, if we had a freeride facility where you could unload after work or go out there with your family, it would be awesome.”

Osborn is happy to see the next wave of racers – youths such as Hayden’s Ben Fulton or the Strait brothers in Stagecoach who are cutting their teeth at smaller RMXA events – carrying on the racing legacy he helped establish.

“People are out there having fun, and that’s what it’s all about,” Osborn said. “You don’t see many folks riding motorcycles with a frown.”