Joe Kopp race report from Las Vegas

 I know that most of you are probably thinking, man, I haven't gotten a race report from Joe for a few years or more. Yep, you're right because as most of you know I retired (back at the end of the 2010 season) from this full time grind of beating my body up, as I have been trying to live on the safer side of the fence. Most of you also know that I have usually competed at one GNC race a year or so since I retired but I really didn't know if I was going to compete in a GNC this year as I was just busy with too many other things in life. Well then we had almost a two month break after our last GNC race and I started thinking about maybe racing the finale indoor shorttrack in Vegas. Yah, I was thinking about the same thing that you probably are. Why would he want to race an indoor with those crazy kids as those are the tracks that are usually referred to as "bump to pass". So I thought it over for quite some time as I knew this was my last opportunity to race a GNC this year but I also knew that I did not want to really get involved in any bump to pass operation, as those bumps hurt way more than they used to. Ok, truth be told, I thought about it for a minute or two and said...... Ok, let's do this!

    My first challenge was that I had just sold my 450 Kawasaki dirt track bike a couple of weeks earlier, so now I needed to find something to ride, and time was kind of short as I only had a few weeks to build this new bike. I first contacted our local Husqvarna dealer Empire Cycle in Spokane WA, as I always like to try and prove something new and the Husky was a bike that no one on the GNC circuit was racing. Before I knew it I was bleeding White/Yellow & Blue (aka Husky colors). Right after I got the new 450 Husky, I sent away the suspension to Davey Durelle at Durelle Racing Products to have it lowered down for dirt track. Davey has always done my suspension on my dirt track bikes and I knew he would be my best bet for getting a new bike like this Husky dialed in quick. There was no one out there racing a Husky on the GNC circuit so I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge getting this bike dialed in as we had no one else to compare notes with, but those have always been the types of challenges I have liked. Davey turned the suspension around real fast and before I knew it I was down below at my place putting in some laps with my son Kody on this new Husky! Did I say that this Husky was bad to the bone right out of the box? Yah, it was awesome. One thing I did notice though was that the power seemed to hit a little too hard way down low for dirttrack purpose. So I did a bunch of learning and trial and error with learning just how and when to turn the power up or down on this bike with fuel and ignition settings through the lap top. I'm no computer wiz, but I could tell through the seat of my pants what these changes were doing and whether good or bad. I didn't know what the track surface or shape was going to be at the Vegas race so I made sure and rode this bike in all different types of conditions at my track as mother nature controls it all on my track. Some days it was dry and marbly which is no fun to ride on but I knew I needed this experience with this new bike, then some days were perfect moisture for a while, then some were colder than heck and slick so I'd put on the insulated Carhart overalls and go put in some laps and at the same time I always had the lap top out learning what was working best in this certain condition. So yah, I was putting in the laps and seat time and I felt like I had a pretty good handle on what this bike would do in any situation. But when you are racing with the likes of Baker, Mees, Smith, Coolbeth and others, you better have your ducks in a row as they have been dialing in their bikes for the entire year or more, and I knew this, but at the same time I thought hey, what better place to play my odds than Vegas?

    I knew that I kind of wanted to catch the other racers off guard at this event but this I knew is pretty hard to do as these guys were used to every head game in the book, but I figured I'd give it a try anyway. So......, I knew that anyone showing up on a different brand of bike that no one else was using would cause some confusion. Checkmark. I also knew that having this old guy #3 show up for the last race of the year on this different brand of bike would really cause people to wonder why? Checkmark. And then I wanted some very special parts and pieces on this bike that were visual from the outside just to make them really start wondering what was on the inside of this bike that they couldn't see. Checkmark.

    So the last couple of weeks or so of riding at home before this race I put in many laps and by the time that I had to load up on Tuesday night, I felt that I had a package that would maybe surprise some people in Vegas as I knew my bike was ready and I knew I was ready. All I wanted was a fair shot at this race like anyone else. I don't care what the lap timer says, as I knew I had a bike that I could dial into whatever track situation there was. I don't think I had ever felt so confident and ready rolling into a race, especially with a brand new bike that I had never raced before. ALOT of this confidence was due to my good friends George Latus and Ross Bentley. Ross was my mental coach for many years that George was nice enough to hook me up with way back when. I'm telling you racers, that if you ever want to be mentally tough, come talk to me asap. There are so many things that Ross has taught me that are like second nature to me now with mental preparation. I promise you, it works! Thanks guys!

    Fast forward to race weekend in Vegas. This weekend in Vegas was supposed to be a little get away vacation for my wife and I plus this was maybe going to be one of my last GNC races of my career so I thought it'd be a blast to have her there with me, just her and myself taking on the fast guys for one last time. But then a day before we were supposed to take off DeeDee got sick and could not make the trip. I was really bummed as we tried and tried to get her down here the following day, but no luck. I was gonna have to give this one last hurrah a shot myself without my pit tootsie tuner in the back ground.

    On Thursday night they had a practice session for some of the road racer/SuperPrestigio guys, so I went and watched them practice and we all got to see the track for the first time. After watching them for a few laps I knew right away that this was going to be my kind of track. The inside of the track was shaped like a football with very pointed corners which would be very technical which would cause for people making mistakes, and the surface was very loose too. Tracks like that are fun for me because I consider myself a smooth methodical rider and when people make mistakes, well that makes for passing just in case you were to get a bad start. But I wasn't planning on getting any bad starts, but just in case I did, I had a plan.

    I had a heck of a time sleeping very good Thursday night because I was so excited for the next days race as I really felt I had something for them. Well time finally came around later on Friday as we all got unloaded into the pit area. When you go to a GNC race as a spectator or helper you really don't get to see all of the inside drama and such that goes on with racers or crews trying to play head games with each other. It's kind of part of the stuff that I used to deal with on a weekly basis at the races but nowdays I'm usually not in the middle of it all. Well right away after everyone got unloaded there were people mumbling around about my Husky. That bikes not homoligated, those wheels aren't legal, that guy is too old. LOL. No, but really they were complaining about my bike being legal or not because it wasn't homoligated and that my carbon fiber wheels weren't legal. I was thinking "Trust me guys, I looked into all of this well before I ever started this build". But my plan was already working as there were some people that were so worried with what I was doing that they were not focusing on what they should be doing. Checkmark. I don't think I had ever been so laid back before a GNC national because I knew I had a package that was capable of getting the job done, but I guess my biggest unknown was just how aggressive this old #3 guy could still be in that first lap or two when you had to get things done. The first turn and the entire first lap or so of a GNC race when everyone is very close and throwing elbows at each other is soooo important in a dirttrack race, especially an indoor race and I was hoping these young guys would give me a little elderly respect on the track, but then I knew that wasn't going to happen cuz they knew I wasn't going to give it to them.

    Practice was about to get started and I was in the very last practice group, group 12. If you remember all riders get three times on the track as our first one is just a timed practice, then the last two sessions are timed qualifying. I went and watched the first 8 groups or so and noticed that the track was getting very rough right in the middle of both turns. That's normal at some tracks that are a loose surface like this, but then lap times get slower too, but oh well, I'm here to just have fun right?  I pulled onto the track for my first time and grabbed a handful of throttle and the traction felt just like I had thought it looked like, really good at least for my bike. Now it was time to have fun. By the time my group got onto the track I could tell it was drier than I had originally thought, so I quickly changed up my lines a little bit on corner entry because I knew I couldn't afford to skate so much on entry. As we get older we all start to think about little details so much more than when we were younger, and with my racing and riding a bike around a race track I have to admit that I think about the little details way more than I ever did back then. What's that old saying..."Oh, if I only knew then what I know now".  After the session was over I seen we were sitting second fastest overall for the day. WOW. I was super happy with that but knew I still needed to stick to my game plan, as I knew the other riders would be making adjustments to get better as well. One of the biggest things I did all day was that I kept taking power out of my bike. You can do that nowdays with the magical touch of the lap top computer hooked up to your bike. Click, click, and wallllaaa!

    My next time on the track I felt really good again but I dropped down to 12th fastest overall, which I wasn't too worried about because my main goal was to get a front row start for my heat race and I was well inside of that. So I went back and really thought about what the bike was doing and if I wanted to make any more changes. I made a few changes with the lap top again and got ready for my last qualifier. In this last session I picked up a few spots and came home 9th fastest. This would put me second off pole in the last heat race with the new AMA GNC #1 Jared Mees on pole. This should be fun!

    Now it was finally time for my heat race and did I mention that only the winner of each heat race was going to transfer onto the main event, everyone else would have to go to a Semi consolation race. With Jared on the inside pole I knew I just needed a decent start as the holeshot would be nice but not something I had to have as I felt like I had a bike that would be able to get the job done if needed. So at the start I reminded myself to stay aggressive and not let them push me around. Yah, easier said than done on an indoor shorttrack. At the flash of the green light my bike rocketed off the line and I felt like I had enough of a lead on Jared to lean on him and pinch him off going into turn one. Well......that thought quickly got erased as Jared and I tangled up going into turn one, which in turn I was on the outside and I ended up going down and getting ran over by my good friend Brain from Montana. Not Brian's fault though. They quickly stopped the race and proceeded to pick Brian and myself up. I could tell right away that my right side ribs and right thigh were very sore, but they were still useable. LOL. Ok, so now I have a back row starting spot for the restart of the heat race. This is not what I worked so hard for in qualifying, but then this is indoor racing and pretty much anything that can happen will happen on these small tracks. On the restart I got a good start again (well as good as can be from the back row) and as I came out of turn two on the first lap I noticed that three of the guys on the front row were banging bars and pushing each other wide down the back stretch. Bingo, as that's what I wanted to see, and before I knew it I had snuck up into the third spot. I then quickly worked my way past one rider and set my sights on Jared out front. I was able to close the gap on Jared and was glued to his rear wheel on the last few laps but I just could not make a pass stick on him. Jared ended up getting the win with myself 2nd, so onto the Semi I go.

    For the semi I almost felt like a robot as I knew my goal and I knew this was my last chance to make it happen and I don't ever remember being worried about it. Just go win the race and move onto the main event, simple as that. I wish it was that easy. But I ended up getting the holeshot in my Semi and then I proceeded to pull away from second place and I came home with the win. Here we come main event!

    As we lined up for the main event I was still really relaxed and it's not the relaxed part that confused me but just that there were so many things that I'd normally be worrying or thinking about at this moment back in the day and it's like I can't even remember having any of those thoughts in my head. I think it's called mental preparation. But either way, I just felt really comfortable with anything that happened, as I knew a good finish would be awesome, but really just qualifying for this race was really cool.

    I lined up second off pole on the second row as I had our Latus Motors Triumph rider Brandon Robinson to my inside, with Sammy Halbert and Jake Johnson and others to my outside. My plan was simple, get a good start and try to stay to the inside for at least the first corner and see how many people of the front row I can sneak under. At the flash of the green light I felt like I got a good jump off the line, but as I went into turn one I felt someone bump into the inside of me. Come to find out is was our rider Brandon and he ended up going down in the deal. This kind of slowed down my entry into turn one which let a couple of people go around the outside of me. I stuck with my game plan to stay low and this worked great as I got under a few people on the back stretch and by the time I got to the end of lap one, I had worked my way up to the 4th spot. Briar Bauman was leading, Sammy Halbert was 2nd, then Jared Mees and myself, and all the guys behind us just wanted to knock ya down and move forward, as that's almost what indoor racing is like with this level of racers, well..... it's not as nice as that actually.

    My Husky was working very good but I could tell right away that corner entry was getting very slick real fast and you had to be very careful not to overcharge the turns, otherwise you'd loose some ground. I started working the bottom side of Jared and within a lap I had snuck under him and moved into the 3rd spot. Now Mr. Sammy Halbert was my next challenge. Hmmmmm...... I knew that Sammy was about the roughest rider out there on tracks like this and when ya throw a #3 plate in front of him I think all he sees is blood. After a couple of laps I knew that I had it working good enough to get by him, but I also knew that I needed to split once by him so he would not have the opportunity to pounce back. So I followed Sammy for a few laps and seen where he was riding and made a plan, and my plan was to "Go fast, turn left" once by Sammy. But no, actually I knew the track was getting drier and slicker and I knew this would play to my advantage, so I very gently snuck underneath Sammy around lap 6 or so, but by now Briar had built up a full straight away lead. I knew it was time to put my head down and see what I could do and for the first few laps we both held our own but a few laps later I noticed that I was catching him fast as I had widdled it down to about half a straight. Briar was going a bit wide in some areas and I was hoping he would continue to do that because my low line felt really slow, but the drier the track got the better it was working. I ended up running out of time as I had made a big dent in his lead but to no avail. Briar ended up coming home with the win and I finished 2nd with Mees in 3rd. I was sure wishing my wife could have been here to experience this with me as it was good times for sure!

    I have to THANK my wife and kids for helping me prepare for this race and for giving me the extra confidence that we could do it. This was a very fun event for me and a fun one to get ready for as I knew I had done my homework and it paid off! To me 2nd place was as good as a win with these guys, especially on an indoor track. It was just a huge group of supporters that helped make this race happen. THANK YOU!

    Empire Cycle, Husqvarna, MotoConcepts, Rekluse, Werkes Performance, Latus Motors, GPS Racing, Bob Lanphere, Durelle Racing, Saddlemen, Wiseco, MSR, Arai, Cometic, BikeMaster, Works Connection, Motion Pro, K&N, Novation, Spider grips, Lightshoe, Vortex and Dunlop.