The First Time
Story by Trevor Hunter, Photos by Full Throttle Photo
The annual 24 Hours of Glen Helen is always one of our favorite events of the year. Why? We have no clue. It’s one of the most grueling and taxing races around, often prompts freak mechanical failures at the worst times, promotes little to no sleep, and a lot of seat time in a short amount of time. But it still has a special place in our hearts and we try to race it every year.
After having some success at the 6 & 10 Hour events earlier this year, the goal coming into the 24 hour was to contend for the win. With a team comprised of a few fast and young riders, we knew it was possible with our simple game plan — keep the bike moving at all times. In a race this long, mechanical issues are typically a matter of if, not when. While we’d be prepared for whatever, minimizing those mistakes and keeping the bike out of the pits as much as possible would be our best chance for success. There were a few teams stacked with talent and winning on raw speed alone would be tough. With that, we chose to ride a Yamaha YZ450FX as we’ve already put 40+ hours into the bike to figure out any little quirks it may have, though they are few and far between.
The 2021 team would be myself paired with Thomas Dunn, Chance Fullerton, and Tyler Belknap. We’re all Pro level racers in the NGPC/WORCS Series’ and have all raced this event before. We decided to have Thomas start off the race for us as he was the most eager and it turned out to be a smart move. He started out in 2nd, briefly passed into the lead halfway through the first lap, then settled into a comfortable pace in 3rd just behind the two Kilmartin Racing bikes. Chance was next up on the bike and despite not having much riding or racing time as of late, he put in quality laps and inched us into 2nd and closer to the leaders. I was up third on the team and held a steady pace, keeping the gap to first within reason despite them putting their fastest rider on the bike at the same time. Tyler was the last rider in the rotation and he too kept the gap close to the same, leaving us just a few minutes out of the lead after the first five hours of racing.
When I got off for my first ride, something in the front end felt a tad loose, though we couldn’t pinpoint what exactly it may be. We thought it was the bar mounts, but we weren’t 100% sure. Each lap, we’d keep an eye on it until we got to the main pit around 6PM where we’d do our biggest pit of the race including changing a filter, rear wheel, lights, and whatever else was needed. Thomas again kept the gap close and when Chance got on the bike, he quickly erased the gap they had built on us. When Chance came in after his four laps and gave the bike to me, he briefly held the lead, though they’d pass us back as we dumped gas and changed riders.
I got on the bike and tried chasing down the #1 team with RJ Wageman at the controls. The first half of the course, I was stuck in his dust and could only make up a marginal amount of time. As we dropped back down to the lower sections, I was able to just slightly reel the gap back in, but he still held 7-10 seconds on me as we neared the end of the first lap. To our benefit, the team was experiencing clutch issues which made it tougher for them in the tighter sections of the course. As I came winding down the tight “Costa Rica” singletrack, I came around a corner only to see RJ stalled and struggling to get the bike going. I immediately dove to the inside of him and tried to make the pass but the bike got caught between him and the canyon wall. He leaned over on me and tried to make it difficult to pass, but I kept pushing and eventually broke free, entering the lead for the first time in the race. After getting out of there, I had built up ~10 seconds over their team and started leading laps at the 24 Hour for the first time. It was a pretty cool feeling and something all of us on the team wanted to do, so getting to lead like that made it that much more fun. The next few laps saw a lot of lappers and my timing with catching them was less than ideal. Near the end of my fourth lap, Giacomo Redondi was on the #1 machine and had snuck up and made the pass on me, pushing up back to 2nd for now.
As I got off the bike, we went into pit mode and performed our big pit. As I dissected the front end, there was a lot of play in it and I was able to see a fair amount of the bottom steering stem bearing — not good. This meant we had to pull the bars off, stabilizer off, and loosen the top triple clamps to tighten up the lock nut and steering stem nut. The whole team and pit crew made it go by quickly, though we still lost 6-7 minutes in the process. After that, we were on our way again and Tyler was back on the bike. For the next few hours, we stayed pretty steady hovering from 4-8 minutes back and could never get close enough to see them again.
My third stint was also my first night ride and the bike felt tremendously better with a tight front end and installing the lights on the bike. Everything was working smoothly and I tried my best to work through the lappers, though I could only seem to get one cleaner lap in. Still, we were close! As the race progressed, the #1 team kept dealing with the same clutch issues and would have to stop and refill their master cylinder every rider change. This was playing into our favor and resolidified our game plan of just keeping the bike moving. Mine and Chance’s fourth time out was our closest again as we were within a minute or so of the #1 bike with less than 8 hours to go.
From there, Tyler got back on the bike and struggled to find the pace at the lonesome 4AM shift, losing some time in the process. However, just as the sun went up and we thought bike problems may not be as much of a factor, the Kilmartin #1 bike suffered their biggest setback. They had to mess around with the clutch again and spent around 4-5 minutes in the pits fixing it. This got Chance to within a minute of them and then he continued to reel them in until he was on their fender. With Colton Aeck on the bike, Chance was pressuring him going out onto the west ridge when Colton swapped out, crashing really hard and tweaking the bike and himself. Chance stopped and helped Colton out from under his bike before continuing on. This ordeal gave us a nice cushion, around 13-14 minutes and took the pressure off of us, though we never like to see it happen that way. The way the race was shaping up, it was looking to be very close and an exciting sprint to the finish. Chance gave me a healthy lead and I cruised around for four laps to keep the bike moving before Thomas got back on and rode into the finish with a 9 minute lead.
And just like that, we had all accomplished one of our childhood dreams of winning the 24 Hours of Glen Helen overall! Being the underdogs in the race, it was a very cool feeling to come out on top and with the minimal prep beforehand. Two of the riders had never ever seen the bike and the third had never ridden on the updated TCS Suspension. Overall, the YZ450FX was one of, if not the best bike we’ve ridden in a 24 Hour to date. Other than one mechanical problem that is my fault, we had zero issues and that bike was well liked by every single rider on the team. With 2021 in the books, we hope we can bring back the dream team and defend the win next year!
Big thanks to everyone who helped in the pits, along with the sponsors who made it possible!
Yamaha | TCS Powersports | Dunlop | IMS | Kilmartin Racing/Modified Machine Works | TM Designworks | Mika Metals | DT-1 Filters | GPR Stabilizer | Moto Seat | Nitromousse