FLASHBACK FRIDAY: GLEN HELEN 2001 NATIONAL

Glen-Helen-05122001_0036This was the Glen Helen National track 15 years ago.

Glen Helen has been a staple of the AMA Nationals since 1993 (when Roger DeCoster was the race promoter). It was not on the AMA National schedule in 1994 or 1995, but came back in 1996. It ran consecutively from 1996 to 2009, and then was left off the schedule when the famous Glen Helen versus the AMA sanctioning body war took place. In response, Glen Helen dropped out of the AMA Nationals, while the sanctioning body unsuccessfully moved the event to Pala and Lake Elsinore. In 2014 the Glen Helen versus the AMA battle was resolved—with Glen Helen getting the National back from 2014 to today. Glen Helen is one of the most iconic tracks in the circuit. With it’s wide track and towering hills Glen Helen is both dominating and unforgiving. The constantly changing track design is always memorable and awe inspiring—especially for spectators who get great views of the racers going up and down the hills. Those of us who frequent Glen Helen weekly are intimately familiar with its hills and hot spots. As a rule, Glen Helen always adds surprises to each year’s National track. Last year it was the difficult Double Rock Wall section (where Eli Tomac made every other rider look like an amateur) and this year it will be the return of the Triple Step-Up.

The starting gate has always stayed in the same spot, while the first turn changed a few times through the years, when track designer Jody Weisel built the banked, 180-degree Talladega first turn. Jody, who has raced at Glen Helen for decades, was never happy with Glen Helen’s right-hand first turn and he wanted a left-hand first turn, but that wasn’t possible given the lay of the land. So, being a true motocrosser, he realized that the only way to make a safe right-hand first turn was to make the start as long as possible (to thin out the herd) and then sweep into a banked 45-degree bowl (so the riders wouldn’t need to brake with their right feet). The name came from the NASCAR Super Speedway track, which Jody raced at in 1976. Always impressed by the paved banking in Georgia, Jody moved his version to SoCal (only made out of dirt). Back in the early days of the banked first turn, it wasn’t as steep or as high as it is today, but it was still a first for a motocross track. From there, the track went back towards the bleachers before a complete 180-degree turn leading up Shoei Hill, followed by a steep downward pitch to the bridge (which wasn’t there in 2001). When the riders go under the bridge they shoot straight up the 20-story tall Mt. Saint Helen (named after the volcano). Back in 2001, Jody incorporated a second  amazingly steep climb up the back side of Yamaha Hill. It was twice as high as the current Yamaha Hill, but Jody took it out of the track a few years later because spectators couldn’t see the almost vertical climb—and an obstacle that no one sees isn’t of much value. Back in 2001 the riders went much farther back at Glen Helen, to the section of track known as “Bud’s Creek” (a tongue in cheek reference to track owner Bud Feldkamp). The Bud’s Creek section started with a 110-foot tabletop that was hard for 125 two-strokes to clear.

Glen-Helen-05122001_0015The 2001 Talladega first turn was not as steep or high as the 2016 version. This is the safest first turn in the sport—even though it is a right-hand first turn.

There was no Triple Step-Up in 2001, but the riders faced an obstacle that they hated with a passion. It was called the “Muddy Straight. In the lower right hand part of the above photo you can see an inflated red arch over the track. That arch is near the end of the Muddy Straight and boy did it get rutted. That section still gets muddy to this day. The Muddy Straight was taken out when the Triple Step-Up came in and the Triple Step-Up was taken out when the sanctioning body stopped Glen Helen from running three-minute lap times (and insisted that the lap times come down closer to two minutes). In 2014 and 2015, the “Velodrome” turn was installed where the landing to the Triple Step-Up used to be. But, for 2016, Jody found a way put the Triple Step-Up back into the track design (although it required moving the bleachers and MXA’s hospitlity area). The addition meant reconfiguring the Canyon section, taking out the Double Rock Wall turns (sorry Eli Tomac), and replacing Yamaha Hill with a giant hip jump. The Triple Step-Up sails out of the flat lands all the way over to the REM track (the REM track is at the bottom of the above photo and then loops back in. It should be noted that the riders are only on the REM track for a brief burst to get them back down to the flat lands with a sky high jump from REM all the way back down the opposite side of where they just jumped up. The track has changed considerably from the Triple Step-Up back to the start line for 2016 (compared to the 2001 photo). The finish line jump, sand section and Log Cabin jump all remain on the design.

MXA’s Jody Weisel has been designing the Glen Helen National track since the 1997—and before he put pen to paper or Cat to track it didn’t have any significant elevation changes. To say that he changed that would be an understatement. Jody and his MXA buddy, Lance Moorewood, who’s father Ted was the Saddleback and Escape Country National promoter, had helped build the infamous Saddleback Park Suicide Mountain spectacle—although they both admit their their roles in that amazing obstacle was mostly grunt work. Jody readily admits that Mt. Saint Helen was a direct result of having raced up Suicide Mountain in 1980s (but definitely not jumping it). Jody ended up becoming the Glen Helen track designer when track owner Bud Feldkamp asked him what he thought of the track back in 1996. Jody lambasted Bud for squandering some the greatest terrain that a motocross track could ever have with a cookie cutter track. Bud got mad at Jody and walked away, but he called him back a few days later and asked Jody to build the best track in the world. The most iconic elements of the current track (Mt. Saint Helens, Talladega, the Muddy Straight, the Triple Step-Up) are all the fruits of Bud Feldkamp’s desire to build the best possible track. It should be noted that Jody does not take any money for the massive task of making a new track every year. He leaves all the Cat and tractor work to Carl Scanlon—who has made Jody’s ideas into true-to-life dirt for a decade. Jody also turns down all the people who request that he design a track for them—in places as varied as  Japan, South America and even other National tracks. Why won’t he do it? “I only want to work on tracks that I race at myself. Building tracks that I don’t race on doesn’t interest me,” said Jody.

Glen-Helen-05122001_0029The greatest view in motocross is from the top of Mount Saint Helen, but the only people who get this perspective don’t have time to take a long look—they are busy.

In 2001 Tim ferry won the Glen Heln 250 National (the equivalent of today’s 450 class) with a 2-2. Ricky Carmichael blew a sure win in the first moto when he hit a haybale at the top of Shoei Hill and careened all the way back down to the Talladega turn and had to start from dead last. Ricky went 8-1. Grant Langston swept both motos on his KTM 125SX. Mike Brown was second with a 2-2. At season’s end, Langston and Brown would go into the final race with the Championship undecided. Then, Langston’s rear wheel broke and Brown won the 2001 AMA 125 National Championship.

Glen-Helen-05122001_0034From this 2001 aerial view, you can see Bud’s Creek on the right, cars parked on the REM track to the left and the start on the far side.

Glen-Helen-05122001_0035Looking to the Southwest, note the Supercross track beyond the Talladega first turn. Back in 2001 it was used by Team Suzuki. Today it is one of two Supercross tracks that Pro Circuit has at Glen Helen.

Glen-Helen-05122001_0037
Looking northwest, you get a great view of the fifth-gear, wide-open start straight. At the very top of the photo you can see the ultra-tall Yamaha Hill—which  equalled Mt. Saint Helen in elevation.

Glen-Helen-05122001_0039Looking north toward Lake Arrowhead, you get a sense of how high the hills are. The top of Mt. Saint Helen is the closest turn in this photo.

WATCH THE 2001 GLEN HELEN NATIONAL HERE


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