April 26, 2014

Getting off the paved road

Now limited, Enduros have a legacy here

The most popular types of off-road motorcycle races in our area are enduros and hare scrambles.

Enduros are timed cross country endurance events that today are typically 40-75 miles long and use narrow single-track trails to go through the woods with plenty of obstacles to slow down — or stop — even the best riders.

Back in the 1970s and earlier, there were races that covered 100-125 miles. Most people don’t know it, but Dalton was the home of the annual 100-plus-miles Stone Mountain National Enduro from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. It was well-named, if you ever saw the rocky ridge tops and creek beds the race traveled.

The race was held in the first week of March of every year to make it easier for the riders from northern states to stop and ride the race on their way down to Daytona Beach, Fla., for bike week. It was typical for 500-700 riders from all over the United States and Canada to attend the race. The race was originally held at Stone Mountain outside of Atlanta but was moved to the Dalton area in the late 1960s.

The first time it was held in Dalton it started at the Gaines Skating Rink on Highway 41 South. In later years it started at Connector 3 at the Trail’s Inn campground. Riders headed west and rode the ridge tops south to the Redwine Cove area.

Then it went over Chestnut Mountain and crossed Highway 136 to the top of Horn Mountain, down into the “pocket” area, over to Taylor Ridge, the Westside area and then back to the start. In its last years the start was south of Villanow in Walker County.

Enduros are held rain or shine, and in 1980 the race was held in freezing temperatures with several inches of snow on the ground. Another year it was held after eight inches of rainfall in the 48 hours prior to the race.

Today these same trails are closed to motorcycles, but a lot of the Pinhoti Trail uses it for hiking and mountain bikes. The Cohutta Mountain Enduro was held for two years starting at Eton and used the Grassy Mountain and Fort Mountain area, crossed over to HIghway 282 and back to the start.

The Taylor Ridge Enduro started at Ringgold and crisscrossed the Taylor Ridge area. Events were also held near Lookout Mountain, Ball Ground, Allatoona and several other places outside of Atlanta. Due to the lack of land access today, there is only one enduro held in Georgia — the Cherokee Enduro, three hours from Dalton near Greensboro.

Dalton has had more than its share of successful enduro riders over the years. Some of the earliest were Charles Campbell, Jerry Cooper, Charlie Gray, Don Groves, Randall Hill, Ricky Hill, Bobby Keys, Tommy Joe Kirk, Lowell Planzer, William Shelton, Henry Weaver, Ken Williams and many others.

The Southeastern Enduro and Trail Riders Association has sponsored an annual championship series in seven states since 1969. John B. Collins of Dalton won the senior class in 1976 and 1977 and the overall A class in 1979. Doug Jones won the B class in 1986 and then the A Class in 1989 and 1990. Mark McKenzie won open A and four-stroke A in 2004, 2006 and 2007.

Woody Bramlett has six class wins in enduros and hare scrambles over the years. Most recently he wrapped up 55-plus B class wins in both for the 2013-14 season. He also has an interesting part-time job as a mechanic/support crew member for the KTM factory off-road team. He has traveled all over this country and Mexico to the X-Games, Baja, GNCC’s, and endurocross stadium events to help riders like Grant Baylor, Stu Baylor, Mike Brown and Maria Forsberg.

Rocky Face’s Hunter Williams won the SETRA 250B class in 2009, 250A in 2010, and the AA expert class in 2011. He also competed in the NEPG national enduro series against factory-sponsored riders and finished 14th and 15th nationally in 2011 and 2012.

He is currently focusing on the open A class in the GNCC Grand National Cross Country Series, which has become the premier, most demanding series in the country, with TV coverage and 600-800 riders per race divided into a morning race for amateurs and an afternoon race for the A classes and pros. Williams finished third in open A in 2012 in that race series.

Doug Jones and Ken Williams raced in Europe against riders from all over the world in the International Six Days Enduro, which is considered the Olympics of off-road racing. It’s a six-day competition with timed special tests while covering 100-150 off-road miles each day.

Jones earned a silver medal at the 1991 ISDE in Czechoslovakia and another silver medal at the 1994 ISDE, which was held near Tulsa, Okla. Williams rode the 1975 ISDT in Great Britain.

Hare scrambles are usually a closed course two-hour race — although GNCC does some three-hour event — with a mixture of single-track trail, logging roads, motocross or grass track. Riders do multiple laps on a course of six to 12 miles, with the event totaling 40 miles or more.

Eddie Ridley of Dalton promotes the Southern Off-Road Championship hare scrambles series. He has been successful offering an annual 12-14 race series in Georgia and Tennessee that is very popular with the riders and doesn’t require the amount of land and travel time required for enduros and the GNCC series.

Typically there are 200-300 riders from all over the Southeast at each event. Hunter Williams has won first overall at several of the events and was the overall winner for the 2013 SORCS series. It’s probably not uncommon for as many as two dozen local riders to be competing at each race.

SETRA also has an annual hare scrambles series. Bryan Adams of Chatsworth won the 250 and 200A classes in 1985 and 1986. Then he went on to win the overall series in 1989 and 1992, as well as the AA expert class in 1991. Adams also was a pro motocross rider, but he was like many of the top riders who had to quit racing due to injuries.

Bramlett, Jones and Mark Joyce were other Dalton riders who had SETRA hare scrambles series class wins in the past.

Schedules of upcoming events can be found at SETRA.org, SORCS.net, and nationalenduro.com.

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