Motocross event strengthens family bonds

Local riders relish chance to compete on same track as professionals

A motocross rider competes at the Washougal MX Park on July 31, 2019. (Post-Record file photo)

At right, riders start young at Washougal Nationals as a fearless young rider hops back on his 50cc bike and returns to the Washougal MX Park course after falling during a crowded start.

One of the keys in motocross racing is having a good clean start. Riders maneuver for position in the opening moments of Washougal Nationals race on Friday, July, 26.

"Big air" is a fascinating part of motocross racing, and watching riders fly through the air always thrills the crowd at Washougal Nationals.

Dave Feeney, a mechanic for professional rider Zach Osbourne, makes a few suspension adjustments to prepare for what he calls the the "slippery nature" of the Washougal dirt.

Josh Holmes has been bringing his family to the Washougal Nationals from Yelm, Washington, for as long as he can remember to compete in the amateur events. (Photos by Wayne Havrelly/Post-Record)

The risks of motorcycle racing are real, and riders and fans support each other when times get tough. An amatuer rider is carried off the Washougal MX Park track by medical crews after a crash during amateur races on Friday, July 26. (Photos by Wayne Havrelly/Post-Record)

There are plenty of local riders who make motocross a family tradition.

David Simms lives in Washougal, but during the week of Washougal Nationals he parks his recreational vehicle at the Washougal MX Park and camps with his son Evan and older brother Carey.

Simms got his first job as a high school freshman in 1977 cutting grass for the big annual race, which held its 39th edition on Saturday, July 27, at the track.

“We all grew up around motorcycles,” David Simms said. “My dad raced and all the family raced. What else would you do, right?”

There is no escaping the danger of the sport, and that danger reared its ugly head during amateur races Friday, July 26. As David Simms watched family friend Austin Kiemele race, a rider right in front of Kiemele lost control on a jump, and Kiemele had no time to avoid running the rider over with his 450cc motorcycle.

The injured rider regained consciousness, but appeared to suffer significant injuries as he was loaded into an ambulance strapped to a backboard.

“I saw him crash, and I was bar-to-bar, and I ran over him,” Kiemele said. “I went over the bars and tried to crawl off the track. It sucks when you see it. We’ve all been there. That’s racing.”

For David Simms, the rewards of the sport have always outweighed the risk of injury, but he admits the injuries are a bit too much for his wife.

“My wife doesn’t like to go because she gets a little nervous,” he said, “but I just love this sport. The people are awesome. They all support each other.”

Hundreds of amateur motocross riders from all over the Pacific Northwest were among the 20,000 fans watching the professionals Saturday.

They arrived at the park early in the week, even before the professionals, to compete in racing Thursday and Friday.

Josh Holmes from Yelm, Washington, camped at the track all week with his daughters Sidney and Madison and son Jonah.

“We love to come to Washougal because we get to ride the same track (the professionals) are riding,” Holmes said as he cheered on Madison, who was in the middle of a 250cc race.

Slippery dirt

Crashes on the Washougal track can happen a bit more easily than at most other venues, according to professional race team members who are familiar with every kind of dirt imaginable.

“The dirt is very slippery up here,” said Dave Feeney, a Husqvarna mechanic for professional rider Zach Osborne. “There’s not as much traction as other tracks we go to.”

Feeney said the key to doing well in Washougal is to make a few suspension adjustments so the bike rides a bit softer and digs into the slippery dirt.

The strategy worked well for the Husqvarna race team as Osborne was competitive throughout the final race and finished in sixth place among the top professionals.

Feeney said traveling with a race team is a fascinating lifestyle as its season begins in January and doesn’t finish until the end of August. His race team always looks forward to coming to Washougal, not only for the beautiful tree-lined course, but for the weather.

“We’ve been back east and the humidity is pretty intense,” Feeney said. “This place is so pretty, and the weather in Washougal is ideal.”

Tomac triumphs at Washougal yet again

Eli Tomac said he doesn’t know why he performs so well at the Washougal Nationals.

On Saturday, July 27, in the final 450cc professional race, Tomac had a tough start and found himself in 15th place, but that’s when the magic started on his Monster Energy 450 Kawasaki.

Systematically weaving through the field, Tomac patiently improved his position, and by the final few laps Tomac was within two seconds of leaders Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin.

Tomac found an opening on one of the track’s uphill sections and took it, passing Roczen and putting pressure on Musquin. The Frenchman was able to counter Tomac’s advances with some defensive riding, but eventually Tomac took the lead and ended up winning the race by 11.9 seconds as the Washougal crowd chanted “Eli, Eli.”

The victory was Tomac’s third in the past four years at the Washougal track and his fourth win this season on the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross circuit.

“On the bike it was like perfection, other than the start,” Tomac said. “The second moto was pretty much mistake-free. Everything was in the right place at the right time. It’s pretty cool when that happens. That was just a good day on a dirt bike.”

Tomac has a commanding lead to win his third straight Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, which goes to the rider who earns the most points during the racing season.

“It’s what he does,” said Brandon Short, a spokesman for the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. “Tomac really has the ability to take control. He’s steady and consistent with no hiccups.”