Local riders shine at Lance Walker Memorial

Lyman’s Jason Harris navigates low through a tight spot during Saturday’s Lance Walker Memorial Desert Race outside of Lyman, en route to a 4th-place finish. Part of the WORRA series, the Lance Walker Memorial featured riders of all ages and abilities. (HERALD PHOTO/Don Cogger)

Over 115 riders of all ages and abilities stormed the desert outside Lyman over the weekend to compete in the 2021 Lance Walker Memorial Desert Race, hosted by the Badlands Motorcycle Club.

Part of the Wyoming Off-Road Racers Association (WORRA) series, the Lance Walker Memorial — now in its third year — was established as a way to honor Walker, a local pro who passed away in 2015. The race has quickly become the premier desert race in the state of Wyoming, according to race organizer and Badlands MC member Shaun Harris.

“It’s the largest desert race hosted in Wyoming; it’s the largest race in the WORRA series each year,” Harris said. “We were extremely happy with the turnout — we were able to pull in 10 pros to race, from multiple states. We even had a guy in our Experienced Veteran class that had been out west training for the Baja 500 that was from Florida [Shelby Dunson, Keystone Heights, Florida, 54th overall]. He heard about the race, so he stopped in and raced.”

Participation numbers were down a bit compared to previous years, but Harris attributed part of that to post-pandemic travel — with everything opening back up, folks are making up for lost time, going on vacations and traveling to family reunions.

“We’re kinda boxed into the middle of the summer, for the land,” Harris said. “But I still think we had a phenomenal turnout.”

Harris was also pleased with the level of competition.

“We were told when we started this thing that it takes about three years to get established, then watch out after that,” he said. “People become more aware of the race, it becomes a serious event that riders want to compete in. We expect it to keep growing.”

Harris keeps pace with the pros

Uinta County — especially the Bridger Valley — was well-represented at the event, with 13 local riders competing, as well as a few from Kemmerer. Leading the charge was 14-year-old Jason “Boogs” Harris of Lyman — Shaun’s son, and currently the overall points leader in super-minis on the AMA National Hare and Hounds circuit. Jason won the Schoolboy Expert class and finished fourth overall in the Big Bike class, more than holding his own against the pros.

“It was an extremely talented field,” the elder Harris said. “I believe there were 23 bikes on Jason’s line in the expert class, and they left three minutes behind the pros. Jason was able to move up to third place overall, and ran in third until the last lap, when his front end washed out on him. He had to finish the last four miles without his goggles because they were full of sand, and only gave up one place to finish fourth overall.”

Despite a late-race tumble that allowed another rider to gain a spot on him at the finish, Jason was happy with his overall performance.

“Things went absolutely great,” Jason said. “I felt very good from the start — everything fell into place for me, I was feeling super-confident. I got a really good start; I was out in front of the pack within the first five minutes, and from there, I just started picking off the pros and worked my way into the top five.”

Riders competing in the Big Bike class were broken up into smaller classes, from pro all the way down to novice, based on experience. The pros — 10 in all — were allowed to start first, and were given a three-minute head start on the lines that followed. Pros and experts were required to complete at least two laps of the 28-mile loop; the top 25 riders completed three laps.

“By the second lap, I had moved into the top three overall,” Jason explained. “From there, it was just keeping pace. The last lap, I wrecked a couple of times, lost a little of my stamina. An expert [Kade Caldwell, from Ogden] passed me right there at the finish, so I took fourth. I enjoyed the race, it was a lot of fun.”

A talented mix of pros, amateurs

Colorado native Clayton Gerstner took the top spot in the pro class, as well as the Big Bike overall. The 24-year-old competes as a pro in a number of different series, including National Hare and Hound, West Hare Scramble — “pretty much anything I can.” He’s currently second in points in the Pro 250 class in National Hare and Hound, which will start up the second half of its season in September.

“It was  a good day — I pulled the hole shot, and led from start to finish,” Gerstner said. “I got second in this race last year, so it was nice to come back and get a win.”

Asked about his strategy in this year’s race compared to last year, Gerstner said the answer was simple.

“Go faster,” he said, laughing. “The course I feel like was a little better this year — I think they learned a bit from last year. I think they took some input from riders, and did a good job with the course.”

Gerstner’s day almost ended before it began, as problems with his front wheel were still ongoing with the race about to start. Thankfully, Jason Harris was there to help out.

“Those guys [the Harris family] are awesome,” Gerstner said. “Jason let me borrow a wheel before the race started — I was having wheel problems, and 20 minutes before the race starts, I was pulling a wheel off his 450 and putting it on mine.”

Three of the top five finishers in the Big Bike overall were pros — Bidger Steel, of Eureka, Utah, took second, while Green River’s Alex Hlad took fifth. Expert Open winner Kade Caldwell, of Ogden, Utah, caught Jason Harris near the finish to take third.

A pair of Kemmerer riders also finished in the Top 10 in Big Bike Overall — pro Clint Unsworth placed eighth (fifth in Pro class), while Aaron Wagner placed 10th (second in Expert Veteran class).

Ashlee Gage won the Women’s Class, and finished 16th in the overall. It was the Idaho native’s first time competing in the Lance Walker Memorial, a race she said she’d definitely like to run again.

“I really enjoyed the course — it had the perfect amount of fast and technical stuff,” she said. “I think the most challenging part was having to race in the dust. I will definitely be back next year if it doesn’t land on the same weekend as any of our other series that we race.”

Gage — who races in the pro women’s class in the National Hare and Hounds, West Hare Scrambles, Best in the Desert and SIDRA Racing — heard about the race from a fellow racer, and decided to give it a shot.

“I heard about the race from Clayton Gerstner, who ended up winning the overall,” she said. “I feel like I rode pretty good most of the day. There’s only one women’s class, and we had to start on the last line, so I was passing and riding in the dust pretty much all day. But I’d say it was really good practice, and that’s what I was there for.”

The overall winner in the Small Bikes class was Sade Hill, from Salem, Utah. Drayden Jepperson (Walsburg, Utah) and Lyman’s Colton Fredrickson rounded out the top three.

Jepperson also took first in the Junior class, followed by Fredrickson in second and Mountain View’s Gavin Huntington in third. A trio of Lyman riders — Parker Jackson, Kayson Jackson and Ridge Knox — placed fifth, eighth and 10th in the Junior class, respectively.

“We had a really good showing from our Bridger Valley kids,” Shaun Harris said. “It’s good to see them go out and do well.”

Other Bridger Valley riders who competed in the Small Bike class included Kyson Jackson (12th), Treyson Henderson (19th) and Kohl Kitchel (21st).

Evanston’s Bart Bateman finished second in the Novice Veteran class, 63rd overall.

Putting it all together

Sponsors for this year’s event included Benedict’s Ace Hardware, Farmer’s Insurance, Redi Services, The Printed Word, Wall Contractors, Bridger Valley Motor, Mountain West Farm Bureau, Bridger Valley Electric, Benedict’s Market, United Steelworkers, the Uinta County Herald and HydraFab, Uinta Engineering and Bradshaw Towing and Glass, as well as countless volunteers from the community.

“I had a lot of help this year,” Harris said. “It was a cumulative effort of volunteer help. We met with landowners to secure the property, so a huge thanks to Sims Sheep Company for allowing us to race on their property for one weekend of the year.”

Putting the course together can be a grind; this is where the volunteers really earn their praise, according to Harris.

“We have 28 miles of big bike course that has to be completely staked out, danger markers put in place, course markers put in place,” Harris said. “It takes us a week to set it up, and within four hours after the end of the race, it’s 100% cleaned up.”

Riders found this year’s course to be more of a challenge than in years’ past, especially on the technical side.

“The Lance Walker race is definitely more technical than a lot of others — the Badlands MC puts on a very good race,” Jason Harris said. “There were some ridges that weren’t very wide, with ravines under you that were pretty scary. It’s a hard, technical course, especially when you get to that last lap of the race and you’re spent. It definitely takes a lot out of you, physically and mentally.”

Overall Big Bike winner Clayton Gerstner agreed.

“The ‘A’ loop they put in this year — they put some bridges going across a couple of ravines, and if you didn’t make it over those, you were going to be stuck for a while,” he said. “My buddy Miles [Holt] didn’t make it over once. That first lap coming into those, I was like, ‘OK, don’t mess up.’”

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