Before the Motos

July 26, 2007 10:43am

Washougal MX Park

This weekend the AMA Toyota Motocross Championship presented by FMF  ventures into the Pacific Northwest, and home of Ralph Huffman’s Washougal MX Park in Washougal, Washington. We borrowed a few minutes of Mr. Huffman’s time this morning, as his amateur day was just about to commence, for some insight on what to expect this weekend.

Racer X: Hi, Ralph. What do you have going on this morning?
Ralph Huffman: We have gobs of amateurs here! We have about 1800-2000. We even turn away 200-300. We hate to do that, because it upsets them, but we can only do so much. Some of our classes we have to do three divisions. We do 48 races per day.

Do you have a separate amateur track?
No. They ride basically the pro track except we cut out a couple of areas. We shorten it up a little bit.

Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you start? Are you the original owner of the track?
No. Glen Garden and Dave DeMao were the ones who started it back in 1971. They ran it until ’78 or so. While they had it, they put on an AMA Regional. Then they got kind of burned out. That’s when Wally Bozinel leased it from them. In 1980 he came to me and I helped him finance the national, and basically helped him get the fencing and stuff that took a little money to get it going. Then he ran it for four years. He then sold his lease to Bill Cantrell. Bill ran the national for two years. I helped him a little bit financially, too. But the AMA got upset with Bill for different reasons, and as part of my agreement with him financially, if things went haywire, I could take the track over if I wanted to—which I did in ’87. I’ve been running it ever since.

Have you always been into motorcycles? What made you jump in with Wally?
Well, I just helped him financially. Back in the ‘70s, my kids were racing motorcycles. At that time, I was doing logging and construction. I was the owner of 41 Caterpillars, so Clark’s Branch track asked me to help out. So, that’s where I started helping at the motocross tracks. I also helped at some of the flat tracks, because one of my boys was racing flat track. I have a pretty early history of helping out, fixing, and designing tracks. So, when I took over Washougal in ’87 I wasn’t a complete greenhorn.

How many kids do you have?
Eight kids, and about 18 grandkids. We have a big family, and most of them help out here at the national. Every now and them we have a little family feud, but we get over it [laughs].

How many local races do you run throughout the year?
We run about a dozen.

While the family is taking care of different aspects of the event, what is your main duty while the race is going on?
Well, I love to run the Cat, so I love to work on the track. I have a lot of fine people who work here. They take care of most of the rest of it. Once in a while a major problem will come up and I’ll have to make a decision. There are a lot of people that work here besides family. We have about 100 on staff for the weekend. There’s the waterers, the flagman, the gateworkers.

What do you think makes your track different than the others on the circuit?
Well, I suppose all the tracks have their good and bad. I guess I’m noted most for having a pretty track. We have the trees pruned up, and it stays pretty green because we get a lot of rain. The elevation changes, and I think a lot of people like. But, much like many of the other tracks, our track has been used pretty hard down through the years and we have to haul in a lot of dirt, sand and sawdust. We’ve lost a lot of the topsoil.

Do you have any new elements on the track this year, or the facility itself?
To help meet my commitments with the AMA, I took the Chuck Sun jump out, the Catcher’s Mitt, and Leach’s Lump. I took the horseshoe part of the track out and added a couple big jumps up on top. I didn’t really like to take out the Chuck Sun jump, and I took a lot of flack for it, because it had so much history. I just about had to do it to get more area for the vendors, VIPs and sponsors.

Was the Chuck Sun jump your favorite part of the track?
Well, it’s gone now! It had a real history to it. Chuck and Broc Glover were just a few points apart and Chuck wrecked on it. He overjumped it and the bike flew out from under him! He vacated the bike.

You made more room for vending?
Yes. Vending and sponsors, and the AMA wants a VIP area and grandstands. That’s basically what’s gone on in there. I have a few more things to take care of for the AMA. I worked on a lot of their requirements this year, and I’ll keep trying to work on the rest of them. Some of the other things pertain to the county roads, which I can’t do too much about.

You’ve said that your track is known as a pretty track. Did you have to knock down any trees to make room for these adjustments?
Yes. I took two loads of logs out, of course, I’m a logger [laughs]. That’s about twelve trees I took out. I took some out for safety reason and some out for more room and a little more light on the track. Some say it’s like trail riding back in the trees. I also have three streams on the property with fish in them, so the county watches them like a hawk. But, they’re on the west side of the track. In one place it’s hard for me to cut the trees along the track. It’s tough for me to do anything about the shade on that part of the track. Actually, it’s not the trees along the track area; it’s the trees along the creek that block the sun that I can’t do much with.

A while back, weren’t the neighbors giving you a hard time about noise?
Well, I have 20 neighbors. And two of them kept hammering and hammering me about noise levels. I finally won. It took lots and lots of dough. They’re still trying to do something about it. But, the other 18 neighbors like me. I let them ride their horses on the property and walk and run. I’ve got most of the trees pruned up, and a lot of the brush whacked down, and I try to grow grass where I can. The county calls it the “bike golf course.” During the national, from overhead, the county calls it “RV City.”

That stinks that they give you grief because your event boosts the local economy.
I don’t know how they figure it, but they tell me it brings in $7 million. Some of the people in town and some of the other merchants call it their second Christmas. I know one store told me they order 16 times more stuff than they usually do.

It’s sad that everyone other than your two neighbors don’t see the benefits your track brings to the area.
The one of the two neighbors doesn’t even live here.

So, a couple of free tickets won’t calm them down for a while?
That neighbor didn’t even buy his property until ’95. By then, the track was well- established. There’s an older modular on the property that he rents out. The renters don’t seem to mind. When we were doing the noise tests, the renters wouldn’t even let us do the noise tests at their place. Well, on sound, they have what they call—when it’s under 57 decibels— they call it a “sleep zone.” A zone you can sleep in. Well, the one neighbor—even at the national—it’s only about 52 or 53 decibels at his property. So, he just stopped testing. It’s not going to do him any good. It doesn’t matter what starts up over here whether it’s a 50cc or a 450cc, he can hear it.

Back to the national, anything else you want to mention for this weekend?
Well, I just hope all goes well this weekend and no one gets hurt. Saftey is a real concern.

Do you have any sponsors or specific people you’d like to thank?
Oh, yeah. Yamaha. They’ve been my sponsor for a long time. RSC Rentals—they’ve just been great people. Snap-On has just been doing a ton for the national, and especially for my year-end awards. They give out NASCAR toolboxes to some of the riders. Those things are worth like $2300! Unbound Energy has been a great sponsor for the past three or four years. Those are my major sponsors, plus I appreciate all my other sponsors that help too.

Thanks Ralph. One more thing. How’s the weather forecast?
Last weekend it rained a bit last weekend, but this weekend looks great and about 80-85 degrees. So, I think we’re in good shape.

2006 results

AMA Motocross

1. James Stewart (Kaw) 2-1
2. Ricky Carmichael (Suz) 1-2
3. Chad Reed (Yam) 3-3
4. Davi Millsaps (Hon) 4-6
5. Tim Ferry (Hon) 7-4

AMA Motocross Lites

1. Andrew Short (Hon) 1-1
2. Josh Grant (Hon) 2-3
3. Mike Alessi (KTM) 3-4
4. Troy Adams (Kaw) 6-5
5. Matt Goerke (Yam) 5-14