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Between the Motos: Rich Winkler

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It seems like the majority of the time, if you hear a rider talking about Dirt Wurx, or the company’s lead man Rich Winkler, what you’re hearing are complaints; complaints about the track design, the dirt used, and things like that. But at Anaheim II last weekend, it was unanimous: Dirt Wurx did an outstanding job. No one had any complaints, as rain of biblical proportions fell all week leading up to the race, but somehow the track was almost dusty by race time. We talked to Winkler this week for Between the Motos from England, where he is for some races his company has built the tracks for, and for a side project of his coming up soon.

  • Rich Winkler, the head of Dirt Wurx.
Racer X: What are you doing in England?
Rich Winkler: I’m checking out the new line of Maicos and thinking about importing them to the US. They have a new two-stroke that I would love to bring back to the US. I would love to have an import agreement done before I leave on Sunday, and then I’ll have to deal with all the DOT [Department of Transportation] and EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] stuff, which will probably be between a 90-day and a six-month job, depending on how it goes. But it’s kind of cool.

Have you always been a Maico fan?
I mean, I rode them as a kid, and I still ride an ’81 250 in the post-vintage stuff in the US. But I realize looking at them that they’re a little dated compared to what’s out there today, but I think there’s still a market, especially for the older guys who remember the brand from before and are still interested in a two-stroke dirt bike. The UK guys are putting a lot of updated stuff on them – Talon wheels and hubs, custom aluminum tanks, and a really trick setup compared to the way they come from Germany. They’re updating them quite a bit here [in England], which will be kind of cool, and the ones we’ll make available in the States will be the updated ones.

That’s kind of a crazy schedule to be running over there between all of the races over here and everything, isn’t it?
Yeah, this is by far our busiest. We committed to these UK supercrosses before we really knew what the US schedule was. It turns out that, yeah, these past two weeks, we’ve got crews in four cities on the same week, and with the weather out in California, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks. The Maico thing is kind of just a side thing at this point, but luckily I had met with them fairly extensively when I was over here in November, so we had the deal more or less ready to go; we were just waiting to see what the 2010 bikes would look like. But the coordination is key. From Phoenix [round two], we sent half of our guys early to Anaheim to be waiting there for the second the Monster Truck show was over, and the other guys and I drove and were there by, I don’t know, 3 p.m. or so on Sunday. And all of us over here in England, we caught flights that night at 10 o’clock coming here. The other guys did what they could do during the week to just keep everything drained and everything. I’m sure you saw they did the whole operation with the sand and everything on Saturday morning, and they’re in the process of doing basically the same thing all over again up in San Francisco right now. It hasn’t been the most fun two weeks by any means, but we’re doing it.

  • Winkler still rides... Two-strokes!
So, with all of those people, it sounds like it wasn’t like anybody had to stay up for 35 hours or anything like that...
Not that long, but we’ve been having to leave the guys that were there for the Monster Truck show on location to help with the supercross, instead of sending them on to the next city, and then we send the supercross guys on down to help them out down in San Diego a little later in the week when they got a break in their weather. Basically, we were in three cities that week, and four cities this week, and we just had to basically forget about who was where and just send the guys back and forth whenever we got a window in the weather to work.

All the riders were raving about the track at Anaheim. I know you can’t really judge your success or failure solely on their opinions, but that has to make you feel good, doesn’t it? I’m sure all you usually hear is bitching about it...
Oh, hell yeah it makes us feel good. I mean, our guys, they’re still into this. They’re fans. Particularly some of the younger guys. They really take it to heart when Chad [Reed] or some of the other guys make some real nasty comment about the track. Some of the guys are really crushed by it. I know a lot of that is just emotion at the moment or whatever, but whatever they don’t like, it’s never for a lack of trying. That’s what I always get tweaked about, when I see internet folks or the riders or whatever saying that we’re just going through the motions – like we just half-assed it in there because we didn’t care – and that’s so wrong. And that’s not only untrue of our guys, but even Prater’s guys. Everybody that’s there wants to be there, and they’re giving 110 percent. So, yeah, it’s gratifying when it’s so glaringly obvious that it came out well. San Francisco is a good example, because the dirt we use there is a lot more porous to begin with, so you know it’s going to be more of a struggle to keep it dry, no matter how much sand or whatever we mix with it. We’re lucky in Anaheim that the dirt itself has such a high clay content that it kind of doesn’t want to percolate water through it as bad as some places would, you know? But we’ll see. I’ve always been happy with the condition of San Francisco by the time the race goes off, and in all the years we’ve been there, we’ve never had more than about a 24-hour period to get it ready. That one in particular, I’ve read things on the internet already where people are saying the track looks kind of simplistic, and they don’t put enough jumps in there, and meanwhile, every single year we’ve been there, we’ve built the whole track in less than one day. Sometimes, you feel like asking people, “Did you think we were going to bring in 10,000 yards [of dirt] instead of 6000 and build something that’s very technical and time-consuming to build in such a short time?”

It’s also less to repair as the rain beats down on it...
I think the riders finally got it, but years ago you used to get a lot of belly-aching about Phoenix, that it was kind of big and fast compared to some of the others, and I’d be like, “Look at the stadium! The stadium’s like half again as big as anywhere we go, and we have this really sandy dirt!” If we were to make a track as busy and as technical as Indy or St. Louis, first off we’d run out of dirt about halfway through a job, and second of all, that type of dirt would be so blown to pieces... With the stadium that big and that type of dirt, it cries out to be the one that’s a bit bigger and faster. It’s funny how sometimes things that are so obvious to us become so controversial to others. I’ve been really stoked with what we were able to do these past couple of weeks. In addition to the supercrosses, we’ve been putting Monster Trucks in and out of these same stadiums and the same conditions, so they’ve been really kicking butt.

I’ve talked to some former riders, and even some current ones, and the one thing they’ve told me that makes sense to me is that opening up the turns a bit would help with passing.
Opening them up in what way?

For example, taking out the last jump going into the turn, so that riders can land and get on the gas and pick a line. If the guy in front of them is going wide, they can go inside, or if the guy in front is going inside, they can go wide and square them up.
So actually move the turns farther away from the last obstacle.

  • Anaheim I, 2010
  • Phoenix, 2010
  • Anaheim II, 2010
Right. So is that something you guys have explored in your track designs?
We’ve increased jump distances already. In the two-stroke days, the first obstacle was generally only 10 feet in or out of the corner. We’ve increased that in most cases to 16. What we were looking for was the opposite, because there was a time with two-strokes that there was an inside line a lot where the people didn’t use the berm, but four-strokes don’t like that at all, so we’ve kind of given up on that. But I will agree with you with coming into the corners. I don’t think it hurts anything to take out that last jump, and it probably would add to the racing if you could move the turn farther off the last obstacle. Coming out of the turn, though, there’s a point where you sacrifice rhythm by moving the turn out from the jumps. The more run you give them at the first obstacle, the more likely they are to all do the same thing. They’ll all be able to triple. I would hesitate to change that. But it makes sense and I think it would be something worth trying coming into the turns, but probably not coming out of them.

I think you may be right coming out of the turns, because the other problem is that if you’re seat-bouncing the first obstacle, if you had more of a run, you may be hitting it faster and standing up, which would change your trajectory and could actually make the rhythm section more dangerous, too.
Look at a section like that little section right before the finish line at A1. The 450s were all pretty much capable of tripling onto that table-top and stepping off, but even then, they had to get it just right. But for the 250s, that was actually a really cool section, because it was about 50/50. That was working exactly as it should, and if we’d have given them even six more feet, every one of them would’ve been able to triple onto that tabletop, and it would’ve taken that second option away completely. But going in, it’s definitely worth trying, and coming out, I’ve got to look at it a little harder.

Thanks for calling me back for this interview from England.
Thank you.
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