Testing in the sand is crucial for feeling comfortable on race day. The bike has to be adjusted for the rolling sand bumps and deep holes that Southwick offers up. Generally, the consensus is to stiffen the setting while also slowing down the rebound. The deep sand wants to drag the suspension down and it tends to ride lower in the stroke than on hardpack. To combat this, stiffening up the compression will keep it in a higher stroke position, therefore preparing the suspension to handle impending bumps. There aren't many worse feelings that approaching a huge braking bump when your forks are already compressed to the bottom of the stroke. This is a recipe for a big crash and is a guarantee for someone's Saturday. Slowing down the rebound is also key as the bumps at Southwick are typically longer and more round, versus the sharp, square edged bumps found at many of the previous rounds. If the shock rebound is too fast, you will see the common "swap" going down the rough straightaways and entering the turns. The shock is rebounding too quickly for the rhythm of the bumps and in improper position to handle the next bump. All of this can be perfected in testing time leading up to the race and is of huge importance as the track disintegrates into a sea of sand whoops.
Southwick provides a unique set of challenges to the riders.
Andrew Fredrickson photo
Feeling comfortable in the sand is something that comes with practice. It's no secret why the local guys have always excelled at Southwick and will continue to. They ride Southwick many times during the year and practice in the sand constantly. It is an art form that legends of the sport like Doug Henry and John Dowd have long mastered. Finding the rhythm of the sand and carrying endless momentum are things that are learned over thousands of laps. For those that weren't raised in sand track regions, finding somewhere to get a week or two of preparation is a must. It is very easy to spot who hasn't spent any time in the sand when they head out onto the track. Methods like squaring up the turns, sliding the rear brake and the like have no place in proper sand riding. In fact, touching the brakes at all is frowned upon. Flowing around the track in an endless arc from one turn to the next is how sand riding is drawn up. While easier said than done, watching some of the locals out in practice Saturday morning will lend a peek into how it's meant to be done.
The last key to Southwick is proper rest and hydration. June in Massachusetts can be a hot and humid affair. While not blistering every year, we have seen this race offer inhospitable temperatures in recent memory. The 2005 edition was one for the ages as most of the riders ended up getting IV's from the Asterisk medical unit after the race ended. Many didn't even finish the motos with heat exhaustion symptoms. Hopefully the 2013 edition won't be as torturous but making sure you are hydrated to the maximum and resting a little more than usual can help. Riders will drink electrolyte rich drinks such as Pedialyte and even get IV's on Friday to guarantee they are as prepared as possible. With rigorous training programs continuing throughout the summer, it is a constant battle to regain all important fluids before each Saturday.
Testing in the sand is crucial for feeling comfortable on race day, says Jason Thomas.
Andrew Fredrickson photo
For many of the challenges that Southwick presents, it is too late to make a large difference. There are things you can do to help reduce the harsh reality that Moto-X 338 will reign down upon 80 of America's best racers on Saturday. Southwick is one of those races where the strongest succeed. It's impossible to fake hard work and hard work tends to shine through in the sands of southern Mass. It is a throwback race to the hard men of motocross and if it is indeed the last year of this great tradition, I hope everyone racing feels privileged to be a part of it.