Our man Jason Thomas loves Budds Creek—it was the sight of his career-best fifth overall in the 450MX back in 2006. One of the unique things about the track is that speed can be gained in subtle ways. While some tracks reward bigger jumps or bigger cojones, Budds can be mastered with more nuanced techniques, like small changes in line choice or technique.
This becomes even more critical during a weekend when weather is a factor. It rained in the days before this week's GEICO Motorcycle Budds Creek National, and while the track was fixed up and dry by Saturday's motos, there was still some mud off to the side of the track. Conditions changed quite a bit as the day progressed, only adding to the importance of finding good lines, and then changing them throughout the race.
JT watched the races this past weekend and then grabbed some pics to illustrate the subtle ways riders go fast at that track—it's stuff so small, you needs still photos to see it.
Blake Baggett is in what looks to be the uphill headed toward the tower. This used to be the finish line section in years past and made for some great last ditch pass attempts. With the heavy rains on Thursday and Friday, the track was very soft on the outer edges of the track. The MX Sports crew did a great job of moving the mud off of the race line allowing for good racing all day. In this photo, you can see the outside of the track is still a bit muddy and the berm is pushing out to that edge. Baggett was jumping deep into the corner from the previous rise and railing the outside berm to carry speed up the tower hill. The challenge here is to not get too aggressive and bury the bike into that outside berm and kill all of that speed. With so much traction, the ideal technique is to stay just underneath that soft outer berm. He is going to meet up with the end of this berm as a guide but he is changing his turn angle here. Instead of entering the berm and making a hard, near 90-degree turn in the soft dirt, he turned a bit early. That allowed him to miss the muddier outside which would have bogged down all of his corner speed. He is driving hard across the perfect dirt just underneath and accelerating much more quickly than if he had drifted only a couple of more feet to the left. This is a subtle move that only changed his line by 2-3 feet, but he gained valuable time by simply changing his angle. When people ask how elite level pro riders go so fast, this is a prime example. It’s not always about scrubbing past your rivals in spectacular fashion—speed is in the subtleties.
Another note about this corner: As a turn like this will dry out, this approach will change. The line that Baggett is in will slowly become hard packed and lose its perfect traction. In turn, the outside will firm up a bit and allow more acceleration into and through the berm. Knowing when the inside has lost its edge and when the outside becomes ideal is learned through experience and that knowledge is invaluable throughout a race day. Just because a line was fast that morning doesn’t mean it’s still fast that afternoon. Always be on the lookout for developing lines.
Christian Craig’s style and technique is almost always picture perfect. He is doing everything exactly right in this photo. His inside leg is lifted high, keeping it out of the way. It also acts as a rudder in case he loses front-end traction or things go sideways. His lean angle of both head and body are perfectly in line with his CRF450R. His outside elbow is up in the attack position. Also, notice where his eyes are focused. He is looking toward the end of the turn, not directly in front of him. “Looking ahead” is a phrase you’ll hear at any motocross school, but it can’t be emphasized enough. You won't have time to react to things directly in front of you anyway.
Then there’s this. Take all of the things I said about Christian Craig’s photo above and turn up the volume.
Saturday afternoons be like…
J-Mart and Osborne
This photo is a great depiction of how Budds Creek shapes up. Jeremy Martin and Zach Osborne are descending Henry Hill into the sweeping right at the bottom. Generally, the fastest line is to blitz down the line that Martin is in, hop across the bump and carry as much speed as possible through the inside of the turn. This is the shortest distance through the section and therefore the ideal line. The difficulty comes in as the bumps become bigger and sharper. Those bumps force riders to slow down, opening an opportunity for the outside line to work. Osborne is on the outside and will be on the outside all the way through the next turn. He is covering much more distance than J-Mart will but he will also be able to carry more speed through the smoother (less used) line. Most times, Osborne won’t be able to make a pass in this situation as Martin will control the inside and block any chance. Following Martin guarantees that a pass won’t happen so Osborne is doing the right thing here. Worst case, he applies added pressure to Martin and ends up right on his back wheel.
Another interesting aspect of this downhill is how the lines have evolved. Most of the lines are straight down the hill and were formed in the early morning mud. As the dirt hardens, opportunities arise, though. Notice the line in between Osborne and Martin that is cut diagonally. This line was originally cut in by riders heading to the outside of the turn a la Osborne. At some point, one of the riders saw an opportunity to use that smoother downhill line and then cut across to the inside. This line utilizes the best of both worlds. The line on descent is smoother and allows more speed (because it hasn’t been used as much) and the last second switch puts the rider in the shortest line around the inside. I would bet that this is how Martin approached this downhill on this lap. So many riders lock into one line for the entire moto (I was horrible with this) and never look for the emerging fast line. It’s critical to stay aware during the race and continue to look for faster lines and approaches. Just because a line wasn’t viable that morning doesn’t mean it won’t be the fastest line that afternoon.