Ah, the joys of the Sumter National Enduro. This long, twisting, tight and sometimes rough trek through the South Carolina woods is one of the most popular enduro events in the country. 2020 would mark the 51st running of this legendary event, and over the past decade and a half or so it has become a staple on the National Enduro Series. Since the rebirth of the National Enduro Series in 2007, utilizing the restart format, Sumter has been a National event more times than it hasn’t been and it was ran as a traditional timekeeper in the old-style National Enduro Series quite a few times as well. When you’re talking about the modern-day restart version of the National Enduro Series this was actually the 10th since 2007 time Sumter has hosted the opening round of the National Enduro Series with it’s only “off years” coming in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2014. A couple of those off years were actually even still scored by NEPG as a test run for their season, and all of those still drew a huge crowd!
For me personally, I’ve only missed one running of the Sumter National Enduro since 2007 and that came back in 2015. I haven’t raced every single one of those; a couple of times I shot video, plus I’ve ridden sweep and worked checks a few times as well. But the past two years I’ve signed up the second that pre-entry opened and have gotten really great rows. In 2019 I was row 11 and this year I landed row 15. For me, both of these are absolute perfect rows because I’ve decided to approach this event with the mindset of just going out and having fun riding my dirt bike. I say that because I stepped up to an A class at local events several years ago, just to try to avoid hurting folks racing for points. This means I’m stuck racing an A class at a National-level as well because, despite what anyone tells you, if you’ve ever raced an A class anywhere at anytime, you’re in the A class for life; short of filing an appeal with the AMA. So, at 8pm back on January 8th I was sitting at my laptop ready to go. I pre-entered Sumter, requested row 15 and landed exactly what I asked for.
Fast forward to February 1st and I anxiously woke up at 3am, loaded my bike and began the drive down to Sumter. When I lived back home in North Carolina, Sumter was only about a three hour trip and that’s taking your time. From up in Morgantown, WV its closer to eight hours but leaving early ensured I got there at a good time to hang out, catch up with folks, and of course get a good parking spot. Lollipop, who helps us out on the GNCC Track Crew at the southern events, had plenty of room by his camper to store my bike for the night and as always was super hospitable with whatever I needed. Food, drinks, somewhere warm to sit down, he’s got it all in that camper! I spent Saturday milling around and catching up with some folks, which I don’t get a chance to do very often at the GNCCs because I’m so busy working. Finally, late in the afternoon it was time to pack things in and head to town.
My buddies Rob Mitchell and Darrin Chapman were there to cover the event on video and photo, and both were going to stay in my hotel room so I had the bright idea to ride with Rob to town in order to save my parking spot. We slayed Buffalo Wild Wings, picked up some supplies from that hellhole known as Wal-Mart and headed to the hotel. By then, we figured it had to be well after 9pm…. It was 7:30. So, we all lounged around the hotel room chatting like a bunch of middle school girls having a sleepover. We even had a pillow fight and played truth or dare! Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration but my point here is that coming to the races is even more than just enjoying time on the bike but it’s also all about enjoying your time with buddies you don’t see every day.
Sunday morning we headed to the track early, and with me being on row 15 I knew I’d better be prepared to get started early… Keytime is 9am, so that means I was taking off at 9:15. I walked over to the NEPG trailer early in the morning and sat my watch to match the keytime. I think it was 7:08 when I started that process, so I had to do some time calculations and set my watch to 6:54 and reset the seconds counter when the keytime clock rolled over to 7:09. It required math, which I’m not a big fan of but math involving dirt bikes is way cooler, so I can’t complain. I ended up waiting around and listened to the riders meeting, which started a hair before 8:30 and went fairly quick, but once it was over I realized I only had about 30 minutes to walk back to the truck, change into riding gear, get my bike warmed up and get to the start. Well, as it turns out I only needed about 15 minutes to do all of that because as I rolled up to the start the first row was just then taking off.
As we were getting lined up and ready, I caught up with Jared Smith, who was also riding on my row. I met Jared quite a few years ago when he was doing a full season of GNCC, and rode with him a bit in Florida a couple of years ago while I was sweeping the GNCC event. He told me he’d let me go, and if he wanted by he’d just yell. I told him I was just there for a trail ride and I wasn’t trying to go fast so I’d be glad to let him by! I knew he would be the perfect guy to partner up with for the day… This is a little thing I like to do at enduros where I find a rider on my row I’m comfortable riding with and just try to pace them, or just simply stay ahead of them and he was my guy. We rode a fast little transfer trail off the start from the pit area, which leads you over to the “real” start of the first section. Having ridden Sumter so many times, and even helping the club out in the past I knew what to expect from each section as anything that’s been used before I pretty well remember. What I didn’t remember in the first section was how to ride my dirt bike. We had six riders on our row, and off the start of the first section we let three of them go and I headed in ahead of Jared. He followed me for quite a while but I started making stupid little mistakes and stupid little line choices and starting getting caught by the numerous super fast guys and girls on the rows behind us.
I pulled over at one point to let a faster rider by and told Jared to go ahead too. I figured I’d follow him for a while because he rides really well and giving me the opportunity to chase someone sounded good. Well, that pull over resulted in me further forgetting how to ride my bike. This lasted pretty much the entire 10 mile first section. Section two started out similar. I actually let Jared go ahead of me on this one and followed him for a while but once again started making stupid little mistakes. Somewhere towards the latter half of the second section I finally remembered how to ride at actually caught back up to Jared and he let me by. I paced some faster riders for a bit here and there but also finally just settled in and remembered I was here for a great trail ride to get me back in shape for the upcoming GNCC season. I had a funny moment in that section too. I came into an area that I knew exactly where I was. I told myself that in about a mile I was going to see Rob, Darrin, plus Shan Moore and Daniel Engle. Well, I rounded a corner and could see a road through the trees and knew this was it. Sure enough, when I looked ahead there those guys were catching the action. It’s just funny to me that I knew exactly where those guys were gonna be, just based off riding this course so many times!
I took off into section three with a little more confidence, and the mentality of keeping this whole thing fun. I got into a really, super duper tight section and as I was coming into it I heard some of the super fast riders behind me coming. It was actually Zack Hayes, who ended up on the Pro 2 podium, who had also just caught Rachel Gutish. I found a spot to get out of the way and ducked back in behind them. Somehow, I’m actually pretty good at the super duper tight stuff and was able to follow them for a bit, which was a lot of fun. When section three was complete, we headed back to the pit area for the gas stop. It was actually a pretty quick stop. I just kind of gassed up, grabbed a drink and rolled on to the reset. Sections one through three are good trail but definitely aren’t my favorite sections of Sumter. These are the sections across Highway 261 by Poinsett State Park and while they’re full of good trail, the second half of the event has the trail I like a bit better.
Section four started out with some of the same trail we rode last year, but backwards, before it eventually ran into some newer sections. All of this was really fun and you also picked up a couple of logging roads to give yourself a little break from the tight and twisty trail. One of these was super fast and a little longer than I expected, even making me say to myself “wow, I didn’t know the Daytona 500 was at Sumter!” all kidding aside, it was actually a nice little break and still a lot of fun to ride. When section four ended, we started heading over to section five, which I knew was going to be my favorite one of the day! It was great trail last year and this time they even added to it and cut in a lot of newer trail to it as well. It’s not a wide open section by no means, but it’s a little more open than the other trail you ride at Sumter and is an absolute blast. I really can’t say much about it other than I loved riding section five and I would’ve ridden it twice if I could have!
Once section five was complete, it was onto the final section of the day. Sitting at the reset waiting to go, it finally kind of sunk in that I was getting tired and my clutch hand was a bit sore. I figured I would be really slow because I was getting tired and knew this last section would be bit about just having fun, just trying to finish and just doing it on my own terms. This section had some really fun trail but I went right back to riding really terrible. Just so many little mistakes, and I even once pulled over and just took a little break. After that I just kept riding. Faster guys would catch me, I’d just let them by and roll right back in. Still at a casual trail ride pace I just kept pulling completely out of the way because I didn’t want to hold anyone up. Eventually, I got caught by some guys who hadn’t caught me all day, but that didn’t matter. I was settled in, still riding and still having a blast.
The last three miles seemed to fly by and before I knew it, it was over! I cruised into the final check and headed back to the pits. I loaded my bike up, changed clothes, walked up for a burger and some fries, milled around for a few minutes and then headed home. I made the entire eight hour drive, by myself, Sunday night after riding 65 miles of single track. The last little bit of the drive wasn’t exactly fun but I was still so happy with the entire weekend and just getting the chance to ride my dirt bike that being tired and sore didn’t matter! I ended up 35th out of 45 in the A Open class, was the last rider in class to finish all six sections and finished in the bottom 10 of ALL the A class riders to finish all six sections but those are just numbers in my book. I would put money on the table that I can sit back and say I had the most fun of anyone there. I enjoyed the entire weekend, and results really don’t mean anything to me. Even if I would’ve pushed it and rode as fast as I possibly could, all day long, I probably still would struggle to crack the top 20 in Open A but instead, I got on a really good row, rode some really good trail and had a really good time all weekend long!
Now here comes the part where I say thanks. Big thanks to my wife, Kayla, for supporting my desire to go! She spent the weekend with her family and had a blast as well. I also want to say thanks to the Sumter Enduro Riders and National Enduro Promotions Group for putting on another great event. Thanks to Mike “Lollipop” LaFollette and Hank Mason for taking care of my bike Saturday night and giving me a great place to hangout throughout the weekend. Thanks to my buddies Rob Mitchell and Darrin Chapman for the good times just hanging out and enjoying the weekend’s activities and of course I have to give a big thanks to everyone who makes all of this dirtbike riding stuff go so much easier for me… GNCC Racing, XCGear, ProTech Guards, DP Brakes, COR Moto Graphics, Factory Connection, Appalachian Offroad, Moose Racing, Dunlop, 100%, ODI Grips, and Risk Racing!