| November 1, 2022
It was a perfect day for motorcycle racing in Fenton, Illinois over the weekend of October 29-30 for the 47th running of the classic off-road event now simply known as The Race. , aka Illinois Cross Country Championship.
History and photos of John Gasso
About 250 runners participated over the two days of racing for the race which was once referred to as “America’s Tuffest Race”. Sunday’s main race was a 35-mile loop through fields, woods, streams and logs in the area surrounding The Bike Barn in Fenton. Since the loop was a bit shorter than in previous years, it was decided that the pro band should do three laps instead of the traditional two circuits on this challenging compilation of some of the toughest tracks Bill Gusse could string together. It just wouldn’t be fair if the race wasn’t over 100 miles.
A shotgun blast just after 10:00 a.m. sent the front row on its way. After soaring over a giant expanse of freshly harvested cornfields, riders dropped into the woods for a challenging combination of everything from narrow track, creek crossings and fields to an obstacle affectionately referred to simply as “the log.” This log has been an obstacle for many seasoned veteran riders, and the Pro group would cross it three times. Just after 3:00 p.m., the GasGas 350 ridden by Jhak Walker completed the final loop through the motocross track to take the overall victory.
Walker, from the Springfield, Illinois area, rode his brother’s GasGas and beat many seasoned off-road racers. “It was a really nice win,” said the 16-year-old. “I’m super pumped to do it. It was really good. I just carried on well. I did my best and came with it to win.
“I got off to a really good start,” he added. “I was probably top three in the woods. So me, Tanner [Whipple]foal [Zuidema]Easton [Morgan] and TJ [Nees] were all together the first round. In the second round, it was me and Tanner. And then I was leading, I tipped over and Tanner passed me. I followed him and we did most of the second lap together. About a quarter of the third round he lost his head [pipe]. Then I brought it home for the win.
Walker said he was happy to follow Tanner Whipple for much of the race. “I think it was a lot better to follow him,” Walker said, “because he’s got a lot better with the line picks. I liked following him, and he’s so fluid.
“I had a great day,” Whipple said. “I had fun all day. I put myself in a good position. I had 30-45 seconds on Jhak. It was then time to move on to the final round. Then we started and it happened. My pipe came off. I made the mistake of thinking my race was over. I didn’t think I could cross Rock Creek without destroying the bike. I also turned around and tried to catch [the pipe], and I realized that it was quite warm. Then I came back and pulled out my phone, called [my dad] to see if I could cross Rock Creek. He told me to go.
Losing precious time and admittedly a bit of confidence, Whipple persevered with his injured Kawasaki. “I’m just pretty disappointed,” he said. “I should have continued instead of thinking my day was over. Overall it was a good day. Jhak rode absolutely amazing. Even if I had a header he still could have had me.
Local racer Easton Morgan completed the podium aboard his family-supported Fly Racing G2 KTM. Morgan had a bit of a rocky start and a weird mid-race event, but overall he was happy with his third-place finish.
“It was pretty tough,” Morgan said. “I kind of screwed up from the start. I didn’t put myself in a very good position leaving the barn, and just tried to catch up on that first lap. About three quarters into the course I caught Walker and Whipple.
After catching the lead pair, Morgan thought his bike had exploded when it came to a stop in a field. “I don’t know how it happened,” he said. “Near the barn, my gas went out. So, crossing the field, he just died. I thought I had it locked. I looked around me and saw that the gas had cut off. I activated it, but by the time I figured that out, I was pretty far behind. I never really saw them again.
Morgan also wanted to thank the father of a local rider who helped him out of a tight spot near the end of the race. “I would like to thank Kris Nees for pulling me out of the last creek crossing at the turkey farm,” Morgan said. “I buried it pretty badly, so thanks to Kris.”
- Jhak Walker (GG)
- Tanner Whipple (Kaw)
- Easton Morgan (KTM)
- Colton Zuidema (KTM)
- TJ Nees (KTM)
- Tommy Fortune Jr. (KTM)
- Tyson Emery (yam)
- Bryan Johnson (Kaw)
- Jarrett Ruchotzke (KTM)
- Adam Bonneur (yam)
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