Motocross opens Rally racing slate

Jace Jones and Brayden Eagle complete a lap during a 250B heat race. Pioneer photo by Jason Gross

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STURGIS — Thomas Pietz and Alexis Vandenburg relax in the pits at Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club before Sunday’s motocross races. The two — each in their first year of competition — were among those racing at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally for the first time.

Pietz is an 18-year-old from Pierre who entered the Open C and 250C classes. Vandenburg, a 12-year-old from Bismarck, N.D., raced in Women’s Open and 85C classes.

Motocross racing for Pietz began last year. He started working for a Yamaha-Polaris dealer who offered him a type of sponsorship.

“I raced their bike and kind of just race all over the state now,” Pietz said.

Motocross basics of using the clutch, and shifting, were the easiest things for Pietz to learn. He rode motorcycles and other vehicles before making the switch to motocross.

“Having the two wheels underneath you — and not four like on a four-wheeler or something — was kind of difficult to get the hang of learning and cornering and such,” Pietz said.

Motocross differs from other racing in that a racer is shoulder-to-shoulder with 20 others on a line, Pietz said. He added the racers can bump into one another. Jumps, loops, and other variables enter the picture.

What has Pietz enjoyed the most in his short time as a motocross racer?

“It’s kind of a closed community, almost,” he said. “You see a lot of the same people go to the same races.

“You kind of get to know each other. There’s usually no bad blood involved,” he added.

The biggest challenge for Pietz is having the required endurance for motocross. He said this can pose a bit of difficulty is a person is not used to it.

Pietz talked about a desire to work on his cornering at the Jackpine Gypsies track Sunday.

“This is a good track for cornering,” he said. “It’s got a lot of sweeping turns.”

Future goals for Pietz include continuing to improve, and hopefully going to some out-of-state events.

Pietz’s first motocross race was a 2016 indoor race in Rapid City. He said an indoor track is shorter and more technical than an outdoor track.

His first exposure to the Jackpine Gypsies track occurred a month ago, and he has high praise for it.

“It’s probably one of the better tracks in the state, I think,” Pietz said. He added it does not have too many jumps but is different because it sort of goes into a mountain.

Pietz also enjoys the long start that goes up the hill and not straight into a corner. His bike of choice is a 2008 YZ 250.

Race day finds Pietz trying to stay cool, calm, and collected. He keeps himself busy by checking every detail of his bike, and this is usually when his mind gets into racing.

“If I think about it (racing) too much, I psyche myself out,” Pietz said.

The biggest highlight of Pietz’s brief motocross career has been increasing his competitive level. He recalled being “that guy that got in the way” when starting out.

Pietz has raced on four or five different tracks this year. He feels like he is executing more jumps and getting more technical.

He competes in the South Dakota Motocross Association circuit and is in the middle of the standings. Next season’s goals include getting towards the top of that list.

“You’ve got to know when to keep going, when to keep pushing yourself, and when to back off,” Pietz said in describing a motocross racer’s mentality. “It’s not worth hurting someone or yourself getting hurt.”

Vandenburg goes by the nickname “Fuss” while racing and started in the sport one year ago.

“It’s fun, and I like being competitive,” she said in describing motocross appeal to her. She agreed she likes to ride motorcycles every chance she gets, and jumping poses the biggest challenge.

Vandenburg’s first time at the Jackpine Gypsies track came during Saturday’s practice day. “It’s rocky in spots, and then you’ll hit spots that are really dry and powdery,” she said.

She has raced in about 15 events this year, including Millville (Minn.). This is an AMA track on which the professionals race. Finishing the Girls’ Junior class was a season highlight for her.

Her goals for Sunday had “not crashing” at the top of the list. She recalled crashing three times on Saturday’s practice runs.

The day of a race finds Vandenburg receiving advice from her father regarding what to change on the track. That includes standing up more, going faster on a straightaway, and other items.

She said she would like to continue in this sport until she gets too old to race.

Available results from Sunday’s first heat races follow.

Vet A

1 Troy Barry (Piedmont, S.D.)

2 Luke Bestgen (Whitewood, S.D.)

3 Mitch Feterl (Spearfish, S.D.)

Vet B

1 Mike Miner (Evansville, Wyo.)

2 Mike Schaeffer (Rapid City, S.D.)

3 Randy Schwartzs (Rapid City, S.D.)

85 Open

1 Dylan Vanderlaan (Rapid City, S.D.)

2 Ethan Specht (Hemingford, Neb.)

3 Tate Eaton (St. Onge, S.D.)

65 (ages 6-8)

1 Tanner Engesser (Rapid City, S.D.)

2 Crayten Roberts (Canton, S.D.)

3 River Vandenburg (Bismarck, N.D.)

65 (ages 9-12)

1 Harley Mcdonald (Scranton, Iowa)

2 Marek Manke (Belle Fourche, S.D.)

3 Eli Correlius (Lead, S.D.)

50 (ages 7-8)

1 Tanner Engesser (Rapid City, S.D.)

2 Crayten Roberts (Canton, S.D.)

3 River Vandenburg (Bismarck, N.D.)


1 Harris Huizenga (Bismarck, N.D.)

2 Austin Painter (Rapid City, S.D.)

3 Greg Hermansen (Rapid City, S.D.)

Racing action continues at the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club on Monday. The Pro-Am Hillclimb gets underway at 10 a.m., with the Pearl Hoel Memorial Outlaw Short Track event scheduled for 7 p.m.

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