Gopher Dunes hosts the best in the country

Jacob Robinson

By Jacob Robinson, Simcoe Reformer

COURTLAND - Round 5 of the Canadian Motorsport Racing Club (CMRC) Pro National at GoPher Dunes had a little something in it for everybody.

The three-day event at the Courtland dirt track provided the pros a chance to start the first event of their eastern leg of the national series with what some call "Canada's toughest track." Fans had the opportunity to see the best in the country up close and personal. And local amateur provincial riders got to line up and race alongside some of the biggest names in racing.

This weekend the dunes saw one of the biggest crowds in the five-year history of the event. The grounds were packed with merchandising tents, photographers, television cameras and bike trailers galore thanks in part to two main reasons.

"According to the number of vehicles that I've seen, it does look like a fabulous turnout," said GoPher Dunes owner Barb Schuster. "Other years, it always seemed we were hindered by the weather. We were always in the middle of a thunderstorm, heat wave or mini-twisters and so on, but the weather here really held out good."

The racing was even better.

Hundreds of people layered the fences on the track to watch the riders try to tame the course.

In the featured MX1 event, Paul Carpenter recovered from several mishaps in the first moto to take the checkered flag in the second.

"This track can definitely kick your butt," he told the crowd at a press conference after the race before thanking his team. "After the first moto (where Carpenter finished 11th) I was not a pleasant person to be around so thank you guys for tolerating me and thanks for helping me and everybody for coming out here today."

Dusty Klatt took the overall top spot with finishes of second and third in the two motos. Kornel Nemeth was second and Colton Facciotti was third, followed by Carpenter in fourth.

In the previous race, a handful of local women took to the track against the pros and faired quite well.

Langton's Shantel DePaepe fought through an arm injury to place 10th overall. Simcoe's Chantel Cook was 12th, Delhi's Christine Boon was 13th and Casondra Greene of Wilsonville finished 14th.

Heidi Cooke won both motos en route to an easy overall victory.

Cook said it's not really about results though, but more about competing against the best in Canada.

"It's a lot harder," she said. "(But) I like being against faster girls, it makes it more fun for me. It doesn't really matter what place I get.

"Watching them race definitely helps me, like watching the way they go into corners and watching the way they go into everything, it definitely makes everything easier."

The biggest difference from the provincial series, which the Norfolk riders compete in, is the length of races. Each moto consists of 20 minutes plus two laps, significantly longer than the 10-15 minutes in the Ontario series. Riding for that long in tough conditions can make for a long day.

"Even my practice, it was more tough than my second moto normally is just because it's the pro day, so the second race was really hard," said Cook, who finished 10th in the first moto.

"It was really, really rough. After the first lap in the second race I was pretty much done."

The track is so challenging that it tends to divide loyalties right down the middle.

"We get both kinds, we get guys that love the track because it's so rough and the endurance factor - it really separates the boys from the men," said Schuster. "There's others that don't like it because they're not used to the whoops and the sand . . . it just depends on the rider."

Regardless of what the final results were, the chance to host riders from all over North America - and even one from Hungary - in the MX1 race puts GoPher Dunes in elite company.

"It just puts us on the podium," said Schuster. "Even local guys, they like to ride at a track that the big pros have raced at, it means a lot. It's like playing hockey at the Air Canada Centre as opposed to your local ice rink, it's the prestige of it."

It certainly worked for one of those local riders.

"I absolutely love coming here, I've been waiting for this since June 1," said Cook.

"I didn't know that I was going to be able to race today with the pros. When I found out I was so excited."