The Evolution of Hatch
The cousins Hatch do the 2003 Dirt Rider 24 hour at Glen Helen.
The plan came to me while basking in the blue glow of the TV while watching dirt bike racing late one night.
I would head to the bustling Hatch Illustration studios the next morning and fire off a polite e-mail to Ken Faught, the Editor of Dirt Rider magazine. I would kindly ask for permission to attend the upcoming annual Dirt Rider 24-Hour event, a day-long flog of man and machine with a cast of thousands reading like the Who's Who On Motorcycles. The e-mail came back immediately and the answer was "Yes you are welcome but you will have to bring your own bikes". Plan in motion I invited my cousin from my home state of New Jersey to fly out and enjoy the star-studded event with me. Then I started calling in dirt bike markers. Hmmm, Burns is an easy touch...
My cousin Craig was a major influential factor in forming my lifelong obsession with motorcycles and ultimately my vehicle-based illustration career. When I was a young kid a visit to his house was magical, with the garage always filled with the latest motocross hardware, gear and parts strewn everywhere. I would stand in the doorway just staring in awe. Back home my pull-start Briggs and Stratton powered mini-bike just didn't cut it anymore in the woods of Northern Jersey. Craig and family answered my prayers when they unexpectedly showed up one morning with a brand new, beat-to-death, eight-year-old Honda CT-70 tied to the back of the family truckster. This very bike would launch a lifetime of riding and an endless stream of bikes for Both Craig and myself (several of which Hatch actually bought--Ed.). Despite the fact that both of us have been riding our entire lives, we have never had the chance to ride together.
This event was just the catalyst to get cousin to California and make it happen. Me in my mid 30s and Craig in his 40s, we weren't getting any younger. This was it.
Invite secured, Cuz on the plane, one problem left, "Bring your own bike." I have my own trusty Yamaha WR-400 but needed another ride. A call to my buddy the influential John P. Burns would lead me to a beautiful brand new Yamaha YZ-450F; we had hoped to be able to report on the new 250F, but dirt bikes are hard to come by and this spankin' new bike would definitely do. The plan was to meet Johnny boy at Elsinore MX track, ride a few laps and transfer the big YZ back to Hatch HQ. Having had the great fortune of attending the YZ launch in Texas earlier in the year I was somewhat familiar with the monster YZ. The Vet track at Elsinore was just my speed and I had a blast chasing younger Sprog Burns and Street Boy Johnny, when John was actually moving that is--but JB will have to tell you about that part.
Ordinarily I know better than to ride dirt bikes, but I've had this little Yamaha TT-R125L for a year or two now, which I've been riding almost weekly in pursuit of the man-cub at the local "MX Park," and so how different could the 450F be? Certainly bigger and more powerful, but now that my moto-hair plugs have somewhat taken root, how tough could it be eh?
The difference has to be like transitioning from Piper Cub to F-16. I know I'm not in great shape, but are you telling me Hatch is? Look at the man. Mainly the problem is I'm too short. I know you need the eight feet of suspension travel for landings, given this thing's remarkable vertical leap, but I for one would sacrifice a little suspension travel in exchange for not feeling like Hannibal crossing the Alps aboard an elephant. I love throwing my TT-R on its side into corners, but that definitely ain't happening for me on the 450, mainly because the ground is so far away. And I'm sure I'd learn not to stall the thing with practice, but every time I got sort of going in my brief interlude with the bike, I would stall it. It's remarkably easy to start, hot or cold, but in order to do so I would first have to push it to a berm or a stump or a crate to stand atop in order to start it again.
What a fantastic motor. When I think Yamaha single, I'm thinking about my old SRX-6 (XT600 to you dirt people). It's hard to think these two engines sprang from the same loins. Apparently the thing revs beyond 11,000-some rpm, but it starts shredding knobs at about 250 rpm in this massive wave of torque, aided I suppose by gearing that tops out at what? 80 mph maybe? It's like riding some bellowing tyrannosaur through the underbrush in a Jurassic Park movie.
Anyway, by the time I'm on it and moving, I'm already tired. Stall it once, push, climb back on in these big stupid boots, restart, I'm really tired... I can do like half-a-lap and I have to rest. I tried to "break through the wall" once, and was too weak to roll off the throttle approaching this one big jump. I thought for a moment I was going to jump completely out of Lake Elsinore MX Park. My eyes mos' popped out de sockets. Amazingly, though, the bike acted as if that was the first thing I'd done all day that remotely approached its capability. I think it needs a bigger track, preferably one with guest docks every couple of turns I can pull up to to rest.
After all those years kicking Hatch's butt on paved tracks, he has his revenge. Not for long, though. I am quite certain I can take his WR400 on my TT-R125 at the vet track. Yes, quite. Bring it on Hatchquatch.
Fresh from the airport, truck laden with Cousin Craig, two bikes and gear, etc., down we headed from the Santa Barbara magic garden through the burning flipped cars and general carnage that is Tuesday morning rush hour in Los Angeles, finally pulling into Glen Helen fairly early. We cleared the alert Orange entrance gate and slipped into a spot at the end of the pits. The truck next to us was none other than the great 500 GP champ Kevin Schwantz--whose school I also got to write about for MO, putting on his gear next to a brand new Suzuki RM, most appropriate. Walking around to the back of the truck I spotted the Hayden Brothers suiting up just feet from our rig, next to them the staff from MX Racer. This was going to be a great day indeed.
Geared up we headed over to the massive Dunlop rig to check our tire pressure. The crew was very helpful and made us feel like we were factory for a day but without the chance to win appliances. A stop at the Yamaha truck to make some adjustments reinforced the feeling as we headed onto the MX track.
Craig immediately pulled away on the big YZ, further demonstrating his well-deserved 125-250 Pro expert status and over 20 years of moto experience. I spotted a yellow flash hurtling by with the graceful style that could only be Kev Schwantz. Now I have had the opportunity to follow him on the street and in the dirt. Cruising around Glen Helen trying to learn the track we proceeded over what seemed like an endless parade of tabletops. I slowly followed Craig over what appeared to be just another table but it was actually a double jump, a realization which hit me as I was hanging motionless in no-man's land smack between the double humps and falling like a stone, no harm done, now I know. The track was an abbreviated version of the National track, and the giant uphill loop was closed off, although the downhill portion of that loop was rumored to be part of a special section. We hit a few more laps on the famed track and prepared for the storied Ten-mile mountain loop.