Off the beaten track - and then some. That's where Ridgecrest is. Since we can't go to every race of every series, we're forced to cherry pick during the season, and thus far, we've sat out MDR's Ridgecrest round. We're not the only ones. MDR California Championship Series racers can throw away their worst race when the season points are tallied, so many choose to sit out Ridgecrest and keep all the points collected at the MDR races in Barstow and Lucerne. Searching for new scenery this year, we made the drive up the 395 to Ridgecrest, California.
State Highway 395 slices through some of California's most open areas on its way from Hesperia through the eastern Sierras and finally to the populated communities around Lake Tahoe. Most of the time it has only two lanes, which means that if you need to pass, you'll need good judgment, a heavy right foot, and a healthy engine. Get stuck in a lineup behind a slow-moving semi, and you'll have little choice but to settle in and wait for a chance to get around the sluggish behemoth.
Although off the beaten track, Ridgecrest itself is home to all of the amenities and creature comforts that suburbanites demand when deciding what's "civilized" and what's not. Motels, restaurants, shops, theaters, medical care, and car dealerships are all found in Ridgecrest. Smoggy air isn't. One caveat: Don't be too picky, because the closest alternatives are in Bakersfield, Barstow, and Palmdale, each a few hours' drive away. Once in town, we quickly crashed out for the night in a clean, well-kept, reasonably priced room.
Race morning dawned cool and crisp, the mercury rising in tune with the sun's ascent. For spectators and photographers, shorts, T-shirts, Gatorade, and shade were the way to go. Racers had to be, well, racers: prepared and willing to deal with whatever the terrain, weather, and the competition threw at them for 200 miles.
The cut-and-dried numbers for the 2006 MDR Ridgecrest 200 were 53 entries, 42 starters, and 21 finishers. The 34-mile course within the Spangler Hills OHV area had it all: dust, rocks, hills, sand, and whoops. Adding to the course's treachery were whoop sections that degenerated into nasty Supercross-style moguls, and rock after big-screen-sized rock waiting for those who strayed from the course in the dust.
Why bother? Early-season races often attract 100-plus racers. With less than half of that crossing the starting line at Ridgecrest, there's a great opportunity to race on a relatively uncrowded course. There's also less chance of carnage due to nerfing or other race-traffic-related mishaps, so there's another great opportunity to run a successful race and get to the finish line under the time limit. The uncrowded course means that rather than a throwaway race, Ridgecrest presents a chance to make up valuable points and close the season points gap between you and your nearest competitor. Finally, Ridgecrest offers a change of scenery, and the scenery is really good!