Copper Classic draws many to San Manuel desert

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By Parrish Traweek

Special to the Miner

San Manuel and the Tri-Community have a long history in off road motorcycle riding and racing. There was a time that one in every five homes had either a dirtbike, three wheeler, quad or off road vehicle.

In the late ‘60s, there was a hill climb and off road track in Mammoth wash, the first big wash east of the highway as you enter Mammoth. In the early ‘70s, San Manuel had a sanctioned motocross track that ran several years south of town. It had bleachers an announcing tower and several other structures. Many riders including Carlos Serrano, a rider recently inducted into the Arizona Sport Hall of Fame and a multi time World Grand Prix winner, cut his teeth on the San Manuel Motocross track. The community also has a legacy of local racers with names like Cliff Hagan, the McDade brothers, John Person, Robby Velasquez, Keven Armstrong, Jerry Kyle and many others.

In 1991, the American Desert Racing association (ADRA) held the first long distance desert race in San Manuel. The race was 100 miles long and was a high speed course. The course went east of the town and the majority of it was on Magma property. Just as it is today, these races were staged out of the Gardener Middle School fields. These races went several years and included a few full factory world class riders. Garth Sweetland riding for Factory Husqvarna and later Kawasaki, won the race one year and Dustry Abbott, Factory KTM and now a Kawasaki rider, won the race a few times.

In the early 2000s, the Arizona motorcycle racer association (AMRA) began hosting races here again. These races are much more technical to ride with much slower speeds. The courses now are northwest of town. Through the years, there have been several different formats for the races including an Enduro format where there were several timed sections with transfer sections between and also Hare Scramble format such as was hosted in San Manuel this weekend. This race format has the riders start racing at the drop of the flag until they cross the finish line.

This year there were several classes racing. The AA class in the professionals used Blue number plates with white numbers; the A class, expert, used red number plates with white numbers; the B class is intermediate and they used yellow number plates with white numbers; and the C class is beginner, using green number plates with white numbers. Each class is broken down by either age or the size of the motorcycle.

To start the race each rider lines up in a row with the class and group they are in. The fastest groups start first and it works down from there. This year there was a one minute separation between row starts. Officials reported that there were over 30 rows with 152 riders not including minicycles. The course this year was approximately 28 miles long which included lots of rocks, single track trails, two track roads, sand washes and a last lap special section for all A and B riders that went down a waterfall. Speed average was around 20 mph with some long 80 mph plus straights. And lots of cactus. The average overall lap time was around 1.2 hour.

The local riders had an advantage, although there is a rule about no pre-riding the course two weeks prior to the race. This allows the track crew to make changes without anyone knowing. The AA, A, and B riders were required to ride three laps and the C riders rode two laps.

As the race progresses the course gets rougher. Large braking bumps or whoops not unlike large wash board on a dirt road form, which really makes it tough. In a race like this the racers are looking for three results. First, riders want to do well in their class. Second, riders want to place well in their division (AA, B, ETC) and third, riders want to place well in overall results against all the other races.

Saturday I had a gentleman ask me at my age (a couple of years shy of a half century) what preparation it took for me to race. Two months ago I decided to race San Manuel. Years ago I was pretty involved in off road racing. I even overalled a few races in the ‘90s. Because I hadn’t raced in a couple of years and I had no way to gauge my speed or endurances, I entered a race in Tucson six weeks ago and to my surprise I did very well.

Although this was great I knew my speed was way down, but my endurance was pretty good. I’ve been riding my bicycle a couple of hundred miles a week for a few years and on the off days doing distance running as well as going to the GYM and circuit training five times a week. When I decided to race two months ago I started drinking a gallon of water a day and dropped all iced tea and soda. My weakness is Mexican food and rather than stop eating it I just cut way back on the amount I took in and I also became more selective trying to stay away from fried food. I also upped my amount of fruit, veggies and protein intake.

The last two things were mental preparation and setting goals. To do well in any sport you must be focused. It’s amazing with age how I can think about three things at once but I can’t truly concentrate on any one thing for a long period. The past few years have been tough. Losing my wife to cancer, raising kids alone and trying to keep my business alive have been challenging. So I really worked on concentration.

The last thing was reasonable goals. I figured a top three in my class and top 15 overall were good reasonable goals. Last month I decided to race one more time for final preparation. There was a local race in Globe that would be great practice. On the first lap a rider in front of me hit a tree which fell into me causing me to hit the ground hard. When I got up I knew I was hurt. I had lots of pain down my inner left leg and a pulling pain below my waist line. Anytime I coughed or laughed it hurt bad, I had a hernia. At this point I figured San Manuel was out although I could ride pain free as long as I stood up and didn’t put my legs down. Friday night before the race I decided with my son’s help to race.

For just a local race this may sound like a lot but it’s what I do.

This year there were riders from both in and out of state. There were also several local riders including Dustin Raffensparger: open A; Shawn Barney: 40+ B; Kyle Craighill: 200B; Broc Traweek: 200B; Darla King: women C; Blane Nelson: 40+C; Jered Nelson: open C; Mathew Brunskill: 65cc B; Camron Nelson: 65cc C; and yours truly Parrish Traweek: 40+A.

Because of the rain the night before the ground was perfect, no dust and very tacky conditions. This year’s start required a dead engine and one hand on the rider’s head. Justin Raffensparger, the fastest rider in the community at the moment, starting on row two took full advantage of the tacky soil on the start and wheeled off the line carrying his front wheel around the first corner and down the start. He was second in his class into the desert. Other than a lapped rider knocking him down, he had a great race and finished second in class and seventh overall and was the highest local finisher. He wasn’t even tired at the finish.

I was next starting in row six. I was late to the start line playing Mr. Mom and trying to get my son Broc on his row. I had just sat down on my bike and thought I clicked it into second gear when they dropped the flag. I got it started quick but when I let the clutch out I was in neutral and watched my class ride away, not a good way to start a race. Within a few miles and some aggressive riding I worked into second. About 15 miles into the first lap I fell over easy but it was enough to really create a lot of pain on my existing injury. I worked my way back up the second for awhile and then faded to fourth in class and 20 overall. My first lap was less than a minute of Dustin’s even after the fall.

Next up were Kyle Craighill and Broc Traweek starting on the same row. Both of these young riders are new to the full size bike class after racing mini cycles for several years. We figured they were going to have a good battle with each other. On the start Broc, racing under an age waiver because he’s only 13, got second and Kyle pulled third. Both riders worked their way to the front of the class on the first lap. On the second lap, Kyle lost an oil cap and pulled out of the race. On the second lap, Broc got a front tire flat but kept riding. Broc won the class and was top 10 overall in the B classes.

Shawn Barney started next in the largest class of the day with two rows of riders. Shawn’s start wasn’t great and he took a beating working his way up to fifth place in class. With that many riders, there can be lots of contact the first few miles. He was covered with mud from all the roost being thrown at him. Shawn is always a good finisher and very consistent. He always makes it to the finish line.

Jerred Nelson was next up. Not much to say about Jerred except he did great. He took the start and checked out, winning his class and being within the top five in the C class.

Next was Blane Nelson, Jerred’s older brother. Blane in his first desert race had bike problems and didn’t finish. The final big bikes to start was the women C class or maybe it should be called the Darla King class. Just as in the past, Darla pulled the start and never looked back. The word in the pit was that Darla was riding really aggressive and fast. She didn’t even stop for pit support after the first lap. I still don’t know how she went that far on fuel.

In the Kids’ Mini classes, Mathew Brunskill racing the 65cc class stretched the throttle cable to second place. This kid is fast, very aggressive and really loves the sport. Mathew led for a large part of the race. Camron Nelson, in her first motorcycle race, finished and earned a trophy. She pushed through some tears and pain to finish.

Overall this was a great race this year. The weather was perfect for racing and the turnout was large with several thousand people involved. Just as in many sports in the Tri-Community, the desert racing scene has a bright future and several up and coming racers.



See more photos from the Copper Classic online at

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