By Danny Brault
After a five year layoff, we’re going back to the 100th Meridian for Round 4 of the Rockstar Energy Drink Motocross Nationals! Having been scratched from the National schedule since 2008, when Tucker Hibbert and Colton Facciotti topped the MX2 and MX1 classes on their Yamahas, Moto Valley Raceway in Regina, Saskatchewan returns in 2014 and their local moto community couldn’t be happier.
A small but passionate group of race enthusiasts, Saskatchewan is best known in the Canadian motocross history books for churning out the legendary Blair Morgan. One of Canada’s greatest champions, Morgan was born and raised in the ‘Flat Lands’ and remains one of the most talked about riders in both motocross and snocross. In recent times, speedy youngsters such as Shawn Maffenbeier, Broc Shury, Zach Deiana, and former Women’s Western Champ, Denaye Giroux, have kept the SK flag waving proudly.
When it comes to a track in the prairies, most would believe Moto Valley is a flat layout with little to no elevation. In reality, it features some of the most incredible elevation changes on the Canadian circuit. The track’s clay base does harden up quite quickly, but the layout features some impressive obstacles for fans and a long, technical course to keep things interesting for riders.
With Edmonton being dropped from the schedule in 2014, it opened up an opportunity for Moto Valley to get back on the map. Not only does Regina receive a National, but CMRC has also decided to incorporate one of their four musical productions on top of it. That’s right, as soon as the dust settles on Saturday afternoon, up to four notable rock bands will to take a stage trackside, providing additional entertainment well into the night; the goal, of course, being to entice more on-site fans and excitement.
To learn a little more about Moto Valley and how things are shaping up for the return to SK, we caught up with Regina Motocross Club President, Craig Hillrich….
MXP: Hi Craig, what’s shaking my friend? Is the weather giving you a break to start preparing Moto Valley Raceway in Regina?
Craig Hillrich: Not really, I actually took my kids out to the track for some sledding and snowboarding. We probably won’t be seeing much dirt or activity until late April with the way the weather is this winter.
Before we get into things Craig, please give us some background on your experience with the CMRC and motocross in general.
I’ve always ridden bikes; my background is mostly off-road and trail riding. About 10 years ago, I became involved with the Regina Motocross Club as there are less and less places to ride off-road in the Prairies. I found that the Regina track was a safe place to ride, practice and develop the skills of riding. My son and I got into it; he’s 12 now and has been riding since he was three and half years old. He’s been progressing through the ranks pretty well, and I’m a Vet Junior rider and probably will be until the day I die. But that’s okay, we just have a lot fun of doing it [riding].
I’m in the same boat! What are your main responsibilities with the Regina MX Club?
I’ve been the President of the Regina Motocross Club for the past two years; 2014 will be my third year with the club. I take care of administration duties, signing up members and all of that kind of stuff. Lots of organizing and keeping the track in good shape. It’s a good time, and I’ve enjoyed being part of the club.
The last time the Canadian Motocross Nationals visited Moto Valley was in 2008. What’s the vibe been like in the local Regina/ Saskatchewan moto-community, since it was announced that the series would be coming back this summer?
Yeah, everybody is really excited. There have been so many over the years, which have signed up for a membership, and they were always asking when we were bringing the National back. It wasn’t possible for those years to do it, but now we —the Regina Club and CMRC—are in a position to make it happen in 2014.
What needed to happen to put Moto Valley back on the map for a National event?
From our perspective, we have a fairly small club with a core group of guys who do a lot of work out there. For us, it was a matter of spreading the work to outside of the core group of 10 guys. We also have fewer responsibilities as a club compared to years past. There is a different deal worked out with the CMRC and it makes it more reasonable for us, so we don’t have a burnt out crew of guys after the first month of riding is over.
Over the course of your 10 year experience at Moto Valley and with the Regina Club, are there specific National races, motos or racers that stick out in your mind?
For sure. As far as the past goes, the one thing that sticks out the most is Blair Morgan. He’s been such a huge influence in Saskatchewan to motocross enthusiasts and extreme sport fans in general. Vic Stuart, he raced in the past in the ‘90s and late ‘80s. He’s still involved with the track and it’s nice having him around. Kevin Ferguson, Jordy Laird, Curtis Lawrence … a local guy here in Regina, Dustin Pretty, gave up racing to pursue another career. Cary Daku and Darwin Janz have been big influences and huge helps at our track over the years.
Thinking of today’s pro racing, Shawn Maffenbeier would be the quickest guy out of Saskatchewan, but he’s not really located too close to Moto Valley, is he?
Shawn’s out of Swift Current, but for sure he’s our ‘top dog’ right now. Broc Shury and Zach Dieana are up on that list as well. Then there is Yamaha Canada’s ‘Factory Rider for a Day’ winner, Kyle Biro, who is based out of Moose Jaw, about 40 minutes from Regina. In the Ladies class, Kennedy Lutz is a top up-and-comer, and some of our local guys like Braeden Bechard and Cody Rouse from Weyburn; Irwin Adler and Cole Conn are guys who go pretty darn good at our track.
Saskatchewan is one of the smaller motocross regions in Canada, but your area has produced some of Canada’s best talent and we always see a few guys in the mix during the National Series. What do you see as unique about the racing scene or racers in Saskatchewan?
I’ve had that question asked before and I don’t really have a solid answer. One thing is that we are snowbound for most of the year. It’s not just snowbound but it’s more like it’s just too damn cold [laughs]. When people do get on the bike, they take advantage of it and put in the hard work. I’ve seen it in other industries as well, you see guys from Saskatchewan excel because of their work ethic. Employers are always eager to hire guys from Saskatchewan because they are willing to put in the work.
Thinking of Blair Morgan and today’s top star, Shawn Maffenbeier, neither guy is too flashy or outspoken, but they are never short on work ethic and desire.
That’s true, especially at the higher levels, athletes can only go so far on talent alone; they need hard work to back it up.
What’s the scene like in Saskatchewan right now? Are you gaining more places to ride and race? More riders?
We’re doing okay for motocross tracks, but it’s more so in off-road riding where we lack places to ride. Southern Saskatchewan is where it’s a big challenge. For motocross racing, we have 14 tracks in the province that host races regularly. I think we’re doing pretty well that way. The scene is growing a little bit and the economy is doing well, which helps people in buying the powersport toys.
Anything new or special we can expect with the Regina National?
The CMRC is planning to bring in a fairly big name artist into the area and have it set up right at the track and have a full production involved. As usual, our track is pretty hard and fast. It will get good and choppy, and Vic is looking to make some changes to the track early in the spring. From what I am told, CMRC is bringing in their own heavy equipment operator to make some changes the week leading up to it. They’re just looking to make things interesting and exciting for fans.
Moto Valley hasn’t always been a favourite amongst the riders, but in my experience, the track featured a good old-school motocross layout. Fast, choppy as you said, and some excellent elevation changes?
It’s unique because you don’t expect to be crossing a valley six to eight times per lap in Regina [laughs]. We disc down as best we can and keep it watered, but there is that clay component and it caps off. We are coming up with as many ideas as possible to keep the ground loamy and from capping off.
Good to hear. We look forward to returning to Regina in 2014 and hope to see a strong crowd and great racing.
Me too, thanks for calling.