Behind the Lens: Gopher Dunes National

Photos by James Lissimore

Round 6 of the Rockstar Energy Drink Motocross Nationals took place last Saturday at Gopher Dunes in Courtland, Ontario. Once again, it was far from a “sleeper” as fans were treated to bar banging, fuel chugging race action in all four motos. Let’s take a look back through the highlights with these flawless photos from James Lissimore ….

gopher mx2 start

AMERICAN INVASION: Can you name the three US racers leading the MX2 class at Gopher Dunes in this picture? Left to right: Jesse Pierce (489), Vince Friese (719) and Jesse Wentland (27). These three Yanks take off around the first corner, while the rest of the pack looks lost, deciding which way they the track goes. This is motocross!


gopher podium

THE WINNER’S CIRCLE: This is the-place-to-be at your local Canadian motocross national, if you’re a racer that is. The glitz, the glamour, and “The Gauldy” chatting it up with you on your podium performance (or better yet, win!) with lovely Rockstar Energy Drink ladies surrounding you at all sides … sacrifice pays off.

gopher pierce

NEW KID IN TOWN: With Gopher Dunes located in Courtland, Ontario, which is about three hours from the Michigan border and two hours from New York, it usually causes interest for fast US privateers to travel north and test the Canadian waters. We’ve seen Chad Charbonneau, John Dowd, Paul Lamb, and many others come this way, and like them, Jesse Pierce (489) saw it as an opportunity to gain more exposure and hopefully support. The dream started well, with Pierce jumping out front and taking off early. He didn’t have the strength to hold on for a full 30 minutes at Gopher Dunes, this time around, but a sixth overall is still pretty respectable for your first time racing in the deep Gopher sand. Hopefully we see the young racer in Sand Del Lee this weekend!


gopher rarick2

SETH ENSLOW?! No, Seth Rarick. Another rider out of the US looking to battle for podiums in Canada, Rarick enjoyed his second top 5 finish of the series with a fifth-place at Gopher Dunes. He continues to keep the ‘faith’ up front with ministry focused Redemption Racing, who not only support the series with great racers and a beautiful pit display, but also host morning chapel services every weekend before the nationals begin. Good to see people giving back to the sport they love.


gopher benoit

BENT UP BENOIT: It really didn’t matter that KTM’s Kaven Benoit didn’t win at Gopher Dunes; his barky two-stroke still sounded awesome finishing in second-place. A nasty practice crash slowed Benoit on this day, but the French Canadian toughed it out for a 2-2 scores. He continues to lead the MX2 championship over Vince Friese.

gopher jeremy

I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT: That’s the feeling you get after seeing how Jeremy Medaglia’s day went at Gopher Dunes. Things started rough OFF the track when the Monster Energy Leading Edge Team didn’t hear the second horn, signaling it’s time to enter the staging area, and thus were taken away their good gate picks and forced to go last. Well, needless to say—especially with a tight start like Gopher—the Kawi kids didn’t get good starts. It was pretty much downhill from there for Jeremy. He would suffer two crashes and bike troubles before DNFing the first moto. In the second, he rebounded and was running third before eventually taking a fifth. Hometrack advantage next weekend for JM? Let’s hope so. He’s due for something good.


gopher mx2 pile up

HEY, DON’T I KNOW YOU? In the second MX2 moto, MX101 Yamaha teammates Jesse Wentland (27) and Dylan Wright (34) ended up down in the first turn together with Seth Rarick (38). While Wentland would go on to charge back to fourth, Wright wasn’t as successful and fell to a DNF.

gopher politelli

SOFT LANDING: Defending MX2 champ Austin Politelli is another rider who fought with the ‘sand monster’ this past weekend. A 6-DNF puts him back further from any chance of winning his second title. He’s now sixth overall in the series and 49 points away from the lead.

gopher maffenbeier

CHANGE IS GOOD: It wasn’t that long ago that Swift Current, Saskatchewan’s Shawn Maffenbeier really looked ugly in the sand . BUT, the OTSFF Yamaha rider is one athlete that works on every detail of his craft, and now’s he one of  a few who manages to get around Gopher Dunes without too many scars. Maffenbeier had good speed, kept it consistent and that earned him a fourth overall at Gopher. He continues to hold down third in the MX2 series.

gopher wentland

JUST FOR FUN? That is why we start racing and we can’t forget it, but the reality is—especially at the national pro level—there’s no better feeling than winning. Just ask Jesse Wentland who scored his first moto win of the year at Gopher last weekend.

gopher mx2 podium

GOPHER DUNES MX2 PODIUM: (Left to right) Kaven Benoit, Vince Friese and Jesse Wentland.

gopher mx1 start

THIS ONE’S FOR PETE: Yamaha Motor Canada’s National Sales Manager, Peter Swanton, is one of the biggest fans you’ll ever meet. He loves dirt bikes, Yamaha and will never own anything but a two-stroke. He’ll be singing at the water cooler this week after watching Blue hit the podium in both classes (twice in MX1) at Gopher Dunes. Here we have Rockstar Energy Drink OTSFF Yamaha’s Bobby Kiniry (2) leading Mike Alessi in the first MX1 moto. Kiniry would go to finish third overall, right behind his teammate Kyle Chisholm (732).

gopher burke

LOCAL YOCAL: Jason Burke has long been a hometown hero of sorts to Gopher Dunes. Living and growing up in nearby Hamilton, Ontario, Burke is well versed in the Sand Monster and normally gives factory riders fits when the series visits “his” track. After sitting out all of last season with an injury, it’s great to see the Sturgress Cycle Kawasaki rider back out there. The first moto was a mulligan for Jay, but in moto two, he walked off with a 14th place finish. Not bad for a guy who works 60 hours/ week.

gopher chisholm

STYLE POINTS: Doesn’t it look cool when fast guys rip tear offs? Mere mortals usually look like they’re in a crazed panic trying to find clear vision, but not the pros. Kyle Chisholm maintained his eyes on the prize at Gopher Dunes, finishing 2-3 for second overall. It marks Chisholm’s first podium of the series. That’s a big boost to Chisholm’s confidence and placing in the championship; he’s now fifth in the series and only 10 points out of third (Tyler Medaglia).

gopher keast

FROM BAD TO WORSE: Like Jeremy Medaglia, things started out rough for Machine Racing Yamaha’s Kyle Keast at Gopher Dunes and they didn’t get much better. Before the racing even began, Keast’s focus got shaken when his bike wouldn’t pass sound test. He was forced to install a noise-reducing insert which then led to his bike overheating and not running properly. In moto one, Keast came from 14th to 10th. That would be as good things get as he would DNF the second moto due to mechanical problems.

gopher colton2

SMOOTH AND STEADY WINS THE RACE: There’s no doubt that Mike Alessi has been the fastest man on the track at most of the Canadian Nationals. Unfortunately, being fast doesn’t guarantee leaving with the most points. For GDR Troy Lee Designs Honda’s Colton Facciotti, he’s maintaining a pace similar to that of Alessi, but unlike his American counterpart, Facciotti is making less mistakes and luck is going his way. At Gopher Dunes, Facciotti took the first moto win after Alessi ran out of fuel with a lap to go, and then rode to second-place in the final moto to secure the MX1 overall. Colt’s points lead went from 9 to 28 points, not too bad.


gopher alessi 2

A THOUSAND WORDS: This says it all for how Mike Alessi’s weekend went at Gopher Dunes. Sure, he won the second moto and was recognized as the ‘fastest man at the track,’ but the sting from running out of fuel while preparing to win the first moto will burn for a long time…. The Smartop MotoConcepts rider is being forced to really earn his first Canadian title, as he’s 28 points out of the lead with five races to go. Here’s betting we see a very aggressive, angry and mean Alessi this Sunday at Sand Del Lee.


gopher hill
THIS AIN’T ANAHEIM: Monster Energy Leading Edge Kawasaki’s Josh Hill told us before Gopher Dunes that he likes sand, but hasn’t had a chance to ride it in a while. As he learned this past weekend, there’s really no substitute for preparing to race at Gopher Dunes. That said, Hill rode to an honest sixth overall which is better than many others debut at the Dunes. Hill sits sixth in the series, 1 point behind Chisholm in fifth.

gopher tyler

ELBOWS UP: Now this is what Palms has been talking about: elbows up, on the gas and nicely tucked into the middle of the seat. Picture perfect riding style courtesy of KTM’s Tyler Medaglia! While he continues eying that top step of the podium, Medaglia has been riding very well this summer and sits third overall in the series and second Canadian behind Facciotti. A 5-5 for fourth overall at Gopher Dunes was a gutty effort for the ill-stricken (and in one moto, goggle-less) rider.

gopher concert

PARTY ON WAYNE: … And party on, Garth! USS and Holerado took to the stage at Gopher Dunes following the race action.


gopher mx1 podium

GOPHER DUNES MX1 PODIUM: Kyle Chisholm, Colton Facciotti and Bobby Kiniry.