The 2011 Grand National Championships began with a little flurry of short track and TT events. Now that the dust has settled in Salinas, the AMA Pro flat trackers have a month off until the first of two Springfield double-headers.
The GNC riders are already looking forward to a historic venue that always packs in good crowds for both the Saturday TT and Sunday's epic Mile. But a month's a long break, so everyone has time to go home and work on their bikes, work out, and maybe do a little moonlighting to pick up a few extra bucks. The guy who'll travel the furthest to get home, for sure, is Luke Gough. He's flying back to Australia.
Luke's also probably the guy who is most eager for Springfield to roll around. You'd never know it from the final results in Salinas, but he really stepped up at the rodeo ground. On Saturday, he qualified just well enough to get on the front row of his heat race. That was already a good start to the weekend for the Aussie, who has been one of the hardest-working journeymen in the GNC for a few years now. Then, when he got the holeshot in his heat, he found himself in a position he'd never been in before - leading a GNC Expert race.
Since he's won scores of races (and several national championships) down under, he knew that one key to maintaining that lead was keeping his rhythm and concentration up. "I've led races before, and you can be out front and think too much," he told me. "You need to focus on being as smooth as you can be."
Luke heard Jared Mees behind him a couple of times early in the race, but he concentrated on the technical Salinas TT layout. The jump was tricky, not because of its size but because the bikes were still spinning off the previous turn when they cleared the lip. The Salinas cushion, which was drying out fast, was similar to a lot of the slick dirt he'd raced on in the Australian championship, and in the end Mees was not even able to show him a wheel. His first-ever win at a GNC weekend was a perfect, flag-to-flag run.
From there, things went downhill.
He got tangled up with first-year Expert Brad Baker in the Dash For Cash, and - perhaps because of that crash - a loose spark plug lead caused his bike to misfire in the Main, where he was DNF.
Dave Zanotti came to Gough's rescue, loaning him one of his team's Hondas for the next day's short track, and again he had good news-bad news day. He won his Semi in pretty convincing fashion over Mees - again - and Bryan Smith. But starting from deep on the grid, the best he could do was 14th.
Some people would be bummed by disappointing results in the weekend's Mains, but Gough's loving the idea that he's finally won a couple of races on a GNC weekend. He's given up a lot, just to get to the U.S. and race against the world's best flat trackers. Right now those sacrifices seem worthwhile.
But, he's headed back to Australia. Because of U.S. visa requirements, he can only spend six months of the year in this country. It would be an understatement to say that he's handy; in 2009, he built a Suzuki SV650-based twins racer from scratch by himself. He welded up the frame, made his own swingarm, machined his own hubs from billet and even hand-formed his own alloy fuel tank! With those skills, his employer in Australia, Arex Engineering, is always ready to put him to work. He'll work as much overtime as he can, saving money to put into his racing back here. After a month at the bottom of the world, he hopes to come back and stand on the top step at the Springfield TT.
"I plan to come to Springfield and pick up right where I left off with my Salinas TT heat race," he said. "Sometimes it takes winning a race to prove to yourself that you deserve to be there. Now that I've done it, I want to do it again."