A Johnny Campbell Christmas GP

Mark Kariya | December 14, 2011

The old Carlsbad Raceway used to close out the year with its Christmas Grand Prix that wasn’t a National or part of any huge series, but it was simply fun, which helped draw plenty of enthusiastic participants–including many from the Cycle News staff who used it to claim in-office bragging rights.

Johnny Campbell also has fond memories of Christmas GPs at Carlsbad. After all, that’s the type of racing he grew up doing, well before he became an 11-time Baja 1000 winner.

But Campbell’s memories eventually spurred him to action, and he enlisted the help of several others – like famed track builder Marc Peters and local desert and enduro standout Erek Kudla – to bring back his vision of the Christmas GP Club Challenge

The Club Cup challenge featured a Le Mans start. Justin Shultz, the lone SoCal M.C. member present, got the holeshot and held off Erek Kudla for the overall individual victory, but Kudla’s V.C.M.C. squad took the Cup due to strength of numbers.

When Peters built a replica USGP Carlsbad MX track at his facility The Ranch in Anza, California, holding the Johnny Campbell Christmas Grand Prix there was a perfect fit. Though the soil is a lot loamier than Carlsbad’s unique clay and the hills might not be quite as big, the layout sparks happy recollections in the minds of many who’ve had the opportunity to burn laps at both.

So that took care of the motocross portion of the grand prix, but what about the rest? Well, The Ranch doesn’t have a drag strip so they couldn’t have a pavement section, but Campbell was determined to make his GP unique in its variety. So, he and Kudla sought to incorporate as much variety as they could. There was Enduro Mountain, with its single-track through unyielding manzanita. That opened up into some fifth-gear straights before dropping into Preston’s Wash, then back up into the manzanita for the ISDE Forest’s single-track. Another fast section of gentle, downhill rollers followed, dubbed the Ojos Highway, with some more sand wash and brush before the final element, the Rock Pile.

Besides that, the event followed a typical grand prix schedule, with the Unclassified “race” getting things underway on a very cold December 11. THR Motorsports star Robby Bell cruised through that faster than anyone, setting up his banner day. In fact, he’d follow that with the 450cc Expert victory and, in the final race of the day, earn $3000 for holding off Kailub Russell of the FMF/KTM Factory Off-road Racing Team.

“Johnny told me about it down in Baja,” Bell said, “so I looked online for it and decided to come out and give it a shot. I’m really impressed with the event. It was really well organized, it was well-marked and the course was awesome! We got blessed with good dirt all day long; you couldn’t ask for anything more, really.”

After getting the holeshot in the Pro race, Bell tried to break away but suffered a setback when he crashed his Precision Concepts/Dunlop/Fox-sponsored KX450F in the rocks on the second lap. “I did my best to sabotage my race and Kailub got pretty close to me. We hung pretty even, then he just got fired up. The last lap, he was just all over it. I knew he was catching me a little bit so I’m like, ‘All right, I’ve got to go! Game on!’

“Then I guess just before the single-track, he slid out and that was it.”

For GNCC regular Russell, the race fit into his schedule since he was in SoCal anyway for the KTM team photo shoot as well as testing his 2012 race bike. “I just talked my boss into letting me come [out],” he began. “I wanted to come to get a little testing in because I want to do the first two WORCS races and get some riding like this under my belt, first thing, because I’ve never really ridden in these conditions, let alone raced in them!

“Right off the gate, in GNCCs the pace is kind of mellow and this is as hard as you can go straight from the get-go. The first couple laps were kind of tough for me, then once I got into a groove, it was good.”

Muscle Milk/Motorex/Sidi 350 XC-F-mounted Russell (who also earned third in 450cc Expert earlier behind Bell and Johnny Campbell Racing Honda’s Quinn Cody) concluded, “This track was awesome: huge moto section, the off-road was awesome, it was a really good layout and I enjoyed the day–it was a lot of fun. I’d love to come do another one out here.”

Mark Samuels held back Cody Quinn’s attacks for most of the hour-long race, his job eased considerably when the Honda pilot ran out of fuel on the last lap, allowing Samuels to cruise to third aboard his Pro Circuit/Schmidt/MSR KX450F.

For Campbell, who ran himself ragged helping run things as well as ride, this is only the first of what he hopes will be a long-running end-of-year event with an emphasis on fun. He’s already planning for next year’s race – though first there’s the Dakar Rally coming up, where he’ll be navigator for truck racer Robby Gordon.

Mark Kariya | Contributor

Kariya spends way too much time in the desert, but we’re glad he does as he’s the man who gets us our coverage of all things sandy.