The recent rains left the hills surrounding the Honolulu Hills race course in Taft, California, covered in thick green grass, and made the dirt of the track look like a dark chocolate cake that offered Velcro-like traction for what was the opening round of the World Off-Road Championship Series (WORCS), January 29-30. And to make things even better, the early morning fog had left zero opportunity for dust to form anywhere around the nearly six-mile circuit, and the motocross course was perfectly groomed, while the off-road section was fast, tough, and technical. Just how two-time WORCS Champion Nathan Woods liked it.
But Woods was not on the starting line with his friends and competitors come Saturday. Tragically, he passed away from injuries resulting from a crash during Pro Practice the previous day. In place of Saturday's scheduled Pro race, a memorial parade lap was held in Woods' honor, and promoter Sean Reddish awarded the Pro-class victory, both days, to Woods, officially giving him the points lead in the 2011 WORCS Championship one more time.
Nathan's wife Amanda Woods and his oldest son rode the parade lap wearing Nathan's #54 jerseys, the young Woods riding with his father's good friend, Kurt Caselli. The entire WORCS family of amateur riders, pros, and fans came to the starting line to pay tribute and remember the great champion and good man that was Nathan Woods.
The Pro-class riders lined up on Sunday with the former champion on their minds.
"Nathan loved to race and would want us to keep racing," was a common sentiment amongst the racers. The rain started to pour just before the gate dropped, causing many to smile: Nathan was a good mud rider, he would've loved this.
Defending WORCS Champion Kurt Caselli dedicated Sunday's race and the rest of the season to Nathan and drove home the point by getting a massive holeshot and running away with the win. Caselli and his KTM were virtually uncatchable, as he extended his lead lap after lap to take the win by more than a full minute.
The battle for second place was a mêlée that included Kyle Summers, Mike Brown, Bobby Bonds, Taylor Robert, Justin Soule, Kevin Rookstool, and Bobby Garrison. Summers eventually pulled out ahead of the pack and earned the second slot on the podium.
Third fell to Garrison after he battled for the entire hour with Brown, Bonds, Robert and Soule.
Robert came from way back to take fourth, with Brown in fifth and Rookstool in sixth.
Bonds, riding a Zip-Ty Husky and still recovering from shoulder surgery took seventh, with Robby Bell eighth, Destry Abbott ninth and Brenden Ritzman 10th.
Caselli came to the podium with Nathan Wood's #54 plate in his hand, and again dedicated the victory and the season to Nathan.
"This is a tough weekend for everybody," Caselli said. "We lost one of our greatest riders in this sport on Friday. Nathan was a close friend of mine; we went to the ISDE together and got to be good friends. He was a down-to-earth, awesome guy, a great competitor, so tough, so strong.
"Today I was riding for him. Nathan and I shared a pure enjoyment of the sport and always wanting to win. I think everybody rode today for Nathan Woods. I'm going to miss him, he taught me a lot. He was winning WORCS Championships when I was coming up into the Pro ranks and I learned by watching him. He was one of my idols. I want to thank all of my sponsors, my KTM is awesome, but this race is for Nathan and his family. My heart goes out to all of them."
Kurt Caselli dedicated his win to his friend Nathan Woods after winning the opening round of the WORCS Series.
Caselli led from start to finish.
Caselli (1) edged out teammate Mike Brown (3) for the holeshot.
Kyle Summers (71) finished second.
Taylor Robert (33) ended up fourth.
Caselli carried Nathan Woods' number-plate onto the podium.
Former WORCS champ Mike Brown (3) finished fifth.
WORCS round 1 Results:
1. Nathan Woods (KTM)
1. Kurt Caselli (KTM)
2. Kyle Summers (Yam)
3. Bobby Garrison (Kaw)
4. Taylor Robert (Kaw)
5. Mike Brown (KTM)
6. Kevin Rookstool (KTM)
7. Bobby Bonds (HSQ)
8. Robby Bell (Kaw)
9. Destry Abbott (Kaw)
10. Brenden Ritzman (Kaw).