It may have taken him all season to do it, but defending Champion Nathan Woods finally got back on top of the podium yesterday in Peoria, Arizona at round 10 of the WORCS. In a hot, dusty race through what some called the toughest WORCS round this year, Woods edged out his Kawasaki teammate Destry Abbott for the lead position, and held it to the finish. KTM's Kurt Caselli filled out the podium, taking third behind Abbott.
"Today was just a hot, miserable day in Phoenix," Woods said. "It was rocky and silty; I don't know how hot it was, but it felt like it was 110. Today was a day when you didn't want to fall over, and you didn't want to have to start your bike. So I just rode a clean, smart race. I didn't try to push it too much."
Woods' strategy paid off, but others, such as Ricky Dietrich, weren't as fortunate. On the first lap, Dietrich, the current series points leader, crashed in the rocks, breaking a bolt on his clutch cover. He consequently lost all the oil and had to push his bike back to the pits. The Kawasaki team worked quickly to repair the bike, but Dietrich was over a lap down before rejoining the race. He spent the next two hours playing catch up, and finished outside the top ten.
It wasn't a good day for ZipTy Yamaha rider Bobby Garrison (second in points) either. A hard crash early in the race had him limping back to the pits to regroup and replace bent levers. Sore but not seriously injured, he finished the race ahead of Dietrich, which was all he really needed to do to stay in the points hunt.
In the first half of the race, it looked as though Abbott's home court advantage was going to reward him with the win. Abbott lives in Peoria only minutes from the Canyon Land MX track and was clearly the crowd favorite.
"I think I had a second or third place start," Abbott said. "I was following a motocrosser, Jimmy Albertson,—he was riding really good—and then he lost it in the rocks and I got up front for the first hour. I wasn't pushing really hard; I was just riding a good pace. It was so dusty, and as hot as it was, I knew I wasn't going to make it if I pushed hard and tried to check out. So I just rode it like a desert race."
But Woods stayed right on top of his teammate and waited for his window of opportunity, which came at about the halfway point in the EnduroCross section of the course.
"In the logs, we came in behind three lappers and Nathan was right behind me," Abbott recounted. "I hit the lapper and went down and Nathan got by me and that was it. It took me a little time to catch up, and on the last lap, going into the rocks, I got within five or seven seconds, and just got dusted out again."
It was all Abbott could do to sit behind Woods' dust and wait for him to make a mistake. But a mistake would never come. Wood's remained consistent all the way to the finish, his first win of the season. Abbott stayed close behind for second place and Caselli finished a strong third. Yet another Kawasaki rider, Lance Smail finished fourth while Honda's Robby Bell rounded out the top five.
"Today, I did everything I wanted to do," Woods said. "It's unfortunate that it took me all season to get a win, and to ride smart like that but we made it happen finally. That's something off my back now."
"The championship is not over," Woods added. "The other guys (Dietrich and Garrison) had some trouble. It's a far-fetched chance of me making it happen, but there is always a chance. It's not over until it's over."