The Rekluse/AMA National Enduro series kicks off this weekend in Salley, South Carolina, where 600 off-roaders will take to the sandy trails in pursuit of the longest-running motorsports championship in the world. The first National Enduro title was awarded in 1923! Over the years, no one has been more successful in the national enduro series than Michael Lafferty, who will line up in South Carolina in hopes of winning a record ninth national title. The New Jersey native also has 68 national enduro wins to his credit, which easily tops Dick "King Richard" Burleson's count of 60 (Burleson also has eight national titles).
Over the years, the basic rules for the national enduro series have changed. Originally, riders were penalized for being both late and early to each check, which put an emphasis on time keeping. Four years ago, however, the rules were changed and there is no longer a penalty for arriving early at a check. For all intents and purposes, national enduro competitions now are basically a series of all-out sprints through the woods and the rider with the fastest cumulative time is the winner.
Lafferty won all of his titles under the "old" rules; however, he's one of just a few riders to win national enduro rounds under both the old rules and the new rules, having taken five wins since the rules were changed. The new rules have brought a lot of young guns to the sport, like Charlie Mullins and Cory Buttrick. And this year there will be even more. However, Lafferty will still be considered among the pre-season favorites when racing gets under way this Sunday.
Cycle News spent a brief time on the phone with Lafferty, who was driving to South Carolina at the time of the conversation.
Wow, 68 Enduro wins.
Yeah, I'm going for the next one then I'm hanging up my boots (laughs).
Where did it all start?
My first Enduro win was in 1997, riding for KTM, my first factory ride. Actually, I started with KTM in 1995 and hooked up with Alan Randt and I think we finished fifth that year. I was third in 1996, and then I won my first title in 1997.
How have you remained so successful over the years?
Back then it was the people around me. Alan Randt, I think I owe a lot to him because he was a racer too and he knew what it would take to win. I was fresh on the scene and he knew what it took to be competitive, building the bikes, getting them prepared and all that stuff. Monday through Friday, having this guy with me was probably the biggest benefit it could have, and of course having good sponsors like KTM. Those bikes were built for off-road racing and enduro so for me I had great equipment and a good mentor.
You're one of a few riders to win races under both the old rules and the new rules. How have the new rules changed the sport?
For sure, there are more people entering national enduros now; we're selling out at every race. Anybody can race an enduro with the new rules, all they need to do is get from one spot to another in a reasonable time and pin it when they tell you to. Another thing is the bikes don't have to be street legal like they used to. That opened the doors for a lot of people to show up and for manufacturers to come in and compete.
After 15 years with KTM you switched to Husaberg. What was behind the move?
I think I just wanted something new. Husaberg was making a big push and there were a couple of people at the time, like Clay Stuckey and Kurt Nichol, who suggested I try the bike. I never thought I would actually do it and when they brought the bike around I rode it once and I'm like, "dude, this thing is good. I can do this," and that's all it took. I was happy with it because it's still a part of KTM and the bike is really good. When I rode the bike the first time it's like, "I'll take it." The bike is great, fuel injected, it feels like the KTM in a lot of ways, and has a lot of good benefits to it, like it feels a whole lot lighter.
Talk about your plans for this year. You're also riding some GNCC rounds, right?
GNCC is where a lot of my speed came from when I raced the series a while back, so we lined up a deal for me to do a few rounds. I'm like I need to do these to build up my speed for enduro because with the new rules there's more emphasis on speed. I'm scheduled to do the first part of the season and I'm going to go from there and see how things go.
Are you healthy this year?
More than I've been in the last three years. My knees and everything are ready to go. Let's do it!