The MSR Big 6 Grand Prix Series presented by Maxxis took to Twentynine Palms for its fastest stop of the season. The Hilltoppers MC hosted a total of 1415 entries at the 29 Palms Motorsports Complex for round four of the series, and after a somewhat rough day for the pro class, it was Eric Yorba standing on top of the podium at the end of the West Coast Grand Prix race of the Twentynine Palms Big 6.
Yorba got his Maxxis RPM KTM out to a good start in the WCGP race, and led for most of the way, but behind him, Robby Bell was on a charge. The Rocky Mountain ATV-MC Precision Concepts rider was steadily closing the gap on Yorba on the fast desert course. One mistake from Yorba on the second-to-last lap was all it took to allow Bell to get past him for the lead. But Bell’s fortunes quickly changed on the last lap. Sadly, with only minutes left in the race, Bell had a hard crash that left him unconscious. Yorba (somewhat reluctantly) resumed the lead and rode to his first win of the season.
“Sadly I came around and saw Robby laying down on the ground. I really hope he’s okay,” commented Yorba, the defending champion. “Robby was pinning it. It’s a bummer to see him go down. But I was happy with my performance. Even if I was going to come in second.”
Bell wasn’t the only one to encounter bad luck during Saturday’s feature race. In the opening lap Blayne Thompson suffered a hard crash that saw his elbow cut up and his CRF mangled. Thompson pulled into the pits for a bike fix and some stitches to his elbow, and jumped back on the track to get in some laps.
“I got off to a great start,” Yorba continued. “Hats off to Hilltoppers; they were able to keep the water down, which was great. Sadly, I didn’t get to work that as much to my advantage as last year, but I mean, I just tried to put down as many solid laps as I could.”
Second place went to JCR Factory Honda’s Trevor Stewart, who had an injury earlier in the day that he thought was going to spoil his chances.
“Coming into the day this morning I actually hurt my hand and it’s super swollen,” Stewart said. “Basically I’m not sure what’s exactly wrong with it, but it hurts real bad. I duct taped it for the race and basically went out there to salvage points.”
But to Stewart’s surprise, he got out to a great start and remained toward the front throughout the hour and a half race. Though he did everything he could to “baby” his aggravated wrist.
“I was finding more creative lines to stay out of the roughness with my hand because it was killing me,” Stewart said. “I rode a really solid race, as did Robby [Bell] and Eric [Yorba], too. I’m just really bummed at what happened to Robby. I saw him out there, I stopped for him for a quick second just to see if he was alright. Luckily there were people already with him, so just super bummed on that. I don’t like to gain positions like that.”
Still, it was a positive finish for Stewart, who did what he needed to do in the championship: finish ahead of Zach Bell, current points leader. Bell, of the Ox Motorsports Honda team, rounded out the podium in third place after experiencing some challenges of his own. After getting out to a decent start, Bell kept the leaders in his sights until a sight technical issue slowed his progress.
“Yeah my exhaust fell off,” Bell explained. “My whole header pipe fell off so it was sucking in a lot of dirt. I had to be aware of what was going on out there. It was hard to go fast without trying to blow up the bike. I had to slow it down about halfway just to finish the race and it put me in a good position to get points and stay in the championship.”
Bell also beat his hands to a pulp on the rough course, which a lot of riders also admitted to having a problem with in the late laps of the race. The high-speed course was very rough by the end of the day, with rocks coming up and square-edge bumps. It was a tough day in the saddle, but Baja specialist Mark Samuels didn’t have any complaints.
“I love Twentynine Palms. It’s so brutal,” Samuels said with a laugh. “It’s a lot like Baja high speed, which is stuff I like. It was really, really brutal, really square-edged, really tough on your hands and body, but fun with how high-speed it is.
Samuels finished fourth ahead of Justin Seeds, who rounded out the top-five.
“Blayne [Thompson] went down, Robby [Bell] went down. So I pretty much, realistically I should have got a seventh, not a fifth,” commented Seeds, teammate to Robby Bell on the Rocky Mountain ATV-MC Precision Concepts team. “But it is what it is. We gotta take it. Take our bad days.
“I gotta give it up to Robby. He’s a strong guy. He’s going to come back from this.”
There wasn’t much celebration at the finish as Bell was being tended to by medics and loaded into the ambulance only minutes after the race. Fortunately he had regained consciousness before being transported to the hospital.
“It was a bit of a bummer to wad up just a few straightaways from the finish,” read the latest post on Bell’s Instagram. “Definitely enjoyed feeling like I had the pace once more. I don’t remember anything about the crash, but Matt Maple said I just plowed the front end into a powdery berm, high-sided and lawn-darted face first into the dirt. Luckily all I came away with was a mild concussion and some bruised ribs. I had a CT scan at the hospital and my brain checked out perfectly, no swelling or bleeding. Thanks for everyone who (I heard) stopped for me.”
In the Pro II class, Nick Stover piloted his TM MX250 two-stroke to the big win ahead of Chance Fullerton and Beau Baron. Stover had his work cut out for him after getting out to a bad start, and then had to gamble with his pit strategy, but it all worked out in the end.
“I got a terrible jump off the line,” Stover said. “I made a couple passes around the outside, got into second and about right before the road, made a pass for first and just put my head down and tried not to look back.
“Then I wasn’t real sure how far I could go with the tank—new bike and all—so we stopped at four laps and it seemed like everyone else stopped at five because when I came out they were pretty close to me. The next lap they pitted and gave me a bit of breathing room.”
The brutal race took its toll on Stover, as well, but he held on (barely) to take the Pro II class win.
“The last two laps my hands just started falling apart. Pretty much the last two miles, I just rode one-handed sitting down because I just couldn’t hang on. But it was a lot of fun.”
At the halfway point of the series, the young guns are in control, with Zach Bell leading the championship ahead of Trevor Stewart. The Big 6 Grand Prix Series heads to Primm, Nevada for round five on May 6-7 before heading into its summer hiatus.