GNCC Racing

Chuck LeMaster's Japan Experience

Chuck LeMaster's Japan Experience

Thursday, November 6, 2014 | 5:00 PM
Thursday, November 6, 2014 | 5:00 PM

Chuck LeMaster had the opportunity to head over to Japan with Jordan Asbhurn for the Japan National Cross Country (JNCC) Finale on November 2nd. It is a tradition for JNCC President Masami Hoshino to invite GNCC riders to the season finale in exchange for Japanese riders that will compete in the opening round of the GNCC series. In June, Hoshino came to the Snowshoe GNCC with one of Japan’s most talented off-road racers, Manabu Watnabe. Here is Chuck's experience: 

I’m back from the Land of the Rising Sun! It was a really cool experience to go over to Japan and experience the culture first-hand. Our interpreter and tour guide, Yoshiteru Kawana (or just "Yoshi"), picked us up from the Tokyo airport and explained that we had a five-hour drive to Nagano Prefecture. No problem - except when we got in his car, the steering wheel was on the wrong side! Sure enough, they drive on the left side of the road over there! Once we got used to it, things went pretty smooth. 

The JNCC finale looked a lot like our GNCC at Snowshoe!
The JNCC finale looked a lot like our GNCC at Snowshoe! Photo: Chuck LeMaster

Yoshi checked us into a hotel once we arrived in Nagano. He told us it was a "traditional Japanese lodge" and sure enough, no beds, just mats rolled out on the bamboo floor. Fortunately, he caught me before I walked in and reminded me to take off my shoes! In the morning we looked out our windows and discovered that we were in a quaint little town surrounded by ski slopes. It also happened to be peak season for the leaves turning color and it was astounding! It was so beautiful!  

We ate breakfast at the hotel, which consisted of bacon and some kind of mushy scrambled eggs. Jordan couldn't quite get past the texture, so he stuck to bacon and toast. Meanwhile, I looked over at Yoshi and saw him eating raw eggs! I figured "mushy" wasn't so bad! Afterwards, we loaded up and headed for the track. Along the way I looked out my window at a dry riverbed and said, "I think I saw a monkey!" Dave and Jordan said, "No way!" and then they saw one too! We made Yoshi pull over so we could take pictures, but all we had were iPhones. We needed staff photographer Ken Hill there!  

Ashburn set and ready to go on the start
Ashburn set and ready to go on the start Photo: Chuck LeMaster

Once at the track, we learned that JNCC organized their first-ever “relay race”. Basically, anyone who wanted to race could sign up and then were randomly placed on a team: red, blue, green, etc. Each team had seven riders and each rider did three laps. There were over 50 people entered, including pro riders! We noticed that everyone had a huge grin and the excitement was infectious. These guys just wanted to ride their dirt bike! We were taken to the Yamaha tent and introduced to Jordan's YZ250FX and several people. It turned out that a couple of the engineers who developed that bike were on hand. When Jordan's turn came to ride his laps, he took off at race pace. All the Japanese started talking and finally one of them asked, "How does he ride so fast when he's never seen the course?" Apparently, he laid down the fastest lap time of the day! Dave Ashburn and I were startled because what we saw was a sideways, spinning bike! Jordan couldn't get any traction in the drizzle soaked mud. When he came in, one of the Yamaha engineers said, "We never see bike go so fast!" Jordan said, "Well, I think it will go faster if we put different tires on it!" To our amazement, they allowed us to change tires and then go back and do some testing on the short track Jordan had just raced. And it wasn't just him - anyone who wanted to ride, could also "test!" Jordan requested three clicks softer compression on the stock forks, and then announced the bike was dialed! 

Some of the beautiful scenary that Japan had to offer
Some of the beautiful scenary that Japan had to offer Photo: Chuck LeMaster

Yoshi told us we had time to walk the track and check out the "rock section." We immediately thought, "Endurocross!" But, the rock section was very similar to Snowshoe - a steep uphill, loose, softball sized rocks. No problem for Jordan who trains in rocks back home in Tennessee. The real value of the track walk was in learning how they lay out their courses! Instead of arrows marking a trail, they have a blue tape banner on the left, and a red one on the right. "Stay between the banners!" Seems simple until you go into the woods. Upon entry, the banners are only about 25 feet apart. Then they get really wide - up to 200 feet apart - and you have to figure out the fastest way! The banners mark the turns and as long as you don't go outside of them, you can go anywhere you want. I've been trail riding with Jordan before. We usually last about 20 minutes before he's bored and cutting cross-country where no trail has ever gone! So, I knew this would be fun for him!

Yoshi took us to a different hotel for the night - one with carpet and beds - and then treated us to a five-course dinner. It was at this dinner that we all figured out Jordan is not an adventurous eater! One of the Japanese racers was with us and snapped a picture for Facebook. When he posted it, he said something like, "No vegetables - meat only!"  

Ashburn looking over his Yamaha before the race day begins
Ashburn looking over his Yamaha before the race day begins Photo: Chuck LeMaster

Race day came and Yamaha had the bike washed and prepped. Yoshi asked Jordan if he had any roll-offs. Jordan said, "No. I have my tear-offs, though." Yoshi kindly explained that they don't use tear-offs over there. We quickly understood that there is no litter over there! Thank goodness Jordan wasn't planning on using any fuel hose drink bottles during his pit stops! Jeff Russell might appreciate that policy. (He once told me they pick up drink bottles for about two miles after the pits!) 

Once the race was going, there was debate in the pits over fuel stops. Jordan's dad, Dave, has a pretty good sense of his son's riding style and what he needs. He was comfortable going 25 miles (five laps), but the Yamaha techs thought they would need fuel every three laps. So, we pitted Jordan after three and measured how much fuel he used...and then waved him on until he'd gone five more laps! 

Chuck with Jordan Ashburn and his father after his victory
Chuck with Jordan Ashburn and his father after his victory Photo: JNCC

Jen did an awesome job with the press release describing Jordan's overwhelming victory. You can read it here. Needless-to-say, Jordan impressed a few folks over there! The race was cut short because of rain. They shaved 15 minutes (one lap) off the 3-hour time. However, by then, Jordan had lapped up to second place and one more lap probably would have seen him lap the number two rider, as well. Maybe not, though! Jordan had a crash on the first lap and crushed his radiator. It didn't leak, but with the reduced cooling efficiency combined with twisting the throttle to the stop, the bike was out of coolant by the end! Once Jordan pulled off the track, it didn't want to start again and when it did, it was popping and making some noises. Jordan said it was down on power, too. So, we are thankful that the tough little Yami made it to the flag at 2:45! The Yamaha engineers poured over the bike and talked, nodded and smiled. When we went to take his bars off (they were his from home), we started to put everything back together and Reno (our botched name for the super-awesome Yamaha mechanic) said, "No worry. We replace motor tomorrow anyway!"  

Jordan with Chuck, his father, and the our generous JNCC friends
Jordan with Chuck, his father, and the our generous JNCC friends Photo: photographer

We had a fantastic time over there! Thank you GNCC Racing Nation for sending us! And THANK YOU to Masami Hoshino for being such an excellent host! We were truly treated better than we deserved. That's it for me, I hope to see everyone at the banquet!