We’re six rounds into the 2012 National Enduro season and only one race away from heading into Summer break. The series heads North this weekend to Cross Fork, PA, before we go racing for the last time until September let’s have a look back at what happened in the first half of the season and lay out some predictions for the second half. Riders are ordered based off of current series points standings.
1. Steward Baylor – 161 points
He started the year on fire and looked to be on his way to being the youngest rider ever to win a National Enduro championship taking 4 of the first five rounds and finishing 2nd in the other. However, with a big wrist injury requiring surgery he seems to have fallen off the pace and could only muster a 5th in Wyoming even with a reduced Pro class because of injuries. He has shown the speed to win, but I think the others smell blood in the water and are going for it. It is going to be tough to hold onto his 18-point lead with four rounds left in the North, an area where Mike Lafferty excels.
2. Mike Lafferty – 143 points
Did anyone really expect him to be this close in the championship hunt this year? With no wins last year and coming off a 5th overall performance for the year he was still considered to be a threat but I don’t think many predicted this comeback. He has been on fire this year and seems as hungry as ever. Not missing a podium through the first 6 rounds has put him in the points hunt for the championship. That combined with his first win in almost two years (the 70th win in his career!) have his momentum rolling towards the second half which is held primarily in his home racing area. I believe Mike has what it takes to close down the stretch and wants it badly. He is my prediction for the 2012 National Enduro series champion.
3. Russell Bobbitt – 117 points
Russell had a career year in 2011 but came into 2012 nursing a wrist injury that he suffered in the off-season. Wrist injuries can really hold back a dirt bike rider–as Steward Baylor has shown–and Russell is a bit too far out of the points hunt at this point to claim the championship unless Baylor and Lafferty have serious misfortunes. However that does not mean his season is over. He has been training hard and I’m sure he wants to walk away from the 2012 season with a win. I think he will improve in the second half of 2012 with his wrist injury completely behind him and will come away with two wins in the last four rounds.
4. Cory Buttrick – 91 points
Cory still sits in 4th overall for the National Enduro series despite not finishing the last two rounds due to a crash and then subsequent knee surgery which is a testament to how well he was doing in the first four rounds of the series. He is on the mend and looks to have a good 2013 season ahead of him. He should be happy knowing he was the only one who could beat Steward Baylor when he was on a roll early in the season. We don’t know what color Cory will be on for 2013 (rumors are pointing to him staying orange) but I can guarantee he will be a hot commodity as he has proven he has the speed to win races and that is not easy to come by.
5. Nick Fahringer – 85 points
Nick has had somewhat of a disappointing 2012 season thus far but that is just because he has such a stellar end to 2011. He reeled off three race wins in a row last year, which were in fact his only race wins ever. But if you remember he had a slow start to 2011 so he could very well be gearing up for another charge late in the season like he had last year. I’m sure the slow start this year was related to his off-season knee surgery but with the break about to be behind him I believe he is ready to turn some heads in the second half.
6. Jesse Groemm – 80 points
Jesse has to be the Cinderella story of the year so far. A virtual unknown on the national scale to start the season to 6th overall after 6 rounds is quite an impressive jump in speed and he is doing it without the help of a factory team like all those ahead of him and like many behind him in the standings. Jesse, like Lafferty, grew up racing the ECEA series and with the series moving North I think he has a great chance to finish out the series strong. With no ride for this season I believe Jesse will have a few options heading into next year and if he can secure a ride to devote more time to training we may just see another impressive jump in speed.
7. Brad Bakken – 72 points
Brad has had a mediocre yet consistent year thus far and I’m sure he is looking to improve in the second half. After his second-place showing at last year’s opening round he has not shown the same explosive speed in 2012. However; he also came off serious injury in the off-season and may have actually had it the worst of anyone with extreme wrist surgery. He made it past where he got hurt last year and will definitely improve his speed the further out from his injury that he gets.
8. Shane Hufford – 64 points
Shane was my pick this year to be a standout rider. After being the top amateur last year and even beating Lafferty at some of the late rounds, he showed the potential to run up front. Early season pressure seemed to affect his performance but he has showed steady improvement throughout the series and recently turned in a 4th place finish in Wyoming ahead of series leader Steward Baylor. Look for Shane to have a better second half as he becomes more comfortable on his Husaberg.
9. Andrew Delong – 61 points
Andrew missed rounds two and three this year with injury and unbelievably came back stronger than before he got hurt. He carded an impressive 3rd overall in Lousiana and is from Pennsylvania where round 7 is hosted so look for another solid performance for him there. I expect Andrew to be top 5 for at round seven and I believe he has a chance to move up to sixth or seventh overall (even though he missed two rounds) by the end of the series is he continues to ride strong.
10. Jordan Ashburn – 59 points
Jordan seems to be still getting his feet wet in the endure scene. He has legendary Enduro racer Randy Hawkins as the manager of his team so he has the best in the business showing him the way. Jordan seems to have made a big jump in speed since his days as an amateur rider in the GNCC’s and will have to make another one to be able to compete for podiums in Enduros. Jordan typically excels in nastier conditions so if we have some rain in the second half look for Jordan to move up from 10th overall.