Tallon Vohland grew accustomed to wet surfaces during his seven years of racing in Italy and Belgium. So at Budds Creek Motocross Park on Sunday, when it poured, he reigned.
The 27-year-old Sacramento resident upset highly favored Ricky Carmichael in the 125cc class of the American Motorcyclist Association Mazda Truck Motocross Nationals in quagmire-like conditions for the 1-3 win and his first national championship series title.
"Everyone is building it up like me and Ricky are big rivals, and that works for me," said Vohland, who ranked second and third in the world standings in 1995 and 1997, respectively. "He's won the past two national titles, and even though I've accomplished a lot on the world scene, a lot of people don't know about me because they don't follow European racing too much. So this is giving me an opportunity to make a name for myself in the states."
Vohland was picked up by the FMF/Honda race team just six months ago.
Kevin Windham, who said he was dismayed by the weather conditions when he awoke Sunday morning, swept the 250cc class with an impressive 1-1 win.
"I was riding so good yesterday in the qualifiers, and it was beautiful out. So I watched the weather last night, and they said it was going to be beautiful again," Windham said. "Then when I woke up and saw all this rain, I was so disappointed. But seeing how the day turned out for me -- I might not be so sad to see rain in the future."
Windham wasn't the only one surprised to see the rain, which fell at a steady pace throughout the event's four motos. The forecasts for a beautiful afternoon fooled not only the racers but also more than 11,000 spectators who lined the track. Most of the fans abandoned their towels, blankets and lawn chairs to avoid sitting in the mud but still went home with dirty clothes and bodies.
The conditions were far worse for the drivers, who were nearly unidentifiable to the scorers at Budds Creek because of the mud covering the numbers on their shirts and bikes. Many racers said they had trouble just seeing the track because of the flying mud, which made the start -- and a quick jump to the front of the pack -- very important.
"The whole key today was getting a good start, and then not making mistakes with it," said Windham, who led both races from start to finish, save being passed in one turn in Moto 1 by teammate Sebastien Tortelli before regaining the lead on the next jump. "Passing was so difficult. All of us had to deal with the same weather conditions, but that doesn't make it any easier. That kind of mud is not something many people get used to. I don't really know how I did it today."
There was little opportunity to pass in any of the four motos because of the inability to deviate from the worn path. Racers were forced to stay in the same groove to prevent getting stuck in the deep mud on the perimeter of the track, something that happened to several drivers who attempted a bold move. At one point in the second 125cc moto, a spectator hopped over the track barrier to help a driver whose bike had been swallowed by the mud as he helplessly watched nearly the entire field pass him by.
Carmichael, 19, who has won eight of the first 10 motos this year, did recover from his 22nd-place finish in the first moto to win the second 125cc moto Sunday, but Tallon's third-place finish in Moto 2 and subsequent overall victory narrowed Carmichael's overall points lead to 222-209, with eight stops left in the AMA series.
"When you're sitting in second place, like I am, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain," said Vohland, who upon seeing the white flag waved in Moto 1 -- signaling one lap to go -- screamed with joy as his bike propelled over the hill by the flag stand. "I think, maybe as much as my experience on wet surfaces, that's what helped me today. I could afford to be aggressive at the start. It all worked to my advantage."
Windham's sweep moved him into a tie for fourth place in the 250cc points race, while Tortelli, who placed fourth in the combined results, moved past Ezra Lusk, who finished ninth, into first place overall. Tortelli holds a slim 189-185 lead over Lusk.
"Today's points have helped me out tremendously," said Windham, whose other combined win this season came on a 3-2 finish. "The first one I won this year wasn't very convincing. This one was. I'm getting closer to where I want to be. I've had a lot of good races, but not a great one like this before."
CAPTION: Jimmy Button, of Phoenix, slogs through mud in the 250cc pro qualifier Sunday. Some motocross bikers became mired in the rain-saturated Budds Creek course.
CAPTION: Todd Downs, of Corpus Christi, Tex., goes airborne during 250cc qualifier at Budds Creek. Kevin Windham won the event.