It’s said that when you’re traveling at 80 mph on an ATV, you’re covering over 117 feet per second. In the time you blink your eyes, you can travel over 60 feet. If realizing that you’re riding blind for that period of time is scary, throw in 3-foot-deep whoops, rain ruts, boulders and dust for miles. These are conditions that not every rider can handle on their best day.
It takes a special type of person to tackle the terrain of the open desert on a fast ATV. That’s where guys like Wayne Matlock come into the picture. Wayne has been racing in the rough deserts for years and has just the mentality and skill it takes to win championships. In 2007, he won the championship in the Best In The Desert and the National Hare & Hound series and also secured second place in the 2007 SCORE Off-Road series. It’s because of this track record that Honda has signed him to race its ATVs in the desert since 2006 and continues to support him in 2008.
We recently had the opportunity to meet with Wayne out in the vast desert of Ocotillo, California, and threw a leg over the same machine that led him to many victories over the past year. We wanted to find out what kind of machine it takes to cover hundreds of miles of the harshest terrain in order to bring home a win.
The 2007 Honda TRX450R that Matlock is riding isn’t much different than what you may find in many garages. The most noticeable thing about this sport quad is that it’s wide. To make the ATV more stable at the higher speeds needed to win, Matlock runs Laeger Racing +3 A-arms, stock swingarm and Laeger rear axle. To soak up the worst landscape the desert has to offer, Elka Elite shocks are used all the way around. Matlock’s theory is that if you don’t have a machine that handles well in rough terrain, you can’t ride fast.
The next most important piece of this machine is the engine. Since he has to compete with Open class ATVs, such as the Raptor 700, Can-Am DS 650 and even the powerful KTM powerplants of the Polaris Outlaw and KTM 525 XC, you would think his motor is highly modified. This is definitely not the case according to Matlock. One of the most important factors in a desert racing machine is that it must be as reliable as possible. The more work you do to the internals of an engine, the less reliable it stands to be.
This motor has very simple upgrades, such as a Honda HRC kit and head porting done by longtime sponsor Precision Concepts. The head porting allows for increased airflow into the engine to give Wayne the extra power he needs to achieve the high speeds required for desert racing. Precision Concepts also does all of the race prep on this machine, which is a critical prerace procedure for any serious competitor. To round off the list of modifications with the engine is an exhaust system from longtime sponsor Alba Racing.
To get the power to the ground, Matlock runs Maxxis Razr tires mounted on Douglas wheels, which have Tire Balls installed in them. This combination gives all the traction they need while preventing flat tires in the worst of conditions. An oversize IMS fuel tank, complete with a dry-break fueling system, allows for quick refueling when seconds can make or break your day. In addition to the shocks, Elka also outfits this quad with one of its frame-mounted steering stabilizers. This unit helps keep the bar in the rider’s hands when he’s attacking the unforgiving desert at breakneck speeds.
Finally rounding off the list of bolt-on performance accessories are a custom desert seat cover and foam from Quadtech ATV, IMS/ Roll +1 steering stem, footpegs and front bumper. To many, these items are considered more of a creature comfort, but if you’re blasting through the desert at speeds of 80-plus mph, you’d want to be as comfortable as possible.
Enough jibber jabber already, we want to go ride.
To let our test rider put this machine to the ultimate test, Wayne took us to his own stomping grounds of the Ocotillo Desert. This would give us the best mix of wide-open washes, deep whoops and rocky technical trails for which this machine was purposely built. To put it to the test, we brought along former WORCS pro racer and longtime BITD Expert Class competitor Tim Gillespie.
Tim’s personal race machine is a TRX450R as well, so he didn’t need too much time getting familiar with this monster. Everything you’ll read from this point on is straight from his mouth.
On many race machines, one of the first modifications that people will do is bump up the compression with a new piston which can make these ATVs a little finicky to start. No problems here since he left the stock compression piston in this engine. A quick kick and this engine revved to life with no hesitation. A quick click of the shifter and twist of the throttle had the Honda rolling down the trails in no time.
What we first noticed about this quad is that it didn’t have quite the low-end hit that even the stock ’08 TRX450s we were riding had. The power seemed soft, but once you opened up the throttle and were in the upper portion of the
powerband, this motor screams. It doesn’t quite pull like an off-road or MX bike, but then again this type of racing doesn’t require that type of power. Listening to this motor hum as you blast down the roads and sand washes was awesome. It was obvious that the combination of porting, camshaft and exhaust are exactly what it takes to put a rider at the front of the pack.
As far as the handling of the quad is concerned, this again is nothing like an off-road bike. The suspension on this machine is set up for high-speed action. This is very apparent when you’re cruising at lower speeds because the action seems very soft and spongy. It’s when you’re at speed that you feel how well this baby works going through the deep whoops and rough terrain. The faster and harder you could push this machine, the better all of the components on it worked as a package.
Now desert racing isn’t just about going fast in a straight line, either. Many race organizations will throw in some technical sections that can really test your machine and skill. This particular quad didn’t disappoint us in any aspect. From blasting out of a berm to riding the ridge on what seemed like a very narrow shale-laden goat trail, the handling of this ATV kept us right where we were pointing the bar. The overall feel of the TRX was great and gave us the confidence we needed to run a blistering pace.
It definitely takes more than a good rider to win multiple championships in any kind of racing. The most common reason for a DNF in desert racing isn’t because the rider just can’t handle the distance or crashes. It’s because they don’t have a machine that’s capable of getting them to the end. Although there aren’t the gigantic leaps like you’ll find in motocross racing, ATVs that are raced in the desert take some of the harshest beatings riders can give them.
The TRX450R that Matlock sits on waiting for the green flag to drop at the races is like a thoroughbred horse waiting to jump out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby. Both are built for the exact same purpose: Go as fast as you can for as long as you can. The months and months of training are equal to finding the right engine and suspension combination to drive you to the end. As long as this combination keeps working for him, the future for more championships is neverending.
Chatting With Wayne Matlock
How He Goes The Distance!
ATV Rider: Wayne, you had a great season last year winning the Best In The Desert Championship, National Hare & Hound Championship as well as claiming second place in the SCORE Off-Road series. At your level, what type of upgrades did you have to make to your machine to perform and get you on the podium?
Wayne Matlock: Starting with a Honda 450R as a base is the key factor and then adding quality suspension components, such as wider A-arms, axle and shocks. We do this so that we can have a wider stance, which will give us more stability at high speeds on the roads and in rough terrain. From there we go into the motor and do some minor porting in the head and install an Alba exhaust system, all of which allows the motor to breathe a little better. We also replace the basic controls like steering stem, handlebar and levers. Aside from those parts, this machine is pretty much stock.
ATVR: For many people who try to start racing competitively, one of the first things they look into is having their engines built up. Is keeping the engine as stock as possible the key for reliability purposes?
WM: Honda has a name for being one of the most reliable machines in the industry, period, so why mess with it? The modification we do to the head by porting it doesn’t seem to do anything to the reliability. We’re not adding any parts or anything; we’re just cleaning up the stock casting which helps the engine breathe better. The only aftermarket part we do use is the camshaft from an HRC hop-up kit. This combination keeps our engine completely reliable.
ATVR: So keeping the motor simple helps go the distance?
WM: On this current motor, we won the Henderson 400 which was the race that secured our championship in the ’07 BITD series. We won the Parker 250 which was the first race of the ’08 BITD season and after that we used the same bike in the WORCS eight-hour endurance race. The only servicing this engine has seen in between these races are oil and filter changes as well as valve adjustments.
ATVR: Well that seems to be as reliable as you can get. Now we obviously know that last year was pretty good for you, but what does 2008 hold?
WM: Hopefully good things. To start, I’ve signed on with Honda for another year to run the BITD and SCORE series on the new 700XX. I’m really looking forward to getting on the new machine and will debut it at the Baja 500. It will take a little time to get things on that bike dialed in and comfortable, but I’m super excited about racing that.
ATVR: Will you be contesting in any other race series?
WM: Since I’ve dropped the National Hare & Hound series after winning it the last two years in a row, I’ll also be running in the WORCS Off-Road Series. Running the motocross sections in this series is something that will take some time getting used to, but I feel right at home in the off-road sections.
ATVR: Back to you re-signing with Honda. How long have they been supporting your race program?
WM: They’ve been supporting me in racing since I won the Baja 1000 in ’05. That was the first race I did with Honda and the first 1000 that I had ever won. After that, we had signed a deal for 2006, which has continued each year till now.
ATVR: What kind of support does your deal entail? Do you just get a couple of bikes per year or does it go beyond that?
WM: Honda is behind me quite a bit in the off-road racing. I work directly with Bruce Ogilvie who handles all of the off-road for motorcycles and stuff. We get quite a bit of help from the company. Sometimes it seems as if we get more help than the motocross racers because Bruce is at most of my events and there’s a Honda presence already there as well. At most of these races, you have guys like Johnny Campbell and Robby Bell who ride for the motorcycle team. We blend right into that program with their pit system. They have pit support for us down in Baja, and they do help us out quite a bit. Without them
I wouldn’t be racing down there and at the level that I am. The support I get from Honda is great, but at the same time all of your other sponsors also love the fact that you’re riding for Honda. That really means something to them because it’s a prestigious thing. I’ve always wanted to ride for them, and I was super excited to make a deal with them.
ATVR: It’s awesome to be given an opportunity like that. Now in any sort of racing physical stamina is definitely a key. What does your training regimen consist of?
WM: Riding as much as I can and going to the gym when I can are my main methods. Definitely getting seat time is important, though. Being comfortable on your quad is a key element in training. If you aren’t comfortable, you’re going to tire yourself out really fast. Being comfortable on your quad also includes proper suspension setup. If you have rough or stiff suspension, you won’t be able to last that long.
ATVR: In addition to Honda, which is your primary sponsor, what other companies have helped you get you where you are today?
WM: Precison Concepts is a big one. It does all of my bike prep and motor building. Alba Action Sports is another company that has always been behind me. Cory Hove up there became a good friend of mine, and now it seems like we’re a permanent fixture. Companies like Maxxis Tires and Elka Suspension give a tremendous amount into my program, and my new sponsor Laeger
Racing is handling all of my A-arm and swingarm needs. If you’re racing and don’t have companies like this behind you, you aren’t doing anything unless you’re a millionaire.
ATVR: Agreed. ATV racing isn’t cheap and the more support you have, the better off you are. Wayne, thanks for taking the time to let our readers know a little more about you and your program. We wish you the best of luck in 2008.
Posted with permission from the May 2008 issue of ATV Rider ® www.atvrideronline.com. Copyright 2009, Source Interlink Media, Inc. All rights reserved. For more information about reprints from ATV Rider, contact Wright’s Reprints at 877-652-5295.