From the office to the racetrack

Businessmen find thrills, success in off-road racing

by Hugh Fisher

Darren Lingafeldt and Jay Pool have been neighbors in Mountain Island for eight years.

They’re businessmen. Pool is a sales executive at Siemens Medical, and Lingafeldt is president of Nexjen Systems in Charlotte, an engineering firm.

If you’re one to believe in stereotypes, men in their 30s and 40s who go to work in shirts and ties often spend their spare time on a golf course.

But these guys decided to follow a different track – on the back of a dirt bike, cross-country.

They’re hare scramble racers, an off-road racing series with thousands of participants of all ages nationwide.

A race can draw as many as 300 competitors, slogging it out across creeks, through mud and over hills to see who can make the best time.

It’s a physically-challenging form of racing, but it’s something both men enjoy.

“At 48 years of age, hare scramble racing gives me an opportunity to compete in a sporting activity with other like-minded guys my own age,” Pool said.

But they weren’t satisfied with just competing. The two neighbors decided a year ago to place in the top three of their respective classes.

Throughout the year, they trained hard and practiced as much as they could.

And their determination paid off: Lingafeldt won the Vet C class for men 35 and up, while Pool placed second in the 45+ Senior C class.

“Racing dirt bikes through wooded mountain trails requires sharp focus and steely concentration,” Pool said. “The world goes away for 90 minutes, and your entire being is focused on racing.”

Both men grew up riding motorcycles.

Pool started racing bikes in Kansas as a young man, even racking up some wins, but when his parents separated, he had to give up the sport.

“Years later, much older, and in a different spot in my life and career, I found myself seriously entertaining the idea of acquiring a dirt bike for off-road recreation and exercise,” Pool said.

Lingafeldt encouraged him, and the two became riding buddies.

After riding for about a year, Pool said, he’d lost weight and had more energy and greater endurance.

“And my ride skills had reached a point where I began to think about competing again,” he said.

Hare scramble courses aren’t for the faint of heart, although racers of all ages compete.

Courses can be as long as 8 miles through the woods, filled with obstacles – up and down steep hills, around trees and at high speed across fields.

Unlike most races, there’s no set number of laps to finish. Instead, racers try to run as many laps as they can in 90 minutes.

Competitors are classified based on skill, engine size and age. Each class starts the race at a different time.

“On the shorter courses, maneuvering around slower racers adds to the considerable challenge,” Pool said.

Taking part in hare scramble races kept both men busy and challenged them physically.

“About every two weeks you knew you had a race to run and you couldn’t ignore it.  That in itself is a big motivator,” Lingafeldt said.

In addition to keeping their bikes running, staying in good physical shape is a must.

Their training regimens include weight-lifting and running. They also had to get enough rest and stay hydrated, especially before hot-weather races.

That’s because hare scramble racers have to be ready for just about anything. There’s no telling what challenges a race course might hold.

Unlike road races where the route is known in advance, there’s no preview of a hare scramble course, Lingafeldt said.

“You see it for the first time on the first lap, as fast as you can go, surrounded by competitors with the same idea.”

When the flag drops, he said, there are a lot of unknowns.

For Pool, the excitement of a race is a great way to relax.

“The daily grind of work and responsibility are momentarily forgotten when trees, dirt, dust, mud, rocks and other motorcyclists, all moving at high speed, require 100 percent of your attention,” Pool said.

Both were pleased to reach their goal this past year.

But 2011 will be different.

Lingafeldt and his wife, Courtney, welcomed their first child, Harper, two weeks ago.

“For me, this represents a big priority shift,” Lingafeldt said. “I plan to spend more time at home this year.”

But he still plans to run a limited number of races, in addition to his recreational rides with Pool, to keep up with the friends they have made.

“You compete in a relatively dangerous sport with these guys and that builds a strong bond and a level of mutual respect,” Lingafeldt said. “They become part of your life.”

“The reward is more than winning,” Pool said, “It’s a deep sense of accomplishment and shared interest with others.”

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