Brian Hebeisen wins thrilling CRA Championship

Brainerd International Raceway’s famed Donnybrooke Road Course provided the setting for the Central Roadracing Association’s final round of the season last weekend, and the tight overall Expert and Novice championship battles provided the entertainment.

Going into the final round, Expert points leader Brian Hebeisen held a 54-point lead over reigning champion Kyle Ohnsorg, and Novice points leader Eric Hjelter was clinging to a 63-point lead. With at least 20 points going to the winner of each race, none of the four contenders were in a comfortable position, and each of them needed to battle for every point they could.

Brian Hebeisen en route to a CRA Championship. Photo by Brad Knight

Brian Hebeisen en route to a CRA Championship. Photo by Brad Knight

The tight championship battles affected those not even involved in those races as a significant amount of preparation was done by the commentary team, which bolstered its numbers for “Points Watch 2017.” Joining announcer Kris Skellenger in the commentary booth was Cheap Thrills Moto rider Ewa Kalinsky, who kept the current points standings updated, and TPL Racing’s Jordan Imrie, who pretty much sat behind Skellenger the whole day. Word has it that since he is used to being behind Skellenger on track, he is more comfortable behind him off track as well.

Fisk Brothers Racing pulled out all the stops in its pursuit of the overall championship for Hebeisen. Ohnsorg matched them every step of the way with both riders competing in every race on Saturday aside from Formula 40. The battle raged on all day in multiple classes with both riders on Yamaha R3’s, Suzuki SV650s, Yamaha R6’s and Ohnsorg bringing a gun to the knife fight in Unlimited by swinging a leg over his BMW S1000RR.

Ohnsorg had one thing in mind in every race – victory. His results were what you’d hope to see on a golf scorecard, with a series of 1’s in his race position column. Were it not for an unfortunate chain failure on his R6 or using his immense talent to highside one of the slowest bikes in the series while going straight (note, BIR’s front straight can be a bit slippery at times, can’t it Kyle?), Ohnsorg could have cleaned house by winning every race he was eligible for. Unfortunately, unlike golf, racing doesn’t offer mulligans and the rain that came in the late afternoon put a stop to “Peanut Brittle’s” attempt at winning every race he finished.

Realistically, Ohnsorg’s biggest hurdle was the tenacity of Hebeisen, who took time out of his busy schedule of flexing and not wearing a shirt to pick up as many points as possible throughout the day. Lacking the absolute speed of the dainty Ohnsorg, Hebeisen clearly understood that he could win the championship through consistency and smart riding. In some races, he pushed Ohnsorg and challenged for the win but in races where that wasn’t possible, he brought it home and earned solid points. Ohnsorg’s chain failure proved to be a giant momentum swing back toward Hebeisen, and Ohnsorg’s crash in Featherweight GP was the turning point in the championship. After taking maximum points in those races, Hebeisen just needed to complete 50 laps in Sunday’s annual 5-Hour Endurance Race to be classified as a points scorer and take home his first championship.

Hebeisen did just that and now holds the record as the oldest No. 1 plate-holder in CRA history, which seems fitting as the championship bonus from the CRA is one of those $3 pairs of reading glasses from the closest gas station. In all seriousness, massive congratulations go out to the Fisk Brothers Racing/Dryject, Inc. team of Hebeisen, Mark Fisk, Phil Fisk, Mike Smith, Anna Hanson, Brad Zajic and everyone else that made Hebeisen’s middle-aged dream come true.

The Novice side of the party was equally as intense with Sam Burke, who’s Ohnsorg’s teammate, in a similar scenario to the 2016 CRA champion. In order to take the championship, he needed to win every race he could. All season long, Burke has shown himself to be the quickest Novice rider in dry conditions but Eric Hjelter showed the world he meant business racing in the rain during the CRA’s August weekend.

With rain in the forecast for the Saturday afternoon, Hjelter needed to be like Hebeisen and grab every point possible. Unfortunately, a crash early in the day put one of his bikes out of commission and made the possibility of bringing home the championship very small. Burke was able to capitalize on Hjelter’s mistake. Even though Hjelter was able to borrow a bike to try to gain some points, it wasn’t enough to stop Burke as the championship lead changed hands during the final sprint race of the season.

With a 12-point lead going into the 5-hour race, Burke took home a solid result in the team race to claim top honors and show Ohnsorg how it should be done. The Novice championship was a great way to repay the faith shown in him by his team of Mike Husman, Cheryl Husman, the entire Ohnsorg family, Zack Johnson, Stephen Peterson and many more who helped him through the year.

The 5-Hour race usually takes top billing during the September CRA weekend as championships are usually wrapped up well before the last day of the season but that was not the case this year. With so much riding on who finished where, there was massive changes to rider lineups all the way up until registration closed for the race 30 minutes before practice started. Going into the race, the favorites for the overall win seemed to be 3-Hour Team Challenge winners Full Nelson (Jesse Nelson, Skellenger, Scott Stall), 3 Men and a Baby (Aaron Anderson, Burke, Shane Keaveny, Stephen Peterson), Ohnsorg’s Cheap Goats (Erik DeVaan, Ohnsorg, Jake Schmotter), and Power Bottoms (Clark Davis, Josh Harein, Drew See). Other teams to keep an eye on due to their role in the overall championships were Team Kramer (Jack Barton, Hebeisen, Chase Sellers) and The MAD MEN (Adam Bastien, Hjelter, Barry Schmidt, Luke Trombley).

Off the start, Full Nelson held the lead with Zach Hughes shocking the world by donning his gold-plated leathers and putting in a solid performance on Despacito teammate Pat Gill’s Yamaha R1M. Close behind them, 3 Men and a Baby held onto the final overall podium spot with Ohnsorg’s Cheap Goats right behind. The Power Bottoms tried an unusual alternative strategy early in the race when a dipstick malfunction (we won’t specify if the dipstick was human or not) caused a red flag due to oil on the track. The team used the red flag to clean the excess lube off of their bike and continue on.

Just past halfway, Full Nelson developed a transmission problem that pu them out of the race. Then the forecasted rain arrived, causing havoc up and down the field – at one point two riders crashed on the front straight within five minutes! Multiple red flags through the rest of the race to deal with many incidents caused by rain that at times made it difficult to even see created a perfect “never give up” scenario with multiple teams crashing, repairing their bikes, crashing again, repairing their bikes again, etc.

This scenario is usually where Billy Vossberg shines. Vossberg, riding for the aptly named team We Put the CRA in CRASH, has a history of throwing bikes down the road multiple times during races and somehow bringing home very solid finishes. The most recent CRA fast guy, Josh Harein, threw his hat into the Crash & Dash talent pool by having multiple ground meetings with the Power Bottoms bike and getting it back to the pits for repairs. At one point, outgoing Tech Inspector Clint Lee stationed himself at the Power Bottom’s pit area on the assumption Harein would be back shortly for another post-crash inspection.

When the clouds cleared and the checkered flag flew, Ohnsorg’s Cheap Goats took a one-lap victory over the Power Bottoms (both of which were GP3 teams) while We Put the CRA in CRASH took top honors in GP4 over 3 Men and a Baby. Alive @45, a team consisting of three 45-year old men riding an 18-year old bike (even if the bike is the age of legal consent, it’s still creepy) to a very popular win in the GP2 class and GP1 top honors went to What Happened to Sam Miller? – a question many of us will never know the answer to.

The 2017 season was yet another in a long line of exciting seasons in the club’s history and while the end of the season is always a bit disappointing, the good times will continue at the season-ending banquet on Oct. 21. Thanks for the entertainment in 2017, 2018 promises to have just as much action!

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