[Features]

Dargo’s 8-Hour: The Standout Stories

2 weeks ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: Donat O'Kelly, Jarrad Duffy

Okay, so you’ve frothed over the highlights video, ogled at the image gallery, and pored over the results. But what were the standout storylines that the 2017 Transmoto 8-Hour at Dargo will be remembered for? Here’s what preoccupied post-event talk at the Dargo River Inn’s salubrious bar on Sunday night…

16KM OF HIGH-PLAINS SANDWICH

There’s a running joke around Transmoto HQ that staff performance appraisals resemble a shit sandwich. Y’know, things look and taste good to begin with. Then comes a discussion about the staffer’s shortcomings (or “challenges”, as euphemistic HR types like to refer to them) – the unpalatable layer of ‘shit’ that’s delivered in the middle. Then to finish the meeting, there’s some backslapping and compliments to leave a sweet taste in the staffer’s mouth.

And that, friends, is an accurate analogy for the 16km loop that confronted entrants at this year’s Transmoto 8-Hour at Dargo. It started and finished with an intoxicating 5km section of lush, loamy, undulating grasstrack; terrain that conjured up images of Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Sandwiched in between them, however, several less palatable ‘challenges’ awaited. There were steep, rock-infested hillclimbs; a series of tricky, off-camber switchbacks and narrow chutes through a pine forest; and knee-deep, spaghetti-rut downhills with bulldust for ‘icing’.

While the 2017 loop was definitely less technical than last year’s, the challenging shit in Dargo’s 8-Hour sandwich made sure you really earned your laps. And judging by the smiles at the finishline and presentation, a greater majority left the venue with a sweet taste in their mouth. 

ELSIE’S “PINK I 69” CALL

With the formalities of Saturday arvo’s Rider Briefing out of the way, the crowd concertinas around the table-load of raffle prizes. Transmoto’s Event Manager, “Red Dog” Robbie Warden is talking up a storm on the mic. He’s ably assisted by Transmoto’s newest recruit, Brian Vegh – a can-do little character with big hair, big balls and borderline Tourette Syndrome. Like the massive crowd surrounding them, the Transmoto duo has had a few beers, and they’ve invited local Ironwoman entrant, Elsinor Neave, to draw the raffle tickets from the bucket. The very first winner that Elsie announces – “Pink I 69 … Pink I … 69!” – brings the house down. It’s like a practical joke, but it ain’t.

Just pure coincidence, and no one appreciates the humour as much as Vegh. Hands aloft, like his team’s just won the grand final, he hugs everyone within reach. Maybe it’s got to do with the fact his nickname’s “Vag”. Maybe he’s just childish and overexcited. Whatever the case, his maniacal laughter is infectious and it sets the tone for one of the funniest raffle draws of all time. It’s so memorable, Vegh is now affectionately known as Transmoto’s “Director of Stoke”. Word, DOS! Thoughts?

THE PUBLICAN’S GRAND GESTURE

It’s become tradition at Transmoto events for pole position to be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to a worthy cause. And for this year’s 8-Hour, the money raised was donated to Dargo’s Bush Nurse Centre. With pole position ‘only’ offering a minute’s start on the field, the bidding stalled at $600. But when the advantage was extended to two minutes, a bidding war ensued between SPMX’s Steve Powell and Dargo River Inn’s Christian Barrett. Barrett’s $1000 bid won the war, but his two-minute head start on the field all but evaporated when he went tits-up over a log (that Barrett himself had added to the course) and injured his wrist. Ahh, the sweet irony of squandering a head start by crashing on an obstacle he created for himself (which is why we handed the ‘Start Ya Bastard Award’ to Barrett at the presentation).

In spite of his swollen and numb hand, our favourite publican and his team still managed to race to an impressive fourth place Outright. But not before he crashed again on the road-gap jump – a sequence of which just happened to be captured by our photographer, Ireland’s very own Donat O’Kelly. 

THE CHEEK OF THE MAN

Talk to the medical team at any dirt bike event, and they’ll tell you a majority of injuries are accounted for by bruises, abrasions and broken bones. Flesh wounds, on the other hand, are somewhat of a rarity. But nobody told Tom Livesay from the UBB (Upper Beac Boys) Racing Team. The four UBB teammates are all experienced trailriders, but for two of them (Tom included), Dargo’s 8-Hour was their first ever race. “I was tearing up a rocky hill near the ‘Dargo Views’ tabletop when I looped out and landed on a sharp rock,” Tom explained. “Initially I thought it was just a bad cork, so I pushed through and finished the lap. But when I got back to the pits and dropped my dacks, the boys were all like, ‘Holy shit, mate!’ There was a lot of blood, and I suddenly realised how deep the gash was and how much dirt was in the thing.

The on-ground medical team did a great job cleaning the wound up and getting me off to Bairnsdale Hospital. But I soon discovered they weren’t equipped to deal with the injury because it was 150mm deep and tore the glute muscle, too. They transferred me to Dandenong Hospital, where they have all the specialists. Apparently, it was a bit of a complex operation, but it felt fine within a couple of days. I’ll be back on the bike before too long.”

DAN THE MAN (OF IRON)

Anyone who completed one lap of the Dargo course will tell you it was no walk in the park. So just imagine how the mind and body would be feeling after 18 laps of that gruelling 16km loop. Well, all three Ironman-class podium finishers did exactly that, with an ecstatic Daniel Pahl leading the trio home to take his maiden Ironman-class win (and run 24th Outright in a field of 125 teams). When you consider that the winning team (the four-rider KTM #1 team) completed 22 laps, it puts these Ironman riders’ astonishing 18-lap effort in perspective. As reigning AORC champ, KTM’s Daniel Milner, said at the presentation, “It was tough out there. In fact, it was every bit as tough as the conditions you’d find at an ISDE or Australian 4-Day Enduro. So how these Ironman riders lasted for eight hours on that course is beyond comprehension. These guys’ fitness and determination is next-level, especially seeing as they’re not professional racers.”

Incredibly, 15 of the 20 Ironman entrants completed 10 or more laps at Dargo. That includes the field’s only Ironwoman, Elsinor Neave, who finished 15th in class and 102nd Outright.

STIFFIE’S SHOUT

The beauty of a team-oriented race is that you can allocate a ‘designated starter’ – the team player who agrees to stay off the turps on Saturday night to ensure he’d blow 0.00 if breathalyzed before the Sunday morning race-start.

Which, of course, means the rest of the team can kick back and enjoy a few sherbets. Case in point, Steve “Stiffie” Kuczko from Wodonga-based KTM dealership, KSP Offroad. Aside from being the biggest KTM dealership in Victoria and the country’s #1 when it comes to Adventure bike sales, the KSP Offroad crew have also won the Customer Service gong at KTM’s national dealer conference more than once. And let’s just say we got a dose of that customer service over the weekend – once, when we dropped in to KSP to grab some parts en route to the event, and again at the at the Dargo River Inn’s bar, where Stiffie wasn’t shy when it came to dishing out some stiff shots of liquor. On Sunday, two KSP staffers teamed up with two of their customers in a Team (of 4) and raced to a very impressive sixth Outright.

WHERE ARE YOUR WOMENFOLK, VICTORIA?

Hello, ladies? Are you out there? The reason we ask is that none of you entered the 2017 event at Dargo. At our Transmoto 6-Hour in Queensland earlier in the year, we had five Mixed teams (at least one female rider) and five Wonder Women teams (all female riders). But at Dargo, not a one! What, you Victorians got your better halves locked up in the kitchen? Let’s just say that there will be some added incentive for the fillies to enter the 2018 Transmoto 8-Hour at Dargo. Phoebe Snell, feel like a job as a recruitment officer next year?

GK’S ADVENTURE

For a majority of this year’s 360 entrants in the 8-Hour at Dargo, getting to the event meant loading up the ute, van or foubie and embarking on a roadtrip with their family and/or mates. KTM Enduro Racing Team Manager, Glenn Kearney, however, had other ideas. “Me and a couple of mates – Steve Robertson and Harry Norton – decided to ride to Dargo from the NSW Southern Highlands aboard our KTM 1190 and 1090R Adventure bikes,” GK explained. “And seriously, it was one of the most epic two-day rides I’ve ever done. Steve had most of the off-road routes dialled, so I was a passenger for much of the time. And feeling lost suited me just fine. It’s amazing where these big, 160 horsepower beasts will go and how fast they eat up the kays. It was pretty cool to be able to rock up and have a few beers at the Dargo River Inn, and then meet up with our race truck and mechanics, who had all our enduro bikes prepped and ready to race the 8-Hour. Perks of the job, I guess! As I’ve found at other Transmoto events, Dargo was a lot of fun – lots of laughs, a few beers, and an awesome track to race with your mates.”

THE BEER-BONG BUS

When you see a 1974 Ford Bedford bus with a Louisville grill rock up at an event with a four-bike trailer in tow, there’s little chance that the bunch of longhaired larrikins inside it will bore you senseless. In fact, the ‘Fair Shake’ team seemed to have a Bedouin-like welcoming creed because anyone who requested a guided tour though the old Ford was granted their wish on one condition: that they punch a beer bong upon entry.

Not everyone’s cup of tea, admittedly, but certainly a novel rite of passage for one very impressive rig – which, as it turns out, has been part of the First Class Motorcycles’ extended family for many years, and has seen more than the occasional moto rodeo.

THE OLD IRONMAN’S SWANSONG

Before 53-year-old Craig Hale lined up at Dargo, he flicked us an email that put his past few years’ commitment to our events in context. “This year’s Dargo 8-Hour will be my 10th Transmoto event, nine of which have been in the Ironman class,” Hale wrote. “My first event was at Batemans Bay 12-Hour in the Pairs class, but I’ve ridden six 12-Hour events in Ironman. So at Batemans, I’ve clocked up more than 80 hours’ riding time and about 140 laps. I think I have an Ironman addiction.” No kidding, mate!
Hale intends to take a break from Transmoto’s events for 2018, when he’ll focus his energies on the Australian Off-Road Championship. So to send himself out in style, the man rocked up at Dargo in a very dapper (and fire-resistant) three-piece suit. Looking like a merchant banker cum moto-preacher, Hale completed 13 laps of the Dargo course and finished a commendable eighth place from a field of 20 Ironman starters. See you in 2019 as a 55-year-old, Mr Hale!

I AM GARETH COOPER!

Gareth Cooper is a regular at Transmoto’s events; a classic character with a thick Yorkshire accent and hilarious turn of phrase.

He’s 30, but comes across like a 10-year-old jacked up on Mountain Dew. And, as outlined in the ‘Gareth the Glorious’ piece about the man from the recent Transmoto 6-Hour at Stroud, his abject lack of preparation means drama follows him around like a bad smell. He’s forever wrecking his body or bike, or both. So it wasn’t without some trepidation that we invited Gareth to join us on our roadtrip from Sydney to Dargo (where he’d offer some feedback about our sponsor-supplied VW V6 Amarok dual-cab ute), and then race on Transmoto’s three-man team aboard some 2018-model KTMs. But thank Christ we did get him along, because this Pom’s presence made it one of the most amusing and memorable roadtrips we’ve ever had. Before we picked him up, Gareth had spent weeks rebuilding his recently purchased 2004-model YZ250. The thing was new from head to toe, and pretty as a picture with its anodised this and bead-blasted that.

Predictably though, with three 2018-model KTM four-strokes to ride at the 8-Hour, Gareth’s YZ never made it out from under the Quikshade. Admittedly, and despite a crippling hangover, Gareth spent six hours on Saturday as a traffic marshal. And his capacity to flog raffle tickets and Transmoto stubby coolers is now the stuff of legend. But we fear his overnight celebrity status may have gone to the blond Pom’s head. Last we saw him, he was busily accepting free drinks from anybody and everybody at the Dargo River Inn’s bar, and dicking around on his all-new Instagram page, i_am_garethcooper.

THE MAN FROM DARGO RIVER

Unlike the ‘greenfield’ sites used for the first four Transmoto Enduro Events this year, Dargo is unique in that its staging area sits right next to the legendary Dargo River Inn – a former timber sawmill that was converted into a pub a few decades back, and has since forged a reputation for its salubrious atmosphere and motorcycle-friendly attitude. Admittedly, the Inn’s proximity is both convenient and dangerous.

But for those whose campsites aren’t equipped to cook, access to reasonably priced, hearty pub meals and beer on tap sure adds a measure of convenience to their 8-Hour weekend. The Inn also provided everyone with the perfect opportunity to buy a round or two for the landowners of the seven private properties used for the 2017 8-Hour. Without their consent and cooperation, this event simply would not exist.


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