Bobby Hankins started racing hill cross instead of snocross because he wanted to give his body a break. Flying through the air off of his sled and not knowing when he was going to land was not what he had in mind for the Winter X Games VII in Aspen on Sunday.
"They made the course to the specifications of the snow cross riders," he said. "I wasn't prepared for that type of a course and things didn't go my way."
Hankins said that as he and the other racers were making final preparations for the race on Sunday, another racer, Tucker Hibbert, got out of a snow cat that had been working on the course.
"They built that course for him and the other big names that also were in snocross," he said. "It was stacked against the guys that came in with the fast and powerful sleds."
The snocross machines have less powerful engines and shorter tracks built with the emphasis on being able to go through a rough course easier. While a hill cross machine has longer tracks and a more powerful engine to traverse smooth, big jump courses.
Hankins' theory appears to make sense as the top four finishers in the hill cross also competed in snocross earlier at the X games, although Hibbert, a silver medalist in the snocross, was not one of the racers to make the final.
"I didn't realize it was going to be so political," he said. "They wanted to make it exciting for TV so they even told us to ignore yellow caution flags on the course, which is like playing with real bullets."
In the race that the local snowmobiler qualified for the X-games, he said the course had three or four big table top jumps and then a section of small jumps and bumps. In Aspen the course had more small jumps and not as smooth as a normal hill cross course.
"In hindsight I wish I would have practiced more on snocross courses," Hankins said. "But I'll be ready if the opportunity comes again."
In the first of three qualifying runs Hankins started out quickly in second place. Then he said he hesitated for a split second and two riders blew past him. With a wall of snow from the other riders he was guessing where he was and the next thing he knew he was in the air.
"Right before the two passed me I saw that there was a double jump coming so I put just accelerated and hoped it would work out," he said. "The next thing I knew I was upside down flying through the air."
After being dethroned Hankins rode up to the finish and then back down to get ready for his next run, but he was in pain.
"My whole left side hurt," he said.
But one of his crew said, "We can worry about pain tomorrow," and Hankins lined up for the second qualifier.
On the first jump he knew he had a problem.
"It hurt too much after the first section," he said.
"I tried to go but everybody went past me and I started looking for a way back down the hill because everything hurt."
Later Hankins would find out he had seperated ribs and a sprained or seperated pelvis.
One of the more disappointing aspects of the competition for Hankins was that he knew he had a fast sled going into the competition.
"They we're testing the sleds and I had the second fastest," he said. "Normally the fastest sled is going to do well, but on that course speed didn't matter."
Considering the situation though, Hankins said he wasn't too disappointed. "To see all of those factory guys with big semis and 10 sleds and to know that I made it on the same playing field as them was gratifying in of itself," he said.
"There were a lot of guys sitting at home that would have liked to be in my spot."
A couple of local riders did make the spotlight. Steve Martin from Evanston, Wy., finished third and Chris Burandt from Kremmling finished fifth.
"I've known Steve since he was teen," Hankins said of the high school senior. "It was nice to see a couple of the non-factory guys with out four mechanics and 10 sleds do well."
The wreck has only made Hankins more hungry.
"I want to get this bad taste out of my mouth and want to race as soon as I can," he said.
He also hopes to qualify for Winter X Games VIII in the spring again.
"I learned a lot from my first experience," he said. "Next year we'll be a little more prepared."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.