We returned once again this year to the Carteret Motor Speedway in North Carolina for the second running of the Croatan Buck Fifty. The 150-mile race around the Croatan National Forest had caught the eye of the east coast racing scene after it’s first go-around in 2018. Where the first year saw around 200 competitors this year’s edition was just shy of 700 riders.
When we arrived at the Speedway on the eve of the race the infield of the track was buzzing with riders picking up their pre-race packets, a food truck dealing out tacos as well as a small expo area containing Wahoo Fitness demoing their smart trainers, Canyon Bikes and of course Ridge Supply. Ridge Supply owner and operator Matt Hawkins, as well as his co-conspirator in stoke Gordon Wadsworth, are the creators the Croatan Buck Fifty. Kitted out in full red jumpsuits, both Hawkins and Wadsworth beamed in the late evening light in anticipation for the next day events. Most likely equal parts excited and nervous due to the sharp growth in the field of riders from the year prior, Hawkins and Wadsworth greeted and directed participants as they arrived to pick up numbers and set up camp for the night.
As the sun broke through the bleachers of the racetracks straightaway, riders crammed down their last bits of breakfast, nervously shuffling towards the start line to begin what was going to be a long and dusty day on the bike. To accommodate the increased number of riders, there was a new route worked out for this year’s event. Where last year riders were taken both out and back on a stretch of State Route 58 this year the road was removed, and two new sections of off-road track were added. Both sections, much like route 58 would send riders in both directions, and both would also add a new set of challenges for the riders.
A zig-zag through a lengthy cornfield would greet the group early on in the day, testing attentiveness to stay near the front as the whole of the race strung out single file looking for the worn track. Deep pockets of sand and 90-degree corners waited to catch riders off guard in the early goings and then it was off to forest where the infamous Savage Road and it countless massive puddles and ruts. When Savage Road was first discovered by Hawkins and friends out for a weekend ride, they discovered a car stuck in mud up to the windows a mile or so in, savage indeed.
Just before the end of the first lap, the field encountered the second of the two new additions to this year’s race. A path along the edge of a farms property took riders on a narrow stretch through the woods before emerging into the farm’s fields where cattle looked on in confusion. Soft ground mud, ruts and a blown out sandy berm gave the race a bit of a cyclocross field in this portion of the course. The lead riders barreled through as if the race was ending then and there, just to do it again on their return back out on course for lap two. Things got a little argy-bargy on the narrow sections as riders were heading in both directions in large numbers during the first lap, but thankfully things stayed mostly civil.
At the end of the day, Dylan Johnson was able to slip away from the always fast veteran Jerimiah Bishop to take the win, while last years winner Bryan Lewis struggled to find last years form that put him on the top step of the podium. In the women’s race, Carla Williams was able to find herself in a strong working group of some the men competitors and was able to hold off the charging Meteor-Intelligentsia duo of Cynthia Frazier and Ellen Tarquinio to take home the win for the second year in a row.
While the winners put on impressive performances, what has made this race something special is the ability to challenge all levels of riders. For some, it’s a major accomplishment just to finish the event. One hundred and fifty miles over the pothole-pocked dirt forest roads of the Croatan rattle the bones and give little to no chance for rest. The added off-road sections erased almost any chance of a break that last years route down 58 offered. Exhausted, dusty and muddy, the last riders once again rolled in well past dark, somehow still finding the energy to crack a smile.
This year both Hawkins and Wadsworth traded in their moto-helmets, and Honda Ruckus’ scooters to oversee the race from the Speedway. A host of new volunteers made sure things went smoothly, as well as taking over scooter duties for the day. The duo has a saying “The stoke lives here.” and after watching the race grow in the last twelve months and the collective smiling dirty faces, it’s hard to argue that sentiment.
If you haven’t booked marked the Croatan Buck Fifty for next year, I suggest doing so. Regardless of what they set the field size limit to it will likely sell out in a hurry after word spreads from this year’s event.