A high-level round of the series welcomes riders for round three. Thunder Valley Motocross Park is located just west of Denver and the most metro of outdoor venues. It feels more like a supercross venue than a motocross, but the convenience is appreciated by anyone who goes to these events. This region of the world being very focused on outdoor activities, the participation is often very strong for this race as well. For these reasons and more, Thunder Valley is one of my favorite races of the year, if not my favorite.
Located on the side of a large buttress, the track offers difficult elevations and slopes. Speaking of elevation, Thunder Valley sits at over 5,000 feet. This elevation and the resulting lack of oxygen takes its toll on both man and machine. Engines need oxygen to burn fuel and as the oxygen is choked off the ability to burn efficiently is also reduced. The lack of power is immediately felt when the riders hit the circuit on Saturday morning. There are things teams can do to counter the ill effects, but this is lifesaving work at best. Gear changes, increasing compression, fuel map changes, and changing the fuel itself can all help, but there’s simply no way to replace oxygen other than raising the sea level can provide. As for the runners, they will also feel the lack of oxygen. I usually felt it walking the track on Fridays, breathing much harder than I should have. I also noticed that I was out of breath during the qualifying laps on Saturday morning, as the drivers pushed to the absolute limit. I felt like I acclimated quickly, though, and didn’t really notice it during the races. The thing is, if you see riders working on a Saturday afternoon or hear strange noises coming from their engine, it’s almost a guarantee that elevation is the culprit.