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I wasn’t always a moto guy. I know a lot of my high desert buddies bust my balls about just being one dimensional, but I came from a desert racing background. My dad would worked his ass off all week just so our family could go camp out in the desert on the weekends, in order to enjoy some family time as well as off-road riding. I was raised on the annual Barstow To Vegas race as my dad would send his entry in as early as he could, just so he could be one of the 1200 riders to tackle the infamous desert racing event that took place annually in the Mojave Desert.
I remember when my dad came home with his first brand new bike and how excited he was. He took some extra side work and managed to save enough to get a 1985 ATK 560. His hero was Chris Crandall because he rode an American made bike and he won the 1984 Barstow To Vegas race on one a year prior. Obviously I didn’t know if my dad knew at the time, but I wanted to be just like him, not Chris Crandall. I was nine years old watching my dad go on trail rides and race desert races on his ATK and that is what I wanted to do.
Instead of watching guys like Bob Hannah and Broc Glover, I emulated riding styles of Larry Roeseler, Danny Hamel, and even Malcolm Smith. I would make my parents purchase pink ribbon (desert racing course markers) at Home Depot and even stole Day Glow markers from these races my dad would enter, just so I could mark my own course around our property. There I was after school with my pink ribbon hanging from my 501 Levi’s and my trusty hammer that I may or may not have got from my dad’s toolbox, while he was at work (that’s a whole other story in itself), hammering away at my new desert layout. I would go into my bedroom, grab a pencil, and begin to write down ten top desert racers on a notepad, just so I could ride my bicycle around my makeshift “loop” around the house and imitate each one of those ten riders. My dad would come home to a damn racecourse and would immediately make me clean it up the next day. That didn’t stop me from doing another course the next day though!
Once my dad started to put his racing/riding aside and started putting more effort into my racing we began to chase some of the District 37 desert events around Southern California. I worked my way up from a 125 novice to 125 expert in a little over two years and even won some bigger events like the Adelanto GP and the now defunct Barstow GP. I thought I was going to be the next off-road star, but at some point in my early teens my dad discovered that he could stick me into motocross and spend less money on parts for my bike. I seemed to thrash my bike at every desert race I did, so pops wanted to go the less expensive route, which back then was less expensive. The year I had hoped to race with my dad in the Barstow To Vegas race, the BLM pulled the plug on my dream. From there on out, I was a moto kid.
My career went on a different path, but the love for off-road riding/racing never really wavered. I didn’t go race out in the desert, but I always kept an eye on the AMA National Hare N Hound Series and its riders. Through my time at Dirt Rider Magazine I would interview factory riders and series champions and admired the off-road side of the industry. Fast forward to January 2019, I was asked by Meg Argubright (wife of 2019 NHHA Champion Jake Argubright) if I could help promote the series a little. I was on my own at Keefer Inc. and had the freedom to do what I want so I agreed. The NHHA jumped on board with my Keefer Tested podcast and one of the promises I made to Meg was that I would come out and race one event and re-live my youth a little. Well… My procrastinating ass managed to pick the hardest AMA National Hare N Hound of the year to re-pop my cherry (so to speak). I did a podcast on the event as well as the JCR Honda that I raced, but I thought some of you moto heads as well as old non podcast types could appreciate an old fashion article. I really wanted to share what it’s like for an old moto guy to be re-introduced to his 15 year old self.
The Bike/The Race:
I was lucky enough to get Ricky Brabec’s factory JCR/Honda CRF450X for the event and had help from multi time Baja champion Johnny Campbell. Johnny graciously let me race Ricky’s CRF450X and gave me the factory treatment for the weekend. Shaking the bike down on Saturday proved to be an eye opener for me (literally) because of how fast the bike and the conditions were out in Lucerne Valley. I knew I had to ride the day before the event just to get my eyes used to the speeds that I was about to encounter. After being clocked at 88mph down a dry lake bed and having my eyes watering from the dry desert air that was getting through my goggles, I knew it was going to be a fun weekend! I took my kid out for a trail ride just so I could school him on the fundamentals of off-road riding. There are certain aspects to riding out in the desert, that unless gets taught, you may never learn, and that means you could get hurt because of your own stupidity. Aden got to learn the ins and outs of reading terrain, what the course markings mean, how to follow ribbon, and of course know how to scan for other vehicles out sharing the same desert you are. Fun Fact: I have never raced a desert race on anything over 125cc’s!
Sunday came and I kissed my wife and kid goodbye as the start to the 69th Annual Checkers MC National Hare N Hound was some 40 miles away from where they would be helping Johnny Campbell pit me. The first loop was 45 miles and the second loop would be 42 miles. Unlike in motocross where you can learn your line by riding the track several times, desert racing is all about tackling the unknown. Except for “The Bomb”. The Bomb Run is anywhere between a 1-4 mile section of the start, which you’re allowed to pre-run as much as you want in an allotment of time given by the club that puts on the race. I managed to get my line sorted out in about 5 passes, but I should have done more. Did I mention that hundreds of other racers are practicing the bomb as well? It’s the desert. It’s dusty. It’s tough to see. It’s gnarly. There are things that come up really fast on a JCR Honda CRF450X.
Before the race started there is a riders meeting where all of the riders gather in the middle of the desert to listen to the race director on the back of an old truck. I wish everyone reading this could get a look at what I witnessed that morning. Not to get all Ryan Hughes on you, but the desert landscape as hundreds of riders gather around a truck, in the early morning sunlight, in the middle of BFE, singing the national anthem was very, very cool to me. It’s bad ass and something I have never experienced in my years racing a motocross event.
The race is a mass five row start (Expert, Amateur, Novice, Beginner, Quads) with a dead engine banner drop. Of course I choked at the start and my Honda CRF450X didn’t fire! I did several makeshift practice starts perfect except for the one the counted! Figures! I managed to get pass the bomb without any huge issue and pick up the marked trail so far back in the dust it felt like I was literally going 10mph. Upon clean air I managed to bob and weave my way around riders and at around mile marker 20, I was in some good clean air. This is where I noticed how many damn rocks are out in the middle of the Mojave Desert! There are so many god damn rocks! The Checkers Motorcycle Club are known for tough courses, but holy shit, I didn’t think the first loop (which is notoriously easier for beginners, because they only do one loop) would be this technical in spots.
I see the fuel stop out in the distance and start to haul ass like someone is watching me. No one actually was, but I like to think that there was. I got some gas, a water, a gel, and told my family there are a lot of rocks out there at least seven or eight times. They looked at me like I crashed because as I was drinking, I could see my wife studying my helmet as she walked around me a couple times. “No Heather, I didn’t crash, but did I mention there are a lot of rocks out there!” I waved goodbye and set out for loop two knowing that it would be tougher than the second! Awwwwwww, shiiiiiiiiiit!
Not even 5 miles in, the club stuck me in more rocks. Shocker! But you know what was cool? There was a woman on the side of the course, as I was making my way up this nasty climb and she was literally BA’ing me! There I was climbing this mountain in the middle of nowhere and this lady was showing me her ass! Hell yeah! It took me by such surprise that I almost went off the damn mountain and laughed about that for at least a solid four miles! Thanks for the ass shot lady! There were sections of the second loop that were so tough at times that it tested my mental/physical strength more than any motocross track has ever done as of late. At each passing checkpoint the course workers were there to root you on with positive gestures and give you that little bit of extra strength that you didn’t know was inside of you. As I was coming off one of the mountains down into a valley, you could see the vehicles off in the distance. I just knew I was almost to the finish, but then the course would go another way and would really screw with my mind. I was literally MF’ing the club as I was racing at times, but also laughing and having fun at other points in the race. It’s like I was going crazy all alone out in the middle of some god forsaken desert. Shit, maybe I am going full Ryno. Who knows!
I got to the finish, met my family and told them all about my trials and tribulations during my almost three hour race. I mentioned the rocks, the lady with her ass hanging out, I saw donkey, and told them about a guy named Kato that was out in the hills taking photos. They looked at me in disbelief! I think Heather was still walking around me to see if there were any crash marks on my helmet, but I know that none of them could relate to what I just experienced or went through. That’s what’s crazy about desert racing. No one is out there witnessing all of these moments you’re having, in your life. In a motocross race I would have at least two Instagram bangers sent to my phone before I get into the van to go home! In desert racing, the only people that can relate are the ones out on the trail with you doing the same shit you are! Those are your brothers and sisters for one day. That is your family! That is desert racing! It’s a lot like doing a triathlon to me a times. No one can relate to what you just did, except for your competitors. As tough as it was, it was one of the best times I had on a dirt bike in a long time. Why? Because it tested me at times. I like being tested. I know it’s fun when I can look back on something a week later and be proud of what was just accomplished. If the feeling hasn’t worn off in a week, I know that what I just did was something I need to do again. That is desert racing to me! See you next year brothers and sisters! Thanks for having me back.
Random Thoughts I Had While Racing:
-All moto guys should give one Hare N Hound or even an off-road race a shot. It’s an experience that you will never forget and it could even help your moto skills as well.
-Why in the hell are all these people racing in the middle of the desert on a Sunday morning?
-The Off-Road community is some of the best people I have ever come across. Title contenders talk to each other before the race. Riders singing the national anthem. Riders stopping to help other riders finish the race. The people that you pit next to you actually smile at you and would give the shirt off their backs for you.
-These top dudes of Hare N Hound are fucking crazy! How do they go so damn fast over this stuff?!
-They want us to go down this?
-They want us to go up that?
-How do Rally guys navigate and haul ass with no markings on the trail?
-I wish Shorty was here…
-I am so hungry. I wonder what Heather is making for dinner?
-Was that a woman’s ass I just saw? No way! I must be really tired and dehydrated.
-Thank god for bib mousse tubes and this Scott’s Steering Stabilizer.
-I have never seen a desert tortoise out here.
-I wonder where Kato is hiding on the second loop?
-Oh look! There’s Kato! As I almost crash…
-This is the worst thing I have ever done.
-This is the most fun thing I have ever done.