Taft always has been, and probably always will be, a challenging place to hold a race. The terrain is a combination of hard-pack dirt, which just for giggles offers about as much traction as ice when the slightest bit of water touches it, and powdery white silt, which sneakily conceals one- and two-foot square edges from the riders who are unlucky enough to slam into them. Personally, I rather enjoy racing there. I feel it’s a test of a rider’s limits, which can be fun, but if things aren’t clicking smoothly, it can definitely be quite frustrating and sometimes slightly scary.
The start to my 2014 season officially kicked off at the Best in the Desert Parker 250 in Parker, AZ. The race is made up an eighty-plus mile loop that competitors are required to complete three times. I’ve always enjoyed the terrain there; the Parker desert offers an entertaining mix of high-speed, flat-tracking roads, intimidating rock gardens, fast sand washes, rolling whoop sections and this year came with the added bonus that the temperature first thing in the morning would be above freezing meaning there was an above average chance that I’d be able to feel my fingers ten miles into the my ride.
There’s little in this world that can simulate the feeling of being in top gear, tucked in behind the front number plate, throttle adjusted to the maximum, asking the motor to deliver just a little bit more, but that description makes up over half of the Best In The Desert Henderson 250 experience. The forty-five mile racecourse is comprised of fast sand washes, a few faster power line roads, one mile-long whoop straight and a couple rocks just to make sure the racers are paying attention. Talladega Nights sums it up best: Henderson “…is all about speed. Hot, nasty, bad*** speed.”
Just to make the race a little more exciting, the weather was going to be sub thirties with thirty-plus mph winds. It was time to break out the wool long johns, the Fox jacket and Antifreeze gloves, layer up in an effort to not lose all feeling in the extremities, and head to the start line first thing in the morning for a borderline darkness start.
Once a year the sleepy beach town of San Felipe is awoken by the sounds of chase crews, pre-runner vehicles and race machines tearing around the streets and nearby desert in preparation for the season opener of the SCORE Baja series. The town may be a destination for those seeking relaxation and an escape from the hustle and bustle of the American way of life, but the race itself offers nothing of the sort. The terrain is brutal. The course features more whoops than most racers would care to hit in a lifetime and embedded rocks blending in so well with the dirt that it makes racing feel a bit like a game of Russian roulette. Maintaining focus over such unreadable terrain is of the utmost importance as the slightest mistake could end your race. Couple the mental test with the physicality of the course and the speeds required to compete and it can be argued that the San Felipe 250 is one of the toughest off road races in the world.
With the “end of the world” prophecy coming up short and the earth still spinning on its proper axis, we have another year of racing to look forward to and I decided to start it off by teaming with David Pearson at the Best In The Desert Parker 250. The three-loop, 240 mile race has become a classic way to kick off the new year as the terrain offers a mix of smooth, fifth gear roads and technical, slow-speed rocks, challenging two seemingly opposite ends of the off road spectrum. Adding yet another variable to the race this year was the “Canadian Cold Front”, which somehow found its way down to the deserts of Arizona and would offer below freezing temperatures for all involved; time to put on the parka and go racing.
The main entries in the Open Pro class were the two Purvines Racing Beta teams, lead by Nick Burson and T.J. Hannafin, and the solo-entry of Ricky Brabec, who’s been in inspired form lately. With David and myself drawing fourth place start pick behind all three of these teams, we were going to have our work cut out for us to ring in the new year with a win.
The THR / Monster Energy / Precision Concepts Kawasaki KX450F team of Robby Bell, (rider of record), Steve Hengeveld and David Pearson outperformed the factory KTM, a slew of hard chargers and broke factory Honda’s 15 year winning streak to take the victory at the SCORE, Baja 500 in Ensenada Mexico. Steady riding and quick pit stops kept them in front of the 1x Honda team for most of the day. The 4x team overcame every obstacle in their path to put themselves in commanding control in the late stages of the race. When the 1x team pitted for tires late in the race, THR matched their move putting on fresh Dunlop’s while maintaining the gap. THR Motorsports boss Scott Jacobson said before the race that “our time has come” and couldn’t have been more right. We cannot thank Monster Energy, Precision Concepts, Kawasaki and all our other sponsors enough for standing behind us.
The win did not come easy however; Robby Bell got out front right off the start but due to some miscommunication did not see his first pit at race mile 48. He soon realized something was wrong so he scavenged for a splash of gas. The team’s Precision Concepts built Kawasaki motors are a lot closer to what comes directly from the factory than most people think. They are meticulously prepared but far from exotic so they can run on Pemex if necessary. After a few attempts he got some fuel from a fan and set out to reclaim the precious minutes that were lost.