My First Professional Overall Win/Barstow to Vegas Glory

By Scot Harden


Starting to Have an Impact  First Major Wins at Barstow to Vegas and SNORE 250

 

By the end of 1972 I had accomplished everything I set out to do on a 125 and was looking to move up to the 250 class. Based on my results, local Suzuki dealer Bill Hill of Vegas Valley Cycle offered me a full ride to race a TM250 Suzuki and I jumped at the opportunity. As much as it pained me to leave the Sportsman Cycle team and all Casey had done for me this was a full ride and at 16 years of age I couldn’t pass it up. My first race would be the MRAN season opening and biggest local race of the year the Moapa to Vegas Hare and Hound and to compound things Mitch Mayes and Rolf Tibblin from Factory Husky showed up. I was quite surprised to lead at the bomb and led the race overall until just before the first gas where Mitch caught me. To be honest I was a little relieved because I had never led a desert race overall and it was a little unnerving. From there I rode steadily finishing 2nd overall 1st 250 Expert behind Mitch with Rolf right behind in 3rd.  Honestly, Mitch and Rolf were both heroes to me and I was a little star struck even getting to meet them. In any case it was a pretty strong showing for a 16-year old kid on his first ride on a 250. I won several more races during the winter and early spring of ’73 on the TM250. It wasn’t actually a bad bike at least not near as bad as its older brother TM400 had a reputation for.  Despite my success on it, I missed my friends at Sportsman Cycle, and Casey in particular, and ended up returning the TM250 to Bill and Vegas Cycle. In retrospect they took a big chance on me and helped me get the next level of my racing career started. For me at the time it was more important who I hung out with at the shop I rode for and Sportsman Cycle was the place to be for an upcoming young desert racer. In the meantime, with my grandparents help, we put a deposit on one of the brand new Penton 250s that were just coming out. I lusted for a Penton 250. They looked so cool and because I loved my 125 so much I wanted to stick with them. Unfortunately, becauyser it was an all new model, the delivery date kept getting pushed back that year and I needed a 250 to race. 

While we waited for the Penton 250 to arrive Casey let me ride his Penton 175 Jackpiner and that was a great bike as well. I did quite well on it, finishing quite well at the Greenhorn Enduro on it.  However by June with no arrival date for the Penton 250 in sight we bought a Husky 250CR and I started racing it. Those familiar with Husky's legacy know the 1973 Husky 250CR was a big step back for Husqvarna as the bike got heavier and more bulky and was considered a failure but it didn’t matter to me. It was pretty darn reliable and with Casey’s help I learned how to make the thing finish (by this time I had for all intenets and purposes moved into his home garage just down the street from my home in Paradise Valley). Living under Casey’s roof taught me a lot, a lot more than just how to work on bikes but how to approach life, and without question is probably the biggest reason I went on to have any success in racing. In my first race on the Husky I got 2nd overall at a Hare Scrambles out by Valley of Fire finishing behind Mark Mason who was a good friend and one of the top riders in Las Vegas at the time. My next big break came when Mark’s partner Jack Johnson broke his leg at a race in Baja and they needed a replacement rider for the 1973 SNORE 250.  Back in those days the SNORE 250 was a very big race, just behind the Mint 400 in stature. I jumped at the chance to race with Mark and to ride a bike built by Jack’s father Bill Johnson. This was a huge turning point for me as not only did it give me a legitimate shot at winning my first pro overall, I also met a 14 year old girl through the process that as it turns out I still hang out with today.  Kristi Johnson was Jack’s sister and through the process of helping Bill work on the bike (I actually didn’t do very much work at all) I got to know Kristi and the rest they say is history. In all honesty most of my trips over to the Johnson garage leading up to the SNORE race were to see her. Despite some jetting problems that caused us to lose time early in the race to stop and fix,  we ended up winning the motorcycle division at the 1973 SNORE 250 against some pretty tough motorcycle competition including guys like Larry Roeseler, Tommy Brooks, Tom Smith and several other very notable names. Later that fall I took my first MRAN Overall win at a Hare Scrambles held out by the Jean Dry Lake. Check the second box off on the list of first time accomplishments. In desert racing winning an event overall is the highest achievement and would be my goal the remainder of my career.

This all led to the 1973 Barstow to Vegas Hare and Hound which at the time was the biggest race in the world. I had ridden it the year before and finished around 40th overall,  2nd 125 in spite of crashing and knocking myself out 10 miles before the finish. Because of my experience in 1972 I knew something about the race and getting a good start was crucial. Back in the day Barstow to Vegas was more than just a race it was a spectacle. A small city erupted in the desert just east of Barstow, California off Harvard Rd with over 3500 riders entered in the event. The starting line was close to two miles long and there were two rows, the first for Am/Experts, the second for Novices. I got a decent start and was running somewhere in the top 10 at the bomb. I passed a few riders and by the first gas was running right around 5th overall. I had a good battle going with Jack Johnson who was leading me but just a short distance ahead when his transmission broke as we approached Halloran Springs. I came into the 2nd gas at Cima Rd 3rd overall 1st 250 Expert about 8 minutes behind Mitch Mayes and Jim Fishback who were having an epic duel up front for the overall. As I crested Mountain Pass I realized I had a flat front tire which really bummed me because I thought my race was over. I didn’t have spare wheels back then and stopping to fix it at the Stateline pit was out of the question. So I decided to just keep riding until it came off or I crashed. To my relief the front tire held all the way to the finish, literally the last 70 miles of the race and the bike didn’t handle that badly or so I remember. In addition, I never got passed. Mitch ended up winning, Jim was a close second and I was 3rd overall 1st 250 Expert just 16 minutes behind Mitch and Jim.  I’ll never forget all the people at the finish line at the 76 Truck Stop on Blue Diamond Rd. and seeing my family and my grandmother there and just being so happy that I had done so well. This race proved to me that I could race with the best. The 1973 Husky 250 CR ended up being the perfect bike for me.  This was the first bike I learned to really work on, to split the cases, rebuild the top end, prep for big races. This was the platform that set the stage for what would happen next. It also motivated me to work even harder so I could get a full factory ride with Husqvarna. Back in 1973 and through the 70’s and 80’s Husqvarna was the pinnacle of off-road racing teams and if I was going to win Baja and any other big off-road races I needed to be on that team.  Included here are some photos from that period. Gosh, I look like such a kid but then again I was.  

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