Not So Fast There, It's Not As Easy As You Think

By Scot Harden


RACING WITH THE BIG BOYS 

Winning Desert Races Overall Is A Lot Harder Than You Think

First off, thanks to everyone that has been following this series and for all the positive comments. It's gratifying to know that others get some enjoyment out of my reminiscing’s.  Today's installment is about the first Open Class M/C I raced. It includes one of the most disappointing races in my young career as an off-road m/c racer. 

As mentioned in Chapter 5, I campaigned a 1974 Husky Mag250 for most of the 1974 year and had great success. The Mag 250 was a very competitive and most important of all reliable m/c.  I won a bunch of MRAN races on it, including the very first Caliente Grand Prix ever held overall, and towards the end of the year, I started setting my eyes on Barstow to Vegas. The previous year had been a huge breakthrough where I surprised a lot of people, including myself. I was sure the only way I could improve on my 3rd place overall finish was by riding a big bore m/c. With that in mind, I approached my contacts at Husky, and they agreed to provide me a second support bike to finish the year off on, a 1974 Husky 400CR. The Husky 400CR reminded me a lot of the 1973 250CR I had ridden the previous year. Similar engine cases and frame, similar handling but with a slightly heavier feel. I swapped out the stock Girling shocks with a set of longer travel Curnutts and made the other modifications I was used to making like the large 3 Gal Vesco tank and J-Bar handlebars. Back then, there were a lot of other special modifications you had to do to the bike for reliability and functionality. Things like welding a protector for the bolt that connected the rear brake stay arm to the backing plate so it wouldn’t get snapped off by a rock. We also drilled a lot of bolts back then and tie wired them in case they came loose.  The pipe mount brackets all needed to be reinforced and welded. There were a lot of modifications you had to make that would be unheard of today.  As far as how good of a motorcycle it was well, it was definitely faster than my Mag250, but I couldn't really tell if it was that much faster.  It definitely felt heavier and required more strength to ride it.  In any case, I showed up at Harvard Road the day after Thanksgiving 1974, ready to do battle to win the race overall. I was now 18 years old and was up against the best desert racers in the world, including, of course, Mitch Mayes, AC Bakken, Al Baker, Jack Johnson, Max Switzer, and a whole host of D-37 racers including hard-charging Art Knapp. The '74 event set an all-time entry record with close to 4000 entries. It was on a scale that has never been seen before or since. The smoke bomb run was insane, the same as the year before, but it seemed like there were riders everywhere. And for the most part, the course was very similar as well, at least up through the first gas stop. Despite a first kick start and the extra power and displacement, I got a terrible start and arrived at the bomb somewhere back in the '30s or '40s. I mean, I really didn't know how far back I was because there were guys everywhere. For the first 20 miles or so I never even saw the marked trail, I was off to the side going cross-country trying to pass as many people as I could. I arrived at Gas 1 somewhere around 20th and kept pushing from there. By Gas 2, I was in the Top 10 I think, and by last gas, at Stateline, I had moved into 4th overall but was a long ways behind AC Bakken and Mitch Mayes you were leading it overall at the time and Art Knapp you was several minutes ahead in 3rd.  Past Stateline was my Nevada home ground, and I always felt like I had an advantage there. I pushed as hard as I could, and with about 10 miles to go, I could see I was catching Art. Art was experiencing some bike problems of his own and having to work with a balky transmission. I knew the finish line was coming up quickly and charged as hard as I could, catching Art with a couple of miles to go. I did everything I could to pass him, including doing some pretty Bonzai stuff off the trail out of his dust but came up a few feet short at the line. This was the year that AC and Mitch famously crossed the line hand in hand. And after some arguing with the host club, the San Gabriel Valley MC got them to accept it, which meant they were; first, Art was second, and I was third, technically fourth bike overall. For most, that would have been a lot to be happy about, but I was very disappointed. I hadn't done any better than the year before, and it was hard to take. 

I had worked really hard in the lead up to the race training like an animal using everything I had learned at the Husky International Training Center. Let's face it getting beat by Mitch, AC, and Art was nothing to be ashamed of, but still, I felt like I had taken a step back.  In retrospect, the 400CR wasn't that great of a bike, it was heavy and only slightly more powerful than the 250. What Husky needed at that time was to apply what they had learned with the Mag 250 to a new generation of Open Class motorcycles, which is precisely what they did with the introduction of the 1975 Husqvarna 360CR. "Heiki Mikkola Replica" with cantilever rear suspension. The "Mikkola Replica" was first of a new generation of Husqvarnas and a response to the rapidly changing landscape of the off-road motorcycle market.  Coming in at a svelte 212 lbs and featuring a lightweight magnesium reed inducted motor, similar to the Mag 250, it was Husqvarna's next big step forward to remain competitive. By 1975 the off-road motorcycle market place was heating up. The Japanese had really stepped up their game. Yamaha had introduced the first mono-shock, Honda was expanding te Elsinore line, and the writing was on the wall that things were about to change.  Penton/KTM was also threatening with their very first 250 and 400cc models featuring their first 100% internally designed and built motors. Husky's dominance of desert racing was under serious threat, a dominance they had enjoyed since Edison Dye first brought Husqvarna to America in 1967 with riders like JN Roberts, Malcolm Smith, Mitch, AC, and Max Switzer dominating the scene.  News and pictures of the 1975 Husqvarna 360 were leaked. Casey got the first Husqvarna 250CR with cantilever when it arrived in Vegas in early ’75 and let me ride it on one of our long weekend trail rides, and I could immediately tell that the long-travel suspension was a game-changer. I went back to my trusty Mag 250 for the season-opening Moapa to Vegas Hare and Hound and won it again overall while I waited to get one of the new 360CRs. Little did I know it would be one of the few highlights from the '75 racing season and that the '75 Husky 360CR would be one of the most frustrating m/cs I ever raced. More on that in Chapter.  In the meantime, here are some pictures from the 1974 Barstow to Vegas Hare and Hound. 

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