ROADBOOK

Handstands At 100mph: Chapter 13

Original Publication Date: August 2020
Publication: Harden Offroad, Inc.

One Very Special Night in Baja/Gold Medal In Italy

By Scot Harden


HUSKY RECLAIMS BAJA GLORY

I have one of my Baja best races ever and win a Gold Medal in Six Days

Baja/Desert racing is a risky business, and by 1981 I was becoming increasingly aware of the dangers involved. I had seen and heard enough horror stories, gruesome tales about guys getting badly injured and worse. I counted on at least one really big get-off a year in addition to the routine tip-overs and crashes. You accepted the fact that bumps, bruises, and broken bones were part of the deal but hoped you avoided serious injuries, injuries that required lengthy hospital stays, or worse. I had visited plenty of friends at hospitals recovering from serious injuries, injuries that took six months to a year to recover from. I'd also, at this point, had a few close friends paralyzed from the sport. Mitch Mayes, Mitch Payton, my good friend Pat Friel and  other people who I knew by name only who had to deal with this life-changing reality. Of course, there were occasional fatalities as well. As a professional off-road racer, you knew the risks and accepted them. My biggest fears weren’t necessarily from crashing on my own; I accepted responsibility for my actions. My biggest fears came in the form of head-ons with cars/trucks, livestock, booby traps, and other things out of my control. As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, we didn't have air support in the ‘70s and ‘80s. We rode by the seat of our pants. Because we spent so much time pre-running, learning the course like the back of our hand, it was more like motocross than off-road racing. I knew where every rock, ditch, danger was located, where the optimum line was in every turn. This meant you could pin it with no reservations about what was around the next bend because you knew, except for, of course, things you couldn’t control. By 1981 I had had plenty of very close calls with traffic on the course. Incidents where a rancher was returning from market, a pre-runner lost and going the wrong way, a race support vehicle late getting into its pit meet me head-on at the worst possible moment. There were plenty of times where I had to take evasive action, lay the bike down, straighten up and fly off the course just to save my life. In addition, there were the boobytraps built by the locals. It wasn’t enough we were racing over some of the roughest ground on earth, the locals felt compelled to dig trenches, pile rocks across the road, cut down trees and stack them in the middle of the course. Personal safety was starting to weigh on my mind at the start of 1981. You had to be brain dead, not to realize what you had signed up for. My biggest fear was if I could deal with that moment where you had suffered a major injury, a broken femur, internal injuries, a life-threatening situation. Given the remoteness of the places I was racing in and the complete lack of medical support by SCORE, you might lay there for hours, even days. I spent some pretty sleepless nights before the start of the Baja 500 and 1000 thinking about those things. It was always in the back of my mind. These issues and the sorry state of Husqvarna’s product development weighed on me as we started 1981.

When 1981 started, I didn't know it would be my final year living in Las Vegas, my hometown since birth, the only place I ever lived, and that the following year I would be living in California. We struggled once again at the Parker 400 with LR and Bruce Oglivle leading a 1-2 sweep over Chuck Miller and Jim Fishback on the mighty Yamahas dominating the race with Brent and I in third some three minutes back. We couldn’t wait for the Las Vegas 400, which by now had become our race to win or lose. Once again, we put in a steady race, leading from the start and winning by a wide margin. I loved that race. Not only was it held in my backyard, but it was a real rider's race. It was rough, tough, and relentless. You had to be in excellent shape, have a great bike under you, and great support. There was no faking a win. It was perfect for Brent and me.  In five years of racing the event, I was never worse than 2nd overall, and after 1981 I had two wins under my belt. The 1981 Baja 500 was won by Larry Roeseler and Bruce Ogilvie even though Yamaha had already cut back their full factory program dropping Jack from the program in the process. It was typical for the Japanese to come and go. None of the major Japanese brands had shown a consistent commitment to Baja and Off-Road racing up to that point. I Fulfill A Lifelong Goal Of Winning A Gold Medfal At Six Days

 

 

However, Yamaha was still on a roll, and Husqvarna had not won a race in Baja since the 1979 Baja 1000. A pretty sad state of affairs.

As mentioned, 1981 was a transitional year for me. I qualified for the 56th  ISDE to be held in  Isola De Elba, Italy, that year. I was becoming much stronger at the Qualifiers and especially riding in muddy conditions.  No drama this year, just three strong rides at the Zink Ranch, California City, and Trask Mtn. In the summer of 1981, I resolved to do better at Six Days. I wanted to be one of the Top Americans, especially one of the top west coast riders, and I started training. I was working construction as a lather for a plastering company owned by my good friend Pat Friel. Even though I had attended college for four years, I pursued a job in construction because 1.) the money was good, and 2.) the times were flexible. Summers in Vegas was excruciatingly hot. We typically worked from 5:00 am to 1:00 pm. My training program consisted of heading over to the motocross track at Whitney Mesa as soon as I got off work, unloading my bike, and running a full tank of gas through it without stopping. I would run it dry and then push it back to the truck from wherever it stopped. This usually took a couple of hours. I did this in 110-degree heat five days a week starting in July and running through September. By the time I was ready to leave for Six Days, I had not only completely worn out my practice bike, but I was also in the best shape of my life.

The 1981 ISDE on Isola de Elba was interesting. First, there was the backdrop. A small, beautiful island off the eastern coast of Italy just north of Rome, it was amazing they found enough trails to hold the event on.  In the lead up to the event, it was clear the Italians, Swedes and Czechs were the leading teams vying to win the World Trophy.  Each team had its strengths. The Czechs were masters of the trail. The tougher the trail sections, the better they shined. The Italians were the fastest when it came to special tests; they had the speed. The Swedes represented an excellent mixture of both speed and trail toughness. It was about this time I got my first big lesson in ISDE politics. We were told the special tests were all-new and had never been ridden. We were all surprised when we walked the tests the days before the start and discovered berms and ruts in every corner. It was apparent someone had been there practicing before the race was held. Once the event started, we understood why. Unlike France, the previous year, the trail pace at the Italian Six days was leisurely. The trail sections were shorter with plenty of time to relax and work on bikes at the pits stops. Special test scores would decide the event. In the end, it all worked out for the hometeam with the Italian Trophy Team winning.

As for me, I rode well all week, turning consistently fast times compared to most of the other American riders and never dropped a point on the trail.  I was the second-fastest west coast rider in the event finishing behind LR, 4th overall American in the Open class in the final standings. As far as where I stacked up overall, I was 30th in class well behind Europe’s best and many of the US’s top eastern riders as well. I had my Gold Medal but no time to celebrate as the Baja 1000 was just around the corner.

For the 1981 Baja 1000 Husky adopted a new strategy. Instead of entering two Open Class teams, Brent and I would be the only Open Class entry. Tom Kelly and Dan Smith were entered in the 250 class, Mark Miller and Dan Ashcraft, in the 125 class. I was under the impression Husky was entering the other classes with factory bikes because they realized they probably weren't going to win overall. At least that was my impression. Maybe they could take some class wins. It was Dan Smith's first trip to Baja, and since we would ride the same sections, I was given the assignment of showing him the ropes. Dan was a pleasure to work with, and his family, especially his dad Butch was a great asset and very supportive. Butch was like a drill sergeant, up at 4:00 am and ready to roll by 5:00 am every day. You didn't burn daylight when you were with Butch. It was just at the beginning of the Ashcraft/Smith partnership, a partnership that would dominate off-road racing from ’83 – ‘85. As for Brent and my effort, it got off to a rocky start when we seized the racebike while jetting it right before the race and had to return to the Husky workshop in San Diego to rebuild it just two days before the start.

I went with Niles Usery, our team mgr., to help where I could but mainly to break it in on the highway once we crossed the border at Tecate, so it had a few miles on it before the start. The 1981 Baja 1000 was 842 miles long and started and finished in Ensenada. It was one of the toughest 1000's in quite a while. In the end, it came down to a two-team race between Brent and I and the Roeseler/Ogilvie factory Yamaha, although the Balentine/Baker Honda team factored as well in the early stages. Brent hung with LR and Balentine for the first 200 miles down the Pacific side of the course handing the bike off to me about 14 minutes behind LR and just seven minutes behind Balentine coming into Colonial Guerrero. I quickly caught and passed Balentine and took off after LR passing him coming into Guayaquil and handed the bike back over to Brent with a 2-minute lead. LR and Bruce had opted to break the race up 60/40 with LR riding slightly more of the event, and Bruce concentrating on just the night portion, which was a little over 300 miles. Our strategy of giving Brent a small break in the first half had paid off as I was fresher and able to put some time on both Balentine and LR, who had ridden a much greater distance at that point. After giving the bike to Brent, I jumped in our chase truck and headed to El Crucero, where I would wait to get the bike back for the night section.

The silt beds along the beach just before the last rider change at El Crucero were particularly bad in 1981, but Brent rode well coming into the final rider change staying just ahead of LR. We were scheduled to do a final rear tire change and were pitted directly across from the Yamaha team. Both teams were dead even at this point, although we had a small lead on time having started behind them. By the time my rear tire change was complete, Bruce was already gone, and all I could do was try to catch him before Gonzaga Bay. It would come down to the two of us battling head to head at night over the final 300 miles for the overall win. I chased Bruce the next 50 miles into Gonzaga Bay just as it was transitioning from day tonight. I could get close, but the dust was horrible, and passing was out of the question even though Bruce was riding with a front flat tire.

Meanwhile, only one of my lights was working. As we approached our pit at Gonzaga Bay, I considered fixing the light, but when I saw they were changing Bruce's front wheel, I opted just to take fuel and hopefully get out ahead of Bruce.  Passing at night in Baja was almost impossible against someone of Bruce’s caliber. I would rather ride with one light and the lead than two lights in the dust. I already had the gas cap off as I pulled in coasting to a stop with the bike in neutral. Our crew started dumping gas.  Bruce was pitting on the other side of the road directly across from me just a few feet away. I kept yelling at my pit to hurry up I was pulling out no matter what when I saw Bruce about to leave. I could see Bruce’s crew was finishing the front tire change and was just about to leave, and as soon as he went to start his bike, I dumped the clutch and pinned it to get out ahead, first on the road. I didn’t even look to see if I was topped off. Fortunately, as I rode off, I could see the tank was almost full. I had moved into first physically with Bruce just a few feet off my rear fender. From Gonzaga, the course went about 35 miles down to the infamous Three Sisters pass. Even though I had only one operational light, I rode that section like a man possessed. It was all cross-grain ditches and whoops, and I never let off. I focused on the Three Sisters pass and never looked back the whole time. I made sure every shift, every movement was precise and in control. As I crested the Three Sisters grade, I finally took a moment to look over my shoulder to see where Bruce was. I fully expected to see him just a short way behind me, but all I could see was a tiny spec of light four or five miles behind me still coming across the valley. I had pulled out a comfortable lead. I never stopped to fix the main light and rode with only light one to Ensenada. I never felt pressured crossing the line in 17 hours and 14 minutes, winning the event by almost 22 minutes overall. In the final 100 miles, my biggest fear was a mechanical breakdown. That year the Husky 430s were having transmission issues with third gear failing regularly. I made sure every shift was smooth, pulling in the clutch and letting it out smoothly each time I shifted all the way to the finish line. The bike never missed a beat. All my training that year, all the hours spent at my practice track during the summer, it all paid off. No one from my team was at the finish line to greet me. The only person I recognized was Dirt Bike Magazine editor Tom Webb. We walked off and had a beer at a local cantina to celebrate, just the two of us. 1981 was the year Husqvarna took Baja back, if even for just a short period. The other Husky teams faired well as well with Dan and Tom taking second in Class 21 and Miller/Ashcraft winning Class 20.

For a brief moment, we had righted the ship. Husqvarna corporate was ecstatic. We even got letters of congratulations from the factory in Sweden.  After the race, I was invited to visit the US headquarters, where I met with company President Sven-Erik Eklund and new Vice President Mark Blackwell.  They were about to offer me a full-time position with the company. My life was about to change.

Meanwhile, I learned that once they got our race-winning bike back to the workshop, it blew third gear in the parking lot when they were drying off the brakes after washing it. It only made it another 150 ft. Sometimes things are just meant to be!

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Handstands At 100mph: Chapter 11

Original Publication Date: August 2020
Publication: Harden Offroad, Inc.

Meanwhile Back On Earth

By Scot Harden


MORE WINS AND A FEW SETBACKS 

You Win Some, You Lose Some

First, I just want to thank everyone for the positive comments and feedback. I am hearing from old friends and people I have never met before but who were there with me at many of the same events. It’s gratifying to meet so many other riders and people who shared in this time in the history of our sport along with me.

Brent Wallingsford and I rode as a team from 1977 – 1982. They were six of the best years of my life. During the course of that time, the Husqvarna  “B” team won seven major off-road races overall, took 2nd overall at six others, and were always in contention for the win. This was during the heyday of off-road racing with factory involvement from Husqvarna, Yamaha, and Honda and some of the biggest names and legends, not to mention a few future AMA and Trailblazer Hall of Famers in the sport competing. Ogilvie, Johnson, Roeseler, Balentine, Miller, Baker, Kelly, Rutten, and Bakken. A genuinely rich period for Baja/Desert off-road racing.

 

At the start of 1979, we bounced back from our DNF at the ’78 1000 with an overall win at the season-opening Parker 400, beating the Lon Peterson/Kem Clark Yamaha team. Back to back wins at Parker was something to hang our hat on. Next up was the Las Vegas 400, and as I mentioned in yesterday's post, the 1979 Las Vegas 400 was another close race with LR and Jack, and once again, we got beat by just a few minutes. This was my third straight 2nd place finish at the Las Vegas 400, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever win. Going into the 1979 Baja 500, we were looking forward to repeating our win from the previous year, and when news came that LR was injured and couldn’t ride, it looked like things were coming our way. Unfortunately for us, LR's injury was several weeks before the 500, which gave Jack enough time to resolve that he wasn't about to trust anyone else with his race bike this time around and would take his chances riding solo. Honestly, I, along with everyone else, including the management at Husqvarna, thought this was a big mistake because the 500 was just too long and too tough for one rider going solo to beat a solid team. There was no way one guy; even someone like Jack could pull this off. There was only one problem; someone forgot to tell Jack.  Jack had an upfront starting position and quickly got out to the lead. Brent and I started near the back but weren’t worried because we knew it was a long race. We kept creeping forward but were held up in dust by several of the other fast teams, and didn’t get into 2nd until half way through the race. By this time Jack had built up a 10-minute lead. We weren't too worried, though, as we were sure Jack would fade as the race wore on, especially after completing the desert portion down through San Felipe in the heat. This was when everyone learned Jack was not like anyone else. Instead of fading, he kept up the pace. We didn't pull any time on him in the desert, and by the time we got back up to the higher elevations near Valley de Trinidad and cooler temps, it was clear he wasn’t going to be denied. Jack won the 1979 Baja 500 overall riding solo beating Brent and me by several minutes. And while we definitely got held up at the start of the race, we had plenty of time to catch up and simply got beat. In my book, Jack’s solo victory at the 1979 Baja 500 is the single most incredible achievement in the history of the sport. Even though it was tough to swallow, I had a whole new level of respect for Jack. The word Ironman doesn't even begin to do justice.

 

The 1979 Baja 1000 would make the run to La Paz, and I jumped at the chance to ride the night section. Once again, because we rode as two-man teams, Brent was slated to ride the first 470 miles to El Arco and me the last 450 to La Paz. With any luck, I would see the bike shortly before sundown. The day before the race, we drove from Ensenada to Catavina, where we overnighted before driving down to El Arco to wait for the race bike on race day. There was a SCORE checkpoint at El Arco so we could hear the radio chatter and monitor the progress of both factory bikes. LR took an early lead and built a small advantage over Brent in the first 200 miles. About 300 miles in just before our pit at El Crucero, we heard Brent was dropping back. By the time he got to El Crucero, it was clear something was wrong. Next, we heard there was a hole in the cases, and the bike had leaked out all the oil. Worse yet, the transmission was squealing like a stuck pig and we were out of the race. I was bummed. All that work pre-running; all down the drain.

All I could do was take off my riding gear and wait to help Jack, LR, and the other Husky teams we were supporting get ready for the night. LR arrived around 4:30pm a good hour or more before dusk. We mounted their headlights, and Jack took off. I envied that he got to race in Baja at night. About 50 minutes later, the second bike arrived.  It was the Class 21 leading Husqvarna 250CR ridden by Rick Finger. We mounted their headlights and got his partner Jeff Kaplan going and waited for the third bike to arrive. About 15 minutes later, we heard another bike coming, and as it came into view, I couldn't believe what I saw. It was Brent. Later I learned he had it a rock in a G-Out and punched a small hole in the center cases. He had the presence of mind to stop at a couple of ranchos along the way and bummed some oil just to keep going. By the time he reached the pit at El Crucero, whatever oil he had scavenged along the way had drained back out, hence all the terrible noises coming out of the transmission. Instead of loading it up and calling it a day, Brent found some high-temp silicone seal, laid the bike over on its side, and patched the hole. He then waited another 20 minutes for the silicone to set up, filled it with oil, started the bike, and took off. Once the oil was back in the transmission, the noise went away, and the bike ran fine. Talk about smart. Like I said in a previous episode Brent never got rattled.

Meanwhile, I was scrambling to get my riding gear back on, and by the time I left El Arco, I was more than one hour behind Jack and a good 20 minutes behind the Kaplan/Finger team.  I was a good night rider and about 100 miles later just after San Ignacio, on the tidal flats near the fish camps heading into Scorpion Bay I caught Kaplan on the 250 and moved into 2nd physically, a position I would hold to La Paz. Usually, a 2nd place finish would be a letdown, but given what we went through, and the fact at one point I thought we were out of the race, I was thrilled to see the lights of La Paz. Jack had arrived more than one hour ahead of me but was still at the finish line, so we celebrated there with a slightly inebriated Bob Bitchin and a bunch of drunk Mexicans. Riding the 450 miles from El Arco to La Paz at night was something I dreamed about as a kid. It took me a little over 8 hours. 8 hours I will never forget. 

My career by now had delivered everything I could hope for. The proverbial "thrill of victory and agony of defeat." In '79, I won the MRAN Open Class #1 Plate, making me the first rider in MRAN history to win #1 plates in all three classes, 125, 250, and Open. Another major highlight from 1979 was winning B to V.  Not Barstow to Vegas but Beatty to Vegas. By 1979 it had been five years since the biggest desert race in the world, Barstow to Vegas was held, the race that had put my name on the map. In 1979 the San Gabriel Valley MC got a permit to run a one-way Hare and Hound from Beatty, NV to Las Vegas. It would be held on Thanksgiving weekend like the previous B to Vs were held and included all the best racers from D-37, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

The race was over 150 miles long and every bit as challenging as Barstow to Vegas with the same level of competition. I got a decent start and was running in the top 5 when I got a flat tire coming into Pit 1. I lost a little bit of time but had a spare wheel at the pit, changed it and took off 10 minutes behind the leaders. I caught back up to 3rd overall before getting a second rear flat coming into Pit 2. Once again,  I changed the wheel borrowing a friend's spare and took off after the leaders. I kept gaining on the lead pack closing the distance to where with 15 miles to go, I finally caught the leaders Kevin Welch and Bruce Ogilvie. It was at this moment we lost the course markings and started riding in circles looking for the trail. Kevin took off with Bruce in tow headed towards Jean, NV. However, I knew the finish was in Sloan, NV and that with the remaining miles left, the course had to go in a different direction. I headed towards Sloan and sure enough picked up the ribbon less than a ¼ mile from where we got lost. I figured fair enough trade for all the problems I had to overcome early in the race and cruised to the finish winning the event overall. Now, if anyone asks if I ever won B to V, I tell them, YES!

Husqvarna was still enjoying a lot of success in off-road racing and was still the King of Baja, but all that was about to change. Yamaha was ready to make a major effort and hired Jack and LR at the end of 1979.  From teammates and competitors to just competitors is how the next couple of years would unfold. Husqvarna was also just about to start paying the price for being so complacent with its product development program. The 1979 Husqvarnas were still incrementally better products compared to the 1978 models. By 1979 we were running the Ohlins on the factory teams as it became clear they worked better than Curnutt's. Other than that there weren’t many differences. All the other manufacturers were constantly improving and more importantly building larger displacement Open bikes. This would make life very difficult for Brent and I in coming years.

Before closing this chapter, I would be remiss for not sharing one other very important event that took place in 1979. One that had a huge impact on my career. In May of that year, Kristi and I tied the knot and began what has turned out to be a 45 yearlong partnership in life.  Anyone who has ever met my wife knows just how lucky I am and just what a special person she turned out to be. Aside from being Jack Johnson’s sister and growing up in a motorcycle racing family, her selfless dedication and support of my racing career is the single biggest factor in any success that I achieved. All you need to know is that because of my racing schedule, we delayed our honeymoon until November of ’79 and celebrated it in La Paz at the end of the Baja 1000.  She reminds me of this to this day! I can’t even begin to count the number of hours she sat waiting for me in the heat and dust on the side of the road in some god-forsaken place while I pursued my dream. Add in that from 1983 through the 90's she continued to support me while raising our two sons. Her level of commitment and sacrifice can't begin to be measured. I have so very much to be grateful for because of motorcycling, but the top of my list begins and ends with Kristi. Some guys are good, some are talented, some are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, some are self made, some are idiots and some are just plain lucky. I’m a little of each but mostly I am blessed.

Racing has provided many special moments in my life including getting to see much of the stark beauty of this planet, the cultures I experienced, the amazing equipment I rode, and the people I met through all of it. One of those special moments, a moment that I will share now, took place in the 1979 Baja 1000. For anyone who has ever raced 450 miles at night, you know how challenging it is. Hour after hour goes by like a slow motion dream. It’s a mind numbing challenge to remain focused on the small patch of the ground being illuminated by your bike. After you’ve covered 200 miles or so, you realize you aren't even halfway there, and that is when you start to compartmentalize—breaking things down into small bits—setting smaller goals, focusing on just getting to the next pit stop, covering the next 10 miles, the next town or village, anything to keep from thinking about how far you still have to go. If you put enough of these small victories together, in time, you realize you are approaching your final gas stop. All you have to do is get there, and then, if the racing gods permit, finish the last section. In 1979 the final leg of the 1000 went south from Ciudad Constitucion to Santa Rita following down a two track sandy road right next to the Pacific Ocean.  Our final pit was on the Pacific coast at Punta Conejo. From there, you turned inland, heading east towards La Paz, and the Sea of Cortez. About twenty-five miles out from La Paz, you crest a small plateau, and at long last, you can see the lights of La Paz shimmering in the distance like stars in the night sky. From there you start to see and smell the campfires of the locals who have come out from La Paz to watch the finish. These sights and smells are burned in my memory. I can’t begin to describe the raw emotion that washes over you when you realize you've made it, you’ve conquered your fears, taken on a big challenge and succeeded.  You've suffered physically and mentally, and taken some pretty big risks along the way, and the culmination of all your efforts is within your grasp. At that moment, time stood still, and everything felt right in the world. It was a peak life moment. I would not trade that moment and that feeling for anything! 

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Handstands At 100mph: Chapter 9

Original Publication Date: July 2020
Publication: Harden Offroad, Inc.

Welcome To The Machine/My First Baja 1000 Overall Win

By Scot Harden


THE LONE DUST CLOUD ACROSS DRY LAKE CHAPALA

Achieving a Huge Goal

The word “Baja” holds a very special place in off-road racing lore, especially motorcycle racing. Winning Baja overall became my “Holy Grail” the moment I saw On Any Sunday. The “lone dust cloud across Dry Lake Chapala” was all I could think about. In addition to heroes like Malcolm Smith, local heroes like Casey Folks, and Max Switzer made if feel more real by sharing their own Baja adventures. Back then, the Baja peninsula was wild and untamed. It was mysterious, magical, remote, demanding, exciting, exotic, dangerous, unforgiving, and later as I would find out personally, beautiful. Racing Baja is something every desert racer fantasizes about. Most are satisfied with just entering and finishing. Some even dream about winning their class, and a very rare few set their sights on winning overall. My goal was to win overall, to be the absolute fastest rider/team in the event regardless of what type of vehicle you competed on. That was my goal at every major off-road event. My Class 21 win with Jack at the 1976 Baja 500 was a good step forward, but all it did was add fuel to a fire that was already raging.

I started 1977 highly motivated to take that next step up the ladder. From the opening round of the local MRAN series desert race, Jack and I went at it tooth and nail. Jack still held a bit of an advantage over me, but I was getting closer to his speed, especially when it got technical. In tight, technical terrain, I felt I was on even ground. The Mint 400 dropped motorcycle classes from the event in ‘77, and it was quickly replaced by the Las Vegas “400” promoted by Casey Folks and Sam Bass. Casey cut his chops in professional race promotion with the 1977 Las Vegas “400” which would ultimately lead to the creation of Best In The Desert. Over 100 professional teams entered that year, and because the course was 100% motorcycle course in and around the Jean Dry Lake and McCullough Mtns, it was a much better event than the Mint 400 as a result. Jack and I called a temporary truce and teamed up. Being held in our backyard, we were very confident in our chances going into the event. Jack jumped out to a quick lead off the start of the multi-lap race but unfortunately ran out of gas several miles before Pit 1. He lost at least 10 minutes while our pit crew brought gas out to him and got passed by several riders. I got on the bike and rode like a madman passing several riders getting us back in contention. Even though I carried spare gas on a belt, I still ran out and lost all the time I gained stopping to refuel on the side of the trail.

We battled all day to get back in contention, but Larry Roeseler and Bob Rutten rode smart and clean taking the overall with us coming home a very frustrating second. I was disappointed to say the least. I felt we let a good chance of winning slip by. We were racing 1977 Husqvarna 390CRs by this time, and the extra 30cc displacement made quite a difference in speed and power. More importantly, we were racing bikes prepared by Husqvarna factory wrench Dean Goldsmith. Racing one of his bikes was like a dream come true. There was something special about factory-prepped race bikes. Not because they had any special parts or one-off pieces but because they were meticulously prepared and tuned to a razor's edge. Cranks were balanced, gears matched, special pipe mounts and reinforcing brackets, mild cylinder porting, and a few other nice touches made these bikes vibrate less, run smoother and handle better than any other Husky's I had ridden.

 

Following the Las Vegas 400, I got THE call from Husqvarna, letting me know I would be given a seat on one of the two factory bikes at the Baja 500 in June. I had assumed it would be with Jack, but Jack and Larry had gotten together at some point and decided to join forces, and I would be riding the second bike, the “B” Team as we called ourselves, with Brent Wallingsford. By now, I knew Brent and knew he was very competitive, but I was concerned because his body type was much different than mine. He weighed more and was much taller. I was concerned about finding a bike set-up that would work for both of us. While pre-running the 500, I got to know Brent and his wife Penny quite well, and it was then I realized just how lucky I was to be connected to such quality human beings. Brent was quiet and reserved; the exact opposite of me, nothing seemed to rattle him. He was also very dedicated to his racing, trained hard, and was meticulous about his diet. He and Penny were a solid team; the only question remained; Did he have the speed? Brent was teamed with Jack in the 1976 Baja 1000 but didn’t even get to show what he could do because Jack crashed out with a broken collarbone before Brent even got on the bike, so his ability in Baja was unknown. In those days we competed as two-man teams, which meant you needed two strong riders. Because of the way the course was laid out, we could break the race up into shorter sections with each riding two one hundred mile(approx.) sections each rider responsible for about half the total mileage. I was selected to start the race and was quite nervous about not screwing up and crashing out as I had at the ’76 Mint 400 and ‘75 Baja 500 . I gave myself a long pep talk before the start about being careful, not taking chances, and getting the bike to Brent at the first rider change at Nuevo Junction in good shape. Despite this, I almost threw it all away five miles into the race. Riding in the dust of another rider, I overshot a corner and flew off the course into a pile of boulders. How I didn’t punch a hole in the cases, flatten the pipe, or sheer off the gearshift lever or brake pedal was a miracle. It took me a minute or two to drag the bike back to the trail and after that settled down and rode trouble-free the rest of the day. Brent was rock solid, never making a mistake, and we came home 2nd Overall behind Larry and Jack, who quite honestly were just faster than us on that day. Thinking back to how close I came to crashing out at the start made me realize just how thin the margin was between failure and success. Had I crashed the bike out of the race again, I probably would not have been given another chance by the management at Husqvarna. I would have had a reputation as a crasher. Looking back, I came very close to literally throwing it all away. Someone was looking out for me that day. 

In November, Brent and I set our sights set on finishing one position better at the ’77 Baja 1000. The 742-mile long race started and finished in Ensenada and featured a loop within a loop course design. The course left Ensenada headed east through Ojos Negros to Nuevo Junction before heading over the Summit down to El Chinero, San Felipe and then north across Diablo Dry Lake to San Matias Pass. From there it made a loop to Valley de Trinidad via Mikes Sky Ranch then back to Nuevo Junction where for a second time the riders would ride over the Summit down to San Felipe and back to Valley T and Nuevo Junction before heading back through the pine forest to Ensenada for the finish. The second time around meant we would be passing cars and trucks completing their first loop. The two Husky teams got out front and were never seriously threatened. Approx. 350 miles in Jack and Larry had built up a 15-minute cushion over our team as we headed up the road to Mikes Sky Ranch the first time. I was running second behind Larry when I came around a blind corner and found a VW Microbus with the front window smashed in and the front bumper mounted spare tire laying on the ground in the middle of the course. The driver was working on the vehicle. I barely missed hitting it head-on myself, and a few corners later I came across LR as he limped down the trail headed to our pit at Mikes. His bike was pretty bent up but moving, and it was easy to see he had hit the Microbus. I made sure he was OK before motoring on. Later he told me he was in mid-air over a blind corner/jump combo when he saw the Microbus coming the opposite direction and straightened the bike up glancing off the front of the van at an angle before hitting the ground. He was OK, but the race bike was toast. It was a great reminder of just how dangerous it was racing Baja on open roads back then. We didn’t have air support back then, warning us about oncoming traffic. In fact, in all my Baja career I never had air support. Leading a race overall or riding upfront was a fretful position, something I would have to live with for the next twenty years racing in Baja. After taking the overall lead, it was just a matter of not making any mistakes. Except for a few close calls passing some car and truck backmarkers at night on our second loop over the Summit and down along the coast to San Felipe Brent and I rode smart and trouble-free, finishing nearly 1 hour ahead of the next motorcycle. Not only were we first motorcycle overall, we were first vehicle overall beating ironically enough the person that first got me dreaming about winning Baja, Malcolm Smith who won the Car/Truck division that year. 

Brent, Penny, Kristi, and I shared the victory later with our pit crew and the rest of Team Husqvarna, one of the first of many crazy victory parties at La Cueva de Los Tigres. I'll never forget the moment at the finish line though with just the four of us there together. I was 21 years old and had just fulfilled the biggest dream I could think of at the time. I was so grateful for all the good fortune I had experienced up till then and realized all the set-backs and disappointments along the way were just part of the process. Little did I know that Brent and I were about to go on a run, setting records for consecutive SCORE overall wins and have one of the best years ever in off-road racing. All I could think of at that time though was calling my grandmother in Vegas and letting her know 1.) I was safe and 2.) I had won. At 12:30 am she got a collect call from the payphone outside the Bahia Hotel in downtown Ensenada. I remember it like it was yesterday and just how happy she was. My grandmother grew up in the depression and knew nothing about motorcycles except that they were dangerous. If not for her stuffing her worst fears and anxieties for my safety and well-being down and supporting my crazy dreams, none of it would be possible. She was the real hero that day and it was a pretty special moment sharing it with her.

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Handstands At 100mph: Chapter 12

Original Publication Date: August 2020
Publication: Harden Offroad, Inc.

After 3 Straight 2nd Place Finishes, Finally A Win At The Las Vegas 400

By Scot Harden


FINALLY WE GET THE JOB DONE
Yamaha Shows Up To Make Things A Lot Tougher

Big changes were in store for 1980. Not only  was it the start of a new decade, including the beginning of the Reagan era, it also represented a seismic shift in the world of Baja/Off-Road racing. Yamaha entered the scene, snatching up Jack and LR to lead their effort. In addition, the Ogilvie/Miller team would also be receiving more support and be in a better position to challenge for overall wins. In addition, they would field a 250cc class team. Furthermore, Jack, LR, Bruce and Chuck would all be competing on the new Yamaha 465. In the world of high-speed Baja and Off-road racing, bigger displacement meant not only faster top speeds but the ability to accelerate faster from 50 – 90 mph where a lot of the race was run at. Husqvarna, on the other hand, was stuck with the aging 390 as their open class offering, which we would soon learn, was at a severe disadvantage. To make matters worse, Al Baker and Mugen Honda were developing a 500cc four-stroke and even KTM had a new 420 as well.  As we would quickly learn, there is “no replacement for displacement”.

Besides the changes in team structures and the stagnant state of Husqvarna's product development, I was looking to broaden my horizons. One thing that loomed as a personal goal was Six Days. Ever since "On Any Sunday," riding Six Days was on my to do list. I did not want to be known as just a Baja/desert racer and since I had already won every major SCORE event, Six Days seemed the next logical challenge. With LR and Jack now gone at Husky, I leveraged my position to negotiate some additional support to attempt to qualify for the 1980 ISDE and set myself on preparing for the challenge. Before that, though, there was still work to do in the off-road scene. If there was any question whether or not Yamaha was serious about winning, they quickly removed all doubt when the Ogilvie/Miller team took the season-opening Parker 400 overall win. It was evident to Brent and me that the Husqvarna 390OR we were racing was seriously down on power. With wide-open sections on the California side like Thunder Alley(a 14 mile long straight as an arrow road)  and the high-speed power line roads on the Arizona side, horsepower was king. Although we only lost by 3 minutes we could already tell we were fighting uphill. We lobbied the powers at Husqvarna to see what they could do, which we knew was not much since they were already locked into the 390 powerplant.

Fortunately, the next race on the schedule, the 1980 Las Vegas 400, wasn’t abou sheer HP, it was a much rougher, more technical event. If we were to have a real shot at winning one of the big races in 1980 it would have to be the Las Vegas 400. I had finished 2nd overall for three straight years at that event and was determined to improve the result. So was Brent. An additional incentive came in the form of new Husqvarna USA President Sven-Erik Eklund, who showed up at the race just to check on what our program looked like. From the start, we rode with purpose and with focus. Brent gave me the bike at the first rider change with a small lead, and we built on that lead lap after lap. Even a small thunderstorm that broke out mid-way through the event couldn't slow us down. We took the overall win in 10 hours 12 minutes comfortably beating the Ogilvie/Miller team by close to 20 minutes. Finally, the monkey was off my back. Brent’s too!

I had finally won my hometown race and in front of the President of Husqvarna to boot. I got to spend some time with Sven-Erik while waiting for Brent at one of the rider changes. During a brief meeting in my grand parents motorhome he asked what I wanted to do with my future. I of course shared my racing goals but I also mentioned in passing that someday I would like to work in the motorcycle industry. It was just casual conversation but little did I know I had planted a seed that would soon change the direction of my life. In any case, if there was ever a time to win a big race, that was a good time. Unfortunately, that would be our only big win in 1980. The simple truth was our 390s were simply too underpowered to compete against the mighty Yamahas that year. For the 1980 Baja 500 Husky developed an oversized piston that that increased displacement from 390cc to 412cc, but in truth, it was just a bandaid. I crashed my brains out coming out of Mikes Sky Ranch trying to play catch up. It was just after a pit stop. I left in a hurry, and just about the time I hit 5th gear, I hit a hidden rock that caused a massive endo. It was a really bad crash, and more importantly, I dislocated my shoulder. Another Husky rider hit the same rock a few minutes later and was life flighted out. I was lucky. I managed to get the bike back to the pit where we mounted some new handlebars, and I soldiered on riding one handed to get the bike to Brent.  I was out of the race. Brent rode the rest of the race solo, and I think we came home fourth in Class 22.  The 1000 later that year was equally frustrating. It's funny, but I don't even remember where we finished because I’ve tried so hard to block that year in Baja out of my memory.  Husqvarna’s stranglehold on Baja and Off-Road racing, in general, was over. It was a huge disappointment and a matter of pride that I couldn’t deliver for the brand. So many fans and supporters loved the Husqvarna brand and its legacy in Baja, going back to Malcolm Smith and JN Roberts, and we were no longer King of Baja. I felt like I let a lot of people down. Husqvarna meant a lot more to me than just another motorcycle brand. It was something I had aspired to since I was 14 years old. I believed in everything it stood for. 

The only bright side for me personally, other than winning the Las Vegas 400, was qualifying for the 55th ISDE in Brioude, France. Getting there was quite a journey. You have to remember I grew up in the desert and was a Baja/desert specialist. My experience in trees and mud was nil. The only experience I had was at the Tecate Enduro, where after some really wet years, I got a little experience riding in mud. In 1980 they took your top scores from three qualifiers for the selection process. Fortunately, the first two were held in dry conditions at the Zink Ranch in Oklahoma and at California City. I did quite well at Zink because it was mostly rocky, and it didn't rain, earning a gold medal and a fourth in the Open class. I actually had a lot of fun doing that event.  At the California Qualifier, I also got another gold medal and was set to qualify for Six Days, all I needed was a decent finish at Trask Mtn.

AC Bakken was riding the qualifiers at that time and offered to take my bike in his van to Oregon. Unfortunately, it rained hard at Trask Mtn, and my lack of mud riding skills was immediately exposed. To top it off, the event was held just a couple of weeks after Mt St Helens erupted, and the rain was filled with volcanic ash rendering goggles useless. I rode horribly, struggling to keep on time at the checkpoints turning really lousy times in the special tests. On the greasier, rutted sections, I could barely manage to stay upright. The only saving grace was that Frank Gallo, one of the top US Six Day riders at the time, gave me a tip on the final day. He saw I was struggling and told to me let the air out of my tires. You see, I was running too much pressure, 15 lbs when all I needed was 8 or 10 lbs. With that tip, I faired much better, but by then it was too late. What should have been an easy finish and enough points to qualify for the team ended up being a complete throwaway, meaning I would have to compete in the next qualifier at Bellingham, Washington, to have any chance. Going into Bellingham, I heard horror stories about how bad it could be, which were quickly confirmed when it started raining, and the first woods section was loaded with tree roots and mud ruts. I was shocked to discover that the woods were so dense and so dark in some places I actually needed my headlight to see where I was going. I was really feeling the pressure as this was the last qualifier on the west coast and the last one I could attend. If I didn't do well, I wouldn't qualify. With my back against the wall, I dug deep and discovered one of the biggest lessons I ever learned in racing. Attitude is everything. If you ride with a negative attitude, you'll get negative results; if you ride with a positive attitude and have fun things worked out better. At some point at Bellingham, I flipped the switch, and with the advice and a few more tips from Frank rode well, collecting another gold medal and qualifying for the team. I was going to fulfill my next big dream, riding Six Days.

The 1980 ISDE (the first year it was called “ISDE; before that it was called “ISDT” if you recall) was held in Brioude, France. It would be my first trip to Europe, and we got a nice send-off from our families and friends in Las Vegas. Both Jack and I had qualified for Six Days, and it would be a great adventure for both of us. Kristi also joined me on the trip, and from the time we landed in Paris, it was one epic adventure after another. There were three things we quickly learned; 1.) rental cars were actually race cars; we hammered them from the moment we got  them; we even built a moto track in a gravel yard near our base 2.) the food being served at the US compound was the worst food we had ever eaten; all the meats were served raw and 3.) in the world of enduro  racing the Europeans were kings and Americans weren’t.  As preparations unfolded for the event, I quickly learned just how serious Six Days racing was viewed and, more importantly, how much Europeans treated motorcycle racing as a legitimate sport.  The spectators and crowds were enormous. I set myself busy picking up my race bike that was delivered along with the rest of the Husqvarna loan bikes; essentially a box stock 1980 390 WR. I spent two days prepping the bike mounting what few special pieces and parts I could bring from the US and got my riding gear and spare tools ready. By the time the opening ceremonies were over, we had completely given up on the food being served at the US compound and were sneaking off to buy pizzas in the local village. When we returned from Opening Ceremonies, a giant thunderstorm burst over our small village, quickly flooding the river that ran next to our hotel and, more importantly, the mess tent where we ate each night. We stepped off the bus just in time to see the food tent get washed away by the raging torrent as the river next to it flooded its banks. A huge cheer rose from the US contingent. It was funny as hell.

1980 ended with some new personal goals accomplished but our Baja/Off-road program was in serious trouble. We would have to dig deep if we were to win any races in 1981. Fortunately for Husqvarna both Brent and I weren’t afraid of working a little harder. 

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Handstands At 100mph: Chapter 10

Original Publication Date: August 2020
Publication: Harden Offroad, Inc.

The "B" Team Makes Its Mark

By Scot Harden


A YEAR FOR THE RECORD BOOKS 
Brent and I set records for consecutrive SCORE Overall Victories

 

With our first season as team and our first big win under our belt Brent and I looked forward to 1978. We were given contracts as full members of Team Husqvarna. In case you are wondering what a Team Husqvarna “factory” Baja team rider got paid, a Baja 1000 winning rider at that, well, I’ll tell you…..Zero, Zip, Nada. We got bikes, parts, and bonuses if we won races along with a little expense money to get to the races. Winning the Baja 1000 including SCORE purse money, bonuses from Husky, and our contingency sponsors paid around $2500, which was split 50/50 between us. Welcome to the world of big-time professional off-road racing.  And I needed every dime of it as I wasn’t working but attending college full time. If I wasn’t still living at home with my grandparents and winning races, I probably couldn’t have continued. In all honesty, though, it wasn't that bad. Fuel was cheap, as were many other things. I managed to win local races quite frequently, which paid $100 a win, and along with the money from the big events, I got by. 

Before the 1978 race season started, we were hit with news that the traditional opening round of the SCORE series, the Parker 400, was being canceled or, at the very least, postponed. The BLM and other land use issues were having a big impact on desert racing, especially in California, where the first loop of the Parker 400 was located.  Instead, SCORE would start the season in March in Mexicali with an event called the Mexicali 300.  In the meantime, SCORE was working hard to keep the Parker 400 on their race calendar and was hoping to hold it later in the year. I loved the Parker event. One big loop in California followed by two loops in Arizona. I always started and rode sections like Patton’s Revenge and Thunder Alley on the California side. The Arizona loop was fun as well with Osborne Wash, Bouse Rd, Swansee Mine and the Rock Pile at the at the end. It was high speed but fun. 

For 1978 I was allocated one new 390CR for my personal racing, and Husqvarna would provide a factory-prepped bike for big off-road events. The 1978 model Husqvarna’s didn’t come with much in the way of major technological improvements over the '77 models. This was the start of a recurring trend that would eventually lead to the demise of Husqvarna as a Swedish brand (a demise I would experience up close and personnel as a member of Husqvarna’s US management team). The motorcycle manufacturing world was changing. Manufacturers were coming out with new designs every year, especially the Japanese.  1978 would be the second year Husqvarnas came with Ohlins as standard equipment.  Even though the Baja/Off-Road team was contracted to run Curnutt shocks, the Ohlins showed real promise in our test sessions. They gave a super plush feel that rivaled the Curnutt's and didn’t seem to fade as much.  The other big news for 1978 was that Niles Usery was taking over for Dean Goldsmith as head of the Husky's Baja/Off-Road Racing program. Niles was an accomplished Baja racer himself and quite a unique character.  Dean was moving on to start a camera-car business that became quite successful servicing the Hollywood film industry. I really liked Dean. He was always good to me. Niles was technically proficient, had a deep knowledge of Baja and was thorough as they come, implementing a structured system for prepping the race bikes and managing the team. In addition, he was now in charge of what I believed was the best pit support system in off-road racing, the all volunteer Husqvarna pit crew. When your entire effort relies on everyone being exactly where they are supposed to be, assigned to some remote little dot in the middle of nowhere you needed good people. People you could count on. It might take three days to get to some pit locations by four-wheel drive.  In many ways it was just as tough as racing the race itself. All it took was one pit to be in the wrong place, off by just a mile or two, and the whole effort would be for naught. Husky had the best. Husky support team members donated vacation time and took days off and would drive the length of the Baja peninsula if asked all for a T-shirt and the pride of knowing you were part of the team.

With these changes in place, we showed up at Mexicali ready to do battle. By this time there were a number of top teams vying for the overall. Bruce Ogilvie and Chuck Miller riding for Dale’s Modern Cycle on Yamaha were always a threat, Bob Balentine and Tom Kelly backed by KTM were super fast, Honda was fielding a team led by Al Baker and of course there were Jack and LR. Right behind these super teams was a bunch of other highly competitive riders and teams. The Open Class drew 50 or more entries, and depending on what starting position you drew, it would be a very tough to win a race. The Mexicali 300 came down to a back and forth battle between Brent and me and the Balentine/Kelly KTM team. When I gave Brent the bike at the last rider change, it was coin toss who would win. Brent put in a flawless ride in the last section crossing the line less than 90 seconds ahead of Balentine.  When start times were factored in we won by 11 seconds on corrected time. Eleven lousy seconds! That's a couple of missed shifts, a fumbled pit stop, a bad line in a sandwash.  In any case, we gratefuly took the win and moved on to the next race the Las Vegas 400.

 

The 1978 (and also 1979) Las Vegas 400 was a dog-fight between Jack and LR and Brent and I. All day long, we fought like dogs. I would pull a little time on Larry in my section; Jack would draw a little time back on Brent in his, the two hometown boys using their local advantage. It all came down to the last twenty miles with Brent and Jack battling it out. At one point they were literally side by side in the final pit each making minor repairs. After close to 11 hours of racing, we got beat by a little over 2 minutes.  It was my 2nd straight second-place finish at the Las Vegas "400," but honestly, I didn't feel as bad this time because I knew we did our absolute best. Leading into the 1978 Baja 500, we knew we could compete.

For 1978 I was allocated one new 390CR for my personal racing, and Husqvarna would provide a factory-prepped bike for big off-road events. The 1978 model Husqvarna’s didn’t come with much in the way of major technological improvements over the '77 models. This was the start of a recurring trend that would eventually lead to the demise of Husqvarna as a Swedish brand (a demise I would experience up close and personnel as a member of Husqvarna’s US management team). The motorcycle manufacturing world was changing. Manufacturers were coming out with new designs every year, especially the Japanese.  1978 would be the second year Husqvarnas came with Ohlins as standard equipment.  Even though the Baja/Off-Road team was contracted to run Curnutt shocks, the Ohlins showed real promise in our test sessions. They gave a super plush feel that rivaled the Curnutt's and didn’t seem to fade as much.  The other big news for 1978 was that Niles Usery was taking over for Dean Goldsmith as head of the Husky's Baja/Off-Road Racing program. Niles was an accomplished Baja racer himself and quite a unique character.  Dean was moving on to start a camera-car business that became quite successful servicing the Hollywood film industry. I really liked Dean. He was always good to me. Niles was technically proficient, had a deep knowledge of Baja and was thorough as they come, implementing a structured system for prepping the race bikes and managing the team. In addition, he was now in charge of what I believed was the best pit support system in off-road racing, the all volunteer Husqvarna pit crew. When your entire effort relies on everyone being exactly where they are supposed to be, assigned to some remote little dot in the middle of nowhere you needed good people. People you could count on. It might take three days to get to some pit locations by four-wheel drive.  In many ways it was just as tough as racing the race itself. All it took was one pit to be in the wrong place, off by just a mile or two, and the whole effort would be for naught. Husky had the best. Husky support team members donated vacation time and took days off and would drive the length of the Baja peninsula if asked all for a T-shirt and the pride of knowing you were part of the team.

With these changes in place, we showed up at Mexicali ready to do battle. By this time there were a number of top teams vying for the overall. Bruce Ogilvie and Chuck Miller riding for Dale’s Modern Cycle on Yamaha were always a threat, Bob Balentine and Tom Kelly backed by KTM were super fast, Honda was fielding a team led by Al Baker and of course there were Jack and LR. Right behind these super teams was a bunch of other highly competitive riders and teams. The Open Class drew 50 or more entries, and depending on what starting position you drew, it would be a very tough to win a race. The Mexicali 300 came down to a back and forth battle between Brent and me and the Balentine/Kelly KTM team. When I gave Brent the bike at the last rider change, it was coin toss who would win. Brent put in a flawless ride in the last section crossing the line less than 90 seconds ahead of Balentine.  When start times were factored in we won by 11 seconds on corrected time. Eleven lousy seconds! That's a couple of missed shifts, a fumbled pit stop, a bad line in a sandwash.  In any case, we gratefuly took the win and moved on to the next race the Las Vegas 400.

The 1978 (and also 1979) Las Vegas 400 was a dog-fight between Jack and LR and Brent and I. All day long, we fought like dogs. I would pull a little time on Larry in my section; Jack would draw a little time back on Brent in his, the two hometown boys using their local advantage. It all came down to the last twenty miles with Brent and Jack battling it out. At one point they were literally side by side in the final pit each making minor repairs. After close to 11 hours of racing, we got beat by a little over 2 minutes.  It was my 2nd straight second-place finish at the Las Vegas "400," but honestly, I didn't feel as bad this time because I knew we did our absolute best. Leading into the 1978 Baja 500, we knew we could compete.

The big story at the 1978 Baja 500 was the record heat. On race day, it was 127 degrees down in the desert. One rider had died while pre-running from heat exhaustion, and race day would be a matter of attrition. To show you how hot it was while pre-running two days before the race down at El Chinero just north of San Felipe, I was able to roost tar out of the blacktop road. The other story impacting the race was that LR had crashed pre-running and broke his collarbone. AC Bakken was called in as a last minute replacement to ride with Jack.  This meant AC would have to ride with little preparation and practically zero pre-running which was a huge advantage for us. If for no other reason than we were more acclimatized to the heat.  I got the bike to Brent at Nuevo Junction in second place just behind AC, and Jack held the lead all the way down to El Chinero. The ride over the summit and down through Cohabuzo Jct and Tres Posos was brutal. Brent literally passed out when he got off the bike at El Chinero just a few minutes behind Jack. I took off after AC, catching him about one third of the way down the 30-mile long whoop section heading to San Felipe. By the time I gave the bike back to Brent in Valley De Trinidad we had a good lead. From there, we rode smooth and smart, taking the overall win by a comfortable margin. We were getting stronger as a team, riding intelligently and with confidence, taking advantage of all the support around us and every break that came our way taking home our first Baja 500 win. Not just first motorcycle overall but first vehicle overall.

Later that summer, news came out that the Parker 400 would be held in October.  There we continued our winning ways taking our fourth consecutive SCORE overall win. We rode really well, escaping some of the small problems that held the other teams back, finishing just ahead of Jack and LR. Since forming our partnership, we had never finished worse than second overall at a major off-road event. On top of that we set a record for consecutive SCORE overall wins, with 4 wins in a row. As we looked forward to the 1978 Baja 1000 little did we know that our run of good fortune was coming to an end.

The 1978 Baja 1000 started and finished in Mexicali. SCORE was playing politics between Ensenada and Mexicali and wanted to show Ensenada they could run the 1000 without them if they wanted to. The race started just south of the center of town and zigzagged through the farmlands and canal systems before heading east towards Laguna Salada.  The risk of seizing a our Husky 390s was always an issue. We spent a lot of time with the race bikes in the run-up to the race doing jetting and high-speed tests to make sure the bikes could take sustained full-throttle applications. There were times in Baja where you held the thing to the lock for minutes on end. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to finish, and even win, a race even though the bike had experienced a mild seizure at some point. This was the two-troke era. One skill that we refined to a science was listening to the motor. We got used to detecting even the slightest difference in rmp or sound. More importantly, we got really good at anticipating seizures, and when it went as long as the piston ring never got stuck, you always had a chance of finishing. With this in mind, we started the '78 event. We drew a rear start number, and I got down to business, trying to get to the front because LR had drawn a front number and had clear sailing. In those days, LR and I pre-ran together. Pre-running was about memorizing the racecourse, knowing your lines and making sure you had all the dangers covered.  Any small shortcut (more on this later) or line that gained 15 seconds here or 20 seconds there was important.  During pre-running we figured out how to bunny-hop one of the big canals that SCORE had built a detour around on the way out of Mexicali. The racecourse came down a 6th gear wide-open dirt road to an open irrigation canal where SCORE had diverted the course to a small bridge a short distance off to the side. The racecourse came right up to the edge of the canal, made a hard, 90 degree right turn off the main road went 200 ft or so north up to a small bridge they had constructed, crossed the canal and then turned left the 200 ft or so back to the main road, turned right and continued on. LR and I calculated that if you never lifted and committed to it at 90mph you could bunny hop the bike the 60ft or so across the canal. It was hairball as hell but good for at least 30 seconds and in our weird racing calculous of risk vs. reward, worth the risk. To make sure we could do it in the race, we jumped it twice pre-running. Of course, I let LR go first just in case. Of course, if you didn't make it, it meant doing an endo at 90mph, but we didn’t think about things like that. I used it in the race and actually passed someone there, I think maybe Bill Tarling. He had followed the detour and gone up and crossed the canal at the bridge and was just about to reenter the course when I flew by a few feet in front of him at 90MPH. I think it shook him up.  Jumping the canal was a non-issue as long as you committed and never lifted the throttle. Of course, if the engine seized on the run-up, things could go really bad. This point was reinforced when just 5 or 6 miles past the canal jump our race bike seized, locked up solid. I managed to get it going, but it seized three more times after that. I limped the bike into the first rider change and gave it to Brent, but shortly after, the whole top-end finally let go, and we DNFd. The streak was over.  Naturally, we were bummed, but it ended up being our only DNF in five years of racing as a team, so who can complain. To top it off, we won the SCORE Points championship, with Brent as Rider of Record. 

1978 ended on a low note, but 1979 was just around the corner, and things could only get better. Right?

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Handstands At 100mph: Chapter 8

Original Publication Date: July 2020
Publication: Harden Offroad, Inc.

DNF, DNF, DNF And Finally A Win In Baja

By Scot Harden


PERSERVERANCE, DEDICATION AND FAMILY MAKE IT HAPPEN 
Getting Back To Winning Makes Everytrhing Better

As I shared yesterday, 1975 was almost a complete bust. Towards the end of the year, I entered and finished the Check Chase Hare and Hound, which was held in Parker, Az on Colorado Indian Tribal land, finishing 3rd Overall, 2nd Open bike behind Mitch Mayes and Larry Roeseler.  The BLM by then was starting to impact off-road racing on every level.  The BLM didn't approve the Check Chase’s traditional 235+ mile course from Lucerne Valley to the Colorado River, and it was moved to Arizona at the last minute. There was always a big rivalry between the D-37 desert racers and us guys from Las Vegas.  Jack and I carried the mantle for the Vegas racers and felt like we could beat anyone from D-37 in races in our backyard, but I have to admit it was tough racing against them in California and Arizona. I would occasionally travel down to race a D-37 race, and usually, the best I could manage was a third place overall. Mitch was still the fastest guy in the desert, and LR had come along as the next guy to beat, and  after that you had a whole bunch of other super fast guys to contend with including AC Bakken, Bruce Ogilvie, Bob Balentine, Tom Kelly, Chuck Miller, Al Baker, Bob Rutten, and Art Knapp to name a few.  There was also some guy named Brent Wallingsford, whose name I kept seeing at the top of the results. Little did I know then just how much our racing careers would be intertwined.

I was still getting support from Husqvarna through Sportsman Cycle in 1976, receiving two bikes that year, a 1976 250CR and 360CR. I still couldn’t land a spot on one of their two factory teams and had to keep pursuing the big races on my own. Andy Kirker and I finally put a solid race together as a team winning the 250 class and finishing 3rd Overall at the season-opening DRA 20 Mule Team 200 riding the ’76 250CR. That race drew a large field of the best DRA and D-37 racers and was always a good test to see where you stacked up for the coming year. For 1976 Husqvarna sorted out its seizure problems, and the purple-tanked 360CR came with some reliable upgrades, including a Gurtner carburetor. In addition, Curnutt was getting more extreme with longer and longer travel suspension systems. To maximize travel evcen further you could hack the swingarm and reweld it so that it had a bend in it to give you even more travel.

With those mods, we were getting close to 10" of rear-wheel travel. Pretty unheard of in those days.  I started getting back to winning local events overall. However, I suffered a massive disappointment while leading Moapa To Vegas overall when my rear brake stay arm broke with a considerable lead over Rolf Tibblin.  I really wanted to show him I could run with him or any of his factory riders. By now, my rivalry with Jack Johnson was starting to heat up. Jack’s ride with Valley Cycle had come to an end, and he too got a support ride from Husqvarna.  Now we were in direct competition for the same thing, the attention of Husqvarna. At the time, Jack was still the "man" in Las Vegas. And while I could keep him insight, he was still the stronger of the two of us. A lot of it had to do with maturity, Jack was almost 4 years older, and I was 19, but it also had a lot to do with desire and focuas. Jack was more driven than practically any racer I had ever met.  And when it came to sheer will power, holding it on harder and longer at speed across rough terrain, no one was more committed. You see, when it comes right down to it, desert racing is about commitment. Riding at speeds of 60mph and higher across the desert with rocks, washouts, and whoops for hours on end right at the edge of control requires commitment, …………and a big set of balls. I'm sorry, but I don't know how to put it any other way. Once you see one of your friends crash at speed with appendages pointing in all sorts of unnatural directions, you know how dangerous it is. And if you don't appreciate this fact, you’re plain stupid. Desert racing and long-distance Baja/off-road racing is one of the biggest tests of courage and fortitude there is in modern times.  Chances are if you got off, you were doing so at speed and major injury was just part of the deal.

As the Mint 400 approached, Andy and I made preparations and felt we had a great shot at winning the 250 class if things went our way. Unfortunately, I screwed the pooch again right off the start doing a massive endo before even leaving the starting grounds at the Nellis Speedrome. I had to ride the bike back to the pits and change out the front end; it was bent so bad. We played catch up all day and got a lousy result all because of me.  To compound matters, Jack fell into a great bit of luck. With just a few weeks to go before the race he didn’t even have a ride. But as luck would have it he ended up riding with Rolf on one of the factory Huskies when Rolf 's partner, Mitch Mayes, broke his collarbone just a few weeks before the race. Rolf and Jack ended up winning the race overall, Jack's second win in a row.  Honestly, I would be hard pressed to say I was happy for him because it was something I wanted in the worst way, but my crash at the start of the ‘76 Mint 400 and at the ‘75 Baja 500 riding with AC just showed that I wasn’t ready yet.  It was also a clear indication of jealousy, a personal trait I was never proud of and would have to face at some point.  

As the 1976 Baja 500 approached, and with the factory slots filled by LR and AC on one team, and Howard Utsey and Mickey Quade on the other, Husky suggested Jack, and I ride together on a 250CR in Class 21. It would be one of only three times we ever raced together as a team in our long careers.  We built the bike in my workshop and went to Baja to both prove ourselves. Back in those days, teams were limited to two riders, and usually, one rider rode the first half and the other the second half of the race. Because of my recent missteps starting big events, Jack was picked to start and rode exceptionally well, getting the bike to me at the rider change in San Felipe just a few minutes physically behind the leading 250 team of Bruce Ogilvie and Bob Rutten riding a Harley 250.  I hung with Bob for the first hundred miles or so, not really making any time but not losing time either. Shortly after Mikes Sky Ranch, as we descended the goat trail to Simpson's stream crossing, I saw Bob off to the side of the trail with a broken front axle. From there, I cruised the final 200 miles or so back to Ensenada winning Class 21, finishing 3rdOverall out all the vehicles entered. With Husky led by LR and AC taking the Class 22 win and first and second overall, it was an excellent day for Husqvarna and Jack and me personally. It was the first win in Baja for either of us. Best of all, my family, including my future wife Kristi (Jack’s sister) and my grandmother and grandfather were at the finish line. With nothing but DNFs to show for my previous Baja efforts it was a great relief to finall see the finish line. We had a big celebration and it was a great way to thank my grandparents for all the years of hard work, expense, and sacrifice. We were finally getting somewhere. 

Other highlights in 1976 were finishing 4th in Class 21 at the SCORE World Championships and winning the Caliente Grand Prix for a second time overall.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to ride the Baja 1000 because of finances and wasn't selected for one of the four slots on the two factory Husky teams. Jack was though, and that bothered me. I had been loyal to Husqvarna since 1973 and felt abandoned. In hindsight, though, it was the probably best thing that could have happened to me. In reality, Jack was the logical choice based on his results and maturity, and it only served to motivate me to make sure once I got another shot to make the most of it.  1977 would be a breakthrough year and the start of a very productive relationship with some guy I barely knew named Wallingsford.

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