By Scot Harden
First Steps Into The World of Desert Racing
It was the best of times to be young, alive and a free spirit
Following the Powell Challenger days I owned a Honda Mini-Trail 70 and a Suzuki AC50. The AC50 was mainly for transportation as I got my m/c drivers license the day I was first eligible for a license which I think was 14.5 years old at the time(I could be wrong). I rode that thing all over the Vegas Valley and back and forth to Jr High in 1969. My first full size bike was a 1970 Suzuki TS-125 Duster. Man, I loved the looks of that bike. While the Yamaha DT-125 Enduro may have been more popular back then, the Suzuki Duster looked far better in my opinion and mine was powder blue. Not only was it my first full size m/c it was also my first race bike. By 1970 I was hooked on off-road racing. The wall of my bedroom was covered in clippings from all the motorcycle magazines back then and of course an Easy Rider poster(not the one with Dennis Hopper flipping off the camera my grandparents wouldn't allow that one). I had attended many local events as a spectator(they were all over the Vegas Valley) some races so close to my home in Paradise Valley I could ride to them. Who remembers the motocross races at the Mesa, hare scrambles behind Sunrise Mountain, the SNORE 250 at the gravel pits at the end of Decatur? My friends, the Grossan brothers and I even rode out and watched the 1971 Mint 400 at the old Mint Gun Club on the north side of Vegas and the finish of the 1971 Barstow to Vegas where I watched JN Roberts win his last B to V overall. I'll never forget that day. My friends and I rode over to the Island Bar, the finish line of B to V near McCarran airport and waited. Pretty soon we saw a cloud of dust, actually more like a vapor trail like you see coming off a jet airplane and watched JN fly by at over 90 miles an hour. That image is seared in my memory to this day. Even more amazing was the fact we waited almost 20 minutes for the next bike to appear, a Kawasaki ridden by George Walker. Hometown hero Max Switzer came by fourth overall which really caught my attention because it showed me someone from Vegas could be competitive in this type of racing. Little did I know I would team with my hero, Max Switzer at the 1975 Mint 400 just 4 short years later.
In any case, I digress, my Suzuki 125 was everything to me and my first race bike. My friend, and partner in crime, Kent Nicholls took me to my first race, a MRAN Hare Scrambles out by the Boulder City Dry Lake. We snuck out when my grandparents were out of town one weekend. My other good friend Tom Janazzo's dad signed the release for me. This was all because my grandparents were dead set against me racing, especially my grandmother. My first race was a 100 mile Hare Scrambles put on by the Rock Busters. My most vivid memory was when Tom Scales lapped me on his way to the overall win that day. He scared the crap out of me when he flew by me in a high speed sandwash on his 8-Speed Husky going twice as fast as I was probably going. My other memory was jusy how long and hopw tough it was. For some reason I kept fouling spark plugs and had to borrow plugs from other riders which held me back but I loved every minute. In any case, news of my transgression got back to my grandparents and instead of being mad they realized it was something I was set on doing and they relented and took me to the next race. Talk about unconditional love. My grandmother was a very special person. Without her you would not be reading this post. My next race was another 100 mile Hare Scrambles put on by the Boonie Bounders near Jean, NV(see photos above) and it was tough, really tough, one of the toughest races of the year, or so everyone said. The truth was I had no point of comparison. It did seem to go on forever but just I kept grinding it out eventually finishing first novice, and 10th overall which really turned a lot of heads especially since I was on a 125. My friend Tom Jannazzo won the amateur class and was 7th or 8th overall I think. I went on to win several amateur races on my trusty Suzuki Duster earning my expert ranking before switching to my first Penton (more on that in Chapter 3). The Suzuki was great bike to start out on. Reliable, competitive and it had the look that made you want to ride it. We eventually got one of Suzuki's performance kits (like a GYT kit) and my grandfather helped me install it (didn't really do much but make it pipey). My grandfather, who was an upholsterer by trade, even built me a stars and stripes seat just like JNs. That alone made it 10 mph faster. Above are some shots of me on the bike. Excuse the quality because they are quite old and faded. Notice the Husqvarna jersey I wore back in those days. Already thinking about the future. And also check out the form in the black and white photo in the story header. Quite stylish if I say so myself. It was taken just a few miles before the finish at the 1972 Moapa to Vegas Hare and Hound where I won my first 125 amateur class win. Looking back I realize how blessed I was to have come of age in that time and place, the time being the late 60's/early 70's, the place being Las Vegas, NV and to have so many good friends to share all this with and most especially my family who supported me throughout. More importantly it was a great period for motorcycling in general and desert racing in particular. More on my first European bike tomorrow.