Seventeen-time Baja 1000 champion Johnny Campbell of San Clemente, California was ready, willing and able to discuss the 2021 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia when I tracked him down the week before Christmas. About to load one Ricky Brabec of Hesperia, California onto a jumbo jet headed on over to Dakar where he will try to replicate his 2020 Dakar Championship run on the frighteningly fast silica and sand dunes and gravel and camel grass of the Saudi Desert. The first American to ever win the Dakar Rally, Brabec will climb onto a six-speed Monster Energy Honda Team HRC Honda CRF450 Rally motorcycle – think of it as a quarter million dollar two-wheel Honda F1 car - and set out to run the 12-stage, 4,500-mile Saudi Arabian odyssey come the New Year.
First, however, a quick backstory on HRC Honda and their illustrious history in the high risk/high adventure/high heat crucible that is Off-Road racing.
“The Baja 100 was started in the 1960s,” pointed out Campbell, who has been, for all these years, heavily influenced and inspired by full-on motor mastermind Soichiro Honda. “There were no paved roads down there from Tijuana to Ensenada. There were guys doing timed runs to see how many days it took them to get to Ensenada or to Cabo or even La Paz, so Honda did a publicity stunt in 1962 with their CL72 Scrambler, which was like a 305cc motorcycle. They started at the border in Tijuana and clocked into the telegraph office there in Tijuana. That’s how they got their official time and they rode straight to La Paz and it took them over 39 hours. That was 1962. Fast forward to the Mexican 100 which became the Baja 1000. So Honda has a really deep and rich history in off-road racing and the Baja 1000 and all things off-road.”
Got all that? Okay, then we motored on over to meet our Monster Energy-fueled soul brother, and star of new Dakar documentary, Ricky Brabec to get his read on just what was about to come at him like a brakeless 60-car, 4,440 ton freight train (thanks Wikipedia).
[Ricky Brabec as told to Eric Johnson]