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SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Page 78 of 102

THE FIRST Before Pro Moto Ironman class was even created, motorcycle racer Jack Johnson was the first to ride a SCORE BaJa race alone and win. By Larry Saavedra You can’t talk about the history of off-road motorcycle racing without including legendary motorcycle racer, Jack Johnson. Over his career, Johnson won four SCORE Baja 1000 Championships and had many SCORE Baja 1000 class wins in his long professional career. But one of his most important feats was being the first SCORE motorcycle rider to race solo and win the 1979 SCORE Baja 500. While Johnson had been racing from a young age, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that he began riding for both Husqvarna and Yamaha and was teamed with Off-Road Hall of Fame inductee, Larry Roeseler. Together Johnson and Roeseler won three consecutive SCORE Baja 1000 Championships (1978, ’79 and ’80). The 1979 SCORE Baja 500 that Johnson won and rode the entire course alone, was the only time he won that race overall in the motorcycle division. Nonetheless, he earned the Valvoline Ironman Award and made him the first motorcycle rider to race and win a SCORE event solo. “It was definitely a tough race to do that,” said Johnson. “I don’t think anyone was crazy enough to think about it at the time, but that Ironman trophy is a special one to have.” A Natural-Born Racer To many in the off-road motorcycle racing community, Johnson was considered a natural-born motorcycle racer from the beginning. Although he doesn’t see it that way, his humble approach claims his winning ways came from plain, old, hard work. “I started riding motorcycles at eight-years-old, thanks to my dad,” said Johnson. “Then when I turned 18, I started to win races. I raced the SCORE Baja 1000 in 1975 with KTM but didn’t do well. Then in ’76, I got picked up by Husky (Husqvarna) and then I started to really enjoy it.” Johnson followed in the footsteps of famous motorcycle racers like Malcolm Smith and Larry Roeseler who traded in their two-wheel vehicles for driving a four-wheel truck. His love for Baja racing and Mexico was one he and others couldn’t give up easily. “Mexico is a special place for me,” said Johnson. As most SCORE racers and enthusiasts know, it’s extremely difficult to win any SCORE race back to back, attesting to the talent and effort it must have taken for Johnson to win four SCORE Baja 1000 Championships in the early days. Add to the fact that those early model motorcycles weren’t nearly as technologically advanced in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, the bikes used dual rear shocks instead of modern mono-shock design, and the engines were not nearly as refined as they are on modern motorcycles. Johnson scoffed at the suggestion, “Yeah those were the old days, but as a rider, you didn’t know any different. The development of the suspension was really coming alive back then, and then the Ohlins shocks started coming in to achieve more wheel travel.” In 1982, Johnson rode with Al Baker and together won another SCORE Baja 1000 Championship, far exceeding what many thought was impossible at the time. Johnson would continue to compete at the highest levels of desert racing, and he even made the leap into buggies and trucks and proved to be just as talented. Today Johnson is semi-retired, but he’s never far from his race bikes, and he goes on regular rides, except this time he’s not chasing the checkered flag. Now he’s ready to just have fun. FROM TWO-WHEELS TO FOUR Anyone that knows about Jack Johnson, understands that his immense talents in desert racing go far beyond motorcycles. In 1980, Johnson hopped into his first race car at a major desert race and won. “I was very fortunate to win my first race in a single seat Funco buggy,” said Johnson. “I never quit the motorcycles, however, as I was still a factory Yamaha rider and I was still competing.” Johnson soon went on to win another major desert racing event in the buggy and then the desert racing truck teams came calling. Spencer Low of Team Nissan recruited Johnson to drive their radical four-wheel drive truck against Ford, Dodge, Chevy and Jeep. He was running with the Who’s Who of desert racing and sharing driving duties with superstars like Parnelli Jones and driving one of Walker Evans’ trophy trucks. Johnson continued to campaign race cars until the mid 1990s and then returned to motorcycle racing until the early 2000s. “I made my exit from trucks when the factory money dried up, and then did some circle track racing in dirt, but my best days were always in the desert. When I returned to motorcycles with Chris Haines it was in age-bracket classes in the SCORE Baja 1000 and we won many events until leaving racing in 2007.” SJ

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