SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - Jan 2017

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

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Page 99 of 106

BAJA 50th SPECIAL SECTION ROAD TO THE 50TH THE TWO-WHEEL CHAMP Johnny Campbell: 11-Time Baja 1000 Champion 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the SCORE Baja 1000. Throughout its many years of competition, the race has spawned heroes, legends, and incredible performance products that have both shaped and fueled the off-road industry. In celebration of the Baja 1000’s 50th, SCORE Journal will be featuring the race’s multi-time winners, teams, innovators and legends which have contributed to the story on how this one race became the most important in all of off-road racing. To date, no competitor on two-wheels has ever racked up more SCORE Baja 1000 wins than 11-time motorcycle champion Johnny Campbell. His winning streak is what legends are made of, and it is so defining of a great champion that it may be some time before it is seriously challenged. Campbell’s old stomping grounds near the Pacific Ocean in San Clemente, California, is where Campbell shared his most memorable moments racing Baja, and what he believes makes winning the SCORE Baja 1000 in particular, so incredibly gratifying. While most of us will never experience the thrills of victory as often as this record-setting SCORE Baja 1000 champion, Campbell would be the first to tell you that in a race like the “1000,” especially on a motorcycle, requires riders to remain calm and with a cool head. “For me personally, racing the SCORE Baja 1000 is about mind over matter,” says Campbell; in describing what it took for him to be the best at what he does for so many years. “I was never the guy in the best physical shape, but mentally I had the edge on the competition because I knew the Baja 1000 well, and everything it entailed from the planning to the pre-running.” Campbell’s Backstory Campbell began riding motorcycles at nine-years-old thanks to a very supportive father, John Campbell Sr. It didn’t take long for Campbell to catch the racing bug as he was soon winning races. As Campbell matured and grew physically, he became even more dominant in racing especially in Mexico where he loved going flat-out across the desert. Back when he was coming up through the ranks as a racer, he met the late Bruce Ogilvie, a champion Baja racer for the Honda Racing Team. “Bruce and I got together in 1991 and that was the start of racing Baja,” said Campbell. “It started as pit support and small conversations, and he saw some raw talent in me; a guy who was young and hungry to win with some desire. He called me in 1992 and asked me to ride his Honda XR600 and we finished second overall that year at the SCORE Baja 1000.” After that second place finish, Ogilvie and Campbell never looked back. What started as a small Honda team effort became a formidable force in off-road racing. Campbell hung on to racing while working a 40-hour job as an auto mechanic, while at night, worked side-by-side with Ogilvie for several years. At that time, Campbell said he was running a two-stroke motorcycle. On Ogilvie’s advice, he would eventually move to the heavier Honda four-stroke, especially for endurance races like the SCORE Baja 1000. As Ogilvie began dealing with health issues, Campbell knew he had to step-up and show what he could really do. “I started to think about my future after Bruce got sick,” said Campbell. “I could see my own racing career starting to slow down. In 2008, Campbell decided to launch Team JCR/Honda with the blessing of Ogilvie and Honda. “He [Ogilvie] wasn’t going to hand the torch off to me lightly,” said Campbell. After getting permission to organize the team, Campbell recruited the most talented off-road riders and together, they crushed the competition. Young men such as current SCORE Baja 1000 champion, Colton Udall, was one of those early riders that Campbell took under his wing, and Udall rode under the JCR/Honda banner for four years. Through the years Team JCR/Honda compiled a whopping 17 Baja 1000 championships, another feat that will undoubtedly be in the record books for some time, although Campbell said, “All records can be broken.” While Campbell stepped away from racing Baja on a motorcycle a few years ago, he continues to oversee Team JCR/Honda, bringing a new generation of riders to other venues of motorcycle racing across North America. Most recently, Campbell stepped up with Robbie Gordon to race the 2017 Dakar Rally, where he was heading days after our interview concluded. Winning Ways Looking back, Campbell acknowledged that being in good overall condition was only a small part of the Baja process. He thought that making wise decisions was critical to taking the win, and those decisions had to happen months prior to the actual start of the race. “The SCORE Baja 1000 started for me when the last one ended,” said Campbell. “The last 120 days leading up to the race are very focused. Anything that takes away from that focus sacrifices the entire program.” While Campbell, who was sponsored by American Honda, spoke to SCORE Journal with the confidence of a celebrated champion, he was also quick not to downplay the real dangers of the longest desert race on the western hemisphere, too. “The presence of Trophy Trucks in a race like the SCORE Baja 1000 is a serious, serious deal,” he said. “It becomes a matter of life and death, so safety is a very important aspect of racing on two wheels. In my career, we always beat the Trophy Trucks to the finish, but now, the Trophy Trucks are so fast and powerful, they catch up to most of the field. If you make a mistake on the course it can be deadly, as these trucks are 6,000 pounds, 800 horsepower, bone crushers.” “We carried the basics in a tool pack during a race like the SCORE Baja 1000, and we had to learn to ride the race, even on a flat tire. On a motorcycle, you have to think smart and think about the big picture because you must finish. In the Baja 1000, anything can happen, I’ve bounced off of hoods of cars, and collided with livestock on the course. You never know what you are going to get in that race,” said Campbell. “You constantly must be aware of where you are during a race.” Best Baja 1000 Memories One of Campbell’s favorite spots in Baja is by the Pacific Ocean, and that was evident when in 2003. He left the main course and carved a trail on the beach to try to catch Andy Grider in the last stretch of the race. “I’d been sucking dust since we left the highway and this drop down on the beach was the only chance I had to pass him,” said Campbell. He went on to win in 2003, but he was never able to make his move on Grider. “I think the most memorable race was in the year 2000,” said Campbell. “Instead of running a traditional Baja 1000, SCORE called it the Baja 2000 and it was about 1,700 miles long. It was the longest continuous off-road race ever where I rode six different stints of that one, and we completed it in under 32 hours as a team.” There’s no denying that Campbell is the man of the hour when it comes to the SCORE Baja 1000, but his relationship with the muck and grime of racing Mexico extends well beyond the checkered flags and trophies he’s won along the way. Campbell has become synonymous with everything that is good and great about off-road desert racing south of the border, and not even his retirement from SCORE racing will ever reduce his contributions to SCORE’s premier event. At least not in the eyes of those young, upcoming stars that see Campbell as the hero of a sport filled with danger and suspense.SJ

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