SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - MAY 2017

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

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Page 69 of 98

MOTORCYCLE RACERS IN SCORE HISTORY By Mark Kariya Steve Hengeveld didn’t set out to be a Baja champion when he was a kid racing motocross, but he grew into the role well into his off-road career, that consists of an astounding 20 runs (including one in a Toyota Trophy Truck) in the grand-daddy of desert races, the SCORE Baja 1000. Over the course of his career, the goal has always remained the same; and that is to win. That fire coupled with immense talent and the good fortune to ride for some of the best teams, resulted in Hengeveld becoming one of desert racing’s elite and earning eight SCORE Baja 1000 motorcycle wins. However, what stands out most when it comes to Hengeveld, besides his nearly unmatched record, is what he became most famous for. His ability to ride as fast or faster than anyone else in the race after the sun goes down has earned him the title of “King of the Night.” As the 50th anniversary of the SCORE Baja 1000 approaches, we knew we had to catch up with “Henge,” who was only too glad to share some of his memories and offer new insight into the race. SJ: When did you first become aware of the SCORE Baja 1000 and what were your initial thoughts about the race? Steve Hengeveld: I was first aware of the SCORE Baja 1000 when I was a kid riding motocross. We went over to one of my dad’s good friend’s house and he was heading to the race with the late Al Baker of XR’s Only. He rode their second bike or something, and what intrigued me were his stories. Years went by, then I got the opportunity to race the 1000 in 1993 for Kawasaki, Team Green, on a 125 in Class 20. That’s how it all came about! SJ: How many SCORE Baja 1000s have you raced? Hengeveld: Uh, seven…eight…wow. I did ’93, ’94, ’95, ’96, ’99. I’ve got to write this down. That’s not a question I’m used to answering. I’d better count this out. In 2008 I drove a Trophy Truck—does that count? SJ: Sure! Hengeveld: After adding it all up, it’s 20 times! (he laughs). Yeah, ’93 was the 125 for Kawi, (Kawasaki), ’94, ’95 and ’96 was a 250 for Kawi in Class 21, ’99 was a privateer 250cc Kawi team that I put together with Ensenada’s Beto Verber; it was a Mexican Motorola team. Then in 2000, I was with Honda all the way through 2007. In 2008 I drove a Trophy Truck for Toyota. In 2009 I did the first privateer Kawi deal when we brought the bike back to Baja in 2009. It was through two-time speedway world champion Bruce Penhall and longtime bike prep/suspension guru Bob Bell. In 2010 was the factory KTM team, but we broke. That was with Ivan Ramirez, me, and I think Kurt Caselli. I was way down south and the bike broke at, I want to say, Gonzaga or something. Then in 2011, I rode with THR Motorsports on a Kawasaki. 2012 was THR. 2013 was THR, then 2014 was when we won on the THR bike; it was a Kawi. I have eight overall wins, then I have three Class 21 wins, but they weren’t overalls. SJ: How’d you do in the Trophy Truck? Hengeveld: When I drove the Trophy Truck, I got fourth overall, which was pretty awesome. SJ: Did you have anyone you looked up to before you did your first SCORE Baja 1000? If so, why did you admire them? Hengeveld: I looked up to the big guys on Kawis at the time and that was Ty Davis, Ted Hunnicutt, and Paul Krause. Of course, the late Danny Hamel was just getting on board with Kawi; I think, a year or two before. Being on a 125 and riding off-road, because that’s when I went to off-road, was 1992 or ’93. When I switched to off-road, those were the guys I kind of admired and looked up to and aspired to be like. There really wasn’t one in particular. Everybody kind of had their specialty back then. Danny was an AMA National Hare & Hound guy; Ty was kind of everything, enduros, Hare & Hound; everything. Going to the Nationals with Ted and Paul and seeing them ride the big KX500s was cool too. You see them racing down in Baja and you’re like, yeah, I want to ride one! My goal as a kid when I was 16, was that someday I want to be riding an open bike down here, going that fast! (he laughs). SJ: What are some of your favorite memories from that first SCORE Baja 1000? Hengeveld: Pre-running because that was my first time even being in Mexico. We were with a team and I want to say John Braasch was on it. We had a guy named Dana Van Stee in it, Jason Kawell was in it, I was in it. One of the memories was driving into Mexico late at night with a guy in front of me in his truck. My uncle was with me in my van and he led us to Borrego. That’s where we camped for the night. So basically, it went like’s your bike and a ton of fuel. I remember when we used to carry those Prestone anti-freeze jugs on our belt to carry extra fuel. That year, we rode all Borrego and all the way down to Matomi Wash. We popped out at Puertocitos, rode all that stuff, then into San Felipe. I was told that when you go into San Felipe, get gas then get back on the course. Being my first time in Mexico as a young kid, I was 17 I think, I didn’t know better so I said okay. On the course, you’re kind of in the middle of nowhere, which is fine. Then you get into town and since I had never been in a Mexican town in the daytime, I didn’t know where I was. That was the scariest part, getting into town to get fuel. So I hurried it up as best I could to get back on the course where I felt safe (he laughs). As funny as that sounds, I was way more comfortable on the course than I was going into town! So after the first day of that, and getting my first day of pre-running in, it took me all day to do this 200-some mile section; basically Borrego to Borrego. It took me all day and after a couple of days of that first pre-run, I was actually okay. Then In 1994, we started off to do the whole series on the 250 in Class 21. That’s where it all started. SJ: Over your racing career and running the SCORE Baja 1000, you must have some very strong memories of certain races. Do you have a favorite? Hengeveld: Well, they’re all very special. You always take away a memory from every one of them. I’ve had a lot of great races down there. 2000 was the first year I “overalled” it with Johnny Campbell. That was a long race as it was the SCORE Baja 2000. It was a ton of riding, so that was a life-changing experience. It was awesome, so that’s very special. The 2006 SCORE Baja 1000 was also special because that was the first time we rode a Honda CRF450X (a brand-new model introduced late in 2004 for the 2005 model year and intended to eventually replace the XR650R in Honda’s off-road lineup) at the Baja 1000, so I won that one to be the first guy on a 450X to win; so that was cool. In 2014 we were the underdogs on the Kawi. We brought the Kawi back and we finally won it after five or six years. That was really memorable, especially coming back 20-some minutes behind the leader when I got on the bike north of Loreto and making up all that time. I passed the leader by the time I got to San Carlos. Every SCORE Baja 1000, every year, has a special meaning. Even in 2008 when I drove the Trophy Truck. I remember I got in the truck with the car owner. In the morning, we were actually leading a little bit. Then the owner of the car wanted to drive. It’s his money so he can do whatever he wants. He basically got in and had fun. Then I got back in and we were pretty far down; probably like 14th or so. By that time it turned dark, and I guess that’s when a lot of good things happen and we just kind of started hauling ass and ended up in fourth place. Knowing your first SCORE Baja 1000 race in a truck, that you finish in the top five, that’s awesome. So I was pretty stoked on that. Every race was a little different. In 2010 for example, we tried out a KTM program. Bonanza Plumbing was part of that as well, so they had me come down to ride the night section because it was a La Paz run. Unfortunately, the bike broke way too early and I didn’t get to race. Every year there was always something that happened which was cool. In 2007 we went to Cabo that year, so that was pretty cool. It was me, Johnny Campbell, Robby Bell, and Kendall Norman. I believe, did that one if I remember correctly. You can’t really just pick out one Baja 1000. They all have their own special things for each race. There are so many of those moments, it sinks into you. Now that it is on paper, to see that I’ve ridden 20 of them; wow, that’s a lot (he laughs)! When you’re in it full-time and racing full-time, you don’t even look at it like that. It’s just another race. Now that you actually look back, I had to think about it; and 20 of them? Wow, that’s a long time! There’s a couple years that we didn’t go,1997 and ’98 when Kawi totally pulled out, so we didn’t race those years. In ’99 I was able to go down after putting together that Mexican team and Kawi was okay with it, so that’s why I was able to go do that. Then, right after that race, I went to Honda. In November of ’99, I raced on a Kawi KX250. A week later I was on the Honda XR628R in Lucerne Valley, California, trying to get the feel of the big bike. SJ: What was the most frightening moment? Hengeveld: I’ve never really had a frightening moment. My most frightening wasn’t really frightening. I guess it’s so common when weird things happen in the middle of nowhere. You come down a hill somewhere, turn a corner, and you get lit up by a bunch of lights from the Mexican military at one o’clock in the morning while pre-running. That’s kind of scary at first. It wasn’t really frightening more so than it was unexpected until you figure out what’s going on and you calm down. You definitely wake up. You’re so into riding in the middle of the night, then you come into this slow section, go around a corner, and all these bright lights light you up. Your lights catch them and it’s a road block. You’re pretty much stuck. You can’t do anything, so you stop, and by the time you figure out what’s going on, just know they want to look in your fanny pack and off you go again. SJ: As one of the few who rode for two of the most dominant teams in SCORE history, Team Green, then Honda, can you compare the approaches each team used for the SCORE Baja 1000 and did both make that race its most important race of the year? Hengeveld: For the Baja stuff, my tenure with Honda was a lot longer. When that was going on, our whole program was a pyramid. At the top of that pyramid was the SCORE Baja 1000. No matter what, with Honda, the SCORE Baja 1000 was the most important thing ever. It didn’t matter what happened the rest of the year as long as they won the 1000. That was the diamond, for sure. During the Kawi years, I was on the 250cc team so we weren’t going for overall wins anyway. We got second overall and a third, but it wasn’t the overall race win. That program was run a little bit differently, only because we weren’t on the open bikes then. In the SCORE Baja 1000, regardless of what team you’re on, that overall victory is where it’s at. I’m glad Honda gave me the opportunity back at the end of ’99 to join their team so I could help them bring a lot more overall victories. That’s what it’s all about, is that SCORE Baja 1000 overall win. SJ: Could you comment on the differences in racing a 125cc two-stroke in Class 20 or a 250cc two-stroke in 21 and a big four-stroke in 22? Hengeveld: Back in the ‘90s, the 125cc class had 20-something people in it so it was a big class. There were teams featuring guys like Tim Morton back in the day, and the late Dave Chase. There were just a bunch of different guys riding 125s. I got to ride it the one time, but you’re pretty much tapped on it. The bike doesn’t really go a lot slower than you want it to go for Baja. Another thing with a 125 is keeping it running. Being such a small motor and going that many miles wide open, it’s really, really hard on the bike. You’re not only racing Baja and racing your competitors, you’re also making your machine survive. If you could get to the finish line with no problem on a 125 back then, you were in good shape. Going to the 250cc side of it, they were two-strokes, and they probably did right around the high 80s, low 90 miles per hour on a good, perfect road. They were fun, but you’re always looking for more on some of those sections. The bikes were a lot more reliable than a 125, but at that time, I was still young so the power was plenty. You still had your sights set on that open bike. That’s what it’s all about. The open bike and the greater possibility of winning overall. So even though you’re doing really well on a 250 and you’re way up there in front of the competition, you still wanted to be on that next level, which was an open bike and competing for the overall win. That’s what it all boils down to. So basically the 125 and 250 were, for me, good learning steps to riding that open bike. They let me learn how to pre-run and how I did things when I moved up to the open bike. SJ: What was the top speed, roughly, of your 125? Hengeveld: Let’s see. That thing probably only went 70-something miles an hour maybe. It wasn’t very fast! SJ: You probably gained the most notoriety for being an outstanding rider at night. Before your first night race, did you look forward to it, or was it something that intimidated you? Hengeveld: No, it didn’t intimidate me at all. My first actual night race was 1995 at the SCORE Baja 1000. It went to La Paz then. I wasn’t intimidated. I thought it would be kind of cool. I pre-ran my sections at night and thought, wow this is pretty cool! Ever since then, I was basically the night guy. When I rode in ’96, I rode all the night stuff. When they did loop races for the 1000, I always rode in the morning. I always started and rode the first couple hundred miles, then I’d get off and get back on when dark would hit. When it was a loop race like in ’96, that’s what we did, and again in ’99. It’s just something that suited me and it seemed like when all the other team’s speed averages would go down with the sun, ours would either go up or stay the same, depending on the race. If you can gain a couple miles an hour at night with your speed averages, then you pull away from the competition. SJ: What made you so successful at night? Was it extensive pre-running so you’d know your sections intimately or great night vision or what? Hengeveld: I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. First off, I had a great team behind me, especially when I went over to Honda. It was the best team out there, really. All my bikes were set up like you would race for the night a majority of the time unless you had a problem with something. There were times you had to use backup bikes that didn’t have the same frame or something. My eyesight at night is really, really, good. So I think that helps, and I wasn’t scared of it. I think a lot of it has to do with your state of mind. A lot of people get intimidated because they can’t see things at night. They can’t see their surroundings and basically it’s just tunnel vision. You’re just seeing what’s ahead. You can’t see what’s on the sides of you or anything. I think it freaks a lot of people out, especially when you start talking about animals crossing your path and such. I pre-ran my sections extensively and I always pre-ran my sections at the time I thought we’d go through there in the race so I could learn different things. I could see different animal patterns because they do the same thing every day. I knew when they were feeding, I knew when they were walking, I knew when they were going to get water and things like that. SJ: Are you planning on being there for the 50th anniversary of the SCORE Baja 1000 in any capacity? Hengeveld: Yes. I have a couple options. I just don’t know what it’s going to entail. I’ll be there in one form or another, for sure! I won the 40th anniversary of the SCORE Baja 1000 and I’d like to win the 50th (he laughs). I would like to overall it. I still have that in my blood. That’d be a goal of mine. There are a few things out there. I’ve just got to see which one works out best.SJ

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