SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - JUNE 2017

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

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Page 80 of 108

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. While Johnson had been racing from a young age, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that was the turning point that changed his future. He was a young man riding for both Husqvarna and Yamaha when he was teamed with Off-Road Hall of Fame inductee, Larry Roeseler. The exact circumstances of that encounter are aged with time, but what is certain is that they made desert racing history. Together Johnson and Roeseler won three consecutive SCORE Baja 1000 Championships (1978, ’79 and ’80). Then Johnson returned to the SCORE Baja 1000 in 1982, this time riding for Honda, and won another Baja 1000 Championship with then teammate Al Baker. “It was fun to ride with Roeseler and Baker,” said Johnson from his home just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. While he retired from competitive desert racing in the mid-2000s, Johnson happily talked to SCORE Journal about those days when he rode to win and was difficult to beat. 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.” Several years passed and Johnson was still chasing his first SCORE Baja 1000 win. Finally, it happened with a chance opportunity to team up with Roeseler. “It began when I was asked to ride with Larry,” said Johnson. “We made a pretty good team. We were very competitive, but Roeseler was exceptional.” Johnson Reflects on the SCORE Baja 1000 “Mexico is a special place for me,” said Johnson. “I raced the SCORE Baja 1000 on motorcycles, and then in buggies, and finally trucks.” Johnson, who was inducted in the AMA Hall of Fame, isn’t surprised by the longevity of the SCORE Baja 1000 as it approaches its 50th anniversary. “The race is like Dakar because it has so much international interest,” said Johnson. “People are going to come to the Baja 1000 just for the challenge, to say that they have finished it. The race alone has increased the amount of people interested in desert racing, and I think that is great.” As a motorcyclist Johnson also has opinions on the new technology used in racing the Baja 1000 today. “In my personal opinion as a motorcyclist, there are some issues with today’s Baja 1000 that are a concern to me,” said Johnson. “It’s the exposure to the cars and trucks. I don’t like the GPS style racing with a navigator telling the driver where to go on the course without actually seeing it, because the GPS doesn’t tell you if there is a motorcyclist in front of you.” Johnson also acknowledges that SCORE, in working with organizations like the Caselli Foundation, are finding new solutions which are making it safer for motorcycle racers when they are on the course with the faster and larger Trophy Trucks. Many of these devices are beginning to inform the navigator what types of obstacles are in front of the driver as they cut through the dust and debris. As most SCORE racers and enthusiasts know, it’s extremely difficult to win the SCORE Baja 1000 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.” It was after winning his third SCORE Baja 1000 Championship on a motorcycle that Johnson went on to solo the SCORE Baja 500 in 1979. For Johnson winning one of the first SCORE Baja 500 Ironman trophies really got him pumped up about racing the desert. “It was definitely a tough race to do that,” said Johnson. “I don’t think anyone was crazy enough to think about it. The Ironman trophy is special one to have.” Still he never turned his back on the SCORE Baja 1000, even after the winning at the 500. In 1982, he rode with Baker and together won another 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 (see sidebar). 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. Johnson did what few others achieve in a lifetime of racing, and his records will remain forever etched in the annals of motorsports history, along with an asterisk about that wild solo ride in the Baja 500.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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