SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal - March 2018

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

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Page 88 of 95

Johnny Campbell Five-Time SCORE BaJa 500 Champion By Stephen Romero Photography by Stephen Romero Five-time SCORE Baja 500 Overall Champion, Johnny Campbell, tells SCORE Journal that if wasn’t for his early mentors as a teenager, he might have ended up working in construction, rather than becoming a professional off-road motorcycle racer for American Honda. “I started racing about the age of 13 on a Honda CR80,” Campbell said. “My dad loved to ride and that inspired me. Every kid’s dream was to become a pro back then. I didn’t know guys made a living racing off-road, that’s for sure. I always wanted to race and win in my amateur ranks of grand prix and motocross, but I really thought I’d be working for my dad’s construction business. I’d read about racing in Baja in Cycle News and I always wondered what this desert racing thing was all about.” Sadly when Campbell’s dad, John passed away in the mid-1980s, Campbell’s outlook on his future in racing suddenly shifted. It could of put an early end to his career, if not for a mentor who stepped in to encourage Campbell to continue. “I didn’t think it was possible to make a life’s career out of racing motorcycles,” he said. “Until I met Baja motorcycle racer Craig Adams, who introduced me to events like the SCORE Baja 500.” Campbell tagged along with Adams at first, slowly getting up to speed on the desert and pre-running Baja events with Adams by his side. It was Adam that initially inspired Campbell to pursue a long-term career in desert racing, and he was hooked. In 1990, Campbell went for it, and entered the SCORE San Felipe 250. He teamed with Jeff Haas, a fellow SRA (Southern Racing Association) racer. Together they finished the SCORE San Felipe 250, but ended up in 10th or 11th overall and “third or fourth” in Class 21. Two years later, after gaining more experience and racing the SCORE Baja 1000 for the first time, Bruce Ogilvie from Team Honda entered the scene, and gave Campbell a chance to become a professional desert racer. “Bruce showed me race strategy, and how to work on the engines, and thanks to him I was able to race instead of working at some other job,” said Campbell. “There were a lot of influences in my career, my father, mother, and Adams -- but Bruce was the single biggest impact in my life when it comes to racing Baja.” For 17 years Ogilvie took Campbell under his wing and made him into the champion he is today. “Bruce was always seeding me that I would one day be running the entire Honda factory team,” he said. “That dream eventually came true.” Conquering the SCORE Baja 500 Although, Campbell has 11 SCORE Baja 1000 overall wins to his name with Team Honda, memories of the five SCORE Baja 500 victories still bring a smile to his face. Even though, his last overall motorcycle victory at the SCORE Baja 500 was in 2004 (the others wins came in ’03, 02,’98 and ’97) Campbell vividly recalled the details of those races like they happened yesterday. “The Baja 500 has always been a difficult race,” Campbell said. “Even though you don’t race at night and it’s half the length of the Baja 1000, the Baja 500 has a much closer racing pace, the intensity is up and typically it can be very hot in June. It’s still a large endurance race, but the strategies are different. There is less time to make corrections racing the SCORE Baja 500, and instead of running three riders like the SCORE Baja 1000, we would run two riders at the 500. I would typically start the event.” When it came to racing the SCORE Baja 500, Campbell proved to be a quick study, and he became a smarter racer through the years, thanks to Ogilvie’s efforts. “Racer maturity helps with being patient in the Baja 500,” he said. “To win you have to know when and where to pass another rider without taking the risk of pushing the limits. Pit strategies are also important. Racing events like the SCORE Baja 500 can be life and death. There’s a certain strategy to chasing the guy in front of you. Being smart and wise when you’re a Bedouin of the Baja 500 is what you need to win that event rather than pure speed. In the end, you only have to win by one second.” The Bikes During his Baja 500 championship years, Campbell raced with Honda CR250s, XR600s, XR650Rs and CRF450Xs. “The 450X was an extremely change because these were quicker and lighter that all the previous bikes,” said Campbell. “The models had advanced so much in my career. I went from two-stroke to four-stroke during those years. When I was racing with Honda their philosophy was that four strokes were the best off-road bikes, whereas the other teams were still running two strokes. Part of my education in racing was learning all about four-stroke engines. The early bikes were also air-cooled until we ultimately we went with water-cooled models. The heat in Mexico at racing speed contributed to that change.” Fortunately for Campbell, dialing in the lessons of competing in the SCORE Baja 500 was critical to get him to where he is today. Without the hard work, the mentoring and the desire to win, Campbell might have gone into construction, rather than chasing the dream. But after that first win in the ’97 SCORE Baja 500 he became the man to beat and he never looked back. SJ

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