SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - Jan 2017

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 63 of 106

THE PERFECT RIDE Ox Motorsport’s Mark Samuels reviews their perfect SCORE 2016 season and what’s in store for 2017 Going through an entire season undefeated is the goal of many but the achievement of few, no matter the sport. After winning the SCORE World Desert Championship in 2014, the Ox Motorsports Honda team entered 2015 favored to repeat, but it faced, even more, competition. Despite those challenges, however, and a few inevitable bumps in the trail during the campaign, Ox successfully overcame the odds and kept that cherished 1X number plate. Keeping it at the end of 2017 may be an even tougher test, though, as Rider of Record Colton Udall suffered injuries while pre-running for the SCORE Baja 1000 that kept him out of that race. Then in one of his first training rides after recovering, an even bigger crash left him with back injuries and a badly broken foot. While expected to eventually recover from his injuries, Udall is definitely out for at least the first race of the SCORE 2017 season, the San Felipe 250 and possibly the Baja 500. That news leaves the team with some shuffling of personnel and strategy. We sat down with team co-founder Mark Samuels to learn more about Ox’s tremendous 2016 and its plan of attack for 2017. SJ: Let’s provide a quick history of the Ox Motorsports Honda team. Both you and Colton Udall rode for Johnny Campbell Racing (JCR) Honda in 2013, which was the last year that JCR raced in SCORE. When Honda directed JCR to race domestically and do the GNCCs starting in 2014, that left both of you without rides. It would’ve been easy to give up and race only in the U.S., which would’ve been much less expensive. Instead, you guys teamed up to create an organization that eventually became Ox Motorsports Honda and continued to pursue your dream of racing in Baja. Though you had the inevitable growing pains in your first year, you won the SCORE World Desert Championship in 2015, then successfully defended that title in 2016, winning all four races in the series. Obviously, the goal of any racer is to win races and championships, but sweeping the series is a lot harder than people might think. How did you approach the 2016 season? Samuels: In 2015, me and Ray [dal Soglio] rode together [on the 3X bike], and Colton and Justin [Jones] rode together [on 5X] then I filled in with Colton and Justin when needed. We decided that Colton and I would focus on the one bike and go race together for 2016. Obviously, by sweeping it we knew we could do it just because we have a really good bike, really good pit people, and me and Colton know how to race Baja well. The 45X team with Rider of Record Francisco Arredondo, Max Eddy, Jr., Shane Esposito, Justin Morgan and Roberto Villalobos as the core group and Dalton Shirey added especially for the Baja 1000 is a great team. We had some close races and they put some pressure on us for sure, but we expected that too. All in all, we expected to win. Yeah, it was nice to have a perfect season for SCORE. SJ: How did you approach each race? All four SCORE races have their own characteristics and the Rosarito Desert Classic was a brand-new event this year. One might expect the preparation, bike set-up, and overall race strategy to change in order to accommodate the different challenges each race presents. Samuels: We just kind of put our plan together [at the beginning of the year] and that’s what we stick to. Obviously, sections and how we [plan] that changes and varies a little bit for each race. Mainly, our plan is simply having a solid bike, solid riders, and to be healthy on race day. It’s hard to do that with all the pre-running you do and everything, to be healthy for the race. SJ: Is a week enough time to get pre-running done? Samuels: We did it for the SCORE San Felipe 250 and the SCORE Baja 500, but you always want more. You can get it done in a week, but it’s a lot of work and long days. A week and a half are ideal, and what we would like to have. This year for the SCORE Baja 1000, I only had five days before the event. [There were] 200 miles that I never rode that I had to learn, then Colton got hurt and I had to learn another 100 miles of night section two days before the race. If you’re willing to put in some time, you could get ready [in less], but it will wear you down. If you could pre-run a bunch and hang in there for eight to 10-hour days on the bike, you’ll figure it out pretty good. SJ: Lots of people say pre-running is the best part of racing in Baja. It sounds more like a lot of work for you guys! Samuels: I think there are definitely different levels of pre-running. There’s some pre-running for some people that I’m sure is a lot of fun and you can enjoy “Mexicos” and cervezas and all that! I get to enjoy eating at the taco stands and riding down there. Sometimes, it becomes work since you’re just pounding out miles just to learn a section, but each night’s cool because you see your buddies down there that you became friends with in Mexico, plus the other teammates and everyone. It’s a cool experience just to be down there for a week to a week and a half. You’re all down there doing one thing and you get to talk and reminisce about what happened that day or a couple days before that. Conversations about seeing this person in this spot, and you saw that person over here are common too. Pre-running’s pretty cool—racing’s pretty scary (he laughs)! SJ: Do you have much interaction with the truck or buggy guys? Samuels: Not really. We have a couple buddies that race trucks and see them. Obviously, you build friendships down there with truck guys and stuff, but we kind of stay pretty small and quiet. We’re there to do our job. SJ: Any plans for you to move into four wheels in the future? Samuels: I would love to eventually. I really enjoy racing my dirt bike right now, but like everyone says, “With age comes a cage!” Maybe, we’ll see, especially if some sponsors want to step up for us. That budget goes up quite a bit! It would be a lot of fun. I think we would be very good candidates for it. People say, “Oh, you’re on a dirt bike. It’s different than being in a truck.” I think what we learn on a dirt bike is going to transfer over. You look at Larry Roeseler and what he’s done. What people don’t understand in trucks, is that you can hit certain things where they will only get a flat tire. On a bike, it could kill us. We know how to stay away from certain objects like that. I think we could do a really good job in a truck. It’ would take us a little bit to transition but it would be something interesting to see. SJ: You and Colton have different responsibilities on the team in addition to riding, don’t you? Samuels: Yes. Colton is very good with the mechanical stuff. He and I kind of share the logistics side and throw ideas back and forth with for Baja and stuff like that. I deal with all our sponsors and more of the business side. I deal with things like phones, e-mails, meetings and making sure our taxes are paid (he laughs)! All the business side of it! SJ: Taxes? Samuels: Yeah, it’s a full business. We run our team as a corporation and have to make sure everything’s lined up at the end of the year. It’s a full business for us. SJ: Have you considered basing the business in Mexico? Samuels: I don’t know how that would work; I’m not sure. That would be interesting. SJ: Getting back to the 2016 season, what were the unique challenges at each race? Samuels: At the SCORE San Felipe 250, that race is just challenging in itself. Physically it’s so demanding. It’s only five to five and a half hours, but it’s five and a half hours of whoops and rocks. That’s the most dangerous race. There’s so much risk there. You don’t really have to deal much with oncoming cars or anything like that—just the terrain’s really gnarly there. The SCORE Baja 500 this year was just insanely hot. At 9:00 am when I got to Laguna Salada, it was 110-degrees already! By the time I got to San Felipe, it was 117-degrees and I heard later that it got to 121-degrees when the Trophy Trucks were coming through there. That was probably the most insane, difficult race I’ve had in Baja. Colton rode 300 miles of that and I don’t know how he kept going! It was pretty insane, that heat! He kept going through San Felipe in that heat, all the way around through that demanding stuff, then all the way into the finish. The SCORE Rosarito Desert Challenge was a new race that we had to figure out as we went along. It was super rocky, and there were a lot of big square edges from the Trophy Trucks that were racing the two days before us. It beat the crap out of the track. That was kind of an interesting one. It was like a Grand Prix but a really fast one but beat up from Trophy Trucks. This year at the SCORE Baja 1000, the biggest challenge was when Colton got hurt two days before the race. We had to come up with a full strategy with different riders in just two days. I mean, I wasn’t even planning on racing. I was going to be there to back up Colton for his ironman effort and that’s why I didn’t get down until five days before the race. He called and is like, “Hey, I’m not going to be able to do it; I don’t feel confident in winning this whole thing riding by myself like I wanted to originally. I want you to come down.” I’m like, “All right!” We called Justin Jones and came up with our plan. Everything was so last-minute, in a sense, because Justin was planning on being down there pre-running to be a backup also. He had his grandfather’s funeral to be at the weekend before the race so by the time he got down there, it was already Tuesday before the race, so he only had three days of pre-running. There was a lot of diversity that happened with that race! I usually deal with the pit guys and make sure they know where they’re going and talk to them, and everything got changed because we weren’t completely done with that. I was down south more, pre-running, and I didn’t have much cell service so Colton kind of took that deal over. Him getting hurt eliminated that. I’ve never been so stressed, I think, in my life. Really! I never get headaches and I had a headache for a week after the Baja 1000, worrying about Colton, how he was doing, and who was going to help fill-in. Luckily, we ran across David Kamo one morning at breakfast after I drove five hours from the bottom of the course so I could start pre-running once I heard that Colton got hurt. It all worked out. The team all stepped in with all our pit crews. We’ve got awesome pit crews and sponsors that came and helped. That’s what helps us down in Baja; that’s for sure! SJ: How much is a carryover from the JCR (Johnny Campbell Racing) Honda days? Samuels: Pit guys, I would say all of them are from JCR. We’ve added a few guys that have shown interest and they’ve worked out really good for us. Johnny has it figured out in Baja. We definitely took as much as we could from Johnny and his program to do what we do. There are a lot of aspects that Johnny taught us when we raced with him that we apply because that’s what makes it work. We’re definitely lucky to have Johnny’s knowledge at that part of our careers and put that into our Baja team and racing. It’s cool to be on a Honda and have a friendship with Johnny, too. SJ: During the late Bruce Ogilvie’s tenure as head of Honda’s Baja racing efforts, the Honda factory itself was solidly behind the program. As the years went by, Honda’s emphasis on it led to funding and a lot of that trick “factory” stuff going away during the JCR days. Though some people might consider you Honda’s “factory” representatives, are you really? Samuels: No. We’re not truly factory; we’re just factory-supported. They help us out with bikes and parts and give us the tools that it takes to go win. Bruce Ogilvie was the factory Honda leader in Baja. The next step down was Johnny. I would say Johnny is factory-supported. He works with HRC (Honda Racing Corporation in Japan) and American Honda and helps develop stuff. He’s very good at it. We’re the next one down from that. But it’s pretty awesome to be able to fly the Honda wing on our chest and be on a red bike. SJ: Ever since the Honda CRF450X came out as a 2005 model, it’s been the bike to beat in Baja. Samuels: That’s for sure! The ‘450X! There’s no other bike that can beat it down there. That’s THE bike; it was developed for Baja. That’s the crazy thing about it too. It’s 11 years old and it’s still the best bike down in Baja. SJ: Bruce was mostly responsible for that, wasn’t he? Samuels: Everything, I think, came from Bruce. That’s where Johnny learned a lot; he was very involved with the development. That’s led into the new CRF450RX and that’s going to be more for GNCCs and closed-course off-road races. Bruce developed that bike and the CRF450R moto-crosser that it was based off back then; 2005 to ’08. I think it’s pretty cool that now Johnny gets to be the guy to develop the RX. Hopefully, they’ll be developing a new X here soon. SJ: What would you like to see in a new X? Samuels: Honestly, maybe just fuel injection (he laughs). Really that’s it! Obviously, there could be a few minor changes just to make it up to date. I don’t know—the 450X works so well down in Mexico it’s hard to say what more you’d want. SJ: Though Ox Motorsports Honda enjoyed a great year by most definitions, it kind of ended badly with Colton getting hurt pre-running at the SCORE Baja 1000, then suffering even more injuries during one of his first training rides back that make his participation in 2017 questionable. What are the extent of his injuries and how will the team adjust to losing him for a race or two at least? Samuels: When we got home, Colton broke his back when we were out riding at Glen Helen Raceway Park in San Bernardino, California. It’s kind of hard to say right now. Our main goal is to get him back. He smashed his T-12, fractured some other vertebrae, he had five vertebrae fused together. One of the biggest things is when he broke his back, it pinched his spinal cord. It didn’t sever it or anything like that, which is good. It’s going to take some time, however, to recover. He can walk—he’s fine in that sense—he’s just in a lot of pain. Our main focus is to make sure he’s healing properly. We’ve got some time to figure out what we’re going to do for racing in SCORE. We’ll definitely be there. He won’t be ready for San Felipe so we’ll figure it out. SJ: Let’s say he’s out for the first two rounds. How will you juggle things? Samuels: That’s in the back of my mind right now. It’s hard to say exactly what we’ll do. The only thing I know we’ll do is put our resources where we already have them for pit crews and bike prep. We’ll fill in the rider situation from there. SJ: Would you consider consolidating and going to a one-bike team? Samuels: Probably not. I’ve got plenty of people to choose from to ride with me. I could get Daymon Stokie from Australia, or Justin Jones or Ryan Penhall. The list goes on from there. There are options. At this moment we haven’t even gotten that far; we just want to get Colton back and healed. We’ve got three months before we have to race. We’ll have a plan, I’m sure. SJ: If he’s unable to ride the first couple races, would he still ride a short distance from the start like he did at the Baja 1000 in order for the team to get points since he’s the Rider of Record? Samuels: I don’t know how we’ll do the Rider of Record part if he’s going to be able to roll off the line, what we’re going to do there, or just put it in my name and I’ll be the Rider of Record for it. We’re not too sure yet. SJ: It’d be a shame not to be able to run 1X. Samuels: He’s able to hand the 1X number over to me because I raced with him so it wouldn’t be an issue with the number. We won it together so if he says, Mark can be 1X, it’s okay with me. It’s like when Timmy Weigand was Rider of Record in 2013 and he handed the number plate over so Colton could be 1X in 2014. We’ll keep the 1X on the bike in 2017 no matter what. If we weren’t able to do that, we’d have to pick him up and put him on the bike if we had to! SJ: Any changes to the Ox Motorsports Honda program as far as sponsors? Samuels: As of right now, there are no changes. Everything from 2016 is rolling over to ’17. We’ll be on Hondas with Monster Energy, MSR, Scorpion, Lava Propane, and all the people that help us out. Everything’s rolling over from last year. We’re still open for more sponsors, but as of right now it’s all the same, which is good for us. Since Colton’s got hurt, everyone has been very supportive. They’re sending out their best wishes and letting him know they’re there for him and hoping the best for him. We have an awesome group of sponsors; that’s pretty cool to have and to see what we’ve built over the last three years. SJ: When you guys first formed the team, did you think it would progress this far this quickly? Samuels: Obviously, we probably wanted to do it quicker, but it takes time. I pictured it to be like this, definitely. I don’t think a lot of people did, but in my mind and Colton’s mind, this is how we pictured it. We had to invest our own money to start the team. We didn’t want to be somewhat of a team. We wanted to be a professional team and wanted to go for wins and get factory support and all that. I expected it, but it’s been quite a wild ride and pretty cool that it’s actually been happening. SJ: Do you see more factories becoming involved in the near future and getting the factory involvement back in Baja as it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s? Samuels: With off-road as a whole, it seems like everyone’s starting to jump back in. It was kind of sad when the economy hit a recession. We were the first ones in which funding got taken away. In the United States, there are more factory-supported teams popping up and I think that’s good for racing in Mexico. It’s a prestigious type of racing that people want to be a part of. To win the SCORE Baja 1000 or any Baja race is very big for any manufacturer. I can see possibly another factory coming down here soon, hopefully. SJ: And you’d welcome that? Samuels: Absolutely! Competition’s what makes racing so and that’s what draws people there. SJ: The biggest race of 2017 will undoubtedly be the 50th anniversary of the SCORE Baja 1000. That’s going to be THE race to win, won’t it? Samuels: The 50th anniversary of the SCORE Baja 1000, that’s pretty massive. I mean, it’s pretty crazy to think that the SCORE Baja 1000 has been going on for 50 years as it is, and it’s quite a milestone to be at that 50th mark. It’s going to be cool and it’s going to be around 1300 miles so. It’s not going to be a joke. It’s going to be possibly—it hasn’t been confirmed, but it may be all the way to Cabo and it’s supposed to be 1300 miles. That’s 24 hours straight. That’s a pretty insane race. I think it’ll draw a lot of attention and a lot of people are going to want to come do it so that’ll be our strong point for the season with our crew and our bike. That’s what the championship usually comes down to, is how you do at the SCORE Baja 1000. I feel quite confident going into that race with it being that long. SJ: Another sweep of the series by Ox Motorsports Honda? Samuels: That’s hard to say. I don’t want to predict any of that! I just want to be prepared and do what we do and hopefully, everything goes smoothly again. SJ

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of SCORE Journal - SCORE Journal Issue - Jan 2017