Adventure 2017: Hank Salyer, Casey O’Donnell and Josh Scott — Off-road racing the Baja 100
March 29, 2017
The draw of one of the world's most notorious off-road adventures has been pulling local motorcycle racer Hank Salyer to the desert arroyos of Baja, California, for years.
"Right up until the second I sit on the bike, there is a lot of anxiety," Salyer says of taking part in last year's 830-mile SCORE Baja 1000. "It's like I've never ridden a motorcycle or been in a race before. But once I pull out onto the course, I feel totally comfortable."
There's good reason for the anxiety. First staged in 1967, the SCORE Baja 1000 is one of the world's premiere off-road races, offering different categories and divisions for different riders. The course changes slightly each year, from point-to-point affairs from Ensenada to La Paz, or a loop starting and finishing in Ensenada. Regardless, it's one of the most rugged races in the world.
"It's a combination of super rough, rocky roads and smooth sand beaches," Salyer says. "If you're into off-road racing, it's the biggest event you can do. And anyone can sign up, from millionaire racers with helicopter support to guys like me. It's like signing up for the Indy 500 and showing up in your car."
In 2008, Salyer got a taste for it as part of a team. He tested his skills again in the individual division in 2009. Last year he returned twice, placing fifth in February's 250-mile race and joining a Steamboat-based team that placed fourth in the Baja 1000 last November.
"The biggest thing is that we were able to finish," he says.
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Salyer was one of four riders who teamed up to complete the 830-mile race, including Steamboat's Casey O'Donnell and Josh Scott. Steamboat's Chad James and Scott's brother and father were part of the support crew.
"We were doing some work for Hank in his back yard," says Scott, who works with O'Donnell's excavation company. "We started talking about dirt bikes, and one thing led to another."
The team had hoped to finish the grueling race in 24 hours, but a few early setbacks delayed them. They had equipped their KTM-500 X-CW with foam tires designed not to go flat. But they were no match for the rough course.
"We had three flats in the first 150 miles," Salyer says. "So then we switched to more traditional tires."
The delays resulted in chasing the leaders throughout the race and a finish time of 28 hours, 35 minutes. While the team was thrilled with its fourth-place finish, Salyer says they're eager to give it another try.
He's heading back this spring to race the 250-mile Baja 250, a loop that starts and finishes in San Felipe, and has plans to return to tackle the Baja 1000 again this November. And this time, with more than 10 riders contacting him since their most recent race,
the operation may include two teams.