April 28, 2021
The origin of our first ever desert race didn’t really start around the fire pit with a bottle of Jameson like most of our bad ideas. It was a simple phone call. I needed some parts for my XR650 and after placing my order at Al Baker’s XR’s Only I got a phone call. It seems Tommy in customer service there wanted to chat with somebody from Biltwell.“So, you guys make the old-style helmets and stuff, right?” He barked at me? “Yup, and other junk” I replied. Tommy then went into a whole monologue about how he rides sweep on the LA to Barstow to Vegas race and the guys in the very back that he ends up helping out are always wearing our helmets and jerseys, using our parts, etc. I thought he was chewing me out for the accidental amateur behavior of our friends and customers who happen to ride in that misadventure every year. I said something dumb like “Yeah, well, that sounds like our people…” He proceeded to tell me that he loves those riders, respects their spirit of adventure and always enjoys hanging out with them – at the very back of the pack. Whew! I didn’t think this guy was gonna ship my dipstick temp gauge and new skid plate there for a minute. In the next sentence, he asked if we had ever considered doing our own desert race? “Of course” I told him, “I’ve been wanting to do one for years, I just have no idea how to get a permit or pull it off safely and legally.” Otto and I drove out and had tacos with Tommy two days later and it was on!We designed the course with various skill levels in mind. Virtually anyone on any bike can make it a single lap given enough time and gumption. This was proven by the two guys who successfully completed one lap in the Misfit class on un-suspended pull-start mini bikes. Like dad always said “If you are gonna be dumb, you better be tough”.
Tommy is a member of the 100’s Motorcycle Club and is no stranger to old motorcycles. Him, Ryan and the DP4 Racing crew laid out a course that was challenging for the early bikes and very fast, very baja-like for the modern motorcycles. While the Misfits did a single lap, the Vintage class did two, Dual Shock and a couple others did three and everyone else did a full four laps. It was actually 104 miles, not 100 as pointed out by one guy interviewed on the podium. (Thankfully, Otto swiftly shooed this bean counter off the stage.)We had hoped to make this race inclusive for all and were stoked by how many female sign-ups we got right off the bat. There was no Powder Puff version for these ladies. Chicks of all ages lined up with the guys in every class, battled for the holeshot and did an equal number of laps. Women’s times were scored against other women and men against men. This seemed equitable and challenging at the same time and the feedback we got from all racers was positive.The stories afterward were priceless and thankfully there were no life-threatening injuries. The Jasons from Alabama drove 3,000 miles and Uncle Jason wadded hard into Cliffornia’s bike in the dust less than a mile in. Both bikes were toast, but both riders survived. Mark “the Rusty Butcher” Atkins not only finished but claimed 1st place in the Hooligan Expert class. Mark graciously thanked Mikey Virus from the podium, for blowing his engine lap one, but make no mistake, The Butcher earned it. Big bikes, modern bikes, fast riders with real credentials – they all managed to have fun while being entertained by the rest of us knuckleheads out there on motorcycles that should haver retired long ago. Our buddy Jedd made it an amazing 15 or so miles on his rigid-frame, tank-shift 45” Harley flathead. The riders on vintage British iron proved how the desert sled reputation was earned back in the day with an amazing amount of fast finishers. Even an old dummy like me managed to finish 75 miles on my 40-year old Yamaha! Our assistant warehouse manager, Christian Dominguez had a clean run and pulled a second-place finish in the Hooligan Novice class on the Biltwell Spare Parts Sportster.Our team sat down about a week after the race and poured over notes and BBQ. It was a successful race and we will do it again next year, but we learned a ton on this first year. Our list of improvements isn’t massive but it is important – everyone on our staff that’s on the course will get basic medical and casevac training. We will have a more modern system for letting the sweep team know where downed riders are along the course. Timing can be improved. We’ll increase the number of port-o-johns and trash cans and also come up with a way to engage with desert conservationists to do our part to leave the landscape better than we found it. On a more fun note, let’s just assume COVID restrictions will be a thing of the past in 2022 and we’ll be able to throw a big ass party Saturday night for everyone who challenged themselves and their machines–and lived to tell about it. Thanks to everyone who came out, we are already looking forward to it and we hope to see ya next year!
-Bill Bryant #22
Watch a full race lap on the Spare Parts Sporty