It's been years since Robby Bell has had success in Baja, and even longer since a Kawasaki has owned a Baja podium. But this 2012 Baja 500 race welcomed both, and to be honest, they earned it with the utmost respect. In February during the first leg of the Baja rounds in San Felipe, Bell wrecked himself enough to be flown back to the states for evaluation and the team scrounged a 6th place finish. Fully recovered, Bell and his team prepared to the T for the 500 both physically and mentally. In a true battle to the finish, THR Motorsports/Kawasaki/Precision Concepts and JCR Honda kept each other honest throughout the 450-mile race, both encountering mistakes. Bell is on a positive-streak this year finding success in Big 6, WORCS and now Baja. We caught up with the Baja winner and Rider of Record, Robby Bell, to chat about his extraordinary win.
VO- Firstly congrats on your HUGE win at Baja. You've officially left a big mark in the books for not only yourself, but Kawasaki. Has it sunk in yet or is it still a little surreal?
RB- Thanks! It's still a little bit of a dream I keep snapping back into. I'll be unpacking, or eating some food and it'll hit me again...We just won the Baja 500! It means so much to not only myself, but also my teammates: Steve and David, and my team: Monster Energy, THR Motorsports, Precision Concepts Kawasaki, all of the pit volunteers and our mechanics Phil and Ty. It just makes all of the long days and longer nights so worth it for everybody. As for Kawasaki, it is a huge deal as Honda has had so much dominance at the Baja 500 winning the last 15 in a row. The last time a Honda was beat at this race it was a Kawasaki that did it, and to put the brand back on top and break Honda's streak is a big deal.
Tell me a little about your time on the bike, from start to finish...
The race started out really well as I passed into the lead within the first six or seven miles out of town. I had clean air to stay safe and try to pull time. Then the race almost unraveled when I missed our first pit and had to find and stop at some spectators to get gas. Luckily I was able to get gas and get back going, but lost about five minutes stopping at every camp I saw to try to find some. From there David rode really well over the summit and got us back into the lead, and I was able to stretch a little bit more time through all of the whoops and rocks of Borrego and the fast, mountain roads of Mike's Sky Ranch. Steve had a strong ride up the coast, but the Honda was coming like a freight train, closing the gap. I was waiting at mile 407 for the bike, where I would ride the last 43 miles to the finish. I was listening to radio reports that the gap was down to 55 seconds, then 22 seconds, then 16 seconds and at one point David said he looked back and Timmy was within just a few seconds of him. Fortunately we kept the physical lead and I got on the bike about 45 seconds ahead of the Honda (needing to beat them by over a minute due to the staggered start times). I charged the finish section, had a few close calls in the silt and almost flew off the course a couple times, but was able to pull time over Timmy, who wasn't too familiar with the section and crossed the line about three and a half minutes ahead of the Honda. Such a close, epic race and to finally get the win I've been working for since 2009 feels just fantastic.
When you realized you missed your first pit, what was going through your mind?
I thought I just threw the race away. We had decided to put the pit right around mile 48, but because it was so chaotic in that area the pit crew had to move the pit a little sooner and when I came by I wasn't looking for them yet. I talked to Mark after the race and he said he had the dump can in hand and I literally rode right by about five feet away from him. From there I thought they might possibly be around mile 52 as we had discussed that location as another possibility, but when I got there nobody was around and my heart sank. I started screaming at myself inside my helmet, but I tried to calm down and realized I was going to run out of gas in the next ten miles if I didn't find any. I began stopping at every little spectator camp I could find asking for gas and must have gone through six camps before Colton finally caught up to me. I saw him coming and switched in to race mode for a moment as I jumped on the course and started to push again, but quickly contained myself and stopped at the next camp as Colton flew right by. Three or four spectator camps later, two guys said they had some gas and pulled out a full five-gallon can. They were more than willing to fill me up and I'm utterly indebted to them for helping me get back in the race and ultimately helping us get the win. Only in Baja can you have a story like this...
What was your favorite part of the 450-mile course?
My favorite part of the Tecate SCORE Baja 500 course has to be the Mikes loop. It's made up of fast, sweeping mountain roads where you can flat track in third and fourth gear around corners and just feel like a hero. Some of the most fun you can have on a dirt bike.
Did you come across any cars or set-up dangers on the course?
There were some of the normal small jumps built by the locals, but nothing malicious. The sketchiest parts of the race were probably when a donkey decided to jump onto the course right in front of me and race me during the Mike's loop, and a turned-over truck coming into the finish that was blocking the whole course, but no real close calls. The closest call I had was during pre-running when I went bar to bar with a horse. I spooked him from the left side of the track and he jumped onto the course running right across the front of me. I swerved to the right and literally ducked under his head as I went by. I still have no idea how we didn't hit, but luckily I got by him safe and sound. Just another Baja story...
Back when you had the 1x on Honda's, what is one Baja course horror story you recall?
The gnarliest Baja story I have is probably the 2006 Baja 1000. I was teaming with Kendall Norman and Johnny Campbell, I had a bit of pressure to win and help Johnny achieve his tenth straight Baja 1000 victory. Around mile 45 I hit a booby trap and went end over end at about 60mph, hitting my head and knocking myself silly. I remounted and got going, but I remember thinking that the course looked different, there was something unfamiliar about it. A few corners later Mikey Childress on the other Honda came around and I was thinking, "What the heck is Mikey doing coming backwards on the course?!" The light bulb finally clicked and I realized I was the one going backwards. Mikey turned me around and I had to ride another 300 miles to finish out my section. About two-thirds of the way through I got a flat rear tire and had to ride almost 30 miles on it before the next pit. I came in and they weren't really prepared to change a wheel, so I started panicking and making mistakes so I had to jump in and change the wheel myself and get going again. I finally finished my section and gave the bike to Kendall, thinking I already had quite a Baja story. Unfortunately Kendall suffered a bad crash and broke his hand so I would have to get back on and ride another 200 miles or so that I had never pre-run and the sun was going down so it'd be at night. I've never been as delirious and scared on a dirt bike as I was that night. I kept thinking I was lost and couldn't find the course and I started hallucinating as bushes on the side of the course started looking like military men crouched down with machine guns pointed at me. Luckily I made it through the whole section without getting shot by the imaginary army bushes and got the bike to Johnny. We came in second that race, but it was enough to win my first 1X number plate and it's a story I'll never forget.
Describe this Baja 500 in 5 words.
A fun, drama-filled event.
Who would you like to thank?
There are so many people to thank that made this win a possibility. Definitely my team: Monster Energy, THR Motorsports, Precision Concepts Kawasaki, my teammates: Steve Hengeveld and David Pearson who rode so well, all of the pit volunteers, Sean Reddish, our mechanics: Phil and Ty for putting in so much work during the weeks leading up to and throughout the race. I want to thank my dad for driving me around all week and then driving me home Saturday night so I could go race the BIG 6 on Sunday, my fiancé Katie for supporting me, my personal sponsors: FOX Racing, Asterisk and Hookit.com for such fantastic support and all of the team sponsors for the effort that they put into the team.
Thank you to all the team sponsors: Monster Energy, THR Motorsports, Precision Concepts, Kawasaki, FMF Racing, Hoosier Precision Machining, BRP, Renthal, Dunlop, VP Racing Fuels, IMS Products, Kalgard, DT1 Filters, Hinson, Matrix Concepts, ZLT, QTM, RK/Excel, Acerbis, Works Connection, Zip-Ty Racing.
Congrats on such an monumental win (and your engagement) and thanks!
Thanks Megan, and congrats to everyone at Vurboffroad.com, the site looks amazing and your coverage of the off road events is outstanding!