Mark Samuels has a lot of
willpower and perseverance, but
despite having won the Baja 1000
three times and having earned
several SCORE titles, his phone
never rang come Dakar time.
There’s an elite club of riders who
make a living out of rally racing,
and he wasn’t a member. There
is, however, a back door that
has riders crowding to get in. It’s
called the Dakar Challenge—a
series of races designed to
give average Joes a shot at
Dakar. The winner of the Dakar
Challenge can have the entry fee
waived at the next year’s Dakar
Rally. That gets you $20,000
closer to the dream.
The Honda 450 Rally is five
years old now, and Honda is still
secretive about its inner workings.
HONDA 450 RALLY
Last March Mark placed second in
the Sonora Rally behind Monster Energy
HRC rider Ricky Brabec. Since Brabec
was already a member of the Dakar
elite, Samuels was then first in line for
the prize of a 2018 Dakar entry. That’s
when the real work began. Consider the
logistical nightmare—the rally starts in
Lima, Peru, on January 6, 2018. It finishes in Cordoba, Argentina, over two
weeks later, after 2000 miles and 14
stages. Aside from your own expenses,
you have to cover those of a crew and
a mechanic; no one rides Dakar alone.
Then there’s the equipment. A rally bike
isn’t like any motorcycle you can buy. It
has to be built. The demands are often
in conflict with one another. It has to be
fast but reliable. It has to be light but
have range. A bike capable of just fin-
ishing costs around $30,000 to make.
A bike capable of winning costs much,
There are also great mental hurdles
to clear. There are no rally-raid-type
events in the U.S., so any American
with the goal of competing in such
an ordeal has to teach himself the
technique. It’s all about navigation.
The skill of following a road book
can only be learned through practice.
So, between last March and now,
that’s what Samuels did. He enlisted
the aid of other Americans who had
been there and learned not only
how to follow a road book but how
to write one himself. That’s become