INTERVIEW: Dakar Rally winner Ricky Brabec

Images courtesy of Dakar Rally

INTERVIEW: Dakar Rally winner Ricky Brabec

Maybe the most dangerous sporting event in the world, maybe not; but no question, Monster Energy Honda’s Ricky Brabec overcame some formidable challenges to win one of the fiercest, most treacherous rally raids of all: Dakar.

Brabec’s Honda CRF450 Rally took the motorcycle class victory in last month’s brutal Dakar Rally, notching the first Dakar triumph for an American in the event’s 42-year history.

Brabec, 28, stopped in at sponsor Monster Energy’s corporate headquarters in Corona, Calif., and took a few minutes to reflect on his 7,000km odyssey — and where it has taken him…

Ricky, you’re back home in Southern California as the Dakar motorcycle class champion. Looking back on what you achieved in Saudi Arabia, do you feel like you conquered the world?

It definitely doesn’t feel like that. It’s a pretty prestigious race and it’s pretty cool to be the first American to win, and we all worked really great together. (But) I don’t know — there’s a lot more to do in life.

Image by Eric Johnson

Obviously, we want to keep trying to win this thing and see how long we can go. Now that we’re home, we’re just trying to enjoy time off before we start training hard again. You don’t want to train hard every day all the way to the next Dakar, otherwise you’ll get (there) all burned out. I’ve been home for almost a month now and it has been busy every day doing media and publicity stuff.

The media has been out of control: Phone calls, e-mails, in-person interviews. Next week, I have to go to India for a Honda event; after that, it’s home for the Sonora Rally. After that I’m off to Japan for an African Twins event. I’m booked-up, literally, until June. There’s been a lot of publicity stuff, but it’s cool. I’m waking up every day and trying to do something. It’s cool, but it’s a lot..

But it’s a good problem to have, right?

Yeah, for sure. It’s really hard for me to take it all in because where I come from, I was just a desert racer. I’m used to going to the race, unloading the truck, racing, then loading up and leaving. Now there are weeks and weeks of media, you know? Everyone wants to know everything, and every magazine wants to know everything; so it’s pretty cool, but it’s definitely a lot.

Honda had not won the Dakar Rally since 1989. That’s 31 years. I’m assuming they were absolutely thrilled with you taking down KTM — no mean feat!

Yeah, Honda is really excited. I met two weeks ago with the head rally guy at Honda and they’re really, really stoked. I’m stoked as well. We finally put the pieces together and made it happen. Now I think we know the recipe to success. Hopefully, over the next year or even two years, we can (keep) Honda on top.

Last year you were leading the Dakar Rally with only one stage remaining when your engine let go. Coming that close only to come up short had to make your 2020 result that much sweeter.

Yeah, last year we were really close. It was definitely hard to have that happen and it was harder to get back in the saddle with the confidence to go because this year in Saudi, every single day, I wondered about the machine and what issues we might have.

We were very fortunate, though, (and) didn’t have any issues. We’d make mistakes, but we’d eliminate them. (Our preparation) really paid off. We’re going to stick to the same program in the future and we now know the recipe. We’re going to start right back up.

There was talk that the Saudi Arabian desert, its weather and terrain, played right into your hands as it was not all that different from where you grew up in the desert regions of Southern California. Was it that similar?

Yeah, the altitude was a little bit lower than where I live, but the desert was exactly the same. Saudi had fewer bushes and was more open — where the Mojave Desert is just bushes everywhere and it’s really hard to go fast in a straight line, Saudi was open. The dirt was the same, the sand washes were the same, the weather was, literally, exactly how it is at my house in California. I felt really comfortable there.

What is it like to ride and compete on a motorcycle that long and that hard for more than 4,000 miles? What are you thinking? What are you doing?

A typical day at this rally would be waking up at 3:15 in the morning and trying to eat as much as you can. By 4:15, you are gearing up and on the bike. Some days we’d be on the bike until 1:00 p.m.; other days until 4:00 p.m.. So you literally stuff your jacket with as much food as you can. You have to try and eat when you’re out there riding. You have all kinds of stuff with you just to try and stay energized.

Do you see much of your competition out there in the middle of all that nothingness?

Yeah, you see the competition quite often. You’re also thinking about what’s going on in the moment and what you could do today that could help you tomorrow. You’re thinking about what your dogs are doing (back home), what your family is doing; you’re singing, you’re thinking, ‘Man, I still have three hours to ride. That sucks.’ You’re thinking about food and sleeping. It’s crazy…

So what was the best part?

I wouldn’t say winning was the best part because everyone is going to say, ‘Winning was the best,’ or you had fun because you won. The best part for me was the first week. The first five days I had the most fun because it was all desert like my house in California. I felt comfortable and I felt confident. It all felt natural to me.

The rally as a whole, the whole experience — that’s what really drives us and brings out there. The first week was really cool, except that we lost a rally racer in Paulo Goncalves.

Did you know him?

Yeah, he was a former Honda guy. It was a memorable moment, but it is not something that we want to remember Dakar (for).  It was very unfortunate. But we pushed on and did what he would have wanted us to do: keep racing.