We chat with the first-time Hare & Hound champ, Jacob Argubright.
Story and Photography by Mark Kariya
What Jacob Argubright accomplished this year in the Kenda/SRT AMA Hare & Hound National Championship Series, Presented by FMF, is remarkable, especially in light of the path he’s traveled since he began chasing the most prestigious title in American desert racing.
Some probably wrote him off after his contract with the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Off-Road Team wasn’t renewed for 2018 after four years with that effort, though he did land a ride with the Chidester Transport Racing Yamaha squad.
But he even turned away from that route for 2019 and ran his program completely on his own—and by completely, that basically means everything he didn’t make with his own hands. Argubright procured sponsors, who helped get him back on Kawasakis with which he’d enjoyed so much success early on, as well as all the aftermarket parts and services required to tailor his KX450s to his requirements, even down to designing the graphics package.
And it didn’t stop there. He enlisted the help of fellow racer and coach Ricky Dietrich for both riding tips and physical training advice, incorporated that into his weekly schedule, worked on his bikes during the week and sent out timely race reports in the aftermath of each event. On top of this, he maintained social responsibilities, enjoyed another year of married life and ran a small graphic arts/web-design business to exercise his creative side as well as bring in a little extra cash. Oh, Argubright also found the time (and money) to race a couple Best In The Desert events as well as the AMA West ISDE Qualifier Series and the ISDE in Portugal, his first time racing in Europe.
All told, it was quite a year for the Southern California native who we recently cornered for an interview.
For some background, when did you first start chasing the Hare & Hound Championship?
I would say around 2012 when I started really following the series.
When did you get to the point where you believed you could be competitive?
I would say when I got with Husky, which would be 2014. I had won a couple races here and there, but I never won enough of them and finally I got with Husky and was like, “All right, someone believes in me which is cool. I’m going to go for it!” I felt like a real racer, like, “This is my job and I’m going to do it! They’re paying me to win this championship.”
In your time with Husky, you did win the AMA West Hare Scrambles Regional Championship in 2015 so it wasn’t without some success, but it didn’t seem like you reached the goals you and Husky had, for whatever reason.
I think I was still developing my speed and racecraft at that point. I never really figured it out until some years later. I was developing as a rider [still] and I was too young. It was a big change. I think it took me the first year to really understand how the factory worked—I was with them for four years—and what they expected. Then I think it was just finding my racecraft; I wish I would’ve applied myself [then] as I do now. I wasn’t that young, but I didn’t work as hard as I do now, having no one to do it for me.
Last year you were on Yamahas with Chidester Transport Racing and you were only there for the year. It seems like that was an interim step before getting back on Kawasakis and wearing your trademark orange helmets.
Yeah, it was a one-year deal and I liked Chidester—it was cool—but at that point, I just wanted to ride a Kawi [again]. Actually, I was going in to buy new Yamahas and I went to go see my old Kawasaki dealer (Kawasaki of Simi Valley, California), and I looked at one. About 20 minutes later, I walked out with a Kawi. I had such a rough year with Chidester, not because of [team owner Dallas Chidester]; it was just bad luck and I kind of just said, “Screw it. I’m going to do this. What else do I have to lose?”
Had you not done that, where do you think you’d be now?
Probably still with a Yamaha, I would say. I probably would’ve been riding by myself as a privateer. I didn’t necessarily agree with Chidester and all his sponsors he had [for the team]. I just wanted to do things myself and have total control [over my program].
I think a lot of people like having control over their race programs, but you’ve been one of the exceptions in making it work so well that you won a championship as a total privateer.
Yeah, I’ve seen both sides of the fence. I’ve had everything and I’ve had nothing. I mean, it’s not nothing. Not having the factory [backing] is a lot harder, but it’s so satisfying when it’s said and done, and I think I really appreciate everything more. I’m not going to become a millionaire at this so I want to have 100 percent control. I appreciate the teams like Chidester, but at this point I just want to get control of what I do.
As a privateer at your level running your entire program on your own, how does a typical day during the week go?
It depends. Right now, this time of year, I’m doing sponsor stuff. I’m getting bikes ready. I haven’t started riding yet for the new year. I have four bikes that I’m trying to redo, that I’m trying to order parts for and trying to squeeze in a little bit of training. So my day would be I wake up, send e-mails out, do some office work and then go to the gym. Then I come back and do that stuff; I do graphics and web design. I’m actually making a website for Ricky Dietrich right now. It’s all just trying to juggle things. During the season, race after race, I will come home and Monday I will get most of everything cleaned up. I’ll work with my wife, Meg, to get my race report done. I was making win ads on my Instagram so I would do that all on Monday. I’d be done at three or four in the afternoon and I just would do nothing for the rest of the day.
Tuesday, I would usually get back to riding, and I would ride Tuesday, Wednesday and get everything ready to go Thursday then leave Friday. And I’d try to squeeze in other stuff whenever I could.
On your riding days, do you ride moto? Do you go out to the desert and pound whoops? What do you do?
It depends on how worn out I am and depends on what time of year it is. If I get back from a National and I’m feeling good, I’ll go up to Yucca Valley where Ricky Dietrich is and the [Slam Life Racing Honda] guys are, and I’ll ride with them. Ricky owns True Performance Fitness, so ride [there] and it’s maybe 20 minutes from Lucerne. I’ll leave at, like, 5:30 in the morning because it takes me an hour and a half to get there. We go do our riding, but it depends on what Ricky wants to do. We might do motos or work on drills or technique or we’ll do sprints. Then we’ll go back to the gym and do cardio, and then I’ll drive home.
It seems a bit out of the ordinary for an off-road guy to go to an outside source for coaching advice.
Well, you kind of are [doing training similar to motocross]. Let me put it this way: When we go to [Nationals in] Utah, my weakness is turning; I’m kind of clumsy. I can pound sand whoops and go across valleys and the rocks better than I can turn. One of the things I learned this year was because of my size 13 boots and because I’m clumsy, it’s better for me to stand up in more turns and keep my feet on the pegs instead of using that one second to get my foot back up because my form is better and I don’t have to worry about catching my leg. It’s not everywhere, but it’s one of those things. Desert racing now, like hare and hounds, isn’t just going straight.
When we go to Ricky’s, sometimes we do moto. I ride moto maybe once or twice a month. I know how to desert race and I’ve done a lot of hours doing it. Training is more about fitness for me so that’s why we ride out in the desert—it’s rough tracks [out there]. If we’re feeling good, I’ll go do that, and if we’re kind of lagging from the weekend, we’ll go somewhere a little less whooped out.
Does Ricky actually watch you and offer pointers? How does that relationship work?
Yeah! When we’re working on corners, sometimes we have a group of guys and we each hit a section and we would hit it normal then he would show us what he thinks is right. Every time Ricky sits on a dirt bike—he’s super-talented—he makes me scratch my head. I’m like, “How do you do that?” So he’ll show us and we’ll do it a bunch of times and try to see if we can learn a new way to do it or better or a more efficient way. I think a lot of racers do that. They’ll hit sections, but I like the way Ricky teaches it. He gets a lot of it from Ryan Hughes. I don’t know “Ryno,” but I follow a lot what he does. For me, that form and riding style has worked really well.
Let’s look back at 2019. I think it could be broken down into three parts for you. You started out strong—I think you won the first two rounds and had the points lead—but then Beta’s Joe Wasson came back, won a couple rounds and took the points lead from you mid-season and going into the summer break. Then you rallied back to win the last three rounds and capped it off by winning the finale. At one point there, you had to be somewhat worried Joe had gained too much momentum for you to come back.
Yeah, like at round three in Idaho, I finished about three seconds behind him. We were super-close and I wasn’t worried. When we got to the Utah rounds, I struggled with those this year. Usually, those are the two I do okay at; I’ve won them in the past. But Joe was better and Dalton Shirey was really good. At the first Utah round, I got out-ridden. Joe won that one, and he was absolutely on fire. I was worried there for the next round which was a couple weeks later. I was like, “It’s another round in the trees” and I’m already calculating points. It’s funny—at the Sugarloafers round, we go out to Desert Mountain [during the race] and I don’t know why, but that big open field I’m just not that good at it for some reason. It’s weird.
Anyway, at the next [Utah] round, we ran into the [Little Sahara] sand dunes. I actually had a really good battle with Joe. I was third off the start and Dalton was leading then Joe, then me, and I ended up catching Joe in the dunes from a minute down or something; he was pretty far ahead off the start. So I was like, “Cool! This is good for my confidence.” I kept going and that’s the round I had a muffler issue and he ended up getting me back and I finished third. I lost another five points and going into the [break], I was a little worried, but I knew I had the whole summer to train and reset, and having that confidence of catching him during the race was awesome.
The point where I was really worried was at [round six in] Panaca, [Nevada] after the break. Once again in the trees, he was able to get me. I couldn’t get him and I lost another five points. At that point, I was nine points down [with three races left] and I was like, “Well, worst-case scenario if he goes 2-2-2 for the last three, I have to win them.” At that point, I was going into [round seven at] Lovelock, [Nevada,] “Well, I can’t lose to him again or the points gap is going to be too much.” And sorry, but I don’t like the AMA points system! It’s too easy for someone to walk away. So at Panaca I was the most worried all year.
So your back was against the wall going into Lovelock.
Yeah, and even at Lovelock I wasn’t that worried. I had the worst start the whole year there. I don’t know—I was not worried [even with the bad start]. I was like, “I’m going to do this!” It took three and a half hours. That was the most tired I’ve ever been after that race! I’d planned to save energy because no one had done that race before, being new on the schedule, and it was a long race—it was 130 miles or something—and that didn’t happen. I had to sprint the whole time because of my bad start and I had to throw all pre-race plans out the window.
Winning that seemed to reset your confidence, especially knowing the last two rounds would be at Lucerne where you’re very comfortable.
For sure. I mean I felt better, but then I was nervous because it was like, “Well, I could lose it here, but this is my territory,” but I generally had confidence going in.
You won the finale convincingly to clinch the championship. Was it more a feeling of relief or celebration or what to know that?
I think the highest point for me was 10 miles to go. I was pretty far ahead at that point, and I looked back and I didn’t see any dust. I think that was when I decided, “Oh my god!” I started getting happy-nervous, “Oh my god, I’m going to do this!” No one else was around me and no one else can share that experience but me. I was like, “Well, this year was mine.” And then when I came in [to the finish], I think it was relief. It was so many years of thinking I can do it and then some years thinking I can’t do it then finally doing it so it was just a big sigh of relief.
Did it surprise you that some of the other favorites—defending champ Kendall Norman and Ricky Brabec, in particular—weren’t more of a factor this year?
Yeah, I was kind of bummed on that. They were competitive. At round one, Kendall had his chain issue and Ricky was competitive—I was just able to pass him. In Texas, Kendall was really good. At Idaho, Ricky had that crash issue and so did Kendall. I can see why they didn’t want to continue because if they’re out of the points—I know what Ricky’s goals are and it’s not hare and hound anymore—so I get it, but it sucks a little bit. But it’s only a year and I’m sure Kendall will be right on the starting line next year.
Even without those guys, you’ll have a battle on your hands with Joe and now his Beta teammate Zane Roberts who’s moving up to the Open Pro class and Dalton Shirey will be right there if this year is a good indicator.
Yeah, Dalton’s good, Dalton’s young. They say the first [championship’s] easy; the second one’s not as easy. I’ve been doing a lot of off-bike training right now. I’m actually making my graphics right now with the number one. I’m excited to put the number one on my bike, but I also know a lot of people want to tear it away from me.
Will you incorporate your traditional 911 number into the design somehow?
I put a little 911 inside the 1; it’s a light gray so it’s in there, it’ll be in there.
Why 911 anyway? Where’d that originate?
To tell you the truth, it was so long ago I don’t even remember why! I think I needed a number and I ended up just choosing it; I thought it was cool.
You didn’t get much time to savor winning the championship, because a couple weeks later was the ISDE, which you rode for the first time. That had to be very different with the change of format for you and racing in Europe for the first time. How was that whole experience?
It was cool; it was super-fun! I definitely was not prepared for it as much as I wanted to be. Physically, too, I wasn’t 100 percent, because after the hare and hound I went and did [an AMA District 37] sprint enduro and I broke my foot, so I was a little off physically. I guess my bike prep was a little off, too, because hare and hound was my focus. Sad to say, I put ISDE on the back burner a little bit. But if I were to have the same opportunity, I would do it again to win the hare and hounds because I’ve been trying to do it for so long.
But it was cool. It’s definitely different over there! I like going to Europe and traveling; I’ve been over there before so it was fun to go over, but the racing is different.
Especially for a desert guy! It’s a lot different riding on city streets, riding in the rain, riding in the woods.
I liked the adventure! I thought it was fun.
After doing different races this year, what have you learned from them?
There’s a lot of things I’ve learned this year. I’m definitely narrowing my focus to become the best desert racer I can be. That’s why I’ll do hare and hounds again, and I can’t be the best desert racer and not do Baja. I want to go to Finke [in Australia] because that’s a desert race. I’ll do some Best In The Desert.
The thing I’ve learned this year is stay in your lane. Seriously, that goes for so many aspects in life. During racing, like in Texas, Joe passed me on the first loop and I stayed in my lane and I didn’t worry about it. I just rode my race and I ended up catching back up to him and passing everybody.
It applies in so many different ways. What other people are doing, like worrying about [other] people’s training or how good they’re riding—don’t worry about it. Stay in your lane.
For goals, what you want to achieve, things will pop up to distract you, but stay in your lane, focus on your goal. It sounds like a silly thing, but I think people go off course easily.
It’s taken me this long to learn it. I wish it hadn’t but, oh well.CN