Cycle News Archives
This Cycle News Archives edition is reprinted from issue #36, September 8, 2004. CN has hundreds of past Archives columns in our files, too many destined to be archives themselves. So, to prevent that from happening, in the future, we will be revisiting past Archives articles while still planning to keep fresh ones coming down the road -Editor.
By Scott Rousseau
Sometimes, legends—whether racers, races or racing venues—meet sad, untimely ends. Prosperous futures that lay ahead are often cut down in a single, swift instant, when nobody sees it coming. That was hardly the case at the 17th and final Barstow-to-Vegas Hare & Hound, held in Southern California’s Mojave Desert on November 25, 1989.
From its inception in 1964, B-to-V instantly became the biggest desert race in the world, typically drawing over 1000 entries, making it a Thanksgiving Weekend classic. Regardless, environmental pressures caused a premature end to B-to-V after the 1974 running of the event, and the race would remain shut down for nine years before race proponents successfully battled their way through legal wranglings and bureaucratic red tape to resurrect it in 1983. Despite its immediate return to popularity, the race’s continued survival was a constant uphill battle with each passing year, as the BLM practiced a bend-but-don’t-break policy under the weight of “pro-environmental” factions, such as the Sierra Club and Earth First! who tried everything to stop the race, including out-right sabotage. The 1988 event was delayed at the last minute when it was discovered that someone had placed a wall of railroad ties in one of the dark culverts used by racers to cross under I-15; if the barricade had not been found, the results could have been deadly.
Despite the threat of similar terrorism (a “dummy” course was found near the start, containing tire-flattening spikes, and three suspicious people were found on the course the night before the race), the show would go on again in 1989, though the B-to-V officials were clearly weary of the organizational hassles at that point.
“Basically, it’s because of the tortoise issue,” B-to-V co-chairman Rick Hammel told Cycle News at the ’89 event. “We paid better than $10,000 just in consulting fees, mainly regarding the tortoise, and the stipulations the BLM and Fish and Wildlife were handing down got to be a real bear.”
But go on it did, and just like the rest, B-to-V was the biggest desert race in the world. The 1200 entries allowed by the BLM were snapped up immediately, and the starting lineup read like a desert-racing hall of fame, including such aces as two-time winner Dan Smith, former winners Chris Crandall and Bruce Ogilvie, and desert veterans Larry Roeseler, Scot Harden, Chuck Miller, Ted Hunnicut, Paul Krause and Grant Palenske, just to name a few.
Kawasaki-mounted Derrick Paiement was the leader at the bomb run after the banner was dropped at 7 a.m., with Smith, Ogilvie and Crandall all in hot pursuit. Crandall was best able to negotiate the extreme dust in the early going, and he passed the three riders in front of him to snatch the lead just 10 miles into the 148-mile race. Once Smith found his rhythm, though, he was able to eat into Crandall’s lead, and it wasn’t long before the KTM 540-mounted Smith was running shoulder to shoulder with the ATK 560-mounted Crandall, who would hold the lead for about 20 miles before Smith took over. Crandall stayed with him, only to crash after blasting a rock in one of the sand washes.
Smith held the lead through the first pit and had his margin over Crandall up to a minute and a half by the second pit, with Yamaha YZ125-mounted Eric Hallgath running a surprising third overall by the second pit. Paiement was fourth, with Roeseler overcoming a disastrously slow start to move up to fifth.
Smith maintained his minute-and-30 lead into the third pit, but there were tense moments after he left, his bike trailing oil on the ground behind it.
“I put a hole in the case just before the last gas, and I knew I was losing oil, but I thought, ‘What the heck—it’s a KTM,’ ” Smith later joked. “KTMs are tough bikes—you don’t need any oil. So, I just kept going.”
Indeed, he did, all the way to the finish, Smith crossing the line to claim his third B-to-V victory with an average speed of better than 50 mph.
“I had a great ride all the way,” Smith said at the finish. “Unfortunately, there’s so much [desert] tortoise [protection] stuff going on that they can’t get all the good trails. But it’s still fun, and it’s still B-to-V. It’s the biggest District 37 race of the year, and that makes it important no matter what the course is like.”
The 1989 B-to-V course would be the last. The race was scrapped in 1990 when the BLM refused to issue permits for it. Despite protests and protest rides, the race itself vanished into history like dust in the Mojave wind. Eventually, even the protest rides were halted by the BLM.
Rumblings that B-to-V will return continue to ripple like aftershocks in the desert, and perhaps one day it could happen again. We can only hope that Roeseler was being more prophet than fool when, after finishing fifth at the ’89 event, he said: “I still haven’t won this race. I just can’t seem to do it. But I’ll win it one of these days.” CN