By Blake Draguesku
For the first time since 1976, motorcycles sat on the starting line of the legendary Mint 400 desert race. As the sun crept above the mountains to the east and began warming the cold Nevada desert, Ricky Brabec hit the starter button and brought his JCR Honda CRF450X to life. A mechanical failure while running first place at the Dakar Rally just 2 months prior had admittedly knocked Ricky’s momentum as a pro desert racer - momentum he intended to restore that day in the desert outside of Las Vegas. I had the opportunity to capture some images of Ricky on the race course, as well catch up with him post-race after he stepped down from the number one spot on the podium. Here’s how our chat went:
“So, Ricky, when did you first hear that bikes were returning to the Mint 400?”
“It wasn’t that long ago; I think I was in Dakar when I figured it out, and honestly I didn’t know that bikes were in the Mint back in the day. So to come out and be here for the first time that bikes are back, and to win, is really important and legendary and I hope that I’ll make the list of Mint 400 heroes and legends, cause its been like 40 years since the bikes have raced, so to come back and win it is huge. Honda has never won it and I didn’t even know that until I was on the podium.”
“Tell me about your ride today.”
“Kendall and I had our hands full. Jacob Argubright was solo, but keeping us honest, keeping us on our toes. We had a tire and wheel issue on the first lap - I tagged a rock out there while clipping along pretty good and it kinda split the tire, our mousse was hanging out. I didn’t even catch it, Kendall was about to leave the pit and I had to pull him off the bike, so that was a 45 second pit for us but you know, we changed it out, remained calm and got the job done.”
“What do you attribute today’s success to?”
“Honestly, ever since the off-road racing community has lost Kurt Caselli… It’s a pretty heavy topic for me, you know, finding him out in the middle of Baja, it was rough. But I want to carry on his legacy and his passion for motorcycles, and I couldn’t do that without Honda and Monster supporting me, and Kendall for helping me ride. I wish Kurt was still here so we could all watch him, but he’s not which is very unfortunate. I’m kinda trying to follow in his footsteps and be like, the next big guy, like Kurt was.
“Looking back on your experience today, what do find unique about the Mint 400 as a desert race compared to some of the other desert racing that you’ve done?”
“The Mint is really unique. It all starts on Wednesday with the parade, then qualifying on Thursday, sign up on Friday, then racing on Saturday and Sunday, so if you look at it like that, you can take the week off of work and come out here to enjoy the event with all of your friends; there are parties and different events all week long. You can pick your challenge and have a blast. Like I said; to be out here for the first year that the bikes are back is really awesome.”
“What sections of today’s course did you find most challenging?”
“Oh the whole thing, it was all really rough and really deep. The corners were hard, a lot of them were like U-turns, so it was hard to make that sharp of a turn after you were ripping, but once you get it down and learn the course markings it’s really fun. The first lap was really smooth and fast, and then I got on the third lap - oh my gosh it was so beat up and so rough, and I knew the third lap was gonna make it or break it so I had to kick it up a gear and just really risk it all. It was choppy out there for sure, but it was a great course.”
Can you tell me a little bit about what happened at Dakar this year?
“Yeah you know everything was going well at Dakar until it wasn’t... Dakar is tough it’s not for the weak, it’s for the passionate and the people who work really hard, it’s always keeps us going back… For sure it was very heartbreaking, you know, leading the Dakar, I think the first American to do so on a moto, and being so close to the finish line, the bike had a failure. It kinda set me back and I was unable to finish the rally, it was really a heartbreaker to go out like that - It’s mentally hard for sure, it kind of sucks I got off to a slow start this year in the Hare and Hounds, and like I said I’m really happy to come out here and win this race because it’s a boost of confidence, and it’s really important to get that.”