Chalk up another dirt bike title for Pepeekeo’s Tim Withers in what is considered one of the most dangerous courses in the world.
Withers crown jewel came in the desert sand of Baja, Mexico during the 43rd Annual running of the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 race without him even starting his bike.
“It was a bitter sweet victory,” Withers said. “This was the third and final race in the SCORE series and I was to ride the second leg over 97 miles of rocks when our number one rider’s bike broke down.”
Withers had been participating in the relay event for the past 10 years and he and his teammates have won nine consecutive titles using Honda 450’s.
The SCORE International Championship Series for motorcycles consist of the San Felipe 250, Baja 500 and the Baja 1000 and since Withers and his team had won the first two races in the series they acquired enough points to be declared the Overall Series Champions for the ninth year in a row.
“I have a renewed respect for that place,” Withers said. “I did a practice run on the 97 miles of the course that I was supposed to have raced on and it was one of the most difficult areas.”
The Baja 1000 started in Ensenada, Mexico 65 miles south of the U.S. Mexico Border and the finish line was in La Paz, Baja California.
The entire course consisted of 1061 miles and had over 300 entries from 37 states and 19 foreign countries.
“The event is open to seven sportsman classes for cars, trucks, motorcycles and ATV’s,” Withers said.
Honda motorcycles once again dominated the off road race and this year the bike had 20 overall victories, including 13 in a row.
Husqvarna followed the Honda with 11 wins, with Kawasaki taking 9 and Yamaha two road wins.
“Honda is the best off rode bike for sure,” Withers said. “The bike has been tested on this difficult terrain year after year and we keep coming up on top of the competition.”
Withers considers Baja to be the Mecca of off road racing as he continues to race in the professional class and his team of riders have been relentless in their ability to capture the championship series titles year after year.
“We got in two weeks prior to the race so that we each could practice on our section of the course,” Withers said. “There were six of us, but during our practice rides two of our teammates got injured and the remaining four had to increase our mileage to make up for those injured.”
Originally Withers were to ride a hazardous 97 mile section, but his leg was increased to 260 miles to make up for his injured teammates.
“Through the days riding this section I found out how gnarly this course can be,” Withers said.
“In one 70 mile section there were two tracks of road with huge rocks which made for extremely dangerous conditions,” Withers said. “During the practice runs I was averaging 97 miles per hour and if I was to lose focus, just for a second, the results could be tragic.”
Withers now owns seven 40 pro class titles and two 50 pro class titles which have all come in consecutive years.
“This was the first time in those nine years that we’ve ever had a mechanical breakdown,” Withers said. “Our first rider’s engine failed at the 200 mile mark and I was waiting for him at mile 232 which was the Honda pit stop.”
It took Withers months to prepare for the season finale as the 54 year old has to be in top physical and mental shape.
“We have to practice hard and service our bike regularly, then fly in and practice on the course for two weeks prior to these events,” Withers said.
With his bittersweet victory Withers remained philosophical about the event.
“Though I am disappointed with the break down, that’s racing,” he said. “I’ve had an unbelievable career racing in Baja and the results speak for themselves.”
Withers seemed uncertain of his professional racing future and didn’t want to comment if retirement from the sport was forthcoming.
“I’ve had great mentors and supporters and I’d like to thank them all,” he said.
He’s been called the “Baron of Baja” and for good reason as this Pepeekeo resident continues to dominate the pro class series in the Mexican Baja Peninsula.
Tim Withers recently returned from Mexico where he won the San Felipe 250 held on March 13 over the rugged dessert sand dunes where not much grows from the soil but rocks.
Riding his Honda 450X motorcycle the 53 year old dominated the Pro Class 50 division by winning the 250 mile race by more than an hour over his closest competition.
“San Felipe is the roughest area in Mexico and probably the roughest course I’ve ever rode in,” Withers said. “In the days prior to the race there was one motorcycle death and another person was seriously injured and needed to be flown out by helicopter.”
Withers, along with Jim O’Neal, Andy Kirker and Steve Williams (all but Withers is from Southern California) comprised a relay team that rode a single bike over some of the roughest terrain in the world.
“I had the second leg in the race, some 30 miles from the start,” Withers said. “My section was in one of the most desolate areas and covered close to 90 miles.”
The race included a variety of class vehicles from trucks to dune buggies and dirt bikes and was a constant battle between natures harsh elements and man and his machine.
In the final results nearly 40 percent of the field received a DNF (did not finish) and Withers was the first to admit that just completing the rugged 250 mile course was an accomplishment in itself.
“There were people taking spill and getting broken bones, flat tires, engine trouble and the like,” he said. “We were just fortunate that we could go full throttle and come out of it without a scratch.”
Withers riding team won their division finishing in 6 hours 8 minutes and 40 seconds with an average speed of 40.36 miles per hour.
“This course will wreck you and it will wreck your machine,” Withers said of San Felipe.
For Withers this has become his ninth consecutive San Felipe win which places him as one of the top world level off road champions.
“I train to win and I work hard in the off season to prepare for these races,” Withers said. “At my age I am constantly trying to reinvent myself to work hard and stay focused on what I do.”
Withers also draws from some of the best minds in the field as he is coached by Chris Carmichael, who also coaches Lance Armstrong, and is trained by Jason Tullous.
“I use the Carmichael Training System,” Withers said. “I also surround myself with people that are really good and I draw motivation from those people.”
Withers continues to maintain a high level of fitness throughout the year with weight training (Robert Roos at Penn Training Center)and by logging numerous hours peddling his bike.
“I like the training part and it is still a lot of fun for me,” he said. “I do a lot of bicycling and cross training to be at the top of my game on the motorcycle.”
At San Felipe Withers needed to use caution and good judgment to avoid injury while pushing the pace as fast as the terrain allowed.
“Everyone wants the Number One status in the Baja Series of Racing,” Withers said. “San Felipe was the first leg in the 2010 series.”
The triple series points come from the March San Felipe race followed by the Baja 500 in June and the Baja 1000 in November. Withers has won the overall point series title seven times in the 40 Pro Class and once in the 50 Pro Class.
“It doesn’t get any easier as the course changes with the weather conditions from year to year,” Withers said. “This year we had a little rain prior to the San Felipe race which made it nice to practice on, but once the buggies and trucks got on the course to practice it tore everything up and made it difficult for us.”
“There is a lot of pressure to win and sponsors only want to support winners,” Withers said. “I’ve been fortunate to be sponsored by Moose Racing over the past 12 years.”
Withers has been riding since age 10 and offers the following advice to those youngsters looking at making it into motor cross racing:
“They need to keep going and keep trying,” Withers said. “Do whatever you can to be the best that you can be, strive for nothing less and keep it fun.”
Find a place with a thousand miles of sand, laden with dunes and rugged terrain, and scatter large rocks throughout and you’ll have a perfect location for one of the most difficult off road racing courses in the world.
For all those who have ever driven an all terrain vehicle, dune buggy or dirt bike Baja, Mexico becomes an off road racers playground and is considered by many to be the Mecca for the sport.
Pepeekeo resident, Tim Withers, recently returned from competing in one of the toughest off road races in the world, the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000, notching yet another Motorcycle Class Championship in his illustrious career.
Withers headed to Mexico several weeks ago and used a Honda 450 in the rugged and unforgiving desert terrain of the Baja Peninsula.
Prior to the November 20th race a Honda factory rider was badly injured while practicing on the San Felipe portion of the course and he needed to be transported out of the area by helicopter, according to Withers.
“The course gets more rugged with every race,” Withers said. The Baja 1000, which has been held annually since 1967, attracts a wide range of competitors in a variety of vehicle classes, and traverses over 1000 miles of grueling terrain.
Riders begin and end in Ensenada, Mexico and the race has been hosted by Short Course Off-Road Enterprises (SCORE) since 1975.
“The Honda 450 is our bike of choice,” Withers said. “Honda’s are reliable, works perfectly, turns good and is stable at speed. Most of the competition will use a Honda as it is proven in this type of terrain.”
Another incentive for Withers to use a Honda is that it is the only team that offers pit service to their elite riders every 50 miles.
Withers competed on a five man team in Class 50 that took turns riding the same 450 bike over the 1000 mile course. “I was given the San Felipe area to ride which is the roughest, hardest area in Baja,” he said.
The San Felipe area is a place that Withers knows well as he has competed in and won several off road races using that very course.
“It’s a very dangerous area with whoop de do’s, rocks and endless sand,” Withers said. Besides the terrain Withers also had to contend with using the same bike that his larger teammates were using which made it difficult on suspension.
“Some of the guys weigh close to 190 pounds and I’m 150,” he said. “I had to compensate for the weight difference, but it all turned out great as I had a dream ride.”
Withers rode on two separate occasions, first going 100 miles, starting at 11 in the morning. But the most difficult portion came in his second stint, with dusk approaching; Withers had a setting sun glowing in his eyes for 50 miles.
“On my second ride it became difficult to see as I had the glare from the setting sun for most of the way, before darkness fell,” he said
“An important part of this race came in planning logistics on where the hand offs would take place and who would ride what sections of the course,” he said.
Withers teamed consisted of Craig Adams, Eric McKenna, Andy Kirker and Jim O’Neal and the five riders finished with a time of 17 hours, three minutes, 37 seconds, nearly six hours ahead of the second place team in their class.
“All my teammates are renowned riders living in California and we’ve competed against some of the best riders in the world,” Withers said.
The overall time gave Withers team an average speed of 39.4 miles per hour and ranked them as the 22nd vehicle overall, out of more than 220 vehicles (many with four wheels) that started the race.
“We started in staggered increments and we were the 65th motorcycle out of the start,” Withers said. “By the end of the race we were the 10th motorcycle crossing the finish line.”
When he’s not racing Withers trains in both off road and motor cross and he will ride a regular, non-motorized, bike five times per week, logging upwards of 200 miles, for conditioning.
The owner of What’s Shakin, a juice and fruit stand in Pepeekeo, Withers also maintains a farm in the area which keeps this 52 year old busy.
With his latest victory Withers now has four titles in the Baja 1000 to go with four second place finishes in that race. Withers is also a six time winner of the Baja 500 and has won eight championships in a row for the San Felipe 250 mile race.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to ride in these world class events,” Withers said. “I’d like the young people to know that if they work hard and follow their dreams that they can achieve it as well. I’m living proof.”