Interview: Baja Winner Chuck Dempsey

May 12, 2014
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In the run-up to the Baja 500, Jon E. Bagg talks to Baja legend Chuck Dempsey, the man who will be helping Team BaDoink, if not to win the Baja, at least to avoid certain death!

Baja, huh? So you’ve been going down there for a long time?

Eight-years-old. I went down there with my Dad and I fell in love. Been racing since I was nine.

Nine? Wow! Really? I know it’s in your family, but isn’t there a fear factor when you’re a kid?

Nah. No fear. At nine I was just learning. I did my first pro race at fifteen. My Dad was really serious. He wouldn’t let me race unless I trained. If you didn’t train, you weren’t strong. That’s how you crash and get hurt.

Interview: Baja Winner Chuck Dempsey

Tell me about the difference. You’ve done and won the Baja races on both motorcycles and your truck…

On a truck you actually have an enclosed helmet, keeps your face out of the elements and you’ve got fresh air being pumped in. On a motorcycle, you’ve got a pair of goggles and just your helmet on (laughs). When you’re on a motorcycle, you’re racing at the very top. When you’re racing at top speed, it’s not whether you’re gonna get hurt… it just is!!!  And that’s the difference between the cars and the guys that drive the cars. When they crash it’s ‘How much is it gonna affect their checkbook.’

You know, very rarely do you break something driving a car. There’s a different aspect of time and space. It’s a lot more dangerous when you’re on a motorcycle. You don’t have a second guy to help you if something goes wrong. You’re out there by yourself and you do your homework and that’s how you’re gonna win.

Interview: Baja Winner Chuck Dempsey

Are you guys prepared to crash. Did your Dad prepare you? Do you have the time to think?

You know, when you’re crashing everything does seem like slow motion. It’s best to just roll into a ball. It’s easier to crash and break your arms or your legs when you’re rolled up. That way you tend not to get so hurt. That’s the plan. That’s all there is!

Baja? I see all these videos. Dangerous booby traps. Flying dust. Crazy people camped out on the course. How do you prep yourself mentally?

Ah, to try to explain it (laughs). On a motorcycle, it’s like going into the Apocalypse Now movie. You’re preparing yourself as you pre-run, Where the horses and cows are at. Learning where the turns are more populated. You might see a big crowd of people that weren’t there when you were pre-running (laughs). I’m not saying that they want to hurt you (laughs), but they do want to see you jump. Baja is, like the old wild wild west. There’s still things you can do there that you can’t do anywhere else in the whole wide world. Ride a motorcycle down the main street of their town… Ride across their land… And if you don’t respect Baja, that’s when you’re gonna get hurt. They don’t shut their town down while we’re racing. We’re in their town.

Interview: Baja Winner Chuck Dempsey

The race is at least 20 hours long. How do you prepare for sleep deprivation?

That never crosses my mind!  You spend so many days preparing. When it comes, you’ve got so much adrenaline going you can barely sleep. The only thing on your mind is getting to the finish line first. I’ll give you a sense of it.

I was racing two years ago and my Dad drilled into us, “Never give up! You’re gonna start the race. You’re gonna finish the race!” And I was into a relay race and I broke my tib and fib (laughs), and, instead of waiting for an ambulance, I strapped up my leg, got on the bike and rode 50 miles and gave the bike to the next guy and he’s, like, “Stop, we’d better get you to the hospital!” And, I’m like… (Pause) “I didn’t just ride 50 miles so you can quit the race.” And we ended up in fourth or fifth place.

If you’re a true racer it’s just loaded in, or it’s in your blood that you want to finish the race. You don’t want to be the guy that didn’t finish your race. (Laughs) At least I don’t! It looks real easy to drive a car on a track at home. Once you get behind the wheel and realize you’re pushing a 5000lb car around, you respect it.  Umm, he that does the most homework wins! And you’ve got to do the hard homework to win it. There’s no one who just wins it.

Interview: Baja Winner Chuck Dempsey

Tell me about driving with a partner.

The partner is a guy that you’ve got to rely on. He’s your partner and he’s got to care about the thing as much as you do. He’s on the side observing. He’s going to be getting beaten up more than you do. He’s not getting to drive. These guys have to be crazier than you are. When you need to keep your concentration and everything is coming up at you at a high rate of speed, he’s your second set of eyes.

Did you ever get the urge to do NASCAR or Formula One?

I actually got close to doing NASCAR. I went to get ready to go train with a team and one of the team owners got in a fight with another team owner and they shut down before I actually got the chance to go in. It’s just huge budgets to go in there and do something like that. Those chances are pretty hard to come by.

Interview: Baja Winner Chuck Dempsey

How did you end up making a connection with the guys from Badoink?

My company Driven Experiences has a driving school in In Colorado with our own track and our resort. We teach driving schools and do Baja tours on our trucks. People want to go on the Baja 1000 course like on a three day trip, or we can teach someone how to drive and how to race and we take care of everything from what fits to the logistics to the hotels to everything you need to do. All you’ve got to is show up and race. Tim & Mark contacted us through Driven Experience. We’re gonna teach them how to drive. Take them to the pre-running for a week, put them in the Baja 500.

Team BaDoink

What do you think of Tim and Mark?

I think they’re really cool, happy-go-lucky guys who love life. And they’re doing something that they wanna do. A lot people are afraid to do something they’ve always wanted to do. They want to go down to Baja, that’s not in their element, nothing they’ve experienced, I mean they haven’t been close to Baja, but they want to do it.

What are the odds that a pair of novices can finish?

I think, umm, 1 to 10… 1 to 10, maybe a 7… if they settle down and listen, they’ll stand at least a chance. 

What do you think of their chances?

If they listen and do everything we tell them I think they have a very good chance of finishing. (Pause) There have been a lot of people who are rated for this race but have never finished. You have to finish the race.

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