…and Greg is the happiest rider in Oregon.
It’s an offroad rider’s dream…
Imagine 1,380 miles of mixed conditions that range from rough, rocky gorges to sandy dunes.
Sounds fun, right? Now imagine doing that as fast as you can and only having five days to do it. That sounds like a really fun time to friend of the shop, Greg Willitts.
Greg has been competing in desert series NORRA and SCORE events for over a decade, and that experience culminated in a huge win at this year’s NORRA Mexican 1000 rally race in Baja California.
We had a chance to sit down with Greg and talk about his approach to racing.
How did you get into off-road racing?
I met a father/son in Baja as we were vacationing. We discussed riding and racing. They put me in touch with a racer in Portland named Jeff Johnson that had just completed his first Baja 1000.
What do you like about the Mexican 1000? Dislike?
I like the rally format and the advantage inherent in a well prepared bike and rider. Brains are as big a factor as braun in this race. Timing and strategy come into play and are a huge factor.
I dislike the duration. The bike and rider fatigue over time is a huge factor. A five day rally with 5:30 AM line up times plus bike maintenance going well into the evening prior make the event exhausting...
Tell us a little bit about your bikes…
I ride a 2016 Honda CRF450X, which is a new bike and new build for me. The 450X is nimble enough for large sandy whoops and rock packed summits, yet will hit 92mph on a dry lake bed. The bike rarely fails and at 235 lbs. dry is packs a lot of horsepower for the weight.
How do you get ready for a race?
There is the obvious bike prep. Everything has to be tested and double checked. Thanks Cycletune! There is travel planning...we are always looking for security and a bit of shade for bike work. Close to the starting line is great as well.
Then there is strategy. My riding partner and I normally take sections that fit our expertise in Baja, which doesn’t always fit our desires. I normally ride the rocky, longer distance sections and he normally gets hard packed, high speed and sand sections.
What was your secret to winning this year?
Knowledge and preparation. We have 12 years of terrain and riding knowledge in Baja. Much of the course is familiar or familiar enough. Knowing where to slow down and increase awareness is as important as where to let it all hang out.
We start things off having a Cycletune prepped bike that is perfect going down; tested and set suspension / chain / tubes / electronics. The only additional work done in Baja was a testing session with minor suspension setting adjustments. We are the first people through scrutineering in case there are any last minute changes or new requirement, (and of course there were) so we could make amendments quickly.
We then begin race strategy. Again experience comes into play, because we are dissecting rider sections based on where we are best suited. We know unique rider swap areas and assign sections and rider changes for the coming five days. Every bit of information exists in the race book... from hotels to emergency numbers. We maintain a strict routine daily with bike work coming first and a single beer and resting coming after.
How has Cycletune helped you over the years?
Cycletune grounds me and reminds me that extra speed and horsepower come at a price. In a 1380 mile race, we do not need the fastest bike in the world. We do need the most reliable, tried and true bikes though. Chris and Rob spend the extra time and attention to ensure every nut and bolt is to spec and everything that can be done to keep us going is done.
There is no place in my mind for mechanical concerns when we are racing at 88 MPH 100 miles from the nearest paved road and 80 miles from the nearest helicopter. Simply put, they give me the confidence to race hard in the most trying conditions.'
What would you tell someone thinking about getting into offroad racing?
Do it. Enter a race...it places increased emphasis on conditioning and you will get into amazing shape. It places a greater focus on present life; minor challenges do not matter as much when you are focussed on an upcoming race. Pushing the limits of your comfort always has a positive impact on your life. My confidence to face all challenges has improved greatly! You will be a better parent / partner / spouse / manager / person when you cut out all the white noise in life and focus on important priorities.