You don’t have to work in the racing industry very long before you’ll start to feel terribly inadequate. You might think you’re in shape, and a hard worker, but before you know it you’ll realize you’re surrounded by people who go ten times harder and faster than you in just about every direction imaginable and have more talent in their toenails than you’ll have in a lifetime. Art Babcock is one of those people. No, he’s not involved in motocross or supercross, and in fact, only races a few times a year. Yet, somehow he still managed to win the Baja 1000 (800.50 miles) in the Pro Moto Ironman Class this year. If you’re not familiar with that class, you don’t change riders, which means Babcock rode every single inch of the race by himself, and was on the bike just over twenty-three hours! Read the interview below to see how it went, and his motivation for attempting such a demanding and arduous undertaking.
Racer X: Before we get into the race give us a little bit about your background.
Art Babcock: I’m vice president of construction for a fitness chain that’s relatively new. I came on about two years ago and we’re trying to take over the fitness world in the high value, low price segment in the southwest. We’ve got forty-two locations now in the southwest between Phoenix, Southern California, and Vegas. We’re building about twenty a year right now. It’s called EōS Fitness.
So racing isn’t your number-one gig then?
No. I tried, and semi-succeeded back when I was a kid racing snowmobiles. I grew up in Northern New York between Syracuse and Canada. I raced for Polaris on one of the factory teams in the Northeast for a few years between fifteen and nineteen-years-old. My dream was to be a pro racer, back when I was a kid and I didn’t know any better [Laughs].
I had that dream too [Laughs].
Later I realized it wasn’t going to be a reality for me. I started in commercial construction and progressed from there. I also took a stab in my mid-twenties racing mountain bikes professionally, which I was fairly successful with in my free time. I did that for about six years all over the place and had a lot of fun. I kind of phased out of that and got into off-road riding in my mid to late twenties. I’m thirty-three now.
You must have done a fair amount to be able to go win at Baja!
I’ve always ridden dirt bikes, even when I was racing snowmobiles and mountain bikes. It was never the focus, I just used it for fun or cross-training. But then when I was working on a construction project in Boise, Idaho, I met Josh Mott, who was the number one local desert racer. He convinced me to race desert, which was completely different from putting in laps at the motocross track. I showed up at my first desert race with a tracked out CRF450 and ended up winning the Open A Class. That was my intro to desert racing back in about 2012 or 2013.
Wow, well it sounds like you were up to the task. In terms of the Baja 1000, how long has the Ironman Class existed? I didn’t even know there was a class for guys to do it completely solo.
There didn’t used to be, but I don’t remember offhand when the first Ironman Moto Class came into existence. I’m not a Baja guru, it’s still relatively new to me. This is only the third year I’ve been involved with it. Other than looking for the hardest thing you could do in twenty-four hours, I don’t know what inspires people to do it. “What should we do next year? Let’s race the Baja Ironman just to do the most difficult I can think of right now on a dirt bike.”
No lie, the next question I have for you, and I wrote this down before even talking to you, “Do you hate yourself and simply want to punish yourself?”
[Laughs] The answer is no. I like to do challenging things and constantly challenge myself, be it work or play. We’re trying to do almost the impossible with this company in my work life, and I’m also a student pilot, which I’ll hopefully wrap up early in 2020. I just like to challenge myself as hard as I can with everything I do. It’s always, what’s next? I don’t hate myself, but I definitely hated the Monday after the race when I showed up for work and couldn’t walk. That was definitely a rough weekend trying to get back to normal at work. I literally went right back to work. We drove home a few hours after the race. I drove all the way back to Vegas with my girlfriend in the passenger seat and went to work on Monday.
Wait. Just wait a minute. Stop. You raced a dirt bike for over twenty-three hours, won the race, then drove back home?
I took a nap for about three hours, hopped in the Sprinter, and drove from Ensenada to Vegas. [That’s about 415 miles]
Is this the first time you’ve raced it by yourself, or did you do it the previous two years solo as well?
It was my first time in Ironman. The first year I just went down to pre-run and had no plans to even race it. I’d never even ridden down there. My buddy called and asked if I wanted to pre-run the course with him. I didn’t know what we were getting into. We got there and at two in the afternoon we got going on his 300-mile section and started having all sorts of issues. I lost my lights, my other teammate got lost and ran out of gas, it was a mess. We finally got to the end in Scorpion Bay around two or three in the morning and stumbled onto a random guy’s house that was a hostel. He gave us a place to stay and after a few hours of sleep we were on the way back and drove all night to get back to L.A. so I could get back to work. We probably slept four hours all weekend. Anyway, he decided he wasn’t going to race and called Carlin Dunne, who was his teammate on the 55X team [Hatch River Expeditions], and told him he wasn’t confident enough to race it. He recommended me though, and I overheard him. To me the thought of racing was an honor. I remember when From Dust to Glory came out. Baja has always been something I’ve wanted to do, a goal that’d never been within reach. I called work, got the time off, went home and washed my gear, and hopped in the car the next morning and drove back to Ensenada. I met everyone for a few minutes, signed in, and headed south to get ready to hop on the bike when it came through. We ended up sixth in the Unlimited Pro Class and we were the sixth motorcycle overall.
We tried to do it again last year with Carlin and Steve leading the team. I had the bike from ninth and went up to fifth in the first 150 miles, but after I got off we started having electrical issues. I wasn’t crushed, but I thought we had a chance at getting in the top three, which would have been really good. If you look at my Instagram, it’s kind of sad [Carlin passed away in a crash at the Pike’s Peak hill climb in June]. I wasn’t super good buddies with Carlin, we talked, raced, and did some riding together… I haven’t posted anything on my Instagram since last year since my buddy Todd Sciaqua commented, ‘That’s racing. Glad you’re all safe. There’s always next year.’ Well Carlin passed this summer. I’m sorry I’m getting a little teared up right now.
We raced Vegas to Reno after that with some new teammates and won the 30 Expert Class, but Steve Hatch got hurt and broke his shoulder and a few ribs right at the finish line. So he was hurt, Carlin was gone, and we still had a few race bikes ready to go. About a month after that we went over to Steve’s house, just hanging out, and I threw the idea out there of running in Ironman. This was the end of September about eight weeks before the race. We decided to go for it in honor of Carlin. He’d raced Ironman in 2016 and didn’t finish it because he got really ill and they were worried about his health. I said if they got the race bikes ready I’d put up the money for everything else and we’d run it with Carlin’s number from when he Ironman’d it, which was 705X.
Wow. So you did the race in honor of him, in his memory, and end up winning the thing. What kind of emotions went through your head when you crossed the line?
Well, I’m not very emotional. This is the first time I’ve teared up about it since I finished the race. I started to do the same thing after I finished. I haven’t had any emotions about it other than that until now. Maybe I haven’t processed them fully.
It sounds tough. Did you have any issues during the race? I’ve heard of endurance athletes getting so exhausted they start hallucinating. Did anything like that happen to you?
I didn’t, but I thought I did. We started having some electrical issues around race mile 620. I thought I was hallucinating because I was so tired, but it was actually just the lights going out. I was seeing shadows pop up and some flickering of the lights, but I realized after another few miles my lights actually really were going out. I think that was the first point in the race where I started to get scared. We’d had electrical issues last year. I pulled into the Baja pits after that started happening and shut the bike off while we were playing with the light connections. Couldn’t find anything loose. I went to fire the bike back up and it wouldn’t start, the battery was dead. Apparently something came loose in the charging system. The bike wouldn’t start, we couldn’t kick it, so we used the battery they had laying there powering the lights at the remote pit to jumpstart the bike.
We got it running again but the lights never really came back on all the way. I was running with half a headlight for the rest of the race and it got really bad. I was so tired I don’t even think I knew what was going on, I was just trying to ride the bike. The course gets really tough at mile 670, and I knew I couldn’t stall it because if I did I probably wouldn’t be able to start it back up. I made sure I didn’t stall though and got up to the next time I would see the team at mile 716. Changed backpacks, got some food, and took off with a pretty good lead. At this point I was just delirious. I just wanted to get it done so I could go take a nap. My butt hurt so bad! But I was still riding and we were still leading so I just had to keep going. Got out to race mile 740 and my light got dimmer and dimmer to where I could only see about twenty feet in front of me.
That’s got to be scary, especially with the legends of booby traps and that kind of thing.
I was more worried about getting stuck out there and not being able to get the bike started. It wasn’t life threatening, but I didn’t want to lose everything we’d put into this over something stupid. I was praying my light would stay on to where I could ride ten or fifteen miles an hour the next twenty or thirty miles, and that’s what we did.
I bet it was quite the relief to cross the finish line!
It was a huge relief, I was so thankful it was over with. When I came through and got the thumbs up from the scoring officials, that’s when I started to tear up. It was like, “Holy shit, we just did this first try.”
Yeah, that’s incredible. Are you doing it again next year?
I don’t know. We’ve all kind of taken the time to regroup this month and I think maybe later in the month we’ll get together with the Hatch’s, who’ve been behind all the racing I’ve done in Baja, and see what they want to do and what we can commit to. I don’t know that I want to do another 1000 Ironman off the bat, but if it’s on the table and the time is right I probably wouldn’t say no. We do this for fun. None of us are racing for anything other than that. We’re not like some of the other teams who are out there racing every weekend. I only race two or three times a year now. We do like to ride though, and we’re pretty fast.