The landmark 50th running of the Baja 500 saw a total of 321 entries tackle the brutal deserts and scenic coastlines of the peninsula, with upwards of 40 entrants in the pro motorcycle divisions. By virtue of their win in San Felipe, the SLR Honda trio had the advantage of starting the race first, giving them the clearest possible track and the opportunity to avoid the dreaded dust that can make Baja so treacherous to navigate. The 2018 course was widely considered to be the toughest in the event’s history and boasted the longest distance of any event in the past five decades at 542 miles. When the dust settled, literally, after the race’s 22-hour time limit just 187 of the original 321 entries were able to make it to the finish.
For Morgan, Samuels, and Jones it was pretty much smooth sailing aboard their Monster Energy/Lava Propane/FLY Racing CRF450X. From the moment they left Ensenda and headed east the trio was able to add to their lead with virtually every mile passed. Morgan kicked things off by navigating the opening 240 miles, which began in the middle of the night at 3:30a.m. and carried into the early morning dawn. Samuels then took the reigns up until mile 370 before Jones rode the CRF450X up to mile 505. Morgan was set to finishing things out.
“After doing the first 240 miles I felt good for the last stage as I had some tacos at Valley T and a couple of Monsters, and I was good to go,” said Morgan. “The first 240 miles were rough and it was hard to prepare for the end as I could only sleep for a couple hours."
“I did as good as I think I could’ve possibly done,” Morgan continued. “I kept it really smooth, I didn’t push it, I rode within my ability level and it turned out good. I gave it to Mark and he rode great.”
“I hurt my hand with a pretty deep cut and had to take three or four days off to let it heal, so I came down and got five days of pre-running,” said Samuels. “The track was rough and my section was really rocky and technical. I was supposed to ride another 50 miles, but Justin Jones stepped up and rode it for me down the beach section and killed it. The team really pulled together and it was awesome. The course was tough and we had to make 3 rear tire changes.”
That cushion the team had opened through the first three stages ultimately proved to be vital as they reached the stretch run of the race. With less than 100 miles to go and Jones at the helm, the bike’s front suspension gave out, spewing oil out of the front forks. The final handoff from Jones to Morgan was an anxious one for the last 40 miles, as the Honda had to be nursed to the finish line in an effort to keep from blowing the front end off the bike.
“Jones went up the [Pacific] coast [side of the course] and it was just about perfect until he got before Santo Tomas [around mile 460] and the forks came apart inside,” explained Morgan. “We were riding on just springs because all the oil came out of it on [our] boots. He gave [the bike] back to me near Ojos [Negros around mile 510] and he was like, ‘Don’t let the front wheel leave the ground!’ because it felt like it was going to break it; it felt like the front wheel was going to come out the bottom.”
Morgan successfully kept the bike intact and crossed the finish line in a time of 11 hours, 54 minutes and 58 seconds. The SLR Honda took the win by more than 30 minutes over the next Pro Moto Unlimited finisher, and ultimately were the seventh-fastest entry among all 187 finishers, sandwiched in a midst of faster, and much more durable SCORE Trophy Trucks. If not for their troubles in the final stage, the SLR crew could have potentially made a run at the overall victory for the entire Baja 500, but being able to simply cross the line, let alone take the win after such adversity was a testament to the mentality of all three riders.
“Everybody was in a good mood and it was stress-free and we were really happy the whole time,” concluded Morgan. “I think that played a big factor.”