There is no argument that motorcycle racing is the most death-defying motorsport on the planet. Motorcycle Racers have no cage protecting them from the consequences of crashing. Once you go off the controlled environment of a paved race track or a groomed moto track the variables increase drastically as well as the consequences oftentimes in extremely remote areas with no medical support or infrastructure of any kind. They are the Matadors of off-road racing, staring directly into the eyes of fear as they blast through the desert at over 100mph. Their amazing performances oftentimes go uncelebrated. So what do they do this for? We got a chance to catch up with the 5.5x Baja 1000 winner and SLR team owner Mark Samuels and ask him just that.
How did you get started in off-road racing?
I was actually pretty lucky as a kid. I was three years old is when I ended up getting a PW-50. We had a big group of friends all the same age that rode dirt bikes. We went out to the track in Kingman, Arizona, every weekend and rode in the 50s, 60s, and 80s. I was pretty lucky to have that track in town. That’s how I learned to ride and fall in love with the sport. I ended up moving to California when I was 13 years old. Moving to California was a game-changer, that's where all the big tracks are, all the fast guys are, and the industry. Anything motorsports, California is the hub. I did all the amateur motocross racing. I never really even raced an off-road race until I was 20.
How did you make the transition from racing tracks to desert off-road racing?
When I was 18, I pretty much had to stop racing. My dad put me to work. The economy was tanking and it was tough to go racing at that time. So I went to work and cleaned deep fryers. We had a deep fryer service business that went around in Palm Springs. I was up at 3:00 AM going to work and I'd be done by mid-day. I built the regular childhood, you would say. I went to parties and hung out with friends and went and did this and that, But the two years away really made me realize my passion for racing. My friend Chris Johnson Mark as like "Why don't you come to race the WORCS Race?" So I was like, "Yeah, that sounds fun." I rode two weeks beforehand to get prepared, and showed up and went and raced. I ended up running upfront for 45 minutes and had a lot of fun. I started racing WORCS and then I went to some big six races and ran into Colton Udall and Kendal Norman who were the big dogs both on JCR. I was battling them for podiums at the big six races. Pretty soon Colton and I became friends and he was like “ You gotta come race Baja!” I started going and riding and training with him I had a really rapid acceleration of growth because Colton sharing his knowledge with me and I understood racing down in Baja. It clicked for me. Two and a half years into racing Baja, Colton was the number one champion from the previous year. One of his teammates got hurt and Colton wanted me to replace him. After Johnny Cambell who runs the team agreed. I got the opportunity to race at Baja 1000 on the 1X bike. With only two and a half years of racing experience that's pretty unheard of. Since then, I've been a part of seven out of 10 winning teams.
So how many Baja 1000 race wins do you have?
I call it five and a half. We had the one taken away from us when my teammate Ian looped out across the finish line. He did a wheelie and lost the front end and the bike went sliding across the podium and it was an ugly sight. So they took the win away from us. That’s why I call that one a half. Then last year I don't count that one. My team won, but I wasn't riding. So I don't count that as a personal win. So that makes it seven of the 10 that I've been a part of.
What compelled you to become a team owner?
The JCR team had to step away from racing in Baja so Colton and I decided to start Ox MotorSports so we could carry the momentum of our Baja win forward. It was a big scary step, I was only 21 at the time but I felt like those years of working for my Dad selling deep fryer cleaning services had prepared me to be successful with the business side of racing. Most of our sponsors stayed with us and Honda eventually came aboard, which was a huge victory. We have been a Honda factory team now for seven years. I started this team because I never got an opportunity to solely focus on my racing. I've always had to work and race. I want to give kids like me an opportunity to focus on racing and try to make a living at it without having the headache of a team or sponsors. That's really a big part of why I do it.
What is Slam Life?
Slam Life started out as kind of a joke hashtag, but now it’s turned into a lifestyle clothing brand repping dirt bikes and off-road living. My buddy that Damon Concord who is Dean Wilson's mechanic now was like, "You should call yourself slam-muels!” I thought it was funny so I started hashtagging #SLAMLIFE. When OX Racing ended, we started SLR, or Slam Life Racing. Now it’s grown into a full-blown off-road lifestyle clothing brand.
What are your future plans?
Personally, I want to keep racing for as long as I can. I would like to go back to Dakar. I have some unfinished business there. Most importantly I want to build a solid foundation for my team. That’s my passion, that’s what drives me.