Colorado native is one of four Americans to finish 2016 Dakar Rally
Scott Bright’s road to the Dakar Rally was not an easy one. He worked long and hard to gather the resources to get himself to the rally; put in the hours to train his body and mind for the massive endeavor. All this while being a devoted husband and father and while working as the Executive Director of the Colorado Early Education Network. Scott achieved his goal of finishing Dakar in his first attempt and was one of four Americans to make it to the finish in Rosario, Argentina. He is a Dakar Everyman; an inspirational example to others with aspirations to achieve similar goals. Husband; Father; Executive Director— Dakar Finisher. Learn more about Scott Bright.
Scott, first off thank you for taking the time to speak with us about your Dakar experience. You must be still buzzing about finishing this prestigious event. Tell us how it feels to be a Dakar finisher!
Being a Dakar finisher is an incredible relief! The obstacles to get there, and to get through the entire event while avoiding issues that could easily take you out, were insurmountable from a distance. But as I approached each task, each day, I just kept reminding myself to finish the next step before worrying about tomorrow.
A lot goes into preparing for the Dakar Rally: gathering the funds, lining up sponsors, building bikes, booking flights, training both on and off the bike; what was the road to Dakar like for Scott Bright?
My road to Dakar was a bit rocky! I injured my wrists about three months prior, and that really set me back mentally and physically. I was not able to get through a normal race preparation process. I felt like I was behind most of the time. Lots to do, and the calendar peels off so quickly when you are preparing for Dakar.
Add to all that the fact that you’re a husband, a father, and work as the Executive Director of the Colorado Early Education Network. How did you manage your normal life duties and still prepare for a Dakar Rally?
I am incredibly fortunate to have a family that supports me! My wife is all about accomplishing big goals. She has completed two Ironman Triathlons, and she has to train for about nine months for each one. She knows this game well, and wants to see me succeed in my goals at the same time. Work will always be there, day after day, it takes an event like this to really give you perspective on the important things in life. Most of the time we waste stewing over things that are really non-issues. I have a team at work that is exceptional. They know how to get things done even when I am not there!
So you’ve put all the pieces in place and you’ve made it to South America for the start of the rally. We imagine there was a lot of nervous energy with riders anxious to get started; while at the same time somewhat festive. Tell us what it was like in those first few days before the rally started.
We had quite a bit of work to do to prepare in those few days before the race started. We had not seen the bikes since September, and a lot of things came together in the way of sponsorships and products after we had shipped the bikes and the truck to France. [Editor’s Note: The team shipped its truck and bikes to France to get on the A.S.O. (Amaury Sport Organization) boat to South America in order to expidite the customs process.] It took us three long days to get the bikes into starting condition. It was frantic, but the Rally Pan Am Team pulled it together and we were polished for the starting line.
So it was probably a relief to finally get started even if it was just the prologue; but then stage one got cancelled due to inclement weather and you had to wait another day before the first real stage started. That must have been nerve wracking.
I was being super-cautious with my wrists. I did not even sit on a motorcycle from the date of my injury until the starting line at Dakar. I did not really know what we were in for when the race started. I was riding very slowly in the Prologue because I didn’t know what type of action with the bike was going to have an adverse effect on my wrists. I just had to slowly feel it out for the first few days to see where my limits were. On Stage One, it was raining buckets! I didn’t know that rain was not a usual circumstance. I brought some Klim raingear, and I came through it dry. Chalk one up to being prepared.
The more we learn about the Dakar Rally the more we are in awe. This is one serious race that requires not only bike skills, but navigation skills, mental toughness, and marathon-level fitness. Can you give us an idea of what you went through in a typical Dakar day?
The days are literally non-stop. There is no time to rest and reflect. My crew would wake us up in our tents at about 3:30am, we would rush over to the food tent and cram down a few calories, then run back to the truck and get dressed for a 5am start. At that time of the morning it is still dark, and we are setting off on a liason in the pitch black. Those morning transfers can be 300km, and the speed limits were set at a max of 110km/h. So it is a bit mentally draining to focus hard in the dark, trying not to crash your bike on the asphalt. Then we would arrive at the Special Stage (DSS). Riders would be started in the order that they finished the previous day. Dust is a huge factor. Pushing through the dust is a very risky proposition, one that can immediately take you out of the event if you make a bad judgement call. The tests were anywhere from 200km to 550km long. The long test took us nearly seven hours to complete. Then at the end of that there would be another liason to get us to the next bivouac. The latest time that I arrived at the bivy was 9pm. It was a race to get the gear off, get some calories at the food tent and mark the roadbook, before crashing in the tent. There was no time to back off. Five to six hours of sleep and we were at it again.
And on top of all that you were coming off of a wrist fracture that happened a few months before the event. How did that affect you?
The wrist fracture really inhibited my ability to prepare. Mentally it really affected me. I couldn’t see the grand scheme of the event because I was distracted by my inability to move my hands or grip anything with strength. Once I got on the bike, everything settled down and my instincts took over. I only had a couple of times where I pushed the range of motion in the wrists and came away with pain. I was very conscious of them and made sure that I never put them in bad situations.
And we read that the wrist never healed; that it’s essentially still broken, and that you jokingly said, “I'm reading between the lines and I think he [the doctor] is prescribing two months of sledding in deep deep snow.” Nothing seems to stop you from riding!
There must be some sort of mental block upstairs that keeps me moving. I think the pain receptors in my brain have been conditioned to block out the signals, because I always keep pushing. If I let the injury take over my mental processes, I would regress into the couch and probably never come back. Something inside keeps me pushing. As I answer these questions, all of the fingertips on my left hand are numb, and the back of my left hand is numb to the touch. Hopefully someday that feeling comes back!
The Dakar seems to be made up of incredible stories. Was there a stand-out moment for you during your Dakar experience? An unbelievable moment that made you think to yourself, “Now this is something most people will never experience.”
The people. I am astounded by the support that Dakar has in South America. Organizers estimated that there would be at least four million people spectating at various points on the course. Most all of them had cameras, most all of them were snapping pics, the flashes were a bit distracting. Every one of them were wearing smiles and were super happy to have us ride through their town. You could literally see a spectator at every point in the 5,000+ mile event. There was a town that we rode through in Bolivia, the people there were amazing! We had just checked out of a test, and the roadbook brought us through the central part of town. The crowds were so thick you could not see the road. You just rode into a mass of people, trying not to hit anyone or knock anyone over. At one point, they completely stopped me, and the mayor of the town as well as thousands of people surrounded me, threw confetti, interviewed me in Spanish, and took thousands of pictures until I insisted that I needed to get moving so I would not be late to my bivy check-in. Unbelievable!
Obviously you had a great support system in place to help get you to Dakar. We noticed a couple of unique sponsors including If You See Kay Wine and Kate’s Real Food Energy Bars. Tell us about how you acquired these outside sponsors as well as who were the industry sponsors that helped make your Dakar dream a reality.
I was very fortunate to develop friendships with the folks that own and run these companies! They appreciate the Dakar Rally and it shows! Having the support of great people like John and Kate do as much for me mentally as anything. It would be easier to let myself down than to let them down. Friends and connections and more friends are what it takes to get to the start line, and to push all the way through to the finish line.
You also had the support of the Rally Pan Am team, which is described as, “America’s only 2016 Dakar Rally team.” How did you get involved with them and to what extent did they help with the day-to-day logistics of the Dakar?
Dave Peckham owns ICO Racing and he makes odo computers that are used on most all the Factory Rally bikes in Dakar as well as the World Rally Championship events. Dave loves Rally as much as anyone, and guess where we met? A rally in Nevada a few years ago. Dave had been to Dakar in a support role before and wanted to step up and showcase an American Dakar team from top to bottom. I joined his passion a couple years ago with Dakar as the goal. We put a plan together, Dave did most of the work, and we completely accomplished our goals for this year! We have a three-plus year plan for Rally Pan Am. We will continue to showcase American talent at the World Rally and Dakar levels and we are looking for people who are passionate like this and want to come along for the ride!
Now that you are a Dakar finisher, what’s next for Scott Bright? Will you return to the Dakar? Or is there a new challenge on the horizon for you?
I have been anticipating this question since Day One of Dakar. I have only been home for one week. I need another month or so to get to my real feelings about doing Dakar again. I would really like to help others achieve this same goal! As of today, I would gain more reward from helping someone else get to the finish line, than to get myself there again.
Thank you Scott for telling us your story. Any last words you’d like to share?
Dakar is the ultimate test of man and machine and resolve. It is way more than just racing a bike, it is surviving an event of the largest scale. Keeping your focus forward is everything. I repeated Phillipians 4:13 over and over throughout the event to myself and came through to the finish!