The Dakar Rally is synonymous with being the longest and most grueling off-road race in the world. The 43rd Dakar rally will be held in Saudi Arabia, taking place over 14 days, starting from January 3rd to 15th, 2021. Throughout those two weeks, racers from across the globe will be covering 4751 miles (7646 km). Out of 108 bikes entered in the rally, a surprising underdog has sacrificed everything for the opportunity to go back and start 9th to try his hand at becoming the second American to win Dakar: Skyler Howes.
This race is one of few in the world Americans haven’t dominated – that was until 2020 when Ricky Brabec became the first American to claim victory for Honda HRC. All three Americans that entered that rally placed in the top 10, including Andrew Short and Skyler Howes, who would take the world by storm and place 9th. But this isn’t about how insane the rally is or how great we Americans are; it is about the privateer Skyler Howes who’s sacrificed everything to get where he is today.
At the age of 3 years old, his father put him on a Honda XR75, but from the moment he raced off into the desert, dirt bikes were in his blood from then on. He would go on to race throughout the years on and off but mostly ride for fun until Fasst Company convinced him to race a National Hare and Hound series, one of the western United States’ premier desert racing events. Where he nearly won the championship. By 2012 he would return with a few sponsors and win the 250 Championship earning him a professional number.
Over the next year, he secured a spot on a team racing a 2-stroke 250 and would continue to race and would find himself racing alongside Kurt Caselli, the late desert racing star. He would become the reason for piquing his interest in going to Dakar in the first place. Skyler looked up to Kurt as a mentor and taught him his fundamental principles of racing on a bike, to this day – applying it to each and every race. That same 2013 season, Skyler would break his back during a race and only leave him with a 3rd place finish.
Throughout the years, he laid low only racing here and there; he would go on to finish on the podium of the Baja 500 and 1000 multiple times. Then would be parting ways with a team to venture on his own. Though it was a tough decision, it left him with nothing, not even a bike to go race on at this point. He couldn’t afford a brand new bike, so he dragged an old Honda 450x from behind a barn and prepped it good enough to go race the longest off-road race in America, Vegas to Reno. This would be the longest race he would ever solo. Just 15 miles shy from the finish, he had a mechanical issue. Only one person would stop to help him fix his bike and get him back in the race to finish. Little did he know, that stranger who helped him is why he would go to Dakar.
That stranger was Garrett Poucher, who messaged him on Facebook and asked if he was interested in racing rally for him. Garrett gave him one roadbook and set him up with the proper equipment and knowledge necessary to race rally. The very first stage rally race he ever entered was the Yokohama Sonora Rally in 2018, which he won, granting him an entry into the 2019 Dakar Rally taking place in Peru.
Skyler was now racing with minimal experience at the most prestigious races in the world as a privateer with no factory team behind him. He dislocated his shoulder on the third day of the 10-day rally and had a few good days, which ended up placing him in the top 20 overall. Unfortunately, he had to retire on day six due to another dislocated shoulder that he could not pop back in. Later on that year went on to win the Morocco Desert Challenge and the Best in the Desert Open Pro Championship, being one of the only riders in history to solo at every event, win them, and win the championship.
At this point, Skyler’s life has completely changed as he has proven to find great success in the rally and desert racing, proving he has what it takes to compete with the top athletes and that it wasn’t just luck that landed him these opportunities.
The racing didn’t stop; he only wanted to push harder and further and took the opportunity to race the Serres Rally: a race that consisted of difficult terrain and navigation. On day four of the rally, he crashed and broke his neck, breaking his C6 vertebrae. This was just four months before he was heading to Dakar 2020.
Recovery was the only option at this point – no riding, no serious physical activity, or anything. He only had three weeks until Dakar and only one week to fully train for it. The odds were against him, despite being off a bike for nearly four months, he made it happen; there was no other option.
Skyler became a part of history and placed ninth overall as a privateer in the world’s toughest race on a stock replica rally bike with almost no testing on it. He had no factory backing; he went there on his own determination and did it.
This year Skyler is heading back to Dakar this year again as a privateer with a mission: to win. Raising funds to go was no easy task; racing is not his full-time job, and many sponsors weren’t able to help this year. Skyler had to sell the rest of his race bikes to make it happen, and at the moment, he does not have a bike to ride when he gets back home. He was able to link up with the reputable BAS Dakar KTM, where he will finally have access to the resources and tools necessary to be even more successful at Dakar.
Skyler has gone through a lot to get to this point in his career, sacrificing everything to ensure he follows his dreams. 2021 Dakar is just around the corner, and he has proven to the world that he has what it takes to be a serious contender this year. He is the American Underdog.
Photos: Sonora Rally by WESTx1000. Dakar by Rally Zone.