Peter Hardy is just like you in so many ways because he is not Robby Gordon, Valentino Rossi or Mark Coma. He’s not famous and much like you that makes him so important to what we do.
We identify with the man who is so badly afflicted with an addiction to motorsports and racing because we are the ones who actually give Gordon, Rossi and Coma their paychecks. We buy the expensive vehicles, parts and gear that fuel the industry; but we get lost in the sea of each other, lined up at the parts counter while the talented warriors take their spotlight on the podiums. Still, if it weren’t for us -the fans and privateer racers- the spotlight would go dim.
We are such the more important ones in this economic equation and a keen sponsor or advertiser would do well to simply replace the rock star on the paid advert with a regular guy like Peter Hardy, even if only for one month or two. Why? It’s because we matter to each other. Sure, Mark Coma’s demeanor and “man’s man” sportsmanship are traits we aspire to yet we identify with Peter Hardy because he is more like us than we are like Coma.
There are a million Peter Hardy’s around the world and thousands who will read these words. Yet the real Peter Hardy is very unique, ironically, just like you.
He came into my life as we crossed paths and mine will never be the same again, improved for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is Peter’s positive influence he’s had on my racing and on being a quality human being.
He will apply to enter the DAKAR Rally in a matter of days and, if accepted, he will venture out onto the world’s single most significant motorsports event. He will also spend and risk a small fortune doing so. The risk is in not finishing, or worse.
Peter wrote to me 2 years ago, asking to pick my brain on my 2011 DAKAR experience, the one in which I followed VW Motorsports in a coveted seat aboard their highly revered press junket. I spoke with Peter and answered his questions, leaving him with a little advice, perhaps paradoxically unsound: “If you have to, go ahead and liquidate your retirement account to make it (The Dakar Rally) happen.” He was accepted in 2012 but took a seat with Darren Skilton and Mark McMillin support crew as his “shakedown”.
I never heard from him again until I got an email toward the end of the 2013 DAKAR Rally. His email was one of the best pieces of news I think I have read since being offered the 2011 ride with VW. It simply read:
“If you are interested in racing the Mex 1000 on a rally prepped XR650, I would let you ride mine and chase for you.” –Peter Hardy’s email on January 14, 2013
There were a string or two attached and something that would come very easily for me: helping the sponsor community recognize the value of the “Peter Hardy” opportunity.
So instead of feeling obliged to put out some contrived campaign to hype another DAKAR wannabee, these words are flowing from the heart, a truly sincere biography of a regular John Doe. Instead, it’s about Peter Hardy, one of the best human beings I have ever met and someone I could possibly be more like.
After reading Peter’s email, my head collapsed into my hands. I was ecstatic and elated, euphoric and overwhelmed because I had been struggling to rationalize my own “Peter Hardy” moment in trying to justify, once again, spending countless hours and a relative mint to rebuild my bike for another 1000+ mile Baja run. Having followed closely and reporting on the Dakar Rally for the past 3 years, I was coming off a 2-week Cyril Despres binge as the 2013 edition was drawing to a close.
Peter’s email changed my life because it was so much more of a selfless and generous gesture than it was a master plan to generate publicity. I really needed a small miracle to get to the first stage of the NORRA MEXICAN 1000 RALLY, which is actually more of a multi-day race than a “rally” per se.
The promise of having an experienced BAJA racer* prep and service a full-blown rally bike based on the original “King of Baja” (the HONDA XR650R) was a “yes-and-yes” scenario. We began to collaborate immediately. (*Peter Hardy has 10 Baja’s under his belt including 7 1000’s and a recent pro finish at the 2013 Touareg Rally in Tunisia)
The first thing I did was to realize my good fortune and start to over-appreciate the “Peter Hardy proposition” as a great opportunity to improve my health, fitness and nutrition regimen. If a guy like you, a “Peter Hardy”, was going to go to all lengths to prep a bike that could withstand 4 days of wide open throttle in BAJA and, ultimately, finish, I needed to reciprocate the deal by being ready to compete for a podium and/or, depending on the field, the overall win. I knew Peter wasn’t screwing around, so neither would I.
The second thing I did was camp out on Jimmy Lewis’ front porch until he let me into his “project mayhem”, a figurative “Fight Club” for rally hopefuls: The Jimmy Lewis Rally Navigation Training Program.
With Peter’s blessing, I would get the XR650 Rally Bike in early February and start training with Jimmy at his Pahrump Nevada facility. That experience with Jimmy and fellow students Santosh CS (Indian Super Cross champ) and Carlos Gracida (SCORE Sportsman champ) changed my life as well, thanks again to Peter Hardy.
Next, Peter was off to Tunisia and I followed him in what was a painful experience for me to hear about: Soft fesh-fesh, 105-degrees temps and Peter’s badly bruised ribcage. There in Tunisia though, the “Who is Peter Hardy” question began being answered. Peter formed alliances by helping dig fellow competitors out of the sand. And he did it over and over again.
When you know “Who is Peter Hardy”, you are reminded of that kid in school when you were little: He was the big guy, kind of shy but the one who would stand up to any bully, every single time, in defense of the helpless one. In his adulthood, Peter Hardy remains the same; a gentle giant with a heart of gold and nowhere did this shine though more than with his interactions with the people of Baja, both with strangers and with his very good friends in the south. He married a Mexican girl from Todos Santos he met on his solo ride to Guatemala and has deep relationships with his family and friends there and around “Todos”.
As the Mexican 1000 Rally drew closer, Peter was somewhat burdened by his promise to deliver a fresh and sound bike to NORRA’s technical inspection in Mexicali. He has a full-time job and a family but somehow managed six 9-hour days toiling with fabricator Craig Campbell to gut and recreate a race-ready rally bike with suspension and bearings all around. He showed up in Mexicali, right on schedule, with a fully loaded support truck and an immaculate rally bike in tow.
His experience supporting and racing in Baja is ever apparent and he avoided every mistake all of us have ever made in Baja-because we all have made and learned from those mistakes, mostly having to learn on our own.
At the end of the first stage of 10, he was waiting there, as planned, with a splash of gas and ready to escort me through the first transfer stage, from Salada to Diablo, both dry lake beds in Northeastern Baja CA.
I had started in the 22nd position alongside 2012 M1K Champion Octavio Valle, taking off two at a time and spaced by 1 minute intervals. When I reached Peter, I had passed all but 2 riders and finished with the second fastest time of 42 racers.
Peter is so smart for not praising me in any way for the quick start because he knows, from his experiences in Baja, that it a long race and fueling a rider’s ego is counterproductive at best, especially so early. There was one unintended consequence of Peter Hardy’s hard work: The bike was still pulling me while pinned in 5th gear and the knobbies on the rear tire had gone missing, the tire was completely destroyed and it didn’t matter if it was a defect or not because we only had 2 more fresh ones.
Quickly, we swapped out the rear wheel and I left for stage 2, a short one but with some famous San Felipe sand whoops. At the finish, I had my second place in as many stages and, unfortunately, another destroyed tire and an electronic component dangling from the navigation tower.
I relied on Peter Hardy to make good calls and, if not, at least good suggestions. He is less the alpha type than I but we needed his leadership so I could focus on my job. We took a nearly bald Dunlap 909 Rally (what we should have run to begin with) and swapped it from my spare bike. That left us with some meat on the bone for the remaining days heading down to San Jose Del Cabo. I finished stage 3 with a forth behind Rally winner Justin Morgan and Mexican nationals “Tavo” Valle and “Niño” Rojas. Morgan went on to win all but one of the 10 stages.
Peter went to work on the bike in Bay of LA and he did hours worth of servicing along with some great help from our friends and rally-rivals on the Gomez Brothers’ Team of Mike Nardi and Chris Brown. Peter slept only a few hours on the ground, which he did all but 2 of the nights he was with me, strictly by choice each time because that is his custom.
Pre-dawn in Bahia De Los Angeles, Peter packed up the support truck and took off for Vizcaino, across the border into southern BAJA. I motored a short distance to the starting area to learn that “we” had garnered a 2nd place in the overall category after 3 stages, which meant I would start next to Justin Morgan on the first line. Morgan is a young ace and destined for a SCORE Baja championship so I knew I would back off at the first sign of dust and let him stretch out his lead, but I also knew Dakar finisher and multi-time Baja champ Gerardo “El Niño” Rojas would be coming for me. It was just a matter of when, not if.
About thirty miles into the 135-mile stage 3, I looked back and there was no sign of Niño. Mistakenly, I failed to check again at the 50-mile spot. Staying in the left lane for miles it seemed like a good time to “cross the wake” onto the right hand side of the 2-track dirt road. I did so at the precise moment Niño went to “recogerme” (to take me). We were like two “fantasmas” (ghosts) in the morning as he seemed to ride right though me. It was a miracle he didn’t hit me at 90MPH and is was our moment together to solidify a lifelong friendship we are sure to have. For whatever reason, Peter Hardy would NOT need to come and un-staple me from a tall cactus. Niño got his pass at 90MPH and looked back to make sure I was still on two wheels while gesturing his relief we both didn’t crash badly in the most remote section of the entire course.
When I reached Peter in third position, the used Dunlap tire we borrowed from the Gomez Bros. was still intact and yet again there was no trivial praise from Peter Hardy, smartly.
Onward to stage five from San Ignacio to Loreto where 8 miles to the finish, fellow warrior Jimmy Stocker (#208) would give his life to racing and tragically perished “doing what he loved in a place he loved”.
We finished that long stage of 173 miles in second and remained in 3rd in the overall standings at the midway point.
Who is Peter Hardy? He is the man who sleeps on the ground even when there is a perfectly good bed available. He is the man who takes your wife to the emergency room in Loreto at 4:30 AM when she suffers an unbearable bout of food-borne illness that ultimately hospitalizes her in La Paz. Peter Hardy is the man who doesn’t think twice about withdrawing from the Mexican 1000 Rally in order for a husband to take care of his wife. He loves racing enough to help others -every single time- and sacrifices virtually everything to do so, but Peter Hardy is also a family man and knows when its time to take the chips off the table.
“Everybody ‘finishes’ the race…but not everyone ‘finishes’ at the finish line” – Unknown
True to his word, Peter Hardy, made perfectly good on his promise and he took a very big risk collaborating with an equally perfect stranger. Together, we continued south toward San Jose Del Cabo and I stayed with my wife in the Maria Lucia de La Pena Hospital while Peter finally accepted a nice bed.
The question of “Who is Peter Hardy” is answered when you see him enter the very modest confines of his in-law’s humble tienda in the heart of Todos Santos as he delivers a relative bounty of necessities (and some luxuries) to his family. You really “get it” when you see the small children run with excitement to hug the gentle giant. Johnny Campbell and Robby Gordon have a similar a effect on locals in small towns- and I’ve watched those two very closely in Baja CA and South America. Comparatively, the “Who is Peter Hardy” proposition is the under-valued opportunity suited only to the keenest of marketing managers, the ones smart enough to develop campaign from the ground up based on a “John Doe” chassis.
Ultimately, we arrived at the very nice CABO SURF hotel in SJ Del Cabo and spent our final night together, 3 sick dogs, all with stomach ailments, but each satisfied that at least 2 of us had found the answer while competing in the NORRA Mexican 1000 Rally. We know who Peter Hardy is.
To ensure job stability many campaign managers and marketing directors seek the “right answers” to the nagging question of “how to increase sales and market share?”
Perhaps it’s time for the right marketer to start asking the moto-sports world the “right question”.
Something like “Who is Peter Hardy” presents a huge value for right people who can think outside the box.
*Special Photo Credit: Ernesto Araiza