To most of us, Mason Klein’s 9th-place finish in the 2022 Dakar Rally was a complete surprise. But, to the riders and people around him, it was a natural result of hard work and preparation. At 20 years old, he was the youngest competitor in the event, even though he rode like a seasoned pro. Here’s what he had to say when he got home.
Dirt Bike: Have you been racing for a long time?
Mason Klein: Yeah, my brother Carter and I started around the same time, I think 2011 or 2012. Mostly doing desert racing. Follow the Ribbon, Hare and Hound, everything. We did the West Hare Scrambles for a while, too. I think my brother’s going to start doing it again. And we did a lot of the NGPC Series and recently some WORCS…kind of everything besides just doing Motocross.
When did you first get the notion to do something like Rally?
I think 2017 we went to a KTM Adventure Rally, and I saw basically a rally bike, a KTM 500 or 450 with a tower on it from Moto Minded. And I said to my dad, “That’s for me. I want to do that.”
I just really like the idea of using your brain and also riding until you run out of gas and then going again. I think that’s just so awesome, getting to ride all day. I just like to ride a lot. That’s perfect.
How have you been training?
I feel like our training is just as normal as anyone else, like a normal training program for riding and bikes and everything. But for rally training, we do a lot of long-distance, like week-long stuff. Obviously, we’re not going to ride for a week at a time, but long days on the bike, 300 to 400 kilometer days with road books.
Have you been making your own road books now as part of the training process?
Yeah, exactly. Obviously, there’s not a lot of people out there making road books who are willing to share, so you have to get resourceful and learn to make them on your own. It’s nice being able to have someone like Skyler Howes as well because he can make road books, and we just work together a lot. It’s been a pretty good year for both of us for training.
How does that work? Do you just go out and pencil out your own route and then get Skyler to try to follow yours and you to follow his?
Yes. You don’t want to ride your own road book because you’re the one who made it. So, it’s nice to have someone else to make one for you, too. KTM came down and Jordi Viladoms and I made a bunch of road books, and then the rest of their team got to ride it. So, we definitely got a lot of practice making road books before Dakar. I think making your road books is almost as important as riding them because if you understand how a road book is made, you have a better understanding of how to follow the road book. I think that helped me a lot at Dakar because if you can navigate well you don’t have to ride as fast. If you go the right direction, then you go a lot faster.
How did this specific Dakar become a reality?
My mom and dad and a lot of support from a lot of different people and companies. A lot of support from Skyler.
Did you ride the Sonora Rally with this in mind?
Yeah, definitely. I wanted to win the entry from the Sonora Rally, but I was planning on going (to Dakar) no matter what.
I take it you did win the Road to Dakar entry.
Not exactly, not from Sonora. I wanted to win it from Sonora, but Kendall Norman ended up beating me, then he wasn’t able to go. Then I went to Morocco to win it, but when we were at Morocco Derrick Stilton called up and said, “Hey, you’re the next person to get it, and Kendall can’t go.” So, they were able to transfer it over to me, which was super awesome, and I got to get more practice anyway in Morocco.
You did well there. Tell me about the Rally 2 Class.
I thought it was just going to be that we didn’t have a yellow background, but we ended up having some other different, weird rules, and they shortened our course at Morocco. They did all this weird stuff. And then at Dakar, the first day they started all the Rally 2 behind the Rally GP. Then, when I did good the first day, they realized if they keep doing this I’m going to win the whole Rally. So, then they changed the rule to let us actually start where we belong and to make the race a lot better, and it just kind of separated the regular guys from the pros by class.
So, how much money did it cost to have them support you at Dakar?
I think their service fee is like $40,000, pretty expensive. But it definitely felt like you were on a factory team, the amount of work they did on the bike every day. Basically, a full rebuild every day. The bike always is clean and brand new. Everything is taken apart. Every bolt is checked. They pull out the clutch every day just to look at it, make sure it looks good. Just all the little things that they do makes you really appreciate what they’re doing, and I think it definitely makes it worth it. You know that you’re going to go out every day on a bike that is 100%.
How soon did you have to come up with that kind of money? Was that all way up front?
Yeah, all the money has to be paid before the bikes are loaded on the boat to Saudi. So, basically we just had to get the money before then. I think we took a loan out on the house to make sure we had the money.
Is there any prize money involved? You won the Rally 2 class now.
I’ve heard $3,500. That’s all I know about. I don’t know when we get the money or if we got the money, but, even if we did, I don’t think it would be going to me. It would be going to my parents because they paid for it. They deserve it more.
I saw that you had a GoFundMe account. Was that pretty useful?
Yeah, for sure that was super helpful. A lot of people supported the whole effort, and I think I definitely couldn’t be doing any of this without the support of everybody. It’s a big group effort for sure.
Skyler said he wasn’t at all surprised that you finished as well as you did. Were you surprised?
Before going, when KTM was in town, I was talking to Matthias Walkner at the KTM factory. I just happened to be at the KTM factory with Matthias and thought that was super cool. He said, “What do you expect?” And I told him, “Who doesn’t want to win? But, if I had to guess, I feel I’d finish in the top ten.” He said, “Be realistic.” So, I told him, “Top twenty.” Then, when I crossed the finish line, I went up to Matthias, and I said, “I got top ten.” And he was super cool about it, so that was awesome. Toby Price and I were kind of racing each other the whole race, and every day we’d talk about our plan or whatever his plan was. I never had a plan. I’d just try to go off whatever his plan was. And the stage he won was the stage that he said to push, and I really pushed. I crashed and I finished eleventh and he finished first. So, from there we were on opposite schedules, and it kind of brought us back together at the end of the race in a really close way. I thought it was super crazy. It came down to thirteen seconds between the two of us, and I ended up in front. So, I was pretty excited about that. And at the end of the race, Jordi Viladoms was looking at the results, and he said, “Hmm. I guess the Americans are coming.” I thought that was like the coolest thing.
Yeah, that is pretty cool. Were there any moments that you had doubts that you were going to be able to pull it off?
The last day was the worst day for me because it’s the whole race, and you know it’s not over until you’re at the finish line, the real finish line. You still have to liaison and have to dodge all the traffic and all the crazy drivers. I was super nervous the whole day, and I just wanted to get to the end, but I knew I couldn’t take it easy if I wanted to beat Toby and stay in the top ten. I still had to push, so I was pretty stressed out and nervous. When I got to that finish line, I was just so relieved.
It started off kind of rough for a lot of riders. You lost a little bit of time, for sure, but not as much as some of the big names on that very first stage.
Yeah, I think I kind of lost my time on opposite days because they started up front Stage 1, and obviously they started me further back. So, when I did good on the first stage, the next day I started further up front, and I ended up losing like thirty-nine minutes on Stage 2. I’m pretty sure it was somewhere near whatever Toby lost, so it’s kind of cool we were both working our way up. I feel like Toby was the person that I rode with every day, or the person I talked to every day, and it’s cool that we both worked our way back up to the top ten in the same way.
Did you make some friendships over there, develop some good relationships?
For sure there were a lot of cool people that I got to meet and got to talk to. It’s nice hearing all the crazy stories over there. This guy Simon Marcic has got the craziest stories. He’s in Malle Moto, and we talked to a lot of those guys over there, and it’s just cool seeing how they have to race the race. They obviously do a lot more work than someone like me would do who is riding on a team. That was super awesome.
So, going forward, what’s next for you?
I feel like if I didn’t lose forty minutes in Stage 2, we could be looking at a top five, and you know some things could’ve gone better so you have to look to the future to get it done. I just want to do better.
What’s your next race?
It looks like I’m going to Abu Dhabi
Down the road, do you see yourself doing this as long as you can?
I definitely want to do it as long as I can. I prefer this kind of racing over any other thing. I came to Dakar because I wanted to race Dakar, not because I was looking for any factory deal. I just really enjoy it. I prefer to ride with the road book in front of me than to follow a ribbon.