On November 15, 2013, everything about the SCORE Baja 1000 changed. That was the date of Kurt Caselli’s fatal crash. The next day, the hills, roads, trails and rocks that form the race might have looked the same, but the landscape of the event was completely different. There was a corporate retreat from Baja. Honda, KTM and Kawasaki backed away, leaving the riders, fans and enthusiasts who had always supported the event without a reason for being.
One of those left behind was Colton Udall. He anchored the JCR Honda in its final Mexican outings and had no intention of ending his racing career there. Thus, a new era began in Baja. It was to be the age of the privateer.
Ox Motorsports didn’t spring into being as a full-fledged race team. It was just a framework that allowed Colton and his partner Mark Samuels to keep racing with support from friends, family and personal sponsors. They knew how to win the race; that had been established by Bruce Ogilvie and refined by Johnny Campbell. Honda had, in fact, been winning the race on an amazingly small budget. It was accomplished more through the help of volunteers and supporters. All those resources still existed, but even volunteers need gasoline. So, Colton Udall set out on his own to modify that methodology to work in a new era. That included not only the financing, but the strategy and equipment.
It all worked. For 2015 the record book will show that Honda won the Baja 1000 for the 25th time, and that Colton Udall collected his third win in four years. But in truth, it was a first-time winner. The Ox Motorsports team of Colton Udall, Mark Samuels and Justin Jones won with a mirror team led by Mark Samuels in second.
Colton used the established strategy where he could; he rode a 2015 Honda CRF450X that was supplied by American Honda through an indirect route. Much of the bike setup was taken straight from the JCR Honda days, but he had to make modifications. The cornerstone of the Ox strategy is range. He couldn’t afford to support as many pit stops as they did in the old days, so the bike had to go farther and the racers had to ride longer. He had learned the hard way that you absolutely have to control your own pits; you couldn’t share them with another team or things can go very wrong. The logistics of getting riders into place was also difficult, so in the Ox plan, Colton would do most of the riding himself. Fewer refueling stops, fewer rider changes. That is risky strategy, which is why he came up with the concept of running a second entry with some of the same riders. Thus, Samuels got both first and fourth in the 2015 Baja 1000. Ray Dalsoglio, Daymon Stokie and Brian Adams rode with him on the second-place bike.
We got a chance to ride the bike that won the 2015 Baja 1000 a couple of weeks afterward. It wasn’t new to us; we had ridden a very similar bike back in the JCR Honda days. The most obvious departure from that bike was the fuel tank. The Ox bike has a 4.0-gallon IMS tank. That takes some getting used to. The whole bike feels bigger, but it was just as sweet as ever. The Ox guys could have switched to a more modern R bike as a basis, just as some amateur Baja teams have. But, the X still has the manners that make Colton’s 200-mile stints possible. Suspension is Showa Factory A-kit suspension that has been re-valved for off-road by AHM. The motor is mellower than that of an R but sharper than an X. It has a mix of different-year parts from the motocrosser; the head is from an ’08, the cam is from an ’02 and so forth. The pipe is a full-race Pro Circuit Ti4, but specially reinforced in places to withstand the likes of the San Felipe whoops. The swingarm is also reinforced for more rigidity. The bottom line is that the Ox bike is no slouch; it’s fast and responsive, but it’s not some super-secret rocket ship. Reliability is the number-one priority.
Another departure from the JCR days is lighting. The Honda of 2013 had a specially prepared electrical system that powered an old-fashioned two-lamp halogen system. You would think that with the advancements in lighting, the new bike would have a much more powerful system. Not really. It’s lighter and perhaps more reliable, but not more powerful. The current lighting system has two Baja Designs Squadron LED lights in a specially made frame by Raceco USA. It’s much lighter than the old system, and that makes the bike handle better. It’s also more compact, so it’s less vulnerable to crash damage. But, the old factory Honda lights had an excellent combination of spread and depth without hot spots. Some things are tough to improve.
We enjoyed riding the Ox bike. It’s not like some other famous race-winning machines that we’ve tried that are just too fast and too stiff for regular riders. The Ox Honda is a sweetheart, but if you’re looking for some secret that allows guys like Colton and Samuels to ride at superhuman speeds for hours on end, it’s not there. Their secret to the 2015 Baja 1000 win, as it turns out, is no secret at all. It’s the result of hard work, dedication and talent.
OX MOTORSPORTS BACKERS
Jackson Motorsports Group/Michelin Tires
Baja Bound Insurance
The Enduro Shop
Honda Pro Oils
F&L Racing Fuels
PCI Race Radios
Action Sports Canopies
Baja Designs Lighting