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Interview: Scott Whitney (HogWildRacing)

  Posted at 11:00:14 AM
  File under  Interviews Racing Dakar Race Sidecar
  Author: Mike Werner
  Location: Normandy, France

Scott Whitney
Many of you are as passionate about the Dakar race as I am. Nothing leaves more to the imagination that those real men (and a few women) who climb on their trusty motorcycle and compete in one of the most legendary and grueling races in the world.

The tales of the Dakar race and the exploits of their racers are well known and documented !

A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind

Duane McDowell
But if you think it's tough to ride your motorcycle in the Dakar, how about riding a sidecar ??? I've reported previously {link} on Scott Whitney's attempt next year to compete in this rally race. Over the last few months Scott Whitney and Duane McDowell have been training very hard for the race. Last week they had to say good-by to their Harley V-rod sidecar, since it's now on the boat en-route to Lisbon.

Scott (44 years) has been racing sidecars for 32 years, and Duane (46 years) for 15 years.

So, now's a good time to take stock, and ask Scott a few questions:

HogWildRacing Harley motorcycle sidecar
Q: This is going to be your first Dakar race. How do you expect  to do after hearing all the stories and seeing the coverage ?

: The odds are only 50/50 for ANYONE finishing, so it is obviously VERY difficult.  History shows that the odds of a sidecar finishing are very low (only 2 in 26 years), so I can't say if we can beat those odds or not.

I CAN say that I we are very well prepared and we expect to do OUR VERY BEST.

Q: You've been racing for a long time with your sidecar. How much extra preparation is required for the Dakar ? Why ?

Yes, I've been racing sidecars for over 30 years.  I got my first FIM pro racing license in 1979 when I raced with my dad on a Norton/Wasp sidecar in the European Sidecar-Cross Championship.  At that time, I thought that was a big trip to organize.  

I can say now that my preparations for Dakar have been 100 times greater than any other racing that I have ever done.  It's an unbelievable amount of work.  I began building my Dakar sidecar in 2000, and it won't actually be completed until a day or two before scrutineering in Lisbon.  Dakar is a completely different race if you build your own race vehicle.  I watch the other Americans preparing their KTMs, and it looks so easy.  I know it's not easy for anyone in Dakar, but when you fabricate all the parts yourself in your own garage, it's not at all the same as ordering parts from a catalog.

HogWildRacing Harley motorcycle sidecar
Q: Which is more physical, riding or being the "passenger" ?

Being a sidecar passenger is MUCH more physically demanding that driving.  I was a passenger for most of my racing years, so I have a lot of respect for that difficult job.  The passenger has no padded seat, so he must stand up 90% of the time for 15 days of Dakar.  I can assure you, that is not easy.

In my mind, the passenger on a sidecar has the absolute most difficult job of anyone in the Dakar Rally.

Q:  Can Duane ride as well, i.e., can he relieve you if you're tired ?

Duane was a motocross sidecar driver for several years, so he has the skills to drive if needed.  I like my seat, and he likes pain, so hopefully we never need to switch positions.

Q: On a straight road, how fast can your sidecar go ?

We have tested the sidecar fully loaded with all the fuel and supplies.  It can go 103 mph (165 km/hr).  Too bad they have the 150 km/hr speed limit in the Dakar!  Actually, it would probably not be smart for us to go that fast because the risk is very high.  A crash at that speed might scratch up our chrome.

HogWildRacing Harley motorcycle sidecar
Q: Will you be competing with the motorcycles as well, not just with the other sidecar (Aprilia), i.e., can you ride as fast as the motorcycles ?

Please tell the Swiss sidecar team that we just started racing sidecars last year, and we are very slow!  Ha Ha.  For us, Dakar will be more of a survival than a "speed" race.  We can go pretty fast, but that would not be a smart thing if we want to get to the finish in Dakar.

We'll let the pro riders with teams of mechanics go super fast.  I don't want to stay up all night replacing worn out parts.  We have to do all the mechanic work ourselves at the end of each day, so we need to ride at a speed that will save our bodies and our machine.  But deep down Duane and I are both very competitive racers, so my throttle hand may not obey my logical thinking!

Q: Isn't it a bit odd, to have two sidecars racing the Dakar, and both of you use unconventional engines, you a Harley V-rod, the other an Aprilia ?? Is there an advantage using a Harley engine ? Wouldn't there  be more spares available if it was a KTM, BMW or Yamaha engine ?

It's not really that odd if you think about it.  Truthfully, if I had a million euro budget and could pick ANY engine for my sidecar, I think I would still pick the Harley V-Rod.

I originally built this sidecar with a Suzuki TL1000R V-Twin engine.  The Suzuki engine broke in the sand dunes because the cases were too thin and light weight.  The extra stresses put on an engine in a sidecar can be too much for a super light-weight design.

In my opinion, a Dakar sidecar needs a heavy-duty engine that has good power and excellent reliability.  So far our Harley V-Rod has proven to be exactly what we want.  The KTM 950 engine looks really nice (very similar to the Suzuki and Aprilia), but I would be afraid that it might have the same problem as my previous Suzuki.

Having more spare parts available would be nice, but I prefer if we never need those spare parts!  Of course it doesn't hurt having a motor that attracts a lot of attention (as you just saw on our "Press Clippings" page on our web site).  Or sponsors love that benefit!

More Information:
Related info:
Many details:
7mb PowerPoint:
Outdated, history:

Well Scott and Duane, best of luck and endurance in the race. I sincerely hope you make it to Dakar, and end up in the history books. We'll see you in Lisbon !

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