Local rider climbing ranks of off-road racing

With the wind farm in the background and the sun slowly starting to set, off-road motorcycle racer Jason Harris gets in a couple more laps around the track near his family’s home in Lyman. With three podium finishes in his last three starts, Harris is becoming a racer to watch on the desert racing circuit. Read the story on page A7. (HERALD PHOTO/Don Cogger)

The photograph is impressive, almost daunting: Over 100 off-road motorcycle riders, lined up shoulder to shoulder at the starting line of a National Hare and Hounds race at Cherry Creek in Utah.

Three bikes in from the right — rider No. 307 — is Jason “Boogs” Harris, a 13-year-old phenom from Lyman, Wyoming. A fixture on the desert track circuit since the age of 6, Harris said the starts at these larger events are no joke — desert races last anywhere from an hour to two hours, so if you aren’t quick on the dead-engine start, you’re in for a long, frustrating day.

“It’s crazy — it’s dusty, and you just kind of have to grit your teeth and hope you don’t crash,” he said. “You’ve got a hundred other bikes, and your focus has to be, ‘I’m going to beat ‘em.’ You have to pound that into your brain. If you don’t get the jump, and you’re in all the dust, you have to keep it wide and get to the turn. You hope that you get a good start.”

Harris has shown a knack for grabbing the hole-shot and becoming the “hare” in these “hare and hound” races, and his fast starts are paying off — he’s had podium finishes in his last three races — including his first overall No. 1 at Little Sahara, Utah, last month — and sponsors are beginning to notice. Harris even spent part of last spring down in Arizona, training with eight-time ISDE (International Six Days Enduro) World Champion Destry Abbott, one of the most iconic names in the sport.

“Destry Abbott told me you need to mentally prepare — I’m going to win, I’m going to get that hole-shot,” Jason said. “I’m going to be able to push through the pain I might endure. You have to find your line, you have to look straight at it — Is that bush gonna be a problem? Is that rock going to hurt me at all? It’s a mental game, for sure.”

Humble Beginnings

Jason’s dad Shaun bought him his first bike for his fifth birthday — a Honda CRF 50. The younger Harris took to riding like a fish to water, and it soon became apparent to Jason — and his folks — that the bike was providing more to him than just a means of entertainment.

“I rode the crap out of that bike,” he said, laughing. “What I remember most about that bike was, it was nice to go fast, and it kind of let my mind not run as much. It helped me to focus on the terrain.”

Shaun Harris said the focus his son found riding was soon trickling into all aspects of Jason’s life.

“The bike allowed him to clear his head,” he explained. “I have a really hard time with ADHD, and all the labels they put on kids. Jason is one of those kids that’s just extremely active — if he doesn’t have something challenging his mind, he’s looking for something else. School is boring to him, at times. We’ve found that as soon as he started riding, he was able to focus more, with everything. The faster he goes, the slower everything gets around him.”

Jason’s teachers began to notice the difference, and Shaun said it’s at the point now that teachers can tell when Jason isn’t riding consistently.

“His teachers, once they found out he was racing, watched his grades and attention improve,” he said. “We’ve had teachers in the past that have called up and asked if he’d quit racing. They can tell when he hasn’t been on the bike for a while. [Riding] has been a great tool to raise a good kid.”

After upgrading to a new KTM 50 performance bike at age six, Jason entered his first desert race in Price, Utah. When he wasn’t racing, he was back home riding with his buddy Gage Bolinder, and tearing through 50 gallons of racing fuel every two months. He entered five races that year, and was first in his class in each one.

“I didn’t really want to race, but when my parents took me to Rocky Mountain Raceway and I had my first race, I knew it was for me,” Harris said. “That first race was awesome. I had to learn how the starts work, and if you don’t take the corner right, you’re not set up for the rest of the race. It was really fun.”

Losing a Mentor

Once Jason began to show promise on the racing circuit, the Harris family reached out to local racing pro Lance Walker for advice. Eager to share his knowledge with a young protege, Walker took Jason under his wing, becoming a mentor and a close friend.

Shortly after the pair began riding together, Jason committed to a full USRA Desert Series schedule — 11 to 13 races. In the spring of 2015, following a win at Cherry Creek, Jason called Lance to share his excitement, as well as set up a time for the two to train the following week. That session would be the last the two would share together — Walker died tragically on May 17 of that year, doing what he loved — riding his motorcycle.

“Lance was one of my biggest mentors,” Harris said. “It was devastating. Lance understood what the bike was, and he understood that things were difficult until he got on a bike — then things got easier. He understood all of that. He was amazing.”

As a tribute, Jason has worn “In Memory of Lance Walker” on the back of his racing jersey in every race since.

“For a while, you get a little more wary after something like that happens,” he said. “You just have to trust your bike, trust your equipment. It definitely had an impact on the racing community.”

Moving up the ladder

Now 13, Jason has secured two No. 1 plates — one in the WORRA (Wyoming Off-Road Racers Association) Series Expert Schoolboy class, and one as an Expert 85 in the USRA (United States Racing Association) Series.

Wanting to test himself against the best, Jason began entering AMA National Hare and Hound events this past year, with extraordinary results. In the last two months, the young rider has finished third overall at a NGPC (National Grand Prix Championship) race, third at a National Hare and Hound, first in his class at a WORRA race, first overall at a USRA race and his first ever overall at the Cherry Creek National last month.

The Harris family traveled to Lovelock, Nevada, October 10 for another National Hare and Hound race, with Jason once again winning a spot on the podium, finishing second.

“The Lovelock race was one of the bigger races,” he said. “There were a lot of the usual people there. There was one kid there [Seth Saddora], he’s a very top rider. He got the jump on me at the start. I worked my way up and started gaining on him, but I wasn’t able to catch him. I was gaining on him, and I felt like that was a big accomplishment.”

Asked the difference between the races he cut his teeth on and the national races, Jason said the answer is simple.

“The competition and the starts have been the biggest difference at the national races,” Jason said. “The starts are longer, and more suspenseful.”

He’s also embraced the business side of his racing career, helping to line up sponsors, as well as creating for himself a presence on social media (his Instagram handle is @jason_harris307).

As of now, he’s riding for D and D Swabbing, Bucky’s Outdoors, Wind River CBD, Utah Valley Powersports, NRS Suspension, Liquid Aider and IMS.

Bucky’s Outdoors recently supplied Jason with his latest bike, a 2021 TC 85 Big Wheel, made by Husqvarna Motorcycles. Husqvarna has also taken notice of the talented rider, providing Jason with a care package full of gear, courtesy of Timmy Weigand, Husqvarna’s off-road team manager. Jason hopes it’s the start of a fruitful relationship.

“I really think the way I’ve gotten Timmy’s attention, and the way my social media is going, that’s something they look at,” Jason said. “You have to be good, but you also have to be able to advertise their product. I really think I’ll be able to make this a career, and make a living at it.”

Eyes on the Prize

As with any sport, success doesn’t come without practice. Jason — who has three older sisters, Rachelle, Shaunte and Madison — practices two hours a night (four to five on weekends) year-round when he is not competing. On average, he races 22 weekends a year, and he wrestles in the winter to keep in shape.

“I get up every morning and I do 20 pushups and 20 situps,” Harris said. “I try and do up-downs. After school, I go out on our tracks and practice, put in the laps.”

Because of the inherent danger associated with racing, Shaun Harris said there are moments of doubt. But when Jason is up on podium, he knows this is what his son was meant to do.

“I get much more nervous than Jason does,” Shaun said. “That’s my little guy out there. I question at times whether we’re doing the right thing as parents, but I look at how much further ahead he is as a person...but at every race, I think about it. I think about the what-ifs. It’s hard, but at the same time, I wouldn’t take it away from him.”

As for Jason, he can’t imagine doing anything else.

“The winning is always an exciting part of racing,” he said. “Another thing is just being on the bike, and know that I’m going to go somewhere — this isn’t just a hobby, it’s a career. It’s an awesome feeling — being able to go from fifth off the start to putting your head down and getting after it, and ending up on the podium.”

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