Finding a way to stay at the top of his game during a midseason break from the AMA National Hare and Hound Off-Road Series, Lyman’s Jason Harris dominated the field last weekend at the Firebirds in Jericho, Utah, a sanctioned USRA desert race event.
Harris won the super-mini class of the 54-mile race — three laps of an 18-mile loop — by a whopping 12 minutes (1:12.35), despite getting off to a less-than-stellar start.
“On the start, the bike didn‘t fire right away — there was too much fuel in my carburetor, and I almost flooded it out,” Harris said. “I kicked quite a few times, and I was down by about 15 seconds when I finally got it started. The riders up front went wide on the turn, so I was able to catch up to them and get the lead. I think I looked back once, and they were pretty far behind me. I never saw them again.”
A good start is crucial in desert racing — if a rider is not one of the first off the jump, he or she will be chewing on a cloud of dust until the first turn, usually the length of five football fields away. Races are won and lost depending on the start, though having a strategy in place when things go south — as they did last weekend — is also a key to success.
“Jason and I have a pre-race ritual,” said Shaun Harris, Jason’s dad. “In a desert race like Firebirds, you’ll have about a 100-yard wide starting line. You can pick any spot you want to start from, but then it’s usually about a 400-500-yard run — just bombing across virgin ground — until you get to the gates at the trail. We’ll go out and walk that several times and find a line. We’ll gauge what the wind is doing, so that if he does get a bad start, we know where we want to be for the wind. We strategized about all of that, and in this particular race, we chose to hang as far right as we could, because it was a left hand turn at the gate.”
Noticing the riders in front of him were taking the first turn wide and on a hard angle, the younger Harris chose to sweep left early and cut underneath, clipping the banner that marked the turn and grabbing the lead.
“It was a great race,” he said. “Going into it, I knew there was going to be some good competition. As far as the race went, I didn’t get the greatest start, but I just jumped out there and did my thing. I think I had one crash, but from there, it was pretty much smooth sailing the rest of the way.”
Harris and his trusty Husqvarna 105cc will be racing again this weekend, this time at the 2021 EnduroCross in Pinedale, held at Sagebrush Downs Racetrack. The event is hosted by Snow Explorers/Altitude Off-Road Inc., and co-sponsored by Bucky’s Outdoors — one of Harris’ chief sponsors — among others.
“Enduro racing is just obstacles — tires, logs, big rocks, mud pits, stuff like that,” Harris said. “I usually do really well at this one. The dealership that sponsors me helps put it on, so it’s nice to be able to go up there and race in front of a big sponsor like that. Sandy Sletten is the owner, and he’s always been super-good to me.”
Chasing a championship
It’s been a productive year for Harris, especially on the national stage — halfway through his first full season on the AMA National Hare and Hounds circuit, the young phenom is the overall points leader in super-minis, with three wins in the first five races, and second-place finishes in the other two.
“The super-mini is the highest level of competition on a minibike,” Shaun Harris said. “Even though they can’t use the word pro, they are the top level. Jason is 13 now, and he can race super-mini until he’s 16. He’s one of the youngest in the class, and just doing extremely well.”
Harris kicked off the season in January with a win at the Winter Classic, in Lucerne Valley, California. He shook off nerves and a sketchy start to eventually catch the leader and win his first Hare and Hound event.
“Coming into the [National Hare and Hound] season, I really didn’t know who was going to be there — a lot of the people from last season aged out of the class, and there were some new faces coming in, including me. We went to the Winter Classic and met some of the top riders, guys like Tallon Smith. My start wasn’t the greatest, but I think I jumped out in third. Tallon was running away with it, but I just tried to stay consistent throughout the race. Tallon made some mistakes along the way, and I was able to pass him for the win. That really boosted my confidence for the season — I was on Cloud 9, because that first race is the race to win. A lot of competition comes out of California, so to beat them on their home turf was awesome.”
The National Hare and Hound Series resumes Sept. 11 in Panaca, Nevada. Harris currently has a 45-point lead in the standings with four races to go; a rider gets 30 points for a win, so the Lyman native is more than a full race ahead of his closest competition — Tallon Smith.
“That feels super-good going into the break,” Harris said of his lead. “It reassures me that if I have a bad race, I’m still up there at the top. As long as I can make the podium for the rest of the year, I’m in good shape for the title. At the start, you really have to push to be up on top to get that points lead, and that’s what I did.”
In a circuit routinely dominated by riders from California and other warm-weather states, to have a rider from Wyoming emerge as the frontrunner is something special, according to Shaun Harris.
He credits his wife Briar for her work behind the scenes in coordinating travel and lodging to make sure Jason is able to get to his events.
“It’s hard coming out of Wyoming, because Wyoming’s climate doesn’t facilitate a lot of practice in racing,” he said. “For a kid to come out of Wyoming and compete at the nationals is really a big deal. There’s a lot more travel involved, and the coordination and logistics behind the scenes of travel, expenses, lodging — all of that is a big deal to get to these races. We’d like to find a company in Wyoming that wants to support a Wyoming kid by way of a sponsorship, a company that’s proud of Wyoming and an athlete coming out of here, and racing for a national championship. To see a kid coming out of here and reaching this level in racing is, to me, pretty neat.”