His goal last year was to become the youngest motorbike racer to go into the Dakar Rally as one of the top 10 riders in the world. In November, after numerous rallies, 21-year-old Mason Klein of Agua Dulce secured the No. 9 spot among more than 50 racers whose ages range from the mid-20s to those in their 70s.
Now Klein will compete in the Dakar Rally between Dec. 31 and Jan. 15 in Saudi Arabia, and his goal is to win it all. But the rally requires more than just racing skill, speed and endurance, he told The Signal in a phone interview before heading out to compete. It requires intellect, too, he said.
“You have to be smart in desert racing,” Klein said. “Navigation is the biggest thing in these races. Because if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re just going to go really fast the wrong way.”
The upcoming Dakar Rally, which is a 16-day race through the desert, requires riders to, according to Klein, navigate more than 5,200 miles of dunes and rocky terrain. And while one might think racers could simply use global positioning systems to find their way, GPS is not allowed.
“I feel like I’m kind of a nerd in school,” Klein said. “So, maybe I kind of struggle in the fast sections. But something they’re doing this year, which they’ve done before, is they’ve added a speed limit. So, obviously, it’s not just about speed anymore. If you make a mistake, it’s way harder to make up time now.”
Klein said that no smartphones or devices with Bluetooth are permitted, other than a satellite phone for safety reasons. However, getting lost is not as dangerous as it might seem.
“The racing is actually really safe because they have so many helicopters,” he said. “The organization knows the second that you stop, they can message you on your dirt bike. There’s a little screen on the front tower that says, ‘Are you OK? Yes? No?’ And if you’re not moving for like a minute, there’s already a helicopter over you.”
One of the other challenges of this type of race is keeping the motorbike in racing condition throughout the rally. Obviously, riders can’t carry spare parts, tires and tools. So, each rider, Klein said, typically has what’s called a chase crew. Klein’s crew includes his dad, who was a racer himself, and a mechanic. They’ll essentially offer mechanical support when needed, but they have to follow along if they can.
“They follow an assistance road book,” Klein said. “Actually, I think it’s a digital road book this year.”
According to Klein, riders will race about eight to 12 hours a day. And it’s quite taxing on the body, he added, especially because there’s not much opportunity to eat.
“That’s the biggest thing, really — getting food in you,” he said.
Klein lost 15 pounds during a recent rally because he didn’t eat as much as he should’ve eaten. It also didn’t help that he had COVID-19 at the time, which caused hot and cold flashes and a loss of appetite.
Then there’s the matter of rest. During a typical rally, racers will sleep in tents or trucks. Klein will be sleeping in an assistance truck that has bunk beds.
One of the other crucial aspects of the rally, Klein said, is the cost it requires to truly compete. Even training comes at a price, with wear and tear on the bike that can be quite expensive. And so, Klein set up a GoFundMe page where he’s hoping to raise $25,000 to assist in those costs. As of the publishing of this story, he had raised more than $23,000.
“When you go to a race and you spend 100 grand, it’s a lot of stress if you don’t finish,” he said. “Part of finishing means having new parts on your bike every day, and if you can’t afford to fix your bike every day, and you go out and you don’t finish, it’s like, ‘What a waste.’”
But that’s also part of the challenge, which Klein finds to be very exciting. As a kid, he discovered that he loves adventure. He also found that he wanted to see the world. He fell into rally racing because it offers both.
“Since I started riding,” he said, “I always told my dad, ‘I want to ride until I’m out of gas, fill up, and go again.’”
Klein was set to fly out to Saudi Arabia the day after Christmas. Regardless of what he raises from his GoFundMe page, he’s making that flight. And then, he said, the adventure begins.
For more information about Klein’s quest or to donate to his GoFundMe page, go to bit.ly/Mason-Dakar.