Life as an international motorcycle racer.
Whether riding a motorcycle or cranking the pedals of a mountain bike, Quinn Cody prefers his forward motion at a high rate of speed. Tall and athletic, he has parlayed a zest for confronting danger along dusty desert tracks into a colorful career as a motorcycle racer. Born and raised in the Santa Ynez Valley, Cody, 32, spent his early years on a 160-acre ranch tucked beside Manzana Creek deep in the Los Padres National Forest. Once a month or so, his parents and two siblings would shoulder backpacks and mount motorcycles for the trip to town, an hour long, 14-mile journey that included seven, often hair-raising, river crossings.
At age six, Cody received his first off-road motorcycle from his dad, sculptor John Cody, a gift that ignited dreams of riding professionally. From that day forward, he spent most of his free time happily spinning gravel on the trails and rabbit runs surrounding his mountain home.
“It’s pretty rugged country,” Cody says, his blonde hair cropped close to accommodate a helmet. “You don’t want to screw up and go off the road, because there’re big cliffs. You’re out there all alone, so you really can’t make a mistake.
“Growing up in the mountains taught me to be conservative and have good common sense,” he continues. “It gave me a kind of survival ability that you need to do long distance motorcycle races.”
For his 12th birthday, Cody requested and was given a trip to the Los Angeles County Raceway, in Palmdale. Every weekend for the next five years, he and his mother, Connie—and often his older sister, Anna—traveled hundreds of miles to compete in motorcycle races across open expanses of arid land.
“My first desert race was in, like, 1988. I think it was a 50-miler,” Cody says. “I ran out of gas two or three times and had to walk a couple of miles to get more.
“I finally made it to the finish,” he laughs, “nearly dead last, but it was my first long desert race and I was determined. I was on a mission to finish.”
In 1991, at 15, Cody rode in “Best of the West,” a competition comprised of a dozen different races designed to test off-road skills in the wilds of the Mojave Desert. He racked up 630 points in events such as Enduro, Hare and Hound, and European Scrambles to win the novice class, and triumphed at the American Motorcycle Association’s District 37 annual awards banquet as the youngest rider to receive a trophy. The 1992 season found Cody aboard a KX 500 motorcycle and dedicating most of his free time to desert racing. Training hard and putting his mechanical skills to work, he moved quickly from novice class to the open expert class.
“Growing up, all I wanted to do was race,” he says, his blue eyes gleaming. “My mom would drag me out to the desert with my sister, or I would drag her out there, more likely. I was just stoked to be able to go and race.
“My sister was always the top woman racer,” he continues, “and all the older guys would tease me, ‘Oh, your sister’s faster than you.’ It was pretty cool, though, and it kind of motivated me to want to get to a top level.”
Despite his formidable skills aboard a speeding motorcycle and his enviable record of wins, Cody knows that luck often determines whether an accomplished rider can avoid injury. In 2001, a racing accident shattered his shoulder, requiring eight hours of surgery, and forced him to take a hard look at his chosen career.
“I got hurt really bad,” Cody remembers, “and I quit racing. I was done. I sold all my stuff and started building water features. I’ve always done creative work with my dad,” he explains, “carving stone and stuff like that, and I just built replications of nature and had fun with it. It was something that satisfied my creativity and I enjoyed doing it.” Cody constructed ponds, creeks and waterfalls from native stone, which gave them a natural look. Kinetic testaments to his tremendous energy and imagination, his creations still grace back yards and patios all over the Valley.
But a successful business breeds busy work and paper pushing, office-bound pursuits that Cody found less than thrilling. At 27, he revisited his career ambitions, and by 2005, had renewed a vigorous program of weight training, road bicycling and competitive motorcycle riding.
“With long distance rally racing, you’re really in your prime in your mid-30s,” Cody says, “because it takes a lot more endurance, maturity and smarts to do races like the Baja 500 and 1000. Younger guys just don’t have the maturity or endurance.
“I knew if I didn’t accomplish my racing goals soon,” he adds, “it was never going to happen. It was time to get serious.”
That year he won a coveted spot on the Honda team to ride the Baja 1000—fondly known as the “granddaddy of off-road races.” It was a dream come true for the determined racer. His team finished on the podium second overall.
Under contract to Honda as part of that company’s stable of gifted riders, Cody raced the Baja 1000 again in 2006 and finished first overall. Averaging 52.27 miles per hour through the rough, unforgiving Baja terrain, he and his teammates finished the 1,047-mile-long race in a little over 18 hours, scoring the tenth consecutive Baja 1000 victory for Honda.
The next year, he joined Dakar racer Chris Blais on the factory Red Bull/KTM team to help develop the 690 Baja prototype racing bike. KTM, an Austrian company that dominated in the Dakar for decades, wanted to make a bike that would do the same in the Baja. They hoped the 690 Baja would be that bike.
While racing his section of the hazardous 2007 Baja 1000 on the 690 Baja at night, Cody hit a booby trap and fractured his tibia just below the knee. He managed to ride the bike to the next pit so his teammates could take over and finish the race. Cody credits Santa Barbara orthopedic sports surgeon Dr. William Gallivan, and a rigorous rehabilitation program, for his quick and complete recovery.
In November 2008, he signed a new contract with American Honda/Johnny Campbell Racing (JCR) team—just in time to race that year’s Baja 1000. His team finished second overall, making it a first and second place overall win for Honda and the JCR team.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, every kind of off-road racing there is,” Cody admits. “I’ve been all over the world and done some extreme racing. I’ve accomplished a lot in Baja and now I feel like it’s time for me to take on Dakar, in January 2010, the biggest, longest, most difficult off-road race in the world.”
Described at dakar.com as “an international nomad event,” the Dakar, as it’s known, pits competitors against harsh elements in a grueling 17-day, 6,000-mile race originally routed from Paris to Dakar, on the western edge of Africa. Due to unrest in that region, however, this year, for the first time in its 31-year history, the race was run in South America, over a course that loops through Argentina and Chile.
“Basically, you ride across huge sand dunes, through the Andes Mountains and miles of varied terrain on two-track roads,” Cody says.
There are no real course markers, so you have to navigate the whole time. Baja is an all-out race from start to finish and it only lasts one day,” he continues. “Dakar is more of a survival race. You have to make your equipment, tires, body, everything, last for the entire deal.”
Begun in 1978 by a French motorcyclist after he’d been lost in and ultimately enchanted by the Libyan Desert, the Dakar draws motorcycle, car, truck and quad enthusiasts from all over the world who came to test their mettle against some wildly rugged terrain.
While the original route featured a lot of unpopulated territory, the South American course offers plenty of opportunities for spectators—especially motor-sport loving locals—to witness the action first hand.
In the history of the Dakar only a few Americans have even finished the race, and only five, all classes combined, accomplished a podium win. No American has ever captured a first place in the Dakar.
Cody’s former teammate and boss on the KTM Baja 690 prototype project, Chris Blais, finish in third place in the 2005 Dakar. Cody says that Blais would have gone on to be the first American to win the Dakar if not for a freak accident that happened when Blais and Cody were pre-running the 2007 Vegas to Reno race.
A sharp-edged object under the dirt caught the front wheel of his bike, turning it end over end. Blais’s spine was fractured in the crash and he has not raced a motorcycle since, though he has made an amazing recovery and continues to progress.
“Much of my motivation to race and win the Dakar comes from wanting to complete Chris Blais’s goal for an American to win overall in the Dakar,” Cody says.
According to Cody, competing in the Dakar is a “huge process” requiring months of preparation that includes physical training and thousands of miles of desert racing. In addition, it can take a full year to work out logistical details, such as mobilizing support trucks and mechanics, preparing the bike and lining up funding.
“My goal is to do Dakar with the support of Team Honda Europe and Johnny Campbell Racing,” he explains, “because they have all the support vehicles, equipment and people.” Cody’s contract with JCR doesn’t cover him racing the Dakar so he’s searching for major sponsorship to cover the costs of the incredible logistics involved in the 6,000 mile Dakar.
Team Honda Europe is the place to hire experienced Honda rider support for the 17-day Dakar race. Their job includes shipping all the support vehicles, pit crew, bikes and parts to South America and then transporting them daily throughout the 17-day, 6,000-mile race.
According to Cody, there’s a real opportunity for sponsorship exposure in this race. “The Dakar is televised internationally every day of the race. It’s a world-class race, professionally conducted all the way by French A.S.O.—the same organization that puts on the Tour de France.”
“I’m 100% committed to going,” Cody says. “I’ve dedicated my whole life to this. I’m training a good 25 hours a week and working on my bike the rest of the time.
“I set goals for myself in Baja, to win the Baja 1000, and I’ve done that,” he adds with a steady smile. “I’ve overalled in the Baja 1000, the 500 and the 250. Now our goal is to have an American standing at the top of the Dakar podium within the next three years.”
Clear-eyed and ready for the next challenge, Quinn Cody radiates a quiet confidence. Whether pedaling the backroads of the Santa Ynez Valley or racing off-road terrain aboard his motorcycle, he revels in dust and danger, preferably at a high rate of speed.