Former Supercross star Andrew Short scales ‘the Everest of dirt bikes’ at Dakar Rally

Andrew Short Dakar Rally
FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images
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Less than two weeks ahead of the world’s most grueling and prestigious cross-country motor race, navigating the Dakar Rally already was a major challenge for Andrew Short.

Because of the new strain of COVID-19, Saudi Arabia closed its borders to commercial air travel, and reaching the host nation of the world’s largest rally suddenly was a scramble.

In a Dec. 21 interview, hours after learning the news, Short calmly ran through the contingency plans for traveling to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from Europe on flights chartered by race promoter ASO.

“It’s been a crazy year,” Short said with a laugh. “It’s just a weird surprise to wake up to, but that’s how it is nowadays.”

DAKAR DETAILS: All the information about the event and how to watch on NBCSN

AMERICAN BREAKTHROUGH: Defending winner Ricky Brabec leads the charge back to Dakar

That unpredictability also underscores the appeal of the Dakar Rally, which will begin Jan. 3, 2021 (with daily coverage on NBCSN and Motorsports Talk).

Deciphering thorny terrain and adapting to obstacles on the fly are why Short reinvented himself as an off-road rally rider after a starring turn for several years in Supercross and motocross.

“There are so many things it takes in rally to be successful, and between navigation and speed and fitness and the long days and durability of your bike, these are things that in a typical dirt bike race you never encounter,” Short told NBC Sports. “So I love the strategy. It’s not just about pure speed from the green flag to the checkered flag. With rally, it can flip-flop each day, and you’ve got to be really smart and assess the situation as it’s going on. You never give up because you never know what can happen on a race that’s this long.

“This is the spirit of rally and why I’m so attracted to it. It’s so different.”

But yet Dakar, which also has multiple classes for cars, trucks and buggies, also still represents the essence of motorcycle racing, his lifelong pursuit.

Short, who turned 38 last month, scored nine victories and more than 50 podium finishes in a two-decade career at the highest levels of dirt bike racing. “Motocross” still is listed as a primary hobby in his bio on the Yamaha Racing site.

“I love dirt bikes, and I love riding, and Dakar is like the Everest of dirt bikes,” he said. “It’s a true sense of adventure. It’s a life experience that most people don’t get to have, so that’s why I really wanted to go, and then once you go once, you’re addicted, and you just want to keep going.”

Monster Energy Supercross - Oakland
Andrew Short (29) was a longtime force in motocross and Monster Energy Supercross, taking the holeshot for this 450cc main event on Jan. 24, 2015 at the Oakland Coliseum (Steve Cox/Getty Images).

This will be the fourth Dakar Rally start for Short, who seems to have hit a sweet spot by shifting gears in middle age since his 2016 retirement from dirt bike racing (which was followed by nearly a year off).

After a 17th in his 2018 Dakar debut (finishing despite a fractured ankle in only his third attempt at a major rally), he quickly blossomed into a contender. An impressive sixth in his second Dakar presaged a breakthrough 2019 campaign in which he ranked second in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies world championship with a second in the Silk Way Rally and his first victory in the Morocco Rally.

He entered Dakar in 2020 with his best opportunity to win but finished 10th amid a rash of crashes and mechanical problems.

“Maybe I was too confident or just trying to force it,” Short said. “So this year, I want to have a different mindset and understand it’s a long race. It looks like Week 2 is going to be really important where Week 1 was important last year, but now the route is more or less reversed. I just want to stay in the race the first week so I can give myself the opportunity to fight for it and be smart.

“This is a race you have to know when to push, and when to pull back, and that’s a hard thing to fully grasp.”


While Short still is testing the limits while riding across dunes for several hours at a time over the course of 12 days, he has honed a knack for knowing how to get there. Navigation and strategy are critical to excelling at Dakar, and they have become more important since last year with officials now distributing daily road maps just before the start of each stage.

“All the races are going this direction, and this is a good thing for me,” Short said. “Because I don’t necessarily have the speed of some of the top guys, but if I can make less navigation mistakes, it puts me back in the game. So I really like this change.”

Short has trained over the past year with defending Dakar Rally champion Ricky Brabec at Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Training in the Nevada desert, which has a similar topography to the Dakar Rally.

Lewis, an off-road cycling veteran who placed third at Dakar in 2000, told NBC Sports that if the 2021 race centers on navigation, “then Andrew is going to be very, very strong. If they make the navigation really tricky, it’ll be no problem to see guys tossing away 20, 30, 40 minutes, whether getting really lost or with penalties from missing way points. At that point, Andrew is really strong. He understands it. Sometimes he overthinks the navigation a little bit. But if it gets really difficult, he’s put in the work to be really good.”

Lewis also believes Short will benefit in switching from KTM/Husqvarna to becoming one of Yamaha’s five riders.

Though the pandemic limited Short to working with his new team only once (in the Andalucia Rally in Spain, an October warmup for Dakar), he likes that Yamaha’s “very European and French-based mindset” meshes well with Dakar (which has a French-based organization).

He also likes his new bike, which he describes as “more motocross-based” in its construction with a lower center of gravity designed for the massive fuel supply needed to traverse stages with durations of more than 800 kilometers (the 12-stage rally covers about 3,000 miles).

“The way they configured the tanks, the engine design is almost reverse with where the intake is, it allows you to put fuel in a good spot,” said Short, a longtime Honda rider in Supercross. “This is more balanced for me and something I’ve really enjoyed, and I think it’s helped me feel more comfortable sooner and easier than I expected switching to Yamaha and a brand I’d never ridden before in my career.

“So far it’s been pretty good. Andalucia was great to race but was more based on just roads with a little bit of a navigation. When we get to Saudi for Dakar, it’s going to be the real deal. I think the bike will shine there.”

Lewis hopes Short’s move to Yamaha will bring “a little bit more attention from the team. On the Husqy team, I think it was sort of like, ‘We’re going to get this motocross guy who is going to get a lot of exposure,’ and they just expected him to be ridiculously fast. And it was like, ‘Hey, the guy is smart. He’s learning how to do it. He doesn’t want to be a crasher.’

Lewis said Short has proven to have “the bike handling skills and control to ride as fast as anybody,” but success often is about setting a pace in unknown and often dangerous territory (two riders died from crashes last year).

“You hear the saying, ‘You value your life too much,’ which is crazy, but when you’re around a group like that that’s not valuing their life that much and going that fast, it’s hard to decide what is the safe speed limit,” Lewis said. “It’s a tricky thing. You’re asking somebody who wants to be at the top to compete like this, and I think Andrew, to this day, isn’t really sure where the limit is. He’s pushing to find it, and he definitely knows that he can go too fast. And that’s a good thing. So it’s where is this happy medium of being able to go safely but still not lose time.”


Short said he is “not really willing to take the chances of Toby Price,” a two-time Dakar winner in 2016 and ’19 known for fearless aggression at more than 100 mph.

But Short believes there is an advantage to the mastery of “reading the desert” and understanding how to spot hazards based on where the surface is cross-grained.

“If you’re going at high speeds and don’t know this is coming, you don’t have time to slow down for it,” he said. “There’s a lot of terrain reading at speeds that you have to learn if you want to compete at the highest level. If you don’t ride the desert all the time, these are things you can’t see.”

That’s where the preparation can matter so much. Brabec grew up in the High Desert area of Southern California and took to the Saudi Arabian sand naturally last year in becoming the first American winner at Dakar.

Lewis said terrain reading can take “10 to 20 years of experience before you can start getting comfortable with it.

“It’s like having a spidey sense or ESP,” Lewis said. “It’s different everywhere. When I started racing rallies around the world, it was all new, and I couldn’t believe how fast these guys would go.”

The competitive rally culture has taken root with Short, who lives with his wife and two children on a farm in Smithville, Texas, outside of Austin (where he left on Christmas to travel to Saudi Arabia).

After years of 20- to 30-minute dirt bike races in which the object was “just to finish quicker than anyone else, and you’ll just smash people off the starting gate to get there,” he loves the camaraderie that is built over two weeks at Dakar, where competitors help each other after crashes and then crash beside each other nightly in the bivouac while swapping stories and sharing meals together.

“It’s a wild sport, and there are so many cool people that love racing and have big passion and make it really cool to be a part of that tribe,” Short said.

“This is what makes the attraction so addicting to me. There are so many different elements you have to be good at, and I love trying to balance it all out and conquer it.”

AUTO-MOTO-RALLY-DAKAR-STAGE7
Andrew Short (left) rides ahead of Portugal’s Antonio Maio between Riyadh and Wadi Al Dawasir, Saudi Arabia, during Stage 7 of the 2020 Dakar Rally, where Short finished seventh (FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images).

2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona: Schedule, TV info, start times, entry lists, notable drivers, more

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The new year brings the start of a new era for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which will open the 2023 schedule with the 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

A new premier class for prototypes is the overriding story entering the 24-hour endurance race that unofficially kicks off the major-league racing season.

The new Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh) cars of the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) top category will re-establish a bridge to the 24 Hours of Le Mans while bringing a new layer of engine electrification to IMSA.

With at least a few of the cars on the grid at Daytona also slated to race at Le Mans in June, it’s possible for the first time in decades (since the “Ford vs. Ferrari” battles) to have the same car win the overall title at Daytona and Le Mans.

The GTP category will feature four manufacturers, two of which are new to IMSA’s premier division. Porsche Motorsport (with Team Penske) and BMW (with Rahal Letterman Lanigan) will be fielding LMDh prototypes, joining (now-defunct) DPi category holdovers Acura (Meyer Shank Racing, Wayne Taylor Racing) and Cadillac (Chip Ganassi Racing, Action Express Racing).

Here’s what else you need to know ahead of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener Jan. 29-30 at Daytona International Speedway:


NOTABLE DRIVER ADDITIONS 

The Rolex 24 will feature 10 active drivers from the NTT IndyCar Series, including the IMSA debuts of Team Penske drivers Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who will be teamed in an LMP2 entry (teammate Will Power unfortunately had to withdraw from this debut).

Colton Herta will move into the GTP category with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud return with Meyer Shank Racing to defend their overall 2022 Rolex 24 victory. Scott Dixon also returns in the premier category with Chip Ganassi Racing for his 20th Rolex 24 start and third consecutive in the No. 01 Cadillac.

Other IndyCar drivers in the field: Romain Grosjean will make his debut in GTD Pro with Iron Lynx Racing (as a precursor to driving a GTP Lamborghini next year); Devlin DeFrancesco (Rick Ware Racing) and Rinus VeeKay (TDS Racing) are in LMP2; and Kyle Kirkwood will return in GTD with Vasser Sullivan.

Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric also will return, teaming with DeFrancesco in an LMP2 entry for Rick Ware Racing.


CAR COUNT

The Rolex 24 field was capped at 61 cars, matching last year’s field (which was the largest since 2014). The field was capped because of the space limitations for the LMDh cars of GTP in the pits and garages.

Click here for the official 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona entry list.


STARTING LINEUP

Tom Blomqvist captured the first pole position of the GTP era, qualifying defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing in first with the No. 60 ARX-06 Acura that he shares with Colin Braun, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

The No. 7 Porsche 963 of Porsche Penske Motorsports will start second.

Click here for the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona starting lineup


RACE BROADCAST

The 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona will be streamed across the NBC Sports AppNBCSports.com and Peacock, which will have coverage of the event from flag to flag.

Broadcast coverage of the race coverage will begin Saturday, Jan. 28 at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBC and move to USA Network from 2:30-8 p.m. and then will be exclusively on Peacock and IMSA.TV from 8-10 p.m. Coverage will return to USA Network from 10 p.m. to midnight and then move to Peacock/IMSA.TV until 6 a.m.

From 6 a.m. until noon on Sunday, Jan. 29, Rolex 24 coverage will be available on USA Network. The conclusion of the Rolex 24 will run from noon through 2 p.m. on NBC.

HOW TO WATCH IMSA ON NBC SPORTS: Broadcast schedule for 2023

Other events that will be streamed on Peacock from Daytona during January (all times ET):

Jan. 21: IMSA VP Racing Sports Car Challenge, 2:05 p.m.

Jan. 22: IMSA VP Racing Sports Car Challenge, 12:20 p.m.

Jan. 22: IMSA Rolex 24 qualifying, 1:25 p.m.

Jan. 27: BMW Endurance Michelin Pilot Challenge, 1:45 p.m.


ROLEX 24 COVERAGE FROM NBC SPORTS

Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi take their storied rivalry to a new level at Daytona

Pfaff Motorsports returns to Rolex 24 in premier parking spot punching above its weight

Cadillac, Acura battle for top of the speed charts

Herta, Rahal team up with BMW in pursuit of overall win at Rolex 24

Wayne Taylor Racing takes a step up to the next level with Andretti Autosport

Austin Cindric seeks to join legendary club of Rolex 24-Daytona 500 winners

Helio Castroneves recalls “Days of Thunder” moment in 2022 Rolex 24 victory

The “Bus Bros” tackle the “Bus Stop” for Rolex 24 at Daytona debuts

Romain Grosjean adds Rolex 24 at Daytona to his crown jewel career

Tom Blomqvist beats the clock to win Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position

GTP cars make debut in “Gymkhana”-level traffic

Five things to watch in the new GTP class as a golden era of sports cars returns

Cadillac unveils paint schemes for LMDh cars

Austin Cindric, Devlin DeFrancesco, Pietro Fittipaldi teaming up in LMP2

IndyCar drivers in the 61st Rolex 24


ROLEX 24 DAILY SCHEDULE, START TIMES

Here’s a rundown of everything happening at Daytona International Speedway over the last two weeks in January, starting with the Roar test session. Rolex 24 start times and full schedule:

Wednesday, Jan. 18

7 a.m.: GTP garages open

4 p.m.: Non-GTP garages open

4 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship haulers load-in (park only)

6:30 p.m.: Non-GTP garages close

9:30 p.m.: GTP garages close

Thursday, Jan. 19

7 a.m.: Garages, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship haulers open

8:30 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship safety inspection

10 a.m.: Rolex 24 Media Day

2 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge driver and team manager briefing

3 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver and team manager briefing

5:15 p.m.: Track walk

7:30 p.m.: Non-GTP garages close

9:30 p.m.: GTP garages close

Friday, Jan. 20

7 a.m.: Garages open

8:45-9:15 a.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge practice

9:30-10:45 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

1:45-2:15 p.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge practice

2:30-4 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

4:15-6 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice (GTD/LMP3/LMP2 4:15-5:45; 4:30-6: GTD Pro, GTP)

8 p.m.: Non-GTP garages close

9:30 p.m.: GTP garages close

Saturday, Jan. 21

7 a.m.: Garages open

8:40-9:15 a.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge qualifying

9:30-11 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

11:15 a.m.-12:45 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

2:05-2:50 p.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge, Race 1 (streaming on Peacock)

3:10 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

4:30-5:30 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

6:30-8:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

10 p.m.: Garages close

Sunday, Jan. 22

7 a.m.: Garages open

10:15-11:15 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

12:20-1:05 p.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge, Race 2 (streaming on Peacock)

1:25-3 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Rolex 24 qualifying (streaming on Peacock)

8:30 p.m.: Garages close

Wednesday, Jan. 25

6 a.m.: Garages open

7:30-10 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship safety inspection, non-GTP

8 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 load-in

10-11:30 a.m.: Track walk

10 a.m.-noon: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship car photos

11:30 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge team manager briefing

Noon: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship team manager briefing

12:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship new driver briefing

Noon-2 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship safety and technical inspection, non-GTP

1:45-2:30 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

2:45-3:45 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

2:30-7:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship safety inspection, GTP only

4-5:30 p.m.: Track walk

6:45 p.m.: Garages close

Thursday, Jan. 26

7 a.m.: Garages open

9-9:30 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

9:45-10:45 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

11:05 a.m.-12:35 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

12:55-1:10 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 qualifying

2:25-3 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge qualifying

3:20-5:05 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice (3:20-5:05: GTD, LMP3, LMP2; 3:35-5:05: GTD Pro, GTP)

5:30-6:15 p.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 1

7:15-9 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

10:15 p.m.: Garages close

Friday, Jan. 27

7 a.m.: Garages open

9:25-9:55 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

10:15-11 a.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 2

10:30 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge driver and team manager briefing

11:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

1:45-5:45 p.m.: BMW M Endurance Challenge at Daytona (Michelin Pilot Challenge; streaming on Peacock)

8:45 p.m.: Garages close

Saturday, Jan. 28

6:30 a.m.: Garages open

9:45 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver and team manager briefing

12:30-12:40 p.m.: Rolex 24 engine warmup

1:30-1:40 p.m.: Rolex 24 formation laps

1:40 p.m.: The 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona (starting on NBC; streaming flag to flag on Peacock)

Sunday, Jan. 29

1:40 p.m.: Finish of the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona

7:30 p.m.: Garages close