Dirt Bike Competitor Dies Pre-Running the 1000
Rider Dave LaPraik Killed in Head On Collision
Baja California, Mexico
Tuesday, November 11, 1997
DAVID LaPRAIK, CHECKER
On Tuesday, the 11th of November, off-road racer Dave LaPraik was brutally killed in a violent head-on crash while pre-running for the Baja 1000.
At about 1600 PST we encountered the grim scene some 14 miles south of Ojos Negros, Baja CA, Mexico on the race course for the SCORE Baja 1000 ...which was scheduled for the 14th and 15th... Friday and Saturday. For background, this portion of the race course is used on both the outbound AND the inbound sections, separated by about 600 miles of desert and twelve hours. SCORE allows, nay, promotes the pre-running of their events and the "Thousand" is no exception.
For those unfamiliar with the Baja 1000 rituals, "Pre-running" is nothing more than informal course reconnaissance prior to the event itself. It's of paramount importance to the competitors in order to determine the "lay of the land", danger spots, accesses to the course and the actual route itself which is, as is normal and to be expected, sparsely marked.
This afternoon would find competitors pre-running the course in both directions: a dangerous thing, at best. It was to prove fatal to Dave LaPraik.
Dave was a member of the Checkers Motorcycle Club and competed in a untold number of events. (I do not have a Dave's resume at hand.)
As Dave rode his Rotax-powered ATK motorcycle north to Ojos Negros in the waning daylight, Jason Baldwin was heading south in his sophisticated Ford-based "pre-runner" followed some distance back by NASCAR / CART / '96 Trophy-Truck champion Robby Gordon with his father Bob as a passenger. Steve Holladay and his wife, Julie were also prerunning, inbound from Uruapan and passed by a motorcycle.
At the next ranch gate, the rider opened, passed through, then closed the gate. At the subsequent gate, the rider left the wire down then came over to the driver's door to say: "Hey, Steve!"
As Steve said, "With a helmet, they all look the same."
"Hey! It's Dave! How ya doin'?" replied Steve. Julie said that LaPraik and Steve had known each other since childhood.
Steve agreed: "He went to school with my sister. I've known him forever." Holladay told me that Dave said that he (Dave) was taking more care and control with his life and laying off the stuff and getting serious about life and racing the "1000" with the famous Dempsey Brothers.
(Dave had been a loose cannon in the not-so-distant past... in the 1993 San Felipe 250, he was DQ'd for a blatant course cut in full view of Paul Fish in the helicopter. After being warned by his team not to do it)
Steve and Julie said "So long", "Buena suerte" and maybe a "Viel Gluck". But a few miles later, the two vehicles met at a blind corner, both made invisible by ten-foot-tall desert brush lining the course.
"His bike was wadded up under the Bronco. Way back by the differential. The impact threw him twenty feet backwards," said Steve.
The impact was a high-speed. The motorcycle's front wheel was not just crushed. It was fractured. The forks were twisted and mangled. The engine cases were shattered by the impact. Plastic components littered the outside of the turn. The bike was carrying a race number -- "9X" -- from a different SCORE event, which is not atypical, but confuses identification.
"I knew it was Dave right away," said a despondent Julie over breakfast coffee. "There had been no other motorcycles coming by. I just knew it."
Baldwin's truck suffered some damage to the left front corner... including the shearing of the three 3/8" bolts which had once held the push-bar bumper to the frame horns. This indicated that the impact was one of high energy. "There was blood and bone fragments in the dirt", she said. "I went and covered it up with dirt. Steve went over and confirmed that it was Dave." Steve agreed: "His eyes were open, but he was all broken up. He died fast."
The rider's body was laid out covered by an old sleeping bag of Steve's. Knowing there was nothing else could be done, they headed out to notify the Dempsey's Brother's partner, Jim O'Neill who was waiting at the Ojos intersection. We showed up a bit later and read the situation at once. The boot sticking out from under the sleeping bag. The battered Bronco backed into the brush. The ruined motorcycle front end. The expression on everyone's face. I was told some semi-facts by the Gordons. Unfortunately, they said that the dead rider was Danny LaPorte, the World 250 Motocross Champion and Dakar rider! We didn't investigate since they had said that someone had gone to tell Dave's friends at Ojos... that would turn out to be Steve and Julie. After determining that there was absolutely nothing more to be done, we continued on our pre-run -- and the Gordon party also departed. A stunned Baldwin was left waiting for the Mexican authorities. He expected to spend the night in a Mexican jail.
But he did not. The Andataco crew, whom we had left eating at El Palomar (Santo Tomas), came through and W. David Sykes, as is his wont, took charge. "Sit and wait for Mexican cops? No way!"
He had the body, the bike and the Baldwin loaded up and left for Ensenada. The body lay in the pre-runner under the El Cortez Best Western until late Wednesday evening as Sal Fish (SCORE CEO), attorneys and various officials debated the situation.
The corpse was back across the border by breakfast and Jason was free to race.
Note 1.): George Erl disputed the "LaPorte" identification and said that it was Randy LaPlant.
Note 2.): Luckily, I had changed hotels and got one that did not allow (easy) phone modem access. That way I could not erroneously ID Dave as Danny to the world. Phwew!! Dodged another bullet.
Note 3.): Two-way pre-running leaves a lot to be desired.
Note 4.): It was no one's fault.