Plake takes mohawk, level head to North Africa
Maybe the only thing that towers higher than Glen Plake’s mohawk is his list of daring feats, on and off skis.
So, when an opportunity to add to that list presents itself, it automatically qualifies as an adventure. This time, the adventure is taking Plake off his skis, off the roads, and into Africa for the Paris-Dakar-Cairo 2000 off-road rally.
“I think it’ll be, just looking at Dakar, a big challenge not only for the drivers, but everyone involved,” Plake said. “We’re basically running 16 Baja 500s in a row.”
Plake will join the only American team, representing Kia Motors, in the second-largest and one of the most difficult motorsport events in the world. Plake will join three-time SCORE Class 3 desert racing champion Darren Skilton – his teammate in November’s Baja 1000 – co-driver and automotive writer Sue Mead, SCORE Trophy Truck champion Curt LeDuc and several others on the Kia team. More than 200 car and truck teams and 203 motorcyclists, representing 31 countries, have entered the 2000 race.
“The Dakar Rally is the ultimate challenge for me as an off-road racer and something I have been preparing myself for since 1993,” Skilton said. “I’ve driven the Sportage in desert races for three years, and I believe we have a great chance to succeed in this event.”
Plake, Skilton and their teammates leave Saturday for a technical inspection in Paris Dec. 26. From there, the crews will load the cars onto boats for the trip to Senegal. The racers arrive in Dakar, the capital, on the afternoon of Jan. 1 for a few more days of preparation before the start of the 16-day race on Jan. 6. This year’s race offers more of a challenge in terms of logistics and terrain than even the infamous Paris-Dakar rally: The course has changed, and teams no longer can head for the (relative) safety of the North African coast.
“The fact that we’re traversing the Sahara, there’s really going to be nowhere to go,” Plake said.
The race first crosses Senegal before heading into Mali and southern Libya, then the dunes of Egypt. The rally finishes at the foot of the pyramids in Cairo. Plake, who filled 16 blank pages in his passport with what he described as signatures voiding his rights as an American citizen to compete in the race, isn’t sure exactly what to expect.
“We’ll find out when we get there,” Plake said.
But at least Plake’s teammates know what to expect from him. In addition to being an elite-level freeskier, Plake has raced everything from dirt bikes to drag boats, and hones his automotive skills on the modified dirt cars he races on dirt tracks all over California and Nevada. Officially, he’s the Kia team manager and lead mechanic.
“On the grand scheme of things, we’re a fairly economical team, so we’re all doing other people’s roles,” Plake said.
He has been racing rallies, though, a very short time. Plake was fishing in Mexico with his dad a little more than a year ago when they saw one of the Kia vehicles from the Baja race beside the road. While they were talking with the Kia team – and helping get the vehicle back on the road – Plake asked what it took to be part of an off-road race team. When they told him a level head was part of the basic equipment, they exchanged telephone numbers. The story might have ended there, only the crew members mentioned their encounter to friends who were skiers. That they knew who Plake was wasn’t surprising:
“‘No way!'” Plake recounted. “‘You ran into Plake out in Mexico?'”
Soon after that, Plake – who has raced his stock car about 22 times a year for the past four years – was in his first off-road rally. As he participated in more events, in Barstow, Calif., and Primm, Nev. and Baja, his fellow crew members started to realize he was less of a celebrity co-driver and started to appreciate his level head and mechanical skills more.
While Plake’s latest adventure takes place off the mountain, his ski skills may have brought him to it. Plake attributed his place on the race teams – despite his inexperience in the sport – to the calmness and ability to think through situations that he learned on the mountain.
“Really, what I am is damage control,” Plake said. “It’s just constantly adjusting, and that’s why, going back, I’ve been named to the team.
“From my experiences climbing and skiing and stuff, I’ve always been the one who’s been the one in for the long haul,” he said. “It’s back and forth (between skiing and racing). Obviously, it’s going to go from skiing to racing more often.”
Even though the race takes place in northern Africa, half a world away from Plake’s residence in Fallon, Nev., it won’t take him far from skiing. Plake’s teammates all will take a week to ski in Chamonix, France, while he will head to Mount Snow, Vt., for the ESPN Winter X Games. But skiing won’t be far from his mind while he’s in the desert.
“It’s another way for me to tell everybody about skiing,” said Plake, who has signed ski posters for race fans from Mexico to the dirt tracks of northern California. “It’s just my way of exposing people to skiing.”
Plake plans to stay with the team and race in the Baja 2000 and Nevada 2000 rallies next year, and put his education from this year’s Paris-Dakar-Cairo to use in next year’s African race. But his participation means more than that: Plake said people ask him all the time why he’s racing in the grueling off-road event.
“Because I really enjoy it.”
Race fans can follow Plake and the American Kia team online at http://www.dakar.com.
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