lawrence hacking interview paris dakar
2001 Paris Dakar | Lawrence Hacking

Lawrence Hacking has been a motorcycle racer since 1971, he has raced the 21-day long 2001 Paris Dakar Rally and was the first ever Canadian to complete the toughest off-road race on earth. Since then, Lawrence has written a book “To Dakar and Back” and manages Overland Adventure Rally held each year in Ontario, Canada.

DR. Who is Lawrence Hacking?
LH. I am a simple off-road motorcycle rider/ racer who devoted almost his entire life to motorcycling.

Lawrence Hacking

DR. When did the love of motorcycle racing begin?
LH. I was a kid living in the small town of Deep River Ontario. In the 60’s the Honda invasion began, this is when all sorts of small Japanese bikes became available and the cool kids had them. I really wanted to be mobile and independent which is what motorcycles offered.

DR. What were your major memories racing?
LH. I started racing in 1971 in Canada, it was called scrambles then motocross. I made my own riding gear, I cut lawns to make money for gas and hitched rides to the races. Those are some of the first memories but after each major race I did there were many, many fond memories. There were some really tough and difficult times as well. Being cold, soaked, tired, scared, injured but also extremely euphoric on some occasions which is what I think kept me going back for more.

DR. It sounds like racing motorcycles brought a lot to how you became as a person, what would you tell a young 23 years old version of Lawrence?
LH. I think I would tell my 23 years old-self would be to focus more on a goal and don’t be afraid of trying bigger and more important events. I lacked self-confidence and didn’t start to really work at racing until I was too old to realize my dreams.

DR. You then decided to take on the mighty one, the Dakar Rally. How did this idea originate?
LH. We raced in Europe in 1980 and 1981, that was the beginning of doing major events, I met riders I had read about in the magazines and realized they were just the same as everyone else, they worked harder at it and success came their way. I met Serge Bacou who was a famous French rider, he was preparing for the Paris Dakar Rally. Later on I worked at Yamaha in Europe and spent considerable time with the Yamaha Rally riders. Riding with them made me realize I could do it.

DR. Being the first ever Canadian to attempt this feat, did this help in securing financial support and media coverage? How did you do it?
LH. I wasn’t the first Canadian to attempt the Paris to Dakar, others had tried before me but I was the first to succeed. My previous experience in International Enduros definitely opened doors, the Honda Canada people had confidence in my abilities and got behind the effort in a big way.

2001 Paris Dakar Rally
2001 Paris Dakar Rally

DR. The 2001 Dakar was 21 days long, twice as much the 2019 Edition — so effectively racing the 2019 edition twice back to back. How did you prepare for it?
LH. I always say the preparation is half the fun, if it isn’t then you are probably doing something that you will not enjoy. Doing the work, the research and mechanical preparation is essential to success. I trained very hard for most of the year prior to Dakar, I prepared the Honda XR, I rode but didn’t race and tried to stay healthy right up until the Rally started January 1, 2001.

DR. Did you ever think during the race, “what the hell am I doing this for?”
LH. I don’t think I asked myself that specific question, for sure I felt self-doubt when things were not going well however I always knew it was doing what I wanted and chose to do.

DR. The 2001 Edition was memorable for many things, the last time the event started from Paris, the Masuoka / Schlesser antics, the first time a woman won the car race (Jutta Kleinschmidt), the late Fabrizio Meoni winning the bike category. What do you recall was some memorable moments for you?
LH. I am really pleased I chose the 2001 Dakar to do, it was the last true Classic Paris to Dakar, it followed the original routes and format, we slept in tents every night in Africa except the last night in Dakar. It was long, tough and difficult. When you tell someone you did the Dakar the order of questions they ask are as follows; Did you finish? Africa or South America? and what was your position? When you answer: Yes, Africa and 58th you gain a certain amount of respect. We were right in the heart of the drama with Schlesser and Matsuoka. The controversy took place minutes after I left the start line that day. Of course it was the thrill of a lifetime to ride with the legends of the rally. They were all very nice to me.

DR. How did it feel racing that last stage on Lac Rose and crossing the same podium as these legends?
LH. That day was a highlight of my life, it was January 21, 2001, we rode from the hotel on a liaison to the beach where the special stage started. Hubert Auriol made an emotional speech, we the riders talked while we waited. That moment was what I worked an entire year for and crossing over the podium was pure euphoria. That feeling is so addictive and so difficult to achieve that the quest to relive that feeling is life changing. You start dreaming about ways to recapture that feeling and it is nearly impossible. It is almost dangerous.

DR. Tell us what changed in you as a person once you completed the Dakar?
LH. Finishing the Dakar really opened up many doors for me and brought many opportunities my way. I am very grateful for all the support i have enjoyed, the friends I made all over the World and the experiences that were made possible as a result.

To Dakar and Back, Lawrence Hacking
To Dakar and Back

DR. You then wanted to share your story and wrote a book? Why?
LH. The book, To Dakar and Back was planned before I did the Dakar, because there was so little information available at the time especially in North America I went to France to ask about how to do the Dakar as a privateer and unsupported rider. I took notes daily during the Dakar and wrote the basis of the book immediately after I returned home. A few years later I met Wil de Clerq, an old friend and he turned out the manuscript into something we could present to a publisher. The first publisher I approached bought it. I was really pleased to have the book published and to have received so many positive comments. Lots of readers still really enjoy the book.

DR. Once racing the Dakar, always want to race the Dakar… do you have any plan to race the Dakar again?
LH. The Dakar fever has never left me. I still would like to return and preferably cross the finish line again. This time in a car, that would merit another book.{have a look at the car in the video below)

DR. Your motorcycle fiver is still there, are you doing adventure tours?
LH. Yes, every year it is quite busy at Overland Adventure Rally doing tours, racing events, writing stories, organizing events and working on projects. I collect vintage bikes, I am always working on my off-road race car or other major projects, I still love riding motorcycles. it is now 52 years since I started and the number of days I have spent riding must be astronomical. I can’t begin to imagine the time I have spent riding. it is not a great distance in kilometres but the hours on a bike is extensive and many hours and days in really difficult riding conditions.

DR. You also got involved with the Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival, how did this happen?
LH. Yes, I attended the first film festival as a visitor, they showed your movie Dream Racer, the reaction from the audience was crazy, people loved it. This past year Caius asked me to be a judge, I was honoured. Motorcycle movies played a major part of my inspiration to follow the path I did. I loved movies such as Little Fauss and Big Halsy, The Great Escape, Easy Rider and On Any Sunday.

DR. Once racing the Dakar, always want to race the Dakar… do you have any plan to race the Dakar again?
LH. The Dakar fever has never left me. I still would like to return and preferably cross the finish line again. This time in a car, that would merit another book.{have a look at the race car in the video below)

DR. In a car? Budget wise it is a massive commitment as a privateer. How are you going to do that? How can people / companies be involved?
LH. Yes, I have been working on a 4-wheel project for number of years, I sent my race car to Argentina in 2010 but I was underfunded and had very little expectation. I just wanted to give it a shot. I am still working on it and planning to return. The idea is to race the Rally du Maroc in it next October with the idea to position myself as a car guy and generate some support that way. I think it is possible, it is truly based on how hard you want to work at it, how many times you will accept to be turned down and what original ideas you can come up with to raise the money needed. These days with social media and crowd funding you can accomplish a lot on your own. You can give sponsors good return on their investment and you can have a lot of fun doing it.

Lawrence Hacking | Paris-Dakar Rally
Lawrence Hacking | Paris-Dakar Rally

DR. Ok, time to reflect now…what would you tell or recommend to anyone wanting to race the almighty race?
LH. I have been asked this question many times over the years. Often people reach out to me and say they want to race the Dakar. First of all I say, “Assess who you are and what experience you have. Can you raise enough money to put yourself in the best position to finish? Do you have time to train like an athlete for more than a year and stay focused on that one goal. Do you have the level of commitment that it takes? Many people would like to do the Dakar but lack one or more of the crucial ingredients. Figuring out the recipe is relatively easy, deciding whether or not the person in question has what it takes is something only time will tell. Having a leveled head on your shoulders is one of the prime prerequisites, having common sense is another. Being able to ride a motorcycle off road surely is important but how determined you are when things get really tough is paramount. Many think in their own mind they have what it takes but soon find out they don’t. It is a hard pill to swallow. In the Dakar there is no hiding in the shadows, everyone in the World is watching how you perform under the most difficult conditions, you have to be prepared to accept whatever happens. One of the most important things to remember is that it is far less difficult to live with 2 or 3 weeks of extreme hardship than a lifetime of disappointment.

DR. Thanks very much!

For more background on Lawrence Hacking, please watch these videos below.

Relive the 2001 Paris Dakar


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