Can a message sent from half the way around the world bring a competitor back from the brink of exhaustion, despair and giving up? We're seeing that happen in real time in the Dakar Rally.
Ten years ago, just following an event like the Dakar was a challenge. Now, thanks to technology, fans can not only follow the racers, and be inspired by them, but can also return that energy and help the competitors keep going.
This year marks the 40th running of the Dakar Rally, a 15-day race that crosses through three South American countries and every possible terrain. Motorcycles, quads, cars, and trucks compete against themselves and the landscape with the hope of just finishing.
Maybe you’ve been following the extensive coverage the Dakar organizers are providing for fans around the world. A race that was once limited to spectators living in the remote countries the route passed through is now open to a worldwide audience in a way we’ve never seen previously. My friends and I have a group message open on Instagram that allows us to share photos and videos as we follow the drama.
The most significant change I have seen is how racers can now engage their fans, and fans can return the favor. If you’ve ever competed in an event, you know the strength that can be drawn from the positive reinforcement of the spectators. Whether you’re running your first 5K or competing in a MotoGP race, audience enthusiasm is an important source of reinforcement and energy.
Because of this, social media has become just as important for those racing Dakar as it is for those watching. Don’t believe me? Check out this video of Bruno Scheurer #167 trying to pick up his KTM.
He literally breaks down on camera and thanks the fans for all of their comments and support.
Moments like these have never before been captured so authentically, in the moment, as they’re happening. Twenty years ago you might have been able to learn of a competitor's state of mind by reading an interview after the fact, but technology now gives fans a real-time look at the effects racing has on one’s psyche.
It also grants fans access to their favorite competitors like never before. My friends and I have not one, but two riders we know competing this year. Both Petr “Angelo” Vlcek and Bill Conger have been slogging away, day by day, and they’re still in it despite numerous setbacks.
Angelo, #82, who owns a surf shop in South Carolina and only started riding dual-sport bikes in 2010, lost two of his four teammates thus far. His friend, and team owner, Ondrej Klymciw, had a crash early on and was placed in a medically induced coma. Then Gabriela Novotná, the first Czech woman ever to qualify for the Dakar Rally, broke her collarbone and was forced to drop out, but not before riding 90 kilometers to finish the stage.
Bill Conger, #105, a former BMW training director, has a natural ability to pilot two wheels regardless of the terrain. Despite injuring his neck in stage two, he’s kept at it, albeit a bit slower and more methodically.
I’ve ridden with both of these guys and can attest to their spirit and enthusiasm. They are always the first to step up and offer help or advice and lend a hand to another rider in need. So, perhaps now, we could lend a hand to them.
Hit up Angelo’s racing page on Facebook or follow along with him on Instagram. Leave him a message of encouragement. Shoot Bill Conger a friend request so when he checks his phone he’s left without a doubt of the level of support that is out there for him. Let them know you’re watching and rooting for them so they know they’re not alone.
By merely finishing a race like the Dakar, one can be considered a victor. There are two days left, and in spite of it all, our guys are still in the running. Keep it up, boys! The world is watching!