SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – At age 12, Chickasaw citizen Jack Hulse had to choose between horses and horsepower.
His decision propelled him to back-to-back victories in the grueling, world famous Baja 1000 motorcycle championship.
“Growing up, both my sister and I had horses. And I love horses, but my interest was in acquiring an off-road dirt bike. My father said, ‘You can’t have both, so make a choice.’ Back in 1976, I purchased a newspaper ad to sell the horse. Today, I prefer Craigslist,” Hulse said with a chuckle. “The pony sold, and I bought a bike, and you couldn’t get me off it.”
In fact, you still cannot get him off the saddle of a dirt bike. He introduced his daughter to the sport of off-roading and continues to enjoy activities with his family and friends at age 56.
Through the years, he has racked up so many wins he was forced to discard the trophies. “I removed the labels, got rid of the actual trophies and store the labels in a plastic container.”
Off-road motorcycling challenges Hulse mentally and physically. The art of winning is being the first to cross the finish line.
That is more easily said than done.
“I’ve been told by experts that competing off-road is as physically challenging as playing a full soccer match,” he said. “The mental acuity factors in as well; do you take the risk of being injured or crashing your bike, or do you play it safe,” Hulse said, explaining what runs through his mind during competition.
In the deserts of California, it is not only the terrain that jostles, twists and batters the driver, it is also the wind, rain, sand, dirt and heat, according to the Baja 1000 champ.
“When I was 12, it didn’t bother me at all. Now, I feel the pain for a couple of days. We just finished a race on New Year’s Day and there was a guy who was probably 65 who was one tough competitor. So, yeah, you feel it. But it is something you can do your entire life if you desire.”
Hulse has not eluded the hospital. He has suffered a broken foot, ribs and wrist competing. He has had friends severely injured and even die competing.
Amazingly, Hulse believes riding horses is more dangerous than navigating an off-road motorcycle course. “You are in control of the motorcycle. I’ve been on horseback where the horse was in control,” he explained with a hearty laugh.
Hanging it Up
Hulse married and a daughter arrived. “I hung up the handlebars for a few years because I had a family.”
At about age 3, his daughter, Lauren, received a small motorcycle. Hulse equipped it with training wheels and his daughter would ride at a local high school track field. “The desire to compete was burning in me,” he said of those times. “Eventually, I decided to get another bike and we rode together. I joined an ‘over-the-hill gang’ riding club and ended up winning the club’s big competition in 2003,” Hulse recalled.
At that life’s juncture, Hulse was employed at Oracle, a multinational computer technology corporation. It is the second-largest software company in America and sells database software and technology, cloud engineered systems and enterprise software products.
A chance telephone call to his office at Oracle sent Hulse on the adventure of his life.
“One of my old racing buddies called and said, ‘Hey, you’re coming with us to Mexico. We’re going to race the Baja 1000,’” he remembers. “I had never been to Mexico, but I also had not been riding competitively for a few years, so I was hesitant. They finally talked me into doing it, and it is something I wish I had done years before,” he explained.
“The idea of racing in the Mexican desert, in one of the most prestigious races in the world, really struck me. I clicked with the desert. You become one with it despite all the harshness and down-to-the-bone weariness you suffer,” Hulse said.
“(Baja 1000 racing) has been described to me as a 24-hour plane crash,” Hulse said with a voice of one who has experienced it.
“You are constantly moving forward and dealing with the terrain, dirt and heat. The key to winning a world championship is to have a group of old friends with no drama and everyone’s focus is to keep moving regardless if you’re at the helm or in the chase truck,” Hulse said. “You don’t take any chances, you keep moving and hand the bike over to trusted teammates,” he added.
“It’s 1,000 miles of desert and every mile has a story,” he said pointedly.
Hulse drove at night during the race and handed the bike over to teammates at dawn. Night racing is particularly dangerous, according to Dana Brown who documented the Baja 1000 in the film “Dust to Glory.”
Each year, there are reports of spectators sabotaging or booby-trapping the course by digging holes, blocking a river to create a makeshift watersplash, or burying and hiding obstacles. Racers are warned to beware of large crowds of spectators in remote parts of the course since it may indicate hidden traps or obstacle changes.
Many of the booby traps are not created to intentionally injure contestants but built by local spectators as jumps or obstacles for their own entertainment and to produce intriguing moments to be caught on videotape, according to experts.
“Whenever you come across people, you are cautious,” Hulse said. “It’s a 1,000-mile race in the middle of nowhere so if people are congregating, it could be dangerous. All contestants warn each other of possible dangers and crowds via radio,” he added. “The race requires you to cross a desert that is either not marked or not marked very well.”
The race begins in Ensenada, Mexico, and ends in La Paz, Mexico. Hundreds of teams race.
Hulse’s team declared victory in 2012 and 2013.
Hulse’s daughter, Lauren, is 27 now. She is married, and a baby girl is on the way. Hulse is excited to teach another generation the thrill of off-road motorcycle racing. Lauren and her husband also ride, so lots of family time on motorcycles is planned.
Hulse now works for Zero Motorcycles as a quality control manager. The motorcycles are all electric. The company recently inked a contract with Polaris to provide electric motors for their off-road vehicles, which are favored by farmers, ranchers and hunters.
“With age comes a cage,” Hulse observes. He is not ready to say his competition days are over, but his last major competitive race was the 2013 Baja 1000. “I still get together with friends and ride in the California desert.
Families pitch tents and build campfires and have a great time,” he said.
He also is discovering his tribal heritage. He became a citizen in 2018 and attended the Chickasaw Annual Meeting and Festival in Tishomingo in 2019. He planned to attend in 2020, but COVID-19 quelled those plans.
“My father was adopted. We did not know about our heritage until recently. I can say the Chickasaws are top-notch. Everything it does is quality, and the people are so welcoming and friendly. I have met Governor (Bill) Anoatubby and I’m friends with many who make life great for Chickasaws,” Hulse added.