Justin W. Coffey

Talking Dakar With Andrew Short

America’s top finisher at the 2019 Dakar Rally fills one tall order

The 2019 Dakar Rally was filled with as many triumphs as tragedies, with the five American entries taking on their fair share. But there was one challenger who never skipped a beat. On day 1, Andrew Short, known to his comrades as “Shorty,” pushed his way to the top 15, then steadily climbed up the ladder over nine more stages, never slipping far from a solid finish each and every day.

If there were struggles, it never showed. When times became tough, he never revealed it. Andrew has cool demeanor about him—quiet and understated. A man focused on his goals, he never forgot about what’s most important in the sport and what brought him to the starting line in the first place: a passion to ride.

Andrew Short
Andrew Short’s passion for riding has served him well, earning him a top finish in his second Dakar Rally.Justin W. Coffey

After retiring from a lofty career in Supercross and motocross, Shorty was lured back to the dirt by the promise of adventure and the ultimate challenge of daring the Dakar. In only his second year competing at the event, he surpassed everyone’s expectations, including his own, reaching the conclusion of a 10-stage rally in Peru in fifth place.

How does it feel to finish in the top five of the most notorious off-road race in the world?

The biggest thing for me was how much more competitive I was than the previous year. I exceeded [my] and the team’s expectations by finishing in fifth place. My main goal was to do my best and have no regrets. Now there is a sense of relief coming home healthy and the satisfaction of making it to the finish line in such a gnarly race.

Considering your solid finish last year, did you know at the time you would be a contender for the podium in 2019?

At the Desafío Inca race that was held a few months prior to Dakar in the same zones and regions, I had good success and finished on the podium there. That gave me a good understanding of what needed to be done with Dakar 2019 and gave me hope that I would be more competitive.

Do you feel you could have won this year’s event? If so, what held you back?

No, I still have another level to reach until I can consider winning. One of my main goals was to help my teammate Pablo Quintanilla to win and accomplish his and the team’s goal of winning Dakar. He came really close this year. A big priority [was] to have me close to him to help assist with any problems that might arise.

Dakar Rally
Short feels he needs to reach another level in order to win Dakar.Justin W. Coffey

As someone who’s not only excelling in the sport but has been the top American finisher in bikes during your only two efforts at Dakar, do you ever feel a bit overwhelmed?

To me, the top American is Ricky Brabec. It’s a great time for me to be involved in the sport and have the opportunity to race rally at the highest level. The position I’m in, I have everything to gain and nothing to lose. I am also in this sport for the fun of it, and it’s not necessarily a job like it is for some of the other guys.

It’s not often a factory rally racer sees racing as fun and not a job. Short is in it for the fun.Justin W. Coffey

In nearly 20 years of racing, does the weight of your achievements ever just hit you? Like, you’re casually walking around, being Andrew, doing Andrew stuff, and then you stop and think, “Wow, I’ve accomplished quite a lot.”

Thank you for the kind words, but I’m just a guy who loves to race motorcycles. The opportunity to race Dakar is amazing.

With such a successful career in Supercross and motocross—which you saw through until retirement—what inspired you to return to racing and make the move to rally?

I always loved trail riding and going on adventures in the mountains when I wasn’t racing motocross or Supercross. Once I discovered rally racing, it quickly became a hobby that consumed me and led to the dream of racing Dakar.

What did you expect coming into it? Was it what you hoped for?

I expected it to be sandier and not quite as fast. There was a good mixture of terrain and challenges, but overall, it felt more intense than last year’s Dakar. My expectations were to do my best and take it day by day. At the end of the race, I was more than happy, and [it turned out] better than expected in terms of results and overall enjoyment of the race.

What was the most difficult part of transitioning from Supercross to rally?

The navigation and having the confidence to go fast while still in control were the most difficult. I can ride at those speeds, but when I make navigation errors and stare at the roadbook, I tend to hit the ground at those high speeds.

navigating at speed
Short’s biggest challenge is navigating at speed.Justin W. Coffey

How long did it take you to learn to read a roadbook? Did you have help?

Scott Bright took me out to Pahrump, Nevada, and taught me the basics to get me started. Once I signed with the Rockstar Husqvarna team, my teammates and Jori Billadons have taught me a lot. When I am at home in the USA, I always try to train with Jimmy Lewis to fine-tune my navigation skills. I hope I continue to race rally and use Jimmy for training.

Where do you think you excel in the sport. What are your shortcomings?

I think the biggest thing that helps me is I am consistent—same as my motocross and Supercross career. The biggest thing I need to work on is navigation at high rates of speed.

Last year, you broke your ankle with two stages to go and still pushed to the finish, taking home the 17th position. To the average Joe, a broken anything would end the race. So what would it take to “break” you?

Last year was different for me because I just wanted to make it to the finish line of my first Dakar. Now, I want to do my best. I do this because I want to do [it], not because I am forced to do it. Once I commit to something, I give it my all.

America is underrepresented in international motorsports, and the Dakar Rally is no exception. Do you feel more pressure knowing that the entire United States looks to pretty much just you and Ricky to bring home a win?

The pressure is part of it, and you definitely feel it on the first and last stages. But those are parts that I enjoy. I think it’s just cool that some Americans are involved in the event, and it’s gaining momentum in North America.

Understandably, it could be easy to become buried under all the expectations. Have you ever had some sort of breakdown?

I truly believe that when I say that I do my best, then I have no regrets. As long as I live by that, I’m good, and I can’t control the rest.

You have a great fan base which has grown with you throughout your career. Do you think you can all bring those fans with you to the rally scene? Is that even a goal of yours?

My main goal is just to see people get on dirt bikes and enjoy being outside. Whether it’s them getting into rally racing, motocross, or Supercross, it doesn’t matter to me. I hope people can have the opportunity to discover the joys of riding and [a] passion [which] is similar to mine.

Could you offer a “day in the life at Dakar”? What’s your routine from bivouac to special and back?

Early morning wake-up, typically around 3 or 4 a.m., and [it] takes about an hour to eat breakfast and get dressed. During that time there is a lot to prepare, like filling your CamelBak to loading your jacket, putting the roadbook in the bike, etc.

From that point you typically have a liaison to the start of the special (stage). Once the special starts you’re on the bike for about five to six hours. Then there’s a liaison back to the next bivouac, which is kind of nice to see different parts of the country.

After that, [there’s] communication with the team once you arrive, organizing your gear for the following day, [and] trying to eat as much food as possible. Then you get your roadbook marked. That takes at least four hours. Lastly, it’s dinner again and a meeting with the team for strategy and important aspects of the race the next day. Normally after all of that, it’s 10 or 11 p.m. and you’re trying to go to bed.

Short is the top-placing American at Dakar for 2019 and since the race was moved to South America in 2009. Chris Blais finished third in the last Dakar to be held in Africa, the 2007 running.Justin W. Coffey

As a factory rider, you understandably receive a lot of support as competition at your level has so much at stake. But do you ever wish you could race Malle Moto?

No way! That’s a whole different type of race. I give those racers massive respect.

Are you ready to break KTM’s winning streak?

I think Pablo had a great opportunity this year, but both programs are aligned and part of the same group. It’s like fighting with your brother or sister for the top bunk. Hopefully in the future Pablo or I could give the orange guys a run for their money.

Come 2020, we predict an American on the podium at Dakar. Will it be Ricky… Or will it be you?

This race is so hard to predict and finish. It would be a dream come true to finish on the podium. Ricky came really close this year to winning; if it wasn’t for some bike issues. Now it’s definitely a reality to see an American up front.