Written by ORMHOF inductee Cameron Steele in tribute to Earl Hardesty.
Earl Hardesty (1938-2022) was not your average off-road racer. He was a dominating force in our sport but more than that he was a wise and imposing figure on how to get it done in racing. Achieving win after win with a wry attitude through the 70s and 80s everyone that came up against him in the desert knew they were in for a battle. Even possibly the greatest ever of our sport, Hall of Famer Johnny Johnson, knew that teaming up with Earl was better than racing against him.
As a youngster in the 70s and 80s, I knew the heroes of our sport through the eyes of a budding 5-1600 racer. My father “Mark” Max Steele raced legends like Earl, Johnny, and others that dominated in Baja Bugs, they were my heroes. To me, Earl was a stoic and imposing badass that crushed people's feelings on the race course. His success was only outpaced by his legend. He was a larger-than-life icon to a youngster like me and all who raced off-road.
Earl dominated in his efforts that started modestly in ‘77 with his brothers Carrol and Dale in their Jimco 5-1600 as a family affair. This led to the 1979 SCORE 5-1600 championship and a plan to run in the emerging 1600 class the next year.
In 1980 Earl would team with Off Road Warehouse (ORW) founder Howard Hughes (not that Howard Hughes) to campaign the season in the 1600 class, much to the chagrin of all others in that class.
Earl and Howard more than dominated in 1980 as they won every SCORE race including the 500 and 1000. Their domination led to the SCORE International overall championship being their crowning achievement that year. They won all but one race that year in multiple series. That non-win was a 2nd place at the Orange Crush Classic.
Personally, I got to really know Earl n the early 2000s when I started racing with his son Darren Hardesty. One of my greatest moments in off-road was being “Uncle Earl's” navigator on a late-night run in 2007 through the desolate mid-Baja peninsula cactus forest of the Vizcaino desert. Maybe, we took his “5-speed” pre-runner up over 120mph…..maybe I called the corners we slid through like rally racers on a timed mission. “That one night in Baja with only the cactus watching" was one of those moments in life, something I will never forget, something Earl and I laughed about for years to come.
Earl’s passion for family racing was ingrained in his boy Darren who became one of our sport's most talented and successful competitors. Following Earl's modest outward attitude and style Darren won many races under the tutelage of his father extending the Hardesty name's winning ways.
Earl also oversaw the emergence of Darren Jr and his multiple short-course championships keeping the Hardesty lineage of family racing and winning, alive and well.
Earl went on to race for factory Chevrolet with his former 5-1600 nemesis, Johnny Johnson, where together they would win the Granddaddy of all off-road races, the Baja 1000, for Chevy in 1983. Factory Baja 1000 wins are something that doesn’t come along often, this was a great racing moment for Earl.
As the years grew on Earl would focus on Motorhome travel with his wife of 63 years Dottie and the racing of his grandson. Never wildly outspoken or a self-promoter when winning Earl continued with the wry grin and fun attitude into his 80s in San Diego county where he passed in late 2022.
He leaves a mark of success as a racer, leaving tracks to be reckoned with for all of us to attempt to replicate, unlikely to be done. More impressive is the family of the Hardesty lineage he leaves behind, full of honor and respect for all.
They just don’t make them like “Uncle Earl” anymore.
Shifting up, the final time, may peace be with you, Earl.