Off Road

A Decade of ‘Finkes’ – The Jacob Smith Story

Author: Kristy Ganter

Author: Kristy Ganter


Smith (22) was at the top of Junior Motocross in Australia before a career in off-road beckoned. Photo: Johnny McLean
As one of the toughest long distance desert races in Australia approaches, convoys of competitors head to the ‘Red Centre’ to take on the unforgiving outback terrain.

All in the name of the glory one would be bestowed in being able to say - ‘I won Finke.’

In the moto world, and in the larger racing world at that, it holds a huge amount of weight to be victorious at Finke and Honda’s team this year, Penrite Honda Racing, is certainly ready for the challenge.

For those unfamiliar with the race, it is best described on the official Finke website: “it’s an off road, multi terrain two-day race for bikes, cars, buggies and quads through desert country from Alice Springs to the small Aputula (Finke) community. The race is held each year on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June.

Smith in action in his younger days.
He tells us it was a natural progression for him to go from local club riding to fully-fledged comp riding when he was 8 years old and as the years have gone by, the stakes have raised along with them.

“Todd was always the one when we were little who showed the most potential. It wasn't till I was around 8 or 9 that I started caring about results and showing some real potential and from then on I've always been chasing the dream!â€
In ten years Smith has had a good amount of success.
Along with Condo, Jake has also conquered the Australasian Safari, which was a tough off-road race held in Western Australia, the last one was held in 2014.

He racked up multiple first place finishes in that one too – in 2009 and 2012 as well as two-second place finishes in 2007 and 2011. The 2011-second placing was actually behind his brother Todd, who took first so that was a very nice win for the Smith brothers.

You could also argue he’s mastered the podium finish at the Yellow Mountain Cross Country – after taking one each time he’s competed there, including 1st place in 2010, 2013 and 2015, 2nd place in 2007 and 2008 and 3rd place in 2014.

Looking through his list of accolades, it’s clear he has worked hard to maintain consistent podium finishes and overall wins, noting out of nearly 20 years of racing he only looks at two of those years as what he called ‘bad seasons.’ With so many years of top-three placings across such a variety of races, it would be hard to see anything but an overall win as a bad season. Those are nice odds if you were a ‘betting man’ (or woman) and very nice stats to look back on.

So how did he come to ride for Honda? Many riders have to chase opportunities where they can get them so long term brand loyalty can often be a rare sight… but then there’s Jake who has consecutively been with Honda since 2009, adding there were early years in his career where he was on the #RideRed train as well.

“Looking back on it Honda was really successful with Mcgrath and in Australia had a strong presence in the Junior MX scene, HRA (Honda Racing Australia) was almost every kids dream and became mine quite early. They had a big setup in the pits, always looked good and most of the time the riders on the team were winning so from a very young age, that was a dream of mine to ride for that team which I did in 2004.â€
Travelling in Style!
Coming into his 26th consecutive year of racing dirt bikes, you could imagine it would be difficult to pick a best moment in a long and very successful career but Jake had a pivotal moment to share -

“The one that comes to mind is my Junior National MX Championship. It was something I dreamed about for so many years as a kid, and then when I started to show that I could compete at national level I worked hard to get there. When I won, it was truly a dream come true and I also pretty much signed my deal to ride for the Honda Junior Team (HRA) at the presentation night after winning that title so it was a moment where all my dreams came true at once.. It was a really special time for me and it’s why it sticks in my mind so well.â€
Jacob Smith on the Gas at Finke. Photo: 404 Shots
What about off the bike - do professional riders often have day jobs?

Well, yeah some certainly do…

Apart from ‘professional dream achiever,’ do you have a 9-5 job?

“I sure do. I've worked fulltime throughout my whole career. It's always the dream to race fulltime but it just never worked out for me. I did my apprenticeship with Essential Energy straight out of school and worked there for 9 years. Now I work with my parents and brother in our metal fabrication business.â€
The perfect end to a Finke, greeting the chequered flag first.
Competing at a high level for any professional sport entails lots and lots of preparation, no brainer! Some have teams of people working with them, whether it be on game plan, coaching, mechanics – the list goes on.

Jake still works on his own bike and with his mechanics when preparing to race when he can; “I like working on my own bikes and helping the mechanics out. I can do most jobs including engine rebuilds etc. I'm very lucky to have a good team around me so I don't need to be working on the bike as much but definitely like to get in and help out.â€
Jacob Smith.
If you’ve not raced Finke before then you wouldn’t truly know the intensity of preparation that goes into getting your body right to stay on the bike for that amount of time, and also the mental preparation as well.

“At Finke you can be out the track for 8 hours a day, not all riding but generally a full run to Finke and back would be around 4.5 hours ride time. At home I like to do it MX style with 30 minute motos, depending on time after work to how many motos a week I can squeeze in.â€
Smith is also pretty Handy at EnduroX, seen here competing at the New Holland EnduroX that ran at the Adelaide Supercars round a few years back. Photo: Arryn Minerds
Now, the all-important question: what about pre-race rituals?

“I used to be a little superstitious but I'm over that now, I was a big one for the correct red race undies but that's long gone now!â€
Smith was part of the Dream of Dakar is a documentary based on Honda Australia's own off-road team GHR Honda with a film crew follow the GHR crew to Safari and Dakar recording all the highs and lows along the way and behind the scenes.
What tips does Jake have to offer to young riders out there wanting to pursue racing, in particular Off Road/Enduro as a career – “WORK HARD, on and off the bike but just enjoy it as much as possibleâ€

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