Dakar and bust

I looked at Drew almost in despair. I had flown all the way from the U.K. to meet with a rally team owner who had just offered me an unbelievable gift, a factory drive with his rally team, Bowler Offroad.

But he didn’t want to hear about my charity.

My goal was to be the first Canuck to drive the Dakar rally, and so far everything was going well. 

My co-driver at the time, Mick Extance, had called me in Canada to explain that Drew Bowler wanted to offer us a factory team position.

I knew that it could not possibly be for free. BMW charged about $1.6 million at the time to rent an X3 for the Dakar. All I needed to know was how much was it going to cost so I could crunch numbers. 

As much as I struggled to believe Mick, who kept insisting it was “free,” I couldn't help but get a little emotional in the car. An amateur rally driver from Canada had just been offered a team drive with one of the most prestigious rally vehicle manufacturers in the world. 

Then reality hit again. It was surely not the case. I would buy my ticket to the U.K. and meet Drew face to face.

When I landed, I drove to see Mick, who, like Drew, I had not met in person before.

We went for a run in the Derbyshire countryside and talked about the attitude it takes to compete and succeed in the Dakar, which Mick knew all to well.

He had finished the rally seven times previously and finished as high as 27th on a motorbike as a private entrant… could this be our big break?

We showed up at Drew Bowler’s farm the next morning to look at the birthing room of one of the most amazing sounding machines… the Bowler Nemesis. It would be our steed in the Dakar.

We quickly set off looking like a proper rally team, two Bowler Nemesis vehicles, a big service truck and a crew of mechanics to keep everything working.

As we arrived at Tixover quarry, the realization that I was in a difficult predicament struck me. On one hand, I have just been given $500,000 worth of beautiful race equipment to test and bring back in almost pristine condition – right in front of the team principal. On the other hand, in the seat beside me would be Mick, a tougher than nails, never say die competitor who wanted to know he was with a driver who could drive. 

Rising to the challenge, I ended up having a fantastic day and met both objectives square on.

Later that day, I spoke to Drew about the position. He had the same answer when I kept asking how much money it would cost to enter the Dakar – no money. “Right, but how many sponsors do I have to get?” None.

I wanted to share the vision I had about how the event could help my charity. “No thanks” he quickly said: “I'm a race team owner – I don’t do charity”.

Drew had no idea how much planning had gone into creating a charitable attempt with TV coverage to support children in Africa and Guatemala. I decided to tell him anyway.

At the end of my monologue, he politely shook my hand, said welcome to the team and good luck with the charity, but it was nothing he would be interested in.

The next day, I flew home. I landed to find an email from Drew – he gave the idea some more thought and was “all in.” To say I was elated would be an underestimate.

The next few years, I spent a lot of time with Drew talking to team sponsors, in meetings with Land Rover, participating in events in the U.K. and liaising with paying drivers who wanted to rent a Bowler Nemesis for the Dakar.

I came to admire Drew’s calm and thoughtful approach to business.

Sadly, the Dakar never happened. Drew’s team had to rearrange its structure and focus after the financial collapse eight years ago. His company was almost bankrupted, but the team survived. 

Even more sadly, Drew was taken away from us suddenly this past Monday. As his family and friends mourn, the racing world is coming to grips with the loss of an innovator; a true gentleman who worked as hard as anyone else around him and always found an advantage others could not.

He ran a “clean team” and followed the rules, which is near impossible in international competition. Bowler Offroad, is definitely the “little team that did,” thanks to Drew’s leadership. 

I will always be grateful for Drew and his team offering Mick and I that opportunity. 


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About the Author

Mark has been an entrepreneur for over forty years. His experience spans many commercial sectors and aspects of business. He was one of the youngest people to be appointed as a Fellow of the prestigious Institute of Sales and Marketing Management before he left the UK in 1988.

His column focuses on ways we can improve on success in our lives. Whether it is business, relationships, or health, Mark has a well-rounded perspective on how to stay focused for growth and development.

His influences come from the various travels he undertakes as an adventurer, philanthropist and keynote speaker. More information can be found on Mark at his website www.markjenningsbates.com

He is a Venture Partner with www.DutchOracle.com a global Alternative Investment company.

Mark Jennings-Bates:
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Photo credit: www.SteveAustin.ca 

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