American Honda recently celebrated its 30th year working with Johnny Campbell at Chocolate Mountain Ranch. Off-road media and personalities gathered to socialize with Campbell at the ranch located east of San Diego, check out several of his old race bikes, enjoy a taco lunch and ride 2023 models Campbell helped develop. The models included the CRF450X, CRF450RX and CRF250RX. As a token of their appreciation, Honda presented Campbell with the 1997 XR600R that he rode to his first win in the SCORE International Off-Road Racing series.
After racing Hondas as a privateer for several years, Campbell originally joined Honda in 1992 as an off-road racer aboard the XR600R. His first big win was the 1995 Nevada Rally, but he would become best known for his success racing in SCORE. He won the Baja 500 in 1997 as a teammate to Bruce Ogilvie (a Honda manager who would go on to become Campbell’s mentor), and then topped the Baja 1000 the same year, with teammates Tim Staab and Greg Bringle. He went on to collect a record total of 11 wins in the Baja 1000, and five in the Baja 500. He also competed in the 2001 Dakar Rally, finishing eighth overall and first privateer.
In addition to his racing, Campbell has supported Honda in a number of other ways. In 1994, he was brought in-house by Ogilvie to build Honda’s off-road race machines—initially based on the XR600R, eventually the XR650R and ultimately the CRF450X. Along the way, Campbell assumed more responsibilities, including forming his own team (Johnny Campbell Racing) and taking over Honda’s SCORE effort in 2008, with the blessing of Ogilvie (who would pass away the following year). JCR transitioned from SCORE to the GNCC series in 2014 and continues to compete in the American Motorcyclist Association’s NGPC and NHHA series. Campbell also serves as Off-Road Coordinator for American Honda, working with the SLR Honda and Phoenix Racing Honda squads.
Campbell has also been heavily involved in research and development for Honda over the years, including production bikes such as those listed above, and factory machinery like the CRF450 RALLY, which Ricky Brabec and Kevin Benavides rode to Dakar Rally wins in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
“This whole event was incredible,” Campbell said. “I’m very thankful for my relationship with American Honda, and it means a lot to be recognized for three decades of hard work, racing, overcoming obstacles, giving input for new product and helping with rider development. I cherish all the relationships I have with the folks at American Honda, and I’m really touched, honored and emotional. It’s been an amazing career so far, but this isn’t a retirement party; there’s still plenty of work to be done, and I look forward to this partnership continuing for a long time!”
“On behalf of American Honda, thank you to Johnny, for the invaluable support over the past 30 years,” said Brandon Wilson, manager of Sports & Experiential at American Honda. “As a racer, Johnny is synonymous with Honda’s off-road success, and deservedly so. However, his contributions have extended far beyond that, to the point that his fingerprints are still all over the bikes our customers enjoy riding off-road today.”