Ronn Bailey: Living the Legend
In 2006, Ronn Bailey will ring in the New Year the same way he did in 2005. The CEO of Vanguard Integrity Professionals will live the legend: the Dakar!
Legends are made in the world's most dangerous racing event. Many survive, some do not. Some are never heard from again. The injury count alone outdoes the top motorsports series in the world, from open-wheel racing to rallying to endurance racing. So why would one attempt what Bailey terms "the toughest, hardest, longest and most dangerous race in the world"? Especially a successful American businessman in his fifties who has never raced in his life -- why take on the grueling challenge of Dakar?
Until he decided to race Dakar, the entrepreneur had never stepped into a racing machine. As a resident of the Las Vegas area, Bailey took in a few off-road racing events purely as a spectator. Still, he put himself in the driver's seat of his Vanguard Racing SMG Buggy in the 2005 Barcelona-to-Dakar event between December 31, 2004 and January 16, 2005.
The founder and CEO of Vanguard Integrity Professionals took the risk and survived (the first major goal in the world's toughest cross-country rally is to simply make it back home). The second goal is to enter Dakar as a survivor; the third is to become a legend by winning. Bailey wants to attain those goals too.
"Dakar is a great event, unlike any other race," comments Bailey. "To finish is like you won a typical race, but to win Dakar you become a legend. (Off-road champion and NASCAR driver) Robby Gordon made history as the first American to win a stage in the 2005 Dakar. To become the first American to win Dakar -- now that would be a major legend."
Not as simple as it sounds, considering that in Bailey's debut at Dakar he became lost in the sandstorms along with many other competitors. The sandstorms "were endless," admits Bailey, and when asked if he was afraid, he quickly replies, "Yes, fear would be like it, but fear is a survival instinct, it allows you to focus. Dakar is the most dangerous race in the world, very dangerous -- a fact I knew before I made the attempt."
Extremely high winds caused Dakar officials to cancel a stage. The rescue helicopters were grounded, thwarting any attempts to retrieve those who were out in the vast desert. The teams were forced to wait for the winds to calm down to find their way back to the bivouac. "Life safety is the first priority of the A.S.O. (Amaury Sport Organisation)," says Bailey. Over the 27 years of the Dakar the route has been altered or a stage canceled several times due to unsafe conditions.
Bailey and his co-driver/navigator were moving up the leader board into the top 60 in the Car class until the Samara to Sourest stage on the sixth day of the Dakar challenge. Bailey admits the sand dunes "were not easy, harder than expected." Team Vanguard survived the dunes even if it dropped overall positions. And for the 2006 edition, Bailey has practiced and perfected his ability to get across the dunes.
"Nobody can do this -- enter into this game -- if you do not have extra control of your mind," explains Bailey. "You need to focus! I have so much respect for all these guys (the top running Dakar racers). Forget who they are or their personality -- I respect them, for their ability to focus is extraordinary."
The owner of Vanguard Integrity Professionals uses his background of military service and in the world of business to allow him to focus on the project at hand.
Bailey joined the US Air Force directly from high school. There he discovered he had an aptitude for being a top secret agent (yes, a spy). Bailey served a stint in Viet Nam. When he became a civilian again, his knowledge of computers led him into the "hottest program" in the new technology age, computer security.
"I did a blueprint assessment of what I wanted in my life," comments Bailey. "I knew I wanted to start my own company and since I knew security and computers, it made sense for my business to be in that arena. I spent five years planning and started Vanguard Integrity Professionals in 1986."
His corporation has posted consistent yearly profit growth, something that points up Bailey's acumen in a business climate of constant ups and downs. The company has two offices in the United States, one in Canada and one in the United Kingdom, plus an international distribution network now covering 15 other countries.
Everything Bailey has done in his life has been well thought out; he never attempts more than he can handle -- even if one of his many excursions was exploring the Arctic Circle on a motorcycle! Bailey owns a special BMW Dual Sport outfitted as a special expedition bike.
"I heard about Dakar about six years ago," explains Bailey. "It took five years for the research and to find the best in the business to design, develop and prepare the car, which included the latest and best technology."
Playing chess has taught Bailey to control his mind and to think in different ways, to concentrate on not only the next move but future moves. This approach extends to his 2006 Dakar buggy. Instead of relying simply on the strengths of the 2005 model, Bailey knows that his car has "the best technology and all the required safety aspects. You could put a professional racer in my car and they would win."
The Dakar is an event that Bailey says is "very intense and the ultimate test of oneself". Then why he will take time out of what is already a hectic 16-day schedule to pass out ballpoint pens when they reach the African continent?
The philanthropic side of Bailey shows in a small story he relates about the 2004-2005 race: "We would stop at the villages and the kids would run up and say 'Bic, bic, bic.' I knew they were trying to relate to me, but not sure if they were calling me a name or what. A Frenchman who I knew explained to me that the word Bic is used for pen and is a corporation in France. That made sense since sometimes the kids would run up saying: 'Teacher, teacher,' holding a notebook or paper up to me to see what they wrote."
Bailey realized that the kids wanted to be able to write. Pens are in short supply in Africa. "Even at the bank I went to, the bank manager was the only one with a pen."
For the 2006 Dakar, Team Vanguard will pass out Pens-For-Kids-To-Learn. With the help of Actions Dakar, the humanitarian arm of the race's sanctioning body, Bailey will visit villages closest to the route and hand out black ink pens. Black ink was chosen because only blue ink is allowed for legal and business transactions in Africa.
"I want to help the kids," smiles Bailey. "The environment is very harsh; I had to learn to protect myself with turbans. It made sense that the kids need and want pens so they can write. The color black ensures that the kids will be able to keep the pens."
Taking into account his 2005 experience, what he learned and the dangers that he knows exist, Bailey is ready for the 2006 bells to ring in the New Year in Portugal so the American adventurer can make his second attempt in the legendary Dakar rally.