Roark Revival: The Gnar of Dakar (Part One)

We catch up with Roark as the titular wanderer retraces the legendary byways between Paris and Dakar
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Apr 11, 2015 | By Roark Revival

Editor's Note: The world of Roark Revival is spun around documenting the "truths, rumors and lies" behind the adventures of its titular miscreant. Here, the travels inspire the character, the character inspires the apparel collection, and the apparel collection accompanies a set of stories published in physical 'zine form (undoubtedly underground, as Roark himself would probably have it) — one of which we are stoked to present below. It's the 8th volume in Roark's travels, and he's just returned from Senegal where he's been chasing breaks off the most westward tip of Africa and retracing the dusty byways connecting Paris and Dakar. 

t had been years since the race men had come to Africa. I grew up anticipating their arrival in the Winter. My father was a man of many talents and vices, he was what some call a fixer. An early life of diagnosing mechanical problems with refrigeration led to a fascination with WW2 era British engines, and then solving the problems of the men who drove them.

Between the two, he kept very busy. By the time he was 22 my father was known as the premier contact for the African leg of the Paris to Dakar Rally.

He always told me that keeping his clients in the race was the easy part. The proof was quite apparent. In 10 years he led the way for 5 victories. 2 with Mr. Karel Loprais of the Republique of Czech, 2 with George Groine of Russia and 1 for finding the lost son of Margret Thatcher, one Mark Thatcher. The hard part was keeping them safe during rest stops and post victory escapades. Long nights on Bissup aka “Gazelle’s Blood” and its strange hallucinogenic qualities had led to some of his best work. It often led racers into the night in search of the darkness.

Loprais swore by the elixir and demanded it over the last leg of the race through Senegal. My hometown of Dahkra always provided the best blend, and its’ Bissap the instigator of his erratically strange and colorful victory toasts. After my father was hit and killed by a bandit driving a hijacked Hummer in the last rally years ago, I decided to focus on British Auto repair. I was 19 and there were plenty of Land Rovers to repair in the desert. I had grown shy to the entirety of the family craft until I received a call from a man named Roark.

Apparently the Paris to Dakar Corporation was debating a return to Africa after a hiatus running the contest in South America for years. My father’s death led to this change in Venue, so the thought of it’s return scared me, but sparked my urge to honor his legacy. 

Roark explained that he was an old mate of Mr. Karel Loprais, and that he’d forwarded my contact. “The Czech big fella said that your father kept him out of the shit and that you were the next best thing.” Roark then explained the premise. “The suits have employed me to run the old rally course to determine its safety. I’ll need you to guide me. I trust we’ll find some trouble along the way. By street or by trail, no passage will fail.” 

Without hesitation I accepted. I had no knowledge of his skill as driver, but that he’d be running a Defender that was being shipped from Reykjavik, Iceland. He’d begin the ghost rally in North Africa in 3 weeks time. 

y name is Lionel. In all my days working the counter at this fine establishment, which number in the thousands, I have never seen such a pursuit of will like the man who sat in front of me these last few nights. Sure, he could handle his liquor; each evening around five he’d have one whiskey shot for every La Gazelle beer, tossing a ciggy into the trap as a chaser.

But it wasn’t just his liquor handling that impressed me. He was American but spoke only in French, possibly to avoid the balding ex-pats scattered throughout my shorefront establishment. Yet unlike the rest of the lurking oldies, I pieced together through a series of short-sided interactions that this man was here on business. He’d say one word here, a few add-ons there, always using a selective approach to getting the point across. One night as the Bissap juice was getting pulled out he muttered under his breath, “Je suis Roark. Je suis un pilote de course.” 

A race car driver on business? He must be mistaken. The Paris-Dakar rally was shut down years ago. He joked of being on a pub crawl along the old course, and that his Defender had broken down near Dakhla, so he completed the rally on an old French moped.

That evening, as an entourage of ladies of the night hustled the sweatiest of creepy Euros, Roark and I got to talking. “Tribal warfare in Mauritania doesn’t unease me. I’m more frightened by those ladies over there and what might happen after this next Bissap juice.” This is where I began to notice Roarks inherent strength not only to survive but to live fast. “I cracked the white knuckles and broke that damn course in half. It’s still bleeding!” He wasn’t the typical racer, he wasn’t as reckless.

He muttered between cig drags about the Peugeot team's success in the eighties. “Ari Vatanen won the rally four times for France, but the title that eluded him in '87, the one where his Peugeot was stolen from the service area at Bamako. Guess who took that rig for a joyride?” 

Amidst the Voodoo fog of Bissap juice and smoky night moves, Roark had loosened up his morals. His mission was clear to me now. And although it sounded like a death wish, I agreed to allow him my services, small as they may be. I mentioned that my cousin had lived in the tribal region in the north near the Sahara. I told him that if he found himself in a bind that he could rely on Mustafa. Known by his peers as the “Senegalese Wolf,” Mustafa could come up with anything you needed at any time of day. The wolf is known to have ties with tribes in Mauritania, which although Roark was not afraid of, could cause him a fair bit of conflict.

I gave Roark his cell number inside a matchbook. He stuck a match, lit a hand-rolled ciggy and proceeded to ignite the matchbook atop the bar. He exhaled his ciggy, murmured “Jai-rruh-jef” and walked out the bar into the dark of Dakar. 

I don’t think he realized the weight his business would hold among the future of the country’s fragmented rally culture. But he didn’t just run the course for the people of Senegal or even the leaders of the LLC. Earlier in the night when I asked him why he drove this dangerous jaunt, he looked up from his beer, smiling with a bit of a lazy eye, and said, “How else am I going to pay this bar tab?” [H]