Veteran Baja 500 desert racer Mark McMillin drove hard enough when needed and enjoyed some good fortune as well, as he captured the Overall Four-Wheel Vehicle and Unlimited Class 1 title in the 33rd Annual Tecate SCORE Baja 500 desert race. Driving a Ford-powered Chenowth open-wheel desert race truck, McMillin covered the 484.0-mile rugged desert course around the northern part of the Baja California peninsula in a time of 11 hours, 34 minutes, and 54 seconds, averaging 43.59 mph.
McMillin and Brian Ewalt, both of El Cajon, California, split the driving time, with McMillin driving the first 280 miles before turning the wheel over to his longtime co-driver. McMillin, age 44, earned his second Overall and fifth Class title in the 33-year history of the race. Winning Round 3 of the five-race 2001 Duralast SCORE Desert Series, McMillin's other Overall win was in 1987 and his last Class title was in 1997.
In the Premier Class, Tim and Ed Herbst lost a 25-minute lead and the Overall and Trophy Truck victories when the transmission in their Ford F-150 went out just 6 miles from the finish line on the outskirts of Ensenada.
"Racing is like life - very unpredictable at times," said McMillin after he realized he had won both the Overall and Class 1. "We planned to drive a conservative race because we knew this course was like old Baja, and we survived one of the toughest races I can remember. We had no significant problems, and we ran rather conservatively, but you had to if you wanted to keep from breaking down," the weary McMillin said after his rugged victory ride in a race that saw 249 vehicles take the green flag. "Brian has raced with the McMillins for 18 years, and we dedicate this win to my dad Corky, who didn't race for the first time when I was racing." Family patriarch Corky McMillin, the 72-year-old Baja racing legend who finished Third in this race last year, is recuperating from back surgery and is expected back in his driver's suit in time for the 34th Annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 on November 8-11, 2001.
Second Overall and in Class 1 was Las Vegas resident Troy Herbst in a Ford-powered Smithbuilt open-wheel desert race car in 11:11:25. David Ashley and Dan Smith from Riverside, California, won the featured SCORE Trophy Truck division in their Duralast Ford F-150 (Sixth overall), covering the challenging course in 11:32:25.
In the spirit of true grit, Tim Herbst nursed his Ford F-150 to the finish line, driving backward for the final treacherous 6 miles because Reverse was the only gear still working. The Herbst brothers still managed to finish Second in Trophy Truck in 11:34:54 and Eighth overall.
Finishing Third overall and in Class 1 was Rick Romans from Big Bear Lake, California, in a Jimco in 11:15:28. Fourth overall and in Class 1 was Ronny Wilson of Long Beach, California, in a Jimco with a time of 11:17:05. Completing the top five overall and in Class 1 was Steve Sourapas from Rancho Santa Fe, California, who was timed in 11:20:57 in another Jimco.
A total of 255 racers, competing in 23 classes for cars, trucks, motorcycles, and ATVs entered the race, and, of the 249 that officially started the grueling journey, 146 of them made it to the finish line within the 20-hour time limit in the elapsed-time race.
Round 4 of the 2001 Duralast SCORE Desert Series will be the 6th Annual SCORE Las Vegas Primm 300, Sept. 14-15, 2001 in Primm, Nevada, 35 miles south of Las Vegas.
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