Why race? Some find satisfaction in picking off the competition, one by one, on the way to victory lane. Others go for personal records to challenge their endurance, equipment, and reflexes against brutal terrain. The reasons tend to be as individual as the drivers and teams, but there's one overriding reason why they show up on the starting line: adventure.
The Baja 1000 began just after fire was discovered and the wheel was invented -- in 1967. Not really, but the 1000 has been in place for three and a half decades, which spans Vietnam, two Gulf Wars, the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, and the terms of eight different U.S. presidents. The first Baja 1000 racers took off on a bet and a crude map. There were no helicopters at the ready in case of emergency. Chase teams were nonexistent; if you broke down, you fixed the vehicle or started walking. Adventure? More like an off-road version of Survivor. Baja had enough tricks up her proverbial sleeve to keep the racers coming back year after year, to test themselves and their machines against the terrain, weather, and each other.
By 2003, the Baja 1000 had reached legendary status in the world of motorsports. Only the Indy 500 is a more famous and prestigious event. Last year, Indy racer extraordinaire, Mario Andretti, was named Grand Marshal of the 1000 and waved each racer off the line with the green starter's flag. "I've never said I won't do this," Andretti revealed, hinting at what may be a future Baja 1000 entry for the pavement speedster. Andretti is well known and a celebrity outside racing circles.
Celebrities have had Baja racing on their "to do" lists in years past, with actors James Garner and Steve McQueen having pitted themselves against the 1000.
The supporting cast for the 2003 Baja 1000 included personalities such as ESPN's Cameron Steele, who won his class in a 1600cc VW-powered buggy. The Baja Challenge Touring Car class had names including Pike's Peak record holder Rod Millen, Chad McQueen (son of actor/driver Steve), and Monster Garage host Jesse James.
Adventure? Baja delivered. Some years, the course runs from Ensenada to La Paz, located at Baja's southern tip. The 2003 course was a loop, starting and ending in Ensenada. The conditions? Rough, rough, rough. Baja's racecourses become more heavily used each year, as sanctioning bodies besides SCORE, such as Best in the Desert and CODE, begin to focus on Baja. Whoops are dug ever deeper by each passing truck, bike, and buggy. Silt beds become bottomless, powdery snares. Add chilly temperatures and thick fog, and you've got a challenge on your hands, to say nothing of the other 271 entries on the course. One hundred fifty-three teams made it to the finish line.
Alan "Pfearless" Pflueger was the first Trophy Truck to receive Andretti's green flag. His Porter-built Trophy Truck was fresh from Porter Race Cars' shop via testing sessions in the Nevada desert. Pflueger already had the 2003 Protruck title in the bag, so he jumped into the Trophy Truck war one race ahead of schedule.
If you've never been to the Baja 1000, mark your calendar now. The 2004 SCORE Baja 1000 is scheduled for November 18-21. Whether you're fast, famous, or just curious, Baja adventure awaits.
Trophy Truck team Enduro Racing has roots solidly planted in dirt-bike soil. Dan Smith spent many seasons in the Mojave, Nevada, and Baja deserts, winning Hare & Hound races on a gleaming white Husqavarna motorcycle. Teammate Dave Ashley first met team owner Dick Landfield when the young motorcycle racer came to his sons' aid after they'd both fallen from their dirt bikes. Ashley packed the Landfield boys in sand to immobilize them, elevating their legs to prevent them from going into shock. "Dave earned my respect that day," recalled Landfield. Although Enduro Racing competes on four wheels, Ashley preruns racecourses on a dirt bike, claiming better familiarity with the course after a two-wheeled survey. Dan and Dave share driving duties, alternating in the single-seat, center-mounted pilot's compartment.
Kreg Donahoe was bitten by the off-road racing bug at the impressionable age of 14. After a ride atop two pillows in his dad's Class Four Jeep Honcho during the 1985 Barstow 250, he was hooked. Kreg went on to become a world-class fabricator, putting in his time with Walker Evans Racing and covering prepping and driving duties in Fabtech's Class Seven Toyota pickup. Currently, Donahoe Racing produces The Edge line of Ford Super Duty suspension kits and has recently introduced a coilover front suspension upgrade for Toyota Tacomas and Tundras. Kreg's bid in the Stock Mini class was to test the performance of his Tacoma kit. The good news? The kit worked great. The bad news? The Taco's rear axle cried "No mas" before the race's end.
Team Dave -- Dave Sykes and Dave Westhem -- is a dominant force in Class Eight. After taking the SCORE Primm 300 class win, they knew they were prepared for the Baja 1000. During the opening miles, "Syko" rolled the Silverado, but the team shook it off and finished the race nearly seven hours ahead of its nearest Class Eight competitor. The team took not only the Baja 1000 class win, but the SCORE Class Eight Championship. If you get tired of racing Stock Full, a few more mods will have you running in Class Eight.
Mark Miller airs out his Chevy Silverado "Prophy" truck en route to a Trophy Truck class win. What's a Prophy truck? Mark originally purchased a Protruck to use as a prerunner during his stint as a GM factory team driver. When GM suddenly cancelled its off-road racing program, Miller was left without a race truck. Rather than build a Trophy Truck from scratch, Miller and UMI Racing made a few critical mods to the Protruck and jumped headlong into off-road racing's biggest league. The engine? A 6.0L GM crate motor with stock fuel injection. The tranny? A stock GM 4L80. Other departures from the Protruck platform include Brembo brakes and BFGoodrich tires. Admittedly, the UMI Racing Silverado gives up 200 hp and several inches of suspension travel to the scratch-built ueber-trucks, but race results speak for themselves. Having previously won the 1000 astride a motorcycle, Miller teamed with NASCAR and off-road talent Ryan Arciero in search of a four-wheeled victory. The pair followed a game plan put in place by team manager Don Tebbe, who also worked with Miller on the factory GM team. A loose power-steering fitting in the early miles left Miller guiding his truck on arm strength alone and near exhaustion when he handed off the truck to Arciero after 440 miles of Baja terrain. Special thanks go to Athletes Performance for getting Mark in top shape for the Baja 1000.
Pop quiz: Is this photo from 2003 or 1973? A closer look at the dampers on each corner of Charles Atkinson's classic Bronco puts this photo in the modern era. The early Bronco is synonymous with Baja racing.
Carlton Beal was pumped from his Class Three win at Best in the Desert's Vegas to Reno contest earlier in the year. Proving that eight cylinders aren't necessary for a competitive Class Three racer, Beal flogged his six-cylinder Nissan Pathfinder through the 1000's fog and silt. The Midland, Texas, racer crossed the finish line after nearly 28 hours of short wheelbase pounding. Family members Spencer and Kelly Beal rounded out the team.
Class Three is the domain of high horsepower and fairly rough rides. More specifically, it includes short-wheelbased four-wheel-drive utility vehicles. Donald Moss of Sacramento, California, decided that a '79 Ford Bronco would be a worthy Class Three platform. Why not? That year, Ford chose some great components for the Bronc'. A Dana 44 front axle suspended by coils, a Ford 9-inch rear axle, a New Process 205 transfer case, and a C-6 transmission were key parts of a bulletproof, versatile SUV. Moss took top Class Three honors at the Baja 1000.
We wonder if there are beds in the LeDuc house, since these guys are constantly on the move. Curt, the patriarch, races CORR's Pro-4 class, Best in the Desert, SCORE, Paris to Dakar, and has been known to jump his CORR Pro-4 entry at Rialto Off-Road Raceway. Kyle joins his father on the CORR circuit in the Pro-lite class, and races downhill mountain bikes as well. Todd has a Downhill National Mountain Bike championship under his belt. The three LeDucs synchronized their schedules long enough to run the Baja 1000 as a family team and took their Ford F-150 Trophy Truck to Sixth in class.
SMD Motorsports teamed up with seven-time AMA National Motocross Champion Ricky "RJ" Johnson for its Baja 1000 Protruck effort. Ricky's years with Team Honda are emblazoned in the history books as well as in the minds of off-roading fans. Matt Scaroni took the first leg, and handed off the controls to Steve Scaroni, his father. At mile 448, Steve let RJ take over. Ricky showed his speedy nature and kept the team's nearly half-hour lead despite a flat tire. Thanks to skill, and a bit of luck, the flat tire was the only trouble encountered during the race. SMD Motorsports won the Protruck division of the Baja 1000
Another father and son effort, Larry and Chad Ragland, contested the Trophy Truck class in their Chevy Silverado. Larry has five Baja 1000 overall wins to his name. Chad has been racing motorcycles since he was 11, and has some off-road truck racing experience as well. The 2003 Baja 1000 was their first event as driver and codriver. Chad Ragland has also had an interest in business for a long time; his current company, Your Source Financial, is his third venture. "There are some very definite parallels between starting a business and racing," the younger Ragland observed. "First is the ability to overcome fear. I'm not sure which is scarier, racing or owning your own business."
Looking for a name for your posterity? A name that will inspire speed and skill? May we humbly suggest Rick Johnson? At the 2003 Baja 1000, there were no less than three Rick Johnsons, and all three piloted Protrucks. Rick D. hails from another hotbed of desert racing, Barstow, California, while Rick L. calls nearby Hesperia home. Rick D.'s F-150 showed style and speed, but did not finish. Rick L.'s Toyota Tundra crossed the finish line mere minutes after SMD Motorsports.
Marty and Travis Coyne have been looking for a major win ever since purchasing their Trophy Truck from Robby Gordon. Marty owns the 4 Wheel Parts Wholesalers store in El Centro, California. Where's El Centro? Close to Baja, and close to the dunes of Glamis. With excellent sponsorship and premium off-road terrain close at hand, it's only a matter of time before the Coyne Trophy Truck lands Marty and Travis at the top of the podium.
Brawley, California, is an agricultural bread basket in SoCal's desert-dry Imperial Valley. If not for the All American Canal, which supplies Colorado River water to the normally parched desert soil, cactus would hardly grow in Brawley. The All American Canal makes crops possible and gives desert racers Jeff Dickerson and Jimmy Nuckles a desert racing operations base that's front-door-close to off-road racing terrain. As with El Centro, Brawley is close to the dunes of Glamis and boasts Baja nearby. Dickerson and Nuckles took their can't-miss-it-orange F-150 Protruck to Third in the class.
Yes, the Baja 1000 is a long race: During the late hours after the sun has set, racers may find themselves seemingly alone between mile markers. At other times, traffic is a problem. Racing rules allow overtaking vehicles to gently tap or "nerf" slower vehicles ahead of them as a "get out of the way" warning. Since stuck or broken race vehicles must often depend on fellow competitors for aid, courteous nerfing is the way to go. Bob Graham and Mike Horner, seen here chasing down a fellow competitor, took their Donahoe-prepped Norwalk Toyota Tacoma to the Baja 1000 Class Seven win as well as the Class Seven SCORE season championship.
Craig Turner's Fabtech-blue Ford Ranger regularly reels in bigger fish on the way to the finish line. Class Eight entries, Protrucks, and a Trophy Truck or two have caught sight of Turner's rear wheels as he bested their speeds. Those in attendance at the 2003 Off-Road Expo had a chance to peruse the Sway-A-Way-shocked Ranger up close; it's a maze of chrome-moly tubing skinned with fiberglass panels, including the cab. Turner finished the Baja 1000 more than two hours ahead of his nearest Class Seven competitor.
Here's another fast last name: Baldwin. Some first names? How about B.J., Josh, Jason, and Nick? Nick's Riviera Racing Trophy Truck is as trick and scratch-built as they come. The engine is shoved rearward in the 4130 chrome-moly tube chassis to make room for monster-sized control arms that pivot from the truck's centerline. Both upper and lower control arms are crafted of 4130 chrome-moly plate. The lower arms show massive triangulation for strength, while the upper arms are J-shaped to clear equally monster-sized coilover and bypass shocks. Custom equal-tube-length headers snake their way from the truck's eight exhaust ports past the front suspension, maximizing horsepower while maintaining tire clearance.
Fabricating and fast Fords run in the McNeil family. Perry Jr. and Chad McNeil can make your Ford Ranger, Explorer, Bronco, or F-150 soak up the Baja bumps while clad in McNeil fiberglass skin. Chad, shown here, uses his four-wheel-drive Ranger racing kit in front, and brings up the rear with his 30-inch-travel Ranger three-link rear suspension.
Earlier in the season, Dan Fresh took SCORE's Class 7sx at the Henderson 250 in the blistering heat. He was the lone 7sx entry, but his Jeep MJ Comanche still had to go the distance. For the Baja 1000, the temperature was chilly, the distance longer, and included fresh-faced Jr. McNeil, as well as the Baja race course. Dan took on the challenge and went the distance again. Class 7sx was created to include mini or midsize trucks whose engine displacement is past the 3.0L cap of Class Seven. This is good news for owners of Chevy 4.3L V-6s and Jeep 4.0L inline-sixes. Suspension components must remain fairly stock.
Although never in contention for the overall win, Stock Full remains an exciting class to watch. Why? It gives every fullsize owner a reason to daydream. Take a fullsize truck or SUV; add a rollcage, a fuel cell, and racing seats; make a few other mods; slap on your assigned racing number; and hit the starting line. Few other vehicles are as capable in stock form as Hummers. Chad and Josh Hall took their red-and-white Hummer H1 pickup to the Baja 1000 Stock Full class win. Rod Hall, who teamed with Mike Winkel, has contested every Baja 1000 since the race's 1967 debut. This year, Rod left his H1 in the stable to showcase the abilities of the trendsetting H2.
Most of the time, JeepSpeed enjoys its own class designation. JeepSpeed's series includes the MDR races and SCORE's Baja 500. Billy Bunch wasn't done racing this season; he took his XJ Cherokee to the Baja 1000 Class Three contest. Class Three's wheelbase limit is 108 inches. Bunch's Cherokee has 101.4 inches between the axles -- squarely in Class Three territory -- and the red flyer took second in the class.