Each November, SCORE winds its season down with what's often called the Super Bowl of off-road racing: the Baja 1000. Just shy of two months later, the next season launches at Laughlin. We can't think of a more fitting way to wind a season down, or a more fitting way to start another one up.
The Baja 1000 is a 32-hour-long test of endurance that's often punctuated by trailside vehicle repairs to bandage things together just long enough to get the truck across the finish line. The Baja is often remote; the amenities you have are the ones you bring along. Break down for an hour during the Baja 1000, and you've still got a fighting chance to pull off a class win. Break down for an hour in Laughlin, and you'll be trying to figure out a way to get your wounded truck off of the course before it's mangled into a pretzel by the next wave of race traffic because racing classes take to the track in groups and run for a specified number of laps. However, an hour later, you can relax in a hotel room or catch a movie in front of a fullsize theater screen. The Laughlin Desert Challenge condenses the roughness of the 1000 into a sprint race and juxtaposes it with the creature comforts of the First World. The differences don't end with a shorter course and creature comforts. Laughlin racers don't have to hassle their way across an international border. While the Laughlin fans can't be described as docile, they also never get the chance to play chicken with passing race traffic as often happens south of the border. It's a great combo.
If there is a disadvantage to putting on a stateside race, it's the ever-shrinking availability of open land. During its inaugural run in 1995, the Laughlin course was a 42.5-mile loop. That number was reduced to 25 a year later. The '06 course felt the pressure of land development and was a fraction of the first year's course length at a scant 8 miles. Flowing with the changes, SCORE President Sal Fish pitches it thusly: "Our new 8-mile course means more laps, more action through the stadium infield area, and more opportunities for the thousands of spectators on hand for the event to enjoy the best desert racers on the planet. And, we can all experience it for two straight days!"
The new course shows changed racing strategies. As in past years, the course started and ended in the infield area in front of spectator grandstands and a jumbotron projection screen. After the racers wound their way through the Caterpillar-sculpted infield, it was out into the open desert to test human and machine against what nature had created. The desert sections of the course were narrower than in previous Challenges, making passing difficult. Therefore, speed through the infield became a critical component to beating the competition.
Thanks to the extended infield course and the jumbotron feeding footage from the course's desert sections, fans were treated to great views of their favorite racers. Fans may have found a new favorite in B.J. Baldwin, who took top Trophy Truck honors for the first time at Laughlin. Baldwin notes, "This is my first SCORE race win and first Trophy Truck win. This is a new truck, and this race was the truck's maiden voyage. My number, 97, is the year 1997 that I first started racing. When you're on the course, everything is huge out there. We added some compression damping to make the suspension a little bit stiffer, so it wouldn't bottom out so much. I'm definitely looking forward to San Felipe."
As journalists, we enjoy Laughlin too. Two days of racing and multiple laps mean we have the chance to photograph the racers several times, and we can shoot the photos from different vantage points. Running around in the name of photography can take its toll, so we're just as glad as the racing field to be able to partake of civilization after a day of dusty photography. We've been to Baja, and we'll be back in Baja - there's nothing quite like the legendary Baja 1000. There's also nothing like the fast, furious Laughlin racing action with creature comforts close at hand. Did we mention it was a great combo?