Who Is the Most Mysterious Man in Desert Racing?Posted in Features on June 2, 2014 Comment (0)
As racers, crews and members of the off-road press arrived in Ojos Negros for qualifying at the 2013 SCORE Baja 1000, most were shocked to see a new team with two Trophy Trucks and a fleet of chase vehicles, all emblazoned with the iconic Chevy logo. No one had heard of the team before, or about the two mid-engine, leather-trimmed trucks that were being built. According to the entry list, they were to be piloted by Robert Acer and James Lin. Lin is known in the motorsports world for his wiring, electronics, and telemetry services. Acer, on the other hand, was an unknown. He emerged at qualifying covered head to toe at all times to hide his identity. When he appeared in public, he was always in a helmet or facemask and hood. To this day, his true identity remains a mystery. Just who the hell is Robert Acer and what is he all about? Is he a superhero, a super villain, or a celebrity? We went behind the scenes with the team at the Tecate SCORE San Felipe 250 to find out.
Acer and the entire GSM team are shrouded in mystery, but we managed to make clandestine contact with members of the team in San Felipe prior to the race and set up a meeting with Robert Acer for this story. We followed the team to Waldo Hernandez Elementary School in San Felipe a few days before the race and were told Acer would soon arrive. As the team rolled up to the school in their branded vehicles, the kids’ excitement started to grow. Hundreds of them were bouncing around at the thought of Acer coming to visit them. We thought who the heck is this guy? The staff managed to gets the kids settled down enough to stay seated in the bleachers surrounding the outdoor basketball court. They talked amongst themselves and eagerly awaited the arrival of the masked man.
Then the kids heard the faint sounds of an angry race engine in the distance, and it got very quiet. Acer shot out of a side street next to the school in his #72 Trophy-Truck, engine at full song—the sound shattering the silence like a rifle shot at dawn. Everyone erupted in excitement, shouting and screaming as Acer did a hot lap of the school. The kids only caught glimpses of the truck as it raced past the fences. Acer emerged at the back of the school and slowly idled onto the concrete basketball court. He paused for a moment before lighting up his rear tires with a dozen smoking rubber donuts on the court.
As the truck stopped, the kids swarmed Acer. The commotion never ceased until he left. He moved around the playground signing autographs for every kid as they surrounded him, knocking him off balance several times. He signed for more than 30 minutes, all while wearing a black firesuit, driving shoes, gloves, and a helmet with a tinted visor. After signing and posing for photos with the kids, he went to the administration building and did it all over again for the teachers and staff.
I was shooting photos in the midst of all the commotion when Acer came up to me, pulled me close and whispered through his helmet, “If you can change one kid’s life, this is all worth it.” He then returned to his truck and did a much longer donut session before departing in a cloud of dust and tire smoke, with the kids lining the street next to the school and waving goodbye. This was my introduction to the mysterious Robert Acer.
The Plot Thickens
Speaking to Robert Acer several times during the next week, he left a lot of things unanswered: Much of his racing background, who he is, what he does for a living, and more. He did make one thing abundantly clear, though, he truly cares about underprivileged kids and does a lot to help them and provide opportunities for them.
At the school in San Felipe, Acer paid for all-new sidewalks around the entire school, a new outdoor lighting system and transformer for the playground and basketball court, TVs for the classrooms ,and more. He has done similar things for schools in Ensenada and has spent over $300,000 of his own money so far. Rather than just buy random things for the schools, he talks to the principals and asks what each school needs.
“I get my enjoyment when I put a racecar in first gear and give it throttle. I get an immediate rush and it would be selfish to hold on to it and not give it back to these children. Getting into a racecar, it takes a great passion to fill your own needs and beat your competitors. School is the same way if you break it down,” Acer said. “Education is hard. I put my own money into it, and we only use local companies when we rebuild the schools. Overseas, we do the same thing as well. GSM is trying to bring about global change and give these kids opportunities. It’s all about the kids, if you work with 100,000 kids and get just one to move in the right direction, it’s worth it.”
Acer expanded on his projects. “We are setting up in Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, France, Italy, and Sweden. Once those are setup and running, we will be going into the Asian market. We rebuilt three schools in Ensenada. Under GSM, we have opened offices in Mexico and we have 6,000 children in our program. When they do well in school, it is easy for us to get them to the U.S. for scholarships and exchange-student programs. We have people in Mexico to monitor all 6,000 kids from kindergarten to junior high. There are 15 ambassadors, all girls, and they watch each other’s schools. You are building a sisterhood. It gives them 10 years of connecting with other countries and they have built-in Rolodexes and networks later in life and common bond.”
Batman or the Stig?
All this makes Acer seem like a real life Bruce Wayne, but instead of fighting crime in a rubber suit, he helps educate children in a mask and hood. The similarities are startling enough that we had to ask him straight out, “Are you The Batman?”
“I’m just something unique that will be revealed in good time,” he replied after chuckling, only adding to the mystery.
Some have compared Robert Acer and his secret identity to Top Gear’s The Stig, the mystery test driver for the globally popular TV show about cars. While he is not The Stig, he does know The Stig. “I just had a meeting over here in England, I have gone officially on the record of challenging The Stig. He can choose three of his drivers, and I will choose three for my team. It could be Menzies or Jimmy Johnson or whoever pops up on my radar. I want to go up against him with the United States vs. England in a race. It’s not for the television show but for bragging rights. Stig and his team against me and mine. I want the grand finale race to be in Singapore the day before the Formula 1 race on the street circuit at night.”
For now, Robert Acer is keeping details about himself and his background close to the vest. “I can’t tell you my whole racing background, as that would give my identity away, but I can say I come from road-course racing and karting.” Though he does not appear to be an experienced Trophy Trucker, he does have some off-road experience. “My off-road experience is mostly from testing the Trophy Truck. I rode dirt bikes as a kid, but most of my experience comes from karting, starting at age 11 and learning to maintain and prep my kart. That helped me stay out of trouble and that is why I want to build this thing.”
The Chevrolet bowties on all the GSM vehicles are not just for show, either, as the team has an official technical partnership with Chevrolet. It is reminiscent of the MacPherson team with Big and Little Mac and their relationship with General Motors in the 1990s. Acer DNFed his debut SCORE race, the 2013 Baja 1000 with A-arm issues, but he went to Chevy to help solve the problem. “We had trouble at the 1000 with an A-arm not being supported enough for the speeds these trucks are capable of. We sent it back to Chevy in Detroit to get them to look at certain things like various metals and welding techniques.”
The Mystery Man Spotted At San Felipe
At this year’s San Felipe 250, Robert Acer still had some issues but did manage to get a finish, and a 12th place in Trophy Truck. At Race Mile 12, the truck suffered a servo failure, a 25-cent washer as Acer described it. Normally, this could be fixed in a timely manner, but the team’s chase trucks were spread out over the course having not anticipated a problem so early in the race. A chase truck had to be recalled, and by the time the truck was fixed, they were two hours down.
After being down several hours early in the race, he was in the midst of limited-class cars fighting their own battles. He did not want to take someone out with a nerf or otherwise interfere with their class races, so he made all passes without contact and pulled over when caught by any class. That lack of nerfing goes away in a Trophy-Truck fight at the front, however. “Trophy Truck to Trophy Truck I will absolutely nerf if I have to.” In this situation, Acer plans to bring some of his road racing and limited engine experience into the mix. “Instead of nerfing, we are experimenting with technique and how we map out the course. If you measure the berm of a corner and do the math, you don’t need to nerf a guy, you just need to floor it and get up on the side of them and pass that way. You lose a lot of momentum and speed slowing down to tap a car in front of you. Granted, this is Baja, and you have to be ready for changes, but if you can pass clean, it saves you huge seconds, which then multiplies into minutes if you don’t have to nerf.”
To make matters worse, chase trucks, pitters, checkpoint workers, and fans all had to scramble on the morning of the race to adjust to course changes. There was heavy rain near Valle de Trinidad, Mike’s loop, and the Summit the night before the race. It had washed boulders onto the course and the Summit became impassible, even with a 4x4 Jeep with front and rear lockers. The SCORE staff made a valiant effort to try to fix the course on the morning of the race, but all was lost when a bulldozer became stuck on the Summit. Having to react quickly, the course was rerouted. Instead of leaving Valle de Trinidad, going up the Goat Trail, over the Summit and down Laguna Salada, the racers would take Highway 3 from Valley de Trinidad to K179 in Borrego. There it went north on old racecourse to rejoin the original course near Race Mile 220. The net result was a 219-mile course instead of the planned 274-mile race. The original start time of 10:30 a.m. was pushed back to 12:30 p.m. and the bikes were held on Highway 3 as the new course was marked.
Finishing his first SCORE race was an accomplishment for Robert Acer. “Finishing the San Felipe 250 felt great, some of the children and their parents waited for us to get to the finish. After the finish interview, we went behind the arches and I stopped and let everyone get in the truck. Finishing the race was a great thing, but being in someone’s life and helping them, that is what I am really all about. I was beyond exhausted, but when I saw the children and their parents there all taking pictures with us, it was amazing how you can get another adrenaline rush just by interacting with them.”
After the first trucks left the line, the race got even stranger. Starting third, Juan Carlos Lopez rolled and crashed near Race Mile 3. Lopez was okay and was able to continue the race, but a responding ambulance became stuck on the course and further delayed Trophy Trucks from starting almost 20 minutes, allowing the first starters to run away. The 2013 defending race champion, Tavo Vildosola started second to last but was able to make his way to the front of the second pack of trucks, and eventually, got within striking distance of the first trucks on course.
On corrected time, Vildosola finished the shortened course in 3 hours, 31 minutes, and 27 seconds to take the win with an average time of 62.14 mph. Tim Herbst and Larry Roeseler took second place five minutes back, with Steven Eugenio rounding out the podium less than seven minutes behind Vildosola.
While we still don’t know who Robert Acer is, you can next see the masked man at the SCORE Baja 500 in June. Acer left us with these parting words while driving a rental car through Europe. “Someone asked me awhile ago why I was doing all this in Ensenada. I turned to him and said a kid in that secondary school could be your next president. You don’t know, but you might be the catalyst that changes that.”