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What It’s Like To Win The Baja 1000

Posted in Features on February 26, 2015
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Photographers: Courtesy of BFGoodrich

Rob MacCachren has raced every Baja 1000 since 1985, except one, and he only sat that race out because he had a broken bone. He won overall in 2007, and again this past race in 2014. He’s escaped booby traps, bad weather, and even once had an arrow shot at him. It’s not like the SCORE Baja 1000 is an easy race under any circumstances, but the 2014 competitors faced the longest route ever from Ensenada, Mexico, down the peninsula to La Paz. Not only was the course long but the 1,275-mile race went right through areas recently ravaged by a massive hurricane. Rob wasn’t even sure they’d be able to run, let alone take a victory. “Before the prerun, we were hearing all these rumors that the area was destroyed, that the course was under water. I couldn’t even sleep, worrying about the Baja.”

During one of those wakeful nights, Rob thought of adding another driver to the rotation. The plan was originally for Rob to start, second driver Andy McMillin to do the middle, and Rob to meet up and take over the final section, but with concerns about highway damage from the storm Rob wasn’t sure he’d be able to beat Andy to the checkpoint, and both were worried about the long hours and miles. They invited Jason Voss to join them, and the Baja “Dream Team” was born.

Of course, there are a lot more people needed to win the Baja than just the drivers. Rob estimates he had at least 100 folks—most of them volunteers, spread out across the Mexican peninsula—ready to help the No. 11 Rockstar Energy MacCachren Motorsports Ford F-150 Trophy Truck cross the finish line ahead of the competition. There are co-drivers who stay up late at night translating GPS notes for the next day, and chase vehicles both ahead and behind the race truck, ready to assist with fuel and tire changes—Rob says it takes about six fuel stops, at 60 to 90 gallons apiece, to feed that 850hp, 455ci aluminum small-block Ford throughout the race. “We can do fuel and two tires in about 30 seconds if it all goes smoothly,” he said.

The team drew up a plan for pit stops months before the race, but still ended up making last-minute changes. “There was a section that went through a wash that would have been right at the start of Andy’s shift,” Rob said. “If you go through it fast, you get soaked, and that would have left him cold and wet for his whole night drive. We changed the schedule so I did that section, and we did the swap right after. He got to stay dry, and I got to get out of the truck and change.” Little details like that matter. Rob says the competition is so close these days that a single flat tire or mistake can cost a team the win.

Thankfully, many of the tasks that used to fall to the co-driver (like monitoring gauges) are now semi-automated, allowing both driver and rider to focus on avoiding course obstacles. “We can set the gauges to trigger alarms at a certain water temp or oil pressure, so the co-driver doesn’t have to check them constantly.” Rob said. He said another recent relief is the 60-mph speed limit on the highway sections of the race course. “They don’t close the highways, so it used to be really dangerous—these trucks can go 130 mph easy. Now when I hit the highway section, I can relax, have a snack, clean my visor.”

Even with modern conveniences, it’s never easy. Staying alert is a challenge. “You get tired, and every cactus starts to look like a person. You’ll think you’re at the finish line, that there are crowds cheering from the hill ahead, and it will be a bunch of bushes, and miles left to go. Animals come out of nowhere. Rocks hide in the fog. I tell my co-driver to imagine it’s a video game, and that anything that can happen, will. It’s fun.”

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