Who’s the driver with the most Baja 1000 4 wheel victories?
Ivan Stewart? The Herbsts? Bud Feldkamp and Malcolm Smith? Wrong on all counts. It’s a tie-Mark McMillin and Larry Ragland each have 5 wins. McMillin’s wins were all in the 1980’s-’81, ’83, ’84, ’86 and ’88 in VW and Porsche-powered Buggies.
Ragland took over in the 1990’s with wins in ’91, ’95, ’96, ’97, and ’99, all in Chevrolet-powered trucks. But Larry Ragland’s career includes a wide spectrum of racing achievements, including wins at Pike’s Peak, short course off-road (Riverside) and International Rallying (Atlas Rally, Morocco)
Larry started out racing buggies in the early ‘80’s and ran all the major off-road races in his Class One Chapparel buggy. But Chevrolet execs noted his talent, and soon put him in a Chevrolet Class 7 mini-truck co-sponsored by General Tires in 1988.
In his first Baja 1000 win, 1991, luck was with him. Larry was driving a Class 8 truck, years before Trophy Trucks debuted. As SCORE NEWS reported “He was perched on the lip of a precipice. One false move and Larry would plunge 30 feet down a cliff. First one buggy, then another had lurched to a stop behind him….somehow Ragland and his racing sidekick Ivan Scopperttone talked four men in those stuck race cars into pushing on his front bumper while Ragland gave low gear another try. It worked and Ragland was free. Larry went on to win, despite not being the first to cross the finish line in Ensenada. Frank Arciero had beaten him in, but due to Larry’s later start time won on elapsed time.
Larry’s second win in 1995 saw a very controversial race that started in Tijuana, This was the longest 1000 yet, covering 1,146 miles to La Paz. The turning point for all the leaders was the last pit stop at Santa Rita. Larry had to stop there for brake pads—no option. “I had to stop”, he recalled, “I had no brakes at all”. Other leaders like Ivan Stewart had transmission problems there, and the Simon Bros. got stuck in a mud hole just out of town and Walker Evans slammed into them moments later.
The ‘96 1000 was almost a perfect race for Larry. His only on course incident was when his spare tire caught on fire. But he bested a second-place Ivan Stewart by 12 minutes. The ’97 race was bittersweet for Larry. He had lost his factory Chevrolet backing (nice timing, General Motors!) but his trusty truck Arnold (named after Schwarzenegger) carried him to victory again. It was a record setting three-in-a-row wins for Larry.
As in most Baja victories, luck played a big part in Larry’s last Baja 1000 win in ’99. At around race mile 40, a traffic jam in a tight section bottled up Ivan Stewart, Robby Gordon and Herbst. But Ragland had already shot past this spot, and by the time the mess was cleared up (not without a lot of drama), Larry was 20 minutes in the lead--a lead he took good advantage of all the way to the finish line for a record tying fifth win.
But the book had not closed on Larry’s Baja efforts. Not by a long shot. At the Baja 2000 (in the year 2000 and 2000 miles long), after 2 days of racing Larry was within one and a half minutes of the leader, Dave Ashley, who was piloting a Ford truck.
Larry closed in on Ashley, but his engine temp was pegged out, Ashley looked in his rear view mirror and thought “one of us is going to crash,” and Larry then rolled his Chevy, After righting his car, Larry charged into the finish at Cabo San Lucas in second place. Almost a record-setting sixth win. Almost.
By the time you read this, Larry Ragland will have been nominated to the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame, along with Bud Feldkamp, Tracy Valenta and Don Amador, an off-road advocate in Northern California. Congratulations all!