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Rob MacCachren: The Interview With The 2016 Dirt Sports + Off-Road Driver Of The Year

Posted in Features on May 31, 2017
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Photographers: Jim OberDeanna Scanlon

The age-old question about who is the best ever, the GOAT if you will, remains one for the ages. We feel that there are maybe three off-road racers that can be thought of as the greatest of all time, and one of those surely is Rob MacCachren.

MacCachren began his off-road racing career by winning every race and being named both Driver of the Year and Rookie of the Year. In the time since, he has proved that those accolades weren’t misplaced and has gone on to become one of the winningest drivers of all time in both desert and short course events.

We sat down with Rob and got his take on where his career is now and how he got here. This is what he said.

DS+OR: At 8 years old you were the Nevada State Champion on a dirt bike?

RM: I started racing motocross when I was 8 years old and ended up winning the Nevada state championship. That was a long, long time ago. I was on an Indian 50 then went to a Honda XR75.

In the early ’80s, I started racing buggies with my dad. my dad was a general contractor in Las Vegas and did commercial buildings. He rented out one of the spaces to an off road shop and it turned out he ended up buying that store. I think I was 14 years old, and had a job after school. I went in there and started learning about VW’s and parts. We built a sand buggy, and a few years later we bought a 1-2 1600 car and started racing. We started racing 1600 cars in the early 80’s and moved up to the trucks in the late 80’s.

DS+OR: You were Rookie of the Year and Driver of the Year in the Class 1-1600 car, right?

RM: Yeah, very first year out, racing in the SNORE series, I think I raced one race the prior year, but went into the season and won every race that year in the 1-2 1600 class, won the SNORE championship, won Rookie of the Year, and really that was the beginning of all this, that’s when I fell in love with Off-Road Racing. I wish I would have finished my senior year of basketball, but it’s been a good path.

DS+OR: So you started out in buggies. How long did you drive buggies and when did you move to the trucks?

RM: The buggy thing started out as a family thing with my dad, myself and my mom, just tinkering. We started out in a Class 1600 car and then moved to a Class 10. In 1986 I think it was, we move to Class 1 and I race the 1 car for about 2 years. We started racing the bigger races like the HDRA and SCORE. I kind of got recognized by some of the bigger teams that were racing trucks. I was sponsored by Mike DeLong and the Barbary Coast Hotel, who also sponsored Walker Evans and that’s who got me into truck racing. I started pre-running with them in Baja and for the 1989 season I was invited to race with him in a Jeep in the Class 7S. 1989 was the beginning of my truck racing.

DS+OR: In that time you’ve had triple SCORE, Pro 4 three Lucas Oil Pro 2 Championships, four Baja 1000 wins including the last two, and this last year you won the Mint 400 for the first time.

RM: Yeah, it’s really been good. When I started in 1989 racing for Walker Evans it was the first time I was ever offered a paycheck, which kind of blew my mind. Why would you pay me for something I love doing?

But as the years progressed I ended up racing so much that I didn’t have time to have a regular job. So if I was going to be able to eat and live, I was going to have to make money racing. With that being said, it really pushed me to seek out good teams, good sponsors and try to be able to support myself.

By the late ’90s, I ended up having to start my own team, which was a scary situation, because I knew that racing was expensive and not a hobby anymore. I needed to do everything I could to support myself and at that time was just starting a family. It was a tough road, but it was also very rewarding. To go and actually deal with picking up the phone and calling sponsors, and calling people, getting people to come and help at the racetrack. It was very difficult, but yet rewarding. Honestly, I’m very appreciative with everything that’s happened over the years, given the success that we’ve had.

DS+OR: You’ve had success for a long time, and at an early age. We remember the Rough Riders poster from a long time ago.

RM: The Rough Riders actually started in 1991, and was the brainstorm of Frank D’Angelo who was with BFGoodrich tires at the time, and they collaborated with Ford and some other sponsors. They put a team together of everyone who was in a different truck classes. There was Class 8, which I was in, and I think there was seven or eight other trucks who were all part of the Ford Rough Rider program. It was kind of unique for the time.

The guys were trying to get more exposure. BFGoodrich, Ford, everybody was trying to get more exposure and that was the way to do it. In 1992, the second year of the Rough Rider program was a peninsula run of the Baja 1000, and I think that six of the seven Rough Rider teams all won their class, and all finished in the top 10 at the Baja 1000. It was pretty neat deal collaborating with those teams and using the resources of all those teams just out together a stronger team than anyone else had. It was a good successful thing. The Rough Rider program ended in 1996 because things were changing.

DS+OR: You’ve raced in virtually everything: desert racing, short course, you raced in the Mickey Thompson series, you won the first Robby Gordon race…

RM: Yeah, the Mickey Thompson series was a good stepping-stone for me. I looked up to a lot of people that raced in that series. You had Ivan Stewart, Walker Evans, Rod Millen, Roger Mears; you had some of the best of the best that ever was in that series. You had all the different manufactures! Those were probably to me, if not the most competitive days ever in off-road racing, especially short course, they were definitely some of them. There were so many companies trying to be successful. Those were great, great times.

Now, things have changed. There’s no more racing indoors, though Robby Gordon and the SST series he tried doing that a little bit, though that series is now more road racing with the trucks, which is pretty incredible! I did that too, at places like Long Beach and Toronto, which is really exciting. I did with the first one of his races in Phoenix. It was really cool and I enjoyed that series. I’m not doing that anymore simply because I’m too busy, but I would like to do more.

DS+OR: Was the Mickey Thompson series your first short-course experience?

RM: Yeah. We did some stuff with the buggy, but it was a one-off thing, but nothing like the Mickey Thompson stuff at Anaheim Stadium or Denver Mile High stadium. I thing we ran 10 races a year and they were all in either domes or football or baseball stadiums. That to me was real short course off-road racing. What were doing now with the Lucas series is outdoors. I liken it to outdoor motocross to indoor (like Supercross), the tracks are a little bit bigger and the speeds are definitely faster now. At Mickey Thompson we had mini trucks with 4 cylinder motors and at the end they were 6 cylinder, but now the Pro 2 and Pro 4’s are all V8’s with eight to nine hundred horsepower. A pretty big difference there! I’d love to get back into a stadium someday and race there again.

DS+OR: There were a blast. Now racing desert and racing short course are two different things. They require different vehicles, different mindsets, and you’re bouncing back and forth. You just raced the Mint and then you went to Lucas Oil a couple of days ago where you won at White Horse Pass. How can you move from one series to another and still be so competitive?

RM: Yeah … I don’t know, honestly. I think it’s because I’ve done it so much that I can get in the car and adapt so quickly. A good example is the Pro 2 and the Pro 4, where the driving style is quite a bit different. At the very beginning, it was like “ok, now I’m in the Pro 4 and now I need to drive like this…” Now I can jump in them and adapt quickly, same with the desert truck. I think it’s just driving so much it’s just not that big a problem anymore.

DS+OR: What are the differences in driving a Pro 2 and Pro 4?

RM: The four-wheel drive is a little harder to turn. What I mean by that is since it’s 4-wheel drive, when you come into a corner, say a 180 corner, you try to rotate the truck or drift it in, as soon as you pick up the throttle the front wheels starts spinning and it starts to push and stops turning. So you really have to be very aggressive to get the back end to rotate a long ways around before you pick up the throttle.

With the Pro 2, it’s pretty much just a flick of the steering wheel. If you’re going to say turn left, you flick it left real quick, hit the brakes and the back of the truck comes around then you use the throttle the rest of the way around. It’s a lot more finesse. You have to be real easy on the steering and real quick to adjust for understeer or oversteer. They’re really two different animals. With the Pro 4, the exaggeration is that you have to back it in. Coming down a straightaway going into a 180 corner, you really have to throw it in. Bit effort, big steering to get the back end around. Pro 2 is a slight turn in and then the back end comes around.

DS+OR: We just heard that Earnhardt Jr. is going to retire, and Carl Renezeder is going to retire. It’s been so many years since you’ve been doing this, how to you keep yourself in shape and motivated to keep going?

RM: In 2013, we raced over 80 races. It was a special year in that we raced the TORC series and raced the Lucas Oil series, Best in the Desert, SCORE so we took over 80 flags that year. This year we’re only racing 13 weekends, although with the (LOORRS) short course, we’ll be racing 4 times per weekend so that’ll be 28, but I think 36 races total this year? Definitely not as much as usual. But this is what I do. It’s my hobby, my passion, it’s my career, it’s how I live. I love doing it. I’m just trying to win races, trying to win championships. I’m not really keeping track of that (how many). I know other people are …

DS+OR: You’re sneaking up on 250 wins.

RM: I’m not counting. I know people like yourself you know figures like that, I just want to keep winning races, winning championships. I don’t plan on quitting anytime soon.

DS+OR: What do you do in between races to prepare yourself?

RM: I like to think racing keeps me in shape. The age I am now… We just came off San Felipe, which was a rough race, I truly believe that I’m less tired now than I was 10-15 years ago or less sore after a race. All I can attribute that to really is being calm. When I race short course, I don’t ever notice that I’m breathing hard anymore, maybe because I’ve done it so much nothing gets me all hyped up during the race. I’m just in the truck, working on breathing normally. I don’t know how to explain it. I’m very thankful that I have the means to do it all, don’t get tired and that I don’t get worn down. I think racing keeps me in shape. I am riding mountain bikes, but honestly I’m not doing that to train but more to have fun.

DS+OR: I remember reading that Lee Trevino was asked what he does when he’s not on the golf course but his response is that he was always golfing and “that’s what I do.” So you’re saying that you’re riding mountain bikes and spending time with your family, but what do you do when you’re not racing?

RM: Racing is my life. It’s everything and I think about it… I don’t want to say 24/7, but almost. I’m constantly thinking about how to get better, what we can do, thinking about race courses… The Baja 1000 is at the end of the year, and I can tell you that 365 days of the year I’m thinking about what do we have to do to win the Baja 1000. Phone calls are happening, and all year we’re doing stuff with the Trophy Truck, testing, keeping that in mind “What is it going to take to win the Baja 1000?” The good thing is that racing is my job, but it’s also my hobby.

It’s a good job to have, I guess. I’m thankful for that. It’s not like getting up to something (he doesn’t want to do)…. Some days it is difficult; it is tough. It is a business for us and it is a lot of work.

DS+OR: It’s good you enjoy it because you not only have to race, you have to get to all the races, you have to pre-run. We know you’ve been to Baja a million times and there’s not too much of it you don’t know, but how do you pre-run a course?

RM: BFGoodrich has been one of my sponsors since 1991 and they’re key to going down before the races and helping SCORE figure out where the course is going to go and logistics, and sometimes we find out ahead of time. So I look at Google Earth, trying to scope out where the chase roads will be, and figuring out logistics and planning. Then we’ll go down and pre-run, and start thinking how fast the truck will be going, how to get my people leapfrogging ahead. It takes a lot. You need a really good group of people. We have six great guys here working at the shop and on the truck, and they’ve all been together for a long time. They all understand what it takes to win races and the logistics of it all. Some of them have been going to Baja nearly as long as I have, so they know that. In my early days, my parents taught me that I needed to have good people around to be successful.

That’s what we’ve done. We got great sponsors: Rockstar, Makita, BFGoodrich and Vision Wheel now. I’ve got a great engine builder in Kevin Croyer, shock companies like Fox and KC lights, all these people that are part of this team helping us to win each and every race.

DS+OR: What would be your advice to young drivers?

RM: Definitely to get an education. Go to school. Go to college. Make money, really. Go racing, but get an education. Racing has been good to me, but in hindsight I wish I would have started a business and gone racing as well. Yeah, I did make racing my business, but as you say there’s kids out there racing at very young and getting very, very good. I didn’t start racing until I was 16 and now you have kids starting at 7 or 8 years old. By the time they’re 16, they’ll be doing stuff I was doing only 10 years ago. Definitely the technology and things have changed over the years and the Trophy Karts got little kids racing and now with the UTV’s like the Polaris RZR, there is definitely more avenues for these kids to start racing than when I was that age. It’s great for them.

DS+OR: The technology has advanced so much from when we were younger. A Class 7S truck was kind of hard on you. What do you think was the one step that transformed the sport?

RM: Really I think shocks. When I first got involved in truck racing, the shocks couldn’t keep up with the trucks. The trucks were heavy, the shocks were getting hot and melting down. I remember Walker Evans actually having planned pit stop to change all the shocks out. They would burn them up and be gone. I remember one race where they actually made quick pin-type bolts so they could change the shocks out halfway through the race.

Shocks have definitely changed things a lot as well as a lot of other parts. Even when I started racing trucks, (parts like) hubs, rearend housings and shocks were all hand made. Now you can go to Fox shocks, you can go to Pro Am, Jeff Howe for (steering) racks and you can just buy the best parts right off the shelf. It’s really made a lot easier and a lot more accessible for people to build racing trucks than it was 20-30 years ago. Technology has been moving forward and more than anything technology has been made reliable.

A Trophy Truck is a good example. You can pretty much go to (one of) 5 builders and buy the best of the best and have something that’s capable of winning. I may be exaggerating a little, but right off the showroom floor, you can go to one of 5 builders and buy a Trophy Truck that’s capable of winning the Baja 1000.

DS+OR: That brings up a good point. If you were to drag race, to get a pro license you need to make a bunch of runs, have 3 or 4 established pros sign off on you. But if you want to go race the Baja 1000 and you have a bunch of money, you can walk into a name shop and say I want that truck. How do you feel about that?

RM: It was the same for me. At 16 I got to race with the best of the best, so it is part of the sports. Off-road racing, I think of it being a family sport. Anybody can come in. We have Best in the Desert and SCORE for Trophy Trucks. We have qualifying, so the fast guys qualify up front, so they will start up front. Someone with less experience won’t qualify as well and will start further back.

I think our sport is pretty darn cool. I know other guys who have gone onto race in NASCAR and Indy Car or the road racing stuff, but they still come back and race off-road because it’s more free, the rules are more open on what you can do. And as you said, if you have the money you can buy a Trophy Truck and come race against me.

DS+OR: Speaking of other series, have you ever considered racing any other series?

RM: As far as NASCAR, I tried that in the early 90’s but I really didn’t care for it that much, doing short track and going around in circles, so I chose off-road over that. Dakar definitely, that’s always been on my radar to try to do. I want to be competitive at it, I want to try and finish and possibly win, but I also realize that it would take a lot of years to get to that point. There are usually only one maybe two teams a year that are entering that race that are capable of winning, and there are very few seats that are ever open to get in one of those cars that are capable of getting on the podium, so it’s pretty difficult.

Also, my schedule with racing the desert truck at the beginning of the year, is a conflict so I’d have to miss out on racing the first desert race of the year so that would take us out of the points championship. It’s probably something that I’d love to try and do although it’s really not eating at me that much that I got to do it. There’s other things, such as King of the Hammers, that’s probably the thing now that’s the closest to me wanting to try to do and win that race. I’ve done it now the last two years and 2010 was my first time, so I’ve done it three times. I drove with Greg Adler this year. We were doing well the first 60 miles, I was driving and we ended up having a fuel problem. The year before we actually finished. I solo’d and drove the whole thing myself, finished I think 13th. The King of Hammers is an incredible race, the obstacles that you have to go through there are pretty amazing. That’s the biggest thing, if you want to call it my bucket list, I’d like to put a better effort at and to try and go win.

DS+OR: Well, you probably will. You seem to win whatever you set your mind to. Which is why for the 2016 season, we’ve name you the Dirt Sports + Off-Road Driver of the Year.

RM: Right on! Thank you very much.

DS+OR: You are the only two-time winner we’ve had so far. In all your years of racing and all the things that you’ve won, what is the one thing that stands out?

RM: There’s two things, really. In 2007, it was the first time that I participated in winning the Baja 1000 overall, and that was the beginning of me getting the taste of what it felt like to win that. Being at the finish line that year in Cabo made we want to win it again. I was fortunate enough to get my own team together in 2013, and we’ve won three Baja 1000’s in a row. To me, that’s one of the biggest accomplishments that we’ve done with this race team, and in my career. I know how difficult it is to win one, so three was special.

DS+OR: Now you’re looking at three in a row. Has there been any change in your planning or are you going with what you know?

RM: I guess it does motivate me more, it does make me think about it more throughout the whole year, what it’s going to take to win another one. People have said that they hope I get another one, but I’m not thinking of it in that way. To me, I’m taking it as another Baja 1000, and we want to win them all anyway, but there probably is a little more motivation to get another one. I’ll worry about records later, when I’m all done I’ll look back. I’ll count them all up later.

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