Author: Bink Designs Photos: Bink Designs
Every team who turns a wheel at the Baja 1000 has their own story of struggle and sacrifice just to make it to the starting line. For every moment of elation there are equal bouts of anguish that have to be overcome. The 46th annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 lived up to its reputation for being the toughest race on the planet. 883 miles of the most challenging terrain Baja has to offer, some of it never run before, waited to test the two and four wheeled racers and their crews.
The first chance for racers to hit the dirt in anger came on Wednesday morning during qualifying. The fastest drivers on the short 5-mile course would start the race up front. The results were not unexpected but chilling to those who did not break the top ten. Bryce Menzies had the pole followed by Juan Lopez in second. The rest of the lineup was a who’s who of desert racing’s finest; Gordon, Vildosola, MacCachren, Schwarz, Baldwin, Tim Herbst, Ken Losch and Dan McMillin rounded out the top 10.
Looking at the top five you would assume the winner would come from this bunch. That’s a whole lot of talent starting in the front with clean air and a ton of Baja experience. Little did anyone know they all fell into the trap set by 7th place qualifier BJ Baldwin. BJ Baldwin had a race that could best be described as masterful. Instead of clearing the path for others to follow, he stalked his prey, running smart and smooth when he could and as fast as possible when needed. In the late stages of the race he dueled with Rob MacCachren and Andy McMillin who teamed up in the Rob’s Rockstar #21. Andy took his best shot while behind the wheel before handing the truck off to Rob for the final push. “Andy and Rob were pushing me hard,” said BJ, “I pulled out of my pit and Andy was right on my bumper. He poked his nose inside when we hit the dirt off the highway section but I slammed the door on him and never looked back! Anytime I saw him in the rearview mirror I just put it on the chip and let it eat up the bumps.” Rob had a shot in the closing miles but could not get past BJ. “I was pushing hard for the win,” said Rob, “I went a little too hard in the rocks and lost a tire. That pretty much took us out of contention for the win.” Rob and Andy finished second by about 7 minutes.
It was the second straight Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 win for BJ and what made it even more impressive was that he drove the entire race iron man style with no relief driver. BJ held off the best drivers who had much more energy in the tank. He commented at the finish line that it was taking every calorie left in his body just to crack a smile. BJ drove a perfect race and his crew chief and co-rider Johnny Nelson put together a flawless race truck for the win. Their Monster Energy Toyo Tires Rigid Industries Method Race Wheels King Shocks Chevrolet ran the entire race without a flat tire and never skipped a beat. The back-to-back win for BJ may have also sewn up consecutive championships as well. Some have calculated that with Bryce Menzies’ 15th place finish, BJ will have enough points to take it all.
Despite this year’s race being the longest loop race ever run at the 1000, Troy Herbst wanted it to go farther. He and co-driver Ryan Arciero had a less than perfect race but slashed their way through the field to finish third. They suffered some equipment failure that forced Troy to run without a spare tire from mile 90 to 192. Despite their issues, they charged from 20th place at the start to take the final spot on the podium. “I wanted the race to keep going,” said Troy, “We were reeling them in; our Monster Energy Terrible Herbst Motorsports Trophy Truck was running very strong at the end.”
After 883 miles of the toughest terrain in Baja the unlimited class one cars finish looked like a high horsepower train. They crossed the line 7 through 10 overall; the top three were separated by less than a minute. Damen Jeffries took the victory with Ronny Wilson seven seconds behind for second place. Cody Parkhouse was third behind Wilson by 30 seconds. Justin Matney came in fourth place, tenth overall.
Sadly, in the pursuit of the ultimate challenge one racer paid the ultimate price. 30 year old Kurt Caselli had a terrible crash while leading the race and later passed away from his injuries. Kurt was more than just an accomplished motorcycle racer, he was an inspiration to many all over the world. He earned championships in AMA, WORCS and ISDE competition. Earlier this year, he competed in the Dakar Rally. In his first time at the legendary event, he took 2 stage wins and came close to standing on the podium. Kurt always made time for his fans. His achievements on the bike pale in comparison to the positive influence he bestowed on everyone he met. He was both a consummate sportsman and a fierce competitor. A role model to many, he was an inspiration to all. He will be sorely missed.
Top motorcycle honors went the the 1x Rockstar Energy Drink JCR Honda team of Tim Weigand, Colton Udall, David Kamo and Mark Samuels who took an incredible 17th consecutive victory for Honda at the Baja 1000. “This one was really difficult,” said JCR Honda team leader Johnny Campbell, “I haven’t been this challenged organizing and planning a race in my 22 year career.”
Second place honors went to The THR Motorsports Monster Energy Kawasaki team of Robby Bell, Steve Hengeveld, David Pearson and Taylor Robert. David ran out of gas 2 miles before their pit and had to push the bike until he borrowed gas from a spectator. Robby took over but had a get-off 10 miles into his run. “I was filled with adrenaline and emotion and went too hot trying to make up time,” said Robby, “I hit a rock and flew sideways into rocks and bushes ending my day. The rest of the guys did a great job bringing a bent bike to the finish.” Third place was the Honda CRF450X team of Francisco Arredondo, Ryan Dudek, Shane Esposito, Scott Myers and Chris Haines.
The 46th annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 lived up to the reputation of being the granddaddy of all desert races. The race was filled with triumph and an unfortunate tragedy; it tested all who dared to the absolute limit.