The Ultra4 Toyo Desert Invitational got off to a tumultuous start. Even before the first green flag flew, it claimed some victims during the qualifying prologue. Nick Nelson was shown on a helicopter camera feed rolling side over side. Meanwhile, Justin Lofton was at the Yokohama pit, distraught over getting lost and potentially losing his chance of racing today. It was 10:03am, and the race was starting late. Drivers were still in the infield, yet nobody was lined up at the start line. What was going on?
All that uncertainty melted away as soon as Bryce Menzies’ Red Bull T1 truck rolled up.
He took off and after a minute or so, #24 Andy McMillin blasted away. Three more T1 trucks went and then we were off to go see what we could see out in the middle of nowhere.
Once again, I took up the free media shuttle service around Johnson Valley. This time, it was Louie’s daughter, Sarah, driving us in her green souped-up Ranger.
Menzies Takes And Holds The Lead
We made it to Pit 1 out near Cougar Buttes. We saw Bryce Menzies come in just in time, but missed him before we could get a picture. He decided not to pit and kept on going. Talking to the pit crew, we confirmed that Menzies was still holding on to his first place lead in the race. A couple minutes later, Andy McMillin rolled through as well. The Red Bull pit #1 crew had nothing to do for the first lap of this race.
The other two McMillans – Luke and Dan – stopped in at the McMillan pit crew. Luke McMillan came in first, got his left rear tire re-inflated. Not long after, along came Dan to get more fuel. The Sourapas rolled through, no need to take any pit stop. Bobby Pecoy did the same. Kevin Thompson number 70 stopped in. His pit crew went underneath the truck, looked like they were repairing the driveshaft. BJ Baldwin did not stop in the pits. He overtook Kevin Thompson’s number 70 truck, as the team was still fixing the driveshaft as he drove by.
We headed back to camp for a quick lunch break. On the live feed, it appeared Cameron Steele was out of the race. One of the McMillins was rumored to have taken a spill and went DNF as well. Bryce Menzies, now on Lap 2, still maintained a legendary lead over Luke McMillin. It was a good 20 miles or so. The same distance went for McMillin to 3rd place racer Brett Sourapas.
Pulling into Hammertown, Menzies stopped to pit. He kept his lead and blew on through the start/finish line, now on his final lap. We headed north to see BJ Baldwin fly by near race mile 140. He was speeding into Hammertown to start his 3rd lap. He was in 5th place. Following him was Kevin Thompson #70, a few minutes behind. Some time later, a blue and white truck appears in the distance–Raul Gomez, one of the stragglers.
At about 3pm, we made it back to Hammertown for a final check-in. The running was down to 7 trucks–Menzies, Luke McMillin, Brett Sourapas, Dan McMillin, BJ Baldwin, Kevin Thompson, and Raul Gomez, in that order. Many others–MacCachren, Pecoy, Currie–washed out of the competition.
The Final Stages
Menzies was snaking his way through rocks along Mile 103. Luke McMillin was approaching Race Mile 66, a difference of about 40 miles. Such was the lead that Menzies created. Barring a catastrophe in the rocks, the race would easily go to Menzies.
Menzies was flying now, as was the chase helicopter. He truly was making his rivals eat his dust. The race had been going 5.5 hours now, no doubt wearing out each and every one of these 7 remaining racers.
Naturally, Menzies was the first one to come around the mountain and into Hammertown. The Red Bull Racing team was out in force to support their champion as he rolled onto the podium. “I knew it was going to be a dusty race this year,” opened Bryce. “We set a good pace in the beginning, but this course was so gnarly. My co-driver called out so many obstacles. I think we have over 1,000 marks on this GPS!”
In spite of the harsh terrain, Menzies made the best of it and came out on top. He gave a lot of the credit to his truck, a new build courtesy of Mason Motorsports in Lake Elsinore, California. “This was a brand new truck,” he commented. “It took about one full lap to really figure this thing out, how it did in the bumps, rocks, and so on. But this truck worked out so well. Absolutely unbelievable.”
Following his recognition and award of the grand prize – $100,000 – Bryce left the podium, just in time for Luke McMillin to come in second place. “We had a couple of minor issues here and there, but we ran a clean race,” said McMillin. “And I want to wish congratulations on Bryce and his team, they did an outstanding job.”
Acknowledging the difficulty of the course compared with events like Baja 1000 and the Mint 400, along with driving a two-wheel-drive T1 truck, McMillin shared his thoughts. “The rocks were gnarly today,” he said. “But this entire course was one of two driving styles. 5-10 miles an hour over rocks, or 100-plus miles an hour over the desert. And with how edged off the course got over all three laps, it took everything we had to hold on, but we did it.”
Last but not least, BJ Baldwin was grateful to take 3rd place. The Toyo-sponsored truck looked to be in good shape despite the mileage, and BJ seemed exhausted but happy to make the podium.
“It’s been challenging to get the truck prepped correctly, but I’m stoked that the truck had no mechanical difficulties out here,” said Baldwin. “There was a little trouble with the torque converter, but other than that, nothing that was going to keep us from finishing.”
In a field of 16 racers, only 6 managed to make it through all the way to the end of the 2020 Toyo Desert Invitational. The T1 race proved once again just how unforgiving Johnson Valley can be. And we’ll only see more evidence of this tomorrow, as the official King of the Hammers kicks off! Be sure to come back tomorrow for our full recap on that event.