The inaugural running of the off-road world’s newest race, The California 300, has come and gone. Even though the race trucks and RVs have cleared out, the lessons learned, the thrills of victory, and the bitterness of defeat will linger over the Southern California desert for some time. Let’s take a look at what happened in the desert just outside of Barstow.
For what it is worth, putting on a new desert race, is no easy task. It takes passion to even consider the undertaking. The massive investment is a gut puncher. Securing permits and working with the local and distant city, state, and federal stakeholders is a mind spiral. Attracting a field of racers is equivalent to herding cats. Creating a live-action event from scratch, and making it valuable to all parties, is a monumental feat. We give mad props to all involved and thank them for their efforts to make off-road desert racing an entertaining moment in our lives.
How It Started: The California 300 Qualifying
It was early Thursday morning when the communications came out that the qualifying runs would take place on the eight-mile short course. This course was the same as the UTV World Championship racers would be navigating the next morning. Offering a wide mix of technical sections, rocky terrain, and few high-speed straights, the track had good variety. The drivers would be hard-pressed to go at a flat-out qualifying speed for the entire lap.
The Pro UTVs kicked things off with a mix of PR-100s and Pro Turbo’s battling it out for a chance for clean air on Friday. When the times were tallied, Bruce Binnquist in his Turbo Can-AM set the fastest lap at just over nine minutes and thirty seconds. That blistering pace bested Mitch Guthrie’s time by over eleven seconds as he secured the number two spot in his PR-100 RZR. Another RZR, this one driven by Branden Sims, would round out the top three qualifying spots.
Soon after the UTVs cleared the course, it was time for the unlimited rigs to run. While the field wasn’t deep for this race, talent was in no short supply. In total fifteen trucks made the start of qualifying with five unlimited trucks and six spec trucks in the mix.
Little Mac Showing Teeth
Taking P1 was the very familiar #1 BFGoodrich Tires unlimited truck, but today it was piloted by Cayden MacCachren and not its usual driver, his legendary father, Rob MacCachren. Cayden would make good use of this opportunity hoping to put another one of the most iconic trucks in desert racing on the pole. He went on to set a blistering pace through the lap by finishing twenty seconds ahead of the number two qualifier Troy Grabowski. It was clear the younger MacCachren was on a mission to prove himself in the unlimited truck.
The California 300 Limited Race
As the UTV World Championship finished up on the short course (a separate race component of the UTV Worlds event), it was time for the limited cars to tackle the grueling 75-mile desert course. The racers took their spots in the staging lanes, but something was amiss. The P1 spot remained empty, and for reasons unknown to us, Binnquist had decided not to run. This opened up the fresh course to Mitch Guthrie leading the pack out.
Despite being gifted the start lead, the race was not going to be an easy one. The course retired team after team as the first lap unfolded. By the end of lap one, twelve cars were out. A new leader, Branden Sims, had emerged and was now in contention for a win. Branden managed to hold on to the lead for the first two laps, but as the race continued his pace fell off. That was enough for Guthrie to take back the top spot and ultimately the overall win. Sims’ fast first laps were enough to keep him in second for the day and Sierra Romo filled the last podium spot.
The California 300 Virtual Pre-Run
With PR-100 UTVs taking the top three, the Turbo class race belonged to Mike Cafro winning first in class and Justin lambert finished second. Overall, the day was a win for Polaris, with the top six finishers all driving RZRs across the line.
The California 300 Unlimited Race
As the afternoon sun beat down on the rocky Barstow desert, it was time for the main race. With a smaller field than expected, the start intervals were spaced out to give each racer room to run their race on the brutal course. One at a time, the trucks lined up and headed south with Cayden MacCachren leading the field out.
On the first lap, the truck to watch was Josh Dejong in his #17 Chevy. Setting a blistering pace, he closed the physical distance to the #1 truck to just under one half-mile and was leading by elapsed time. Unfortunately, the unforgiving terrain would not allow that kind of speed. Dejong was pulled over on the course around race mile 61 and lost all the gains he had made. This downtime pushed Dejong back to ninth place by the end of lap one.
Starting the second lap, and MacCachren back in the lead, Eric Harden was the next closest in time. Just three minutes behind, he would be unable to make up the gap and retired before completing his second lap.
When the field crossed the line for the third time, it was Steve Olliges in his Fox Racing #27 Ford Truck’s turn to challenge for the lead. Unfortunately for Olliges, that run was short-lived. Starting as a smell of burnt oil on lap one, was now a billowing cloud of white smoke mixing dust behind his truck. With the truck failing, Steve would soon be out and unable to complete his lap.
The Final Lap
Now three laps complete, it seemed that every truck trying to challenge for the lead slowed down or was taken out by the desert. On the final lap, it was the Grabowski brothers in the #272 spec truck making a run from second place to the lead. Even with MacCachren slowing his pace, they still needed to make up over five minutes.
As it turns out, due to a communication error, Cayden was unaware of how close the race was. In order to preserve his truck, the smart strategy was to slow the pace down. After the #1 truck went in for a planned stop at the remote pit, halfway through the lap, the bad news dropped. It was now obvious that the Grabowski truck was not only making up time but had taken the lead on time. “From there we went hammer down mode,” Cayden said after the race. But as other trucks had learned, the desert would only allow so fast a pace, and about ten miles from the finish, he caught a flat tire.
Anticipation At The Finish Line
Physically crossing the finish first, MacCachren anxiously waited to see if the #272 had kept up their pace. As the sun set over the desert a dust trail could be seen coming into the finish line. With that spectacular scene, it was clear that Troy Grabowski was in it to win it. Not only had he maintained his pace, but he also laid down the race’s second-fastest lap. The Grabowski’s would go down in history as the first overall winner of The California 300.
Inaugural Running Of The California 300: Photo Gallery
Overall, the week proved to be all that it promised to be. A demanding race, that was a challenge to all that accepted it. Despite the race not going their way, we heard from a few drivers they are looking forward to this event again. How sweet would it be to find redemption in the Barstow desert next year? And let’s be honest, are any of the great off-road races very easy to begin with?
Are you a desert-racing fan? Have you ever dreamed of eating Del Taco in the deserts of Barstow? The California 300 is sure to become a staple event. Will you come to check it out in the future? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
For a full list of classes and results visit the official The California 300 results page here.