The SCORE International Baja 1000 is a challenge that most people can’t even fathom. The Baja Peninsula is a place of rugged beauty where nature rules supreme. The locals learn to go with the flow and take their time., while racers are doing the opposite.
Driving through rocks, silt, sand, dust, and water crossings, all at break-neck speeds, it’s a wonder that anyone makes it to the finish at all. With over 400 entries for this 50th anniversary race, there are countless stories of determination, ingenuity, and grit.
Much of the fanfare is lavished on the unlimited Trophy Truck class. These marvels of modern technology and brute force compete for the coveted overall win. The overall win goes to the fastest (lowest) elapsed time on the course.
The Trophy Trucks have dominated the 4 wheel classes in the modern era. They must resemble a truck; all else is unlimited. They are designed for the rough terrain with over two feet of wheel travel in front, and over three feet in the rear that is controlled by massive shock absorbers.
Their 900 horsepower engines belt out a menacing snarl as they crash through the terrain at break-neck speeds. It’s no wonder that the Baja race fans are such fanatics; the spectacle is incredible. The 50th anniversary race held added significance; everyone wanted to put their names in the history books. As the miles wore on, trucks were succumbing to the brutal terrain.
Rob MacCachren, who some say is the best ever, was going for his fourth straight Baja 1000 victory. He was sidelined with engine failure. Fan Favorite and pole-sitter Robby Gordon also had mechanical issues that dropped him back in the field.
The super team of Tavo Vildosola and Andy McMillin, both previous B1K winners, also suffered a blown engine. Andy’s Cousin Luke took a turn at the front, but a broken shock in the final 200 miles cost him and teammate Larry Roeseler the win.
Running a solid pace and biding their time was the father and son team of Apdaly and Juan Lopez. Not only did Apdaly win the 50th anniversary race, but he did it carrying the number 1 plate on his truck. It was a huge moment of pride for the Mexican fans that saw one of their own countrymen win such a historic race.
“It was a very rough race and the course was very dusty but we are here,” said Apdaly, “Just before the sunset, the fog on the beach was very bad. We have been looking forward to this for a year and everything went as we planned it.”
“Next year we are going to try and win another championship,” Apdaly continued. “This win is significant to me because I’ve always dreamed of winning the BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 and to win with my dad is amazing. Baja is family and my little brother is driving a Class 1 so my whole family is racing in the 1000. My mom was on the highway chasing for us.”
Finishing in second place was Cameron Steele. Steele has had an incredible season but without the results to show it. He had the win in the bag at the San Felipe 250 but a ring and pinion failure in the final miles took him out.
His second place podium does not make up for San Felipe but it backs up his performance and sends a message to the rest of the field. Rounding out the overall podium was Dan McMillin, Luke’s older Brother.
Dan teamed with the veteran Gary Weyhrich and his TSCO team. Adding to the drama of an already intense race, within a stone’s throw from the finish, they tipped the truck over on its lid in a sandy corner. With help from the ever-present Mexican fans, they got the truck back on 4 wheels and made it across the line for their third-place finish.
Class 10 Makes A Charge
Normally the unlimited class one cars are at the top of the field, just behind the Trophy Trucks. The Class 1’s are unlimited open-wheeled cars. Instead, class ten competitor Cody Reid and the impressive team of hard chargers he assembled beat all the Class 1’s and even passed a Trophy Truck before they finished.
Class 10 has unlimited suspension but single-seat vehicles are limited to 2200cc engines and two-seat vehicles must not displace more than 2500cc’s. Cody shared driving duties with three other drivers during the race.
Adam Pfankuch, Curt Geer, and Sammy Ehrenberg all took a turn behind the wheel. Reid credits the driving skills on his team, his Alumi Craft car, quick pit stops, excellent preparation by Daniel Folts, and a dose of good luck.
“We had a flawless run,” says Reid, “We stopped every 300 miles for a driver’s change, fuel, and new tires on the rear, just in case. We had no flats, and no problems at all. We finished the race on the same BF Goodrich front tires that we started on.”
Reid and his team had a lead over their next closest competitor of 100 miles. They also beat the first class one car to the line by 45 minutes.
Happy Birthday And A Baja 1000 Win
The 50th anniversary attracted many competitors who wanted to take part in the milestone. One racer who was setting his own milestone was Rod Hall.
Rod has countless wins and has won many championships, but what sets him apart from anyone on the planet is that he has competed in every single Baja 1000 race since its inception; all 50! Rod was celebrating his 50th run and his 80th birthday.
When it comes to racers, there are few as tough as Rod. Not only is he a fierce competitor, but he’s a genuinely nice guy; until he straps a helmet on. Most drivers can only dream of going out on top like Rod has.
“We’ve had a good race all day and half the night, said Hall, “Hopefully this is my last one. I think that every good time comes to an end. I’m going to be 80 years old and I’m worn out. I’m not quite like my Hummer that you can put new tires on and be ready to roll. It has been a good run and the best part of Baja is the people down here. It is important to me for my last race to have a win in the BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000.”
Youngest Driver Ever Finishes The Baja 1000 And More
In stark contrast to Rod, nine-year-old Max Gordon, son of Robby, became the youngest driver to compete in and finish the Baja 1000. His teammate Sheldon Creed had some mechanical problems with their Speed Energy Arctic Cat UTV before Max got in to drive that cost them some downtime.
It was up to Max to bring the car home in order to get the finish. He drove the last 325-mile section, some very tough miles, with his Dad Robby riding shotgun. At this rate, Max will be a veteran by the time he’s a teenager. Some have already dubbed him the mini terminator.
There were also several vintage cars that took part in the race. One car was that of Robert Lawrence; a 1970’s vintage Chenowth. Lawrence had an impressive driver’s line up with Pete Alesi Jr., John Holmes, and the original “Ironman” Bobby Ferro sharing the driving duties.
“We had tremendous ups and downs on the most grueling race in the world,” said Lawrence, “We led the first 13 hours and was ahead of the next vintage class competitor by 80 miles. Then things went really bad when we sheared a tie rod end and spent hours getting it to drive on three wheels. John Holmes had to drive it 65 miles as a three-wheeler. We fixed the car and I jumped in.”
“The car was amazing and I could comfortably cruise at up to 60mph on the miles of two to three foot whoops near El Arco,” Lawrence continued. “Then we had the same problem again and I went for a wild ride into the cactus It took a lot of work and I was able to drive out on four wheels. In the depths of Baja with our last tie rod on the car, and an obvious problem, we had to load up on the trailer. The SCORE course was 100 times more brutal than when this car raced in the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. We intend to upgrade to double shear heim’s to make it bulletproof in the future.”
You can’t bring up the “Ironman” designation without mentioning the most hardcore competitors in the race, the Ironman bike class. These animals ride their motorcycles solo for the entire race.
After crossing the line first the last two years only to be placed back in second due to penalties, Jeff Benrud took a well-deserved victory. The 1,134 miles of nasty Baja terrain takes a huge toll on 4 wheeled competitors who are sitting in a car.
Most of them have a co-driver to navigate and several relief drivers who take a turn at the wheel. Benrud, and his fellow competitors do it all. “I took about a 15-minute break at mile 600 while they changed tires on my bike but otherwise, I rode straight through except for fuel stops,” said Benrud, “I have to give a lot of credit to my mechanic Geno Mamone for giving me a solid bike. I use Baja Pits for fuel.”
“We have a dry break on the tank so they get me out in seconds. I drink protein drinks along the way and some granola bars. I will also grab a goo pak while I’m riding,” Benrud continued. “I think I had about 15. (Goo Paks are concentrated vitamins and carbs in a gel consistency that can be squeezed into your mouth quickly and easily). The race is so long and so brutal, you some extreme peaks and valleys; both physically and emotionally.”
“There was another competitor that was close to me when I came up to a 60-mile section of whoops,” Benrud continued. “I got up on the pegs and pinned it. I wanted to see if he wanted it as bad as I did. Once I hit the final section of pavement before the finish I was overcome with emotion and had to get my composure back before I reached the podium. I think I won by over an hour and feel so blessed to get the win. It’s a soul-bending experience; it’s just crazy.”
These examples are just a glimpse of the incredible stories to be told from this year’s race. Many more experiences will be shared around campfires and during late night wrenching sessions for years to come. The SCORE Baja 1000 is an epic adventure that forever changes everyone who takes part in it.
Photos by Getsome Photo