Rob MacCachren has competed in and won almost every kind of off-road racing event during his more than 30 years in the sport. Whether it’s desert racing in the U.S.A and Baja California, Mexico, or stadium and short-course events at tracks all over the country, MacCachren (also known as Big Mac to his thousands of fans) has done, and is still doing it all when it comes to off-road racing.
MacCachren’s record of success is long and varied, but includes four-time Southern Nevada Off Road Enthusiasts (SNORE) Driver of the Year, five-time SCORE Baja 500, and six-time SCORE Baja 1000 winner (including the longest SCORE Baja 1000 ever at 1,296 miles in 2007, and the longest point-to-point SCORE Baja 1000 peninsula run in 2014), the 2007 SCORE Overall Championship, 2010 Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series Pro 2 Championship, and being inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2011.
During the last three decades, he has racked-up an impressive record of wins (reaching 200 at the 2012 TORC World Championships in Crandon, Wisconsin), and is well on his way to the 300 race-win mark. MacCachren has competed in numerous buggy (car) and truck classes, including the premier Trophy Trucks.
… it’s what puts bread on the table. – Rob MacCachren
“The plan was for me to do the first third and the last third, and have Andy McMillin do the middle. I would get out at about mile 400 or 500, then get back in at around mile 800 and go to the finish, but with the hurricane that wiped out southern Baja and all the unknowns when it comes to the course down there, and the possibility of a 1,300-mile race, I woke up one day and thought ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be nice to have a third driver.’ He could go a couple hundred or so in the middle,” MacCachren explained.
“Andy suggested Jason Voss (winner of the 2014 Vegas-To-Reno). So I called Jason and he was up for it. All of a sudden, this plan came together for the Baja 1000. I start it, Andy drives the middle, and Jason Voss does the end. The race starts at 12:30 p.m., I’ll probably be in the truck for nine hours, then Andy will drive from 9:30 at night to about 5:30 in the morning, then Jason can take over. It just so happens Andy and his co-driver work graveyard, so they’re already wide awake. Jason and his co-driver start work at 6 a.m., so it’s all perfect.”
MacCachren continued, “This whole thing came together well, and it added more pit support with the McMillan’s help, what the Voss team brings in, and the stuff that I have. Now the pressure is not so much on the drivers anymore, as it is on the crew, the logistics, and the race truck actually being able to do the job.”
Off Road Xtreme: How did you get started in off-road racing?
Rob MacCachren: “I began racing motorcycles when I was seven-years old, but quit after a few years because I really got into basketball and baseball until my junior year of high school. Around that time my dad became partners with Butch Dean at Valley Performance and I was working in the shop. Back when I was racing motorcycles, my dad was racing buggies in the SNORE series. There was this old buggy in the Valley shop yard. My dad became aware that it was for sale and asked me ‘Do you want to get involved in off-road racing?”
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m in!’ He told me I didn’t get to race it or use it unless I worked on it too. So we completely stripped down the car, re-built it, and re-painted it. At our first race, my dad drove the first two laps because I was a rookie, and he thought it would be safer that way. Then I drove the last three laps and my times were quicker than his so I fell in love with it. I told him, ‘this is what I want to do.’ I do regret quitting high school basketball, though, as I didn’t play my senior year.”
“Funny though, I ran into my old coach in Parker, Arizona, years ago. He came walking up to me and said, ‘You cost me the State Championship.’ I said ‘I am really sorry.’ But he laughed, put his hand on my shoulder and replied, ‘It’s okay, you’ve done a great job for yourself.'”
ORX: How did you end up getting connected with the Walker Evans team and move into racing trucks?
RM: “That really started when Jack Johnson was racing the Class 1 buggy. He wanted to get into a factory ride, so finally in 1985 he said, ‘That’s it. I’m done driving the buggy. I have to completely step out to hopefully get a factory ride.” So the seat became open for the Class 1 Butch Dean Valley Performance house car that was sponsored by Michael Gaughan’s Barbary Coast Hotel. I got the seat in that car.”
“At that time, I was out of high school and working for my dad learning the construction business. The plan was for me to eventually take over, but I really wanted to race more. Gaughan was building the Gold Coast Hotel then, and Butch Dean said, ‘You should go talk to Mike and get a valet job. You can still race and he will let you have time off work to do it.’ So even though I knew him because he was our sponsor, I had to go see him and go through the interview, but I got the job.”
“The hotel was also a big sponsor of the Walker Evans’ Dodge truck team, so I would end up pre-running a lot of races with them. They would pre-run together, but Michael would drive his pre-runner and Walker would drive his. Walker was always telling him ‘Come on Michael. Catch up. Quit lagging so far behind!’ One day we’re out on the Pacific side of Baja, we’re stopped, finished with lunch, packing up, and Walker starts giving Michael heat again.”
“Walker says, ‘Why don’t you let that kid drive? Let’s see if he can do any better than you, since you can’t keep up!’ So Michael says, “Alright!” It took me a bit to get used to a ratcheting automatic transmission shifter because I was used to the manual in the buggy, but Michael kept saying, ‘Go, go, go.’ We hauled ass all the way to Santo Thomas and when we got there, he said, ‘Well, I guess you should be driving me around pre-running all the time now.’”
“Soon afterward was when Jeep came to Walker Evans and added more vehicles to his program, so that’s when I got moved out of the Class 1 car into a Class 7S Jeep for Walker Evans Racing. The plan was that when Walker turned 50, he was going to retire and I was going to get his ride. When Walker kept going, eventually all the way to 60, I was sort of bummed. The big Dodge was supposed to be my ride.”
“What I didn’t know was that Frank DeAngelo from BFGoodrich had his eye on me. At that time Robby Gordon was driving a Class 8 truck for Jim Venable, but Gordon wanted to get heavily involved in road racing. After a test drive and meeting, I got the seat in the Class 8. That was in ’91 and it was the first year of the Ford Rough Rider program. That put me in Class 8, which would eventually turn into Trophy Truck in ’94.”
ORX: Weren’t you also driving some of the very first short-course stadium races in the Mickey Thompson Grand Prix events with Walker Evans?
RM: “Yeah, when I went to drive for Walker, that was my first introduction, aside from the one time HDRA held an off-road race at Willow Springs, to stadium and short-course racing. The stadium trucks, which were Jeeps (Comanche), were driven by Al Unser Sr., Al Unser Jr., and Walker. I would go to the races and help crew, and then sit up in the stands and watch. So we’re at the Houston Astrodome and before the first practice session, I had gone up to take a seat.”
“Well, all of a sudden I hear one of the crew chiefs yelling, ‘Rob, Rob! Come on!’ I get down to the pit and Al Unser’s truck is sitting there running, ready to go, but nobody is in it. He was late to the race, so they wanted me to drive the truck. I put on Al’s suit, his helmet, jumped in the truck, got belted in, and they said ‘The tunnel’s over there! Go!’ The next thing I know I’m on the track and all of a sudden I look up and think to myself, ‘Oh my God. The Astrodome’s huge!'”
“That was my only stadium race with Walker, until the next year when Al left. I got to drive for about a year-and-half and did okay, but the whole program wasn’t going very well, and they decided to bring in Glen Harris from the Mazda team when it folded, so I was out. Boy was I bummed again, but as a result I got to really begin watching and paying more attention to Rod Millen and Ivan Stewart who were winning in the Toyota trucks almost all the time, so I learned a lot about car control and handling.”
“When the Ford Rough Rider program lost Robby Gordon, I got back into a stadium truck. By then I was better at it and won a few races in the Ranger. However, we were still up against the Toyotas. In hindsight, I really don’t think we had a chance.”
When it’s wet and slippery, I can really kill it. – MacCachren
Back In The Saddle
ORX: What happened when the Mickey Thompson stadium races went away?
RM: “The Mickey Thompson series was winding down and by ’96 it was over. A lot of the manufacturers moved their support to the SODA Series because Marty Reed was doing television coverage on it. Luckily, at a Christmas party, the opportunity to drive came my way through a friend and I was back in the SODA Series again, driving a Ford truck. I did that for a year, and then for a while I did some of the NASCAR exhibition truck racing.”
“Some of the off-road team owners, including Walker Evans, started that exhibition series, and I actually won a race driving for Venable. My crew chief kept yelling ‘Go, go, go!’ into my radio, so I took off and led by a stretch, but we were supposed to stay bunched up and mix it up a lot. The officials were really mad. It all got too big faster than the original team owners wanted though when NASCAR decided to fully sanction it. They wanted to go national with 16 to 18 races a year, with budgets that were about a million-and-a-half.”
“They wanted big-name drivers then that could attract that kind of money, and unfortunately I was out. But it made me realize that off-road was really my thing and to stick with it. That’s when I began focusing all my racing efforts with SCORE, SODA, and CORR which is now the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. The good thing is that all that experience I gained in those early stadium races has really helped now. I have the throttle control and handling down. When it’s wet and slippery, I can really kill it.”
ORX: You’re racing both, sometimes just a week apart, how do you deal with the tactical differences between desert racing and short-course racing?
RM: “After doing it for so long, I get in a truck and within a few seconds, I’ve adapted to it. I can think about it and know what to expect already, so I get in there and I just do it. However, with short-course it’s a sprint race. They throw the flag and you’ve got 15, maybe 18 laps to get it done. There’s about a 15-minute window and you’ve got to get it done. You have to take chances, but you still have to be careful because you don’t want to get a flat tire or get spun out.”
“On the other hand, the desert racing is more of an endurance race. However, desert racing has definitely changed over the years. The reliability of the Trophy Trucks is pretty incredible now. When you leave the start line, you have to go hard now. I used to say short-course is a sprint race and desert is an endurance race. But even in something like the Baja 1000, the Trophy Trucks have really closed the gap a lot.”
“The reliability of the Trophy Trucks are so good now that when leaving the start line, I think there’s at least 10 guys that can win and they’re all going to go fast the whole way. It used to be that to win a desert race you went as slow as you possibly could to win, and that you took care of the truck in order to make it to the end.”
“The Geiser Brothers, who built my truck, are very good Trophy Truck builders with great success over the years, and builders like them have really helped narrow in on the reliability of the trucks. If you have the money, you can call them up and place an order, sort of like ordering a truck from your Ford dealer. You get basically what Bryce Menzies, Andy McMillin, or I have. Of course you have to tweek the truck a little bit, and you still have to drive smart, but the basic package you get is very capable of winning.”
ORX: You do both very successfully, but if you had to choose one, which would it be, and which is more fun for you–short-course or desert?
When it’s just for fun, it will be desert. – MacCachren
“When it’s just for fun, it will be desert. There’s less stress in desert racing. You’re still expected to win and produce, but I love the desert racing, especially races like Vegas-To-Reno and Baja where we get to run through pine forests in 6,000 to 8,000-foot mountains. Baja is beautiful. It’s enjoyable to go down and pre-run in Baja, and spend time seeing the terrain, stopping along the ocean for lunch, and hanging out with friends, family, and people you know.”
Photography by Stuart Bourdon, Get Some Photo, and courtesy TORC.