For the premiere Off Road Xtreme interview we wanted to kick it between the goal posts with an outstanding off-road athlete that was immediately recognizable and somewhat controversial. We could not have picked a better subject than BJ Baldwin.
This desert off-road racer is bold, brash, and has a huge fan base that follows his Facebook and Twitter posts religiously. And Baldwin is a winner. Aside from numerous race wins, he is a four-time SCORE Off-Road Racing Series Champion.
We caught up with Baldwin following the HDRA Reno 500 and here’s what he had to say.
Off Road Xtreme: When did you start racing, what kind of vehicle was it, and how long was it before your first win?
BJ Baldwin: “I first started racing in February of 1997. It was in a Chenowth Class 12 car, with a VW engine that only made about 110 hp. I was very stubborn and wanted to learn how to drive fast my own way. I broke the car a lot and didn’t finish many races in the beginning.
I competed in about 50 desert races before my first win, and that was in a Class 1 car. My Dad and I were sharing the driving duties and ours was the only car in the class, so all we had to do was finish to win. After trying so hard to win for 6 years, I still counted it as my first.
But my first legitimate win was in 2005 driving Rampage. The truck had just been finished, and I only had about four hours of test time on it. We took it to the Laughlin Desert Challenge (LDC) and won. I was a nobody, a middle of the pack driver at best. I was so happy that we kicked everyone’s ass at that race.
My Dad ran from the pit all the way to the finish line to give me a hug. It was one of those moments. After 20 years of having a love affair with off-road racing, there are no words to describe the feeling of winning a real race against the best drivers. We came back to Laughlin the following year and won the LDC again.”
ORX: Who have been your greatest mentors in motorsports and what do you think have been the most important lessons you learned from them?
BJ: “Two people ultimately changed my racing career: Larry Ragland and Robby Gordon. Ragland was the first person to offer serious help. His car control and placement skills are unbelievable. We pre-ran the road from Trinidad over the mountains to the coast prior to the 2004 Baja 500.
After riding with Ragland, I was way past terrified and deep into amazement. The things he was doing with that truck didn’t seem possible. – BJ Baldwin
Perfect braking, rotation and acceleration into every corner. I learned a lot from Ragland during that pre-run. Now every year at the Baja 500, I make a ton of time on people in sections like that.
Gordon taught me a few other things. When I went with him to the Dakar Rally (Africa) for the first time I learned a lot about how he runs his business, and how to procure sponsorship programs. Gordon is the best at selling himself and his services as a promoter in the motorsports world. If I had not applied what I learned from him, I would not have enough funding to keep on racing today.”
ORX: We understand you have also been influenced by rally drivers. How has rally driving helped your desert off-road racing skills?
BJ: “The thing about off-road racing is that nobody has a formula of what works exactly whether it be driving style, vehicle setup or chassis layout. I like a rally style approach on certain high speed roads because Trophy Trucks are the most unstable race vehicles in the world and they have a top speed that is quite a bit higher than a rally car.
That being said, an adjusted rally style approach to each corner has helped me maintain cornering speed in a vehicle that is very hard to slow down and reluctant to accelerate because of weight, body roll, and the rotating mass of a 39-inch tire. My truck weighs 6,400 pounds, so carrying momentum through corners is key to making time on twisty roads.”
ORX: You have had considerable personal challenges through the years. How has this affected your attitude toward life in general, as a father and racer?
BJ: “Having a family has drastically changed my attitude toward life and my performances as a driver. I use to not care too much about the value of my life and did some risky things in the race truck. Now it’s different. I have to be around for my son and my family.
That change has fueled me to be obsessive about constantly improving my driving style and improving my team. My son Jaeden drives me to perform my very best while still taking care of myself and lowering my risk of crashing.
It’s crazy how a kid can change so much about you. Since his conception my performance as a driver has drastically changed. I went from being a hobbyist with zero outside support to transforming my operation into a successful race team. I want to set an example for him. I want him to be proud of his father and my accomplishments.”
ORX: If you were not a race driver, what other profession do you think you would choose, if you could do anything else?
BJ: “Maybe a male stripper. I would get to play with hot women all the time, and I hear it pays really well. (BJ laughs).
If I were not a professional racer I don’t know what I would do. That is quite a frightening concept and I think about that often. This is still a job and I am not without stresses and worries. It still takes hard work to keep my job just like anything else.
There is no cruise control in my work. I can’t let the world pass me by or I will loose my job and I think we all agree I have a cool job. I work hard to improve my team and myself. Sponsors fuel this team so I work pretty hard to make sure everyone is happy with our performance.”
ORX: Ultimately, BJ, what pushes you so hard, as a competitor to win?
BJ: “Two things: number one is passion. It may not transfer on to film or TV, and it is very hard to cover, but off-road racing is more exciting than any other form of racing. There is no question about that. I love the desert, the outdoors, and I am fascinated by the rate of speed that these vehicles can achieve over huge bumps and obstacles.
On the same stretch of bumpy road that a stock pickup truck at maximum speed can do 15 or 20 mph, my Trophy Truck can do 115 mph, with the only limiting factors being traction and aerodynamics. How insane is that?
Number two is in 8th grade I watched Rob MacCachren, Robby Gordon, and others race the Baja 1000. They were my heroes. Now I get a chance to kick their asses, and I have the ability to do so. It’s a dream come true.
Who wouldn’t want to be more powerful than your childhood heroes? It’s an amazing feeling. I am not only lucky enough to get the chance to drive a race car, I am lucky enough to do it for work and lucky enough to have the ability and skill to beat the best on a good day.
There are no rainy days for me, I hold on to every moment and I take nothing for granted. I want to win everything all the time, but regardless if I win, or break 100 yards after the start line, I still get to drive a race car for a job and that is pretty awesome!”
And that is the quintessential BJ Baldwin: Hard driving, always positive, wild and living every moment to the fullest, and yet a family man devoted to his son. Baldwin is happy to be what he is, and smart enough to know he has to keep working every day to be a professional race car driver. Stay tuned for the next interview in Off Road Xtreme. Who would you like to see in the hot seat next?