Story By: Mike Ingalsbee
Photos By: HighRev Photography & GETSOME photo
Many times offroad races fall a little short when it comes to actual mileage. That 500 miler ends up being only 480, or that multi-lap 250 is really much less. At the 54th SCORE Baja 1000, racers got much more. It was a real bargain for the money. They had a true 1000 mile race with an additional 226 miles on top at no extra charge. It was almost a San Felipe 250 added on for good measure. Just think of the poor souls who completed over 1000 miles, but then broke just before getting to the finish line.
SCORE’s race director Jose A. Grijalva did not make it any easier either. The course was still covered in silt, rocks, ruts, and countless pitfalls. In addition to the tough terrain, there were the mental challenges that come from racing during the day, then into the night, and seeing the sun rise again. At least, that was the lucky ones. Watching the sun go down for the second time takes a toll on the psyche. Running at night is either a blessing or a curse. Some go faster looking through the tunnel of light created by the super bright LED bars—allowing you to only focus on what’s ahead. If it’s foggy or dusty, like usual, it can make it much more difficult to see, and that’s when things can go wrong.
The time limit was 50 hours. 22nd place in the UTV Forced Induction class Julio Garza had a time of 49:07:47.122. He was the last UTV to finish on time, and earned it probably more than anyone else. In comparison, Overall UTV winner Phil Blurton’s time was 26:58:56.767. As is the case with these long races, teams will use several drivers, and navigators so that nobody falls asleep at the wheel; literally. In Blurton’s case, he drove the first quarter of the race, and then handed it over to Beau Judge who drove from race mile 430 to 1000. Phil jumped in a chase truck and headed south to get back in the car at race mile 1000; hopefully after a nap. When Phil got back in, Beau just slid over into the navigator’s seat. Of course, their No Limit Can-Am Maverick X3 had to go the entire way.
Justin Lambert was an early leader. He squeaked through a bottleneck that trapped others, giving him a good lead out front. Then a mechanical disaster struck, and he was seen on the highway headed north. Nearly the same thing happened to Austin Weiland. Just as he was reeling in the leaders, he suffered a part breakage that took hours to fix. It was a simple part, a heim joint, but it snapped off flush so they could not get the threaded end out of the boss. About the only way to fix that is to weld a nut on the end, and thread it out. If you don’t have a welder handy in the middle of Baja, it takes a while to make repairs. That dropped him back to 10th, but he did finish. That in itself is a huge accomplishment in such a grueling race.
There were a lot of penalties accrued during the race. Some were for speed, but many were for missing a VCP (Virtual Check Point). That’s easy to do when you’re lost or trying to get around a bottleneck. Instead of listing all the racers who got penalties, we’ll mention who didn’t. Branden Sims; that’s it. That’s out of the entire UTV field. He should get an award for that, but he’ll just have to settle for that Pro UTV Turbo 2nd Place trophy finishing runner up to Blurton and just ahead of Wes Miller, after having a throttle body fail on his Polaris RZR Turbo S just over 1000 miles into the race. The extra 226 miles was not a bargain for Sims.
Speaking of awards, let’s mention a couple of racers who did get awards. Justin Elenburg, and Mike Cafro both had a clean sweep; winning every SCORE race this season. Cafro took the championship in Pro Stock UTV, and Elenburg did the same in Pro UTV Open. Both earned Milestone awards for finishing every race mile on the season. A funny side note: when Cafro was interviewed after the race, he was asked if they should make the Baja 1000 a peninsula run every year. His answer was “No, Nah.” He should know! It’s such an undertaking; there is no way many teams could handle that.
Jeff Proctor’s Honda Factory Racing team got the Pro UTV NA win they’ve been seeking with the Talon. The veteran racer Elias Hanna was behind the wheel, and finished just under an hour faster than Kaden Wells in his Polaris RZR XP 1000. The Honda Factory Racing team also won in their Class 7 Ridgeline truck, giving them plenty to celebrate. The Multitool Racing team led by Joe Bolton rounded out the Pro UTV NA podium in 3rd Place.
One group of competitors had spent some time putting together an effort that was all about fun. David Clay from Racing Trax loves Baja because it gives him an opportunity to race instead of working on tracking. He had an idea about finally putting together his own team with the least expensive race vehicle possible. He decided on the single seat Polaris RZR RS1. Then, he invited others to join him. He was joined by Travis Zollinger, Dave Cole, Curtis Friede, Jared Cozzocrea, JD Daniels, and others.
They would all drive RS1’s and do it ironman style; with no relief from other drivers. They had mixed results; Jared Cozzocrea finished on the podium in third, but several others ran into issues. Dave Cole said he had a blast, but rolled it, and then went another 100 miles in a car he said was “seconds from catastrophic failure.” Originally they were only going to do it once, but now they’re hooked. Racing the RS1 is cost effective, and they all got much more than they bargained for.