A Kid from Del Mar Comes Outa Nowhere to Capture his First Mexican Championship Title; Shows Other Hopefuls What it Takes to Make It in Mexico.
Photos by Alfonso Alonzo Diaz & FOTOSOL
How many different ways are there to get into off-road racing? You’re either born into it, married into it or you just start with nothing and do whatever you can to break in to the business. Even when money is no object, the learning curve is really steep since virtually anyone with a checkbook and a smartphone can build a vehicle and get into a fire suit. Getting to the finish line is a whole different ball of wax and anyone who’s ever taken the checkered flag will attest to this. If you have little money and a shitty pickup truck, forget about creating your own pro racing program on a shoe-string budget.
We have the story of Justin Park who, like many others, was just a kid with a pipe dream about being the next Robbie Gordon. They are a pretty common now in San Clemente, you see them all over east San Diego County and they are the rule in Riverside and Corona: They are two-tone pickup trucks with white hoods and fenders, lifted in the front end to make them look like race cars.
Park started in this exact same fashion except he never stopped and sunk every ounce of his soul and weekly paycheck into morphing his high-school surf-mobile into a respectable class 7s race truck. He’s extremely under-gunned in the ACOSAQ racing series with only 4-cylinders against a field of formidable Mexican teams and families, all fiercely devoted to Baja CA’s favorite pastime and national sport: Off-Road Racing.
Part of what makes Park’s story so newsworthy is that he is entirely self-made and has spent some very lonely days and nights pursuing his calling, sacrificing so much in exchange for the chance to be taken seriously as a professional driver. Bringing all your friends to Mexico with you just to pour some gas is no easy feat and Park has to improvise in order to get moral and pit support for his program. He’s learning Spanish and brings to his Colonet residence his most valuable asset every time: His warm smile. In exchange, the locals adore him and his competitors respect him. After his 3rd place finish a week ago, The Choyeros racing ream, the pride and joy of Colonet, surrounded his truck at the finish and broke into a major group cheer, not unlike the way a baseball team salutes the other team at the end of a game.
The cheer simply ends in a loud chant: PINCHE!-GRINGO!-LOCO! Its all in good fun and we watch as Park exchanges baseball caps with the the Choyeros, a symbol of mutual acceptance and respect. Park never comes to his home in Mexico without something for the locals. He collects clothing from his fellow employees in the US and brings them down. His sponsor OSIRIS has been putting their shoes on the feet of many locals. He promotes the ACOSAQ series vigorously. Park is definitely an anomaly and we celebrate with him for this accomplishment.
EXCLUSIVE RDC INTERVIEW WITH EL PINCHE GRINGO LOCO:
RDC: How old were you when you first thought of the idea of being a pro racer?
JP: About six, when I was burning through quarters playing Mickey Thompson Off-Road waiting for my turn to drive at Malibu Grand Prix.
RDC: What’s ACOSAQ and how does it contrast with other series?
JP: ACOSAQ is made up of a group of individuals in Baja who put together races as far south as El Rosario up to San Vicente. They bring some of the toughest competition and terrain that the region can offer, utilizing some of the exact same course routes as SCORE. I heard of some Baja 1000 racer complaining that the “Mexicans are screwing up SCORE’S routes” and making them too rough for racing. We race on some of those sections. The races typically average about 150 miles, consisting of woops, sand, silt, dunes, nasty hill climbs, mud — you name it. The courses are also really close to the beach and just off HWY 1. The temperatures never go past 90 degrees, and there’s always a killer breeze coming from the ocean. All the racers we compete against, along with those in the other classes, have completed in, or won, a SCORE Baja race. We’ve met so many nice people and great families along the way who’ve been so generous and willing to take us in overnight, often allowing us to store our truck in their gated properties. Those who organize the race welcome you with a case of cerveza and finish it off with a DVD of the race. I want to thank Miguel Angel Monroy the series organizer and Alfanso Alonzo Diaz of Diespro racing Photography.
RDC: Maybe some would say that earning a title in such a small and relatively unknown series in Baja doesn’t really mean anything. What would you say about that?
JP: I’d start off by saying that at my first race and down in baja two years ago, I pulled up not knowing what I was getting into when the 2010 Baja 1000 7S second place finisher, Oscar Licon, said, “You’ll see this was some of the toughest 7S class racing in the entire Baja peninsula”. There were also some other top finishers from SCORE competing in this series — in Class 10 we had Alex Mendez and in Class 8 there was Rick Sanchez, just to name a few, and these guys mean business. I’d also add that it’s about the journey and the adventure of building the truck and troubleshooting issues to get ready for longer races.
RDC: Do you have a hero?
JP: Lots of heroes, anyone who wants to move ahead and progress forward.
RDC: So, who do you look up to?
JP: I have always looked up to my dad and step dad who have both followed their dreams and shown me what hard work and dedication can accomplish.
RDC: What are your plans for 2012?
JP: I’d really like to also get involved in the Best In The Desert series, or the Baja 500. I’m sure there will be some good 7S showdowns here in Record and Code. I’m looking forward to what’s next. I would really like to see a big 7s 250 Race in Punta Colonet with all the racers from U.S. and baja!
RDC: What are some notable sacrifices you’ve had to make to get here with such a small budget and an old 4 cyl. Ranger?
JP: Good thing for 99 cent stores… and my family for helping me out. And for the 2.5L 4cyl motor with 200,000+ miles on it. She’s it’s a keeper. Looking to get a fresh motor in and take the current one to get rebuilt and ready for midseason.
RDC: What would you say to a 17 year old Justin Park reading this now?
JP: You have to want this. And if you really do, you can make it happen no matter what. The rest is blood, sweat and dirt.
RDC: Who would you like to thank in particular?
JP: Osiris Shoes, Camburg, BFG, Baja Designs, Perry at McNeil Racing, Jason at FiberWerx, Simon at shock-pros, Racer-x Motorsports, Stewarts raceworks (Best jack kit ever), Jaz Products, Dirty Dogs, True-Line El Cajon, ORW, 4WheelParts Universal Radiator & Automotive Inc., A&B Truck Recycling, Baja Racing Shop, Mom, Dad, step-dad/boss Kurt Kohler, Mike Kohler, Greg Garber, Richer Racing, my pitbull Kaia for keeping us safe, my girlfriend for putting up with all the dirt, my copilots Scotty and Rafael, and all the friends and families from San Vicente to San Quintin!
RDC: Last question-What’s it feel like to be the only Gringo in the series and have the locals chanting and cheering for you at the end of your first Championship season?:
JP: Unbelievable! I would have never expected to have the locals come up with a special song for me. Being nice and respectful can really pay off in Baja if you play your cards right. Its such a great feeling going down to Baja to bring used clothes, equipment, and meeting the Fisherman at his house off highway 1 to pick up $10 live, giant lobsters. I spent the last 2 years in Baja really getting to know the racers, their families, and their way of life! I love Baja so much and I really can’t wait to get back there! I feel like I’m at home when I’m around the Mexican citizens. They are the nicest people I’ve ever met and I like to think of them as family.
We bring this story to share with others like Park and use his example to give all of you some inspiration to continue following your dreams. Park shows you that it is entirely possible but that you will need to give up most everything else in your life in order to succeed.
We call Park successful because of his consistent record of finishing races and hanging in there versus a field powered entirely by V-6 motors. He won a championship in his 15 year old daily driver with over 200,000 original miles on the motor. It really is a classic example of the tortoise and the hare combined with the 7 P’s. He’s made every start for the past 2 years.
After 6 straight 2011 finishes, he not only swept his class (7s) but earned more points than anyone else in the series of just under 50 entrants.
This may be the first you’ve heard of Justin Park but it certainly isn’t the last. With the confidence that he can build a truck and a program that can finish in Mexico versus a field of locals, he sets his sites on his future.
Please join us in congratulating Justin Park, the kid from Cardiff who’s making it happen and showing others like him how to do it right.