44th SCORE Baja 1000 Photos

After 44 years outsiders might think that the annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 is a well-oiled machine, perhaps even a little boring. That would be the wrong conclusion though, and only minutes after the race started that point was hammered home when a semi truck blocked the course and the first fourteen Trophy Trucks off the line came to a screeching halt. This is Baja and anything can happen- which is the appeal that brought over 200 drivers to take on not only each other but the brutal and chaotic landscape as well. Sal Fish had a few more gray hairs as the situation unfolded and the decision was made to move the TT start to past the semi truck 4.5 miles into the course instead of restart the entire field. Class 1s and the rest of the field started at the traditional starting line on Main Street, giving them some clean air but limiting the chance one of the 26 Class 1 cars would take the overall win. Playing King Solomon, Sal said that finishing positions would be determined based on highest average MPH.

There were bets in the RDC forums about how long Jesse James would maintain his starting position and he surprised a plenty of people by staying out front over 150 miles before he had a flat. Despite rolling near the finish line James still managed a top ten finish- something the WCC star has accomplished at every SCORE race this season. Tavo Vildosola, starting behind James, has issues early on that unfortunately took the reigning Baja 1000 champ out of contention before he even reached the summit. He was not alone. Matt Stevens’ truck erupted into flames at the start line and BJ Baldwin’s truck lost an engine early in the race. While some were bummed about the loop format instead of the traditional run down the peninsula to Cabo, the course was far from easy. The figure eight track started and ended in Ensenada and headed down to San Felipe in a combination of the Baja 500 and San Felipe 250 terrain for a total just under 700 miles. Bryce Menzies took the lead as the sun went down, but the front runner changed many times throughout the night.

Bryce battled with Andy McMillin and Nick Vanderway up front before he got word that Rob MacCachren had issues, and then Menzies set a more conservative pace before handing the No. 70 truck off to Ricky Johnson at RM 540. This approach allowed Menzies to finish third overall, cinching SCORE season championship. Andy Mac wasn’t racing for points, as he posted on RDC prior to the race “Most don’t remember who won a championship 5 years ago. Everyone remembers who wins the Baja 1000 overall.” Andy started tenth and drove the first 200 miles before handing the truck over to his father Scott through the rough sections in San Felipe. Andy got back in at RM 511 to take the truck to the finish line for the win. It was the team’s second win in three years and Andy’s third overall, putting him in the company of Robby Gordon and Ivan Stewart.

After nearly fifteen hours of racing, Nick Vanderway and the No. 8 Got Milk team were only three minutes behind McMillin on corrected time. Vanderway was running the huge 42” BFGs on 20” Trailready rims and the peanut gallery predicted scattered drivetrain parts, but Nick, his brother Larry, and off-road legend Curt LeDuc kept the truck together to finish second ahead of a lot of big budget teams. Even at a conservative pace Bryce Menzies finished third; only a minute behind Vanderway in his very first Baja 1000. Racking up a TORC Pro 2WD championship and a SCORE Trophy Truck title this year, it is fair to say that this kid has a bright future in all forms of off-road racing.

Wind throughout the night kept the dust down, but visibility was still an issue as fog moved in. Drivers could just not get a break! Of the 29 Trophy Truck starters there were 21 finishers, but none of them ran a flawless race. The harsh terrain of Baja has little patience for quitters. Gary Weyhrich had finished in the top five all season and was running fast, but when we saw him in BFG Pit 2 in the middle of the night the entire rear end was apart and being repaired. Weyhrich soldiered on and eventually finished 16th overall, just in front of Adam Householder. Householder started way back in the field and was leading on corrected time after 250 miles, but a broken driveshaft and some brake issues cost them time.

In Class 1, Justin Davis started way back in the field but the wunderkid managed to pass all other Class 1 cars to finish sixth overall and first in class to take home the Class 1 championship at only eighteen years of age. On the bikes, JCR Racing was able to hold off the THR Kawasaki onslaught to keep the title for Honda for the fifth year in a row. Despite the brutal course, the finish rate was actually rather high at 55%. Regardless of whether they finished or not, every member of every team came home with a story to tell. Be sure to log in to the RDC forums to hear each of their stories firsthand.

Photos by Jason Zindroski