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2022 SCORE Baja 500; a Tale of Two Races

Story by Mike Ingalsbee
Photos by HighRev Photography

The 54th SCORE Baja 500 turned out to be two separate races. Instead of horsepower, wheel travel, or top speed determining what type of race it would be for competitors, the deciding factor was track position at the beginning of the race. It wasn’t dust, wind, or heat that disrupted things like usual; it was a bottleneck around race mile 102. Those who cleared the section without incident dropped down to the eastern side of the course, and blasted across the desert towards San Felipe. Those who were trapped had to bake in the sun while efforts to clear the log jam persisted. To make matters worse, the co-driver who was working to free the stuck vehicle suffered heat stroke, and had to seek medical attention. With the codriver incapacitated, and the truck still blocking the course, other teams jumped in to assist. That section was too steep to go around; even for the all-wheel drive UTV’s who usually can blaze a trail over anything. Most of the Trophy Trucks had already cleared the section as well as the class one cars and a few Spec TT’s. Trapped were the meat of the Spec TT class, class 10, and literally the rest of the field. Cars and trucks continued to stack up as the lead pack checked out.

Everyone knew this was going to be a tough race before it even started. Veterans like Rob MacCachren were saying it was the most technical he had ever raced on, and predicted it would be a slow average speed. The course had only one section that was considered fast; the middle section around San Felipe. The first third and the last third were super technical. These sections were not developed enough really to be called roads; they were more like trails. It favored skill over raw speed. Already out of the mix in the early going were several experienced teams like Bryce Menzies, Andy McMillin, and Ben Hagle; all with blown engines. Then there were the issues with steering boxes, and pumps.

The constant sawing on the wheel needed to get around the switchbacks, and the too numerous to count boulders strewn everywhere were taking a toll on several teams. Early leader Luke McMillin, the pole sitter, was one who had to stop and change a steering box. Mike Walser also lost a box. It allowed several Trophy Truck teams to get around them. They would have to chase down the lead pack if they wanted to win. With the early retirements, and the steering box troubles, the number one Trophy Truck of Rob MacCachren was out front. He was followed by several trucks swapping positions including Mike Walser, Alan Ampudia; who was not tracking, Broc Dickerson, Luke McMillin, Sam Baldi, Larry Roeseler, Dan McMillin and the TT legends class teams of Vildosola, and Helland.

If you thought that the bikes would have an easier time in the technical stuff, you’d be wrong. There is a big difference between leaning back, pinning the throttle, and holding on, and muscling your bike around tight turns in loose dirt, and rocks. When they were able to open it up in short bursts, their rear tires were dancing over the uneven terrain. It’s hard to put the power down when your tire is not on the ground. The Trophy Trucks were already catching the straggling bikes at the halfway point despite having a 5 hour head start. For the fast teams up front, it was still a long, hard day. The 10X KTM team of Juan Carlos Salvatierra from Santa Cruz, Bolivia took the win after 11 hours and 2 minutes of racing. Second in Pro Moto Unlimited, and one of the only teams not to be penalized, was the 3X Husqvarna of Forrest Minchinton. They were less than 2 minutes behind. Third overall was the 325X KTM of Jano Montoya in the Pro Moto 30 class. The Pro Moto Limited 180x Honda of Fernando Beltran from Ensenada B.C.Mexico was fourth overall, and rounding out the top five was third place in Pro Moto Unlimited Jason Alosi on his 4X Husqvarna. The Pro Quads were super fast with 10A Said Sanchez taking the win with a time of 11 hours and 50 minutes. Pro Quad Ironman winner 83A Faelly Lopez spent over 18 hours on course. The Pro Moto Ironman class came down to seconds. Aaron Richardson’s 13:45:36 beat Brandon Wright’s time of 13:46:50. The last motorcycle competitor to stagger in was Pro Moto Ironman bike 760X ridden by Adam Rachac. He finished with a time of 17:34:09.

As the lead trucks started were closing in on the final 100 miles of racing, those who were trapped in the bottleneck were finally free and taking place in a crazy, all out scramble. All that pent-up aggression combined with the many possible lines that weave in and out across the desert floor created something that belonged in a Mad Max movie. Everyone was desperate to be out front when they got to the final section of the course so they wouldn’t get caught up in another bottleneck. That’s where the Truck of Gary Magness suffered insult upon injury. They already had a problem with their jacking system falling down. They got one side back up, but the other side was dragging. They had to stop, pull the body off, and remove the jacks. The delay put them in the bottleneck and in the ensuing melee they got T-boned and rolled in the dust when two lines came together. After all that they drove just to finish, and even stopped to help several other teams to get un-stuck; including UTV racer Wes Miller. He described the same chaos as Magness.

“It was just crazy,” said Miller. “There was a whole pack of cars all trying to make time on each other. UTV’s mixed with class 10’s, Trophy Trucks, and class one’s. There were close calls; even we had to get a little aggressive with the front bumper.” While the overall was being decided, half the field was only around the midpoint of the course. It would be a long day, and into the night for those who got caught up at race mile 102. They would have a totally separate race than those out front. They would have to negotiate miles of super tight, rocky trails now filled with silt, in the dark. Most probably did their prerunning when it was light out, and another variable that comes up is the wind. When the sun went down, the wind shut down; making it even harder to see, especially with lights on. It was clear that just surviving to the finish would be a huge accomplishment.

As Rob MacCachren made his way towards Ensenada, all attention turned to the finish line. Broc Dickerson had been holding Luke McMillin at bay for miles. The course was well suited for this, but in order to beat Rob Mac at this point, Luke would have to catch, pass, and put time on both of them. It was impossible, even for Luke and his all-wheel drive Mason truck. The wildcard was Ampudia. His tracker wasn’t working so nobody knew for sure where he was. Would he beat Rob Mac on corrected time? Would he have enough on Dickerson to take second? Nobody would know until they all crossed the line, and until SCORE could sort out what was sure to be a complicated post-race review of GPS information, and the penalties that were sure to come.

One thing that everyone knew was that Rob Mac would not make a mistake, and if he had accurate time splits would not allow the others to steal his win. He had a flawless day, and made it look easy. That’s definitely not easy to do. He said the all-wheel drive trucks got away from him, but the race came to him in the end. While following Luke he noticed that his tracks suddenly disappeared. They never saw him on the side of the course changing his steering box. Is that another tactic used by the top teams; camouflaged pit locations? He was probably just too focused. The Ampudia Brothers were second across the line, but missed a VCP. It knocked them back to 5th. Broc Dickerson had a great run after a disappointing to him 19th place finish at the San Felipe 250. He took 2nd place overall between two of the most accomplished off road racers on the planet Rob MacCachren and Larry Roeseler. That’s some rare air on that podium. Roeseler was commemorating his first 500 win 50 years ago. He started back in 24th or 25th place and got some clean air on the way to a 3rd overall finish on corrected time.

In class one, the Wilson team had a rough one. Brad had the early lead, but crashed hard at race mile 185. The team got him back on the road and he finished 6th. Ronny Wilson took Kyle Quinn’s car to the finish line after finding out Brad was OK. Their engine went sour at the Ojos meadows so they limped it in. A missed VCP dropped them to third. That gave the win to Cody Reid who was supposed to drive with his Mother Shelby. She had to return to the states for a family emergency which meant Cody drove the whole course for the win. Brian Parkhouse was second.

Class 10 was crazy after the bottleneck where the entire field took off at once. Stan Potter took the win driving Ironman. That means in a single seat car with no relief driver. Second place was Marco Duran, third place was Hiram Duran. This course had many veteran drivers who came out on top. It took patience, skill, and speed to win.

The TT Spec class was another one that went down to the wire. Winner Jorge Sampietro from Ensenada said he had just a perfect day. “It was hot and rough. We had one flat tire when I hit a rock.” He was followed by Mason Cullen in second, and Christian Sourapas in third. The TT specs were caught right in the bottleneck, and did a major part of the work getting it cleared. 215 Marcelo Gastaldi, 219 Christian Sourapas, 232 Chelsea Magness, 238 Elijah Kiger, 254 Mike Perez, 269 Guillermo Zamacona, 273 Jordan Brenthel, and 278 Carlos Ibarra all got time credits for rendering aid at the bottleneck. Since the truck that was stuck was a Brenthel, Jordan Brenthel spent over 3 hours helping to render aid to his teammate, and working to clear the course. Connor McMullen was waiting in San Felipe to take the wheel of Jordan’s truck, and said they didn’t arrive until 6:00pm. He crossed the line at 3:00am. “It was a long day, but we finished!” said McMullen. Dustin Grabowski ran out of gas which caused him to stall in a turn and roll the truck. Christopher Polvoorde went wide and got stuck in a ditch. “”I’m bummed for the team,” he said. “Baja is no joke.”

Austin Weiland broke at the San Felipe 250 so he was happy to get the overall UTV win for Can Am. “We won at the Hammers, now this. We need to keep it going.” Branden Sims finished second, but was moved to third after third place Brandon Schueler was given time credits. Sims lamented at the finish line that he didn’t turn it up enough to beat Weiland. Mike Pratt won the Pro UTV Open class, and Zach Sizelove took his Honda to the number one spot in the Pro UTV NA class.

As drivers and riders continued to stagger into the finish, it was clear that many were in survival mode. As the adrenaline began to wear off, it started to sink in that they had accomplished something very special. This was clearly one of the toughest Baja 500’s of all time, just as Rob MacCachren had predicted. SCORE continues to push the envelope when it comes to race courses. I know I keep saying that, but they keep doing it.

Click here for 2022 SCORE Baja 500 race results. (results updated 5pm 6/8/22)