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BJ Baldwin gets dealt a bad hand at 2009 SCORE San Felipe 250

It’s amazing to me how one well-placed booby trap can bring millions of dollars worth of trophy trucks to a screeching halt.No matter how tough we make these vehicles they can still be stopped by mischievous spectators. BJ Baldwin was one of the many sent out into the clutches of the desert only to come out bullied and beaten with defeated hopes of victory. The surrounding desert of San Felipe is beautiful yet unforgiving. It does not care if you are in a trophy truck or a VW bug it only seeks to stop you and envelope you into its landscape. So it may claim you, as a trophy of one more hunk of rusting metal.

The SCORE San Felipe 250 is hands down the roughest, nastiest races in all of off-road. The shock melting, bone jarring, rim bending first 60 miles is enough to make any sane human say, “Why do we do this?’ The answer is, “Because it’s there to be conquered.” The rest of the race is no picnic either; rocky washes, sandy roads, silt beds and booby traps await competitors.

BJ Baldwin hands out stickers and signature cards at contingency.
BJ Baldwin hands out stickers and signature cards at contingency.

BJ Baldwin started the race 3rd off-the line He immediately caught and passed his dad within half mile from the start. Bobby Baldwin, who started 2nd off the line, pulled over and let BJ by. The beginning of the race had tons of spectators BJ had to slow down and check his speed to avoid hitting spectators. The beginning of the race is no joke, with no time to relax, by race mile 9 your already in giant whoops, chopping your way to the infamous Zoo Road crossing. BJ launched over Zoo Road throughout throngs of daring spectators. (Zoo Road is off-road racing’s equivalent to Running of the Bulls. Just switch the wine with a mix of Tecate and Tequila and the bulls with 6000 pound 850 hp trophy trucks. Although vehicles occasionally clip a crazed spectator, the overwhelming majority of injuries come from the “Borracho” factor.) BJ started catching the race leader, Damon Jefferies, at race mile 12. BJ stayed right on his ass until Damon pulled over at race mile 15 after he spit a driveline out.

BJ took the lead and had clear air. Although the tendency is to hammer down, BJ tried to take it easy thought the rough stuff. The beginning of the race is brutal on shocks, if you are not careful your race can end in the first 26 miles due to failed shocks. Shock temperatures reach upwards of 600° turning the chrome shock cans gold from the heat.

BJ was running at about 80% at a speed of 85mph when he hit a booby trap at race mile 22. A particular devious group of spectators had dug out a bump making about a 20+ inch squared off suspension smasher. These trucks are built to take a lot, but when you don’t see it coming and can’t set up the truck. It’s like getting sucker punched in the sternum and this sucker punch would come back to haunt BJ later.

BJ’s co-pilot Johnny Nelson got on the radio and called back to Bobby and the other racers to warn them about the brutal booby trap. BJ’s dad also hit the booby trap at almost full clip and was stopped within 20 miles after losing the ring gear in the rear end. (The brutal slam caused by the booby trap had cracked the bottom bolt and allowed the rear end fluid to leak out of third member).

BJ Baldwin charges through the desert just outside San Felipe.
BJ Baldwin charges through the desert just outside San Felipe.

At RM 60 at the v-turn Rob MacCachren in the number three Rivera trophy truck was 10 car lengths behind BJ, so BJ picked up pace and put some distance in between them. When the pair of battling trophy trucks hit the Diablo cut off, BJ stayed in on course, taking Diablo Road, even though he knew the dry lake bed would be faster. He had not pre-run the line due to the fact that it was previously marked as off-limits. Friday night, before the race SCORE president Sal Fish announced at the drivers meeting that driving through the lake bed would be allowed. Even still it’s not a good idea to take a line you have not pre-run, especially when the speeds on the dry lake bed exceed 140mph. Hitting a bump or rock at those speeds could do more than end your day.

MacCachren was familiar with the line and passed BJ, he had put approximately 1:30 on BJ by the end of the dry lakebed. BJ turned it up and just as he was reeling in MacCachren, BJ blew a corner and hit a huge rock, resulting in a blow out while he was doing about 120 mph!

BJ’s co-driver Johnny Nelson jumped out and had the tires changed in 1.45 min. BJ got moving again and passed MacCachren’s pit around race mile 126. MacCachren was off the course somewhere because he had not made it to his pit yet. BJ stayed focused, steadily picking the pace up weaving through the slower quads and bikes that were still on course.

At Race mile 190, BJ lost the rear passenger shock by-pass. All the oil in the shock blew out making the 6000 lb truck a nightmare to control. The loss of the shock makes the truck kick really bad though bumps, and the damaged corner sucks down when you brake. It completely off-balances the truck. BJ hit a large bump coming into checkpoint 4, causing the truck to kick and nose down, putting the truck up on the front valance, nearly endoing the truck!

BJ Baldwin charges through whoops at SCORE San Felipe 250
BJ Baldwin charges through whoops at SCORE San Felipe 250

At race mile 195 the ring gear failed abruptly. The plan was to pour it on in the last 50 miles. Brian Collins had BJ on corrected time by 1:45 minutes, which BJ could easily make up in the last 50 miles. BJ and his co-pilot got out and started pulling everything apart. They were out of contention for the win but still wanted the finish. The chase truck got stuck on the way out. BJ’s support crew hiked in by foot to assist until the chase truck could make it out. Once they got the truck going, BJ charged onward, finishing 6th in Trophy Tucks. Not the result he had fought for, yet not total defeat.

“Between the booby traps and bikes this is a sketchy race to lead. I paid the price. This is a 250-mile rough and technical battle. One fluke mishap can end your day. I was pretty bummed. We ran a conservative methodical race all day. We were just about to really drop the hammer when I heard the rear end spin and we stopped. I remember hitting the booby trap around race mile 22 and thinking to myself, that could have hurt us. Collins drove well, he is great in the rough stuff. He deserved it,” stated the upbeat BJ Baldwin.

BJ will be back next year to battle the desert of San Felipe once again with a hopeful shine in his eyes and the knowledge that it can be won. As for those spectators who built that booby trap, a few of the racers would like a word with you in the middle of the desert.