The opening race of the 2012 SCORE International series kicked off in Laughlin, NV next to the raging Colorado River. The Laughlin Desert Challenge was broken in to two races, giving racers the opportunity to score points both days. The course consisted of a 6.25 mile loop, featuring high speed jumps, sandy banked turns, rocky washes, and massive ruts known for crippling even the most capable of off road vehicles. This spectator friendly course featured 8 laps of hardcore off-road action with tons of bumping and passing.
Not only did the Friday qualifying lap earn racers spots for the first race on Saturday, but it ended BJ Baldwin tire hysteria as well. Finally, BJ ran his much-anticipated new Toyo tires in competition; and he did it well. With this quick and testing course in front of him, it was a perfect preview at what to expect from BJ in the longer races of 2012.
One lap was run on Friday to choose the started order for Round 1. SCORE sent racers off every 4 minutes so each racer had a clear path ahead of them. Top qualifier was none other than Baldwin, with an impressive time of 6 minutes and 23.99 seconds. Recent Off Road Hall of Fame inductee, Rob MacCachren, qualified second, a mere 10 seconds behind BJ. Needless to say, that’s a hell of a way to open 2012. Greg Nunley, Loyd Sproule, and Monster Energy’s Cameron Steele rounded out the top five.
Race day brought a calm and collected BJ, something not seen in 2011. “This year I am committed to wining races. I am not going to let anything get in the way of victory,” said Baldwin, “I want to focus on smarter driving and finishing races, keeping my eyes on the another championship.” The race, however, was a little different than the previous days qualifying, as BJ had to constantly fight off off-road race legend Rob Mac for the lead. “Our plan was to take it easy on the first few laps, but right after the start the pace was quick and we were being pressured by MacCachren. He started catching us on the second lap so we had to turn it up. Losing to a legend like Rob doesn’t bother me, he is an amazing driver, but beating him is awesome!” commented Baldwin.
BJ further separated from Rob when Rob had to pull over and change a flat on the sixth lap. From there, it was smooth sailing to the finish. Juan Carlos Lopez, from Tecate, Mexico, crossed the finish line over a minute after BJ, claiming second place in the Trophy Truck class. Cameron Steele entered three Dessert Assassins trucks to the race, including two Trophy Trucks. Josh Daniel, in the #14 Truck, did not finish the race and after a promising start in the early laps of the race, Steele’s #16 truck transmission blew, sending shrapnel towards the passenger seat. Co-driver Cody Stuart suffered a severe leg injury and was taken to Las Vegas for a nightlong surgery. Cody will have a long recovery and we wish him the best. Cameron attended Stuarts trip to Las Vegas and was with him throughout the night. With him in mind, he booked it back to Laughlin in time for Sundays race.
Starting from the back, Cameron was able to battle through the field of 22 to finish his #16 truck 7th. Truck #14 finished 5th, with Josh Daniel behind the wheel. BJ ran in to mechanical issues that forced him to limp through the course by lap 3. On board computer issues shut down 3 cylinders when he was 14 seconds ahead of Rob Mac. BJ made it through the 4th lap but after hearing about medical issues concerning teammate and father, Bobby Baldwin, he cut straight to him. Bobby suffered a heavy concussion and blurred vision in his left eye after a cruel landing off a jump. Race officials called for SCORE rescue over the radio and took the two to medical facilities. We are happy to report after a night in the hospital and several tests, Bobby has been released yesterday morning. Both co-drivers took over the vehicles and neither would finish.
This weekend we saw two race extremes of the new era of BJ Baldwin. Will the new tires make a significant difference, as seen on Saturday? Will mechanical issues continue to haunt him like on Sunday? Your guess is as good as ours. I guess we’ll see at the BITD Parker 425 in early February.
Photos by Art Eugenio for Mad Media