This year’s 52nd BFGoodrich SCORE Baja 500 was mesmerizing from the minute Robby Gordon laid down the fastest qualifying time in his 4 wheel drive Trophy Truck he calls the Unicorn. Would this be the time that Robby runs away from the field with a win? He is notorious for doing things his way, and the Unicorn is a perfect example. He designed it, he built it, and he was going to prove it with a Baja 500 win. It was the outcome that every Robby Gordon fan wanted, but there was a small but just as talented field of racers who stood in his way. All the trucks at the front of the race were formidable. There was the Monster Energy, Terrible Herbst truck with Tim Herbst and Pat Dean that had a Joe Gibbs racing engine that delivered a top speed of 150 miles per hour. There were the McMillin Brothers; Luke, and Dan. Justin Lofton, The winningest racer in Baja Larry Roeseler, Baja 1000 winners the Ampudia’s, and several others who were vying for the win.
They would all suffer the wrath of the San Felipe terrain where the race would start and finish. The course headed straight out into big whoops, crossed dry lake beds, and then weaved its way through miles of twisty, and technical sand washes, filled with rocks. The finish was north of town instead of on the Malecon in order to spread things out for social distancing. Very few would finish without visible scars to their race vehicles, and aches and pains in their bodies. Some would have to endure more than others. Robby complained of a driveline vibration that limited his top speed. He stacked up the top 5 behind him for much of the day, but remained the first truck on the road giving hope for a win to his fans. As the miles went by, it was clear that the number 19 Herbst truck was the fastest. Pat Dean took the start, and Tim Herbst would take over the truck for the second half of the race. He overtook Robby, and then held off the number 83 truck of Luke McMillin. Luke would get a flat tire, and when he pulled out of the race line to change it, he got stuck. The running order was then Herbst first on the road followed by the 23 of Dan McMillin with Justin “Bean” Smith at the wheel. The Ampudia’s were third on the road after starting 6th. The order remained the same as they crossed the line however, penalties, and particularly missed VCP’s (virtual check points) would determine the winner. Only Larry Roeseler, who had electrical problems; dropping him to 6th, and final finisher Josh De Jong in 9th made it with no penalties. It was 4th place qualifier, and chronically 4th place finisher Dan McMillin, who eventually came out on top for a much deserved win.
In class one, Cody Parkhouse and his Dad Brian ran out front all day. At one point they were in contention for the overall race win, but a broken limit strap threatened to pull their CV joint apart so Brian had to back off in order to save the car. They still managed a 5th place overall. Brendan Gaughan was 2nd, and Ruben Torres 3rd. Top qualifier Broc Dickerson had multiple problems during the race, and credited his crew with finding him, and making repairs to get them to the finish in 5th place. He was in visible pain at the finish line from the pounding he took all day.
The top 3 in Trophy Truck Spec all had penalties, but Santiago Creel took the top spot followed by William Hedrick, and Clay Lawrence in 3rd. The Lawrence truck was piloted by the always fast Ray Griffith at the start of the race. Uncle Clay took over the wheel and looked to have the victory in hand, but suffered a fire with only 2 miles to go in the race. Ray, and the team pushed the charred truck down the hill that led into the finish line in order to secure a podium finish in Clay’s honor. Clay did receive some burns in the fire. We all wish him a speedy recovery.
A strong performance was put forth by the Honda Ridgeline Racing team of Jeff Proctor, and Pat Dailey. They passed all the UTV’s, the class 10’s, and several unlimited cars and trucks that started ahead of them to take the class 7 victory, and 13th place overall. Class 10’s only finisher was number 1087 Ivan Tagle who crossed the line after 13 hours of racing. The UTV classes were dominated by the Matlock’s Wayne, and Kristen. Wayne started in the back but passed everyone to be first UTV on the road. He would break an upper control arm that dropped him to 3rd after Matt Burroughs who won the Turbo class, and The Murray Brothers who finished second. Kristen Matlock overshadowed the entire field. She also started in the back of the Naturally Aspirated class, but passed everyone to take the win, and the overall UTV victory over the faster turbocharged cars.
After so many postponements due to covid, it was such a relief to finally get back to racing in Baja. Everyone commended the efforts of the government, and SCORE International to put on a safe race that delivered challenges on the course that clearly outweighed those posed by the virus. The 52nd Baja 500 was unique with its venue in San Felipe, but it was such a welcomed event for everyone involved. Hopefully it will inspire others to attend the Baja 1000 coming up on November 17-22.
Race results and penalties
Photos by GETSOME Photo