Race Report: 51st SCORE Baja 1000
The SCORE Baja 1000 presents a challenge that is unmatched in offroad racing. Not only do competitors have to survive an inordinate amount of punishing Baja Peninsula race course, but there is added pressure due to season long championships that hang in the balance. The final opportunity to score valuable points comes at the toughest race of the season. Winning a Baja 1000 merits enormous prestige, but when that win also wraps up a championship title, you’ve accomplished something very special. Baja veteran Wayne Matlock and his crew achieved both, and more. Their win gave them the Turbo Class UTV championship, and put them over the top in the SCORE overall points championship, the first time the overall has been won by any UTV racer. Moreover, Wayne accomplished all this while driving the entire race solo. Most teams enlist several drivers who take turns behind the wheel as the mental and physical demands are just too great. Only a brave few take on the challenge of driving the entire distance. It puts a huge exclamation point on Matlock racing’s season.
The incredible victory took lots of hard work and planning. In addition to all the logistics and meticulous effort on the car, Wayne prepared himself physically and mentally. He changed his diet; started eating healthy, and working out. That’s why he looked a little sideways at his co-driver Daniel Felix who was eating a chorizo burrito the morning of the race. “Don’t worry,” said Daniel, “I’m a Mexican. No problem.” Many of us are unable to count the amount of times we have heard those fatal words. It might have been fine 100 times before, but this time the jarring made Daniel sick, and he climbed out at mile 150. Part of the preparation for this race included having a relief driver on the team; just in case. Instead of taking the wheel, Josh Row jumped in and took over navigation in the right seat.
“We drew on our team’s years of experience for this race,” said Wayne, “We knew it could get cold so we had special jackets made that we could put on, and take off in the car. Our Polaris RZR was perfect. We only had one flat tire when we came over a blind hill and hit a boulder in the course. I started in the back because I was going to drive solo and I didn’t want to be the one out front setting the pace. The silt beds were the worst I’ve ever seen with cars and trucks stuck everywhere. We almost got stuck ourselves. The long hours in the darkness were not a problem for me; it worked to our advantage. I like driving at night with good lights, and our Baja Designs 40 inch LED light bar is plenty. I was told coming into the race that we were tied in overall points with Rob MacCachren. Rob was the first to congratulate us on the overall championship.”
Second place in the Turbo class went to Derek Murray who was driving with Brother Jason, and Dan Fischer. “The silt beds at night did make it tougher,” said Derek. “There was zero visibility and with so much dust there was an eerie glow. There were 30 to 50 class 10’s, 7200 trucks, class one’s, and Trophy Trucks littering the course. We would be pedaling through a deep rut and come up on a line of stuck trucks. You had to muscle the car up and out of the rut and go around. We stayed out of the deepest ruts; ran the high side, and not the truck lines. After a few miles you can feel the car getting heavier as it filled with silt. It started to clog the pumpers so we would kick them to knock the silt off. When the pumpers got clogged our helmets would fog up making vision even worse. A Trophy Truck driver begged us for a tow but it seemed ridiculous and besides, we were battling to keep up with Matlock. We lost our GPS so Dan missed 2 VCP’s; that killed us. We would start to make up some time and Wayne would jackrabbit and put more of a gap on us.”
Third place went to Rhys Millen and Mitch Guthrie Jr. in Rhys’ final race in the UTV class. “We will still have our cars competing in the UTV class but I am finishing up a brand new car that we will be racing in next season,” said Rhys, “Mitch drove a great race; we just had a couple little problems that held us back. We were trying some new things that worked really well during testing but… We lost a belt and it got wrapped around the secondary. The entire Turbo class went by and we lost 20 minutes. We went into 100% survival mode. The worst thing that happened was an electrical problem with the wiring to our overhead light bar. The lower bar is only designed to work with the upper bar so we could only go 60 miles per hour before we lost all depth perception. It was a shame because the car ran perfectly and the suspension was great. Being my last year racing UTV’s I really wanted to go out with a win, but a podium will do. Wayne is such a great competitor; our hats are off to him for his win.”
Fourth place deserves a mention as it was the first Baja 1000 as a team for Australians Brett Comiskey, Peter Carr, and Daniel McKenzie. We talked to Brett who pulled the night shift through the notorious silt beds. “I saw 15 Trophy Trucks all piled up so we headed straight into the bush,” said Comiskey, “We had cars coming straight for us in the silt. They must have been coming to pull people out. Pete gave me a car with no scratches so I tried to do the same for Dan. We are all from northern Australia where we get one week of winter. It got really cold for us so we had to stop and put on a jumper. Dan drove to the finish and did his best to catch Mitch. We are happy to get close to a podium, especially with the competition. We were not racing for points but it was important to get a good crack at it for next year.”
Pro class winner Tyler Backus used every bit of luck he had in winning the race. He and his Brother Trent decided to put a team together just 2 weeks before the race. They bought a car and took it down to the bare frame. They also bought a new trailer, some chase trucks and a prerunner. “We took the car down to the bare frame because Trent likes to wreck stuff,” said Tyler. “We had a perfect race. Not a nut or bolt came loose, no electrical problems, we didn’t even break a zip tie, and no tire failures. We pitted 8 times for fuel and had 9 second stops. Our only issue was with the shocks. We threw them on thinking they were valved right but the spring rate was way off. We had to back down in the whoops because the car rode so rough.”
It was after the race when things went so wrong. While towing the race car and prerunner back to Canada in the new trailer, a kid in a mustang tried to pass them on the shoulder, clipped the guard rail, and sideswiped the truck; putting it and the trailer on its side. The freeway was littered with pieces of the mustang, some drugs and a crack pipe. Luckily, nobody was hurt. If that wasn’t bad enough, when they got to the airport, they discovered Trent’s truck was gone. It takes incredible toughness to race the Baja 1000. Good thing for these guys as they needed it after the race.
Second place in Pro class went to Brothers Kaden and Corbin Wells. Kaden took the car to race mile 340. Corbin ran from 340 to 600, and Kaden got back in for the run to the finish. They were dogged with problems for most of the race. “We lost a caliper bolt and bent the rotor so I had no front brakes on the highway,” said Kaden. “We also had an issue with the bearing getting pushed out of the hub. We had to replace the hub 2 times. While Corbin was in the silt, he got stuck in a bottleneck. He also ran into the back of what looks like a suburban. It’s so dusty in the camera footage that you can’t tell. It got the sub unstuck, and he kept going. He stopped to help Kristen Matlock but the strap broke so he had to go on. We managed to move into 2nd place at mile 150 and held our position.”
Third place in Pro class Paul Champion also had a tough time. “We had trouble with our ECU before the race so we could only prerun 100 miles,” says Paul. “The night before the race Cory Sappington was looking at the car and found 2 cracks in the frame. He helped to fix one side and told me to go get some sleep and don’t stress. There is always stuff that never happens that happens in Baja. I had 2 co-drivers that switched off, but I drove the whole way. I don’t know how I stayed awake the whole time. But I did. The cold temperatures helped. I hit a basketball sized rock that cracked the tabs on the a-arm so I had to limp it until I found a pit with a good welder. I battled with Wells for a while; that was fun. At every pit I got out to stretch, eat a banana, and drink some water. It turned out to be a pretty good race. I can’t wait for next year.”
Another epic Baja 1000 is in the books. Wayne Matlock made UTV history with his overall points championship, and his class championship and solo win were also impressive. The top finishers all had incredible stories of struggles, perseverance, and ultimately success. The truth is, just to finish this race is a major accomplishment. Win or lose, if you finish or not, the Baja 1000 will find your weaknesses and reward your strengths. That’s why it remains a goal for so many competitors. When you add in the beauty, culture, and food of Mexico, it’s no wonder racers are always eager to get to Baja.