Caught in the Dust While Chasing SCORE’s 1000
Words: Bruce Jett
Photos: Luis Rodriquez Hernandez; provided by team
I still cannot believe what has happened! For over 15 years I’ve dreamt of racing in the Baja 500. I have found myself surrounded by the best people in the UTV off road racing community and now consider them my family. Without their help this longtime dream could never have been realized. I will turn 58 this year; my good friend, Steve Beard, will be 64 and is right by my side on this adventure.
The Baja 1000 documentary “From Dust To Glory” has been a strong influence on my journey over the past several years. I’ve just finished watching it for who knows how many times. I have obsessively studied UTV videos from Chapo Racing, Shock Therapy and on and on down the rabbit hole of YouTube.
Steve and I never raced anything and to top it off had never even sat in a UTV. We have ridden hundreds of thousands of miles all over this beautiful country on our Harleys but this was beyond new to us. Hell, at this point in my life I am 5’10″ at 170 pounds which isn’t a bad size for sitting in a UTV. But Steve who is 6’3″ and 280 pounds could be a logistical problem. The big question was, “Can he even fit in one?”
Another very real challenge we faced was having very little funds. The UTV Class looked like our best option. I eventually found out most sell off everything at any level to fund this sport. I wasn’t sure anyone other than my wife and kids would understand why I needed to do this; I only mentioned this to one or two friends. They either thought I was nuts or didn’t believe I wanted it this bad. We decided from then to tell no one; until we left, “mum was the word.”
In January 2022 I was watching a YouTube video and I saw a guy talking about a wreck he had in a UTV. If it wasn’t for his Geiser Performance built cage he’s pretty sure the outcome would have been devastating. The safety cage seems like a good place to start.
I looked up Geiser Performance and made a call to even see what a cage would cost. Luckily for me, Greg Geiser answered the phone! This was where my six-month journey to Baja really began. When I explained my dream, all I heard was dead silence. He asked me about my racing experience. I told him I’d never raced anything before.
The next ten minutes was Greg begging me not to begin in the Baja 500. He assured me that I had no idea what I was getting myself into and if I moved forward to call his friend, Nick Bruce, owner of Adrenalin Motorsports Can Am and a sponsored Can-Am racer, after telling him my bucket list dream I’ll never forget his main comment. He said, “Bud, you are so far in over your head.”
His next questions were, “What will you be racing and what will you be running for your pre-runner? My answer was, “What’s a pre-runner?” This is how I discovered that racers actually need two cars to race the Baja, one to race and one to pre-run in. I was clearly not sure how I would pay for either. Nick began asking questions about chase crews, pit crews and car builds to pass tech to even race in Baja. Now I was thinking it’s time to sit down and have a drink.
To my surprise Nick decided to go all in! His commitment to guide, direct, and walk me through and help in any way he could. He set me up with his good friends and network of some of the best people in the off-road business. We started at his dealership, Adrenalin Motorsports in Arizona, with a 2022 Can-Am X3 X RS Turbo RR and built my car to survive Baja. The attention and help I was getting was humbling to say the least, and when I realized buying a second UTV to pre-run with was out of the question I was referred to JR Quintero, owner of Baja UTV tours.
To my surprise, JR invited me to fly to Yuma and ride along with a tour. Aside from being able to see the Baja terrain, I learned firsthand how huge navigation is for this race. On the last day of the tour, JR reaches out to shake my hand and I’m thinking he’s just being polite, but the handshake was accompanied by “you wreck it, you buy it.” That was my first seat time in a Can-Am and I was caught, hook line and sinker.
JR knows we have signed up for the Baja 500 to run in the Sportsman class and to my surprise has agreed to provide a pre-runner, trucks and his three-man crew for the race.
Nick eventually talked me out of Sportsman and into the Pro Stock UTV class. I was nervous moving out of sportsman, but how do I say no to my mentor in this dream becoming reality.
After I returned to Maryland, preparations continued. My buddy Steve signs on as co-driver and navigator, the X3 gets finishing touches from Shock Therapy, SD Lighting, and Chapo Racing to finish prep. I got hooked up with Tim at UPR Racing Supply to go down the list of personal equipment. From helmets to gloves, pumper hoses, and everything else I knew nothing about was shipped to Maryland for me to try on. As the race approached, I lined up hotels for my wonderful wife, Via, my boys, and Steve’s wife. We double checked our registration, insurance, and began the drive from Maryland to Arizona to see the UTV for the first time.
I cannot explain the excitement and disbelief I felt pre-running, the racecourse was nothing like I’ve seen on TV. I’m not sure using words like cliffs, ruts, canyons, rocks, and sand whoops are even close. Inches are the difference between tearing up your car or making it through. I remember Steve saying, “there is no way this is a race course, driving on the moon would be safer.”
On race morning we were up before 5am, hearts racing and adrenaline off the charts. My dream of sitting at the starting line and watching the countdown from Ten to Go is just hours away. I question if we’ll actually finish in the allotted time and receive that finishing medal. Our game plan is simple; protect the car and “keep your brain in the helmet on the racecourse.” The words of advice from Nick and his co-driver Cam became our ethos. Time and time again, Baja pilots let their minds wander and encounter problems. After the race started, I would repeat to myself “Stay focused, run your own race, protect the car…”
Adrenalin’s other driver Juan Dominguez and his brother stayed with us at the start line to make sure we were strapped in properly and not alone. My wife and boys got up early with us too, and my dream is in full motion when the flag drops.
The course was nothing like pre-running due to the amount of damage the trophy trucks did ahead of us, it was beyond brutal. In Baja, the terrain is your biggest concern. Things get crazy in the first 150 miles; vehicles turn over in areas that you’ll wonder how it was even possible, dust gets so thick you can’t see anything, and crowds of spectators line up inches from cars running flat out.
There were roughly 167 virtual check points to hit within 40-60 feet. We only missed three, for a total of 30 minutes in penalties. But after 18 plus hours of our minds playing tricks, bodies being beaten, and brains fried from concentration; we found ourselves crossing the line. My dad would say “you only get to die once but you live every day,” man was he right. After 22 years of being with the best wife ever, I look over and realize she has that same look in her eye – as if we were on our first date. My boys could not be prouder of their father. I know life just doesn’t get any better than this!
We had just laid down after being up 24 hours, closed our eyes for maybe an hour when my wife got a text. Unofficially, we placed third in the Baja 500 pro stock UTV class. I think I said “What!?” 40 times before calling Steve to wake him up and hear him say “What!?” just as many times. Nick called and said it was official, forever in the Baja history books; a third-place podium finish.
I was told by many, “for days after you run the Baja you won’t even want to see your car, your body will still be healing, and racing will be the last thing on your mind.” Then about two weeks later you’ll be scheming how to do it all again. I just passed the two-week mark and I’m wondering if I can make the Baja 1000 in November; I’m addicted. Baja and the Can-Am did not disappoint.