2014 Baja 500

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Another SCORE Baja 500 is in the books and it will be one that is talked about for some time to come. 17 UTVs would sign up to take on this 446 mile course but only 9 would finish. For some that may be a testament to just how hard this course is, for me, it means UTVs are progressing in a huge way! To see over 50% of the field finish and less than that fall out due to attrition is huge. This is a much beter attrition rate then majority of the other 4 wheel classes in the race. The little golf carts that still are fighting for respect are making moves, turning heads and opening eyes!

This race for me was slightly different as it pertains to others where I am chasing the race solely wearing the hat of UTVUnderground.com to tell the story of the event from the sidelines. This year I was finally able to be a part of a team, not just any team, the reigning 2013 SCORE Champions, Factory Polaris’ #1932 Jagged X! I will save my story for another day, but it is only fair that I give these guys their due thanks for letting me fulfill a dream. No one has EVER asked me to be a part of their race program as a racer for a SCORE event. I have been traveling to Baja for many moons to follow the races and help teams across the desert but never once have I ever been asked to join a team in helping them bring their car through the Baja peninsula as a racer. It was an amazing experience so with that I want to thank everyone at Polaris, Matt Parks, Bill Schueler and Craig Scanlon for making that happen. I also want to thank Jason Spiess to whom I co-dogged for as he had the ultimate say in whether I was able to get in or not. So thank you to all of you guys, you gave me the chance of a lifetime and I will never forget that!

As is usually the case in Baja, communications were limited. Because I was slated to get in at RM260 I was unable to run the vehicles down the coast and remain in locations where I could receive regular intel. Because of this my information on the race is sporadic and not enough for me to tell an accurate story of what went down. Here is what I do know about the race:

Marc Burnett is and was fast. Despite having a pre race engine failure forcing an engine swap only days before the event, he overcame adversity and traveled through the Baja 500 like he was on a different level. Some have said he broke some gentlemen like rules as he barged through bottle neck lines while everyone waited their turn. Well, all I can say to that is “quit yer snivlin”‘.. This is a race and if you want to win you can’t worry about hurting feelings. AS long as you aren’t leaving someone potentially injured behind on course I say everyman for themselves. I don’t know Marc’s whole story and to me it really doesn’t matter what the story is or isn’t. Fact is he came by me at RM260 with almost an hour lead over the next machine in his class. The guy spent weeks preparing for this race by pre-running in Baja, even helping SCORE mark the course, AGAIN. He did more homework and more legwork to prepare for this race then anyone else I know in this class and it paid off. AND, I would like to add that not only did Marc do his homework, he offered to help many other competitors do theirs by inviting them, myself included, to go pre-run with him. Burnett earned this victory and for that our hat is off to you my friend!

Branden Sims is an animal. The guy can not only drive, his team knows how to have a good time and they are always positive. Branden brought the 1913 RZR to Ensenada with no pre-running in whatsoever that I know of and put a run on Marc Burnett like no one else this race. He lost by minutes after starting in the back alongside Cognito and Jagged X. Sims continues to turn heads and show everyone how legit of a driver he is. His 2nd place finish is a victory in our eyes and a testament to just how talented of a driver Branden is and how good of a machine he has.

Justin Lambert didn’t ironman the race like Burnett did and like Sims did but he did save the day for his Cognito Motorsports team. After a rough start with Justin Sheakley behind the wheel, multiple bottlenecks and even a tip over, Lambert took over drivers duties at RM 170 and powered it to a 3rd place finish. Another team with no pre-running in the books prior to the green flag that came out and competed all 456 miles. Cognito is another solid group of guys, the trash talk is always funny and light hearted and all arrogance is hidden within. They show nothing but respect to their other competitors and are always representing themselves and their sponsors at the highest level. We congratulate the entire Cognito team on a job well done. Its always a pleasure spending time with you guys and I am proud to call you guys friends.

Johnny Angal has never raced in Baja, and as far as I know he has never even attended a Baja race. As owner of UTVInc Johnny knows his way around a UTV and by looking at his car you can clearly see he has done his homework on what it takes to build a legit race SXS. Angal partnered with veteran UTV racer Brian Bush and came to Baja not just to compete but to win. Johnny has never half stepped anything in his life. When he commits to something he goes all out and this has proven to make most of what he does successful. Johnny and Brian made a hard run all day long at Burnett, running most of the day as the 3rd vehicle on course. They lost position to Cognito after the midway point but held on strong to finish in 4th place. You can’t knock the effort this new UTV race team is putting in. In 2 races they have ran with the best and proven that they can run pace with the fastest. The 1920 RZR shows a ton of support to UTVUnderground.com (like many of the other teams) and we appreciate that! I also appreciate that Johnny took Jason and I on a short pre-run from Ensenada to Ojos so we could at least gauge the course back into town. Thank you for that Johnny and congrats on your performance!

Matt Parks is a stud. He’s fast and smart and he understands this whole racing thing as good as anyone. Parks and his Jagged X teammates are the team everyone loves to hate. Of course I say that with a grain of salt lightly sprinkled on my cheeseburger, but seriously, everyone treats them as the team to beat, and rightfully so. They have dominated UTV desert racing since like 2006 and in their first SCORE season in 2013 they put on a clinic and took home the first ever Pro UTV championship in the series. They are the face of Factory Polaris’ desert racing efforts and their team is as dialed as it comes. Their is no corner cutting and no lack of resources as it pertains to the tangible items such as chase trucks and man power. The guys on the team have an attitude of “act as if” and thats mainly because “they have”! Winning is all they want to do, finishing however does bring some satisfaction and thats because they are veterans of the sport. They know what it takes to win races and championships and they know what it takes to have a good time. I have become great friends with this rag tag bunch of characters and I was overwhelmingly honored to be asked to be a part of this team this race. Our race didn’t go as we had hoped, I still don’t have Matt’s full breakdown on how or why he got so far behind the fore runners of the class but I know the bottlenecks played a huge role. Once Jason and I got into the 1932 RZR at RM 260 we never once saw anyone. We were limited to no more than 70mph really on the lake bed due to belt temps and because of that I think we lost any chance of running down the 1920 and 1908. We were close by looking at the times and for the last 20 miles or so we ran 1/2 speed at best due to only having front wheel drive. Nevertheless we never gave up, and we pushed through to a solid and respectable top 5 finish keeping Parks points in tact in hopes for a late championship run.

The Baja is an unforgiving place. You will spend thousands of dollars to get to the race to possibly only do a few miles, and thats what happened to Sean Cook in the 1930 Polaris RZR. Cook claims to have been a victim of a booby trap, somehow being misled by locals and missing a turn early on as he navigated out of Ensenada only minutes after starting the race. Cook traveled at upwards of 50mph according to his earlier Facebook posts and veered strait into a K-Rail, missing a turn and ruining his chance at competing in the race. Cook and his co-driver were able to walk away and live to fight another day and for us thats all that matters. No one got hurt! Cook had to involve SCORE ops in the situation as local Police wanted to potentially impound the race vehicle. Baja can be strange at times, it is not always fair. We are glad things were not worse for him and his team.

I am sure there are many more stories, as a matter of fact, I know there are many more stories. But I am only one man and I can only tell those that I know and remember. Everyone in this class deserves a nice paragraph on them and their team, I know. I could go on about the individuals and the respect shown towards me and the staff at UTVUnderground.com. I am fulfilled by the props given to us for our hard work week in and week out, covering these events for you guys. Just because I don’t mention you doesn’t mean I don’t respect you or like you. I have the upmost respect for each and every person who supports what we do and attends these events as competitors, teammates, sponsors and fans. There aren’t enough words in my head to describe how grateful I am for all of you and your efforts.

Looking at the season in general, this is the 3rd race in the SCORE season this year won by a Can-Am. It has sparked heated debate on UTVUnderground.com in the forum as to which platform is the most dominant in desert racing today? Of course you can make a valid argument as you compare BITD results for Polaris but its hard to argue just what exactly these Maverick racers are doing at SCORE. Baja is the premier form of desert racing and so far this year Maverick racers have held RZR racers up against the wall. We know this doesn’t sit well with Polaris, we also know that Can-Am is enjoying their success. I don’t know where all this goes but I can tell you one thing, its shaping up to be one seriously interesting battle as we head to the 2 final races of the season which culminate all a the series finale in Ensenada for the famed Baja 1000 which this year runs the length of the peninsula.

As I wrap this up, I want to say thank you to SCORE for putting on a fantastic race and event. I want to thank each and every racer and team who represents UTVUnderground.com on your race vehicles, apparel and chase trucks. I also want to thank our hard working team at UTVUnderground.com / Mad Media. We brought over 15 people to this race plus a helicopter so that we could tell the story of UTVs through our photos here and through what will be another EPIC Polaris Racing video. And with that, I do want to say thank you to Polaris and their staff for believing in us to produce these awesome video highlights not just for our own content pool but for the racers and sponsors and fans of this fast growing class.

See you all at the Baja Mil…..

Joey D.

Photos by: Vincent Knakal & Ernesto Araiza // UTVUnderground.com

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CLASS 19 (Limited, Stock 4-wheel Utility Vehicle) (Starters: 17, Finishers: 9)

1. Marc Burnett, Lakeside, Calif./Fernando Flores, San Diego, Can-Am Maverick, 13:01:56 (34.33 mph);

2. Branden Sims/Jacob Carver/Justin Krause, Prescott Valley, Ariz., Polaris RZR1000, 13:15:15;

3. Justin Lambert, Bakersfield, Calif./Justin Sheakley, Peoria, Ariz./Jeremiah Staffs, Apple Valley, Calif., Polaris RZR XP1000, 14:26:14;

4. John Angal/Brian Bush, Mesa, Ariz., Polaris RZR XP1000, 14:42:06;

5. Matt Parks, Newport Beach, Calif./Jason Spiess, Peoria, Ariz./Keith Redstrom, Glendale, Ariz., Polaris RZR XP1000, 14:54:17;

6. Jamie Kirkpatrick/Nick Nelson/Dan Kirkpatrick, Olympia, Wash., Polaris XP1000, 15:24:27;

7.Derek Murray/Jason Murray, Eastvale, Calif./Steve Amarine, Downey, Calif./Monty Aldrich, Can-Am Maverick, Can-Am, 16:01:33;

8. Cory Sappington/Tyler Dixon, Peoria, Ariz./Donovan Cain, Glendale, Calif., Can-Am Maverick 1000, 18:12:53;

9. Alonso Lopez/ Roberto Balderama, Murrieta, Calif./Wayne Matlock, Alpine, Calif., Polaris RZR XP900, 18:48:44.

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