The 2014 Baja 1000 is now officially complete. 19 Pro UTVs would take on the 1275 mile race course but only 8 would finish. I say ONLY 8, but what I really mean is 8 bad ass UTVs and their teams finished one of the most grueling Baja 1000 courses ever. 8 finishers is almost a 50% attrition rate, that exceeds anyone’s expectations that I had spoken too leading up to the race. My guess was 4 maybe 5 at most would finish in time. Having that many finishers is a huge testament to the vehicles and competition in our class. Once again we proved just why UTVs are growing faster than any other class in off-road racing and are also one of the most competitive and capable classes in the sport!
The race for UTVs started at 2:45PM Thursday afternoon and it took racers an hour to just get through the first 40 miles of the race. In that first 40 miles, the top UTV teams which were the 1919 Polaris RZR of Johnny Angal / UTV Inc, 1921 Polaris RZR of Jamie Kirkpatrick / Tire Balls, and the 1904 Can-Am Maverick of Cory Sappington / Dezert Toyz were averaging just under 50mph, 47mph to be exact. While that pace could not be maintained the entire race, teams like Jagged X and UTV Inc intended on keeping it to as close to that as they could.
UTVs because of their late start would not get to enjoy much daylight, nor would they be thrilled with the course and carnage that lay before them. Racers tried to get in as many miles as they could before sunset but by the highway crossing at KM77 around RM100, racers would be forced to fire up their lights and deal with the dark. It was during this time that the 1932 of Jagged X racing, being piloted at the time by Craig Scanlon, would begin to make his moves. By RM 170 Scanlon would pass 4 other racers moving the 1932 RZR into second place. The battle was on between the 1919 and 1932. They would battle throughout the night and continue that battle all the way to La Paz.
The 1919 Polaris RZR of UTV Inc. is / was a brand new RZR XP4 coming into this years Baja 1000. Johnny Angal, owner of UTV Inc. and the Driver Of Record (DOR) for the 1919 would build this machine specifically for this race. He included a massive 25+ gallon fuel cell that would allow him to travel further distances without having to stop. This would be Johnny’s 6th desert race, his 2nd Baja race and his first Baja 1000. Many, including myself, had no clue as to just how well this team which included drivers Branden Sims and Brian Bush would do in this massively long Baja 1000. Johnny and his team were prepared with all the right equipment and they had done their homework. They didn’t pre run much, but they studied and most importantly they showed up with a well prepped machine.
The 1919 through the first 200 miles of the race was now averaging 42mph! Thats a blistering pace. What was even crazier is the 1932 was right there as was the 1921. UTVs were putting on a clinic, passing bigger trucks, buggies and whatever else was in their way. As racers ran into the night, drama would unfold. Race averages would be around 44 mph by RM300. Cory Sappington in the 1904 Maverick remained in the fight as he and the 1921 RZR battled nose to tail for many miles. The 1919 RZR which maintained their lead was being challenged by the 1932 RZR of Matt Parks / Jagged X. It was an intense battle that our team on the ground and our team at home tracking was glued too. Jagged X is the 2013 SCORE Champion. They fell just short of a Baja 1000 win last year and Matt Parks and his team of Craig Scanlon and Brandon Schueler were coming to Ensenada for one thing and one thing only, a win!
At 4:30am the 1919 at RM536 would be enjoying an almost 30 mile lead over the 1932 of Jagged X which was still running an amazing pace at RM507. We would later find out that the 2 RZRs would end up tangling causing the 1932 to be sent into a barrel roll of sorts. This allowed the 1921 of Jamie Kirkpatrick to begin to challenge for the 2nd position. They were within 8 miles of Jagged X and charging hard! Just behind them at 4:30am was the 1917 of Murray Motorsports, the 1905 of Marc Burnett, the 1942 of Scott McFarland, and 1904 of Cory Sappington. Cory had dropped off through the night, we were unsure as to why.
As the sun began to rise the lead UTVs would barely be approaching the HALF WAY POINT of the race. Imagine for one second that feeling. You have now been racing for nearly 15 hours, you see the sun start to rise again and you come to the realization that you are barely half way through the race!! Thats BAJA! Now it becomes as much of a mental race as it does a physical or mechanical race. Can you keep your focus? Can your team maintain their duties? Can your equipment keep this abuse up? All these things start to cross your mind as food, fluids and sleep begin to be all your body longs for. What was most amazing for us, is that the lead UTVs were still maintaining a 40 mph average! WTF? I was tripping out thinking no way can Johnny and his team in the 1919 keep this pace. Their RZR was going to break, it had too right?
As I was debating what to eat for breakfast at just before 9am on Friday morning, racers were now breaching the 700 mile mark in the race. But as I started to make my way to food I get a text message from our southern Baja team. It says, 8:45am – JAGGED X IN THE LEAD RM700 – UTV INC GOING BACKWARDS ON COURSE TOWARDS THEIR PIT. The tracker showed the 1932 now at RM700 and the 1919 at RM668. I finally started to feel like I had known it all along, finally that 1919 RZR of Johnny’s gave out from abuse. It can’t take that kind of abuse for that long. Right? About 20 minutes later my next text says – 8:58am – UTV INC CAME BACK TO ROAD CROSSING RM655. CHANGED RADIUS RODS< SWAY BAR DOWN LINKS< FUEL< GOT IT ALL! MURRAY’S ON HIS TAIL 6 MINUTES LATER…. The drama continued to unfold as racers now were racing in clear day light! I love Baja!
By 9:30Am the 1932 Polaris RZR of Jagged X was enjoying a 20 mile lead. They were at RM717 but then I realized, holy crap thats Burnett in the 1905 in second place at RM697! Burnett had been sort of laying in wait, cruising, then again why wouldn’t he? He had spent a month pre-running the course, he also was solo driving the race! Yeah, he was going to do the entire Baja 1000 by himself. Not to mention he was putting it all on the line as he needed to finish to win the 2014 season championship. Burnett was not going to just fight as a back marker however, he wanted a win and he had put in the homework down south and now he was picking up the pace, using his knowledge to track down the lead! The 1919 was back in the fight now at RM693. The 1921 was battling now with the 1917, both were at RM670.
As racers headed to San Ignacio, a cool part of the race where you drive strait through its beautiful town, Jagged X was still enjoying a now near 30 minute lead over Burnett. But as they raced through town I get another text message – UTV INC. JUST PASSED BURNETT AT SAN IGNACIO! Thats insane I thought to myself, the 1919 was broken, down by a ton and now was charging again towards the front. I don’t know what their average MPH was now but it had to be mid 40s. Branden Sims was behind the wheel and he was on a mission, ironically, as he passed through the Mission in San Ignacio!
Now this is the challenging part of covering Baja, we have more guys covering the race then most of the UTV teams have supporting their race program. UTVUnderground.com was DEEP in Baja and we have to be if we intend on keeping our coverage up throughout the race. But like racers we too face our own issues. Communication is difficult, service is spotty and radios are all but worthless once we get past a certain point not to mention we get tired too! So as I am reading that previous text about Burnett being passed I get another text. This one has a photo of the Jagged X team, shocks off the car, crew working franticly. The text says this: 10:30am – JAGGED X IS PULLED OFF AFTER A ROLL HEADING INTO SAN IGNACIO. UTV INC. JUST DROVE BY AND ARE BACK IN THE LEAD. 1905 BURNETT JUST PASSED AS WELL!
At this point lead UTVs were still averaging almost 40mph. UTV Inc now had overcome a major deficit and it was about this time that I finally came to the realization that this was their race. Burnett was still there and Jagged would soon be up and running. The 1921 was lingering still knocking on the door and then there were the Canadians. The new 1923 of Ben Bischoff who was driving their brand new Holz Racing Products built Polaris RZR in their very first UTV race ever! Yeah, the ultimate rookie scenario and they were in the friggen top 5 as racers were heading to the last sections of the race! Pretty crazy Eh?
Things got quiet on coms between our team. I sat glued to Weatherman live feed via Race-Dezert.com and was tracking the race via satellite. As racers neared their second sunset of the race at 5:30PM the 1919 of UTV Inc had breached the 1000 mile marker and was now at RM1030. The Jagged X 1932 now up and running was pushing hard to narrow the gap having got back around Burnett in the 1905. Jagged X was at RM1005, Burnett at RM972. The 1923 was making some moves at RM928, the 1904 was at RM924. Then out of nowhere, there they were, the 1908 of Justin Lambert / Cognito Motorsports was BACK in action and wanted to play in the top 5! Early in the race they were fine, making moves and running hard like they always do, then overnight they suffered some major mechanical issues. The engine at one point was barely running but the crew worked hard. They begged, borrowed and stole (not literally) parts to get their car up and running and were now back in the fight. I thought they were going to catch and overtake the 1923 and 1904 but then as they got into Loreto they stopped again, back to 0mph and were there for some time. Also off the radar was the 1921. Their tracker took a crap, it had them at 16mph at like RM821 for the rest of the race. For all we knew they were stuck in the mud bog at RM 816 where a ton of machines were stuck and piled up.
While all this was taking place radio from Weatherman was saying their was a drunk local sitting in the middle of the road on a blind corner outside Loreto. The guy wouldn’t move and everyone was to be aware. One team radioed that they almost nailed the guy. All this while safety crews were avoiding another chase crew accident on the same stretch of highway. Fatigue isn’t just dealt with by the racers, the chase teams have to manage it as well. Word on the streets was one of the Cognito chase guys fell asleep behind the wheel at one point. Luckily they were ok and no one wrecked. I always say in these long races its safer to be on the race course then on the highways!
At 9:45PM the 1919 now in the lead by 24 miles over the 1932, was just crossing RM1200, only 75 miles left in the race! Fatigue on the media side was setting in pretty hard. I was fighting with all my might to stay awake, while my southern team of Matt Martelli, Kilian Hamlin, Ernesto Araiza, Milan Spasic and Caleb Norman were getting into La PAz and ready to get the finish! Just as I began to fall asleep, and after 33 hours 25 minutes of racing I get the text that the 1919 Polaris RZR of UTV Inc. had crossed the finish line. Everyone anxiously awaited the 1932 Jagged X Polaris RZR. Finally they crossed the line and math was immediately compiled and they would finish in second by 3 minutes!! A 33 hour race came down to 3 minutes between the top 2 teams. What was even more amazing is that crazy pace the 1919 set was kept up, they ended up averaging just under 40mph the entire race! How crazy is that??
Finishing about 3 hours behind the top 2 was the 3rd place UTV of Cory Sappington in the 1904 Can-Am Maverick. That was a huge effort put in by him and his team. That 1921 Polaris RZR, the one who’s tracker took a dump back around RM821 was still in the fight the whole time, they would finish 4th with the rookies from Canada in the 1923 Polaris RZR rounding out the top 5! What a fantastic story all of these teams have to tell!
While Champagne bottles were popping and celebratory beers were being had at the finish line a race still was taking place deep in the Baja peninsula. At this point I was sawing logs, our southern crew was searching for a stretch of beach to pass out on since their hotel rooms got sold and the update threads on RDC and UTVUG were all but silenced. But while the rest of the racing world was taking a break there were still a group of desert racers fighting for a finish. You see, racing in Baja is not always about the win, its about the journey. Racing in Baja is as much about beating Baja as it is beating your competitors. So while those who finish on the podium get the ultimate glory its those who fight when there is nothing left to fight for who get the most respect. When the race is over in the eyes of the fans and media, when you could easily pack it in and no one would knock you for it, you still keep on fighting. Mile by mile you stare at the course & GPS, you fight your eyes from watering and collecting with dust when all they want to do is close, your mouth is dry, lips are chapped, it hurts to focus on anything, you still fight. The 1905 of Marc Burnett, the 1908 of Cognito Motorsports, and the 1927 of Frank Bushman would all fight on and would finish!
While the 1908 and 1927 fought for pride, Burnett in the 1905 fought for his 2014 Championship. Burnett would finish every mile of every race this year. He would not only win the championship but he would do it by “iron-manning” the Baja 1000. Respect was earned, respect was deserved!
UTVUnderground.com would like to congratulate all 19 teams, every single racer and team member who took on this years Baja 1000. We would like to thank all of you who slapped on our colors and ran UTVUG on your machines in this awesome race. Words can’t describe how grateful I am when I see our logos on your race cars. It makes all this hard work worth it! Congrats to all of you who competed, challenged yourselves and took on this race. Whether you finished or not, just to have the stones to prepare and invest to take on Baja is worth receiving credit for and we appreciate all of your efforts.
Huge congrats to Johnny Angal and his 1919 UTV Inc team. This would be Johnny’s 6th desert race and his first Baja 1000. They came out swinging for the fences and in the end hit the ultimate home run. We tip our caps to the 1919, Johnny, Branden Sims, Justin Quinn, and Brian Bush. They along with the 1932 driven by Matt Parks, Craig Scanlon and Brandon Schueler, showed everyone in our sport that UTVs are not to be messed with. 33hours to finish the most gnarly Baja 1000 in some time is amazing. We also want to make sure that props are given to Marc Burnett. After a dismal rookie season in 2013, Burnett and his team stayed the course, figured it out and came out in 2014 guns-a-blazin. They not only won the season championship, they also won the Baja 500 and the San Felipe 250 rounding out one of the most epic seasons for any Pro UTV racer.
Lastly, I want to thank the entire UTVUnderground.com / Mad Media team for their efforts. I don’t think anyone can deny that we ran a coverage clinic on this entire sport. Not even Trophy Truck had the type of consistent coverage our class had and thats because we have the most dedicated team in the entire sport on our side. UTVUnderground.com loves this sport, loves its racers and wants nothing more for the future of UTV to be as bright as the sun. We couldn’t do this level of content a few years ago just Rusty and I, we did good stuff back in the beginning, but now with Mad Media we are able to bring you the ultimate in race coverage and with sponsors like Polaris we can turn our ideas into reality! So thank you Mad Media and thank you POLARIS for allowing us the opportunity to raise the bar for UTV race coverage!
Lets do it again next year…..
CLASS 19 (Limited, Stock 4-wheel Utility Vehicle) Official Results
1. John Angal, Mesa, Ariz., Polaris RZR1000, 33:25:13 (38.15 mph)
2. Matt Parks, Newport Beach, Calif./Jason Spiess, Peoria, Ariz./Brandon Schuder, Sun City, Calif., Polaris RZR XP1000, 33:28:54
3. Cory Sappington/Scott Sappington/Tyler Dixon, Peoria, Ariz./Donovan Cain, Glendale, Calif., Can-Am Maverick Max, 36:54:17
4. Jamie Kirkpatrick/Kenny Sanford, Olympia, Wash., Polaris XP1000, 37:10:42
5. Benjamin Bischoff/Tyler Backus, Canada, Polaris XP900, 41:13:25
6. Marc Burnett, Lakeside, Calif./Fernando Flores, Ensenada, Mexico, Can-Am Maverick, 43:43:26
7. Justin Lambert, Bakersfield, Calif./Victor Herrera Menifee, Calif./Jeremiah Staggs, Apple Valley, Calif., Polaris RZR XP1000, 45:53:13
8. Frank Bushman/Benjamin Wilson, Kenwood, Calif./Salvatore Cucci, Petaluma, Calif., Polaris RZR1000, 47:24:20
(Starters: 19, Finishers: 8)
Photos by: Vincent Knakal – Ernesto Araiza – Sebastian Krywult // UTVUnderground.com – Mad Media