Coming into the first ever SCORE Baja 400, I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. This race replaced the Tijuana Desert Challenge and I felt like I had something to prove. I had been testing all summer and we made some major changes to make the car more reliable. I felt like we had a car capable of winning.
We got down to Ensenada the Tuesday before the race. We got everything unloaded and situated. I ran the race RZR a little to make sure I was happy with the clutching, etc… We also prepped the pre-run RZR to get ready to do the whole course the next day.
On Wednesday, it was only my co-driver, Donny Powers and I down there, so we set out straight from our house with the plan of running Ojos to Ojos in a day. I knew a lot of the course really well already since I’ve been racing in Baja for over 25 years. The pre-run went flawless. We did the whole thing in about 12 hours. We got some good notes and I felt ready. We joked that it had gone so well we needed to park the pre-runner next to the race car so it would hopefully rub off a little.
The next day we registered, pre-teched, and then pre-ran the start in the race RZR. I wanted one final shakedown on the race car and also wanted to get in the flow in it. The race RZR and my pre-runner are quite a bit different in how the corner and handle. Everything went smooth and to plan.
Friday, all we had left was loading chase trucks, contingency, and the driver’s meeting. We got all of that handled and were ready to go.
The whole week had gone great. I felt like this was the most prepared we had been in quite a few races. After all of the testing, I was confident in the race RZR and knew if we executed our plan, there was no reason we couldn’t win. I felt like there would be a fast pace, but it was still a 400 mile race so you had to be smart and not take yourself out early. We were starting 13th out of 20 Pro UTV Forced Induction cars. I had a goal in my mind of trying to be top 3 physical by BFG Pit #1 at race mile 128. I also wanted to get the car to Hwy 1 on the Pacific side in one piece, see where we stood and adjust our pace from there.
Race day morning, we got everything ready and headed to staging. We left the line around 11:20am. The first part of the course after the wash is a 37 mph speed zone. It is trying to start the race and go straight into a speed zone that slow. It is a real test of patience every time. Right away, we started to close on the 2 cars in front of us. When we cleared the speed zone, I was right on the bumper of 2930 and quickly made a pass. Then we passed my Polaris teammate, Brandon Schueler. He was stuck in a ditch on the side of the course. We also got by 2926 and a few others.
By the time we got to Ojos, My crew radioed that we were in 6th physical. I could see Craig Scanlon in front of us. He was right behind a buggy. We were all in a 37 mph speed zone again. The buggy wasn’t going 37 mph and was holding Craig up a bit. I allowed me to close right up on both. I told my co-driver to let me know exactly where and when the speed zone ended. I was hoping to get a 2 for 1 pass if I timed it right. As soon as we cleared the zone, I shot to the left of both cars and got around. It couldn’t have worked any better.
From there, we set a solid, but controlled pace. We passed another UTV through some split lanes on some silty uphills. At K77 where the course hits the highway, we were now in 4th physical and I figured very close to first adjusted. The RZR was working awesome and we hadn’t had any issues.
From K77 to the Goat Trail, we had clean air most of the way. I didn’t see any other cars for awhile. We were going at a pretty good clip, so I knew the guys in front of us had to be pushing too. A few miles from the Goat Trail, we caught Cory Sappington. He was limping a long off the side of the course. It looked like he had a broken front right shock or something like that. I felt bad for him, but wasn’t going to complain about gaining another spot. After coming down the Goat Trail, we hit the highway speed zone and passed Valle de Trinidad. We were 2nd physical now. The race was going just as planned. The one concern the I had was Wayne Matlock. He had started behind us and I hadn’t heard any news as to where he was. He could be behind us, but still have the adjusted lead.
We pulled into BFG Pit 1 at race mile 128. Our guys did a great job of pitting all day. We fueled and they gave the car a once over. As we were finishing fueling, Matlock went by. I yelled at my guys to hurry up because I knew we might be in for a battle. I pulled out of our pit just in front of a Class 10 car. This was not a position I wanted to be in. We passed Wayne while he was fueling in his pit. The problem I had is that the next section to Mike’s Sky Ranch is very fast and the 10 car would be all over me. If I let him by, then I would be in his dust and Wayne could close on me. As soon as we hit the dirt, the 10 car was right on me. I tried to hold him off for a bit, but ended up letting him by because I didn’t want him to take me out. Luckily, he held a very good pace all the way to Mike’s and didn’t slow me that much.
As we passed Mike’s, the course gets a lot slower and more technical. We quickly closed up on the 10 car. At the same time he had caught a Trophy Spec. The truck let both of us by. I was right on the 10 car, but he didn’t want to let me pass. Finally I gave him a little tap and he pulled over. I was stoked to have them between Matlock and I. I picked the pace back up and we caught my friend Craig Christy in his Trophy Spec. We got by him and I was feeling better about getting some distance between Wayne and I. Not soon after, I saw Marc Burnett. He was first physical in our class on the course. I was able to close up on him and got by on an either or line. He went right and we went left and got him.
From there we headed back to Valle T. Marc stayed fairly close. On the trail from the power station to the cross over road, there is a good line up a wash. I thought at the driver’s meeting, they showed a VCP on the course. So I told my co-driver I wan’t going to take it. Where the wash line joins back in, I looked over and saw Burnett coming. we both were pinning it trying to get to the intersection first. Marc beat me by about 10 feet. But I was right on him on the siren and push to pass. To my surprise, he pulled to the right and let me by. I later found out that he didn’t know it was me and thought it was a truck. Either way, I’ll take it. We raced to the cross over road with him in chase.
Across the cross over road, I could see Marc back there. We stayed about even most of the way. This was normally my section when I raced quads and I feel like I’m pretty fast over it. I ended up coming in hot to one corner. I had to abort and go straight. luckily it had an easy run out and I didn’t loose much time. As we got to Hwy 1, there was a new timed zone. We had 20 minutes to go a little less than 14 miles down the highway. We pitted in there and took fuel. Burnett was close behind and from what I heard, Matlock had fallen back a bit.
The next section to the coast consisted of a long sand wash followed by a bunch of fast dirt roads. This presented a problem. My car is fast, but I knew I would be down at least 10 mph or more to Burnett. I drove down the wash as fast as I could go at the same time watching belt temps. Sure enough at the end of the wash, Marc was on me hitting push to pass and gave me a little tap. I pulled to the side and let him by. He had started a few minutes ahead of me. So I knew all I had to do was stay in his dust and we still had the adjusted lead. I also felt like we were faster in the technical stuff and could make a pass there. We battled for a ways. I was starting to close back up as we headed for San Vicente. Then I saw Burnett pull to the side of the course. As we went by, they were hopping out and we could smell a burnt belt.
We raced up the coast as the sun was beginning to set. I got word that we had opened up about a 15-20 minute lead. I knew this was now our race to win or loose and tried to be very methodical in my driving. We held a good pace but didn’t take unnecessary chances. We passed another 10 car before reaching Santo Tomas.
We fueled in Santo Tomas and gave the car one last once over. The course is really rough and technical from there to Ojos. We worked our way through. The sun had set and I was now dark. About half way to Ojos, we started catching 2 trucks. There was no wind at all and the dust was just hanging. It kept getting worse and worse. We got to the point where we would come to a complete stop because we couldn’t see. I was concerned because this could allow our competitors to close back up on us. But there was no way I was going to throw away a win by making a mistake in the dust. It was like this all the way to Hwy 3. It was very trying to go that slow, but there was nothing we could do. I just hoped it was as bad for everyone else. In the last section to the finish, we caught another Trophy Spec truck. We were right on him, but the dust was horrible. We finally got past him, but now he was right on us. I was worried he might try to pass us in the last wash before the finish and take us out. Luckily, he left us alone and we brought it in to the finish.
We crossed the line first overall physical and adjusted UTV. I am so stoked and proud of our team for this win. It really means a lot to get this. We spent countless hours preparing and it paid off. I also wanted to prove that the Tijuana race wasn’t a fluke. There was a nice redeeming quality to this victory. It was also awesome to have my first major race that ended up being basically gas and go all day. I think it is a true testament to the quality of the parts and products we use in this program. My crew did an excellent job, as well as my co-driver. This was a group effort and I deeply appreciate all of the hard work and effort that everyone has done to help our team.
We now will start as the first UTV off the line for the Baja 1000 and look forward to the challenge of backing up this win.
Thank you to everyone for their support. I couldn’t do this without you!
Wes Miller Bomb Squad Racing/Team RZR
Special Thanks to:
Polaris RZR, DWT Racing, Kicker, Elrod Motorsports, Johnny’s Custom Motorsports, BFGoodrich, Fox Shox, Torco, Baja Designs, Rugged Radios, PRP, Assault Industries, Cross Motorsports, DASA Racing, Alpinestars, Safecraft, Factory UTV, All Tech Motorsports, S&B Filters, HMF, HPS Performance, Hostyle, IMS, Lithium Pros, RCV Performance, Airdam Clutches, Desertcraft, Sandcraft, Shock Therapy, Monster Seal, Rhys Millen Racing, Coldcock Whiskey, Heatwave Visuals, and Agenda Surf