2023 was a year to remember for drivers Cayden MacCachren and Brock Heger. They started out the year by joining the all-new Polaris Factory Racing team, which would take on SCORE’s Pro UTV Open class with the Polaris RZR Pro R Factory. They’d end it with the two biggest honors in the class, with Heger celebrating the title thanks to a pair of race wins and MacCachren winning the Baja 1000 for the first time.
To wrap up the year, we sat down with both drivers to talk about if the results matched their preseason expectations, how they approached such a long and unique edition of the 1000, and getting right back into testing for 2024:
First things first: congratulations to both of you on the accomplishments—Brock with the Pro UTV Open class championship and a podium in the 1000, and Cayden with your first Baja 1000 win and third in points. Are you both happy with how your seasons went, and did they meet your expectations?
Cayden: Yeah. Overall, you know, at the beginning of the year, you didn’t really know what to expect. But if we really look back on it, we should’ve known that we were probably going to have great success. With all the names and stuff that the team put together, it came together super quick. It seems like a lot of off-road racing is kind of put together fast, but it seemed to work out.
Obviously we had more time as it got later into the season, and it kept getting better and better, both in the public’s view and also privately behind the scenes. Everybody was able to work together and understand the vehicle better. And yeah, everything started really working well—right between the San Felipe and the Baja 500, we were really starting to get a bunch of stuff done. And I think that shows in results.
Brock: Yeah, what Cayden said is the same as I feel. I was one of the first ones that drove the car, and obviously going into San Felipe was just a matter of kind of getting there and getting through it. And like he said, it was just a lot of new people that essentially never really dealt with UTVs too much, let alone the Pro R. So it was just a matter of getting going.
And obviously as the year progressed, everyone just got way more familiar with everything, and the results kind of show that. I think it honestly went better than I anticipated at the beginning. I assumed it was going to be really good, but I just wasn’t sure, with a lot of unfamiliar people around the car. But I mean, just the car stock and, and what Polaris provides us—talk about performance. It’s obviously a very, very good platform to start with.
This year’s Baja course was pretty unique, not only in its length but also in the fact that it took you north to Ensenada as a point-to-point. What were some of the most unique challenges this year compared to 1000s past?
Brock: Go for it, Baja 1K champ!
Cayden: I don’t want to take all your ideas! But, yeah, obviously it kind of threw a wrench in the game plan for a lot of teams that have been racing the SCORE series for whatever, five, ten, 20, 30 years. Traditionally, it’s always ran from north to south, and they flipped it around this year. And also, it was a long one—normally there are between 1100 and 1200 miles the peninsula run, and this one added over a hundred miles to it.
When that came out, I think everybody was like, “dang, we’re really going to have to think this one through.” And that’s what we did with our team. We decided to have three drivers in each of our cars. And you know that, especially in a limited class vehicle—not that the Pro R is very limited—it’s important. We knew the race was going to take 25 to 30 hours, and putting that into about 8 to 10 hour driving segments was a great idea on behalf of everybody working together as a team, and we put drivers together that we knew were going to be able to do a really good job. And thankfully, we have a really good team putting a lot of the pits and hotels and, you know, travel plans together.
So for us as drivers, it wasn’t a huge deal being a long one, all the way down to La Paz and back up. The morning of the race, I was excited because, you know, we’re headed north. I’m headed closer to home, it’s going to be nice. I’m getting to the finish at Ensenada and being able to drive only eight or 10 hours home instead of 30 was cool for me.
Brock: I didn’t feel like it was much different. It was three drivers, so for me only doing 530, it was a long race and whatnot, but splitting it between three drivers just kind of made it feel like a little bit more like a normal 1000. But we were there all day, all night, whatever, all those 30 hours. It was just getting to finishcloser to home.
You each had some pretty heavy hitters for teammates for the race—Cayden, you got to team up with Rhys Millen and Justin Morgan, and Brock, you had Ronnie Anderson and JD Marsh. How did you all plan for which segments each of you were going to take, and why were each of these drivers the right fit to team up with you?
Brock: We kind of decided on our own—it was just kind of up to us what we felt was right. I went with Ronnie Anderson second to drive through the night, and then I had JD Marsh to finish there. For the most part, it was up to us to kind of bring in who we wanted, and obviously the team approved it. It wasn’t so much of a, you know, drawn from the hand that we’ve got deal.
Cayden: Yeah, same for me on how it came together. We were able to, you know, sit down and think about it and iron it out. For me, I did the first 530 miles. Then I had Justin Morgan, who’s a longtime Baja racer and Baja champion on two wheels, through the middle for me. He did an amazing job. He had won the last six Bajas on a bike, and this year was the seventh in a row and his first in a four-wheel vehicle. And he’s never raced in a car or a four-wheel vehicle before driving. So that was pretty cool for him to do with me.
Then at the end, I had Rhys Millen. It was a pretty good idea to have a veteran of racing. He’s raced everything—cars, trucks, UTVs, and he’s won a couple of 1000s. So it was good to have him do it last over those 300 miles and really bring it home for the team.
Actually, it’s kind of funny with Justin Morgan. I said already that he never drove a race in a four-wheel vehicle before 2023, but he also never drove or even saw the car he was racing. And then we went out and won the 1000 together. So yeah, I guess it came together pretty good, no doubt!
Coming into the race, you were in different places in the standings—Brock, you had a points lead to maintain, and Cayden, you had a few drivers close at hand that you could get past with a good finish. How much did the points impact your respective race strategies, if at all?
Brock: I feel like I was kind of the only one on the team that was probably more looking at the points side of it. Obviously that was a team topic before the race and during the race—that was kind of our goal with me, making sure we got that done, and obviously I wanted to win it as well.
I got off to a good start, but I ended up having some mechanicals early. After that, it was one of those things all night, you know, how are we going to play our cards and obviously try to not jeopardize the championship. So we obviously made sure to kind of get it home. And I feel like everyone else kind of threw that out the window, and it was it was about getting the win. I’m assuming, Cayden, that’s what you wanted?
Cayden: Yeah. For me, earlier in my racing career, the first year of me racing, I had a championship come down to the last race, and it was super close. I decided that I never wanted to do that again! So from that day on, I just made it so every race I was going to, I wanted to win. And that’s kind of how I’ve structured my championship runs, I guess.
So, this year was the same—every year, every race, I just want to win the race. I wasn’t really too worried about points and stuff. And honestly, that played out nicely, not being in points for the 1000. Obviously it’s the one race that everybody wants to win. A lot of people would say “I want to win every race,” but if you don’t have a great year but win the 1000, it saves the year. And I guess that’s kind of what we had going on in the 21 car.
But being third in the championship and wanting to help (Brock), but also wanting to win the race—and then actually winning the race and them coming third, you know, it was pretty cool. And I think overall, we covered all the bases for the team, which has been important. We want to make sure that we do the best for the team, not only racing, but, you know, in the public eye and everything. So one of us won the 1000, and one of us won in the championship, and you know, two of the four races with Brock. So I think we kind of covered our bases trying to make the team look good.
Onto race day itself. Cayden, I’ll start with you—one of the things you talked about after San Felipe was that to finish first, you must first finish. You talked about running a conservative pace early before handing the car off to Justin and Rhys. How did the 1821 team’s race go, and were there any crazy moments or narrow escapes for any of you?
Cayden: Yeah, for me, like, not at all. Honestly, my role in the race was kind of as a support driver. With the UTVs, a big piece of it is attrition. So I was super conservative and honestly, really slow until I got out of the car. And I knew that I had two guys getting in the car for me that knew how to handle business. So the biggest thing, the great plan was for me just to get the car to Justin and Justin get the car to Rhys, and that would work out.
Brock, your day went a little bit differently because you had to stop for some repairs somewhat early. Still, it wasn’t long before the 1896 was back in podium contention. How does your mindset as a driver change after an early setback in such a long race, and how did you and the team claw your way back up from there?
Brock: Yeah, I mean, obviously when I had my hour of downtime and I got back going, I knew we were far back at that point. It was barely at mile 130 is when I had my issues. So there’s obviously still a lot of racing left. So for me, I wanted to get it to the next guy and hopefully have no issues through each guy, and it’ll work itself out.
But once I got back going, I maybe attacked a little more than I would have wanted to. I’ve also always driven the car a lot more than my two other guys, so I felt like if I wanted anyone to push a little bit, I would have rather done it myself than try to have one of those guys do it. So I just kind of chipped away, nothing too crazy. And I just wanted to give, you know, Ronnie and JD, the car back and at least a little bit of striking distance to either go for that win or go for a podium finish.
As a team, Polaris Factory Racing went four-for-four in SCORE this year. That’s no small feat for any team, and even for a factory squad, it’s still a challenge when you’re in your first year as a group. What does it mean to each of you to have been part of such a massive year?
Cayden: I’m stoked on it! Normally in my career—and I won’t speak for Brock, but you know, I would assume it’s pretty similar—you’re kind of racing for yourself. You have sponsors and stuff, but really the team is your name. And with this year, you know, my name wasn’t the team at all, but the team was the main aspect of it. You’re racing for a huge company in Polaris that has plenty of employees, and the dealers sell a ton of side by sides. So you want to make sure that you do the best for them. For me, that was a cool aspect of this year.
But yeah, overall I’m pretty happy with what we’ve done. And we’ve also set a pretty big target on our back for next year, at least in SCORE, and it sounds like we’re going to race some more US races. I’m sure those guys won’t want to admit it, but hopefully they’re looking at us like a threat coming in. So I’m stoked going into next year.
Brock: Yeah. I couldn’t agree with Cayden more about how, especially for me growing up, forever it was about racing for myself, having sponsors and going about every race representing myself where we’re the team. This whole program is obviously a much bigger picture, representing a lot of good companies and a lot of obviously great people that that love the sport. So I’m super happy with it, and obviously super thankful to be a part of it. And yeah, next year we as the whole team have a huge red dot on us. So hopefully we can kind of keep it on going into next year. I’m sure everyone else is going to bring a lot more market to us. But that’s why we do it.
A lot of teams might have taken their foot off the gas after the 1000, but you guys sure didn’t. What can you tell us about the testing you did following the race?
Brock: I think a majority of our testing was in Cayden’s car, obviously straight from a Baja 1000 win and all it did was get washed down. And we took it out to the desert, you know, so it was obviously just logging more miles than on the 1300 that he just did to win. That’s the farthest the cars have gone in one stint. We had Fox out there just you know, it’s it’s off-road and and there’s never there’s never perfect. So you’re just always trying to try to get it that much better, and obviously trying to be faster.
Cayden: It’s a great opportunity right after the race to be able to take the car out to the desert. Obviously, the thing is going to get prepped completely for the next one and you don’t really want to drive them a ton after they’re prepped before the race. So it’s good to get some good miles on the thing after the race, you know, just to do a little bit more testing. Like Brock said, we had Fox out there working on the suspension set up going into next year, but honestly, not too many big changes at all.
That car went and won the 1000 and went testing, and when we loaded on the trailer at the end of the yesterday, I made a joke like, it’s ready for the next race already, you know? The car feels still very much new after about 1500 miles of racing and testing on it. So I’m pretty stoked on how that went. We’re obviously always trying to get the thing better. The moment you aren’t trying to improve is the moment you’re going to fall behind. So I’m stoked on that aspect of the team, of always wanting to be better.
Finally, what are the goals and expectations for 2024? And if we’re doing this interview again this time next year—would you rather go back-to-back with what you won this year, or trade places with each other?
Cayden: (laughs) In the beginning this year, a lot of people asked “what are your expectations?” And it was just to just always improve and be better, and to me, next year is the same thing. As long as we improve and are better tomorrow than we are today. But I think we’d have no problem if it’s me winning the championship and Brock winning the 1000! It’s really cool you know with the aspect of us as teammates. We’re competitors, but that comes second to being team drivers, so as long as one of us is having success and stuff, I’m happy with it.
Brock: I couldn’t agree more. I kind of look at it like he wins, I win, and vice versa. And I hope when he wins that I was able to help him, and obviously us being competitors and wanting to beat each other, we also want to do what we can do for the team to win, and just learn. I think we make each other probably better, I feel like, and as long as we’re we’re better than everyone then and we’re obviously doing something good. Whether it’s me winning the championship or vice versa and me winning the race, he wins the championship, anything winning for me is obviously good. I wish I could pick and choose what I win, but, if it happens, it happens. It’s always good to win one or the other.