What it’s like chasing a Polaris RZR Pro R in the 2021 Baja 1000

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Jason Stilgebouer

2021 baja 1000

Jason Stilgebouer

“Although she is small, she is fierce.”

At least I think that’s the quote I meant when I wrote a barely readable scribble in my notes around mile 1140 on the second night of Baja 1000 2021. It was dark and we were about 15 miles away. on a branch of land that crossed the racecourse. Mechanics had just repaired a shock on Wayne Matlock’s Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV), the race’s third shock, some 32 hours after yesterday’s start. Just looking at math gives me a headache and might partly explain why my notes are Shakespeare’s interspersed with food stains.

What I was trying to say was small and fierce is a mystery to my sleeping brain. Something was small. Something was fierce. That’s a description that could apply to Wayne’s wife, Kristen, who drove the entire race in her own Polaris RZR; she was, at the time, several hours behind Wayne, having had some mechanical difficulties herself but, according to the trackers, she was absolutely pulling the ass at an incredible rate.

Or maybe I was talking about the mosquito in the truck? I couldn’t really crush him, there just wasn’t room to wave my arms in the tight cabin. I think, however, that I was talking about Baja itself, a bold little strip of land jutting out south of San Diego, parallel to the Mexican mainland and channeling an inlet from the Pacific Ocean into the Gulf of California. Baja is linked to two countries, reflecting the cultural influences of both, while having a personality of its own. Little but fierce, indeed.

Attempts to tame the Baja Desert via motorized transport have been happening officially since 1967, and yet, even now, in 2021, with GPS screens, satellite radios, fighter trucks, fighter jets and fighter helicopters. , the DNF list for the SCORE Baja 1000 is two pages. Broken cars, wrecked trucks, lost roads and a lost heart, Baja throws both physical and mental obstacles in the way of anyone brave and foolish enough to attempt a nonstop high-speed journey through its wilderness.

This is especially true in years, like 2021, when the course spans the length of the peninsula. In other years the 1,000 mile course (this distance is give or take, it was as low as 800 miles and as high as 1679) is a loop, starting and ending in Ensenada. A loop is obviously easier logistically, but there is a romance in one-way races, despite, or perhaps because of, the added challenge. Getting out of this requires carefully scheduled pit stops, team-wide communication, and lots of caffeine. The Matlocks had two dedicated trucks per runner and a back-up sweeper truck. All were fully loaded with parts and people. Once on the road, none of us would stop longer than a tire change or a repair. It was less running than jumping, a constant push-pull, jumping ahead and falling behind, getting a support truck where it needs to be for every pit stop along the course. The vehicular endurance hopscotch.

To truly understand the Baja 1000 chase experience, you would have to read the rest over the next 40 hours, from the middle seat of a Ford F-250 between two very friendly but not recently showered race mechanics. At one point, you can take a nap under a rock. Check out the scorpions first. Or don’t, you are very tired.

2021 baja 1000

Jason Stilgebouer

2021 baja 1000

Jason Stilgebouer

My notes start perfectly at the top of the Baja Peninsula, where I had been invited to get on one of the chase trucks with the husband and wife team of Matlock Racing. The Matlocks are factory sponsored Polaris racers, with several UTV victories and championships under their belt, and the first few pages I have are details of their race vehicles – an RZR XP 1000 for her and the RZR Pro R that just came out for him. The new Pro R is a big deal in side-to-side circles. During the technical inspection the day before the race, Wayne’s blue-and-white machine was swarmed with crowds, many of whom were competitors from other UTV categories, all wanting to take a closer look at the 2’s four-cylinder engine. , 0 liters and the robust suspension. Even for those unfamiliar with recreational off-roaders, the Pro R stood out, an intimidating large spider of a platform among the smaller, buggy Can-Ams and older Polaris models. The RZR Pro R was announced just days before the Baja race, and there was a large contingent of Polaris engineers as well as Matlock’s usual pursuit team to support the new vehicle and take note of any shortcomings. Baja is good at finding the gaps. In fact, that’s how the 1000 started, as a way for manufacturers to prove what their bikes, cars, and trucks could do.

Nowadays, there isn’t much from the factory in first class Trophy trucks, but in UTV classes there is tight competition and intense support from the manufacturer. “With the Trophy truck we had manufacturers like Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Toyota, but UTV still has the manufacturers involved,” said Rob MacCachren, who was celebrating Luke McMillin’s overall and Trophy-truck class victory. before the others. of us were well over halfway through the course. “To win in Trophy Truck you almost have to have a million dollar all-wheel drive truck, helicopter, and plane all night long. With UTVs, obviously that helps, but there are so many other things. . Strategy. ” Then he asked me about the new Pro R. “I tried to see it before the race, I stopped at the store where they were getting it ready, but they wouldn’t let me check it out. It’s amazing. , honestly. My prerunner buggy would cost someone around $ 125,000 – these Pro Rs are faster and more capable than my car. ” The Pro R, if you’re planning to challenge Rob Mac to a race, starts at $ 32,000.

2021 baja 1000

Jason Stilgebouer

Oh, but I jumped forward, because the notes with MacCachren come from the end, and in the middle is all the drama. I was in the second chase truck which meant our first pit stop was about 70 miles from the race. It was a “visual,” just a glance at the car as it passed and a report to the other truck that the wheels were still attached and things were going as planned. Just in case they weren’t, we had to be ready for a proper pit stop, which meant having a jack and axle kit on hand and the fuel crew right and in position. Refueling cars is dangerous, a drop on the hot exhaust rises in an instant. We saw a pit happen – luckily they put it out before anything or anyone was damaged. Our own drama was less passionate: The fantasy take extension didn’t match the fantasy take. “A problem when packing multiple trucks,” said driver John Bahl. Polaris engineer Matt Kmecik and crew member Marco Perez carefully machined it onto the tailgate. And by carefully machined, I mean, sanded with an angle grinder until it fits. Our celebration was interrupted by a crackle on the radio as Wayne came within range. “Alright,” he said, and seconds later he passed us and vanished in a cloud of dust. Our work would come in handy later, however, we ended up making good use of the jack.

For most of the race our vision of the cars was like clouds of dust. The thrilling jumps and jaw-dropping scenery take place in the dirt, so chasing the race from the parallel highway is a lot like chasing the Road Runner: no shape, just lingering proof in the distance that something is wrong. passed quickly. During the night portions, the racing cars resemble fireflies, fluttering lights in the dark. It’s very peaceful from afar, a ride the desert loves to play, butterflies hovering above the bones. For runners, there are sections of whoops that hammer suspension components and human components. Dust chokes the air during the day and night, as coastal fog settles among the cacti, dirt turns to mud. At a stop the fog was so thick we could barely see the cars coming. When Wayne arrived, he and the Navigator gestured frantically until I realized they wanted a dry cloth to wipe down their visors, which were opaque with damp dust.

As is the case with any endurance task, over the hours and miles we have developed a kind of pace in our pursuit. The sun is setting, the sun is rising, stop, sit back, wait, refuel, pack your bags, get back on the road. Memory becomes fuzzy and goes from timeline to snapshots. A sunset so spectacular it filled every window of the truck, 360 degrees of sky ablaze. A Trophy truck pulled up beside us, the crew frantically trying to fix something in the floor, one crew member with their heads down out the window, just their feet pounding above the roof line. The mountain pass in Loreto, a view of the calm and turquoise ocean. Repair a shock. Repair a shock again. And then, the end. Somehow the 1,227 miles became 100, then 10, then there we were, 33 hours after we left, midnight hugs on the finish ramp and lukewarm Tecates while waiting for Kristen. She did it too, just under 37 hours in the car. Baja, fierce Baja, has been tamed, until next time.

2021 baja 1000

Jason Stilgebouer

2021 baja 1000

Jason Stilgebouer

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