Tecate SCORE Baja 250 - The Ride of a Lifetime
March 10, 2007
Story by Lance Clifford
Video by RP Films, Lance Clifford, Valerie Douglas
Photos by Valerie Douglas

[Photo Gallery]

Pistol Pete installs the much sought after Pirate4x4.com sticker.

I was surfing the web one night about a week after the Parker 425, when Ron Stobaugh, my good friend and owner of Alloy USA and Precision Gear, posted on the Pirate Bulletin Board about the possibility of me riding in a SCORE trophy truck. Thinking he was joking, I never thought anything of it until the phone rang the next day, and it was Ron.

"So do you want to, or what?" Ron said.

"Do what?" I said.

"Ride in a friggin' trophy truck, dumb ass!" He said.

There was silence on the phone. Was he serious? Who the hell wouldn't want to ride in a 700+ horsepower truck with 30+ inches of wheel travel, if given the chance?

"Are you screwing with me? Because if you are, that ain't cool", I said.

"I'm dead serious, dude. Pistol has a great starting position this race and has a great chance at winning, and I couldn't think of anyone better to put in his truck. So are you in?" He said.

I hung up the phone in disbelief. I was going to ride with one of the most experienced and skilled veterans in all of desert racing. "Pistol" Pete Sohren is one of the top dogs in the major league of desert racing - the SCORE Trophy Truck class - and I was going to go for the ride of a lifetime.

After talking with Pete before the race, I quickly found that he was a pretty cool dude. I was really pumped for this race, and it sounded like he was as well. I began making plans and assembled a small team of friends to join me. A small curve ball was thrown at us when SCORE announced that the race was going to be moved from San Felipe to Ensenada because of land use issues in San Felipe.

Sunday rolled around, and it was finally time to head South of the border. Camo, Valerie, Johnny, and myself all piled in the Pirate4x4 F350 and drove 12 hours from Northern California to Ensenada. We only were able to find one room for the four of us for one night in advance, so we figured we would try and find rooms once we got down there. After buddying up with Lupe at our hotel, we managed to score two rooms for the entire week. How, you ask? I told Lupe we were part of "Pistola Pedro's" team and he was happy to give us some rooms he "forgot" he had available. Mexico rules!

After some good fun, partying, and sightseeing Monday, we met up with Pete and the crew early Tuesday morning. We would spend the entire day Tuesday pre running to gain familiarity with the course, and each other. Pete has a unique approach to racing. His race truck and pre runner both have 3 seats, and he utilizes 2 co-drivers. The seats are 3 wide, and he sits in the middle with his co-drivers sitting on his right and left. This method does have its advantages. For example, if he were to get a flat, he can stay belted in and stay focused while his co-drivers jump out and risk their lives changing a tire while 100,000 horsepower bears down on them. Another advantage is one co-driver can concentrate 100% on the GPS and navigation, while the other co-driver can concentrate on watching the course, gauges, mirrors, and horn. I would be "gauge boy" for this race. Cody who was loaned to us from the Desert Assassins team, would man the GPS.

'Ole Harbor Freight gets it done!

Once we all met up in the parking lot, we all checked out the pre runner lovingly known as "Harbor Freight".

"If Harbor Freight sold a Trophy Truck, this is what they'd sell. It looks like a Trophy Truck, but it's really not. It only has 22 inches of travel up front, about 30 in the rear, and only about 350 horsepower. It runs on Pemex race gas! (Mexican pump gas, to you gringos.)" Said Pete.

Maxxis dove into desert racing head first by sponsoring the #2 TT

Trophy Truck or not, this was one bad ass rig. With King coilovers and triple bypass shocks at all four corners, new 40" Maxxis tires, and a ton of other trick goodies make Harbor Freight a bad ass machine. We drove out to Ojos Negros and unloaded Harbor from the trailer, and piled in. I was anxious to see how the 40" Maxxis Creepy Crawler tires would hold up in the desert. With their awesome proven performance in competitive rock crawling, I was pretty confident in their ability to handle the relentless abuse they would have to endure in the desert.

We stopped in Valle de Trinidad for some lunch.

Cody fired up the Lowrance GPS, and loaded the generic map that we would use as a reference for our first pre run. The goal was to mark all the hazards, any tricky turns or jumps, and any optional lines so that we would not be caught off guard on race day. We took off in the pre runner and Pete hammered down. I felt an instantaneous grin across my face as the big Maxxis tires threw 50 foot roosts behind us, and Harbor Freight easily soaked up the bumps, ruts and whoops with ease. We hit the famous Ojos jump at full speed, and landed softly as can be, like it was a speed bump. I was stoked. Having a couple of Jeepspeed races under my belt, I was used to the limited wheel travel of a Jeepspeed (10" up front, and 12" in the rear) so the 22" up front and 30" in the rear was a whole new world for me. As we worked our way around the course, we picked and chose lines through the sand washes and silt, trying to find the fastest routes. We made our way to Valle de Trinidad where we met up with our chase crews. We had some great tacos and quesadillas for lunch at a Loncheria with the Desert Assassins crew headed up by Cameron Steele. During lunch we discussed how and where we would pit. It was finally decided we would pit about 20 miles west of Valle de Trinidad at "the grassy knoll".

Cameron Steele and the DA posse rolling in their pre runner.

We continued on down the course, en-route to the Pacific Ocean. As we motored along the beach cliffs of the rugged Pacific Ocean, the road we were following instantly made a sharp right, and Pete locked up the brakes. He skidded to a stop about 8 feet from the edge of a 25+ foot cliff to the jagged rocks below. We made it a point to make a note of that on the GPS. Some people wouldn't be so lucky in the race, but we'll talk about that later...

We continued on down the road which lead down an extremely whooped out sand wash, with about 3-4 foot whoops. This was a fun section, as Pistol held ole Harbor Freight to the wood and we just skipped across the whoops like they weren't even there. I wish my Jeepspeed could do that! After the whoops, it was on to the small little village of Erendira. Here we bombarded with local children wanting the ever precious "steeker". I've explained the "steeker" in previous articles of mine, but let me tell you... A man can go far in Mexico with a pocket full of stickers. It doesn't matter what kind of sticker, but Pirate4x4.com stickers are heavily sought after. We pulled over, and handed out a ton of "steekers" to the enthusiastic mob of children, and then motored on down the fairly smooth graded roads into Santo Tomas. My first day of pre running was complete, and I had an absolute blast!

Pete and Lance work on swapping out Harbor Freight's tranny.

Our next day of pre running came to a halt when the starter quit working in the parking lot of the hotel. While removing the starter, Camo noticed the transmission bell housing was split in two. Not good! After a bit of head scratching and a few phone calls, Pete decided we would pull out the broken transmission and install the spare transmission for the Trophy Truck. I ran the starter over to a local amigo who was happy to rebuild it for us. 2 hours later, it was good as new, complete with a fresh coat of rattle can black paint. After a few hours of wrenching, the new transmission was installed, and ready to rock. Pete, Cody, and I piled into Harbor Freight, and we took it for a quick run from the starting line to Ojos Negros, and then back to Horsepower Ranch for a well deserved ice cold cerveza.

Thursday was more of the same - We pre ran the entire race course. We stopped once again in Valle de Trinidad for lunch, and then motored on to Santo Tomas without any problems. We felt confident that we knew the course fairly well, and were ready to race. After 600 miles of heavy pre running, the Maxxis Creepy Crawlers looked great. They had zero chunking, and amazingly little wear. I was 100% confident in their ability to perform in the desert.

Even at 8:00am, contingency was a zoo!

Friday morning rolled around way to quickly for those of us who had a little too much fun Thursday night. I could hear Pete yelling through my hotel door "Lance what the hell are you doing in there? Get up!" I rolled out of bed, and staggered out to the back patio of my hotel room.

"I've been up since 5:00A.M. so we can get through contingency quickly. Come on down and let's hand out some stickers." Pete said.

Camo gets mobbed for Pirate4x4.com "steekers".

There were already thousands of locals lining the streets for contingency. I threw on some clothes, grabbed a couple thousand Pirate4x4.com steekers, and went outside to join the madness. After we were done with contingency, and the truck was teched, we decided to go for a quick 15 mile rip in the Trophy Truck to make sure everything was working the way it was supposed to.

As we cruised down the streets of downtown Ensenada, I thought to myself "Well this truck doesn't feel much different than Harbor Freight - How much faster could it REALLY be???" And then he punched it. Pete let the 700+ horsepower loose at a stop sign, and I was pinned to the seat unlike any other vehicle I've ever been in. It was awesome. I couldn't wait to hit the dirt and see what the REAL DEAL could do. After a few miles of pavement, we made our way to the start line. Cody reset the GPS, and we took off. Oh yeah, it was apples and oranges to 'ole Harbor Freight. I caught myself giggling like a little school girl as we hurtled over obstacles at warp speed. I couldn't wait for race day!

I didn't get much sleep the night before race day. I was so excited, I tossed and turned all night. I headed over to Pete's hotel where we would hang out till about 9:00A.M. before heading over to the starting line. Our chase crews and pit crew were already long gone to their specified locations to beat the mad traffic as there would be thousands of people all along the course.

Yeah, the Trophy Truck is a little faster than Harbor Freight!

Once 9:00AM finally rolled around, it was time to head over to the starting line. Once again we would drive the truck through town to the start line. I gotta say, it's damn cool driving through town in a full blown Trophy Truck! Once we got to the starting line, there were people everywhere, and race vehicles already lined up. The SCORE officials guided us through the maze of people and race vehicles to the front of the line, right behind the Terrible Herbst #19 Trophy Truck. The Herbst truck would be the only thing between us and fresh air. It was a great place to start. It was a surreal feeling being at the front of the line amongst the other Trophy Trucks. In my limited desert racing career, I'm used to starting in the very back of the line in my Jeepspeed. It was a cool feeling being up front with all the big dawgs.

The SCORE official came by and barked out we would be starting in 10 minutes. It was almost time to rock and roll! We all climbed in the truck, and got buckled in.

"One minute!!!!" Barked the official.

The Herbst Truck wasn't slowing down for anyone.

The Herbsts were lined up, and it was time to rock and roll. They were revving up their awesome 4wd Trophy Truck, waiting for the green flag. The green flag dropped, and they roared off into the unforgiving desert. We pulled up to the line, and would wait 30 seconds after the Herbst truck to get our green flag. The anticipation was insane.

"It's time to rock and roll guys, let's do this!" Pete said.

5...4...3...2...1... GO!!!!! Pete hammered down, and we launched off the starting line like a rocket ship as the Creepy Crawlers were definitely not crawling , but instantly pushing us over 100mph within a 1/4 mile of the starting line, as the cheering fans lining both sides of the road began to blur from the speed. We were in full-tilt boogy mode now!

"We going to take it easy through here, guys. I don't want to make any mistakes. We will catch Tim later." Said Pete.

As we raced our way to Ojos Negros, I kept track of our distance to the Herbst truck, and we were about matching his speed, as we maintained about a 30-40 distance behind him (keep in mind we started 30 seconds behind him). With only one truck in front of us, I wondered how the Trophy Trucks behind us could drive through the blinding dust. We blasted through 4 foot whoops at full throttle, and while most of them felt like merely a slight bump, we did indeed take a few hits that felt like they could jar your fillings loose. You know you're gettin' it done when you take hits like that in a truck like this. As we made our way out of the silt beds and into the hills, we began the rocky accent to the top of the mountain. This part of the course was very rugged, and rocky. The corners were very tight, and took some careful driving to negotiate. As we came around a corner, I noticed a sharp rock outcropping on the driver's side of the road. Pete pitched the truck right, and I felt the rear end slam into the outcropping as we made the turn. I thought to myself "God, I can't believe that didn't cut our tire" as we motored on.

A minute later, Pete said "I think we have a flat - rear driver's side. Lance, unbuckle and look out the window and check."

I unbuckled, pulled down the window net and looked out . Sure enough, those razor sharp rocks did get the best of the rear tire. It was completely flat. I wasn't surprised, as I don't think anything could have survived that.

Pete climbed to the top of the final hill climb, and found a decent place to pull over. He pulled off the course and Cody and I jumped out and went to work. Here's where the rookie co-driver in me went wrong, and I cost us about 30-45 seconds. I'm not going to say what I did, but let's just say I'll pay a little more attention next time I change a tire. We dove back in the truck, and off we went. It's a little tougher to buckle up while bouncing down a goat trail than when you're parked, but I was able to get buckled in fairly quickly.

"Dude, what the hell was up with that?" Pete said about my blunder.

"I have no $*#@ing idea dude. I'm sorry. It won't happen again." I said.

And that was that. I expected to catch more heat than that. While I may have only cost us 30-45 seconds, you must realize that every second counts in racing. Even in a race that is 250 miles, the top finishers are typically only seconds apart at the finish line. It was now time to quit being conservative, and play catch up, as 4 trucks passed us during our tire change. Pete kicked it up a notch and we slowly began to reel in the trucks in front of us. You know you're running with the big dogs when there are about 5 helicopters hovering all around you. Typically that would be a sign of fear in a Jeepspeed. But in the Pistol Pete Trophy Truck, it just means you're catching the rich guys.

We were making good time, and gaining on the vehicles in front of us when the brake pedal began to get mushy.

"I'm loosing my brakes," said Pete. "I have to double/triple pump them to slow down."

We slowed our pace just a bit, just to be safe, which I thought was still a blisteringly fast pace. We were somewhere near Jamau when it happened. WHAM!!!!!!!!! I tasted blood in my mouth - I bit my lip.

"Oh f$#* that hurt," Cody said.

"It's the Jimco Trophy Truck, Pete, get over" I said.

Pete moved over, and let him by. I was amazed that someone actually caught us. A few seconds later, we came into a turn a little hotter than our brakes could handle, and we missed the turn. 3 more trucks passed us while we were backing up to get back on track. We got back into the groove of things, and motored down what was more like a 4x4 trail than a desert course into the town of Valle de Trinidad. We called our pit crew, and let them know we would be pitting shortly. A few minutes later, we rolled into the pit where Eddy and crew fueled us up and swapped out our bad spare for a fresh tire. Mike Shaffer of team Pirate4x4 dumped a few quarts of oil into the sump, and we were off in about a minute. NASCAR style, baby!

As we pulled out of our pit, we saw the #7 Trophy Truck of Scott Steinberger flipped over. Apparently Scott and the Viladosola Trophy Truck tangled up, and Scott lost. What a bummer to end the race that way. We left civilization once again, and headed into the rugged mountains en-route to the Pacific Ocean. Pete ran a little cautious here, since we were driving along a mountain cliff, and it was a loooong way to the bottom. All was well till we got to about race mile 135, where the transmission began to slip.

"Are you kidding me? The damn tranny is slipping. It's brand new!" Pete growled.

We made it another mile or so, before the tranny gave up, and we were stranded on the side of the road. It appeared our race was over. We attempted to call our pit crew to summon the chase truck for a tow, but we couldn't reach them due to the large mountains. Pete hopped over to the "Weatherman" channel which is run by volunteer Bob Steinberger. Bob acts as an emergency radio relay, and was able to relay our message to our pit crew that we needed a tow.

Discouraged, we sat and watched truck after truck pass us, and then the class 1 cars, and then the buggies, when our chase car showed up. We decided to wait another hour and let the rest of the faster guys pass by before we tried to drag the truck to the highway. Once the traffic died down, we hooked up the tow strap, and Pete started up the truck. Before we took off, Pete put the truck in gear, just to see what would happen. The truck lurched forward, and felt like it was fine.

"Unhook the strap, I'm gonna try and drive it and see how far we can go. Maybe we can finish the race!" Pete said.

The chase crew unhooked the strap, and off we went. We took it easy, since we knew we had a toasted tranny. We could make it about 20 miles or so and then we would need to let the tranny cool off for about 10 minutes. After about 10 minutes of sitting, the tranny was good for another 20 miles. We repeated this pattern all the way to Highway 1, where we had a decision to make. We decided we would go for it, and try to finish the race. Being the last finisher was still better than DNFing!

"I Race for myself, and I finish for my team," Pete said.

Jesse Jones was lucky to be alive after this accident.

As we we approached the Erendira area, Cody reminded Pete not to drive in the ocean, as we almost did in our pre runs. As we approached that area, we came across Camo and Val, and they gave us the thumbs up and told us over the radio that Jesse Jones went off the cliff into the ocean. It wasn't a surprise that someone went off that cliff. I'm just glad that nobody was hurt in that unbelievable accident. As we rolled by and witnessed the carnage, I assured Pete and Cody that Camo would handle it, and get that Trophy Truck out one way or another. Check out the video of Pete missing the cliff in our pre run, and Jesse not being so lucky and getting pulled out by Camo(19 megabytes) .

We motored at about a Jeepspeed pace for the rest of the race, pulling over often to let the tranny cool, and with the goal in mind just to finish. It was a smooth ride all the way to the finish just as the sun was going down. That was a good thing, since we didn't have any lights on the truck! We were stoked to finish the race, so we had some celebratory cervezas and fish tacos at the finish line party that was going on in the small town of Santo Tomas.

While my first ride in a Trophy Truck wasn't as glorious as I had hoped, it was still the most intense ride of my life, and I can't wait to do it again. Pete and his team run a first class racing program, and I hope to ride with him again soon.

Congrats to Mark Post for his controversial but exciting victory!

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