Ensenada, Baja California Mexico
The 48th running of the SCORE Baja 500 was filled with extremes for McMillin Racing. The most extreme of all was the blistering hot, triple digit temperatures seen during the race. Temperatures inside some of the race trucks were reported as high as 150 degrees. When it gets that hot, mere survival enters into the picture. Dan McMillin and Brother Luke were prepared for the heat as well as the challenging terrain they would have to navigate. From the start in Ensenada, the course headed out through Ojos Negros, up to the summit, and down into the hottest portion of the race, the desert floor, before crossing the highway. They would then endure miles of punishing San Felipe whoops and ultimately head back to Ensenada for the finish.
Race day is the culmination of weeks spent prepping the race trucks and support vehicles, planning logistics, coordinating personnel, and prerunning the course. With so much time invested and high expectations, nobody can fault Luke McMillin for being extremely disappointed. After qualifying sixth fastest, Luke was looking forward to battling it out in the lead pack with the fastest Trophy Truck drivers on the planet.
Instead, he was sidelined at mile 50 with catastrophic driveline failure. Modifications are already planned to enhance the driveline before Luke takes on the Vegas to Reno race in August.
With Luke out early, it was up to Dan to carry the torch for McMillin Racing. While still in the process of refining his new truck, every time out shows more promise and solid performance in the Racer Engineering chassis. Dan drove a smart race, adjusting his pace for the extreme temperatures and punishing terrain. Dan was running 5th or 6th with a very fast pack of lead trucks. “The pace was surprisingly fast for the heat,” said Dan, “Nobody fell off the pace coming out of the desert and not a single truck failed to negotiate the bumps and San Felipe washes; it was amazing.
Just before Borrego, the eventual winner Tavo Vidosola bumped us and we let him by. We were running our own race strategy at 80% throttle. There was still a lot of hot desert and tough racing to go, so we were playing it safe and trying to keep the truck temps cool. I thought for sure that Tavo’s fast pace would catch up to him in the heat but it didn’t. The top 6 trucks were all running very hard.”
The desert has many ways to wreak havoc on you. When Dan went a little off line, he clipped a cactus that left co-driver Stuart Farley with bits of cactus stuck to his fire suit. Part of the team’s pre-race planning had veteran Driver Chuck Hovey standing by in case he was needed for any reason.
Instead of taking the wheel, he jumped in for Stuart and took over the navigation duties. Hovey has driven single-seat racecars for years and knows Baja well; he did an excellent job in the right seat. As the race went on, Dan passed cousin when they stopped to change a tire. Andy is driving the TSCO Trophy Truck this season. On the way back to the finish in Ojos Negros, Dan was blinded by the setting sun and when he reached up to lower the visor, he slipped off the side of the course.
They quickly got back underway but the few seconds of delay allowed Andy to get back by. They had been stalking Dan for miles. The order remained the same to the finish with Dan finishing sixth fastest. As more trucks came across the line, The Herbst team had a great run the bumped everyone from 5th place on back a spot. Dan was officially seventh place after a long, brutal day of racing.
After a de-brief on the Baja 500, the team will be back at work making changes to the trucks and planning for the 20th anniversary of Best In The Desert series Vegas to Reno race August 17-20 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This year the race spends two days of racing; 650 miles total (300 miles on day one and 350 miles day two with an overnight stay in Tonopah). The McMillin Family and McMillin Racing will be the sponsor of day one of the two day event.
Photography By: Bink Designs