Ensenada, Baja California Mexico
The 49th SCORE Baja 1000 lived up to its reputation for being one of the toughest races on the planet. Starting and ending in Ensenada, Baja Mexico, it traveled over 850 miles and contained every bit of terrain that Baja has up its sleeve. Third generation racers Dan and Luke McMillin knew what to expect when they got to Baja; both drivers grew up watching their Father Mark, Uncle Scott, and Grandfather Corky help build the foundation of offroad racing in Baja. Despite knowing the Peninsula like the back of their hands, they put in the preparation before the race of prerunning the course several times so they could navigate by instinct on race day. The terrain in Baja is the ultimate challenge, but the competition is also fierce. Entries come from all over the world to compete, and in the premiere Trophy Truck class that Dan and Luke compete in, everyone has the very best equipment. No matter how well you prepare, race day is always filled with surprises.
Because of the long hours spent in the truck, racers usually team up to share the driving. It’s better to have a fresh driver behind the wheel to keep the pace high, especially in the dark. The fastest trucks ran the course in around 18 hours, a good portion of it after the sun went down. Luke had Justin “Bean” Smith sharing the wheel and Dan had assistance from Gary Weyhrich, both relief drivers highly accomplished.
“We spent 10 days in Mexico pre running and I think the team as a whole felt more prepared than ever,” said Luke, “The team is really developing nicely. We were planning on just taking easy for the first 180 miles where I was going to hand the truck over to Justin. At about mile 130, I hit a rock that broke a fitting on our brake caliper. The crew had to change the caliper when Justin got in the truck; it cost us 15 minutes. That isn’t a lot of time in such a long race however we got stuck behind two very slow competitors. The dust was impossible to get through so we lost even more time. I got back in the truck at race mile 470 and was still stuck in dust; it was extremely frustrating. We ran trouble free the rest of the race but were unable to close the gap to the winner; we finished 6th place.”
“We had a clean race all the way to the first pit, passing four trucks pulled over with mechanical issues,” said Dan, “We had no flat tires and at pit one we were the 6th physical truck on course; about 14 minutes behind the leader. Gary Weyhrich and Cameron Parrish got in the truck and were having a clean run. At around mile 430 the truck’s engine water temp was getting warmer than normal for the conditions, and it raised concern. At race mile 440, we were right there on corrected time for the lead. Gary and Cameron had one flat tire that was earned by hitting a rock right before the pavement and pit 3. When Gary and Cameron got to main pit 3, they were the 4th physical truck and 7 minutes physically behind the leaders.”
At Main Pit 3, Dan and Casey were going to get back in the truck and take it to the finish. The pit crew did their normal pit for tires and fuel and execute a driver’s change. While diagnosing the water temperature issue, they determined that the heat exchanger had failed and was leaking water. It had deprived the engine of water and coolant, ultimately causing the engine to lock up. The #23’s race was over at that point. It was a tough way to go out. After over 2200 miles of pre running and running on pace to win, this was the first Baja 1000 DNF (did not finish) for Dan in the 10 years of racing the 1000.
“I can’t thank the entire team enough for their hard work and the pit crews and volunteers for dedicating themselves to winning the Baja 1000,” said Dan, “Sometimes Baja bites you, and sometimes it’s simply bad luck. We will be ready for 2017, debuting the season at the BITD Parker 425.”
“We finished 6th with no other mechanical issues other than the brake caliper which was my own fault,” said Luke, “The good news is that despite the bad luck, I think both Dan and I are very happy with our trucks and are ready to go for 2017.
The last two races have given us confidence that we have two trucks capable of running a clean race and fighting for the win. We will be doing some testing on the #83 truck in the “off season” and can’t wait for 2017!
Photography By: Bink Designs