The only all-female off-road competition in the United States recently completed the trek from Nevada to California, covering over 2,000 kilometers (1,242+ miles). Adventurous women from all walks of life tested their skill & stamina, left technology behind, and participated in the ultimate road trip.
Toyota will be kicking up the dust at the Mint 400 next March, this time in their all-new Tacoma TRD Pro Race Truck!
As a kid, growing up in the 90’s, I was mesmerized by off-road racing and the legend of Ivan “Ironman” Stewart. Stewart, driving under the Toyota banner, racked up an impressive seven Baja 500 and two Baja 1000 Unlimited Class wins between 1991 and 1999. In addition to dominating the Baja races, Ivan won a host of High Desert Racing Association, SCORE, and Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group stadium races for a total of 37 wins and six Trophy Truck Driver’s Champion titles.
It has been 17 years since Ivan secured a first-place finish for Toyota in the Baja 500, and 18 years since his last Baja 1000 victory. In fact, it has been XX years sinceit was 2000 when Toyota even last participated in SCORE races with an Unlimited Class entry. Toyota has instead chosen to wander the desert, focusing the last few years on the Stock Full Class with the team’s Lexus LX 570 (2009-2013) and Toyota TRD Pro Tundra (2014 to present).
That all changed on May 7 when Toyota announced they had signed a multi-year sponsorship with “Ballistic” BJ Baldwin. “BJ’s successful racing record, his adventurous attitude, and his ceaseless dedication to honing himself and his craft speaks volumes to Toyota’s core ‘Let’s Go Places’ and kaizen philosophies,” said Cooper Ericksen, Toyota vice president of , vehicle marketing and communications. “We look forward to having BJ and his Tundra involved in this next chapter of Toyota’s desert racing story that so far includes 11 Baja 500 and two Baja 1000 wins.”
Only one other driver, Larry Ragland, has won back to back first-places finishes in the Baja 1000 under the Ironman Spec, completing the grueling race as the single driver. BJ has a proven track record of winning but are his credentials enough to get Toyota to the promised land, a first-place finish? Toyota thinks so, investing heavily in Baldwin’s new flagship race truck, a new Tundra TRD Pro based Trophy Truck. The truck, built by ID Designs, is powered by a custom engine built by Kroyer Racing Engines specifically for this Trophy Truck applicationfeatures 26" of front and 30" of rear travel and a top speed of 145mph.
Not only is Toyota banking on BJ’s driving record, but they hope to tap into his media influence. BJ’s brings an added boost of energy to the Toyota team, which already supports drivers in the Lucas Oil Off Road Race Series, NASCAR circuits, and NHRA Top Fuel/Funny Car series. He has starred in Monster Energy’s #RECOIL series of videos, with the first two in the series racking up a combined total views of nearly 24 million.
His broader appeal as a driver reaches beyond the truck racing scene. Toyota chose to make the announcement at the Monster Energy AMA Supercross FIM World Championship for a reason. The event, co-sponsored by Toyota, saw in excess of 36-thousand fans braving rain and hail to watch the races. Most of these fans showed up in pickup trucks and countless stood in line to have their photo taken with BJ and Ivan. Toyota wants to leverage BJ’s name recognition in the market to help bolster sales of their Tundra and Tacoma platforms in a heavily saturated market.
BJ Baldwin’s Trophy Truck Specs:
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We've just learned that Toyota has signed a multi-year deal with Ballistic BJ Baldwin! The team will be racing a TRD Pro Tundra Trophy Truck in both the SCORE International and Best in the Desert (BITD) series.
Act I: Las Vegas!
I had to get from Denver to Las Vegas to catch my ride to Ensenada. I found a $19.00 fare. Actually, the fare was $0.85 and the rest was taxes. I'm sure the government will do a better job with my money then I would.
Next I had to find a place to stay overnight in Vegas. So now I have a confession, I'd never stayed in Las Vegas. I made it all these years only driving through twice never really stopping. After one night in Las Vegas I now understand. Las Vegas is like nothing else.
I put word on the social network “looking for a place in Las Vegas” and fellow adventure Brian Dorr not only was able to secure lodging that wasn't in the back of his truck (although if you've ever seen the back of his truck it's a sweet set up), but he did a bit of off-road driving and had me running over cobblestones to jump into the almost still moving truck at the airport. Smoothest pick up ever. And we were off.
I'll leave the night in Las Vegas that up to your imagination because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. I can assure you it was less exciting than what you might imagine.
Now why did I fly to Vegas to go to Baja? That leaves about 1000 miles to go.
Act II: Road Trip
No one has turned social media into a more effective tool for Toyota 4x4 goodness then Brian "Woody" Swearington. Since you drive a Toyota you know www.IH8MUD.com and your family has IH8MUD to thank for hundreds of hours you lost to that blue screen making you happy, answering questions, and starting “how should I modify my truck” threads. When I heard that I had the chance to spend a day in the truck with Woody, Heather, and Otis, I jumped at it. There is no better way to travel to the Baja 1000 then in the well-built IH8MUD 80 series freshly equipped with Autocraft progressive coils with Autocraft-spec Icon reservoir shocks and Autocraft rear seat bar. More about those later.
The drive from Vegas to Ensenada was a breeze interrupted only by delicious Mexican food off a random exit in California. We rolled down the coast into Ensenada and celebrated Otis' first international adventure.
Act III: Contingency
The Baja 1000 is every bit as exciting in person as you might imagine. Unquestionably the Canguro Racing team is the finest group to travel with. The puzzled looks on the faces of all of the Mexicans trying to understand why a race team is named after a kangaroo makes it worthwhile. But before that we went out for a big steak dinner followed up by the ever reliable Thrifty ice cream.
Baja experiences are everywhere and going to the race is much more then the amazing race trucks. It would be easy to spend hours poring over any one race vehicle and learning about all the amazing components modifications and experiences of that vehicle and the team. Now imagine surrounded by hundreds of these vehicles, thousands of these people, and cramming it all into 24 to 36 hours of dusty racing over 800 miles and it is simply in all respects absolutely overwhelming to the senses.
Contingency morning dawns crisp and clear and by sunup dozens of rigs were lined up. Contingency is a holiday in Ensenada and everybody was out to see the trucks, motorcycles, quads, and side-by-side and the teams. <<Jeff
Canguro racing was already hard at work with last-minute vehicle prep and getting drivers registered.
Act IV: Tacos
The tacos in Baja are so good that they deserve their own act. Mmmmm. I stay away from the brown water guacamole served out of old 5 gallon hydraulic oil buckets, but some say that's just a personal preference.
Final Act: The Baja Mil - The Race
Race day dawned and good time destiny determined again that I pile in with Woody, Heather, and Otis. We headed off to "observe and monitor communications". Adrenalin must have been pumping as Woody went to pass a semi on an outside curve overlooking a bluff, which would have been fine for Mexico driving but for the tightening turn. So now I know that a fully loaded expedition setup 80 Series Land Cruiser can smoothly power slide on BFG AT KO2’s. All part of the adventure.
For our next difficult task it was essential that we stop for more tacos and then drive directly to a beach, park atop of 12 foot bluff and carefully watch four hours of racing waiting to catch a glimpse of Monica pass in the dark. We were treated to campfire where one complete example of a native plant provided for an entire fuel.
The best views of the Toyota Mexico trophy truck came as she flew through this section. The flapping caution tape on the front bumper must've been picked up from taking a corner a little too tight somewhere. Somewhere along the course she broke a frame and a shock piston as thick as your wrist.
While we waited the sunset over the pacific and we caught a glimpse of dolphins offshore.
We cheered in the dark as Monica blew past and then piled in to meet at the next pit stop. On the way we were treated to an encounter with race legend Rod Hall. Although he proved to best to our finish this year, there's no denying with his skill and experience he earned every bit of it.
I'd like to say that NASCAR would be proud of our pit stops. My job was to check tire pressure. Three were good and one was a 10 PSI high and the whole team was waiting on that one tire when it was time to leave the pit. In other words, the entire pit lasted long enough for one guy to check four tires and let 10 pounds of air out. You do the math.
However, that must've been just enough time for Baja 1000 gremlins to jump in the truck, because after this they started to work their troublesome magic.
Somewhere around race mile 420, one of the most remote sections of the entire course, she ran out of gas. It took nearly 4 hours for the chase truck just to get in with additional fuel. However even after that the truck kept losing power and needing a restart.
Well behind and almost 8 hours later Monica rolled in to Coco's corner. I could think of a lot of worse places to hang out with some good friends for eight hours but the whole time we were thinking about the race track and wishing there was something we could do.
The road in and out of Coco’s was also the race course and Woody, himself a bit of a Baja racer, put the new Autocraft suspension to task soaking up the bumps, drifting through corners and hammering down the straightaways. This road won't be the same next time as we passed countless actions under construction. The highway won't go straight to Coco's but it will never be the Remote traveler rest stop like it's been.
Monica handled the next stretch of highway like a champ but trouble started as soon as she was back onto the dirt. The constant stopping to reset the throttle body was causing major delays. As a team regrouped at mile marker 660 there were constant efforts to stay in touch with the race car and come up with a solution. Our Chase vehicle went ahead to Checkpoint 6 to find out its status and how much time we had to reach it.
There are countless ways to be knocked out of competition in the Baja 1000. Mechanical, navigational, booby traps from creative spectators, exhaustion, and failing to make checkpoints on time. We arrived at Checkpoint 6 as the crew was packing up. Ready to close. Monica was still two hours out. At least. Her race was over. We turned around back to radio range to pass the news. Then pulled off into the desert for a rest and cup of coffee. After an hour or so we headed back to Ensenada.
The next morning as most of the team headed home I stuck around for a day and went surfing. After all, it's Baja.
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