Friday, November 23, 2007

NHRA Lucas & Todd Baja 1000 Report

CABO SAN LUCAS, B.C., Mexico -- Their ride was short-lived, but young NHRA upstarts Morgan Lucas and J.R. Todd's first attempt at the 40th annual SCORE Tecate Baja 1000, the world's most famous desert race, still ended up being the thrill of a lifetime. Driving the Class 1 Lucas Oil Products/Torco Race Fuels Diablo Penhall/Chevy off-road vehicle with teammates Ed Hullinger and fellow drag racer John Spar, the Top Fuel tandem gained a whole new respect for the event and all that it stands for.

While completing a distance of 175 miles may not seem like much when compared to the 1, 296-miles needed to finish the race, the time Lucas and Todd spent behind the wheel was a harrowing experience unlike anything this drag racing duo had even seen. The field was comprised of 424 total entries from a SCORE-record, 44 states and 20 different countries, of which only 239 participants completed the Baja 1000 course. There were 28 Professional and six Sportsman classes for cars, trucks, motorcycles and ATVs marking the second largest field in the history of the desert classic.

“It was cool to say the least,” said Lucas. “You start the race going up a dirt mound where you shake the hand of Sal Fish, president of SCORE. After that, you drive off a little and that's when they give you the green light to go. J.R. and I were waiting our turn and watching the pair in front of us when we started to get excited. Those guys rev it up, drop the clutch and start blazing the tires taking off.

The drag racers wasted no time in hitting the (off)road with a hard leave.

“I looked over at J.R. and said, ‘Yeah, I guess we can do that, too!' We pulled up and when the starter raised his hand to begin the countdown, I brought up the motor up to around 4, 000 rpm and when he said 3-2-1, bam! I dropped the clutch and probably had a .000 (reaction time) on the Tree leaving out of there. It was exciting and fun, but coming around the first corner we had to take it slow going through town because of all the people lining the track. When we hit our first big jump we got some big air.”

Speeding out of Ensenada the pair quickly came up against the treacherous terrain for which this legendary race is known. Having to tackle some of the worst territory one could envision in an unfamiliar vehicle, a game yet inexperienced Lucas and Todd literally faced an uphill climb, and despite their best efforts it didn't take long before a mishap would prematurely sideline the young drivers.

“All five of my tear-offs were gone before we got out of town with all the mud that was in the washes,” grinned Lucas. “We finally hit the open road, where we encountered everything from having to dodge fire pits and other booby traps people had set up to having rocks thrown at us. It was an unforgettable experience, driving across terrain you couldn't imagine. Going into our first pit stop at the checkpoint, we had a real good sense of pride.

Lucas, right, drove while Todd navigated. "He did a great job," said Lucas.

“From there, we took off heading south, and were going along fine when we approached this one corner. Suddenly, the back end began to slide a little, and the right front tire caught a rock and popped the truck up on its side. We got it back down and started going again but had a problem with the engine backfiring. It blew the manifold hard enough to dislodge it. To make matters worse, we also had a small engine fire that we had to put out.

“It was one of those things that had all the aspects of a race like this -- we were on our side, climbing rock trails, going to through sand beds and silt beds. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would. I can't thank Ed Hullinger, John Spar, and all the guys on the team that contributed to making this happen. I just wish we could have gone a little further. I would definitely like to keep doing it. We had a pretty good time. You can't really explain what it was like unless you do it; it was unlike anything I've ever seen or done.”

Although a spectacular event of this nature has spurred Lucas' interest in pursuing more off-road events, for now he will definitely stick to his regular occupation of propelling himself down a quarter-mile dragstrip at speeds of over 330 mph.

Although their expedition ended too soon, both had a great time, and look forward to returning next year after completing the 2008 NHRA season.

“Drag racing is a lot of fun,” said Lucas. “It's what I know. It's my job and career choice. In the grand scheme of things we, as drivers, are able to do things that other people don't get a chance to do. I received the opportunity to attempt this race with my good friend, J.R. He's a great navigator. He was on the spot-on all the time, and could keep me in control when I needed to settle and slow down. It was one of those deals where we ran into some bad luck. Hopefully, we can come back next year and build on our effort this weekend. Maybe we'll try to do the Baja 250 or 500 next year and learn some more things. It would be nice to say that I finished the Baja 1000.”

First to cross the finish line was the No. 1 Honda CRF450X of the team of Robby Bell/Steve Hengeveld/Johnny Campbell/Kendall Norman, who conquered the grueling 1,296-mile course in an overall winning time of 24 hours, 15 minutes, 50 seconds. Bell, as rider of record, took the green flag in Ensenada Tuesday morning, followed by Norman, Campbell, and Hengeveld in capturing the checkered flag. The team's average speed over the tougher-than-usual course was 53.43 miles per hour.

While the American Honda teammates were the fastest vehicle in the demanding race, Mark Post, Rob MacCachren, and Carl Renezeder, split driving in the No. 3 Riviera Ford F-150 winning the featured SCORE Trophy-Truck division, leading all four-wheel vehicles to the finish line by covering the extremely demanding course in 25:21:25, with an average speed of 51.13mph.

Highlighting the difficulty of Lucas and Todd's initial off-road experience was the fact that only 13 of the 29 entries in their SCORE Class 1 truck division completed the entire distance.

Mexican tourism officials estimated a record crowd of 350,000 spread along the course the entire route from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas.

Baja Racing