A Baja 500 Adventure with Matlock Racing
Weeks before the 2021 Score International Baja 500 was to kick off, Matlock Racing reached out to us to discuss a media collaboration during the race. After making sure a few logistics on the homefront were taken care of, we happily accepted the offer knowing full well it would be quite an adventure with one of the greatest Polaris RZR factory race teams.
Team Matlock is coming off their impressive San Felipe showing with Kristen Matlock taking the top spot in the Pro UTV N/A Class while Wayne Matlock finished 4th in the Pro UTV Open Class. Let’s not forget Kristen dominated last year’s Baja 500 taking the top spot overall in the UTV classes. Prior to that are COUNTLESS wins between Kristen and Wayne throughout the years. So sit back, strap in, and enjoy our day-by-day breakdown leading up to the 2021 Score International Baja 500.
Day 1 – Traveling South to Ensenada
The excursion began Saturday morning one week prior to the race as we left Alpine, CA, located just East of San Diego. We headed directly south through Tijuana, on into Ensenada, Baja CA. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful as we pulled into Estero Beach Hotel Resort. We wouldn’t stay long as we were simply dropping off the race cars and a few other vehicles, but we would return in a few days. The team continued even farther South where we arrived in the Valle La Trinidad, to the very small town of Lazaro Cardenas. Our hotel was very cute, very clean, and the people were incredibly accommodating, especially when we were in dire need of a strong wifi connection. We were taken into the lobby office, and shown where the router was to receive the best connection to get some important media work completed. The manager, and who I believed to be his wife were so happy they could help us out.
We immediately grabbed food at a near by restaurant that could not have been more than 15’x15’. Our server was sweeter than ever, and was happy to take a group photo as we ate. The food was delicious on top of it all! Our small hotel was walking distance away, so we made our way back through the dirt road, as many townspeople walked by on their horses. The small town had a very Mid-1800’s Wild West feel, similar to something you’d see in a classic John Wayne film, and it couldn’t have been cooler. We made it back and finally called it a night after a long day.
Enjoy the Video Recap of Our first Day of Travel!
Day 2 – 1st Day of Prerunning
Day two began bright and early as we grabbed a bite and another small local restaurant a couple blocks away. No surprise the food was amazing, and so were the people. Upon arriving Kristen felt like her prerunner car was not running as it should. After a brief inspection it was soon found that somehow some water had made its way into the gas tank, whether it be from a build up of moisture we weren’t sure, but it needed to be fixed immediately. The restaurant owner kindly lent us a few buckets to drain the gas, and once emptied we were able to sit down and enjoy some breakfast. It was a small menu, which was painted on the wall, but it was all we needed to fill our bellies. Before we could find a spot to safely dispose of the fuel, the owner happily accepted it knowing once the water separates soon it will be good to use. In this day and age free fuel is hard to pass up, so we were on our way to begin prerunning the Baja 500 course. Kristen and her co-driver Adrian set off, as Wayne and his co-driver Danny followed soon after. The rest of us followed along the highway to meet at mapped checkpoints.
Along the way to meet we stopped at a very famous traditional hangout “Acambaro”. Some of the biggest race teams, and influencers within the Baja racing scene have stopped by for a beverage or two, and the photos on the wall were quite evident of it. Seeing images of a very young Cameron Steele, the McMillin family, and many others were cool to take a look at. As the saying goes….if these walls could talk.
We continued on another 100 miles as we met up with Wayne and Kristen for some fresh Baja Tacos at “El Pablano #1”. What better way to end just under 200 miles of Baja Prerunning. “These are literally the best tacos I have ever had in Baja!” Kristen said with a full mouth, and no one disagreed. Offered was a choice of Carne Asada or Al Pastor. They were equally delicious, and the final count of how many were consumed might be a little too embarrassing to release. We packed up and continued on through San Quintin to our beautiful hotel for the night, Hotel Santa Maria. Located along the Baja Coast, it was quite refreshing to take in after a long day of driving, off-roading, and tacos!
Enjoy the Video Recap of Prerunning and Tacos!
Day 3 – Second Day of Prerunning
After yet another amazing breakfast…are you noticing a trend? The food is amazing in Baja! We set out from San Quintin for another day of feeling out the course.
The day began with a couple small glitches with our GPS systems in the vehicles, but after a few quick fixes we were on our way. There weren’t a lot of major details that went along with the second day of prerunning, it was just another day at the office for the Matlock Team as we logged another couple hundred miles, and eventually made our way to our final hotel – The Beautiful Estero Beach.
After a long day we went to relax in the hotel’s spa, but after taking a look at the boiling meat fest, we decided to wait it out a bit.
Enjoy the Video Recap of Day 3 Including Onboard Footage!
Day 4 – Third Day of Prerunning
Day four began at the ever famous Baja Burro, a local restaurant that is known by many racers, for many years. The small restaurant pays homage to some of the biggest names in Baja racing, while Kristen’s photo adorns the sign above the restaurant. An honor she shares with Robby Gordon. The taqueria is very welcoming to all racers, and they are huge fans of the Matlock team. In fact, on the menu you’ll fine the “Kristen Omelette” cosisting of vegetables, bacon, and no cheese. I had that, but broke things up by adding cheese – sorry Kristen! Perhaps that should be “Dirt Chronicles Omelette”?
The team logged over 260 more miles of rough terrain on into Ojos Negros, a huge portion of the race. Midway through, we met them at a pit for a little refueling of both their vehicles, and stomachs. The weather was beginning to get warmer as the week went on and we were all feeling it, but spirits remained high and the Polaris RZR prerunners continued running smoothly!
Enjoy the Video Recap of Day 4!
Day 5 – Heading Home For Wyatt Matlock’s 5th Grade Graduation
Yep, you read that correctly. Baja racing is important, but family comes first. Wayne and Kristen’s oldest son, who did not come down for the trip initially, was set to graduate 5th grade! So mom and dad made the couple hour drive home to watch Wyatt leave elementary school, and become a middle schooler. While the rest of the team stayed back in Ensenada to begin some final preparations on the race vehicles, which for the first time since making the trip down South #1954 & #1871 felt that cool breeze of the Ensenada coast as they were unloaded. One of the first things that needed to be addressed was the clutch mechanics on Kristen’s car. A few adjustments were made, and we were ready for a day of testing with Team Polaris the next day.
Our party also grew a bit larger by day’s end as Kristens parents Eddie & Cathy joined us along with the young Matlock boys Wyatt & Clayton, after a day of celebration for Wyatt. Grandpa and grandsons didn’t waste time dropping a line into the bay pulling up more fish that I have seen caught in such a short amount of time. It was definitely a thriving bay, to which all fish were released to live another day.
Enjoy the Video Recap of Day 5!
Day 6 – Clutch Testing with Team Polaris RZR Engineers
On day six the Matlock team set out as “Brutus”(our tow rig) pulled the race cars into the desert to meet up with the engineers of Polaris Inc. The mission was to get the clutches completely squared away for race day.
Wayne’s car was dialed in quickly as he made a few 90+ MPH test passes through the course and open highway. Kristen’s car on the other hand took a bit more testing. The clutches needed very small adjustments, which in turn made huge differences. So the changes were made, test passes completed: Not quite there yet. Remove, adjust, test one more time. Nope, still not there so the process was repeated again, and again, and again. What should have been a fairly simple afternoon testing turned into an all day process into the late evening, but sometimes that’s just the way things go. The Polaris engineering team, and the Felix brothers of Matlock Racing were finally satisfied with the clutch’s performance. What is most ironic is that what the team finally agreed on was one of the original adjustments made very early in the day, but sometimes you don’t know what’s best until you test all options. I’m sure all mechanics, drivers, and engineers can agree. All in all it was a great day, and very enlightening. Kudos to everyone’s hard work as the sun began to heat up even more.
Even though to some of us we were in the middle of nowhere deep in the baja desert, local race fans still managed to find us. Several times they pulled off the road and ask to take photos. To which Kristen happily obliged, even giving them teeshirts. Something they will probably never forget.
Enjoy the Video Recap of Clutch Testing!
Day 7 – Tech and Contingency
Tech and Contingency had arrived! Unfortunately a very dialed down version. Aside from race day, historically this is one of the most exciting days for fans, the local community, and all race teams. The past several decades tech day consisted of thousands of people lining the streets taking photos, getting autographs from their favorite drivers, eating tacos, listening to music and purchasing from vendors that were happy to offer show specials on the best products in the industry. For the second year in a row Covid-19 made the experience underwhelming for all involved. The SCORE races are much more than racing – it’s about the EXPERIENCE. The SCORE crew did what they could do, but it was by no means the same. This was by no fault at all of SCORE, I guess it’s just one of those things we are forced to accept due to the globalized “Pandemic”.
All that said, the show must go on. Teams lined up bright and early to be interviewed by the media, and make sure their vehicles are on the up for race day. It was great to be out under the sun and bumping into old friends again, and seeing all these beautiful vehicles shined and prettied up for the big show. In previous years the process that typically took most of the day, was completed in a few short hours but for reasons mentioned above we all flew right through it. All in all it was a great day!
We all retired back to the hotel, where the rest of the team had arrived. Kristen’s Father kept on with the Matlock Racing tradition of offering a cheeseburger feast for the entire team of about 25 while everyone relaxed, made jokes, and got their mind right for the big day!
Enjoy the Tech and Contingency Video Recap!
RACE DAY HAS ARRIVED!
Eight days of planning, prepping, and prerunning had all come down to this. Not to mention the countless days back home in preparation. Our morning began as we all woke to a beautiful Baja sunrise. We made our way from our own rooms and converged to the Matlock’s quarters, where a team meeting was held and breakfast burritos were consumed – courtesy of the Baja Burro. The mood was calm as everyone reviewed their personalized jobs during the race.
The team mounted up and set off for battle at approximately 10:00 A.M., and headed for the start. Wayne, Kristen, and their co-drivers arrived and got in line. Calm breathing, clear minds, and at approximately 11:00 both cars passed the waving green flag – LET’S RACE!
We were off, Dirt Chronicles was assigned to “RZR GIRL” the Ford Super Duty chase truck which will be offering all support for Kristen and her co-driver Adrian in car #1954. Our first pit was at MM220 so off we were, expecting to meet them in a few hours. As we arrived and found the best spot to set up shop, the weather was pretty warm so we hydrated, made some sandwiches and basically sat and waited. All the while in comms with both Kristen and Wayne on their status.
As we continued to wait, the Matlock Racing Team provided help to other teams as they pulled in for pitting, because that’s what racing is all about. By this time it was found out that there was a HUGE bottleneck on the course at RM170, in which dozens of cars were currently involved. Many cars, throughout many classes have come to a dead stop. We remember chatting with Kristen several days prior during the first day of prerunning, “I’m a little bit concerned about some bottlenecks here and there” she said. Which turned out to be much more concerning than anyone had expected. As we followed the cars on GPS seeing that they are still completely halted was quite frustrating, while minutes felt like hours. Nobody wants to see their drivers showing 0 MPH.
Finally they made it through and were back on the course, when soon after we got the news no team wanted to receive. At about 4:00 P.M. Both cars had been involved in separate incidents just about 3 miles apart at RM180 & RM183. The pit crew immediately packed up and headed out for the course, when just as quickly we received communication to stay put they will make the fixes. To which we all figured maybe it wasn’t as bad as we had assumed, when in fact it was. Wayne had suffered suspension and catastrophic frame damage which had taken him out of finishing the race. The focus was now on keeping Kristen in the race. A plan was soon put into place as Wayne’s co-driver Danny hopped out of the car to remove a rear knuckle. What happened next are what Baja off-road races are made of. Danny then hiked several miles through the desert alongside the live race course with removed parts from Wayne’s car, to where Kristen and Adrian were broken down. The mechanical fixes began, as Kristen was already down for several hours. At the same time Wayne’s chase crew had unloaded the Polaris they were towing for just this very purpose. The plan was to get the necessary parts to Wayne’s car allowing them to limp back to the road and unfortunately onto a trailer. The process would take many hours late into the night.
Meanwhile at 8:00 P.M. all fixes were made, and Kristen’s #1954 was back on the course! The chase crew was still waiting for her at RM220 as we have been since about 1:00 P.M., when she flew by with a quick siren blast signaling she’s back on the road. There didn’t seem to be a reason for her to stop, so we packed everything up and proceeded to the next meeting point. Kristen eventually stopped for her first pit at 9:00 P.M., 10 hours after the race began. The fuel tank was topped off, and the car was given a once over while driver and co-driver quickly consumed some electrolytes and pizza. Sometimes a little comfort food goes a long way!
Meanwhile Wayne’s chase crew had finally reached both Wayne and Danny, bringing them water, pizza, and parts. What more could one ask for! During the long wait a local good samaritan had stopped and gave Wayne a lighter and some water so they were hydrated and warm sitting by a makeshift campfire consisting of bushes and twigs gathered. They all quickly got to work, and eventually got the car out of the desert and loaded on a trailer. Definitely a rough and long day for the whole crew.
The night grew later but the mission still continued. Kristen was met at yet another pit stop, but this time needing a front wheel change which was promptly dealt with. During this pit the crew assured her that Wayne and his crew were all safe, and it was time to get to that finish line.
The Finish Line!
At 4:15 A.M. over 16 hours after punching through the green flags, Kristen crossed the checkered flags. It was surely a long day for all involved. Bottlenecks, crashes, fixes, and pitstops, all in a days work, right? As everything came to an end, and numbers were tallied, Kristen eventually took 4th in her class of 11 competitors. This race was proved to be a VERY long one for all involved. As we wrapped things up, and headed back to hotel just before dawn, teams were still making their way to the finish line. The fact is, WE FINISHED.
Enjoy the Matlock Racing Video Recap of Race Day!
Matlock Racing Recapping With George Hammel of “The Dirt Life Show”
Just about a week after the race was completed, the dust was settled, and emotions have calmed, Wayne, Kristen and their mini’s Wyatt and Clayton joined an Instagram Live chat on “The Dirt Life Show” to have a chat with George Hammel answering questions from both George and fans. George has built his online off-road show into one of the most informative and watched shows in the industry. As the live show began Wayne explained, “We learned from a few build mistakes, that we won’t let happen again.” During the discussion the “Bottleneck” was brought up. It seemed that more teams than expected were involved, and it drastically changed so many strategies. It was also revealed that 91% of the race teams that entered were penalized for a number of reasons. Crossing course markers, speeding in low speed zones, and unsafe racing practices, etc. Hammel brought up a good point: Are drivers getting more reckless, or is SCORE getting a bit too picky? The answer is left to many others to decide, as that might be getting a bit more political than we’d like to dive in to. It is safe to say that it might be a little of both.
The Matlocks’ road blocks were soon brought up. “Noone wants to have problems during a race, it makes you very much appriciate your prior wins.” Kristen explained. “We always make detailed notes in our pitbooks, so we can make modifications for the next race.” She continued.
This was by far one of the most memorable experiences for the Dirt Chronicles crew. The Matlock Team which included Wayne and Kristen, their children, her parents, and the entire race crew welcomed us with open arms. Within minutes (not hours or days), but minutes we felt like part of the team. A team that is finely tuned and knows what it’s like to win some of the biggest races in the world.
Young Race Fans – and One Incredible Story
It is clear how much the team completely appreciates all of those that that look up to them. It was rare to stop in small towns, and not be swarmed by the local children that wanted nothing more than a simple sticker. While prerunning mid-week, Kristen received a direct message from a young fan by the name of Ruby. In spanish she explained how much she truly looks up to Kristen and would very much love to meet her somehow and receive a teeshirt. Unfortunately Ruby lived hours away from any place we might be during the week, as we were on a tight schedule. Kristen arranged to leave a teeshirt, hat, stickers, and some other signed goods at a local business so Ruby can pick it up at her convenience. The next day Kristen once again received a message with photos of Ruby and all her knew Matlock Racing gear. She explained that she convinced her older brother to drive all the way to the agreed spot to get it. It was beautil to see how truly happy the young girl was…..But the story does’nt end there. On the night of the race, as we pitted for Kristen, we pulled off the road at 9:00 P.M as we waited for Kristen who will be ariving within minutes. We were approached by a group of people that greeted us. I noticed one girl had a Matlock tee and hat. I looked at her, Ruby? “Si Si!!!” She replied, while her whole family cheered and smiled. Ruby had followed Kristen’s path throughout the race, and convinced her family of about 6-7 (it was late so I don’t remember the exact amount) to drive all day long for a chance to meet her. The language barrier was very rough, but we had everyone quickly move to a safe spot as Kristen will be coming in very fast. I kept showing her father my phone as Kristen will be here in 5 minutes, then 4 minutes, then 3 – “she will be here any minute” I explained, as they all began to cheer. Kristen’s bright amber Baja Design’s lights made an appearance around the bend as she pulled in. I ran up, asked how Kristen was doing – got the thumbs up. I then yelled over the motor “Kristen, Ruby is here!” Kristen immidiatly replied “Where is she!?” I called for Ruby to come over, where they were able to meet, say hi, and take some once in a lifetime selfies. Taking a photo with your idol in the middle of a pitstop during the Baja 500, it doesn’t get much better. I also noticed Ruby’s brother had grabbed one of Kristen’s signature pink shop rags, and had been whipping down everyone one the cars off-road lights, knowing she still had a lot more time driving through the night desert. When she left he handed me the towel, to which I said keep it. Something I knew would be a great memento. Thank you so much to Ruby and her beautiful family for all of the support. You are the reason we love the sport so much. Baja had proved that all the stories and race documentires are true – the culture is truly a beautiful one.
See ya next race…..