Embedded: Matlock Racing Battles the 2021Baja 1000

It had arrived, one of the longest, most treacherous Baja 1000’s since it’s conception in 1967.  This year was yet again a peninsula run, a race that stretches across the entire Baja Coast typically from Ensenada to La Paz.  The last time the race stretched along the coast was 2017.  If it’s not a peninsula run, the race is typically a large loop and tends to be a bit shorter.  The 2020 Baja 1000 was just over 800 miles, while 2021 would be 1227 miles.  I was honored to be asked once again to join and capture Wayne Matlock #1871, Kristen Matlock #1954, and the entire Matlock Racing team through the whole adventure.  This time around, it would be a bit different. as I was a bit more focussed on Kristen Matlock, while Waynes journey in his brand new Polaris RZR Pro R (prerunner & race car) was covered by another group, though all together. 

The 12 day adventure was planned to begin on Thursday November 11th as we set off from San Diego to Ensenada.  We were to leave at noon, but the amount of supplies, tools, and spare parts (especially with Wayne’s new Pro R) proved to be much more than anticipated, especially while parts were continuing to arrive last minute.   Hours went by while the crew did their part in getting things taken care of.  Afternoon turned to night and we eventually ordered take out for dinner, at the time we expected to be at our favorite place – Estero Beach, Ensenada.  There still looked to be a lot to take care of, and eventually around 11:00 P.M. The decision was made to leave first thing in the morning.  

The next morning came, and it was all hands on deck!  We got everything wrapped up, and ironically we set off at noon, a full 24 hours behind schedule – but we were not concerned as it was a simple change of plans…. We were Baja Bound!

Enjoy the Video Recap of Day 1

Once we arrived in Ensenada we all agreed it was taco time!  We mutually decided to pull the caravan of trucks, trailers, and Polaris RZRs over and address our hunger in the best way.  “El Trailero” called our name once we drove by, and it was time to eat. The tacos completely hit the spot, and they were a perfect start to a memorable trip.

Once our bellies were full we continued South.  During the drive a young boy named Jose had reached out to Kristen via social media hoping we might drive by his town at some point, which we would.  After several messages, we agreed to meet at a local gas station where he was waiting with an issue of Robbot’s Magazine that featured Kristen and her car.   She signed it, and gave Jose some team swag which he will probably cherish for a very long time.  We continued into San Quintin to the Old Mill Hotel, where we stayed as well as enjoyed a delicious dinner.  We were joined by a few other teams, who also had good food on the brain.   Interestingly enough during our dinner the power went out, but the food, stories, and the atmosphere was so incredible that it didn’t matter.  It was like an indoor campfire.  We all made the best of it, and enjoyed every bit of it.

Enjoy the Video Recap of Day 2

Prerunning Begins

Finally after quite a bit of travel, it was time to begin our prerunning!  We departed San Quintin and made our way into Bahia de los Angeles (Bay of L.A).  It was fun running into a few other teams including Ryan Arciero, and Desert Assassins throughout the course.   The cars were running smooth aside from a blown shock on Kristen’s car, which she admitted was fully her fault.  We arrived at our stopping point for the day, the shock was easily repaired, and we were ready for another day.

Enjoy the Video Recaps of Day 3 & 4

Our final day of prerunning has arrived.  We departed Bahia de los Angeles to reach RM700.  At this point both Kristen had swapped co-drivers and Wayne had swapped drivers and co-drivers.  Due to Kristen once again driving the entire race, she stayed in the driver seat and her co-driver Jeff Ricker swapped with Tony Grasmick, while Wayne and co-drover Sam Hayes stepped out of the driver’s seat letting Josh Row pilot the Pro R.  Row’s co-driver would be Preston Axford for a portion of the race.  Upon departing for the day Wayne Matlock explained, “I feel like I just got a new toy, but my parents made me let my little brother play with it.  I’m not ready to share”.  In reference to handing over the keys to the brand new Polaris RZR Pro R.

After a full day, we arrived in San Ignacio, set our bags down and walked into town.  The town square is so fun and surrounded by history.  We ate at a restaurant not 100 feet from a large church built in the 1700’s.  It was another great night of great cuisine while drivers and co-drivers compared and studied race notes.

Enjoy the Video Recap of Day 5

It’s now Tuesday November 16th.  We spent several days pushing hard into the Southern Baja region, but it was time to head back up North in preparation for the start of the race.   It was about a 700 mile drive back, which consisted of great music, and embellished stories……we all have them.  

After a full day of travel, we arrived at Estero Beach.  A quick change of clothes and a freshening up, we enjoyed dinner with the Polaris RZR engineering team who would later join us during the race in each chase vehicle.  John from CNN Sports, and Elana from Car & Driver would also join us as they put together their own incredible pieces.

Enjoy the Video Recap of Day 6

Tech and Contingency

One of the most exciting parts of racing, especially the SCORE International series is Tech and Contingency.  The race vehicles get their final spit and shine and head out for the pre-race festival. It’s a chance for drivers to feel like rockstars, and die hard fans to meet their idols.  The fans of the sport mean so much to everyone.  This day is typically filled with thousands of local fans, race product leaders, food and music.  Unfortunately, cue the beaten up phrase: “Due to Covid-19 Regulations”, the so called “festival” was quite minimal.  Note: this is not SCORE’s doing, like the states it’s a local government call. 

Though minimal, it was still such a great day out.  Wayne’s car stole the show because it was the very first chance the public had seen the very first PRO R race car.  As the cars slowly made their way to the stage, the PRO R would make its way by the Polaris RZR booth, and things would come to a halt.  As the car stopped, the off-road media literally swarmed.  Dozens of journalists and photographers grabbed their gear and set up for interviews and photos.  It was no question the car stole the show.  Once the media got what they needed, the cars continued on, did some interviews on the stage, and came into tech.  All things cleared, and it was time for the Matlock drivers to meet and greet the fans who were located just outside the barriers.

Back to the Matlock camp for final race prep and a good night sleep.  We would need it since the next 30 hours will be racing, for both driving teams and pit crew.

Enjoy the Video Recap of Tech and Contingency

Thursday November 18th RACE DAY

Here we are: It’s RACE DAY! This is what we have all been preparing for for a long time.  Months of preparation and over a week of prerunning, it was time to roll.  The team met at around 7:00 A.M for a team meeting, and a final run down of everyone’s roles. The drivers and co-drivers received an IV drip to keep hydrated for the trek down south,  while everyone else reviewed vital details.

It’s 8:00 A.M, and it was time to head out to the start.  Wayne and Kristen strapped into the race cars and departed for the 20 min drive from Estero Beach to the start, while the chase crew followed close behind to give a final splash of fuel just before sending them off the line.

Side Note: After very detailed calculations and if all went according to planned, Kristen was to start Thursday at 11:25 A.M and arrive at the finish line at 4:37 P.M Friday afternoon, while Wayne was to depart at 11:41 A.M. and cross the finish line at 4:53 P.M. the following day.  

The time had come.  Kristen started 11th out of 12 racers in her class, exactly how she prefers.  “Kristen Chase 2” a late model Ford F-250 and crew who I was embedded with, immediately charged toward RM33 where we would meet Kristen for a simple visual pit.  Just prior to her driving by she radioed in that her brakes felt a bit soft, but it was nothing too concerning.  At 12:07 P.M. we waved as she gave the “everything’s okay” siren.  The same would be true for the next several pits at RM70 and RM110 passing at 2:04 P.M. 

Several hours went by smooth sailing, when Kristen radioed in with a broken rear hub assembly.  The crew of Kristen Chase 1 immediately responded and got #1954 back on course at 10:45 P.M. full of fuel.

The day grew longer and as we sat at RM403 awaiting #1954’s arrival, she radioed that she once again broke a rear hub, as well as a jack in the process of repairing it.  Thankfully she let us know she was only about a mile out from the pit.  Since cars (and chase vehicles are not permitted to go backwards on the course), it looks like one of our crew members Adrian was going to hike the parts needed out to Kristens car.  I decided to join in the rescue.  We initially heard 1 mile from where we were located, but at nearly 1:00 A.M. in the middle of the Baja desert hiking parts, that 1 mile soon turned to about 3.  Easy in a car….brutal on foot.  Thankfully adrenaline took over because this is the Baja 1000!  The ultimate goal is to get your car to the finish line, and we weren’t about to give up now.  

A Personal Note

The above-mentioned experience is one I’ll probably never forget, so allow me to get a bit more personal.   Simply put, we ran parts out to Kristen’s car to get her back on the road.  Sounds easy, but it was much more than that emotionally and mentally.  When we heard it was a mile, “Great let’s go!”.  Myself and Adrian were split up pretty quickly due to the complete and total darkness.  I resorted to following footprints in the dirt knowing his would be the only prints out there.  Tunnel vision took over as I heard the rawr of a motor screaming by.  The best thing I thought to do was to duck off the track whereas not to distract the racers coming.  Once they passed it was back on the hike.  The sounds of animals in the distance, and even up close were quite unnerving as a coyote crossed the path of my dimly lit headlamp.  The only option was to push on, whistling loudly hoping to hear a whistle back.  What was even more frustrating was even after yelling as loudly as possible, still no voices yelling back.  How far out were they?  After about 2 hours of repeated experiences of animals and passing cars,  I FINALLY heard the banging of a hammer beating on car parts.  I followed the sound to find Kristen’s co-driver Jeff, and Adrian frantically working on the car.  Kristen took advantage of this stoppage to finally take a step out of the car and stretch a bit, as it has been about 14 hours of racing at this point.  

Adrian and Jeff eventually fixed the car enough to limp it back to the pit where more detailed fixes could be made.  The experience is one I’ll never forget, and to put the entire chain of events in words is quite difficult.  These are what Baja racing experiences are made of.  

After about 3 hours in the pit fixing the rear hub assembly, Kristen was finally back on the road at 3:55 A.M.   As the morning went on the continued steering issues were addressed by (new) co-driver Tony after pulling off the course, and at the RM633 pit, the steering issue was addressed in more depth including a fuel top off.

All chase teams and racers were delighted by the beautiful sunset views and foggy roads as we entered the second day of racing.  These views can easily distract anyone from remembering: Hey we are in a race here!  This is why the Baja races are so memorable.

Off-Road Racing Comradery 

As the sun rose over the mountains, driving through a very thick fog we were flagged down by a couple girls on the side of the road just before 6:00 A.M.  We pulled over and they kindly asked if we had any diesel we could spare.  Knowing we didn’t have a ton ourselves we calculated a gas station not far away, and we would be fine to spare a few gallons.  While filling their gas can they explained this is their first Baja race, and they did not calculate where fuel stations would be.  The 2 were very nice, gave us cash for the gas, and as we pulled away the men got out of their truck.  Looks like they sent the ladies out to beg for fuel.  Hard not to laugh, but happy to help!  We later got messages from that race team via social media, thanking the team for our assistance.  Anytime Guys, that’s what racing is all about!

After happily helping a fellow team, we met Kristen at another pit stop where a lingering steering issue had to be addressed. We hoped it would be the last time it needed attention.

Disaster for Kristen Chase 2

In the later morning of the second day of racing, Kristen Chase 2 took its final breaths.  Just after pitting, and sending Kristen off fully fueled, the diesel motor suddenly shutdown at about 70 MPH.  We went into full coasting mode losing all electrical and steering.  Unfortunately there was no place to pull over as we were on a very skinny, steep, and busy highway.  We eventually came to a stop, and began initial diagnostics under the hood.  Thankfully a local resident pulled over and began directing traffic to either slow down, or stop and allow the other lane to pass.  This went on for about 10 min until “Brutus”, another of our chase vehicles passed by and stopped to help.  The decision was made for that vehicle to tow Kristen Chase 2 by strap into the closest town of San Ignacio.  We removed all tools/spare parts, and a flatbed trailer which held one of the prerunner XP’s.  The 30 mile drive/tow was a bit sketchy as the roads were very hazardous, and we had no steering the entire way.  We eventually made it to town, swapped everything to the new truck, and left the broken rig in front of the local ice cream shop owned by good friends of ours.  (Thankfully!)  So all 6 of us piled in, and continued forward!

Final Pit Stop

Just after 8:00 P.M. On Friday Kristen arrived at our team’s final pit stop with her.  A quick parts check and refueling, and she was gone.  This would be the last time we see #1954 until the finish line.  She would make one final fuel stop with Kristen Chase 1, and she was on her way to the checkers.  As we made our way to the finish, we logged onto SCORE International’s website to watch as Wayne Matlock crossed the finish line.  He got out and discussed how great it was to get this brand new Polaris Pro R to the finish.  He explained how huge this is for the Matlock Racing team as well as the Polaris RZR company.  Years of hard work and engineering paid off. Note: It was so cool watching this live on our phones,  as we were deep down in Baja.  Technology has come a long way.   Kristen was still about 2 hours out from making her finish. 

Finish Line

We arrived at the finish, with about 15 minutes to spare, and after 36 hours and 1227 miles Kristen Matlock and Jeff Ricker crossed the finish line at 1:14 A.M.  They were met by the Matlock Racing team including Tony Grasmick (Kristen’s 2nd co-driver) and the SCORE media crew.  It was a pretty epic race for all involved.  The entire group of Polaris RZR engineers joined in for a group photo, as we celebrated for another couple hours.  It’s not like everyone of us has been up two days straight, what’s another few hours when this is what we all worked so hard for.  Kristen announced on the stage that this would be her final race in her beloved #1954 Polaris RZR, as she will be entering into the brand new Polaris PRO R starting next season.

Photo: Dusty Summit

This, like many other adventures with the Matlock Racing team was once again incredibly memorable.  The laughs, the hilarious one-liners, the emotions, long days and nights are moments we will all never forget.  Many times Kristen and Wayne look at photos and videos after the events and tell me “Wow,  how did you get there – you don’t miss anything”  I would attest this to the incredible efforts of all the drivers and crew of the chase teams.  A few times I had to swap vehicles to get where I needed to be to get the shot.  The crew is well aware of my role in the race, and do everything they can to get me to where I need to be.  It was really is a team effort. 

What’s next?  The crew plans on hitting the 2022 season hard.  Kristen and Wayne will have brand new cars for the SCORE season – and we all can’t wait.  2021 is in the books!

Enjoy the entire race day’s video recap!

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