WELCOME, N.C. -- Rough terrain and long hours of nonstop racing aren't the only obstacles Robby Gordon will face in Friday's Baja 1000. He will also battle cows, turtles and pedestrians in his path along the 767.9-mile off-road race.
When the No. 31 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse team first hits the track Friday with substitute driver Jeff Green at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Gordon's attempt at a third win in the legendary Baja 1000 will be well underway.
Although the obstacles in the Baja 1000 are numerous, the Richard Childress Racing (RCR) driver appears to have a handle on them. He drove to victory in the Baja 1000 in a solo run in 1989 and in 1987 while sharing the driving duties with his father, Bob Gordon. Robby Gordon said that racing in the Baja is unlike anything that NASCAR Winston Cup drivers encounter on a weekly basis.
"The Baja is totally different than racing in Winston Cup," the Cornelius, N.C.-resident stated. "You race the environment, the desert, the cows and the turtles. You never know if there's going to be a huge cow around the next turn that you're going to have to dart around.
"Pedestrian traffic can also be a problem because some of the people without televisions or radios don't know the race is coming through their area. So, they're just walking in the middle of the roads when we come blasting through at 150 miles-per-hour. But you learn to get around them safely."
Adding to the difficulty of dodging all the obstacles along the course, Gordon said that true roads are obsolete when it comes to racing in the Baja 1000.
"The Baja is the nuttiest thing you've ever seen," Gordon said. "A lot of the dirt roads we race on go through and up to their farms. We race down the middle of the local residents' farms, right next to their houses and up against their schools.
"There are usually about 250,000 people with motor homes parked all over the place. There is no fence or cable surrounding the spectator areas and we run 150 miles-per-hour only two feet from the motor homes. It's pretty crazy but it's a ton of fun."
Although Gordon loves the thrill of competing in the Baja, he said it is definitely a survival competition. The Baja is a 1,000-kilometer race, or 767.9 miles, with a winning time that Gordon predicts will be about 14 hours long. The marathon race will take the 32-year-old through many parts of Mexico, and although it can be a scenic drive, it is an extremely grueling one.
"I've won the Baja before but I've beat myself in it many times," the Bellflower, Calif.-native stated. "Many times I've been in the lead and driven off the road because the corner snuck up on me. That's because you almost start hallucinating after 10 or so hours of being in the car and listening to the engine right in your ear. It's a challenge to finish the Baja but it's also a lot of fun."
Whereas Winston Cup drivers are challenged every week on the track, Baja racers have a unique task on their course.
"The Baja is different than any other race because we don't run the same turn twice," Gordon said. "It's a point-to-point race where every corner is different and the roads are barely wide enough for the trucks to fit through.
"In Winston Cup racing at tracks like Homestead, if you mess up on one lap, you can change your line a bit the next lap to help yourself. We can't do that in the Baja so we approach the race entirely different than we approach a Winston Cup race."
Gordon illustrated another variation between the Baja and a NASCAR race -- he almost got away with stealing in the 1993 Baja 1000 -- just to stay in the lead.
"Because the tires on my Baja truck weigh 140 pounds including the wheel, I gambled and only carried one spare tire for a competitive edge," Gordon related. "We'd leave a pit area and not see another for more than 200 more miles, so there was no way to get spare parts or tires or anything. I was about 30 minutes ahead of everyone when I hit a rock and got two flat tires. It wasn't just flat -- I blew the entire wheel off.
"So, my co-driver and I devised a scheme," he continued. "I pulled into the middle of the road, parked the truck and jacked it up so the next guy would have to slow down to get around me. I told my co-driver that I'd talk to the other driver and distract him while he stole the spare tire off the guy's car. Just to be a bit more honest, though, I said we'd ask the driver first if he would loan us one. But if he wouldn't, then we were going to steal it.
"I got the driver's attention and he stopped, but before I could even ask him if I could borrow the tire, my partner had it off and was rolling it in front of the guy's vehicle! Surprisingly, the other driver was pretty cool about it and said we could have it, but he'd still race me and beat me. He ended up winning the race probably because he was so kind to me and I think I lost because I was so underhanded."
Gordon said he is grateful to Richard Childress for allowing him the opportunity to compete in the Baja 1000 after agreeing to finish the season in the Lowe's Chevrolet. But Gordon's entry in the Baja has given him and Childress something else in common.
"I took the truck up to RCR a couple of weeks ago and let Richard drive it," Gordon said. "It was a lot of fun and Richard had a blast. He was driving like he'd been doing it forever, flooring the gas and going after all the big bumps and valleys on the property. It was nice to see that huge smile on his face."
As much as Gordon is looking forward to the marathon race, he wishes he could also race in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series event Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"I'm a little bummed out that I'm not going to be in Homestead, but I'll be watching the race," Gordon stated. "I really want to be in Homestead but I had put this Baja deal together before Richard asked me to drive the Lowe's car. My heart is in Winston Cup racing and it's where I want to make my career. But I'll enjoy racing the wheels off my truck in the Baja this weekend. Well, hopefully not all the way off."