CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico (Nov. 14) -- With Johnny Campbell and Dan Smith taking the overall race wins Monday night, the grueling Tecate SCORE Baja 2000 presented by AutoZone desert race -- the longest desert contest ever in North America -- continued Tuesday through the brutal terrain of the Baja California peninsula. The event has proven to be a "survival of the fittest" for many of the world 's top desert drivers as racing stars like Ivan Stewart, Walker Evans, Robby Gordon and Mark McMillin failed to complete the 1,679.54-mile distance. As of Tuesday evening, over half -- 135 vehicles -- of the 262 starters had reached the Cabo San Lucas finish line with one day remaining in the four-day endurance test. The world's longest and richest non-stop point-to-point desert race ever will conclude after 80 hours (6:28 p.m. (PST) Wednesday) for official finishers in the historic race.
Campbell, a motorcycle rider from San Clemente, Calif., posted the fastest time of the entire circuit in a record 30 hours, 54 minutes and 12 seconds aboard a Honda XR650. Campbell's team, with Tim Staab, Craig Smith and Steve Hengeveld, averaged 54.348 miles per hour in the once-in-a-lifetime race that included drivers from 31 states. Washington, D.C. and 11 countries.
Smith, a race truck driver from Riverside, Calif., and his co-driver David Ashley, recorded the best overall four-wheel vehicle time at the Cabo San Lucas finish line in their Duralast Ford F-150 truck at 32 hours, 15 minutes and 39 seconds. Smith and Ashley, who averaged 52.061 m.p.h. for the entire distance, outdueled defending five-time SCORE Baja 1000 champion Larry Ragland of Phoenix for the last 100 miles when Ragland's Chevy Trailblazer rolled near the last checkpoint marker on the course. "At about mile 265, the truck started to have a heating problem," said Smith, a former motorcycle champion in the Baja races. "The head gasket was leaking. We added some sealant and prayed for the rest of the race. We kept a consistent pace. We didn't want to go as fast as some of the early leaders. We wanted to run about 70 per cent in the early portion. But we couldn't because of the leaders going so fast. Our goal was to stay with 15 to 30 minutes of the leaders until the halfway point. We had to push our truck a little more than we wanted to stay with the leaders. But we made it. It is a great thing to win this historic event. It is a first and only distance and it is a great feeling." "Dan and I have raced together for nine or ten years, ever since he came off of the motorcycles," said Ashley. and we have won the Baja 1000 overall in 1994 in a Class 8 truck. We have won our class down here but this is very big. To win this first-time race is a great achievement. With the head gasket trouble, we were fighting the truck for the last 1500 miles. We couldn't go as fast as we wanted but we wanted to stay in front of Ragland. Finally, he pushed too hard. We had 24 guys in our pit crew and many of them are going to relax now. Maybe fishing and wait for Thursday's awards presentation." Ragland, seeking his fifth Baja win in sixth years with co-driver Brian Stewart, gave an all-out assault on Ashley at the end of the race but fell short. "I'm disappointed -- we were fast but we just couldn't get ahead," said Ragland. "We got too far behind. We had too many problems, one bad break after another. We lost an alternator, then a transmission. I didn't want to finish second -- I was going for the win. I told my co-driver 'hang on.'"
Bekki Freeman, 29, of Henderson, Nev., became the first woman to win a category in North America's longest desert race when she co-drove her Jimco VW-powered buggy to victory in Class 1 / 2-1600cc with a time of 38 hours, 37 minutes and 20 seconds for an average speed of 43.486 m.p.h. Freeman's team, which included Adam Wik of Las Vegas, B.J. Almberg of Ely, Nev. and Mark Bunderson of North Las Vegas, placed 13th in the overall four-wheel vehicles. For Freeman, the win was her third straight in SCORE's long-distance season-finale, clinching her second Class 1-2/1600 SCORE season point championship in the last three years. It was the first time Freeman had ever split driving time with more than one other driver. Normally, she drives solo or splits some time with Wik. "The past 40 hours were just awesome, we had no flats and no problems at all, what an unbelievable feat for a race of this magnitude," said Freeman. "We started and finished with all the same parts, and to think that three years ago I had never raced in Baja. B.J., Mark and Adam all did wonderful jobs, but I didn't sleep at all after the race started. I was so pumped I spent over $200 in long distance phone calls to the team's satellite phone trying to find out what was going on. As for making up 30 minutes, I guess you could say that I drive well under pressure."
Troy Herbst of Las Vegas, who completed the distance in 51.127 m.ph in his Ford-powered Smithbuilt open-wheel desert race car to win Class 1, defeated Freeman in a tight battle for his second overall SCORE point championship in the last three years. NASCAR Winston Cup stock car team owner and veteran driver Jimmy Smith drove the second half of the race with Herbst on Sunday and Monday. "The course was the most challenging, most beautifully laid out one we have ever run on," said Herbst, who placed second overall among the four-wheel vehicles. "SCORE did a wonderful job putting this event together. We have an awesome team and our car was superb this entire race. Having a guy like Jimmy drive with you is an honor and gives you an extra edge. Jimmy knows Baja, knows racing and knows how to take care of equipment. I couldn't have done it without him."
The Tecate SCORE Baja 2000 is one of the most unique motorsports events in the world with family members racing each other and assisting throughout the grueling contest. One such family, the McMillins of San Diego, saw father Corky, 71, the oldest driver in the event, finish fourth in Class 1 and seventh overall in the four-wheel vehicles. With Mark assisting his father and younger brother Scott by driving more 300 miles for each, Scott McMillin finished sixth in Class 1 and ninth overall. "The Trophy Trucks bunched up all the Class 1's," Mark said. "On the highway at mile 16, there were four, then eight, then 10, then 12 all going together at the same time. We went into the Guadalupe Wash and it was just like an old Riverside start, a big land rush. Dad (Corky) took the right line and smoked us all. I called him on the radio and said 'Dad, what are you doing?' And Corky replied, 'I'm just here to race.'"
Other Class winners who finished the incredible journey Tuesday included Jim Dizney of Alpine, Calif., in SCORE Lites (1835cc cars); Steve Myers of Newport Beach, Calif., in Class 10 (1650cc cars); Jeremy Spirkoff of La Mesa, Calif.(Ford F-150), in Class Stock Full trucks; Scott Steinberger of Cypress, Calif.(Ford F-150), in Protruck/SS/Truck; Jeff Lewis of San Clemente, Calif. (Chevy S-10), in Class 7 (mini trucks); Chris Haines of Trabuco Canyon, Calif.(Honda XR650), in Class 40 motorcycles; Juan David Ruvalcabo of Ensenada, Mexico (Yamaha 250) in Class 21 motorcycles; and Geoff Sanborn of Mentone, Calif.(Honda XR650), in the over 250cc Sportsman motorcycles.