The Tecate SCORE Baja 2000 presented by AutoZone was the world's longest and richest point-to-point desert race in history. And it was the final round of the five-race 2000 Duralast SCORE Desert Series. The 1726.97-mile course included 23 checkpoints from the starting line at Ensenada to the finish line at Cabo San Lucas. This year's event marked the first time the finish line was in Cabo San Lucas. A total of 30 classes competed in the first-ever Baja 2000. Officially, 267 vehicles -- two-wheel and four-wheel -- ran the Baja trek which started on Sunday, November 12. Over 900 drivers participated in the grueling affair with a minimum two drivers/riders per vehicle and as many as five co-drivers/riders per vehicle. The Awards Celebration was held on Thursday, November 16, in Cabo San Lucas.
First rider out was veteran motorcycle racer Johnny Campbell of San Clemente, California on his Honda XR650. In 30-second intervals, the remainder of the motorcycle and ATV competitors made their trek into the Baja landscape with 84 total entries taking the green flag in clear and cold conditions. Campbell was seeking his fourth consecutive Baja overall victory and his second race win of the 2000 Duralast SCORE Desert Series (a win would give him the Class 22 championship). Campbell was co-riding with Tom Staab, Jonah Street and Steve Hengeveld. Also competing in Class 22 was the veteran team of Bruce Ogilvie, Chuck Miller, Bob Rutten and Gary Jones, all past winners in the Baja. Jack Johnson of Las Vegas, a six-time Baja 1000 champion and off-road legend, returned to his roots this week by riding in the Baja 2000 on a Honda XR650 with Baja veteran Chris Haines (also a six-time Baja 1000 winner) and Kevin Hines in Class 40 (Riders over 40 year old). Another motorcycle legend, Eddie Mulder of Agua Dulce, Calif., returned in Class 30 on Honda XR650 with co-riders Kevin Ward and Lou Franco. Mulder was a veteran movie stunt rider who made his legend in flat track and TT steeplechase motorcycle racing in the 1960s and 1970s. Mulder still competes in the Vintage Flat Track events on the West Coast.
Another motorcycle legend, 12-time Baja 1000 winner Larry Roeseler, was back at the Baja but in a four-wheel vehicle this time. The Hesperia, Calif., veteran was the co-driver with another off-road legend Ivan Stewart in the PPI-prepared Toyota Tundra Trophy Truck. One truck competitor had a busy weekend. Brendan Gaughan of Las Vegas clinched his first NASCAR Winston West Series stock car championship the night prior to the start of the Baja 2000. Gaughan teamed up with off-road legend Walker Evans and Roger Gray in a Chevy Silverado for the Trophy Truck class. The Arciero family is one of the most well known contingents in off-road racing history. And for the first ever Baja 2000, it was only natural that the Orange County-based family would be well represented. Frank Jr. returned to compete in the Trophy Truck class with Mark Post and Jerry Whelchel in a Ford F-150. Frank's son, Ryan teamed up with Mark Miller in a Chevrolet Trailblazer in Trophy Truck. The Arciero's cousins, Brandon and Sam competed in SCORE Lites.
Seven-time ATV Baja 1000 champion Dean Sundahl of Santee, Calif. was also back for this historic event. Sundahl teamed up with two other San Diego-area riders, Greg Row of Spring Valley and Eric Dunlavey of San Diego, in a Class 25 Bombardier machine. Sundhal's last Baja 1000 win came in 1995. He won his first 1000 back in 1981. The last vehicle that left the starting line in Ensenada Grant Molay of England in a Citroen, the lone entry in the European Sportsman Class.
Early leaders through Checkpoint 1 included Baja's winningest driver Rod Hall in Class Stock Full trucks; Jay Culbertson in the Baja Challenge class; Scott Steinberger in Protruck/SS/Truck; and Roberto Arauz in Sportsman Buggy.
The first reports from Checkpoint 2 (109.77 miles) at 11:30 a.m.(PST) had Campbell (Class 22) on his Honda leading overall with Philip Zeiger second and veteran Ogilvie third. Leading Class 30 and fifth overall was Tex Mitchell on a Honda. Leader in Class 21 and ninth overall was Juan David Ruvalcaba aboard a Yamaha 250. Veteran Haines topped the Class 40 and was 10th overall. SCORE reported that Jaime Sanoja (Class 22) was stopped at Camalou. Other Class leaders at Checkpoint 2 included Jerome Law in Sportsman Motorcycles over 250cc; Richard Jackson in Class 50; Carmen Cafro in Class 25; Glen Walraven in Sportsman ATV; Hiroyuki Watanabe in Sportsman Motorcycle under 250cc; Enrique Felix in Class 24. The roar of the Trophy Trucks led the way for the four-wheel vehicles and the expected factory battle was already underway. Robby Gordon had his Ford F-150 in front and was followed by defending Baja champion Larry Ragland in his Chevy Trailblazer, off-road legend Stewart in the PPI Toyota Tundra and D. Smith in his Ford F-150. The leader of the Class 1 competitors was current series point leader Troy Herbst, who was fifth overall. SCORE reports two Trophy Trucks are out of competition: Gerardo Novelo, in a Chevy C1500, and Mike Griffiths, in a Ford F-150.
BFGoodrich Communciations reported that Stewart was now in the overall lead in the four-wheel category and Trophy Truck class at the first BFG pit stop at 140 miles into the race. Stewart, in the Toyota, was leading Ragland's Chevy by 1 minute, 48 seconds after just three hours into the 1,700-mile adventure through Baja. Stewart's average speed was close to 46 miles per hour after the first three hours. If he kept that pace, he would complete the overall distance in just over 36 hours. But the heavy rain last night near Ensenada may contribute to slower speeds in the upper region of Baja. Speeds are expected to be faster in the southern region of the Baja route. Class 1 leader was Troy Herbst followed by D. Smith, R. Gordon and Tim Herbst. Other class leaders were Steve Grienke (SCORE Lites); Scott Steinberger (Protruck/SS/Truck); Francisco Monroy (Class 8); Tito Tapia (Class --1/2-1600); Dennis Hunter (Class 10); and Perry McNeil (Class 7).
Sanoja had made repairs to his motorcycle and was clocked through Checkpoint 4 (296 miles) at 12:40 p.m. Less than 30 minutes later at Checkpoint 6 (401.79 miles), the overall two-wheels leader Campbell (Class 22), continued his blistering pace. Second overall in the motorcycles was Zeiger followed by the veteran Ogilvie. Fourth overall was Tex Mitchell, leader of Class 30. The field included Mitchell (fourth overall), Haines (seventh overall), Law in Sportsman Motorcycles over 250cc, Ruvalcaba in Class 21 and Cafro in Class 25, Ragland in Trophy Truck (four-wheel lead overall) by 1 minute, five seconds over Stewart averaging 58.834 miles per hour. Third overall was Troy Herbst in the Class 1 Jimco buggy followed by Tim Herbst and R. Gordon, both in Ford F-150 Trophy Trucks.
The Class 22 motorcycle team of Campbell, Staab and Hengeveld were keeping a torrid pace on their XR Honda 650. Stewart, known as the "Ironman" for his legendary Baja runs, had taken the lead once again before Santa Inez (407.37 miles). In rough terrain that had slowed the overall speed, Stewart now averaged 41.644 m.p.h. to Ragland's 41.050. Stewart had timed in a 8 hours, 39.39 minutes to Ragland's 8:41.30, a 1 minute, 51 second lead. Troy Herbst remained third at 8:59.48 followed by D. Smith at 9:01.30 and Gus Vildosola at 9:07.48. The Toyota team of Stewart and Roeseler continued to stretch their lead at 527.59 miles. Stewart hit the BFG pit at Rosalita at 11 hours, 21 minutes, 31 seconds. Ragland remained second at 11:26:15 followed Smith at 11:59:51, Vildosola at 12:01:00, Troy Herbst at 12:04:31 and Tim Herbst at 12:10:51.
Class leaders after 401 miles included Sammy Ehrenberg in Class 1-2-1600; Clive Skilton in Class 3; Ikuo Hanawa in Class 3-I; Juan Sandoval in Class 5; David Gasper in Class5/1600; Jeff Lewis in Class 7; Joe Custer in Class 7S; Chris Wilson in Class 8; Rafael Navarro in Class 9; Mark Hutchins in Class 10; Grienke in SCORE Lites; Bob Land in Stock Mini truck; Jeremy Sprikoff in Stock Full truck; Steinberger in Protruck/SS/Truck.