Larry and I recently heard that our friend and Formula Drift driver Tyler McQuarrie would be racing in the San Felipe 250, the first SCORE race of the 2016 season. For those of you who don’t know, SCORE organizes the famous Baja 1000 race in Mexico – somewhere we’ve been wanting to check out an off-road event at for a while now. Having a Formula D driver competing in San Felipe gave us the incentive we needed to see what all the fuss was about.
Tyler was racing for CLP Motorsports, and those guys went all-out for this event. Larry and I followed them throughout the entire race and this is how it all went down…
Louis: CLP Motorsports is best known for their SCCA and NASA racing exploits, but they’ve recently become involved in off-road racing. They entered a spec trophy truck piloted by Tyler and Todd Romano, and also brought along an entire support team and rented a helicopter. Yes, a helicopter.
Because Larry took to the air for King Of The Hammers, it was only fitting that it was my turn this time. By the way, I had never stepped foot inside a helicopter before this race.
Larry: Since the only way to properly cover a race this large was for us to split up, I decided to shoot as much as I could from the ground while Louis hovered overhead in the comfort of a whirlybird.
At 4:30am my alarm went off, and by 5:00am I was on my way to the first shooting spot of the day in my new Toyota FJ Cruiser Speedhunters project car (more on this in a later post).
I am a Baja newbie, so my buddy Art Eugenio, who is also the official SCORE International photographer, let me tag along with him for the day.
As the sun rose over the Gulf of California, the first racers left the start line; motorcycles followed by quad bikes.
Shooting a race like this takes tremendous dedication and sacrifice. The Mint 400 and King Of The Hammers have multiple laps, which means you can catch the same driver multiple times throughout the day.
This was different. While it was still a loop, it was only one lap comprised of 250 miles of grueling desert terrain.
As I was just finishing up with the bikes, the jerks back at the house, including Louis, were having a nice breakfast before the start of their day.Playing Chicken With Bad Odds
Louis: After breakfast, I hitched a ride with Tyler who would be piloting the car from Race Mile 170 to the finish at 250.
It was a long 40-minute drive as the helicopter pilot, Tim, and I had to go to the airport, which was on the other side of town.
Larry: Seeing as there was about a three-hour gap between the last quad and the first trophy truck, I decided to take a little nap. Then I woke up to this craziness. There are no grandstands out on the course, so the locals improvised. And when I say ‘improvised’, I mean they climbed electrical grid towers for an elevated viewpoint.
Forget the fact that the towers were vibrating like crazy from all the current running through the wires, some then take things a step further by playing chicken with the race cars.
With this game of chicken though, there could only be one clear winner. With less than a second to spare before they became strawberry jam, everyone jumped out of the way. These guys seriously just stand in the middle of the track for as long as they possibly can. So many candidates for the annual Darwin Awards…
I understand that this sort of behavior is quite normal at off-road racing events in Mexico as well as many different countries around the world, but I was shocked to see it in person.
They are braver than I am, that’s for sure, because at this point on the course the drivers in the trophy trucks are blasting by at over 100mph. Just take a look here to see for yourself.
While I wanted to stay and capture Todd in the CLP rig going by, I knew that if I wanted to get photos at the next location, I had to bolt as fast as I could to Race Mile 80.
Louis: While Larry was shooting the head honchos at Race Mile 10, we were finally getting up in the air.
We made it to the start at around the same time the Class 1 buggies were beginning their race.
After a short wait, Todd was on the line and ready to take off.
We quickly made it to Race Mile 10 where Larry had previously been. The first 30 or so miles are generally straight, so the drivers blast through this part of the course at full speed. It’s also why the straightaways attract the biggest number of fans.
Todd was in full race mode by around Race Mile 30. At this point he had already made his way to first in class and passed three other buggies along the way.
As we inched closer to the dry lakebed at Race Mile 60, we started to see less and less people.Dust Storm
When Todd entered the dry lakebed, there was a buggy just ahead of him running at around the same pace. This wouldn’t have been a problem if the race was on tarmac, but when you’re less than 10 car lengths behind in this sort of environment, there’s the not-so-small issue of dirt and dust clouds to contend with.
Todd told us to go and fill up so we could catch up with him again at around Race Mile 100.
Larry: Heading to the second location took much longer than expected as there was so much traffic in the form of support vehicles and fans. We actually missed the leaders coming through.
The feature was very cool though, specifically a little hump leading onto a lakebed.
It was a very silty and very high speed section, which is always fun to watch.
Because we had come so far inland, only off-road capable vehicles could actually make it to this spot to spectate. There were no people playing chicken with the racers here.
It’s a good thing too, because out here in the open desert there is no actual race line that the drivers are forced to take. They just go wherever they think will be faster.
Before long, Todd blasted by at full-tilt, gifting me a mouthful of dust in the process. Thanks buddy!
Louis: Jumping back into the heli with a full tank, it only took Tim and I a few minutes to find Todd.Electrical Gremlins
We caught him at around Race Mile 106 where he was at a complete stop. Before this point, he was still leading the class and had already passed more than half of the Class 1 buggies.
The issue was resolved but not for long. By Race Mile 120, Todd had came to a stop again.
Tim decided to land so we could see what was happening at ground level.
It was revealed that the wiring for the fan had broken.
After being stopped for about 20 minutes, the problem was finally fixed.
By now, many of the Class 1 and spec trucks had passed by, so Todd really had his work cut out for him.
He buckled up, slammed his foot on the throttle and went for it.
By now we were near the southernmost section of the race course, which in my opinion was the most beautiful part. It’s essentially a 10-mile-long (give or take) ravine that the drivers had to snake through in order to get to the east side.
Living in Los Angeles, I don’t see too many ravines. Actually, prior to this I had never even seen one. The fact that there was a race truck sprinting through and I was in a helicopter made the experience all the better.
It got pretty rocky in the ravine, and soon enough the course resembled something straight out of King Of The Hammers. This area was the slowest section of the race and many of the drivers were going through this part at what looked like less than 20mph. Of course, many trucks got caught up here too, so it provided a great opportunity for Todd to make a few clean passes. If you guys have a capable vehicle, I’d really recommend making it out here to spectate/shoot. Just don’t blame me if you get stuck though!
Once out of the ravine it was all open desert for Todd to pick up his pace and complete a few more overtakes.
After gaining a few positions and making a quick pit stop at Race Mile 150 for a fuel up, the truck was on its way again.
Larry: I jumped back into my FJ and cruised over to my last spot. It’s crazy to think that for an entire day I would only be able to catch the same people three times. I am definitely not used to that at all.
There is another issue to contend with too. The driver you are trying to follow could be engulfed in someone else’s dust roost, or even worse, they could take a totally different route to what you were expecting, which is what happened to me the last time I saw BJ Baldwin.
BJ was leading at this point and going at full race speed. I saw that he tried to hit the corner that I was camping at, but he just couldn’t bleed off enough speed to make it, so he kept going on another route. That of course, netted me this shot. While the picture itself is terrible in my eyes, it does show that BJ and his co-driver acknowledged that I was there. Hi guys!
Shooting this race really opened my eyes to all the challenges that we face while covering desert racing. It definitely makes me want to push harder, and most of all, do my homework.
Because, with most racing a good night’s sleep is enough to prepare you for a long day of shooting, but with desert racing, you effectively have to drive the entire course yourself in your own car to get to all the cool spots.Retiring Early
Louis: While Larry was finishing up shooting at Race Mile 190, we were roughly 40 miles back continuing on our way at full speed. But something wasn’t right below.
Todd pulled the truck off the course at around Race Mile 160, and we soon found out that the steering rack had broken. Just like that, the race was over for CLP.
You never really know what will happen in desert racing. These events push the rigs to their absolute limit, so anything can happen at any time – even when the driver has found his groove and there isn’t another competitor in sight. That’s the nature of this sort of racing, and it’s the risk that these teams and drivers take on when competing.
Tyler was never able to hop in the driver’s seat; he was at Race Mile 170 awaiting the driver change that never happened.
While chatting with the guys, they said that this definitely won’t be the last time we see a CLP race truck. Things are just getting started for these guys, and you can bet that Larry and I will be there to follow them next time around.