Last week, after the unofficial results were tabulated from the 41st annual Baja 500, the event's organizer, SCORE, shook the foundations of desert racing in an attempt to usher in a new erra of fairness, integerity, and safety. The organization's president, Sal Fish, was quoted saying the decision would "put teeth back into the sport"...
For the very outspoken Robby Gordon, who tackled the 432.51 mile coarse in just over 8.5 hours in his Monster Energy/Toyo Tire sponsored Chevy Silverado Trophy Truck, SCORE's decision to enforce speeding, coarse deviation, and pit penalties resulted in a virtual free fall from what was the highest place on the podium, to seventh overall. Evidently, Robby was filmed stopping in the middle of the busy two-lane Baja peninsula highway 1, to add several gallons of racing fuel. A violation that he claims is not clearly defined in the SCORE rule book. A short video of this pit can be found here. SCORE released a counter statement explaining, "For obvious reasons, this type of behavior is completely unacceptable. Needless to say, it creates a very dangerous situation to have pit crew members running around with fuel on the public highway servicing a race vehicle that has stopped in the middle of the highway lane."
In addition, Robby was accessed a 10 minute penalty for exceeding the 60 MPH posted speed limit that helps ensure the safety of race officials, fans, track-side photographers, and the general public. Robby denied SCORE's speeding accusation, releasing a statement sighting the IRC tracking system used to track vehicle movement durin the race, suffered a mechanical blackout between Race Kilometer 77 and 78. He even provides a link to in-car video footage of the section in question. Check it out here.
Robby says "The bottom line is this: our team did not violate any rule in the SCORE Rule Book; therefore, we should not be penalized at all by SCORE for either of these alleged pit violations."
The ongoing saga remains the talk of all on-line desert racing enthusiasts communities and is not expected to subside any time soon.
When the dust finally settled and SCORE announced the official race results, low and behold, Team General Tire's Rick D. Johnson, Trophy Truck # 71, the truck that crossed the finish line 7th overall, emerged in the number one spot.
Today I spoke with Team 71's Owner/General Manager, Myrl Akerman about the victory.
FW: How does Rick and Team 71 feel about the surprise win at the Baja 500?
Team 71: "bitter sweet"
"This is exactly the thing that has come up for years and Sal as continued to say "stay on course and follow the rules" we did that and that's why we finished the way we did. We race with incredible drivers with extraordinary talent and no one can take that away, but bottom line is, rules are implemented for a reason. The Baja 500 is a privilege to race and we have to respect SCORE for providing us this opportunity. I give Sal all the credit in the world for his follow through. It's finally the direction that this sport needed to go and has to continue to go if it's going to stick around. We started back in the pack and worked our way up and drove a truly flawless race. We did not have to stop once other than pre-planned pit stops. No flats on our General Tire Grabbers."
Rick D. Johnson drives Team 71's state of the art North American Off-Road-built Ford F-150 Trophy Truck. Team 71 was crowned the official winner on June 14th, six full days after the race ended.
For team General Tire, the results are a double edge sword, because the recently sponsored BJ "Ballistic" Baldwin fell from the #2 position to 8th overall in the Trophy Truck class. With a high-stakes sponsorship on the line, General Tire is expecting results from BJ. And while BJ is touted as one of the most skilled driver's in the field, he has yet to bring home a victory for Team General Tire. BJ Baldwin switched from BFG to General earlier this year in hopes of securing a first-ever win for General Tire in Baja. Team 71 Racing on the other hand, has netted two first place finishes in addition to last weeks Baja 500 strike of good fortune. Our sources say that BJ's current race program has been plagued by a streak of bad luck since the first race of 2009. Fortunately though, the General Grabber Competition tires haven't played a significant role in BJ's inability to win; in most instances the DNFs resulted from other mechanical failures such as rear axle assemblies and transmissions.
Our Take: SCORE has suffered many years of big-shot teams dictating the way a race operates, this problem is no more evident than in the epic Dana Brown Documentary, Dust to Glory where Honda's A-team rider, Johnny Campbell, attempted to secure the lead by cutting the race coarse and driving on the beach for several miles. This behavior was almost standard in Baja; "if you ain't cheating, you aren't racing" was the calling card of some of the fastest Baja drivers. It's about time that Sal stepped up and forced these rich guys to play fair. Maybe some day the rules governing helicopter usage during the race will also be clearly defined and enforced. Maybe then Baja racing's little media darling, the Trophy Truck category, would return to a true driver's game, instead of a simple hemorrhage of money to win. Way to go Sal!