Industry News

Terabbit Racing’s #1971 Takes the Win at 2015 SCORE Baja 500

Wayne Matlock

Written By: Wayne Matlock

Well that was fun! I have been dreaming of racing Baja in a car for a long time. I know some of you are thinking, you dreamed of racing a UTV and not a class 1 car or a trophy truck? But yeah I actually love driving the UTV and have been working hard to make it happen for some time now. In order to keep this somewhat short enough to keep the attention span of most of my friends (myself included) I will leave out my pre-running story and go straight to the race.
Going into the race I knew we had a great car in this new Jimco chassis. Our team mechanic, Greg Forsberg, had put his heart and soul into this thing, so between that and my knowledge of Baja I was confident we could win. The day before the race was the typical contingency dog and pony show. The only difference was instead of cutting through the line on my ATV, I had to push my car for 7 hours all the way through the line. Once we were done with that, we headed back to our hotel to put all the finishing touches on the race car and organize all the chase trucks. We were almost done by the time my co-pilot, Sam Hayes, and I had to head to the drivers meeting leaving the rest for Greg and Kristen to finish up. After the meeting Sam and I picked up dinner for our crew on the way back to the hotel, had a little pit meeting, then headed off to bed. The next morning came way too fast after going to bed at midnight, but at least we didn’t have to get up at 4am with the motorcycle and quad teams. It is pretty weird waking up with enough time to go to breakfast on race day, but I can definitely get used to it.
On the way to the starting line all I could think about was, all of the hard work our team had put into this race was about to get tested…
When Sam and I arrived, to no surprise, downtown Ensenada was an absolute zoo. We quickly unloaded the race car and made our way to the starting line. It’s funny because people kept coming up to me and asking me if I was nervous, but I don’t really get nervous. It seems weird, but before the start of a race I get extremely calm and almost sleepy feeling. I figured it is because I am on such a high before the race trying not to forget anything, but once I’m in the driver’s seat ready for that green flag to drop, it is pointless to keep worrying about any of that.
As the car creeps up to the starting line, I see the first UTV take off and I feel my pulse quicken. Then almost too quickly, it was me on the line and in that 30 seconds of time I had a month’s worth of hard work flash through my head, followed by flashes of all of the stories my dad has told me about racing over the years. I know you’re all thinking it is only 30 seconds, but unless you have been on the starting line for a Baja 500 you have no idea how long 30 seconds can be.
The flag finally drops. The car roars to life and we are off, tearing through the streets of Ensenada. As we come off the pavement and onto the dirt, I was blown away by all of the people. I have started over 30 Baja races thus far, but always on a quad at 6am when most spectators are still sleeping…this was unreal! We wound our way out of the city and at mile 4 or 5 I caught Alonso Lopez who started the race 30 seconds in front of us. Sam hit the horn, he moved over, and we shot by. As we pulled onto the first highway section I caught the next guy, knowing full well that my Alba Racing motor could outrun him, I decided it would be a good time for a drag race. I slammed the throttle and had no problem beating him to the 60MPH speed zone on the highway. Further down the highway, I came up on two Lonestar Racing cars of Dan Fisher and Jonathan McVay. It was their first time racing in Baja. They were stuck behind a slow moving truck only going about 40MPH. I saw an opening, split the lane, and snuck in front of Fisher. A couple seconds later, I saw another opening and passed the rest of the group.
Once we got off the Highway and back into the dirt, one of my biggest fears appeared. A log jam had formed and we were now sitting in a line and there was nothing that I could do. I hate lines and I tend to be a bit inpatient at times. As we were waiting for the cars to make their way up the hill, there seemed to be a couple of UTVs that thought we would be fine with them cutting the line. I had one guy try and cut in front of me, so I hit the throttle and shut the door on him. Then there was the Cognito car up ahead that thought he could cut in as well, weaving his way through. Corry Sappington was not having any of that and the two of them exchanged some words.
Once the bottle neck cleared up, we got up the hill, and started passing UTVs and other cars again. We got into a little battle with the Mystic Oils car of Scott McFarland and I was able to make a pass in a rough sand wash. By the time we got to mile 45 we had taken the car from 13th to 5th physical position. On the narrow twisty roads leaving Ojos Negros we started catching Sappington in his turbo powered Can-Am. We followed him for a little while until we came into a silt bed. At the silt bed, I went right avoiding it and in the process was able to make the pass on Sappington. We pushed on, passing several other cars that were not in our class, trying to catch the leaders in the UTV class. After a little while we were in some dust that turned to a lot of dust as we caught the next car. We popped up over a hill and an instant smile came across my face. We had caught up to the back of Johnny Angal. Now I was convinced that we were doing well because Johnny had been killing it in the UTV racing world and here we were stuck to his bumper. I remember saying out load “Here’s Johnny” and Sam started laughing, yeah we were having fun now. We had settled into a nice pace and would stay on his bumper for the next 60 miles just waiting for our turn.
As we approached Highway 2, we were about 30 to 40 feet apart with both of us sliding sideways. I slid the car onto the highway and Sam yelled at me, “Watch out for the oil!” It was spewing out of the back of Johnny’s car and onto the highway. We knew now that he was going to have to stop sooner than later. As we came through the town of La Rumorosa, it was Johnny, Us, and then the Cognito car that we had passed in the pits. Here is where things start to get a little squirrelly. We got off the highway to start working our way down the rocky grade with sheer drop-offs that you will not be coming back up if you fall off the side of. We were moving along at a good pace that Johnny was setting. As I looked in the rear-view mirror, I could see the Cognito car coming in hot…I thought…holy shit, then BAM! He hit me hard enough to crush my cage, lift the back of my car off the ground, and give me an instant headache. To say I was pissed is a total understatement. I was screaming and spitting in my helmet and so was Sam. I pulled over to let this clown go in front of me with only one intention in mind…smashing him into the hillside. He went by and I jumped on the gas. I had profanities coming out of my mouth faster than the RPMs in the motor. I think Sam could see the writing on the wall and was doing his best to calm me down. Then two turns later the guy went too wide in a three point turn. There he was…just sitting there in front of my car with nothing between us but 20 feet of air…and my bumper. Sam started talking louder and faster, as he could see what my plan was. Lucky for the Cognito car, I decided Sam was right and did not smash him into the mountain. I came into the turn and had plenty of room to turn under him, back up, then go. But no…now this guy in the Cognito car decides to push up to me while my tires are up at the edge of the cliff with nowhere to go but back. The problem was he was now up against me. He soon realized that plan was not a good idea as I put it in R for “Race” and proceeded to back over the hood of his car. I then put it back in high and left him sitting there. As we got going again, I was able to catch Johnny and settle back into the pace.
We had made it down to the desert floor. I knew now I could make some moves and shake things up. So as we jumped into a sand wash, Johnny went right and I went left, then he went left and I went right. After about a mile of dicing back and forth we found ourselves leading the Baja 500. No matter how many times I have been in this position, it is still one of the greatest feelings in the world. All of the pre-running was paying off. We were nailing all of our lines and pulling some time on second place. We came into our first pit at mile 150. Greg and Ryan dumped the fuel while Kristen vented the tank for them on the other side of the car as my mom gave us protein bars and water. After a quick once over of the car, we were off and running.
We were now on our way to the most grueling section of Baja I have ever raced on in my life…and that’s no joke. As we were cruising along I felt the car start to vibrate as I hit the throttle. Sam and I decided to keep going but it was getting worse. I then realized that the belt was coming apart, so I shut her down. We came to a stop and both jumped out. We got the belt cover off and we were trying to get the old belt off the clutch. This was all new to me. All of the belts that I had previously broken had kindly removed themselves. Unfortunately I have quite a bit of experience and consider myself a bit of an expert at putting a new belt on a Polaris RZR, but now I was fighting to get one off. I struggled for a bit, but eventually I got it. The entire time I had the help of an overly eager, very drunk local man that really wanted to help. He was all up in the motor compartment yanking on stuff that did not need to be yanked on. I’m telling him, “No, no, no!” and he is saying, “Yes, yes, yes!” while falling on me. I then looked over my shoulder to see that they were multiplying fast. The whole time this was happening, I knew Johnny was driving off into the distance. After some more work…and yanking, “We” = my new friend and I managed to get the new belt on and I got back in the car. It did not stop here though…my new friend thought he should help me with my pumper hose and radio cords. Then there was a small scuffle over which one of us was going to put up my window net until he finally realized he had no idea how to latch it.
I hit the key and got out of there, sadly leaving the best mechanic, I never wanted to have, waving his arms and fist pumping at the stellar job “We” just did. Not sure whether to be frustrated or embarrassed at how long that took. I just had to laugh and move on. During the whole ordeal though, Johnny managed to get back by us, but now we were moving forward, taking our time, holding second place down, trying not to make any mistakes, while still remembering the oil coming out of Johnny’s car. As we pressed on through the whoops of sand and rocks, I smacked a big rock on the right rear corner. Sure enough we had a flat. I stopped the car and we jumped out into action. Keep in mind it is now about 95 degrees and I am completely rethinking the black helmet and black driving suit. Sam and I had the old tire off and we went to put the new one on only to realize that the jack sank in the sand. We had to dig a hole to get the new tire on, but we got it back together.
We got going again, driving with extreme caution since that was our only spare tire on the car. We picked our way through the desert and could see dust way out in the distance. Not knowing if it was Johnny or something else we pushed forward. Then, all of the sudden, the dust disappeared. About the time I was thinking that he left me, I come around a corner to see the #1921 UTV, Inc car sitting there, lifeless. You know how the school yard jokes always start out with a boy named Johnny, well here’s Johnny standing next to the course with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, pants around his ankles, spanking his own ass with his co-driver cheering us on. This guy is all right in my book…no, I’m not talking about his ass, but he seems to be a stand up guy to me…even though the last time I saw him he was bent over.
Still in cruise mode, trying not to get any more flats, we started coming into our next pit and I got on the radio to let them know that we needed a tire on the rack. We had major radio troubles all day and while I was messing with it I smoked another rock on the left side. Luckily we were only about 3 miles out from the pit, so I told them to have two tires ready. We came into the pit were Greg and Ryan were ready with two tires. I stopped, they changed the tires out, and we were off.
We were now going down the pole line road. As I got up to about 65MPH through the whoops, the car started to go sideways pretty badly. This was not good as we were splitting telephone poles. Sam was getting a little twitchy as I was not backing off of the throttle. We had another pit setup 5 miles down the road. As we pulled into the pit, I noticed Rich Morel and Nate Martinez from Alba standing next to our pit guys, Steve Smith and Justin Cox. I told them, “I think I broke an axle,” and they all jumped on it. They told me the axle was fine, but we had broken 3 of the 4 bolts holding the hub on the trailing arm. They said to stay in the car and they would get it done, but I could not sit still and do nothing plus I had to pee like a horse. I took care of that, then I had to jump in the middle of the repairs…not that they needed me, but that’s just me. They had it fixed up and back on the road in 26 minutes.
Back on course we hit every one of our lines and made it up to Valle de Trinidad without any problems. At the beginning of the crossover road that takes us from Valle de Trinidad to San Vicente on the coast, Sam shut the GPS off and told me to slow down and drive only what I can see. I had Baja Designs lighting and could see very well, so I was able to still move along at a steady pace. We made our way up the beach and through the course without any hiccups. We came into Santo Tomas where Craig Christy and a couple of his buddies fueled us and told us to slow down because we had a 45 minute lead.
After Santo Tomas we headed inland back to Ojos Negros. This section was so much fun pre-running, I couldn’t wait to get back to it. Well let’s just say, the course changed a little. It looked like a war zone! There were dead cars everywhere and every single hill was covered in silt. We picked our way through it. Then we came to the worst silt bed I have ever seen. The silt was so deep it was coming over the hood and hitting us in the chests and helmets…this stuff was nasty. I had to stop several times because I could not see. Just out of pure luck, I stopped one time just before we hit a stuck class 1 car. Before we got out of there, we had smoked I don’t even know how many bushes, one shovel, and who knows what else was buried under there. After that we were home free and coming into Ojos Negros for our last pit before our final leg to the finish line.
We pulled into Ojos so they could fuel the car. Kristen had everyone looking over the car to be certain it was good to go for the remaining 40 miles. I told Greg to check out the rear end because I heard a noise coming from it. While the car was on the jack with the tire off he found another broken bolt, this time on the right side. He deemed that bolt unnecessary and put it back together. We said our goodbyes and drove off towards the finish.
This is where it was finally starting to sink in…we were winning the Baja 500! …and all I could think about was…don’t screw up. In the next 35 miles I heard every noise possible coming from that car. As I drove across the finish line, I had so many thoughts flash through my mind. I have crossed that line many times before for an overall victory, but this time it was different. We, as a team, had worked extra hard for this and it was happening. As I pulled up on the podium, I cannot express the feelings and thoughts that went through my mind. It cannot be described in just a few words…but man was I happy. On the podium everyone ran up to congratulate all of us. It felt so good to have everyone on that stage that had helped us get there.
I would really like to thank everyone that played a part in making Terabbit Racing a winning team! A very special thank you to our mechanic, Greg Forsberg, and my co-driver, Sam Hayes, for all that they did as well as had to deal with. I take racing very seriously…some might say too much, but it is my passion and I enjoy surrounding myself with people that have that same look in their eyes when the light turns green. I could not do what I do without my wife, Kristen, beside me. For those of you that have spent much time with us, you know what an important role she has in making this team a success. Not only does she have my heart, she has my back too.
I would also want to thank all of my sponsors for believing in me and our new team: Terabbit Racing, Matlock Racing, Maxxis, FOX, Lonestar Racing, DWT, Coyne Powersports, Alba Racing, Baja Designs, Polaris, Jimco Racing, Rugged Radio, Factory UTV, Mastercraft, Cryoheat, Fly Racing, Maxima, UNI, Motion Pro, IMS, KZ-RV, Monster Seal, CopyBoy
Most of all, I would like to thank Terry Hui and his wife Olivia for taking a chance on me. For giving me the freedom to build the race car the way in which I felt would be best suited for desert racing and for giving us the support to make this all possible. I truly owe all of this to you, so thank you for everything.

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