It was uphill the whole way.
For the first time in 56 years of running, the BF Goodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 presented by K&N started at the southern tip of Mexico’s big, beautiful Baja peninsula in La Paz and ran 1310.94 miles north to Ensenada. Usually it’s the other way around, at least in years where the race is run the whole length of the peninsula. In other years it’s a big loop starting and finishing in the seaside coastal resort town of Ensenada, 80 miles south of San Diego, Calif.
Bryce Menzies might have won in any direction, as it was his third victory in the four-race 2023 SCORE desert racing championship. Menzies also took wins in the San Felipe 250 and Baja 500 this year, garnering himself the Triple Crown of SCORE desert racing.
The 36-year-old Las Vegas resident teamed with drivers Andy McMillin of San Diego and hometown hero Gustavo “Tavo” Vildosola of Ensenada to complete the relatively fast course in 22 hours, 35 minutes and 33 seconds.
“This one feels really special,” said Menzies, who, since he was going for - and won - the championship, was driver of record in the entry. “It took me over ten years to win the SCORE Baja 1000 and to win the second-longest SCORE race in history (longest was the Baja 2000 in the year 2000), it feels pretty special.”
Menzies drove the first 525 miles of the race, handed the Mason-built AWD No. 7 Red Bull Ford Raptor Trophy Truck over to Andy McMillin of the famous McMillin family of desert racers, who had the wheel for the next 400 miles, and then Vildosola brought it home, literally for him.
Second place went to Luke McMillin, cousin of Andy, who had won the last three Baja 1000s. Luke shared driving duties in a Mason-built Chevy 1500 Trophy Truck with racing great Rob MacCachren, who drove the first 638 miles north from La Paz.
Luke McMillin got into the truck around sunset Thursday and drove over 752 miles through the night, arriving at the finish line as the sun came up Friday morning. He had been gaining on Vildosola all night, and finished just one minute and 19 seconds shy of catching him for the win.
“We didn’t have any major issues, but the ones we had held us back a couple of times,” Luke said. “But that’s racing and it’s hard to have a clean day here in Baja.”
“We just lost track position in about race mile 32 and that cost me two spots,” said MacCachren. “That allowed Menzies to get out in front for 15 minutes and Luke did a great job bringing us closer in the final section of the course.”
MacCachren was philosophical about the finish, after having won it the last two years in a row and six times total.
“We had no mechanical issues at all, it was an incredible run and just a testament to the McMillin Racing team. If you think about this battle between Luke’s team and Bryce’s team over the past couple of years, it’s been really amazing. They are the two top dogs in the sport right now and it’s just fun to go out and battle. Luke won the last three SCORE Baja 1000s and this was Menzies’ first. I’m sure Luke will want to continue battling and he’ll look at everything that happened in this race and get better for the next time.”
The trio of Mike Walser, Christopher Polvoorde and Ray Griffith were third in another Mason-built Chevy Silverado, crossing the finish line about 50 minutes after the winners.
The first motorcycle to finish was the KTM 450SX-F shared by five riders: Dakar veteran Bolivia’s Juan Carlos “Chavo” Salvatierra, Shane Logan of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., Argentinian Diego Llanos, Carter Klein of Agua Dulce, Calif and Corbin McPherson of Hurricane, Utah. They finished in 26:34:17.
“It feels really good to be at the finish, especially with this being the second-longest SCORE race ever,” said Salvatierra, who only started the race and quickly handed the bike over to Logan, due to an unspecified injury. “It’s great to think we made history here. We had a very eventful week with two of our riders getting injuries and another one getting sick. But we have lions in our team and Shane and Diego had to step up for us and take sections from other riders without pre-running them and did a wonderful job. I couldn’t do my section because I got injured on Friday. The bike was flawless during the entire race. Outside of tire changes and regular maintenance things, we didn’t have to do anything on it.”
Cayden MacCachren, son of Rob, won in UTVs, co-driving a Polaris RZR Pro R with Justin Morgan and rallyer-turned-drifter-turned-stuntman Rhys Millen.
Clay Lawrence, who finished second in SCORE TT Legends for Trophy Truck drivers over 50 years old, summed up the good vibes felt by all racers.
“I just want to thank all of the fans here in Baja, all the way from La Paz up here. The way they treat us is really incredible. We haven’t been in La Paz in a few years and it was easy to see how excited everyone was. There’s a lot of new areas in Baja Sur we’ve never been to and it makes it really exciting for us to explore new terrain. The course was completely different going North this time and the rain changed everything again. We really need to thank SCORE for this race. I know they’ve put on a lot of work to put it together and this has been a lifetime experience to all of us. This hasn’t been our best finish, but I haven’t had this much fun in a long time and that’s what this is all about. We want to compete, we want to win, but we’re all family here and that makes it very special.