Johnson and Childress are ready for the Baja 1000
This week marks the 45th running of the annual SCORE Baja 1000 and representing General Tire will be the Trophy Truck of Rick D. Johnson with co-driver Mike Childress behind the wheel.
Team GT member Kent Kroeker will also participate in the 1121.55-mile race that begins in Ensenada, Mexico and ends in La Paz in Baja California Sur. The harsh terrain, riddled with deep silt, jagged rocks, and violent whoops, will showcase the off-road grip and durability of the extreme-traction General Grabber tires that Team GT members will sport on their vehicles.
This year, Johnson will have the help of his General Grabber tires in addition to the help of fellow off-road whiz, Childress. Childress will pilot the red, white and blue General Tire truck for the first 300 miles of the endurance race before Johnson takes over to tackle the remaining 700+ miles. Childress is no rookie when it comes to the Baja 1000. The California-native has been racing the historic race since he was 16 (for 13 years) and has two wins on a motorcycle and three Class wins to show for his hard work and dedication. Just days before the Team GT member headed to Baja to pre-run, we asked for his expert opinion on just what to expect from this year’s SCORE Baja 100 and here’s what he had to say:
Q: You’re starting 37th out of 42 trucks. What’s your strategy to get to the front?
A: We got our typical SCORE drawing, putting our General Tire vehicle in the back (he says with a laugh). We’re going to use some of our top-secret super ninja lines and lots of pre-running. I know we’re not going to have any tire problems with our General’s, and we’re not going to have any truck problems, so we have to work hard to not make any mistakes or bad judgments in the dust, and we’re going to let the race come to us. My goal, when I get out of the truck, is to have the truck in the top 10 for Rick. He went from 50th to second at Vegas to Reno and now he has 200 miles further to do that when I hand him the truck. So if I can give him the truck in the top 10, he’ll have 700 miles to try and make up 10 spots which I think he can do.
Q: Explain, “Bad judgments in the dust”?
A: Driving what you can’t see. Trophy Trucks and Class 1’s, I think, need the GPS taken out of their trucks because these guys are driving off of a little yellow line or a little red line that’s telling them where to go and it’s really taking the sport to a dangerous level. GPS doesn’t show you the guy that’s rolled over in the middle of the track in the dust. And it doesn’t show you the guy that’s off to the side of the course, broken, and you hit him. For me, I only drive what I can see and I think that will keep us out of trouble. I think a lot of people get anxious when they get in the dust and they see a yellow light and they go after it and then hit a big rock and tear a corner off their truck. For me I’m going to drive what I can see and try not to make mistakes. I also have to remember that once I get out of the truck, there’s still another 700 miles to go.
Q: Have you run this course? If so, what are some of the challenges?
A: The course is very similar to 2006 and 2010. I’ve been over this course several times. The challenges are going to be the rough whoops coming into San Felipe, it’s very rough. Thank God we are running it backwards so it will be a tiny bit smoother, if you want to call San Felipe smooth. And then the fast roads going to Coco’s corner, there’s a lot of places where it would be easy to destroy tires and it’s going to be all about short-shifting, good tire placement, good truck placement, and keeping your tires clean. Once you leave San Ignacio there’s some tight technical sections with big, nasty rocks and tight little silt sections where it’s easy to get stuck. The truck is going to be good all the way down to Santa Rita then there’s about 10 miles of silt beds that I hope Rick does a lot of pre-running and figures out how to get around because if you get stuck in those things you’re going to be there for a few days. There is five feet of silt and your going to be going through there at night so hopefully we go through at a good time and we’re not in somebody’s dust and don’t make any mistakes or have truck problems in the silt, clogged air filters or something like that. Those are probably my three key areas of where the truck needs to be babied and driven through, not raced through.
Q: How do you prepare for booby traps?
A: They’re not booby traps they’re just big jumps (he says laughing). What prepares me for that is just years of experience and knowing where people have access to the course. And knowing where they go. Its years of experience knowing - they’re going to build a jump here or dig a ditch there; they’re going to flood this part of the course. Just years of going through it and knowing that it’s there and learning my lessons and crashing on them on my motorcycle and getting stuck in the mud because they flooded the farm fields. It’s just experience. There will be people going down there for the first time and they’re going to find those booby traps and flooded fields and I’m going to drive by and wave.
Q: How different is it driving a Trophy Truck versus a Class 1 buggy?
A: With the truck you drive it differently, you turn it differently. With a Class 1 car you use a lot of turn brake and corner set up where the truck is more just drive through the corner. The one thing I can say about the truck is its way better in the holes than the buggy. We were testing in southern California and I drove Rick’s truck through a section where I drive my buggy through at 100 mph and I’m on the edge of wrecking at any second. When I drove his truck through, I could have been drinking a Monster Energy and cruising along one-handed with my pinkie up. The truck is really amazing through the big holes. I’m looking forward to San Felipe in the truck.
Q: What makes the Baja 1000 special?
A: It’s just a challenge. There are a lot of races that are just ‘easy’. Baja, you never know what’s around the next corner, what’s over the next blind-rise, it’s always something new. Races in California and Nevada are so well regulated that you go down to Baja and it’s almost like the Wild West. You might come around a corner and hit a donkey or an on-coming ’74 Toyota pickup truck with a horse on the back of it. It’s interesting. My favorite part is the fans. The fans are truly excited to see you there. They’ll stay out there all night to watch the last truck come through.
Q: What’s one of your most memorable moments of the Baja 1000?
A: I was leading the Baja 1000 on a motorcycle and I made a donkey move, drove off the road and crashed the bike. I broke the front wheel to where the bike wouldn’t roll anymore. One of the competitors helicopters landed to check on me because they saw the whole thing happen. I asked if they had a front wheel and of course they said no but I knew better than that. I ran over to the helicopter, with them chasing me, grabbed a front wheel because I knew they had it, ran back to my bike, switched out the wheel and made it to the next pit and handed over the bike to the next rider. It was pretty awesome.
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