A few hundred years ago, Isaac Newton unknowingly laid the theoretical groundwork for trophy trucks with his simple equation: F=MA. Force equals Mass times Acceleration. A 7000-pound trophy truck with over 850 horsepower traveling at speeds of up to 145 mph is a lot of Force. It’s essentially an exercise using the truck’s four, 39-inch Toyo Tires to pummel the earth beneath it into submission.
Most of the time, it works. But the thing about Baja is that it will jump up and bite even the most experienced racers, and even the biggest, baddest trucks. That challenge is what makes racing in Baja both so alluring and addicting.
About six months ago, Baldwin and his brand-new Monster Energy Toyota Tundra trophy truck got bitten during the Baja 1000. Baldwin was the first, and still the only, driver ever to “ironman” the 1000, racing the entire event himself, and top the overall standings at the event. He did that in 2012. And again in 2013. During the 2016 event –his first with his factory-supported Toyota trophy truck – Baldwin pushed his Newtonian physics test just a touch too far when he got off-line in the dark and ran head-on into a firmly anchored boulder at about 75 mph. Baldwin said it was the worst thing he had hit to date, and estimated it to be “the size of a car.” At the speed he was running, thanks to Sir Isaac, we know he had to have delivered over a million foot-pounds of force to the rock. The rock won.
Baldwin and his co-driver, Willie Valdez, Jr., were both more or less okay after the physics lesson, but undoubtedly have no desire to try something like that again.
In Baldwin’s Toyota debut, at the 2016 Baja 500, Baldwin was one of many who succumbed to the elements. In the Baja desert basin, temperatures reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and while the trophy trucks are designed to go through (almost) anything, human beings aren’t. The trucks don’t have air conditioners, and Baldwin was forced out of the event when he became nauseated and started cramping up. His co-driver, Valdez, piloted the Monster Energy Tundra the rest of the way to the finish, scoring 11th place.
Baldwin and his Monster Energy Toyota Tundra trophy truck are getting their second chance at the Baja 500 next week, and this time the weather looks to be much more mild, with predicted temperatures in the 80s and a chance of rain throughout the region.
This year, Baldwin is looking for his second Baja 500 victory, and his fifth SCORE Off-Road Trophy Truck championship. And if Baldwin manages to take down either the Baja 500 or the 1000, it would be the first win for Toyota since the legendary Ivan “Ironman” Stewart won the Baja 500 in 1999. Stewart was Baldwin’s idol as a kid. As his nickname suggests, “Ironman” also did the 1000 by himself, and even though Stewart won the 1000 “ironman” style to La Paz in 1998, he actually finished second overall, behind Johnny Campbell and Jimmy Lewis (on a motorcycle).
“There’s definitely a different sense of pride to race the SCORE Baja 1000 solo because people don’t do this anymore like Ivan did years ago, and it is like following in your hero’s footsteps,” Baldwin said in the most recent edition of the SCORE Journal. “I’ve never won a SCORE Baja 1000 with a teammate so I don’t know what that feels like. Winning the 1000 and doing 100 percent of the driving yourself is five times more challenging than with another driver. You are doing three or four times more pre-running. You’re spending most of your time on the highway trying to get back to a section to do it all again.
“You have a higher chance of success with a teammate,” Baldwin continued in the SCORE Journal. “You’re only going half the distance alone and you’re seeing so much more. You have a fresh driver that’s not beat to hell and that driver knows his section way better than I know my 1000-mile section. I’m more beat-up at the end of a pre-run than others.”
So why does he do it? What motivates a guy to go out and beat himself up, and beat up his truck, and push himself that hard to win races in the middle of the desert in Mexico?
“For the Mexican people, it’s their Super Bowl,” Baldwin said in the SCORE Journal. “I’m out in the middle of nowhere and miles from the nearest town and there are 30,000 people waiting to see their favorite Trophy Truck drive through.”
Baldwin has already finished fifth in Trophy Trucks at the SCORE season-opening San Felipe 250. He finished nine minutes behind the winner despite losing all his tranny fluid during the race when his tranny-fluid filter came unscrewed. Although the fifth-place helps him in his quest for his sixth SCORE Trophy Truck championship, Baldwin prepares all year specifically to win in Baja.
And he gets his first chance at that next Saturday, June 3rd, when the green flag drops for him in Ensenada to start the 49th Annual Baja 500.