A mere two months ago Steele had never savored the thrill of victory at highest level of off-road racing, the SCORE Trophy Truck division. After years of trying and coming up short, Steele finally got the proverbial monkey off his back in September, when he emerged victorious at the SCORE Desert Challenge in Tijuana, Mexico. It was a long time coming for Steele, whose Monster Energy Desert Assassins squad has been at the forefront of the sport for many years. It was also bittersweet, as the family patriarch and Baja legend in his own right, Mark “Big Daddy” Steele, had recently passed before Cam’s breakthrough outing.
As the saying goes, the first win is always the hardest, but once it happens, winning becomes easy. This is surely a byproduct of confidence as nothing is more gratifying and rewarding than winning. However, despite anyone’s best efforts, until he or she finally does prevail, it’s hard to know exactly what the right “winning” formula is.
For Steele, he found that winning formula in Tijuana, and it set the tone for his Baja triumph. The newly inducted member of the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame proved that in the world of desert racing the mantra “slow and steady wins the race” can pay big dividends. With their seemingly endless amounts of power and otherworldly suspension, Trophy Trucks are truly some of the most spectacular racing machines on the planet. They’re capable of tackling anything, but the finesse of driving one is one of the most underappreciated and difficult skills to master. Steele’s years of experience helped him take full advantage of this approach, and it parlayed into a long overdue win. It was at this moment, with “Big Daddy” watching over them, that he and the Monster Energy Desert Assassins knew the Baja 1000 was theirs for the taking.
After qualifying for the Baja 1000 a few weeks prior in Las Vegas, Steele knew he would roll off the line in Ensenada, Mexico, to start his quest as the 13th Trophy Truck, with the help of fellow veteran driver Pat Dean. Equipped with a special number decal that paid homage to all the late friends and family that helped cultivate Steele’s love of Baja over the years, the No. 16 Monster Energy Desert Assassins machine took off in their memory just after 9 AM local time, determined to bring home a win in their honor.
The Trophy Truck field set an aggressive pace through the first half of the race, while one of the most demanding tracks in recent memory wreaked havoc on the field over the course of the opening eight hours. Larry Connor held onto the top spot at the midway point, followed closely by Rob MacCachren. Bryce Menzies, Andy McMillin, and Robby Gordon rounded out the top five, while Steele slotted himself into sixth, well within reach of the leaders.
The grueling speed at which the leaders were running left them vulnerable to mechanical failures as the race wore on into darkness, when Baja does its most damage. Sure enough, Connor, Menzies, and Gordon all experienced issues, which left MacCachren and Steele to battle it out for the win. With more miles run in the Baja 1000 than any other driver in the field, MacCachren was not going to make things easy on Steele, and his lead appeared to be secure. But what’s the Baja 1000 without a little drama?
MacCachren was the first Trophy Truck to reach the finish line, doing so in just over 16 hours. The win was seemingly his. However, SCORE officials tagged McCachren with a pair of penalties during the course of the race. One penalty was for speeding, which is such a common infraction that even Steele was unable to avoid one himself. However, MacCachren’s second penalty proved to be the most costly, as he was deemed to make an unsafe, illegal pass on the highway. While the speeding penalty was subject to mere seconds per mile-per-hour over the limit, the illegal and unsafe pass was a 15-minute violation added to MacCachren’s time. As a result, Steele, who crossed the finish line in second, approximately five minutes behind MacCachren, vaulted to the top spot, despite his own speeding penalty. He was officially declared winner of the Baja 1000.
Knowing full well that the brutality of Baja would take its toll on the trucks, Steele let his competitors fall victim to the desert and patiently piloted his Monster Energy Desert Assassins machine through the treacherous terrain, resisting the urge to push the limit too far. It was the strategy that vaulted him to the first win of his career, and has now carried him to back-to-back SCORE triumphs, capped off by winning the single-biggest-event in all off-road racing. Cam successfully honored the man who paved his way to racing success, his father, while simultaneously winning one in memory of the others that have been lost along the way. It’s the kind of script you’d only see in movies, but for Steele it’s the realization of a dream that has been decades in the making.
Cam Steele is now the hottest driver in off-road racing, and he and the Monster Energy Desert Assassins are poised to achieve even more success in 2019.