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Monster athletes compete in the 2017 Baja 500 off road race in Baja California Ensenada, California
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“Monster Matt” Burroughs Conquers COVID and Baja

Oct 142020

A trip to the SCORE Baja 500 wasn’t originally on “Monster Matt” Burroughs’ radar, but a last-minute decision to give the event some much-needed support proved to be a defining moment of his racing career. Like many of his fellow desert off road racing counterparts, the Senior Vice President at Monster Energy had concerns about the impact COVID-19 was having on Mexico. The country had been hit hard, and many of the cities across the Baja California peninsula that have become hubs for the sport were suffering even more given that one of their main revenue sources had all but been eliminated. The once bustling 800-mile strip off Mexico’s mainland was a virtual ghost town, and it brought immense uncertainty to SCORE International’s annual trips south of the border.

After being forced to alter its 2020 schedule, the updated SCORE World Desert Championship consisted of just its two most iconic events - the Baja 500 and Baja 1000. Traditionally run in June, the 500-miler was moved to the end of September, which provided for dramatically different course conditions and added another wrinkle to an already complex challenge. Many racers made the difficult decision to stay home but SCORE International went to great lengths to ensure the health and safety of those who elected to make the cross-border journey and chase victory by making the event exclusive to competitors.

For Burroughs, the initial decision to skip the Baja 500 partially stemmed from his own battle with COVID-19. The virus struck the lifelong desert racer in June and what followed was a 26-day fight that was unlike anything he’d experienced before. 

 

“For the entirety of the illness, I could hardly eat. I had fevers every day of 102 [degrees] plus. I could barely even walk up my stairs. I do a lot of cycling, so my cardiovascular fitness is pretty high, and whenever I was able to walk up my stairs my heart rate was at its max. It was bizarre.”

 

While Burroughs has been fortunate to not suffer from any long-term effects from his illness, that first-hand experience made him keenly aware of the risks. As a result, he wasn’t overly eager to subject any of his team members to those risks in a country that was struggling to get a hold of its own coronavirus battle.

 

“We as a group had collectively decided we weren’t going to race. We were hearing all these stories about Baja and the borders being really bad [to cross], and [coronavirus] being really bad in Mexico. From a COVID perspective, it just didn’t make sense to go.”

 

The tipping point for Burroughs and his team to commit to this year’s Baja 500 was their performance at the Best In the Desert’s legendary Vegas to Reno race in August. While the team missed out on capturing the Turbo UTV win, finishing fourth, they made significant gains in performance, which fostered a sense of confidence and optimism surrounding what they could potentially accomplish in Baja. With a little push from his crew members, Burroughs changed course and decided to give the 500 a shot. He too shared in this newfound confidence, and perhaps even more importantly he trusted the protocols that SCORE International put in place to keep everyone safe. On top of all that, there was an opportunity to bring some much-needed economic relief to the city of San Felipe, the proverbial home base for the Baja 500 that would host the start and finish of the event. That goodwill was simply too important for Burroughs to pass up.

 

“We raced Vegas to Reno and got fourth, just slightly off the pace. I think we were fourth out of 50-some UTVs. So, we did really well there and a couple of my crew guys came to tell me that we need to go win the Baja 500. Because it was in San Felipe the track conditions favored us, so my guys believed we had a real shot at winning it. We decided to go with a reduced crew, and that coupled with what I heard about how bad San Felipe was suffering, it motivated us to go down there and do what we could to support the community. From what I know, the event saved a lot of people, so that made it all that much more worth it.”

 

 

 

 

 

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When the race got underway, Burroughs and his co-drivers, Bradley Howe and Mitchell Alsup, along with their navigators, Burroughs’ son Zachary, Cody Beeson, and Drew Stanton, found themselves in the midst of the single-largest entry list of any class in the race. The Pro UTV Forced Induction (FI) class featured 21 entrants, which only added to the difficulty of trying to win such a grueling endeavor. Despite the loaded field, Burroughs and his team stayed true to form. The team’s philosophy is to cruise at a level that keeps the leaders within reach, saving the Monster Energy Can-Am through the first half to two-thirds of the race in order to go on the attack for the final third. That approach was even more important in this year’s event as the second half of the course featured twisty, rocky sand washes, which wreak havoc on the vehicles and can bring an end to anyone’s race. Not to mention, temperatures hovered over 100 degrees all race long. The patience plan paid off as the No. 2948 machine was able to take advantage of others’ misfortune and make much-needed passes. As a result, they enjoyed a comfortable lead as the finish line approached. When Burroughs drove the Monster Energy Can-Am to the spectator-free finish line at El Dorado Ranch Resort in San Felipe he completed the 493-mile run in a time of 11 hours, 7 minutes and 56 seconds. Not only did that place the team in second place across all UTV divisions and 19th overall for the entire field, it handed Burroughs and his team its first SCORE victory by a margin of nearly 12 minutes.

 

“This has been a long time coming. We’ve come close so many times and we’ve also had some big disappointments. Last year in the Baja 500 we were in the first place with about 30 miles to go and made a mistake in a ditch that ripped the right end of the car off. So, it’s not as if we came out of nowhere. We’ve just had really bad breaks and finally, things broke our way and we got a win. We knew we were close. It was just a matter of time.”

 

Considering all the uncertainty of the 2020 season and the challenges Burroughs faced both personally and as a team owner, this triumphant effort carried more significance than he could have ever imagined. He overcame COVID-19 and thanks to the unwavering support of his crew and co-drivers they were able to accomplish something truly special by breaking through for their first victory.

 

To make the Baja 500 win even sweeter Burroughs now sits atop the overall standings of the SCORE World Desert Championship. He holds a six-point lead heading into the season-ending SCORE Baja 1000 in November and has an opportunity to end 2020 in the best way possible, as a World Champion.

 

“It’s beyond everything we envisioned that we could even be in the running for this. But, having said that, we’re putting everything into the Baja 1000. The car has been stripped down to the frame and we’re going to completely rebuild it. The team is super motivated. I would love nothing more than to give everyone that has stood behind us a championship.”

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