Imagine getting into your family sedan, buckling up, and then going for a 1,000 mile drive. No rest stops. No rest rooms. No sleep. Nothing. Nada – just you and the road.
Sound brutal? It is!
That’s just what BJ Baldwin does when he races the 1,000 in Baja. This year’s race is scheduled for November 16 – 20, and as is always the case, racers can expect the unexpected as late season monsoonal storms are infamous for washing out roads and adding to the complexity of the race.
BJ says, “I have a lot of respect for Indy car and NASCAR racing – but not near as much as I do for off-road racing. NASCAR, they may go 500 laps on the same corners. In off-road racing, you never get a second chance – you have to do everything perfect the first time. We never see the same corner twice or the same jump twice, and we are constantly unsure of what’s ahead. This is far more exciting than any other form of motorsport on the planet. One of the challenges is that cameras can’t capture how big the bumps are or the speed of the trucks… and if you’re on the ground, you only see 1% of what’s happening.”
BJ Baldwin was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and his family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada when he was two. “Growing up in Las Vegas is very different – it’s a great city and I have no desire to move anywhere else,” BJ says. “When I was 3 or 4, I got a 3-wheeler and I was hooked. From that, I got into motorcycles, going from an 80cc to a 125cc… a 250cc… and by the time I was 18, I had a 500cc bike. I was riding motocross tracks, hitting the doubles and tabletops, plus riding in the desert. That’s when I started ‘reading’ terrain – and that’s one of the things that sets me apart, I’m able to figure out the future – like what’s coming up in the next three to five seconds – and being prepared for that.”
“I became a really big Ivan Stewart fan when I was around 9 and remember going to the arcade all the time and spending all my cash to play the Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off Road game – you know, the one with three steering wheels.”
“Then when I was 17, my sister let me borrow some money to buy a buggy, and my Dad and I started racing the buggy… he didn’t start driving an off-road car until several years later. He took a massive interest in the motorsports program in 2001 and has been an integral and irreplaceable asset since then.”
“You have to admire what Ivan Stewart did when he did it,” BJ said. “No one else can relate to it unless you’ve raced as a solo driver. These are long races and it’s easy to be mentally defeated when you face a challenge – and Ivan always rose to the challenge.”
“Ivan’s always been an inspiration to me – and even more now that I’ve won the 1,000 twice. I realize what an accomplishment it was for him to win it, and today, talking to Ivan for just 15 minutes, I gain so much intelligence – learning about his mental and physical endurance – that’s priceless information.”
To prepare for one of the most challenging forms of racing, BJ is committed to physical fitness. “I got into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in high school. When I got started, I was working with Dana White (who is president of the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship]) and trained with Marc Laimon alongside guys like Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin. I started training to get fit for racing buggies and have stayed active ever since. I earned my purple belt in five years, and I like being the strongest guy in the room.” As it relates to racing, BJ adds, “Being passionate about racing and fitness gives me lots of self-confidence. It also builds functional strength – muscle density – so I am strong physically and mentally, which is essential out on the race course.”
Studying martial arts has also given BJ patience. “During one race, I chased Robby Gordon for 150 miles. It would have been easy to get frustrated and crash into a ditch. We finally got to this one section – the stones were probably 15 pounds each – and I decided that no matter what, I was going to get around him… and when I made that pass, it was the most fantastic feeling!” said BJ.
“My most rewarding event was the 500 mile race down in Baja in 2007 – I was chasing Larry Ragland and was within 10 seconds of his pace (based on the corrected time). I had spent four years under his guidance and he was my mentor – he taught me how to go fast without breaking parts. I knew I could close that gap, and was passing a motorcycle on a downhill turn when I quickly realized I couldn’t make the corner, so I rolled off the course. I ended up coming in third, but that incident was a turning point – I proved to myself that I was one of the fastest guys out there.”
“My most rewarding victory came the next year at the 500 mile race in Baja. I started one minute behind the team of Mark Post and Rob MacCachren, and I won the overall by 7 seconds* – one of the closest victories ever in Baja racing! Then in the 2013 at the 1,000, I was racing against Andy McMillen and Rod MacCachren for 250 miles – and I was racing solo – so winning that race was another huge victory.”
“I am blessed with skills as it relates to car control – it comes to me pretty easily. While others have to be ‘in the zone’ – my strength is being able to go 2% faster than anybody else. That comes in handy when you’re going 125 mph and backing it into corners, then hitting 137 mph on the straights, and I can’t wait to race my Tundra Trophy Truck in this year’s 1,000 down in Baja,” BJ added.
BJ’s successful racing record, his adventurous attitude, and his ceaseless dedication to honing himself and his craft speaks volumes to Toyota’s core ‘Let’s Go Places’ and kaizen philosophies.
Baldwin has racked up numerous high-profile wins:
• 5 U.S. national off-road racing titles
• 3 SCORE International championships
• 1 500 mile and 2 1,000 mile race victories in Baja, Mexico
• Class championship in the famed Dakar Rally
Toyota’s current success in off-road racing includes multiple championship wins in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series (LOORRS), The Off-Road Championship (TORC) series, and dominated short-course stadium racing series’ of old. All total, Toyota-backed drivers have amassed 27 driver’s championships, 19 manufacturer’s championships, 11 victories in the 500 mile race in Baja, and 2 wins in the 1,000 in Baja.
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