They call it the granddaddy of all desert races, the 42nd annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 ripped off last weekend in Baja, California with more than an estimated quarter-million fans cheering on the many bike, quad, buggy and truck teams competing in the grueling event. Fans watched the carnage and glory as 328 starters navigated the 673-mile course. Of those, 185 finished for the sixth-highest percentage in the event’s history.
JCR Honda has now stretched Honda's Baja 1000 win streak to 14. Owner, Johnny Campbell (right) acknowledged Kawasaki's presence and is grateful to have another manufacturer putting together a serious effort south of the border.
The Baja 500 race saw a huge shakeup in the overall standings after race management laid down some heavy penalties for riders who broke course rules, such as speed limits and off-course deviations. For the 1000, officials went through the results and included penalties right away to avoid the confusion and anger of stripping titles after the fact. Johnny Campbell Racing took the two-wheeled victory this year with the Honda CRF450X-mounted squad of Kendall Norman, Tim Weigand and Quinn Cody contesting the Class 22 Pro motorcycles division. Norman was the rider of record, starting the first 200 miles before handing off to Cody who put in another 150 miles. Weigand brought the JCR Honda up to the 504-mile mark before Norman again climbed in the saddle to bring the bike back in to Ensenada. The victory marked 14 consecutive wins for Honda and 20 in total. By holding a pace of just under 50 mph, the JCR trio finished in 13:27:50.
“I had a really rough section and I just tried to race smart and smooth and not go down and keep the bike on two wheels,” said ISDE and WORCS competitor, Weigand. “Quinn and Kendall did an awesome job also and we just put the race together. Our game plan was just to ride within ourselves.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Honda squad. First off, team manager and Baja’s greatest motorcycle hero, Johnny Campbell, wadded the race bike during testing. Having to rebuild the bike for the race, the JCR team was forced to operate at full efficiency with riders and mechanics in order to be prepared. By the time Norman finished his first leg, the Kawasaki team of Robby Bell, Steve Hengeveld, Destry Abbott and Ryan and Connor Penhall was nearly 10 minutes ahead and running strong on their KX450F. Over the course of the next several hundred miles, the Honda team reeled in the Kawasaki to a much more manageable time gap. However, the team leader put race strategy to use, knowing he didn’t have to physically pass the Kawasaki team in order to stay in front of them on overall time. Hengeveld is known for his night-riding skills, so Norman settled in behind at a safe, but close-enough, distance to secure the win by three minutes.
"I just commend Kawasaki for coming down here because we need them down here too," said Campbell after the race. "We need to have a real race and we're pumped to have them."
“It was a really close one,” said Hengeveld. “We had a couple problems but we still ran strong all night and we were trying to get to the finish first. We gave it one hell of a try so hopefully we’ll be back here next year. It was wide open the whole time that last leg. He (Kendall Norman) was trying to keep up with me and I was trying to just pull away and we just stayed the same the whole time. We gave it our all, that’s all I can say.”
Colton Udall, who finished third in the Baja 500 this year, teamed up with Matt and Max Eddy and Brent Harden to take third in the Pro division.
Norman is no stranger to Baja stardom with four career victories in the 1000, stating, “It feels great to win the 1000 three years in a row and fourth total. I am really stoked.” Cody now has two and Weigand is a first-timer. The battle of two wheels versus four continues, but the Honda team secured the overall victory by a margin of 68 minutes over the top trophy truck driven by Andy and Scott McMillin. The brutal course was felt by all, regardless of machine, and rookie champion Weigand noted, “The course is super rough everywhere and it’s hard on the body. It’s Baja – no surprises.”
Former Motocross and Supercross great, Rick Johnson, continued his love affair with Baja nailing third overall in the four-wheel divisions, and he too felt the physical abuse. “This course was brutal,” he said. “There are a lot of easier Baja 1000 courses to La Paz than this one. It seemed like every edge was square. It was very tough. I was fighting the wheel at times. The steering was hard to hold in many spots… To win here in trophy trucks, you have to have a perfect day. With 30-some trucks, there is somebody out there who is going to have that perfect day. It wasn’t perfect for us but it was a pretty good day. We'll take third.”
Robby Gordon raced hard with Johnson’s team for some time before eventually settling for fifth in class, but it was good enough to take the overall trophy truck season championship. “As many points was we won the championship by this year, I could probably miss Laughlin and still win it,” he said regarding scheduling conflicts and a full title run next season, “but I think we’ll probably focus on the Tecate SCORE Baja 500 and Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 next year.”
Wayne Matlock piloted a Honda TRX7000XX along with Harold Goodman Jr., Wes miller and Josh Caster to take the Pro ATV victory ahead of four other teams.
Check out the 2009 Baja 1000 video below courtesy of JCR Honda.