SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal - June 2019

SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Page 62 of 114

THE FIRST WIN IS THE BEST After years of desert racing Craig Scanlon and Keith Redstrom win their first SCORE BaJa 500 By Larry Saavedra Photos courtesy of Jason Zindroski, High-Rev Photo SCORE PRO UTV FI racer Craig Scanlon pulled off one of the most nail-biting finishes of his racing career by taking a class win at the 51st SCORE Baja 500. The win was Scanlon’s first at an official SCORE event, racing against some of the biggest names in off-road desert racing, despite having to wait until the official results were tallied before he could celebrate. “Winning the SCORE Baja 500 to me is like winning the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup,” said Scanlon. “I was troubled with those racers starting ahead of us because I didn’t think I was going to be able to weave past the bottlenecks to catch the leaders. I started near the back of the field.” If Scanlon was concerned, it didn’t show, even as he sat waiting to start the race near the back of the pack. Though he later admitted that he and co-driver Keith Redstrom were a bit apprehensive about their chances. But his patience would play a critical role in their victory. At the start of the race Scanlon watched former Pro UTV champion Marc Burnett jump in the lead in their Can-Am, and all he could do was chill-out at the starting line and wait for the green flag. He knew a big lead would put Burnett at an advantage by the time Scanlon and his Polaris left the Lucas Oil Off-Road Stadium at Estero Beach. Fortunately for him and Redstrom, things were about to change in their favor. According to Scanlon, at Santo Tomas, they watched the 2917 CamAm of Jason Murray blow past SCORE Checkpoint-4 to avoid a major bottleneck. Scanlon and Redstrom patiently waited for it to clear. Fortunately, it was the right choice.“It’s crazy to think that you can drive 500 miles and be separated at the end by seconds and minutes,” he said. “Burnett, Matlock, and others racers were right there at the end, racing toward the finish. Physically I came in third, but there were penalties added against some of the others, moving us to first place.” Mechanical Issues Despite punching a huge rock and multiple failures with the rear stabilizer bars, Scanlon kept his composure throughout the race. “In most races, I would have ripped off the bars, but not on this course,” he said. “What I pre-ran was a different course than the one I raced because of the damage that all the SCORE Trophy Trucks and other race cars ahead of us added on the course. I think I had put in about 750 miles of pre-running, the most prep I’ve put into a Baja race. Every single driving style was incorporated in this race. One minute you are a rally driver and then the next you’re running through deep silt or climbing mountains at a crawl. I don’t know if SCORE did this on purpose, but they put it to us.” Scanlon believes it was not only the physical challenge of the course that gave him second thoughts about running solo, but it was also a mental challenge. “Switching my mind back and forth against the technical aspects of the course was really difficult,” he said. “You really had to earn a finish at this year’s event.” Scanlon complimented SCORE officials for creating such a tough course and said that it took everything he had to get through it without sacrificing his race car. “You had these sections where you could do 90 miles-per-hour or faster and then you’d immediately be crawling over rocks,” he said. “The course was not very forgiving, and that’s what makes me so proud of our team. I knew I couldn’t get racy the first 30 miles after leaving the short course, and so I set a comfortable pace. It was super exciting, but Keith and I had to keep our wits about us and that was the mindset going into it. The plan was to race our race.” Going Solo Scanlon’s original race strategy was to potentially make a driver change about mile-marker 350. But that idea was scrapped right before the start. “I told Keith that it’s a long race and the UTV didn’t have a ton of suspension,” he said. To which Redstrom responded, “I’m 51 years-old what’s your excuse?” That last-minute decision to not make a driver change turned out to be the right call for Scanlon Motorsports Group. “Keith and I had conditioned ourselves to do the entire race and it worked to our advantage,” he said. “When you’re driving a race car for that long you learn the behavior of the vehicle. In the past, Keith and I have always gotten out and made the driver changes. But this time to hand a race car with some suspension issues over to someone fresh might have set them up for failure.” For Scanlon, nothing to date was as big as winning the 51st SCORE Baja 500. “I think we’re going to have a huge party at the shop,” he laughed. “But after that, there’s the SCORE Baja 1000 and we’re going to build off the momentum of our first SCORE victory.” No doubt the fans of UTV racing will be locked onto the efforts of Team SMG too, anxiously waiting to see if they will continue to win races the remainder of the 2019 SCORE World Desert Championship Series. SJ

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