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SCORE CLASS 11 CHAMPION Alex Gonzales Battled His Way From A DNF To A Championship By Mike Vieira Photos by Get Some Photo  The 2021 SCORE season didn’t start well for Alex Gonzales, but when all was said and done after the SCORE Baja 1000, he took home the Class 11 Championship for the year.  His long season started with the SCORE San Felipe 250, in which he and co-driver German Melendrez timed out for a DNF due to a host of small problems. “We had some real freak things going on with the pulley on the motor,” said Gonzales. “We were going through belts– something that typically doesn’t happen. We didn’t have enough spares and had a bunch of those little issues all along the course. It was not what we’re used to, so it was kind of a downer.” In Class 11, most racers believe that’s just a part of racing, so the team, which includes drivers Clyde Stires, Tim Sletten, Armando Ventura, and co-drivers Nelson Fonte, Peter McLeoud, and Edgar Romero, shook off the bad luck and went on to much better results as the season moved forward.   At the SCORE Baja 500, it had been a while since a Class 11 car had finished the race, but that didn’t deter Gonzales and his team. “We got out to a lead pretty early and held that, so things were going well until we hit a bottleneck that held us up for maybe two and a half hours,” he said. “SCORE gave everybody that was stuck in that extra time, so we were able to finish the race with a win, and with just a minute to spare on the clock. It was a big deal. We got a lot of notoriety, so we were all on a high.” It was their first win of the season, which fueled their ambitions for the rest of the races.   When the SCORE Baja 400 came around, Gonzales had a first-place starting position and was able to hold a sizable lead throughout the race to put another win in the books.  “Everything was pretty much flawless,” he says. “We finished the race with no issues other than one flat, and the car ran perfectly.” With the SCORE Baja 1000 being a double points race for the Championship, Gonzales was battling veteran Eric Solorzano for the season’s honors. “We knew we just had to finish, and we would win the Championship,” said Gonzales. “We added one more driver to our team, so we had four sets of drivers.” All was going well, with Gonzales opening a comfortable lead until around mile 155. “I missed a turn. I went to it, nothing crazy, but I hit an embankment and thought I could make it over it,” he said. “But I buried the car, so at that point, since I hate having downtime, I got a little overzealous and blew reverse gear out of the car. Other cars were passing us by, so we dug and dug and dug, and pushed and pushed and pushed until we finally got it out. We were probably fifteen miles from our next pit, and the car stopped going into first and second gear. Luckily, we were in a part of the course that didn’t have any silt or hills, and we could keep it going.” They alerted the crew by radio to be ready to make a transmission swap. “It was all hands on deck and we were able to make the change and fix a few other little things in about two and a half hours,” said Gonzales. Although several cars had passed them during the downtime for the repairs, they knew they had enough of the race left to try to catch them. “We just pushed hard,” he said. “We have really good drivers, and were able to get back into a battle for the lead by around mile 900.” The battle continued, but electrical issues kept slowing the team’s progress. At mile 1050, Gonzales got back behind the wheel and was about fifteen to twenty miles behind the leaders. “We were at the point where we were deciding whether to go for broke or just to finish,” he says. “If we finish, we would probably get the Championship, but if we DNF’d, probably not. I just decided to keep it clean and not kill the car. We didn’t realize, however, the last sandy section on the course was going to be so soft, and we ran out of fuel with about eighteen miles to go.” Luckily they were near an access road that allowed the crew to walk fuel to them from about a half-mile. “I was pissed, so we went for a wild ride to the end and raced to the finish, passing another car right before the finish line.” The efforts brought the team a third place in the race, earning enough points to take the Class 11 Championship for the season. “We didn’t win the battle, but we won the war.” Gonzales thanks his entire team and family for their help and support, as well as his sponsors, Sletten Engineering, EMPI, Wright Gearbox, Cameron Theriot, Rigid Industries, PCI Race Radios, Vile Designs, El Patron Palm Springs, and GHA Companies. Gonzales truly loves the SCORE Baja racing experience, and in particular, the vintage Volkswagen challenges that he’s gravitated to after competing in SCORE Trophy Truck and Spec Trucks in earlier years. He says the support and enthusiasm of the local people keep him motivated to battle those tough roads at 2 AM, and he’s proud of the money his team has raised through the Miracles Per Mile Campaign. SJ

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