SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - DECEMBER 2017

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

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A NEW CHALLENGER Surfing pioneer and legend Laird Hamilton Challenged The Baja Peninsula By Matt Kartozian Photos by Matt Kartozian and Team Hamilton/Hodge If you are not into surfing, you might wonder who Laird Hamilton is. In short, Laird is the Rob MacCachren of the surfing industry. He’s best known for big wave surfing accomplishments and helped pioneer tow-in surfing as well as stand-up paddle boarding. While he’s also married to volleyball star, athlete, and fitness personality Gabrielle Reece, Hamilton wanted to add another bullet-point to his fabulous life and career, Baja racer. Hamilton has always been into off-road and he recently teamed up with friend and business partner Paul Hodge to take on the 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 in a Yamaha UTV. The duo faced a lot of adversity and overcame it all to finish the 1134 mile course in 46 hours, 33 minutes and 27 seconds within the Pro UTV class. Getting To The Starting Line Like many other racers, Hamilton started riding a dirt bike, but he broke his leg riding it in the first month, ending his future dirt biking adventures early in his career. Spending most of his time around beaches while surfing, he learned a few things about off-road driving. “I grew up around a lot of mud and beach driving because of where we lived in Hawaii,” said Hamilton. “I learned in a VW Bug with a stick; it was my first car. With that type of vehicle, you learn about momentum, and not stopping.” Hamilton and Hodge are partners in Laird Superfood, a line of products that are designed to provide the minerals and nutrients necessary to sustain energy and improve performance. The lure of Baja and competing in the 50th anniversary of the race prompted them to compete with a Yamaha YXZ 1000 built by George Peters’ Ultimate Arm shop. It was the first SCORE race for both men who competed without any prior knowledge or experience. The pair shared driving duties throughout the race, swapping seats at each pit for all of the 46 and a half hours it took them to get to the finish line. “We got the full-Monty,” said Hamilton. “We figured we would get all of the experience our first time out. We quickly found out how things suck when you have 100 miles of whoops, in a vehicle that does not have the wheel travel or chassis length to get any speed. But that’s the normal emotion. The only thing that could have truly sucked would have been timing out of the race. We had tires fly off, the front end ripped off, we had more than enough opportunity to fail.” Baja Adds Its Challenges The pair got into trouble early after losing a wheel and hub that went flying down a cliff at race mile 17. They spent two hours finding the wheel and getting it back up the hill before repairs could start. “Once the tire flew off the next 45 hours were full of doubt, whether we could finish the race or not,” said Hamilton. “That’s the nature of these types of things. When you do these long challenges you are always in doubt of completing it. Does the doubt win or does the perseverance win?” The two felt the anxiety that all Baja racers feel but they were determined to push on. “The first real pressure we experienced was when we lost the tire and hub early,” said Hamilton. “We had to make checkpoint 1 before it closed. It became a survival race, not a competition to beat someone else. The window to make the checkpoint was closing and we were dealing with mechanical issues. We had to weld all the nuts on the wheels so they wouldn’t fall off.” “We stripped a hub, lost our brakes, and a whole series of things that led to an eight-hour loss of time in the first section,” said Hodge. “We finally made it through checkpoint 1 with about 20 minutes to spare.” Experienced racers know that spending 46 and-a-half hours in a racecar requires high levels of fitness and mental toughness. Hamilton’s professional life as a surfer and endurance athlete was definitely a benefit in the race. “I’ve done a few endurance challenges in my career,” said Hamilton. “I have paddled the inter-island channels in Hawaii, the English Channel, and others in the Mediterranean. Up to 23 hours of paddling. I can tell you that snowboarding and some of these other disciplines definitely help you understand the terrain, and helped me understand where to put the tires during this race. I have no experience with this stuff. I was just thinking about how to survive it.” “These other endurance events, however, helped with the mental aspect. The biggest thing I learned from those, and this is the business that Paul and I are in, is the nutrition. Knowing what to give your system to optimize focus and keep your mind sharp. I have learned before that not being properly hydrated or nourished gets into your brain and you’re done. I don’t care what the body wants to do, or what the vehicle wants to do. If the brain can’t keep you on the road the other things don’t matter.” At 53, Hamilton is still in better shape than most 20 year-olds. He has surfed waves over 80-feet tall and paddle boarded between islands. For a fun workout, he throws around dumbbells while underwater. So it should not come as a surprise that at one point during the race Hamilton and Hodge had a flat tire and a broken jack. According to the two, Hamilton got under the rear of the car and lifted it up himself, so the tire could be changed! Perseverance Pays Off Some racers try for years and never finish a Peninsula Run at the Baja 1000, so Hamilton and Hodge are to be commended for finishing the 50th on their first attempt. The two drove their Yamaha to finish in eighth place out of 17 starters in the Pro UTV class. “I want to make something clear,” said Hamilton. “I just wanted to survive it. Someone told me I conquered Baja, like when people tell me I conquered a big wave. I looked at him and said no one conquers Baja, you survive it. No one conquers a big wave, you survive it. You may be harmonious, but you don’t conquer these things, they are greater than we are.” Looking back at what they had accomplished, the two will definitely remember this race as one of the greatest highlights of their lives. “When we found the tire that went down the cliff, that was a highlight,” laughed Hamilton. “The light brings energy (when the sun rises). As soon as the light comes, your whole energy level changes. It is where you get to go. You are never going to be able to explain that to anyone who has not been down that course. The people there are amazing.” In the final section of the course, the team broke an A-arm on the car. “Coming into the last leg we had plenty of time, about six hours,” said Hodge. “The A-arm broke during the last 60 miles and we had to limp along at 10-20 mph. Suddenly having that six hours was down to an hour or an hour and a half.” Hamilton and Hodge credit George Peters and team, who built the car and set up pitting and logistics for the race, for helping the two overcome mechanical issues and broken car parts to get to La Paz within the 48-hour time limit. “The ultimate part of the whole thing is when we made it across the finish in time, with our front-end strapped on,” said Hamilton. “It’s an amazing thing,” said Hamilton. “It’s going to be hard to not want to subject myself to it again. It will never be like the first kiss. I have always been interested in off-road but never had the opportunity. Paul and I are conspiring about what more fun we can get ourselves into. The Baja 1000 is one of the top 10 highlights of my career. I am so thankful that I was able to do it.” SJ

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