King stays on winning course at SCORE, Baja 500

The much celebrated SCORE, Baja 500 has a long and colorful history. The course wanders back and forth across northern Baja Mexico giving each participant a little taste of everything that the peninsula has to offer. From the start in metropolitan Ensenada, across dry lake beds, through canyons, over mountains and along the coast the challenges and sights are never disappointing. Some sections have been raced on for years and yet, there is always an uneasy feeling in the minds of the racers who are familiar with the un-expected character of Baja. This year’s race was dominated by the un-expected when the final results were turned upside down after penalties were handed down for speeding on the highway and what SCORE refers to as “course deviations”. The racers who stayed on course and followed the rules were rewarded with victories.

The Trophy Truck results after time penalties were assessed put King driver’s Rick Johnson in first and Nick Vanderwey in second.  “I’m speechless”, commented Rick Johnson. “We got caught up in the bottleneck off the start and didn’t hit clean air until mile 180. I hate to win like this but we stayed on course and that was the difference. There was a lot of discussion after San Felipe about short cutting and at this race SCORE gave us a pretty clear warning to stay on course. We had a flawless race without a single flat and the King Shocks worked perfectly. We couldn’t believe that the rest of those guys were so far ahead at the finish.”  The Second place team of Nick Vanderwey, Curt Leduc and Mike Vanderwey finished behind Johnson on course without incurring any time penalties, one of only six drivers in the top two classes to do so. According to John Vanderwey they had similar feelings to Rick Johnson stating “we had no flats and aside from being slowed up for about 5 minutes at the start, we had a flawless day.”

One of the best drives of the race was put forth by King driver’s Harley Letner and Kory Halopoff. They managed to cover the class 1 field outright without a single penalty minute and take the overall 4 wheel vehicle honors away from the Trophy Truck drivers too.  “Kory started the race and called in at mile 70 reporting a problem with the brakes”, said Harley Letner, “When I got in the car, I asked if we should fix the brakes but Kory just said “you’ll get used to it” so I hopped in and took off”.  At mile 390 the crew told Letner he was tied with another car and to pick up the pace. He went all out for the remainder of the race overtaking the other car on time and putting the team up by three minutes. “This is our first class one win in the SCORE series and to take the overall too is pretty awesome”, said Letner

Mikey Lawrence has the Lawrence Equipment class 10 car dialed in. “This race marks two wins in a row for our team”, said Mikey. “We started 5th and just ran our own race. We fueled the car twice. It got a little hot after we came over the summit. There was a lot of silt but any of the rough stuff was handled by our King shocks. We had an awesome race”.

Driver Kevin Carr has been on a roll in class 5 winning three races in a row on King shocks. He hit a few snags, stalling the car and getting stuck in a ditch but the dedicated Baja fans jumped in both times to get him back on track to take the win.

An impressive win went to Joe Bacal in the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Stock Full, Lexus. Joe is a former Toyota test driver and cancer survivor. He drove a conservative pace since he did not get a chance to prerun the course. The Geiser built Lexus runs a King bolt on OEM upgrade kit in front consisting of a single 2.5 inch coil over. They ran the truck with very little test time and just a simple pre-load adjustment and the standard valving. The Lexus was built to stone stock rules which meant they would have a tough time competing against others in their class who are running longer, 4 inch diameter shocks through the floor of the bed. “The King’s were impressive considering the 6000 lb. weight of this truck” said Bacal, “We were a little un-prepared for the speeds we ended up running. We still need to go up on the spring rates and the damping to handle the biggest bumps at speed. The stock kit was amazing”, said Bacal. The team was heavily scrutinized by some fellow competitors before the race who made some cup holder and soccer mom jokes about the stock looking Lexus.  Additional speed in the roughest sections does not bode well for the competition.

Dan Chamlee was still buzzing about his Baja 500 victory in class 7 two weeks after the race.  It was the first time out with his brand new truck he built in his two car garage. Dan runs a 6 tube, 4 inch, King Kong bypass and a 2.5 inch coil over on each corner of the truck. The King Kongs allow him to run the BFG 37 inch tall tire that the Trophy Trucks run. “We were flat footed the whole way and the King’s took everything we threw at them” said Dan. “After the start we lost a belt and had about two hours down time. When we got back on course we were hitting speeds between 70-80 miles per hour trying to catch the leaders.  We passed the leader and held that pace, we were gone. We attended two of King’s weekly tuning sessions before the race where we got the shocks dialed in. We also installed a King OEM kit on our Super Duty chase truck and put Kings on our prerunner. We have Kings on everything”.

Congratulations are also in order for Score Lite driver Brent Parkhouse for his victory and the Skilton family who won both classes they entered. Darren and Clive won class 3 and Gavin came out on top in Stock Mini.

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