Gordon, Mears, Gaughan among Baja 1000 racers with NASCAR experience

The legendary SCORE International Baja 1000 is set to kick off its fifty-fourth running on Thursday, 18 November, with 302 entries. Among those in the grid are a quintet who is also familiar with the art of turning left. While NASCAR and off-road typically do not go hand in hand, four drivers have won races in both disciplines while another is a full-time competitor in the former.

The #77 SPEED Energy trophy truck features a pair of NASCAR veterans in Robby Gordon and Casey Mears, both of whom have proceeded on very similar career paths. Gordon is a three-time Cup Series race winner while Mears has one victory, and both raced against each other at the top level on a weekly basis in the 2000s. The two also have experience in open-wheel and sports cars.

Of course, Gordon and Mears’ current activities are more within the off-road realm. Gordon is a three-time winner of the Baja 1000 (1989, 1990, 2006) while Mears’ father Roger was recently enshrined into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame; an encounter between the two at the induction ceremony led to Gordon inviting Mears to his team. Mears has also competed in Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks, making fourteen starts from 2017 to 2019. Perhaps fittingly, Gordon and Mears finished 1–2 in the 2019 SST Mid-Ohio NASCAR Race 1.

“It’s good to have [Casey and Roger Mears] on the team this year,” said Gordon in an interview with SCORE“Obviously, Casey’s been a fellow competitor at the NASCAR and in Mickey Thompson (Entertainment Group, the spiritual predecessor to SST) and in IndyCar stuff, so he’s another one that has a lot of experience.”

In the 2020 Baja 1000, Gordon finished thirteenth overall and seventh in the Trophy Truck class. Mears’ maiden 1000 start came in 2019 where he finished twenty-eighth overall and twelfth in Trophy Truck. Their truck will begin with Gordon behind the wheel as he starts twelfth.

Like Mears, Riley Herbst hails from a family rich in off-road tradition. The family-run Terrible Herbst Motorsports is one of the top teams in the SCORE Trophy Truck Series, though Herbst breaks away from his relatives by committing to a stock car career. Herbst, who mainly grew up doing a blend of short track oval racing and short course off-road, currently competes full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for Stewart-Haas Racing. The 2021 season, his first with SHR, saw him score thirteen top tens, five top fives, a best race finish of third, and an eleventh-place points placement. He will return to SHR’s #98 for 2022, which will be his third full campaign in NASCAR’s second tier.

Herbst will join cousins Pierce and Thor in the #264 Trophy Truck Spec with sponsorship from family gas station Terrible Herbst and Monster Energy; the latter also sponsors Riley’s NASCAR vehicles. The trio made their Baja 1000 début together in 2020, where they finished ninth overall and second in the Trophy Truck Spec class. Their fathers Troy (Riley) and Tim (Pierce and Thor) are in their own truck, the #19. When the Trophy Truck Spec begins racing, the #264 piloted by Pierce will start sixteenth.

Terrible Herbst is located in Las Vegas, Nevada, which also happens to be the hometown of another longtime NASCAR face and Baja competitor. Brendan Gaughan was a short course star in the 1990s, where he raced against the likes of Gordon and future seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, before becoming a mainstay in NASCAR, having run full schedules in all three national series. He is an eight-time Camping World Truck Series race winner and twice victor in the Xfinity Series. While he never scored a Cup win, he remains involved in the series as the vice president of racing operations for Beard Motorsports, incidentally a team that fields a part-time ride for Xfinity full-timer and Vegas native Noah Gragson.

Credit: Brendan Gaughan

Although Gaughan retired from NASCAR after 2020, he has continued to scratch his racing itch in off-road. In 2019, he won the Baja 1000 Class 1. The following year, he placed sixth in class, and will continue to compete in Class 1 for 2021. Gaughan starts second in the class.

Another stock car-turned trophy truck racer is Justin Lofton. The 2009 ARCA Menards Series champion spent the next five years competing in the Truck and Xfinity Series, with a full-time campaign coming in the former in 2012. He finished eighth in points that season with a win at Charlotte, coincidentally the same track where Mears got his lone Cup victory.

Lofton eventually transitioned to off-road, running much of the 2013 SST season and winning three races em route to a third-place points finish. Much of his desert racing résumé has come in Best In The Desert, which includes being the only driver ever to win the Mint 400 overall three times (2016, 2016, 2019). Last year, he and Mario Fuentes placed third in the Baja 1000’s Class 1. His #41 team’s trophy truck rolls off the grid in eighth.

While his NASCAR stint did not see much success, Ricky Johnson is entered in a trophy truck. A multi-time motocross and short course champion, Johnson had limited starts in the Truck Series from the inaugural season in 1995 to 1997 with a best finish of fourth at Sonoma in 1997. Johnson and Gordon have also crossed paths in SST, with Johnson making four starts in 2013 and two in 2021.

Johnson has three class wins in the Baja 1000 in 1997, 2003, and 2010. He was the fastest qualifier for the 2018 race.

Being an off-road truck league even if much of its schedule is on paved circuits, the overlap between Gordon’s SST and Baja 1000 participants is unsurprisingly high. In addition to the aforementioned, drivers who have raced in both include Gordon’s son MaxCharles DorranceBrock HegerApdaly LopezRob MacCachrenRobbie PierceChristopher Polvoorde, and Toby Price. MacCachren, the 2013 SST runner-up, even competed in the NASCAR Truck Series’ winter exhibition races prior to the début season in 1995, though he has never entered a points race.

The Baja 1000 will commence at 2 AM Pacific Time for motorcycles, while four-wheeled vehicles start their endeavours in one-minute intervals (five between classes) at 9 AM. Trophy Trucks will be the first of the four-wheelers to race. The event takes place on a 1,227-mile (1,974.66 km) course beginning at the SCORE Compound near the Ensenada Marina and running to the Fidepaz Marina in La Paz.

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