The 2019 El Rey de Las Bajas

Photos and Words by Alan Johnson

The first ever Ultra4 Racing El Rey de Las Bajas was a huge success with Paul Horschel taking home the first ever crown in Mexico. Set in beautiful San Felipe, Mexico, the race featured multiple laps of a 22-mile course and featured everything from whoops to legitimate rocks to hill climbs to desert washes. This is race #2 in the Lasernut Western Series with points counting towards the Nitto National Championship. The weekend started with a registration party on the Malecon as racers lined up in the streets and the city welcomed the teams with true hospitality and warmth. For many teams, this was their first trip to Baja.

As an added bonus to being one of the "Bandidos Orginales", Dave Cole announced that EVERY driver of EVERY class who finished the race would be King of the Hammer eligible in 2020, regardless of class. The stakes were high to not only be the first winner in Baja for Ultra4, but also to secure KOH qualification so early in the year.

Qualifying

Qualifying consisted of a fast lap around an abbreviated 1.2-mile loop. Race day would be split into a morning race (featuring the Can-Am 4900 UTV Class and the Spidertrax 4600 Stock Class) and an afternoon race (featuring the Branik Motorsports 4800 Legends class, Yukon Gear and Axle 4500 Modified class, and the 4400 Unlimited class). Qualifying was done by class. Racers would be racing within their class for finishing position but starting order would be wide open in both the morning and afternoon races based on fastest time. Clear air is a premium and you have to earn it.

The KMC Hard Charger award is given to the driver in each class that earns Pole Position. Drivers pushed all-out in a race against the clock. As the dust settled, Bailey Campbell had beaten her Dad (Shannon Campbell), her brother (Wayland Campbell), and her fiancé (Bryan Crofts) to take the pole in the 4400 class as the fastest car overall. This was Bailey's 2nd pole in Ultra4 history, a pole won in an extremely challenging field of top drivers. The 4800 Class KMC Hard Charger was won by another Bailey: Bailey Cole. Experienced desert driver Dan Fresh took the pole position in the 4500 class. The first driver to take the green flag on Saturday morning would be Scott Lasage leading the 4900 UTV teams, and Josh Atteberry won the pole for the 4600 class.

Morning Race

Race day broke bright and clear with enough breeze to keep the dust from settling in the canyons and to keep the driver's cool on Saturday. Action started at 8 AM as the UTV's ripped out into desert, followed closely by the 4600 Stock class. The UTV race was 66 miles while the Stock class did 2 laps at 44 miles. While not quite Class 11 status, running the harsh desert in a stock class vehicle on 35" tires, 14" of shock travel, and one shock per corner made for a long morning for some teams.

Taking the first checkered flag ever in Baja for Ultra4 was Josh Atteberry in a pole to pole victory in the 4693 Grand Cherokee, followed closely by Dawson Allington in the 4695. Rounding out the podium was Albert Contreras in the 4605. All vehicles in the stock class finished the race and are now KOH eligible. It's going to be an interesting KOH 2020 for sure.

The UTV class ate up the desert and laid down the miles through the rocks as well. Perfectly suited for the terrain, the UTV race was tight all morning. The hard San Felipe desert was brutal on parts and the front of the pack soon pulled away from the field heading into the final lap. Dynamic Chayse Caprara held off all challengers to win the 4900 class, becoming the first UTV Ultra4 winner in Baja. Trey McKinley and Casey Scherer dueled it out for 2nd and 3rd, with Trey coming out on top and Casey taking the final spot on the podium. As soon as they crossed the line, Casey's co-driver Tom Liu hopped out of the car, grabbed a snack, and suited up for the afternoon race.

Afternoon Race

The crowd gathered on the rim of the sand pit, which held the start / finish as the afternoon race kicked off in a cloud of dust and screams of horsepower. The sounds of Bailey Campbell, Paul Horschel, Loren Healy, and Bryan Crofts echoed off the walls as cars tore off the line every 30 seconds. El Rey de Las Bajas was officially underway. The Unlimited 4400 cars would be completing 5 laps (110 miles of the best San Felipe had to offer), with 4800 and 4500 cars completing 4 laps (88 miles) each. Finishing order would be on adjusted time based on start, but Race Director JT Taylor had a few twists thrown in for the teams. The teams had a joker round to decide when they would take the rocks vs the desert bypass. They had to do the rocks at least twice, but they could choose on which laps to do them. Do you take advantage of desert speed and hope the rocks were clear late in the day? Or do you run the rocks early and then try to outrun the survivors in the dust later? Team strategy played a role in the final outcome.

Dan Fresh laid down a flag to flag victory in the 4500 class, knocking out 88 miles in just 3 hours and 20 minutes (including two rock laps). Dan's time was over 15 minutes faster than 2nd place, Shawn Rants, as both Shawn and Dan compete for National Championship points. Kevin Sterns overcame fuel pressure issues to take the 3rd spot on the podium. All Modified cars completed the race and are KOH 2020 eligible.

Bailey Cole ran away with the field most of the day, even overcoming an alternator issue early in the race, only to give up the lead to Jeremy Jones in another Trent Fab machine late in the race with too little time to get back out front. Jeremy took the top spot on the podium followed by Bailey, and David Hartman claimed 3rd in a Jimmy's 4x4 machine. Legends class cars were fast and competitive all day long with the 2nd largest field in the race.


Bailey Campbell, for at the least the first 4 laps, ran away with the race. With clean air and no lap traffic, Bailey raced a fast and clean race that got the most out of her Campbell Enterprises chassis. Heavy weights like 2-time King Loren Healy and 3-time King Shannon Campbell were going in typical wreckers or checkers fashion to win the first El Rey de Las Bajas race. Marcos Gomez and the entire Gomez Brothers team of race cars were in the zone and on Bailey's heels all afternoon. All the while, Paul Horschel was sticking to his race strategy of rocks / rocks / desert / desert and putting every single one of his 800 horses to work.

Paul passed Bailey on the 5th lap to take the lead while Bailey was working her way through the rocks. Loren Healy also power to the front and was mere seconds behind Horschel. While typically incredibly accurate on fuel mileage, his miscalculation on how much gas the San Felipe desert would take left Loren out of fuel 2 miles from the checkered flag. Paul Horschel roared across the line after 110 miles, followed closely by Shannon Campbell, and Bailey Campbell, rounding out the podium.

Closing Ceremonies

After the dust had settled, it was time for trophies and fajitas as teams swapped stories, laughed, and watched fireworks over the Sea of Cortez late into the night. Municipal President Gustavo Sanchez and the entire COTUCO team helped ensure that drivers and teams had a safe and pleasant experience getting to San Felipe. Racers and teams were thrilled with the experience and Ultra4 looks forward to many future events in Baja and the San Felipe area. Congratulations to Paul Horschel for becoming the very first El Rey de Las Bajas!

Be sure to check out full race results HERE and additional Ultra4 Racing coverage on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Special thanks to the Ultra4 team, the volunteers, and the local organizations for the hard work and effort who made the event safe, successful, challenging, and fun.