Valley racers battle SCORE's best

January 29, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

LAUGHLIN, Nev. — Shawn McCallum of Imperial flat-footed an unlimited class 1 buggy close to 100 mph approaching a 45-degree turn.

Hitting it full bore, the buggy's rear end spun wide, throwing up a huge rooster tail of dust and rocks.

Thousands of race fans on "Freeloader Hill" roared their approval as McCallum cracked back the steering wheel, straightened the silver buggy and raced down the back side of pit row.

"He was sideways!" a spectator yelled.

When the guy blurted his comment, the sharp whining sound of the buggy's 3500cc Toyota V-6 motor filled the valley between "Freeloader Hill" and pit row.


With plumes of dust billowing in his wake and a thousand necks craning to follow his path, the 21-year-old slammed on the brakes and slid into the infield of the eighth annual SCORE Desert Challenge race course.

Speeding past rows of spectator-crammed stands marking the finish line, McCallum ran in first place. On the next two passes of the finish line of a four-lap race, McCallum ran ahead or near the front of the pack.

Larry McCallum said his son's performance was impressive because he raced a $50,000 single-seat buggy against $150,000 two-seat monsters with elaborate paint jobs and horsepower to spare.

When Shawn McCallum took over the lead on the third lap, the buggy's power-steering belt spun off.

Turning the steering wheel on an easy turn became a Herculean task, never mind the 180-degree switchbacks on the course.

The top finishers ended up passing McCallum but for his family and Imperial Valley racers, the three-lap performance was a highlight of a weekend of big time off-road racing.

The Desert Challenge is the first race of SCORE's annual series of races that includes the San Felipe 250, Baja 500 and Baja 1000.

Top racers from all over the world showed up for two days of racing in an attempt to start their seasons with some points heading into the bigger races later this year.

On Saturday, 16 classes of off-road vehicles ran four-lap races. About half the racers finished.

On Sunday, the racers started in reverse order of their Saturday finishes.

Imperial/Mexicali Valley racers competed in unlimited class 1, 1/2-1600 class, trophy truck, class 7 and pro truck races.

The "stadium-style" Desert Challenge course includes the "Laughlin Leep," switchback turns, mini-jumps and moguls, which give spectators the opportunity to cheer on their favorite desert racers up-close.

The course is at the Laughlin Events Park, right next to Casino Row.

In addition to the paying thousands in the stands, a Glamis-esque bunch crammed onto "Freeloader Hill," overlooking the race course.

After the flag came down on the Unlimited Class 1 race, McCallum watched SCORE officials crown the team of Mike and Dale Dondel as overall champions. The Hemet-based Dondel team unlimited buggy beat Troy Herbst Racing of Las Vegas by one second.

Herbst's unlimited buggy was notable. It was painted to look like a shark, complete with air intakes for gills.

Hopping into his comparatively Spartan buggy after the award presentation, McCallum drove to the pit area of Canyon Lake's Dale Ebberts.

On the fourth lap, Ebberts' buggy flipped. McCallum found out Ebberts was OK, then drove down pit row to where his dad and family were waiting.

Climbing out of the buggy, Shane McCallum said, "I led that first lap."

"Yeah you did," Larry McCallum said. "You kicked their boys' butts out there. We showed ‘em."

"I bet they got it on the videotape — that first lap," Shawn McCallum said.

He added: "They probably got me running over the boundary, too."

"Yeah, they probably got that too," his dad said wryly.

After passing the finish line in first and soaring off the "Laughlin Leep" on that first lap, McCallum cranked the wheel on a 90-degree infield corner and got his buggy caught in the orange netting marking the course. A number of racers before and after him mowed down the netting as well.

McCallum said he was just "too hot into the turn." He decided to take out the netting instead of rolling the buggy.

While he talked he did curls with imaginary weights to loosen his arm muscles.

McCallum got quite a workout when he drove that last lap and a half without power steering. The race was tough enough with power steering, he said.

"I don't know if I can say this but this is the toughest race SCORE has.

"It's go for go out there for four laps," he said.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles