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‘Landshark' feasts on Baja 500 field

June 04, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

ENSENADA — The throng of off-road racing fans lined up along Avenida Ruiz roared its approval, twirled T-shirts and jumped up and down with excitement when the Herbst family's Class 1 truggy — dubbed the "Landshark" for its distinctive paint job — finished the 34th Tecate SCORE Baja 500.

"That's the first four-wheel!" a spectator yelled above the rumble of the shark's Ford motor.

The "truggy," driven by Troy Herbst of Las Vegas and Larry Roeseler of Hesperia, clocked a time of 10:24:58, averaging 45.47 mph to win the four-wheel vehicle title.

That a "landshark" won the title was appropriate, according to Imperial Valley racers who finished in its wake.

Class 7 racer Rick Taylor of Brawley and the Brawley-based father-son team of class 1 racers Larry and Miles Wyatt said the 479-mile Baja 500 course was wetter and wilder than usual because Mexican farmers flooded portions of the course before the race. Larry Wyatt said the flooded sections slowed him considerably since he tries to tread cautiously through the muck to avoid shorting out his buggy's electrical system.


Taylor said his truck was running fine before "we hit a mud hole with about a foot of water in it." Shortly after mud-bogging, Taylor's motor conked out.

At Sunday's awards ceremony, SCORE International president Sal Fish apologized to this year's racers for the muddy course. He called the actions of the farmers "pretty crummy, to put it bluntly."

Fish vowed to work closely with Ensenada officials next year to stop "certain farmers" from setting watery booby traps.

After Fish is done working on that, he might want to look into reining in rampaging trophy trucks, according to the Wyatts.

The elder Wyatt, Larry, said he was running ninth in his Class 1 buggy when a trophy truck driven by a guy named Riviera slammed into his muffler. Wyatt said the truck was all over the place as Riviera tried to make up time after an early crash.

Later, after Wyatt's 17-year-old son, Miles, had taken over the driving duties, the buggy's intake manifold broke.

The Wyatts were finished for the day with only 60 miles to go, Miles said.

"It's a sad deal," Larry Wyatt said just before he and Miles headed off to the awards ceremony.

While Miles shared in the familial disappointment, he said he's eager to get back out there again. Dad is too, even though this race was a tough one.

During the 260 miles that Larry Wyatt sat behind the wheel, the battery in the front end of the buggy kept getting loose, which forced Wyatt to shortwire the car to get it going whenever it died. Those misadventures dropped him back to 32nd place or so, he remembers.

Then, in the technical and tight parts of the course, where his buggy's small size and light frame helped him, Wyatt blew past more than 20 racers and climbed the leader board to ninth.

During that stretch of the course, when it winds through pine trees and along perilous cliffs, Wyatt said, "You can't take your eyes off the road for a second. You're constantly sawing the steering wheel back and forth."

Those who did take their eyes off the road ended up in the canyons.

"Something like 60 cars went in and 15 came out," Wyatt said.

Hearing of that comment, Taylor said, "I believe it."

On the first 40 miles or so Taylor saw dozens of buggies upside down or crashed off to the side of the track.

"If you're driving over your head you end up off the course," he said.

Taylor said the course is so tight in some stretches that, "If you're a foot off it's a 45 to 60 drop off and you're stuck until someone pulls you out."

Fish said no one died in any of the accidents but a handful of racers were sent to Ensenada clinics for treatment of injuries and one racer was airlifted to San Diego, where he was in stable condition as of Sunday.

Taylor said he got in a particularly wicked crash just after leaving Ojos Negros, a little farming town about 30 kilometers east of Ensenada.

"I went left to pass a buggy and I caught my rear tire on his rear tire," Taylor said.

After his truck flipped onto its roof, race fans tried to push it right side up. Eventually a local guy used a tow rope and his truck to get Taylor's truck flipped.

"I checked the oil and took off," Taylor said.

He only lost 10 minutes to the accident.

Later, around the 100-mile marker, Taylor's truck went belly up after a rude encounter with a boulder and the aforementioned trip through that mud hole.

One of the only Imperial Valley-based four-wheel racers to finish the race was Francisco Fernandez of Calexico. He brought in his class 9 buggy (short wheel-base, single or two-seater) in 19 hours, 7 minutes. The time limit for the course was 20 hours.

Among the notable local racers who didn't finish was Joe Hager of El Centro in his class 5 bug. Mexicali's Gustavo Vildosola Sr. was unable to finish the race with his trophy truck.

SCORE spokesman Dominic Clark said of the 258 entries, 132 finished.

Two local racers who had planned on going to the race, Bob Lofton of Westmorland and Josh Waddell of Holtville, canceled their trips at the last minute.

They both said Monday they're focusing on the Nevada 1000 on June 12-15.

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

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