As a driver, Sohren's admittedly aggressive, and he has his share of haters. Gary Newsome, editor of the blog BajaRacingNews.com, refers to Sohren as a "mullet-kook" and says his team "is known for running down lower classes."

After the Baja 500 race in 2008, an article in Ensenada's El Vigia newspaper accused Sohren of ramming Mexican driver Arnoldo Ramirez's car from behind without warning, then pinning Ramirez to some boulders, causing extensive vehicle damage. The story also accused the "arrogant American" of hitting driver James Marquez's truck a year earlier in Baja.

"This is all bullshit," Sohren says, explaining how he lost control of his truck after it hit a boulder in that race. He claims he doesn't know anything about wrecking Marquez. And either way, this is a sport where people should expect some knocks. "When you race in our class, we get it on. We go fast. We play rough," he says. "It's a move-or-be-moved type of operation. I race turn-to-turn, and we're trying to beat everybody. We're trying to stay in front."

Sohren’s truck heads for the pit.
Sohren’s truck heads for the pit.
A truck tears through the final stretch.
A truck tears through the final stretch.

Details

Pete Sohren will compete in the San Felipe 250 race in Baja on March 12 through 14, to be webcast live on racing sites bajaracingsnews.com and rpmtvonline.com.


The small town of Parker butts up against the Colorado River in the northwest corner of Arizona. It's usually a quiet place, a quaint cove of about 3,100 people, with a small casino and a few restaurants.

But on race weekends, it's like something out of a Mad Max film.

The main pit area around the Parker 425 track stretches for several miles across the desert, a serpentine convergence of luxury and lowbrow cultures. Rickety Airstream trailers sit next to expensive tents with clear-plastic bay windows. Shiny black Cadillac Escalades purr softly beside growling, primer-gray trucks.

A small city has sprung up around the race, with people camping out for three days in huge clusters across the desert. Trailers, tents, and RVs stretch for miles, interspersed with green plastic outhouses. Billy Bob's Barbecue Shack feeds the masses from a modest red trailer. A graffiti-covered, chime-warbling ice cream truck comes through every day. The air is ripe with beer, dust, and gasoline fumes.

More than 289 vehicles are crammed onto the streets of downtown Parker on the morning of the race, forming a kaleidoscope of welded steel and fiberglass — utility yellow, burnt orange, fluorescent green, cobalt blue, Knight Rider black — adorned with colorful stickers proclaiming things like "General Tire," "Snap-On," "BF Goodrich," and "Canidae All Natural Pet Foods."

The starting line is at the traffic light on California Avenue, in front of a 20-foot-tall inflatable Goodyear tire. Pete Sohren starts third, leaving streaks of black rubber across the asphalt before turning and disappearing onto the desert track.

For Sohren, the thrill of off-road racing is the danger, the necessity to maintain control in an out-of-control environment. It's the adrenaline rush of going airborne over hills, being lifted off his seat, tossed side to side; the excitement of seeing the ground fly up to meet him.

Sohren's one of hundreds of drivers in the Parker 425 this year. Combined with the teams, sponsors, vendors, families, and fans, there are easily 10,000 people in this thriving tent city. And this is one of the smaller races. Other off-road races bring even more spectators. The sport's biggest race, the annual Baja 1000, draws as many as 250,000 people.

Off-road racing wasn't always so huge. Its roots were humble when, in 1921, a handful of men on motorbikes raced across the California desert in the first Big Bear Run. That event brought out a few hundred participants every year until it ended in 1960. In 1967, the first official Baja 1000 (then called the Mexican 1000 Rally) was held.

That first sanctioned race had 68 entrants, but once the sport swept up celebrities like actors Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Paul Newman, its popularity grew. The celebrity infatuation with off-road racing continues today: West Coast Choppers CEO and reality TV star Jesse James, Grey's Anatomy actor Patrick Dempsey, and Micron Technology CEO Steve Appleton all race off-road vehicles.

Notable NASCAR drivers have also gotten in on the action, including Roger Mears, Jimmie Johnson, and Robby Gordon, who won the Baja 1000 last year.

Pete Sohren's just an average guy, running around his garage in green flannel shorts and tan Converse shoes, listening to Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. But when he races in Baja, he's a celebrity. "Trophy-truck drivers are like rock stars in Mexico," he says. "I'm like Bon Jovi when I go down there."

Long relegated to niche cable stations like Vs. and Speed, off-road racing events now receive television coverage from ESPN and the Discovery Channel. NBC has started broadcasting races in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series.

Television producer John Langley, best known for inventing the long-running reality show Cops, spent several months in the deserts of the Southwest, filming off-road racers and events for an upcoming show called Road Warriors. One of the drivers he followed and filmed was Sohren.

"He's a character," Langley says. "Everybody knows Pete and his mullet. He's on a shoestring budget, so he's typical of the aspirations of a racer. He'll use glue sticks, paper clips, gum — whatever it takes to stay in the race. Pete's a good driver. He can win, if he keeps his car running."

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4 comments
Tim
Tim

Pete and his crew are some of the best people i have ever had the pleasure of meeting. and off-road racing has alotted me a wonderful hobby and exciting times to share with my family and friends. congrats on the article Pete see you out in the desert

Richard Cranium
Richard Cranium

Good article! A few error's but any press is good press for Off-Road Racing. Just so you know Mike Overcast is no friend of Off-Road Racing..

JGunn
JGunn

Pete won the Henderson 400 in 2005, i navigated that race so I know. Search that race and you will see!

 
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