Oh wow, looks like a LOT of fun dude.
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That's often been the challenge for Sohren. He's had numerous top five finishes, including a fourth-place finish at the 2007 Baja 1000, but he hasn't been able to nab the top spot. In the 2008 Baja 1000, his motor blew up eight miles into the race. After racing to second place midway through the Laughlin Desert Challenge this January, his truck suffered "massive engine failure." He and his crew had to completely tear down and reassemble his truck just a week before the Parker 425.
But Sohren's new tires, headlights, radiator, and oil will all have to be changed multiple times in an off-road race. The courses are long, unpredictable, and littered with spectators — and sometimes mischief-makers.
The Baja 1000, in particular, is known for booby traps set by fans. Every driver has a sordid story: people changing directions of the arrows on the course; women flashing their breasts at drivers on tricky turns; people moving pit crews' ribbons so their drivers can't find them. There's a story that one year, fans placed a telephone pole in a dip on the course and covered it with dirt so the driver wouldn't see it. He broke both of his arms in the crash.
About 25 deaths have been associated with the Baja 1000 since its inception. A 2005 documentary about off-road racing called Dust to Glory calls the Baja 1000 "the most dangerous race in the world," and Forbes magazine included it on its list of the "World's Most Dangerous Races" in 2006.
Sohren's had only one bad wreck. It happened at Phoenix International Raceway on Mother's Day 1991, at the SCORE Off-Road World Championships. He was passing other racers when his back tires came up and the front of his car took a nosedive.
"I crashed my car severely — broke the seat loose, smashed my helmet against the cage, tore off the whole front and back of the car, and went immediately to the hospital," Sohren says. "I had a severe concussion. I couldn't walk or talk very well for weeks. That was my worst crash ever, where I've been injured. We've crashed the trophy truck a few times, but nobody's ever been hurt."
But the potential for an epic wipeout is always there. "There's an element of anarchy, the whole 'Wild West' part. There are so many variables," he says. "You're making a billion calculations per race — thousands per second. Think of driving from here to Oklahoma City, but off the side of the road."
"It needs more garlic."
Two weeks before Christmas, Pete Sohren, the man who inspires expletives from his competitors and bravely hauls ass over desert brush, is wearing an apron and talking about seasonings. But he's still surrounded by burly racing trucks.
Inside a west Phoenix garage the size of a hover port, Sohren's making shrimp tacos for the annual Geiser Bros. Christmas party. His kids are playing the full-size arcade version of the video game Baja: Edge of Control. The game, created in 2008 by 2XL Games for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, features a variety of real racers' trucks for players to simulate driving, including Sohren's number two "Slime" trophy truck.
Many of the trucks in the game were made in this garage. Geiser Bros. Design & Development has built some of the most successful trucks in off-road racing for the past 25 years, including Jesse James' black West Coast Choppers truck, a silver custom Ford pre-runner built for Dallas Cowboys (and former Arizona Cardinals) guard Leonard Davis, and the trophy truck Robby Gordon drove to victory in the 2009 Baja 1000.
Rick and Jeff Geiser have known Sohren for 24 years and built some of his earliest racing vehicles. Rick Geiser considers him a good friend but doesn't gush about his overly daring racing skills.
"He puts on a good show for everybody. Is he better than anybody else? In some ways yes, in some ways no," Geiser says. "Anybody can get in a trophy truck and drive one — it's having the knowledge of when to go fast and when to not. Pete's well known for his looks and his mouth. That's what gets him what he has now. Can he drive? I won't elaborate. But he has the best truck he could be in."
Sohren's truck is a modified Ford F-150 with custom-made parts, including an eight-stack fuel injector and a dashboard crammed with six speedometers, more than 18 switches, and about 20 buttons. There's also a GPS system and a 442-cubic-inch, 700-horsepower engine.
But monster-truck muscle doesn't come cheap. "The base cost for one of these trucks is $450,000," Rick Geiser says. "And we'll spend $30,000 to $40,000 per race just to maintain them. The tires alone cost $500 each, and we'll change them an average of three times during a Baja race."
While a good racing vehicle easily costs six figures, prize money (when there is any) is only about $30,000 for first place in a Class 1 race. Some companies, like air filter manufacturers KNN and E3 Sparkplugs, sponsor races with purses up to $150,000, but they're the exceptions.
"It's a rich man's hobby," Jeff Geiser says. "There's not a lot of profit in the racing industry."
Many successful off-road racers, like BJ Baldwin, son of off-road racer and Mirage Resorts CEO Bobby Baldwin, have millions of dollars behind their racing teams, compared to Sohren's six figures.
Oh wow, looks like a LOT of fun dude.
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
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..
Pete won the Henderson 400 in 2005, i navigated that race so I know. Search that race and you will see!