In this week's feature story, "Dirt Devil," we chronicle the world of off-road racing and local driver "Pistol" Pete Sohren. As mentioned in the story, one of Sohren's big influences was local racing legend Larry Ragland, who won the Baja 1000 five times during the 1990s.
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Cave Creek resident Ragland, who says he ran his last race last year, was on a boat cruise around South America last month, but we recently caught up with him and got his take on Sohren and off-road racing.
One of the reasons Pete Sohren stands out in the sport, Ragland says, is because he lacks a big budget, "Pete does have to do a lot of his own work on the trucks, and that's difficult," Ragland says.
But beyond the budget obstacles, Ragland says the biggest challenge in off-road racing is discipline. "In a long distance race, you have to be very calculating. Drivers need to be disciplined to run fast but smart," he says. "You can't drive hard for 12 straight hours. These vehicles can all go fast, but we can break them. We have to take care of the equipment, keep track of things, and maintain the pace. You can only risk so much at the start of the race."
One of the big challenges is keeping vehicles running during races. "It's so difficult to finish races because of mechanical problems," he says. "I used to tell guys, 'Give me a car that won't break down, and I'll run the race for you.' I really have to credit the crew and the guys who do the prep on the trucks, because they have the most difficult job."
But after more than 30 years in racing (including driving for General Motors for 15 years), Ragland says he's pretty much retired now. "I'll do it for fun now, but not take it so seriously," he says. "I've done it a long time, and it's hard to get away from it, but I'd like to go on and do other things."
One thing Ragland's doing now is supporting the racing ambitions of his son, Chad Ragland. Chad races trophy trucks for Baldwin Motorsports, the team led by Las Vegas casino executive Bobby Baldwin.
Chad says he doesn't think he'll be competing in the upcoming San Felipe 250, but echoes his father's tenets about good off-road racing: "It's really easy for us to overdrive and pedal-down in this sport," he says."But at the end of the day, the guys who win are the guys who drive smart and are disciplined."