Justin Jones, Justin Morgan, And Mark Samuels Dominate 50th Baja 500

Two SCORE wins in a row for SLR Honda

Justin Morgan hits the always popular jump at Borrego, about 240 miles into the race. At this point, they were physically almost 37 minutes ahead of second place.Mark Kariya

Faced with the longest (at 542 miles) and potentially the roughest, most grueling Baja 500 in history, like many teams Justin Morgan and Mark Samuels elected to augment their squad and brought in Justin Jones for the 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 500, round 2 of SCORE World Desert Championship.

From left: Max Eddy Jr., first-timer Tyler Lynn, and Shane Esposito ultimately came up almost 45 minutes short, but second place was certainly much better than the fourth they settled for at San Felipe when they ran out of fuel due to a misplaced pit location.Mark Kariya

As winner of round 1—the San Felipe 250—Morgan earned the first starting position for the 3:30 a.m. start, which certainly didn’t hurt the SLR (Slam Life Racing) Honda trio’s chances. Night air is generally damp and still, so dust (especially bad in the many silt beds on this course in Mexico’s northern Baja California peninsula) tends to hang especially long and negate the one-minute spread in start times. So Morgan and company enjoyed clean air for all 11 hours, 54 minutes, and 58 seconds they raced, beating defending series champs Max Eddy Jr., Shane Esposito, and Tyler Lynn on their Contractor Nation/Chris Haines Motorcycle Adventure Company CRF450X by almost 45 minutes, the 1X crew bringing it in after 12:29:54, having lost ground early and playing catchup the rest of the day.

The trio of Skyler Howes, Garrett Poucher, and Michel Valenzuela (who started the week off with his wife welcoming their first child and wasn’t expected to ride until he got the okay the day before) ran strong and consistently, especially in the last half where they picked up third place—their first-ever SCORE podium.Mark Kariya

That’s not to say the race was without incident for the SLR Honda trio as something apparently came apart inside the right fork leg during the last couple hundred miles, draining all its oil and making the bike feel like the front wheel might fall off if it left the ground, but they adjusted their riding accordingly, making it safely back to Ensenada to remain undefeated in SCORE this season with the final two rounds left later this year. An inspired push late in the race when they saw dust ahead netted the Skyler Howes, Garrett Poucher, and Michel Valenzuela team third place and their first SCORE podium aboard their Garrett Off-road Racing CRF450X in 13:13:15.

A big crash didn’t prevent the Tim Abshire, Ben Binkley, Kreg McCoy, Damon Myers, Scott Myers, and Brian “Spud” Walters team from riding to a commendable fourth place.Mark Kariya

Other class winners were Sergio Garza, Philip Jaramillo, Jorge Ramirez, and Arturo Salas in Pro Moto Limited (less than 400cc) with a final time of 13:56:15, Greg Bardonnex, Ryan Liebelt, Andrew Puckett, and Justin Schultz in Pro Moto 30 (13:59:44); Jeff Kawell, Jano Montoya, Alberto Ruiz, and Sergio Vegas in Pro Moto 40 (14:18:18); John Griffin, Troy Pearce, Earl Roberts, and Giovanni Spinali in Pro Moto 50 (14:36:09); Craig Adams, Doug Smith, Bob Johnson, Guy Laycraft, and Dave Potts in Pro Moto 60 (15:58:49); and Hector Cardena, Joe Leal, Oswaldo Moncada, Raul Ortega Jr., Carlos Silva, and Carlos Silva Jr. in Sportsman Motorcycle (13:20:19 for the Quad and Sportsman Motorcycle-only abbreviated course of approximately 473 miles).

Mexico’s Santiago Creel had a very hectic race day as Rider of Record on four KTM-mounted teams in three classes, plus co-driving in a Trophy Truck Spec vehicle. He and his teammates finished fifth in Pro Moto Open on 66X shown here, DNFed their other Pro Moto Open entry, claimed third in Pro Moto 30 (riders 30 and older) and second in Pro Moto Limited (bikes under 400cc).Mark Kariya
Seven months ago, SCORE celebrated the 50th Baja 1000, making for back-to-back golden anniversary races.Mark Kariya
The Sergio Garza, Philip Jaramillo, Jorge Ramirez, and Arturo Salas team came from behind to win Pro Moto Limited (for bikes under 400cc) by just under two minutes, making them the seventh bike to finish.Mark Kariya
Here’s the Santiago Creel entry that flew to a close second in Pro Moto Limited.Mark Kariya
Birthday boy Justin Schultz rolls into the finish to top the competitive Pro Moto 30 (riders over 30 years old) division, finishing ninth overall motorcycle with teammates Greg Bardonnex, Ryan Leibelt, and Andrew Puckett.Mark Kariya
Jeff Kawell hops over the Borrego jump en route to the Pro Moto 40 win with Jano Montoya, Alberto Ruiz, and Sergio Vegas. Their time of 14:18:18 put them 13th overall motorcycle.Mark Kariya
John Griffin (shown here) dodges rocks in a ride that earned him, Troy Pearce, Earl Roberts, and Giovanni Spinali the Pro Moto 50 victory and 15th overall motorcycle in 14:36:09. They also won at San Felipe.Mark Kariya
The severity of the course really tested the Pro Moto Ironmen, with Ensenada’s own Francisco Septien following his San Felipe win with first in the 500. Incredibly, his 14:29:24 was the 14th fastest overall motorcycle time, besting most of the teams.Mark Kariya
How much does Colton Udall love Baja? Despite injuries that prematurely ended his racing career, the former SCORE champ started a professional pit service no matter the brand of bike, called Champion Adventures. He developed the idea after watching the San Felipe 250 from home, saying, “I was really frustrated and envious and mad. I can’t use my body and go racing the way I want to. Helping people and doing the pit crew thing is kind of fun [and] it’s created a bit of relief for me to be a part of the racing.”Mark Kariya
Mexico’s Federal Police once again fielded a team, one of four that Chris Haines helped out. In appreciation, they provided a pre-race carne asada dinner before finishing sixth in Sportsman Motorcycle. (There’s no truth to the rumor they also provided get-out-of-jail-free cards to all.)Mark Kariya
Before you can race, you have to go through contingency and technical inspection. If your bike passes tech, your machine gets these stickers.Mark Kariya
Following the 400-plus-page coffee-table book produced after last year’s 50th Baja 1000, SCORE plans to put together a similar tome for the 500. Part of that was getting post-race professional portraits of every finisher immediately after stepping off the finish podium. Here, Jack Wright shoots the third-place team of Michel Valenzuela, Skyler Howes, and Garrett Poucher.Mark Kariya
You see the darnedest things in Baja. (But no, it didn’t pass tech.)Mark Kariya
With 321 entries and 187 finishers, SCORE spent a bunch on finisher medals and champagne. In addition to 32 US states, competitors came from 14 countries.Mark Kariya