Whatever it takes…
“My center is giving way, my right is pushed back, and my left is wavering. The situation is excellent. I shall attack!” Marshal Ferdinand Foch
At the onset of battle, the confidence a team possesses is a direct product of the training, preparedness, and leadership that have brought them to the day at hand. Without the training to break down a team’s very essence then rebuild them in the form needed to be victorious they would not have the physical aptitude to complete the task. Without the preparedness, the organization, they would not have the proper tools to do the job before them. Without the leadership they would not have the direction needed to see victory at the far side of the battlefield. These qualities of a team come together in the form of the confidence needed to know, not to think, they will be emerge on the other side as victors.
Anyone who has spent any time around the Mills Motorsports team would be lying if they said that this team doesn’t display all of the above qualities. Their training is excellent and ongoing, their preparedness and organization should be written out as a guide for any team with plans on Baja, and their leadership is simply second to none. These things all combine to make a confident and highly efficient team capable of winning at any level in desert racing, and it was with these qualities that Mills Motorsports departed the U.S. to do battle on the sands of Baja.
Mills Motorsports has been on the fast track building their team since 2012. What started out with one little Baja Lite truck racing the 6100 class in Best In The Desert has become one of the most formidable teams in off-road campaigning not only in Class 8, but also in the hyper competitive Trophy Truck Spec class. Coming into this year’s SCORE Baja 1000 Mills Motorsports held a 54 point lead in TT Spec and trailed by just one point in Class 8. What better way to prove the team’s mettle than to chase the dreams of not one, but two SCORE Championships while racing the toughest version of the Baja 1000; the 1275 mile point to point battle from Ensenada to La Paz..
Now, I could easily do the typical play-by-play run down on the race in Baja and it would be mildly interesting, but that’s not the real story here. Anyone can look up the results of the race to see who placed where after the dust settled in La Paz, so what’s the point? The story here is so much better than who finished top three. Fact of the matter is, who cares where they finished, the story is how they came to finish at all. The Baja 1000 is a race for the love of the race. There is no money to be won, it’s extremely dangerous, and requires weeks and months of time and man-hours to be competitive. The point of the race has infinitely less to do with the competition with other cars and drivers than with a team’s ability to compete with the course and possess the perseverance needed to achieve success.
Every time I’ve been to a race in Baja there comes a time when the race has actually started for the team. I know you are probably thinking that it’s obvious that the start of the race is when the green flag drops in Ensenada, but hear me out. The moment that the race actually starts isn’t when the truck lurches of the line and is hurled toward the unknown. The race for almost everyone happens when all of the planning, logistics, and organization that a team brought into the race gets thrown right out the window by that unfortunate chain of events that causes the wheels to fall off (sometimes literally) the best laid plans. If you’ve raced Baja you know that moment well. It’s the moment that the truck gets two flats at the same time. It’s the moment that the transmission fails. It’s the moment that your lights don’t work. It’s that one moment when all of your planning gets set ablaze by an unforeseen failure. That’s when you actually start racing in Baja. That moment for Mills Motorsports was at race mile 103 of 1275 at this year’s SCORE Baja 1000. A victory in Baja never comes easy, but for the Mills team tragedy struck before they had even reached the first checkpoint.
Veteran Baja racer, Daren Skilton had been slated to start the first leg of the race in the Mills Motorsports #841 TT Spec and left the line around 1:30pm. Having prerun his section numerous times in the week prior to the race, Skilton knew both the truck and the course intimately. With a great driver behind the wheel and an impeccably prepped truck the team’s confidence was soaring and victory appeared imminent. That is until Mills #841 collided with a competitor barely 100 miles into a 1275 mile race. Co-driver Josh Nelson recalls running somewhere around 100 mph on a section they knew well when suddenly another truck was nearly stopped in the middle of the course in front of them. With no time to react the blue Brenthal Industries truck of the Mills team barreled into the other vehicle sending both trucks cartwheeling end over end ultimately coming to rest adjacent to one another and both up side down. Skilton was unconscious and Nelson had the wind knocked out of him but was able to reach over to hit the kill switch on the truck to save the engine. While both driver and co-driver escaped serious injury, driver Daren Skilton was taken to a local hospital with a concussion. Co-driver Josh Nelson was left to assess the damage to the truck. Initially Nelson was in disbelief seeing parts of the truck scattered all over the sand that never should have come lose. There was a starter, an alternator, drive shafts, you name it and it was lying in the Baja dirt. Had the impact been so sever that the starter was actually torn from the bell housing!? Nelson was soon relieved to find that in his initial disoriented state after the crash that the parts he was mistaking for vital pieces of the truck were actually just spares that had been attached to the rear of the truck in case of a failure.
The damage, while not what the beaten and bruised Co-driver initially feared, was indeed severe. The force of impact had been so great that both spares ripped from their mounts and were hurled into the desert, the front wheel was broken in half, and the entire front corner of the truck was sheared right off the chassis. Surely the dreams of a championship in Baja had been dashed. It seemed the race and perhaps the championship had been determined with one unfortunate mishap.
For many teams in Baja the fact that the front of the truck was missing would be the swan song for their race, but not Mills Motorsports. Crew chief Mike Kerr had planned ahead to be able to make any repair necessary or even completely rebuild the truck in the case of just such a mishap. As a result Kerr had every part conceivable loaded on a chase truck. Once on scene, an assessment by crewman Ben Myers determined that with the right parts the truck could be repaired and the right parts were on one of the chase trucks. Unfortunately the chase vehicle with the parts was in San Vincente, a four-hour drive away. This presented another problem all together. Provided all the parts needed to repair the twisted truck were on the chase vehicle, the amount of time required to get the parts on scene and then fix the truck would put the team behind the allotted time to reach the first check point, just 30 miles away. A decision needed to be made. The team was confident that it could repair the damage, but would the effort be for naught if they missed the checkpoint? Team leader Kent Kroeker, also hours away, called the only person who could give a definitive answer on the ruling… SCORE International’s Roger Norman. Norman assured Kroeker that as long as the race truck reached the finish in La Paz before the 49 hour time limit that Mills Motorsports would receive the finishing points needed to claim their championship in Trophy Truck Spec. The crew dug deep and went to work. The battle would wage on!
A scant few hours later what, initially, appeared impossible had been achieved. The little blue race truck stormed from the site of the horrific crash into the night determined for La Paz.
By daybreak, with Kroeker at the wheel, the truck was eating up Baja real estate but was also in need of a new transmission in order to complete the trip down the peninsula. At race mile 472, near El Crucero, the crew in all its might had convened to await the arrival of the race truck. As the truck pulled into the pit and onto the trailer, the crew snapped into motion with the efficacy of a well-trained military unit. After the carnage of the night before, a transmission swap seemed a walk in the park for the small team and in fact it was. This team trains both mentally and physically, year round for just this kind of scenario and they were eager to put the training to use.
Once back on course, Kroeker soon handed the truck off to driver of record Taylor Mills who had been frothing like a caged bull to finish what the team had set out to do nearly 36 hours earlier, which was finish the Baja 1000 and seize their right as Baja champions. With a clear course ahead and fresh drivers the impossible was becoming possible as the nearly unrecognizable race truck barreled through the desert toward victory. And what a victory it was! Mills Motorsports completed the brutal point-to-point 2014 Baja 1000 in 46 hours 29 minutes and 4 seconds, a mere 2 and a half hours shy of the time limit. Additionally, the Class 8 truck of Mills Motorsports and its drivers Mike Meeks and Alan Roach won their class and the SCORE Class 8 championship a full 13 hours prior, giving the team not one, but two championships in 2014!
Victory in Baja is not won with a rock star driver. Nor is it won with the fastest truck. No, victory in Baja is achieved by a highly dedicated, organized, and trained group of battle hardened professionals who are willing to do whatever it takes to complete their mission. It’s not about the driver. He is certainly an integral part of the formula, but he himself cannot win Baja. It’s about the team, the crewmen, the drivers, the support staff, and the leadership. When you put this formula together you are guaranteed victory, whether you cross the finish line first or not. When a group truly does whatever it takes, that group will always find success. Mills Motorsports lives and breaths this idea and it shows in every race they enter.
Congratulations to Gary Mills and the entire Mills Motorsports team for an amazing race and an amazing year!
“Victory is always possible for the person who refuses to stop fighting.” Napoleon Hill