This isn't a road in the sense that it has a name or can be found on a map. It's just a trail covered with boulders and potholes superimposed on an inhospitable stretch of the Mojave Desert 25 miles south of Las Vegas. You wouldn't dream of driving over it in a car. Even in a Jeep or a kick-ass 4x4, you'd crawl along in low gear, wincing at the toll it was taking on your tires, suspension and kidneys.
Alan Pflueger flies along it at 98 miles an hour. And that's not "flying" used figuratively. He's getting air under the tires of his two-and-a-half-ton truck as he vaults over crests and crashes into gullies with a giant plume of dust streaming in his wake. Pflueger's flying machine is a purpose-built racing leviathan known as a Trophy-Truck. Created to conquer the Baja 1000, the world's toughest off-road race, Trophy-Trucks cross the gnarliest terrain on the continent at speeds that can exceed 140 mph. Almost anything goes in this unlimited class, from 800-horsepower V8 engines to state-of-the-art electronics to titanium springs the size of laser-guided missiles. "Trophy-Trucks are the most complicated and sophisticated race vehicles in existence," says former Nissan Motorsports chief Frank Honsowetz, who should know; his experience encompasses Baja, the Indy 500 and Le Mans.
Pflueger's mount, in turn, is the most exotic, most advanced and, arguably, most ambitious Trophy-Truck ever built. In 2004 Pflueger hired celebrated racecar designer Trevor Harris to develop a vehicle that would use technology to tame the wilds of Baja. He was convinced that, with Harris as his secret weapon, he could follow the example of Formula One, where success is the product of perverse amounts of money and R&D. Two years and $1 million later, Pflueger is giving his baby its baptism of fire during a test session in the desert, a prelude to this month´s race. "The beauty of our sport is that there are hardly any rules to constrain you," he says, "so I'm giving [Harris] the opportunity to be really creative. I could be wrong, but I´m betting that this is the Formula One car of off-road racing."
Crazy From the Heat
The Baja 1000 is an epic orgy of speed, sleep deprivation and lunacy. Two-time winner Parnelli Jones once described it as "a 24-hour plane crash," and that´s the easy part. Besides navigating treacherous terrain at an accident-waiting-to-happen pace, competitors also have to overcome logistical conundrums, wandering livestock, traps set by devious spectators, and the occasional drunk trying to drive the course backward.
The 1,000 miles of pavement, brush, rock trail, desert and dry lake between Tijuana and La Paz was first covered as a day-and-night-long expedition by a pair of intrepid American motorcyclists in 1962, and the first Mexican 1000 Rally was staged five years later. Sixty-eight vehicles started; only 31 finished, led by a dune buggy and a dirt bike. These days, the race is called the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000. And when the 39th annual event starts in Ensenada on November 16, Pflueger's new truck should be among more than 300 entries in classes so diverse that even the competitors have trouble keeping them straight.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.