Racers don´t run Baja for the parsimonious prize money or limited television exposure. The vast majority of entrants compete strictly for fun. It´s hard on both the body and the pocketbook. But in the car-guy universe, no event scores more points for unadulterated machismo than the Baja 1000. Celebrities who have competed in it include prototypical stud Steve McQueen and borderline-certifiable rocker Ted Nugent. Its highest-profile champion, Ivan Stewart, is known as "Ironman."
Pflueger, 39, fits the big-time Baja-racer profile: wealthy, adventurous and supercompetitive. He ran his first Baja–on a motorcycle–in 2000 and, like many before him, was immediately hooked. "Baja is the biggest playground you can imagine," he says. "Where else can you go 1,000 miles with your foot to the floor and not see the same corner twice?" He quickly graduated to four wheels and, after some seasoning, moved up to Trophy-Trucks. These are the largest, fastest and most expensive vehicles on the scene. They´re built around tube-frame chassis clothed in bodywork based very loosely on everyday pickup trucks. The engines, generally huge American V8s, sit behind the driver to optimize weight distribution and improve traction. Their suspensions can absorb up to two feet worth of bumps at the front and three at the rear. Most run on 39-inch tires mounted on wheels that weigh upward of 140 pounds apiece. GPS navigation, live data acquisition and real-time telemetry are standard. "Driving them is the biggest adrenaline rush I've ever found," Pflueger says.
A good used truck goes for about $250,000, and a top team might spend $750,000 on a potential race-winner. Money wasn't an issue for Pflueger–he owns several car dealerships and real-estate developments in Hawaii–and he's already invested in the Trophy-Truck he used to win the Baja 500 in 2004. But he wanted something better. And that meant looking outside the insular world of off-road racing.
Virtues of Independence
Trophy-Truck racing isn't for the dilettante. Even for this low-key test south of Vegas, Pflueger Racing has shown up with a big rig, an RV-like fifth-wheel trailer, half a dozen pickup trucks, and a chase helicopter to shoot aerial footage of each run, not to mention two dozen engineers, mechanics and support personnel. "We're here to try to break the new truck–literally," Pflueger says. Which means the man on the hot seat is the truck's designer, Trevor Harris, whose imprimatur can be found on virtually every component of the vehicle.
Harris is tall and lanky, with a slight limp that's a legacy of childhood polio. At 68, despite Type 1 diabetes, which requires him to wear an insulin pump, he seems unaffected by the 100-plus-degree heat, and nothing fazes him. When team manager John Hoffman returns from the first test run complaining that the truck was so squirrelly it scared him to death, Harris remains imperturbably upbeat. "At least it's still running!" he says with a wide smile.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.