Reno, NV – BJ Baldwin and relief driver TJ Flores fought hard to overcome several setbacks they encountered to finish fourth at the HDRA Eldorado Reno 500. BJ had enlisted the help of TJ Flores to handle some of the driving chores in the grueling 500 mile race. Normally BJ doesn’t use a relief driver but he is still healing after a hand injury that required a rod and a splint on his finger. With that finger sticking straight out, there is a chance it could get caught on the steering wheel doing even worse damage to the finger.
BJ had to do what he could for the team; he drove his truck during qualifying. He must have released every bit of his pent up energy. He went out and torched the field; taking the number one qualifying spot. He would take off in the lead on race day and drive the initial 18 miles before handing the Monster Energy / Toyo Tires / Rigid Industries Trophy Truck over to TJ.
At just mile four, BJ took the first hit from the incredibly rocky Reno 500 course. A large rock kicked up by the aggressive tread on his Toyo tires clipped the rear brake line causing a total loss of rear brake control. “The front brakes only provide 20% of our braking,” said BJ, “The rear brakes are used to set up for corners and to help the truck rotate. Without them it severely diminishes the ability to throw the truck around in the corners.”
BJ did not stop; plans were to go 18 miles to the main pit where TJ would jump in. He held onto the lead until the crew could make repairs during the drivers change. As the team got it fixed, several trucks went past. With TJ behind the wheel, the chase was on. “The dust will hang in the valleys on the race course so you have a narrow opportunity to pass other cars,” says BJ, “The best chance you have is when you hit a clear spot, usually at the crests of the larger hills. TJ was taking some chances trying to make up time. He hit a rock in the dust about the size of a Ford Fiesta. He got a flat tire and then developed a power steering issue. There was plenty of fluid but the pressure would come and go.”
TJ maintained a pace that was as fast as the truck would allow and soldiered on. “Picking TJ I knew if we had a good truck and no problems he could win this thing; he could definitely get a podium,” says BJ, “I also knew, which was more important, that if we had a rough day with lots of mechanical problems, like we did, he would get a decent finish out of it. There are lots of guys out there that when problems happen it hurts them mentally. Tj is unaffected by that. He’s a real soldier and he gets it to the finish line. I have to give credit to Larry Roeseler, he lead most of the day and ended up winning it. Congratulations to those guys, they are Monster Energy guys too.
The rocks on the course were absolutely shredding everyone’s tires but TJ kept his focus, picked up a few more spots and finished in fourth place. The team’s hard work gained precious points that will be needed as they head towards the end of the season. “We got the brake line fixed and headed back out,” said TJ, “We chased down Grove and we were seventh on the road. I clipped a rock in the dust and knocked the tire off. We just battled the rest of the day and kept moving forward ending up fourth. I liked the course, it’s a real technical course not a gimme course at all; it’s a smart drivers course. It was a great truck to drive, it’s similar to mine but it has much more steering angle. That really helped in some of the tight switchbacks out there. I’d like to thank BJ for giving me this opportunity.”
TJ will be back in his truck at Vegas to Reno chasing a championship in BITD and BJ should be all healed up in time for the HDRA Moapa Big Horn 300 Sept. 27-29 and then the SCORE Baja 1000 Nov. 14-17 where he will be defending his race win last year in the 1000 and his Trophy Truck drivers’ championship in the #1 SCORE Trophy Truck.
Photography By: Brian Binkert