Toyota Returns to Desert Racing with BJ Baldwin Sponsorship
Toyota returns to off-road desert racing with its multi-year sponsorship of Trophy Truck Driver BJ Baldwin
A little over a week ago, we broke the news of Toyota’s multi-year sponsorship of Trophy Truck racer BJ Baldwin. At the beginning of June, Baldwin will start the SCORE Baja 500 with his new sponsor’s support, and it will be the first time in 16 years Toyota has fully backed a professional driver in desert racing.
Toyota hasn’t been out of the sport for the past 16 years, as the company, along with other manufacturers, has supported off-road desert race teams in recent years. A perfect example of this is Toyota’s recent backing of the Tundra TRD Pro team that competed in the 2014 SCORE Baja 1000 and won the Stock Full class. Baldwin’s deal, however, isn’t for once race – in fact, the multi-year deal will support Baldwin’s team in the premier trick class in both the SCORE International series south of the border and the Best in the Desert series here in the U.S.
Toyota had a huge presence in off-road racing leading up to the turn of the century when it supported legend Ivan “Ironman” Stewart from 1983 to 2000. In a way, the sponsorship of Baldwin is a passing of the torch from Stewart. The move is appropriate as well considering Baldwin follows in Stewart’s footsteps in that he drives his races ironman-style in the same fashion as Stewart. Fortunately, the Ironman himself gives his blessing of the signing.
“I’m thrilled that Toyota is getting involved more in desert racing, and I don’t think they could have found a better guy to support,” Stewart said of Baldwin. “He’s a great competitor and he’s a very nice guy. I think it’s fantastic for the sport and fantastic for Toyota. For me, personally, I love to see it because I don’t really have a burning desire to race anymore, although I like to stay involved [in the sport], and they still have me doing a lot of things, so I get the perfect balance of doing what I love to do.”
Although he raced well into his 50s, Stewart, now 70 years young, still loves the sport but simply doesn’t have that drive to compete the way he once did. In encounters over the past few years, Stewart has explained to us that his love of driving hasn’t diminished so much as his motivation to train and prepare has.
“To be good at anything - football, tennis, golf, racing, whatever it might be - if you’re not passionate about it, you won’t do very well,” Stewart said. “You’ve got to be passionate about it and have that desire to do it, and I don’t have that anymore – and he does. But I do have a desire to see Toyota remain competitive, stay in the sport, and win, and they’ve got a great opportunity to do that.”
For Baldwin, who grew up off-road racing and followed Stewart tackling Baja from a very young age, it’s a dream come true.
“I don’t believe I have the extended vocabulary, nor do I think it exists, to describe what it feels like,” Baldwin said. “Just to be able to drive a Trophy Truck is a dream come true to me, and I’m part of an interconnected group of marketing partners that have helped me achieve my dreams and goals. And they’ve always had my back, whether I’m very successful winning Baja 1000s or whether I’m having some kind of bad luck spell. They’ve always had my back.”
Baldwin is grateful for his career and to be able to race, but he’s also pleased to be the one to bring Toyota back into the sport in the headlining Trophy Truck class.
“To be part of a manufacturer that I’ve always respected so much, since I was in the sixth grade, it’s so much of a dream come true that it’s really special,” Baldwin said. “Another thing that’s really special is I’ve always kind of tried to follow Ivan’s style of racing in terms of solo-ing every race. I’ve done this for two separate reasons: one, being that I had so much respect for the guy and I thought it was really awesome to be able to do that and challenge myself; and two, because I like driving a Trophy Truck so much I don’t want to let anybody else drive it. But to kind of follow in his footsteps, there hasn’t been another manufacturer involved in off-road desert racing in 16 years since Ivan’s reign in his truck. To bring Toyota back into the sport, for me, is a great honor.”
News broke of Baldwin’s Toyota sponsorship just prior to the weekend, but he made the formal announcement to the crowd at the Supercross finale in Las Vegas. Prior to that announcement, Baldwin lets us in on the backstory and explained that this deal has actually been in the works for some time.
“We’ve been working on it for about a year – nobody’s known about it,” Baldwin said. “It’s so crazy to be working on something for so long and have it be a secret until the day before this announcement.”
Baldwin’s current deal with Toyota will see him racing for at least the next two years in both SCORE International and Best in the Desert races.
“I’m just really excited about the future,” Baldwin said. “I have a great deal of respect for Toyota. In the history of me operating motor vehicles since I was 16 in all of the various trucks I’ve had and cars that my friends have had, Toyota’s the only vehicle that is just unbreakable, so I’ve always had a great deal of respect for the company building great, reliable products as well as just following Ivan’s career as a young kid and teenager.”
Baldwin’s no stranger to larger sponsorship deals, as his team is also supported by Monster Energy, Toyo Tires and Can-Am, just to name a few. Baldwin doesn’t fell the Toyota sponsorship adds any pressure to the team or should have any impact on his racing approach and philosophy.
“It’s kind of always changing and evolving,” Baldwin said of his approach to racing. “We’re trying to be more intelligent everyday about my program and trying to improve my program. I spent a significant amount of money last year doing some improvements to my truck, and I knew it was going to be like an R&D program for a few races. So we’ve had a few problems here and there, but we have a truck that’s fast and I can drive it pretty good. It’s definitely competitive.”
Although the his new truck was unveiled at the Supercross finale, the first race we’ll see it in action is in a few weeks at this year’s SCORE Baja 500 in Ensenada.
“It’s really exciting for me because it’s the Baja 500, and it’s Ivan’s favorite race, it’s around Ivan’s birthday, and it’s also my favorite race,” Baldwin said. “The 500 is like just the right amount [of mileage] where it’s a lot of fun and I have a lot fun in it.”
Baldwin has earned one Baja 500 victory, but he’s also been runner-up four times. This year, he hopes avoid misfortune and add another victory to his list of accomplishments.
“I’ve had stupid stuff, like a $3 bolt broke out of my brake pedal like 30 miles from the finish when I was rebind Robby Gordon and was going to beat him on corrected time, just for an example,” Baldwin said. “I’ve led the 500, in one or another, for several hours, like, every year for the last 10 years, so I just have to get it all the way there. There are certain sections of the 500 that I know so well. I pick my places where I execute my plan to manufacture time, and I focus on those area to get my lead and try to extend it through the race.”
In Baja racing, and in the premiere truck class, a victory is never easy. Last year, SCORE had 30 starters in Trophy Truck, and similar numbers are expected this year. Baldwin will use his experience and knowledge of the course to seek his second victory at the 500, and he will also hope to kick off his Toyota sponsorship with a bang by giving the company its first victory in the class in quite some time.