As Kristen Matlock crossed the finish line at the Baja 500, after 542 miles racing across the Baja Peninsula, she knew she had won the race, yet at the time had no idea the impact that this particular win would have on women and racers across North America. You see, for Matlock, this wasn’t just another checkered flag, this was a once in a lifetime, history-making accomplishment as she became the first woman ever to win not just in her class, but to win overall – across all UTV classes in a desert race. Not only did she win as a woman, but she kicked every turbo’s butt out there in her naturally aspirated Polaris RZR.
The congratulations started flowing in, the messages and texts were overwhelming but in an amazing, emotional kind of way. Matlock stated, “This brings a tear to my eye. It was a proud moment.” One woman messaged Matlock and told her that as she was starting off the line in a dirt track race that same day, a friend ran over and told her about Matlock’s win, which added fuel to her fire, got her the holeshot, and ultimately led to this fan winning that race. To say Matlock is an inspiration to others is an understatement.
Forever fueled by her own internal motivation, she decided prior to the Baja 500 that she was going to aim for an overall win. Add in some family competition with husband, Wayne, who took first overall at the previous San Felipe 250 race, and you’ve got the perfect combination for an epic win. At that race, Matlock took second overall with less than a 3-minute time difference. It was then that she knew she had what it took to win overall.
Pre-running the week prior to the race went well, and helped Matlock become more comfortable with the track. On race day, her nervousness was evident to her teammates and family, yet she used breathing techniques to calm down and get her head in race mode. She started the race off by passing other racers through twisty areas, which allowed her to gain time before she hit some bottleneck areas. One of Kristen’s biggest strengths is quick turning and racing within her skill level, which allows her to avoid getting into some tricky situations.
Off the line, Matlock started first in her class, and had to pass 35 turbos to get ahead of the pack. At one point, as she was passed by a trophy truck, the limited visibility due to dust and a bit of overdriving caused her to go down a 30-foot embankment and get stuck in a crevice. Quick thinking, a handy dandy 10-point turn, and support from co-driver Matt Strandberg got her out quickly causing her to only lose 5 minutes of time.
I asked Matlock how she found this race compared to the Baja 1000 earlier this year. She reported that this race was tougher on her despite it being a shorter race (14 hours compared to 39) she found the course was quite rocky and beat up, and at times could feel it in her back, and caused her to almost injure her wrist.
During our chat, I asked Matlock how it felt to pass fellow racers, turbos nonetheless, and how it felt to win over her husband. She reported she and Wayne were on the same radio frequency during the race, and so when she got close enough they were able to communicate with each other. As every supportive husband should, he cheered her on and told her how proud he was of her. Sure they joke about how he’ll win next time, but a little competition among spouses sure makes things fun at times doesn’t it?
Overall, there were 321 total entries (55 UTV’s out of 6 classes) at the Baja 500 with 153 total finishing. Kristen was 42nd overall among all classes, and first overall in the UTV division. She beat second place overall (earned by Brandon Sims) by 4 minutes, and beat second place in her class by 30 minutes. Her husband, Wayne Matlock, placed 3rd overall.
At the end of the day, this type of a win is one for the books. Kristen told me, “I’m super excited to do this in life, to be successful and show other women they can do it too.” It’s humbling when other women and racers reach out to her and give thanks, because for many, it is Kristen Matlock who is their motivation and the reason they decided to give racing a try.
Kristen’s non-aspirated Polaris RZR. Credit: Ricardo Duarte
You can’t miss Kristen’s bright pink RZR on the race course! Credit: Daniel Curiel
The Baja 500 is a race that Kristen Matlock will forever remember. Credit: Cathy King
Nerves prior to the race didn’t slow Kristen down one bit! Credit: Cathy King
Varying and at times rough terrain throughout the Baja Peninsula made for a challenging race. Credit Daniel Curiel
Fierce, focused and consistent driving is the recipe for success! Credit: Daniel Curiel