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21 Questions with Rob MacCachren

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What can be said about Rob MacCachren that hasn't already been said? Whenever the topic of "greatest off-road driver of all-time" comes up, MacCachren's name will invariably be on the short list of drivers who could potentially claim that title. When young drivers are asked whom they'd most like to emulate, MacCachren is far and away the most popular answer. A natural talent from the start and the winningest driver in the sport's history by miles, MacCachren continues to set the bar for those around him, even with more than 35 years of racing dust behind him. I had the good fortune to sit down with MacCachren for over three hours and talk about Rob's career, past, present, and future, and it was a history lesson, an inspiring story, and an eye-opening view on the state of the sport today when viewed against the rich past of the sport MacCachren has seen grow and evolve for so many years now. In our conversation, we discussed much more than what these following 21 questions could cover, and I would encourage anyone to stop and talk with MacCachren if they want to feel encouraged, experience a driver who's still as passionate and intense as ever, or simply pick up a valuable lesson from the best.

Q1: How did you get started in short course?
A1: I started in the desert in '82; I did one SNORE race. Then I did six SNORE races the next year in '83, and also did a three-heat short course race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I remember being scared, thinking, "am I really gonna do this?" Then I drove my 1600 and a 7S for Walker Evans Racing at Riverside Raceway in '88 for SCORE, and the same year, I was at the Houston Astrodome helping Walker's Jeep team in the Mickey Thompson series. Al Unser Sr. was on the team and didn't get there in time for practice, so Randy Anderson found me up in the stands and said I had to drive. I put on Al's suit and drove his truck. I remember it was weird because I'd never envisioned how to get into the tunnel that leads out onto the track, or how the track actually goes- I didn't have a map view sitting down low in the truck; I had to ask Randy how to get to the tunnel, and with the big red, white, and blue water barricades down either side of the track and a solid wall of them at the end of each straightaway, I didn't know if the track went left or right!

Q2: Did you do any underclass/Sportsman racing, or did you just go straight into a Pro class?
A2: I guess I kinda went straight into Pro. When I really got into short course, I went straight into Mickey Thompson. I raced a year and a half and got fired. Glen Harris got my ride, which was actually a good thing. I got to watch and understand what I was struggling with, and realize that Walker was helping me. But there were things I was doing wrong that Walker wasn't telling me; I started watching Rod Millen. We were all bicycling in the corners, but Rod added a bunch of rear brake to keep the truck settled down when he pitched it in. I learned a lot watching Rod; I thought, "I gotta drive like that guy." Then I got back into Mickey Thompson with the Rough Riders in '91. It was between Rod Millen and I to replace Robby Gordon, who'd moved on to race IMSA, and when they told me it was between Rod and I, I thought, "there goes my chance." But a week later, they called me and said I got the job!

Q3: When was your first Pro win?
A3: 1992 at the Seattle Kingdome in Mickey Thompson, driving in the Grand National Sport Truck class. Then in SODA (outdoor), I drove for Dennis Schlueter in a Curt LeDuc-built Class 4 in '95, in honor of Dennis' son Chad, who'd been killed by a drunk driver. Chad had been building the truck for himself, and Dennis asked me to race it in his honor. We won the first time out, and we won the championship that year.

Q4: What are some of your significant career achievements so far?
A4: Winning the first Trophy Truck championship in '94 was pretty cool. The Borg Warner Cup three times in a row ('99-'01)- we won nine straight Pro 4 races at Crandon: three in the fall of 2000, three in the spring of '01, and three in the fall of '01. Then I didn't come back to Crandon until 2009, and I won my first race back in a Pro 2, so I actually won ten races in a row there. Winning the Baja 1000 in 2014 was also big. It was the first of three in a row. Putting the team together, orchestrating the whole race; not so much driving it, but being the team owner and having it all come together. Looking back now and thinking how hard it is to win one, let alone three...

Q5: How did last season go for you?
A5: There were ups and downs. In Pro 2, the first half was going like scheduled, until Estero Beach. Tooele sort of started it, when my hood came up and I drove into a barricade. It was my fault and stuff happens. But then the rack broke at Estero Beach, which may have been damage from Tooele that got overlooked. Then it was one thing after another- we had another DNF at Wheatland. In Pro 2, when things click, they're clicking, and we just weren't clicking. Pro 4… I don't really remember it that well to be honest, other than we just had a third to fourth place truck, honestly.

Q6: What does your race schedule look like for 2018?
A6: We're racing three races in SCORE and three races in Best in the Desert: San Felipe, the 500, and the 1000, plus Parker, The Mint, and Vegas to Reno. We're only planning to do Lucas in short course; we don't plan on going to Crandon, but I think Lucas partnering with the midwest series is a good thing.

Q7: What are your goals for 2018?
A7: Definitely to win the Pro 2 championship, and to do that, we need to be on the podium almost every race, and you need race wins too. We'd like to win the 500 and the 1000, I'd like to get it (the Baja 1000) back. That's (not winning the Baja 1000 in 2017) probably my biggest letdown ever.

Q8: What else would you like to achieve in your career?
A8: I guess the simple thing is to keep winning races and championships. I feel I can still compete with the young guys, and experience helps. Dakar? Yeah… I've always said I don't wanna just compete; I wanna be in with a chance to win, but now I'd probably do it just to do it; you gotta participate a few times to win anyway.

Q9: Was it difficult to turn racing into a career?
A9: After Jim Venable couldn't continue on with the team I'd raced for from '92-'96, I started my own team in '96, and started racing with that team in '97. It was the first time I had to pick up the phone and ask for product for the year- I was scared to death at first. I remember I finally decided to pick the one I needed least, and I picked up the phone and said, "Hi, my name's Rob MacCachren, and I've got this truck, blah blah blah…" and I got it! I went bam bam bam down the list with companies like K&N, Auto Meter, MSD. I hired Nye (Frank) and Dave Clark during the season, and then let them go when the season was done, then hired them back the next year. We'd share one hotel room- I do anything and everything I can to cut costs- I have to! That's another thing that's rewarding to me: to accomplish what we have with what we've got.

Q10: Who do you look up to in this sport?
A10: It was my dad got me started, who took me out and showed me the dos and don'ts. Then he partnered with Butch Dean, which is how I met Jack Johnson. Jack made the light bulb go off about how to drive, to make the car go faster, how to load and unload the car front to back and side to side, how to jump, how to read the desert. Then came Michael Gaughan and Walker Evans. I drove the Ram Charger one time prerunning, and the next year I was racing Jeeps for Walker. Also Rod Millen, as far as style. And of course names like Bobby Ferro, Gene Hurst, and others that my dad named. But after Millen, it became, "I'm on the same track as Ivan Stewart, Rod Millen, Roger Mears, Walker Evans!"

Q11: What have you sacrificed to get to where you are?
A11: Something of a regret for me is going racing instead of not learning how to run my dad's construction company first. Also family time, kid time; you can't miss a race. We've been so fortunate with the kids, though. People tell you how short life is, and within the last year, I'm realizing it. You gotta make memories; don't sit around doing nothing. Older people are trying to teach us, to help us cut corners and not waste time, but sometimes we have to learn that on our own.

Q12: What's your favorite track?
A12: Wheatland- it's the one I'm excited to go back to.

Q13: What's your favorite memory from racing?
A13: I used to always say the feeling I had when Mark Post, Carl (Renezeder), and I won the Baja 1000 in 2007. I wasn't even driving, but the feeling that came over me when the truck came into view at the finish line in Cabo. It was the same in 2014- it's so rewarding, the feeling of accomplishment; it took all the way until 2007 to win my first 1000 overall. Also, my first Borg Warner Cup in '99- it's those ones you try to win and fail, and you have to wait a whole year just to even try again.

Q14: Who's your best friend in the sport?
A14: I don't know. In short course, over the last three years or so, if there's anyone we sit down and talk with, it's Renezeder. But when it comes to what to do to be better, I don't ask them (my competitors), and I don't want them to ask me. You're in a limited relationship. But when we're out prerunning (in the desert), I consider all of 'em my friends.

Q15: Why do you like short course?
A15: I don't have to win to get a smile on my face. When you're battling for the lead, and you can't get by but you show a nose, a side, and after the race you go up to the guy and say, "that was so much fun!" It's like a chess game, trying to position yourself and not touch 'em; it means more to have to earn it. The dicing with the other guys, which doesn't seem to be happening as much anymore, because it just costs you too much time to stick your nose out.

Q16: Why should fans root for you?
A16: I guess I've put in a lot of years. They (the fans) come there to be entertained, so when I'm putting on a good show, not spinning someone out...

Q17: What's your most embarrassing moment in racing?
A17: Probably making some mistakes. This year at The Mint, I tried to hit Josh Daniel and turn underneath him, and I caught the whoops on the inside and rolled. I know better and I paid for it; it cost us the race, we should've won The Mint again. Also, in TORC, I was leading the championship by a few points over Bryce in the final race at Antelope Valley. I blew it and got too high and clipped a k rail, and I ripped the rear end out of the truck and lost the championship. I felt like I shouldn't do that kind of thing. I know it, my peers know it, the fans know it- everyone knows it.

Q18: If you could race anything else in the world of motorsports, what would it be?
A18: I think I would've liked to do road racing. Rally as well, and I really liked go-karts.

Q19: What do you do to prepare yourself for competition?
A19: I would say that my son and I are pretty darn active; I wear my kids out. We mountain bike in winter, ride motorcycles in the cooler months, and drive the RZR. And I do a lot of prerunning: seven days for San Felipe, 7-10 days for the 500, 10-20 days for the 1000. My race shop is in Hemet (California), so I don't have anybody here in Vegas to help me maintain our cars besides my son, and life is just busy man. Four kids, laundry, dishes, plus I create stuff. When I'm not busy, I'm trying to make everything better- straighten this, organize that.

Q20: Who would you say most helped shape you into the person you are today?
A20: My parents did. Earlier in my life, I may have said someone else, but now looking back at who set me on this path, it's them. They guided me, and afforded me the opportunity, and kept the family together. I'm now realizing why they told me to do this or not do that. Especially my mom: she has all these little sayings, like "keep it simple, stupid," and now that I'm older, I'm realizing how much sense they make.

Q21: Many people consider you to be the greatest of all-time. What do you think about that, and what advice would you give to those looking to follow in your footsteps?
A21: It's really cool that people think that. My first answer is that I've been around a long time. There was a time when I didn't wanna win because I'd have to give an acceptance speech. I'm modest by nature, and I used to be shy, because of my parents. Now it's an honor, it's a pretty good feeling when I hear people say that. Advice? Maybe I should've focused on taking over my dad's construction company first, before going racing; I wish I had more money to do whatever I want, but the other side of it is look at what I have with what I've got. I tell my kids, get an education, get a good job and make money- then go racing. But I still love it, I feel I'm still competitive, and I don't see any reason to quit anytime soon.

About the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series:
The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series is the evolution of the long-standing support of short course racing by Forrest Lucas and Lucas Oil Products. Steeped in the midwest tradition of short course off-road racing infused with a west coast influence, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing brings intense four wheel door-to-door action to challenging, fan-friendly tracks. Our events can be seen on CBS, CBS Sports Network, MAVTV, and Live all season long on LucasOilRacing.TV. Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series: This is Short Course! For more information, please visit www.LucasOilOffRoad.com, and be sure to sign up for our newsletter in our Newsletter Signup section of the home page.

Written by Scott Neth for the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series