Shaffer wins class in Baja 1,000 | NevadaAppeal.com
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Shaffer wins class in Baja 1,000

Rhonda Costa
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer

Baja, California is known for its beautiful coastline of white-sand beaches, numerous extreme activities, and for a few days in November, is overrun with off-road vehicles of which drivers burn the midnight oil to reach a finish line 1,000 kilometers from its start.

For Dayton’s Mike Shaffer, owner of Shaffer’s Offroad and Performance in Mound House, his glimpses of the Baja scenery came while running SCORE’s BAJA 1,000 at about 70 mph. What brought the most satisfaction to Shaffer was the simple act of driving across the finish line. Sweeter yet, Shaffer was the winner in his category ” Class 17, Identically Equipped Jeep Cherokees ” and for the third year in a row.

“That’s the most important thing,” Shaffer said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re first or last, you’ve crossed the finish line.”

The grueling 631-mile race is entered by thrill seekers, actors, novices, racing veterans and locals to see who will finish, let alone finish first.

“The percentage rate of finishers to starters is about 54 percent,” Shaffer said. “I’ve started and finished all three I’ve entered. I’ve also won each race I’ve entered.”

Shaffer is also the 2002 ARCA series Rockcrawling Champion and was called the “Winningest rockcrawling team” by ESPN. He entered his 1992 Jeep Cherokee, a spec class limited to off-the-shelf parts with the exception of shocks.

“Anything you can buy off the shelf you can put on the Jeep,” Shaffer said, whose co-driver was Lance Clifford of Georgetown, Calif. “There are a lot of cars with big budgets and cars that run just as well with less money.”

Shaffer said his all-inclusive cost is about $15,000 to go to the Baja 1,000. He figures his winnings will be about $3,000 ” plus a trophy.

“Payoff depends on the number of entries,” Shaffer said, who is sponsored by pirate4x4.com, Torchmate CNC Plasma Cutting Systems, Capital Beverages and Shaffer’s Offroad.

He has a support crew of 12 ” in teams of three in four chase vehicles and they’re all volunteers. They also carry CB radios for communication and have a satellite telephone.

“I went down two weeks before the race to pre-run the course, but you never know what’s going to change. A farmer may decide to not allow cars over his property and use a backhoe and put in a ditch. Always have a plan and a back-up plan.”

Shaffer drove the first 280 miles of the course, Clifford drove the remainder.

“I do worry about Mike when he’s racing,” said Shaffer’s wife, Melanie. “I would say I trust his instinct and judgment, safety and well being, but I don’t fret. It’s a risk he’s taking but I know he’s not foolish.

“Mike is absolutely amazing and he’s dedicated to what he does. This is a passion of his and he’s made it into a living. Not too many people can say they’ve done that.”

“The hardest part about Baja is that we rolled the car one month before the race near Mesquite,” Shaffer said. “We rolled it back over on its wheels and finished second.”

“One year we had a broken steering box 89 miles into the race,” Shaffer said. “The closest replacement was 150 miles away. But we got it and replaced it. The team in first had a 100-mile lead on us and we caught them with 50 miles to go, and we won.

“But the Baja is not just about finishing, it’s about the best time. It’s a timed course. This year we blew the tranny the day before the race. We had to find a dealer we could trust and know what they were doing to get the job done.”

Shaffer also raced and won the Vegas to Reno race, finished second in Mesquite, won the Best of the Desert Race in Henderson, and had a “did not finish” at Parker, Ariz.

“If I had to choose one race, it would be the Baja 1,000,” Shaffer said. “It’s the most challenging. And something people may not realize, you don’t get much sleep during this race. We consume lots of Monster energy drink.”

Contact Rhonda Costa at rcosta@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1223.