Editor’s note: If we’re honest with ourselves, we all want visual proof when we really send it. All the better to brag, share, and marvel at the things we do. We’re celebrating that with In Focus, a series with the pro photographers and videographers that document the off-road world.
First up, we have Ernesto Araiza of Mad Media.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get involved in the off-road world?
I’m from Ensenada, Baja California, where off-roading is pretty much the sport that defines the city. Before I was born, my family was already involved in racing, so they raised me with this passion for off-road racing.
How does one become an off-road photographer? How did you get your start?
I started taking photos just as another fan, but it didn’t take long to realize that this could be an actual job that would open doors for me and allow me to make a living off of racing. I started practicing and learning the rules and fundamentals of photography. Today, everyone is a photographer with apps like Instagram, but once you master the rules — and with a little bit of talent — anyone can become a professional off-road photographer.
Is this the dream job?
I mean, the dream job for me would be to actually go racing and get paid, but since that’s off the table I think this job is really a dream come true.
What IS Mad Media?
Mad Media is my second family, and it’s a group of incredible, talented people that shares a common passion to create beautiful content and unique media. You could say that we consider off-roading our blank canvas.
What do you feel is important about the work you do? Why do you do it?
Like any other form of art — like music, painting, or architecture — I express myself through my work. I want to show how beautiful off-road and motorsports are. I grew up watching Baja races, and I want people to appreciate what we have and how unique this sport is. I also have say that this is a job that doesn’t feel like it most of the time, so it’s worth doing it.
Are there any projects, videos, or personalities that really stand out as personal favorites? Or most memorable moments?
Some of the personalities I’ve had the pleasure to work with are the legends: drivers like Larry Ragland, Walker Evans, Larry Roeseler, and Ivan Stewart. They were my favorites when I was a kid, so working with them and getting to know them is just fantastic. I have so many memorable moments, from spending good times with my friends at Mad Media, to traveling the world shooting some of the biggest events like the Dakar Rally.
What makes for a good photo or a good video?
The most expensive your camera is, the better the photos! Just kidding. Like any other job, there are rules that you need to learn. Once you master them, you can make good things happen. In my case as still photographer, things like light, composition, timing, location, and camera settings are the main concerns when shooting good photos.
What's your top tip for budding photographers who want to capture this scene? Or for people who just want to take better pictures of their adventures?
If you want to go pro, grab a book and start studying. If you just want to improve a little bit, just take a moment to see your surroundings. If you're taking a photo of something you like, what if you move to the other side to see a different angle of the same object? You might be surprised at how much a photo of the same subject changes with just a subtle camera angle shift.
There are professional race teams — you know, the ones with million-dollar race trucks and multi-million-dollar support budgets — and then there are the professional amateurs. These are the guys who — by hook or by crook — will find a way to race because being with friends, being in Baja, and competing against other knuckleheads, is absolutely the very best use of their precious time and hard-earned money.
Canguro Racing is one such team of professional amateurs. There are six core members of the team: Darren Webster, Dave Connors, Kurt Williams, Marc Van Tassell, Ryan Davis, and Will Carroll. They’ve been racing together for years — another rarity in desert racing. Plenty of folks race for the bucket list experience, or do it a few times until the financial costs and personal tensions sour the experience. But for the better part of a decade, from a Class 5 buggy to a Stock Full/8100-class Toyota Land Cruiser 200 Series named Monica, these friends have been going fast in the desert and finishing races.
To get a sense of how a team like this can stick together, all you have to do is ask who does what. For instance, Darren considers himself just a humble parts procurer and wrencher, but Marc says, “I swear this guy can sell or buy anything on the internet.” And despite the fact that he’s a “laid-back SoCal boy” who “wears flipflops everywhere” according to Marc, Dave and Will both have gotten stung by Darren’s artful sarcasm. “Even after all these years, I still fall for his crap far too often,” says Will.
As for Dave, who is a driver, logistics specialist, and social media guru, is renowned for his ability to get things from A to B. “He has a freak talent for this,” says Ryan. Of course, it helps that he has “a photographic memory of every dirt road in Mexico,” according to Will. Along with that expertise comes a certain stubborn, competitive edge: “Dave likes what he likes and compromises to everyone else's wishes. Please read some sarcasm in that last statement,” says Marc.
Kurt, on the other hand, is the guy who greases the wheels — literal and figurative. As the owner of Cruiser Outfitters, an aftermarket Land Cruiser specialist, he knows how to wrench, but more importantly, he’s got connections to sponsors. He’s also an understanding and positive team motivator. “There’s a reason people like to be around Kurt. He’s gregarious and smart,” says Ryan.
The money and first aid are taken care of by Marc, who’s a doctor by day, although he cautions, “I'm just a dentist, so please call 911 if anyone clutches their chest.” And despite the fact that he’s the team owner, that doesn’t make him immune from his teammates’ barbs. As Will says, “Marc is the team sugar daddy and designated driver, as he is known to lose whatever is in his stomach if he has to look at a GPS screen. Also, he looks forward to getting a haircut in Mexico, so that should say a lot about his personality.”
Now we get to Ryan, who is the crew chief and communications guy. Though he carries the huge responsibility of making sure the vehicle is race prepped, he always has time for a joke. “Ryan wants to make you laugh and uncomfortable at the same time, usually by involving his body parts,” says Darren. “He’s the team comedian,” agrees Will. “He’s always making us laugh.”
The last man on the list, Will, is also the only guy without a USA address. He’s currently based in Japan, but it’s for a very good reason: he’s the Toyota-whisperer. “Preacher of The Toyota Way,” says Darren. “He’s a Toyota guru and an amazing wrench. All of our big breaks have happened with him behind the wheel, so the right guy can fix them,” adds Dave. Marc agrees: “He’s a human factory service manual. He is a Toyota Oracle.”
As should be evident, Canguro Racing is a team held together by deep, mutual love and appreciation, and a healthy dose of amiable disrespect. It’s a good thing, because racing introduces all sorts of questionable situations that you can only survive as a group with humor and perspective.
Marc, for instance, remembers one time where he cemented his driver-only role during races: “Kurt was with me the first time I got sick in the race car. He pulled over and listened on the intercom while I filled my helmet with my stomach contents.” Or the time Will, despite being the Yota Yoda, killed the race car at the Mint 400. “We never tease him about this,” Marc deadpans.
But then again, this group of friends has wheeling and exploring together for decades, so the racing is just the cherry on top. “We all share a love for blasting around in the desert via our personal Land Cruisers —nothing sanctioned or professional, just long days behind the wheel making dust,” says Kurt.
“Most of us have known each other nearly twenty years. We have grown up, explored, camped, and driven thousands of miles together before we ever sat in a race car,” adds Will. “We’ve spent hours in the garage working on each other’s trucks long before we were racing in Mexico. Because of that history we know each other better than any team out there.”
And while blasting around in the dust was fun, racing in Baja was a dream for several of the guys. “As a kid I wanted to do two things with cars when I grew up. Race Pikes Peak and race the Baja 1000. I never thought it would happen, but here I am with 5 Baja 1000s under my belt,” says Dave. “Some of the guys are into it just for the experience,” he continues, “and I love that part, too, but I also always want to win. Desert racing provides a secondary satisfaction of finishing which can satisfy a lot of that even when we don’t win."
And despite Dave’s love of competition, Canguro Racing made the peculiar choice years ago to trade their faster Class 5 buggy for a stock Land Cruiser. “Our drivetrain and sheet metal have to be stock. Beside big shocks and big tires, the mechanicals of this vehicle are the same that a soccer mom uses today,” says Darren.
But given this group’s history together wheelin’ in Land Cruisers, it was actually a no-brainer of a decision. “We went from our Class 5 to a slower and far more reliable class for no other reason than because of our shared love for Toyota Land Cruisers,” says Dave.
Marc adds, “I've loved Land Cruisers for a long time now. I think getting there — the journey — is like 80-90% of the fun. Land Cruisers embody how much fun the journey can be. I love going places, and the bigger the challenge to get there, the bigger the reward. Add in the factor of doing these things with your buddies against professional teams and beating them — it’s just awesome.”
Canguro Racing will be tackling the Jackpot NV Freedom 200 (July 7); Knolls White Knuckles (August 25); Wendover Return (October 13); and of course, the SCORE Baja 1000 (November 17-18). Follow their Instagram for updates as they prep and race.
Editor’s note: While we were in Moab for Easter Jeep Safari, we ran into Robin Brooks. You might recognize her from last year, when we met her at Texas Unlimited Off-Road Expo. Driving the obstacle course at Texas Motor Speedway was her first off-road experience behind the wheel, and since then, her passion for leaving pavement has only grown.
My husband Christopher and I love the outdoors, off-roading, camping, hiking, and such. We purchased a Turtleback off-road trailer to make our camping experience a little more comfortable. The trailer was ready for pick up in Arizona around the same time that Overland Expo West 2016 was going on, so we planned our trip so we could attend and camp with the Herd of Turtles.
This was a great experience because we could watch other Turtleback trailer owners set up and learn tricks from them. While there, I got an invite to a ladies night out event where I first got to hear @Charlene Bower speak. I also befriended a fellow Okie in Alisha Driggers. By friending Alisha on Facebook, I got a pop-up of people you may know and voila! There was Charlene Bower!
After driving the obstacle course at the Texas Unlimited Off-Road Expo in 2017, I wanted to get off-road as the driver instead of just the passenger, which was exactly what my husband was hoping for. Shortly after we got back from the expo, Charlene posted about the Ladies Offroad Network (LON) Convention. I signed up, and it was UNFORGETTABLE!
It was a huge eye-opener as to what women are capable of! I learned so much, including how to use different recovery gear, how to do a 360 check, change a tire, how to use a Hi-lift, how a Pull Pal works, mapping skills, and so much more! Not to mention amazing friendships with ladies that have the same passion as me.
After I got back from the convention, I went on a mission to find the perfect off-road vehicle and daily driver. I test drove both Jeeps and Toyotas, and the Tacoma won! I bought my 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD pickup in August, and I haven’t looked back! I had the dealership install a 3” level kit, Fuel Wheels, BFGoodrich® All-Terrain T/A KO2s, an ADD HoneyBadger bumper, and install the WARN winch that I won from the Ladies Offroad Network September giveaway.
I personally installed BudBuilt rock sliders, Lazer Star ditch lights that I won from the LON 12 day of Christmas giveaway using SDHQ off-road ditch light mounts, and then my CB radio. I must give a shoutout to my wonderful husband for assisting me in these installs and teaching me what tools I needed and how to use them. And I will continue to do all modification installs myself. The proud feeling of achievement is so worth doing the work, no matter how difficult.
My latest trip was to Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, thanks to Charlene Bowers. When I called her to discuss upcoming events, she suggested EJS be my first one of the year, despite the fact I don’t have a Jeep. I am so happy she convinced me to go! This was my first ladies road trip with my friend Jessy Greenland, and we had an absolute blast! Moab was AMAZING! I was very impressed with how my Tacoma maneuvered and my KO2 tires worked great! My reasons for requesting KO2s when I bought my Tacoma were, 1) great reviews, and 2) BFGoodrich supports LON, and I am very loyal to those who support me and my LON family. Being part of the Ladies Offroad Network has truly changed my life for the better! The women involved are so supportive and non-judgmental! It doesn’t matter if you’re an old pro, a newbie, or what you drive — we are in this together!
During Easter Jeep Safari, I learned to two-foot drive, not take my hands off the steering wheel, and to take things slow and easy. I started out a little rough, but by the end of the week I was much more comfortable with what I could do.
This year is going to be a year of learning! I have applied for the Ladies Offroad Challenge, and I hope to make it to the top 10. I am also signed up for the 2018 LON Convention in August, and I’m going to do as much off-road learning as possible. My future goal is the 2019 Rebelle Rally, and who knows what else!
Editor’s note: We caught up with Fred Williams, an auto journalist and TV show host with Dirt Every Day and The Motor Trend Network, at the Garage in Moab, Utah, during Easter Jeep Safari. He’s got a long history with BFGoodrich, a unique perspective on off-roading, and some fightin’ words for the guys driving on tarmac.
On Becoming An Auto Journalist
I got my first Jeep in high school. It was a $600 CJ5, and from there, it just kind of snowballed. When I got out of school, I was traveling out West and I met a guy that wrote for the off-road magazines I read as a kid. I asked how he got to be a journalist, and at the time, I wasn’t asking for a job, I was just curious. But he said, Oh, you wanna write for a magazine? I know a guy. And he called this guy and he said, send a writing sample, so that’s how I got started.
I like Jeeps and I like trucks, but even today, I never claim to be an expert in this off-road stuff. I just know enough of the right people in the industry, for example: if I don’t know how a tire is made, or how a diesel engine works, I can find out.
I quickly learned my job as an automotive journalist was translating because if you talk to engineer nerds, they’ll tell you all this stuff that doesn’t make sense to the normal man. So I’d take that information and turn it around and make it so my mom could understand it.
On Why Off-Roading Is the Best
Off-road is better than drag racing, or anything on asphalt. That stuff is boring ‘cause it’s flat! It’s only two dimensions: left and right, forward and back, where off-roading has up and down. We have hill climbs and crazy descents and rock crawling, and when you throw in dirt, it just makes it more exciting.
Tire smoke is interesting, but dust and dirt and rocks flying everywhere is MORE exciting. You can go fast, you can go slow, you can have super technical stuff, you can have mud, sand, snow, rocks whatever the terrain. There’s just more to it than boring old asphalt.
On Making Videos About Off-Roading
My buddy Dave is my co-host, and we work on projects together, we get angry at each other, we work it all out, we finish the thing, we go four-wheeling and have fun. It’s like real life. We don’t have 30 mechanics that come in to finish the thing. And we’ll go out on the trail and break and the engine will catch on fire, and it’s reality. It’s not staged reality. But we try to make the show appeal to kids. We don’t swear, we’re not about attitude or competition — we just want to get kids excited to play with trucks.
At the end of the day, we’re just trying to have a good time, play with trucks, and show people that it’s fun to do.
On Getting Kids Excited
For a while, the future of the automotive scene seemed bleak because kids just wanted to play on their phones, and I’m sure there’s still a lot of that, but I’m just like, Look, go buy a cheap Jeep or Toyota, and go play in the dirt. Don’t worry about buying 40” BFGs today, you’ll be able to do that later. Just go have fun, get stuck, fix things. I mean, it’s great there’s a new $40,000 Wrangler, but not everybody can afford that.
At the end of the day, we’re just trying to have a good time, play with trucks, and show people that it’s fun to do.
On Why Off-Roading Sometimes Sucks
You spend a lot of money, you bust up your knuckles, and it’s a greasy, stinky hobby, but what’s the alternative? Frisbee? Sure Frisbee sounds like a good option some days when I have a truck broken and axles torn out, but I can’t get it out of me. There are times when I think I won’t do the off-road thing anymore, but I’ll see something and I’ll say, Ooh, I want one of those.
My worst addiction is I’ll get on Craigslist and look at cheap 4x4s and think, Oh I need that. I can put one-tons underneath it, an LS, a roll cage, a winch, and then it’ll be awesome. I don’t’ remember how much work goes into projects, I just see the end goal and then I end up dragging more old junk home.
On His First Tires
The first time I ever bought tires, I went to a Land Rover dealership that had 4 BFGoodrich tires that had been on a Camel Trophy Land Rover or something, and I bought those used tires for $50 a piece. They weren’t much bigger than stock, but it didn’t matter. I had an aggressive mud tire, and it made that thing so cool. The Jeep would barely run, and I spent all my time working on it, but those BFGs made the whole thing rad.
I mean, knobby tires make anything look cooler. Little kids will point at any lifted truck and go, MONSTER TRUCK! And I’m like, Yeah! I’m driving a monster truck. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on 31” or 42” tires.
In my job, I have to drive and test lots of different tires so it wouldn’t be right for me to pick one favorite tire, but that being said, when I started with at the magazine, BFGoodrich came out with the Krawler tire, and I thought that tire just looked and worked so well. I remember meeting Gary Enterline (@Dr. Dirt), the Father of the Krawler, and so I have always had an affinity for the BFG brand. It’s known worldwide for desert racing, competition rock crawling, Ultra4, or some having All-Terrains for driving in the snow to go skiing. I’m fond of the BFGoodrich brand because I have history with it, and I’ve always met really exciting people who work there or race for them. They’re just a good company, and they’re into the same sort of thing as me: getting people into the dirt.
Editor’s note: Spencer Daines is the son of Travis Daines and the jack-of-all-trades behind Jeepfreeks content. He spent most of his time shooting video during Easter Jeep Safari, but he managed to get away for a day on the trails — even though his rig isn’t exactly set up for hardcore off-roading. Afterwards, we found him working on his Cherokee in the Garage.
My daily is a stock ‘99 XJ Cherokee with 200,000 miles and suspension wear to show it. The only mod is a custom front bumper I made two days before EJS 2018.
During this trip I decided I would start upgrading my XJ, so doing the Hell’s Revenge trail was like a last hurrah for the stock setup. Hell’s Revenge is a very scenic trail, and many people take it for granted as being an easy trail. But in a stock vehicle, it’s very technical, and in my opinion, that’s the best way to enjoy the trail.
There were obstacles on the trail where I only had one line I could make it through because I don’t have a gas tank skid plate. I would have to put both rear tires on skinny rocks, right over a sharp rock in the center just waiting to put a hole in my tank if I slipped. And my exhaust from the cat back was ripped off by a rock ledge.
But the best part was that I did the trail on BFGoodrich® Long Trail T/A Tour tires (235x70x15). They gripped the rock really well, and I had zero instances where the tires slipped or chirped, which is quite impressive for street tires.
Follow Spencer’s work at @jeepfreeks.
Rich Minga sits on the back patio of his home in Fallbrook, California, halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. The winter sun glances off his face, which wears years spent in the desert, in the sun, in the dirt. The light is weaker than might be expected — it’s diffused by a layer of smoke from wildfires that will race across northern San Diego County until they’re fought to a standstill within sight of Minga’s patio tomorrow.
Sunlight drifts into his blue eyes, flashing brilliant and intense. Minga is contemplative, meditating on his life. In this moment, he looks across his property. His house sits atop a scrubby hill overlooking California State Route 76, a freshly paved four-lane with almost no traffic. A long driveway winds up the hill from the highway, curving past storage containers, landscaping in progress, a pool that Minga is digging himself, all the way to the top.
Old enduro bikes and stunt vehicles are neatly parked inside and around storage containers. It would be uncharitable to call these old machines “junk” — it’s a collection, the type you would expect from someone whose life is entwined with off-roading. And there’s no truer statement about Rich Minga.
Minga can trace his off-road heritage to his childhood, when he went camping in Baja with his family. And it was in the mid-1970s that he began building a Baja Bug, before he was even able to legally drive. And in 1980, as a fresh high school graduate, Minga raced in his first Baja 1000. In the decades since, Minga has seen, heard, tasted, felt, smelled, and experienced everything that off-roading can offer. But if there’s one thread that runs through his myriad experiences, it’s this:
Off-roading is a cruel mistress. It gives, but more often than not, it takes in greater measure.
Minga grew up in San Diego in a family that valued building and tinkering. “My grandpa and dad taught me how to weld, fabricate, and work on stuff…It was just a hobby for them both, but they had a love for mechanical aptitude and mechanical things, and they taught me those skills,” he says.
Those skills came in handy when it came time for Minga to get a car. “My parents got me this Volkswagen [Beetle], and then I had to build it because I didn’t really have a car,” he says. He was only 14, so he had until he was 16 to turn it into a functioning machine. “My dad gave me this book, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (The Idiot Book). It was a real bitchin’ book: it was funny and it was an easy tutorial. I learned how to build engines and do everything with my Volkswagen. It was a turning point, probably the first book I ever read because my attention span wasn’t ever enough [to finish a book].”
While that book helped Minga develop his mechanical skills and build his Beetle (along with help from his dad and brother), it was another publication that really captured his imagination: Hot VWs magazine. “There were a couple of pages about the Baja 500, the San Felipe 250, the Baja 1000, and the Mexicali 250. There were these fancy Baja Bugs with these big tires, shocks, big lights…” Minga’s excitement is evident even as he recounts this childhood story. “I’m going, Wow, now that’s a Baja Bug. What if I drove that on the street? So I built my car to be a lookalike of an off-road race car.”
As Minga chased his dreams of building a Baja Bug, it made sense to go to the source: off-road race shops. “I would take the bus down to El Cajon and go to different shops to sweep floors and do anything I could just to snoop around and get ideas on what to do to my car,” he says. Minga, still a green teenager, would get kicked out more often than not, but his persistence paid off. He went from sweeping floors to organizing nuts and bolts to cleaning parts.
“I don’t want to learn from my mistakes. I want to learn from other peoples’ mistakes."
Then Minga landed at Mark Stahl Race Prep in Chula Vista. “Mark was a champion of the sport, so I learned from the very best. You go to the top. There was no reason to learn from people that weren’t finishing races and winning races,” he says. “I don’t want to learn from my mistakes. I have no desire to do that. But I can learn from other peoples’ mistakes…”
Working with Stahl also opened up a world of off-road connections for Minga. After about a year of working at the shop, one of Stahl’s friends, Tom Ferguson, came into the shop and gave Minga the deal of a lifetime: help him finish his single-seat 1600 car in time for the Baja 1000, and he’d let Minga race with him. So Minga did just that. “That just sunk the hook and the barb was really deep and I couldn’t pull it out,” he says.
About six months after the Thousand, Minga got another offer through Stahl’s network of connections: help build copies of the Chenowth 1000 for the Tapia brothers in Mexico. For the next couple of years, Minga went back and forth between San Diego and Mexico City, acting as translator, consultant, mechanic, and parts buyer. All the while, he honed his skills building and driving.
The result of the Chenowth project was essentially a spec class for the 1982 Baja 1000. “We had Mickey Thompson race one of our cars, and he was leading overall at Camalú, but it couldn’t hold up to his speed and aggression,” Minga recalls. Through that experience, Minga got to be friends with Thompson, who encouraged Minga to take his racing to the next level.
By 1987, Minga had won his first official points championship in the SCORE/HDRA Challenger class, and the opportunities began piling up. He began traveling to race in New Zealand, Africa, Indonesia, and Mexico. In 1988, he also partnered with Porsche to build and campaign a 911, in which he took home three top-10 finishes. Although he didn’t win a championship with the car, it stood out in a field of Baja Bugs, and that notoriety put Minga on the map with BFGoodrich® Tires. “They already had top level guys, but then I beat those guys. So they said, Hey, come aboard.”
Of course, Minga already wanted to be a part of the BFGoodrich family. “That was the team to be on. They had the best product, they had the best pit support, and they had some of the best mechanics,” he says. “Their relationships and loyalty…some companies aren’t loyal, and they come and go. BFGoodrich has been in for the long haul.”
Minga’s rise in the off-road world led him to new opportunities. Team management and driver coaching became part of his repertoire, and with a reputation for success, his network of friends and acquaintances from around the world began looking to him when they wanted to buy racecars. Minga soon found himself in the car brokerage, car building, and race prepping businesses, on top of his own racing. That would lead to a different facet of Minga’s career: show business.
In 1994, Minga got a call: Baywatch was filming an episode, and they needed off-road vehicles. “I ended up providing some vehicles, some phone numbers, and helping these guys get a bunch of vehicles. Then they brought me in as a stuntman to drive them and jump them,” he says. “That first day on the set ended up being really spectacular for me.”
That on-camera experience led to more stunt driving and stuntman opportunities. Minga’s IMDb profile now lists 37 TV shows and movies, including The Lost World: Jurassic Park, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and most recently, Logan.
"BFGoodrich was the team to be on. They had the best product, the best pit support, and the best mechanics. And they're loyal. Some companies come and go, but BFGoodrich has been in for the long haul."
As Minga’s work in show business ramped up, he began racing less. “I did not race much from ’94 to 2000. I was raising a family, and my wife at the time was not fond of racing at all. I wasn’t even building cars or going to races."
But up to this point, the world of off-road racing had been mostly good to Minga. He would tally five Baja 1000 victories as a driver, three as a crew chief, and three as a team manager. The people he’d met and the experiences he’d had formed the basis of his careers, and more than that, he was good and successful.
But off-roading is a fickle mistress, and though it had given plenty to Minga, it was about to take from him.
In 1998, Minga became fast friends with a new neighbor, Rich Foder. “Rich bought a couple of cars and built them for his son, and I would go help on the cars. We hung out every day, and he became my best friend. He pulled me back in, and I started going to races with him and racing with him and his nephew.”
In 2000, they ran a two-car team in Class 12, and after several races, they were in the lead for the overall points championship. “I was just one of the spokes of the wheel. I was just driving a small portion of the race, doing logistics and team management, and helping prep the car. But it felt good,” Minga recalls. As the end of the season neared, it seemed more and more likely that a championship was in reach.
And then disaster struck. “We ended up going to Barstow to test the car on the way to a race in Vegas, and we had an accident. [Foder and his nephew] were pre-running a marked race course, and a trophy truck got turned around and confused." Minga's voice cracks. "It came backwards on the course, and it came around a corner right at dusk and hit our car. My partner and best friend were killed instantly.” Minga was devastated, and on top of that, he lost three other family members the same year. He quit racing, and he even quit going to races. “I couldn’t do it,” he says.
It’s not that Minga didn’t know the risks and demands of off-road racing. Throughout his racing career, he was already familiar with what racing required of him, personally. “Every race I ever did was the last race I was ever gonna do,” he says. “You work so hard, you give it your all, and you’re so all-in, that you don’t have anything left. You’re so burnt out. You talk all your friends into helping you in some fashion. You just feel so dirty getting everything you can out of everybody you know. And you come home from a race with the car you built with your money, and it’s completely trashed. It’s done. And you can barely pay your bills. And then you have to be ready for the next race. You just had 12 rounds with Mike Tyson, and you gotta do it again. It’s painful in every part of it.”
But at the end of the day, knowing the risks and knowing the demands of racing didn’t do anything to lessen the shock or the hurt when Minga lost his best friend.
As painful as that loss was, the off-road world could never be off-limits to Minga. Sure, he’d become a successful stuntman and the movie business paid his bills, but that career could never hope to satisfy this fundamental aspect of Minga’s identity.
In 2004, Todd Clement, a friend of Minga’s and the founder of Horsepower Ranch, invited Minga to guide tours in Baja. “It was really neat to take people to Mexico and introduce them to the culture,” Minga says. It also gave him time to see the desert from outside of a racing mentality. “I get to enjoy Baja more than I ever enjoyed it before, and I enjoyed it before. You get to stop, take pictures, and give people a little taste of it. It’s like getting on a bike and going for a beach cruise after you’ve done a triathlon. Racing Baja is a triathlon. Now, I can bike, swim, jog at my leisure.”
Before long, Minga dipped his toes back into competition as Clement introduced Wide Open Baja as a way for amateurs and celebrities to experience desert racing for themselves. “I’ve raced with Patrick Dempsey and Paul Newman, and we’ve introduced so many people to the sport through Wide Open Baja,” Minga says. And despite the time off from racing, Minga still has it — he was a class winner for the 40th anniversary of the Baja 1000 in 2007.
“Now I just race the Baja 1000, but I’ll probably start doing the series again,” he says. But for now, he’s content guiding tours, working in show business, and exploring a new passion for enduro bikes. “I never could ride bikes. I had a family and I didn’t want to get hurt. So I didn’t really start riding motorcycles until I was 40. Now, I get to be the sweep rider on bike tours in Baja and do 250 miles in the saddle each day.”
Off-roading gives, but it also takes, and takes, and takes — as much of yourself as you will give it. Minga has lived that sacrifice and pain. He’s been beaten up and bloodied. But at the end of the day, it’s not a choice for him. Baja is in his blood, and he’s finding his way back to the joy of the desert, on his own terms.
Editor’s note: When it came time for Marty Lawrence to take her daughter Julia to college, she made sure they took the scenic route. From Athens, Georgia, to Maine, across Canada, and then to Portland, Oregon, the Lawrence family made a summer-long adventure out of this milestone. But it wasn’t over once Julia made it to school. Marty decided at the last minute to sign up and compete in the Rebelle Rally.
I bought my Subaru Outback in Maine in 2010 to be a comfortable vehicle around town and the many long distance drives that we anticipated in the next year or two. We moved to Georgia, and I commuted to Gainesville, Florida, from Athens, Georgia, every two weeks for a year. There were no plans to take it off-road at that point.
Several years ago, for my 60th birthday, I gave myself the present of a three-day private Overland Experts (OEX) course. The reasons I gave myself off-road driving lessons were twofold. First, I value the experience of getting outside my comfort zone and doing things that are challenging. Second, I'm a firm believer in learning from experts before venturing out alone doing potentially dangerous stuff.
I have always loved the outdoors — hiking, cycling, sailing, climbing, whitewater kayaking — and saw driving off road as a way to get further off the grid and into the wilder areas of the U.S. and Canada.
What a blast! I got bitten by the off-road bug. My OEX instructor commented several times on the off-road capabilities of Subarus, and that was all it took. Rather than buy an off-road specific 4x4, I made a list of modifications I wanted and started the project of upgrading Ivy, my Outback, to be off-road worthy.
Now, she's lifted, has full skid plates, a differential breather, upgraded electrical system, BFGoodrich® All-Terrain T/A KO2s on customized rims, a transmission cooler, rally lights on a light bar mounted in front of the bumper, and a robust roof rack. We also have a full set of recovery gear, and for a while, we also had an ARB awning and add-on tent.
“Dang, these are good tires. Inflated fully or aired down severely, they are champions.”
My last cross-country adventure could be known as “The Time We Took Julia to College.” We left Georgia in May with my daughter Julia and drove to Maine via several national parks and New York, where we visited family. We stayed in Maine for six weeks, then took the long way to Bennington, Vermont, where our ancestors are buried. (This is “The Part Where Julia Sees a Lot of Very Old Graves.”) From there, we drove into Canada via the beautiful Adirondacks.
Our major goals in driving across Canada were to avoid major city traffic, spend as much time on the north shore of Lake Superior as possible, visit a friend in Winnipeg, and head to the Canadian Rockies for the rest of the available time. We camped in both provincial parks and national parks all the way. We had to be in Portland, Oregon, on August 18 for Julia to get ready for school. It was a great trip. We had massive excitement: the tornado in Alberta, the unexplained shattering of our tailgate window in the middle of nowhere, bison, moose, elk, bear, small towns, wonderful Canadians, wildfire obscuring the Rockies, wild flowers, waterfalls, scary roads…
Then, I signed up for the 2017 Rebelle Rally. After OEX, I was looking for off-road rally events and the Rebelle popped up. It seemed like the perfect fit: off-road, women-only competition, precision, endurance, and skill.
The first Rebelle was being held at the time I was taking my OEX course, so I kept my eyes on the 2017 event. Scheduling and health issues prevented me from committing until the last minute, which put us at a significant disadvantage. But I had prepared Ivy and myself as much as possible, just in case. Once I knew that I could do it, I was all-in.
The Rebelle Rally is a ten-day event. Women may drive 4x4 or crossover vehicles, must have off-road experience, and be fully able to self-recover. It starts in Lake Tahoe and ends at the Imperial Sand Dunes in Southern California. The Rebelle Rally is a rally raid, which means that it is a navigation rally emphasizing precise route finding with a map and compass. No electronic or outside assistance is permitted. Competitors are given maps and lists of checkpoints of varying difficulty interspersed with TSD sections along the route. A day can consist of as few as eight checkpoints with transit sections, or as many as twenty checkpoints, a third of which may be unmarked. The course takes place on marked roads, off-road trails, dry lakes, mountains and sand dunes. We took third place in the crossover class — not bad for the smallest vehicle in the Rally, and the coolest dang thing in the desert, if you ask me.
The KO2s did almost 10,000 miles across the continent, and 1200 miles in the Rebelle — many of them on lousy roads, trails, or in roadless areas — all without a single, itsy-bitsy problem. Dang, these are good tires.
I got some criticism for putting such an aggressive tire on my vehicle from people who did not understand my future plans, but in the off-road world, KO2s are legendary. BFGoodrich is king at OEX, and they urged me to use them. The shop where most of Ivy's off-road prep occurred also thought KO2s were the right choice. I am so happy with these tires. Inflated fully or aired down severely, they are champions.
Editor’s note: Michael Murguia is a firm believer in the necessity of adventure. That’s why he created Overland Bound, a vehicle dependent travel organization that provides resources, software, and outdoor gear. He recently spent 17 days in Baja — completely unplugged from the world — in order to reconnect with nature. Here are his thoughts on his trip, how we all need a reality check to avoid turning into dinosaur food, and some impressions on the recently announced BFGoodrich® Mud-Terrain T/A KM3 tires.
How did you get into overlanding?
My father was a forest ranger, and my family had a logging company in Willits, CA. My hometown was 360 people, and by the age of 7, I was spending the night alone with friends in the wilderness around my house. We grew up in the redwood forests. My professional career in software development caused me to turn away from nature. Fast forward 20 years and a series of events created a life-changing catalyst. My father died young, and I got a divorce. My best friend died.
We all have our troubles. As a result of mine, I involuntarily turned back to nature. I bought a Land Cruiser and basically ran back to the woods for a few days. For me, it was a turning point. I realized nature and the freedom of the great outdoors was necessary, and something I wanted to share. I know it’s not easy for many. People need to be shown the basics to feel comfortable exploring. As a result, I became very focused on doing that with the life I have left, and I created Overland Bound.
Think of your favorite hero movie where the shit really goes down. Some people become heroes, while others get eaten by dinosaurs. The difference? The hero is connected to reality. Nature. That’s why adventure and a connection to nature is necessary. Don’t be dinosaur food.
Why is a connection to nature so important for you?
I truly believe nothing else is real. Think of your favorite hero movie where the shit really goes down. In the midst of catastrophe, some people are reasonably calm, exercise good judgement, and become heroes. Others get eaten by dinosaurs. The difference? The hero is connected to reality. Nature. The fundamentals of what make us human. We need food, shelter, and sex. We can also accomplish more together, than alone. That’s it. That’s reality. Everything else is artificially imposed by civilization.
The “dinosaur food” is too wrapped up in the artificial layers: Instagram, TV, what the Kardashians did last week. When those artificial layers are obliterated by a cataclysmic event, their reality disappears. They have nothing to hold on to, and they go insane. They get eaten by a dinosaur.
To be a well-grounded human, we must be connected to nature. The more you turn away from it, the less human you become. People that get caught in the rinse and repeat cycle of “the daily grind” are headed for disaster, one way or another. I’ve learned this the hard way. Adventure and a connection to nature is necessary. Don’t be dinosaur food.
Tell us a little about Baja.
I’ve trekked through Baja five times now, and there are areas that are completely wild. That is the point. There is no support. To feel truly self-reliant, you must seek destinations like this. The landscape is beautiful. The teal-blue of the sea inlets, and the vast rolling sand with sprawling cactus provides a completely alien landscape.
We spent 17 days in Baja and intentionally traveled without refrigeration. You can really discover what you require to sustain yourself, and you learn to appreciate it. Without this appreciation for what is real and necessary, you are missing a major piece of life.
Without this, your viewpoint, in our opinion, is skewed. You are not connected with reality. Have you ever had the sight of an ice cold Coke or cerveza bring you to the verge of tears because it is so beautiful? If not, you could probably use a little “real life” in your life.
Baja also calls to me. It’s the environment, and the completely wild existence it can provide. I do believe certain environments align with your specific DNA, and Baja feels right, like home.
What vehicle did you take to Baja?
We drove the venerable 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser FZJ80, solid-axle, triple-locked go-anywhere machine. When I first bought the rig, I did a ton of research and based my decision primarily on the reliability and Edmond’s true cost of ownership, which was a repair bill of only $500 a year. By contrast, a rig with similar features, the Land Rover Discovery II, had an annual repair cost of $5,000. That’s repairs, not maintenance. I knew what features I wanted, and sought the best platform. In my research, that was the 1996 FZJ80. By some standards, our vehicle is a modest build. Other than the external basic modifications, the rig is bone stock on the interior. We’ve removed the third row seats.
The exterior has:
These accessories round out the “go anywhere” capability of our rig, and with it, we can be gone indefinitely.
I went through Baja on another brand, and replaced two tires on a shorter trip. I changed to BFGoodrich in 2005 based on a recommendation from my dad. I’ve beaten the hell out of them since, and they have been bulletproof. When you find a good, reliable brand, you stick with it.
How about those KM3s?
To me, the KM3s seem to have a shorter stopping distance in wet weather compared to the KM2s I ran before. They also seem to be a touch louder, and if so, is a fair compromise with the improved performance. We absolutely beat the hell out of them in Baja, and they were fantastic in sand that stopped two other rigs. The sidewalls provide better armor, and I am very pleased with the improvements to the tire.
Check out Overland Bound’s free resources, community know-how, and overlanding software at their website.
Join hundreds of other MOPAR enthusiasts at Texas Motor Speedway for the third annual We Are Mopar show, hosted by DFWLX. There'll be an autocross course and school coached by BFGoodrich drivers, parade laps on the Speedway track in honor of our country's veterans, plenty of vendors, and of course, a judged car show with prizes to take home. For more information: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/we-are-mopar-presented-by-bfgoodrich-tires-tickets-42881395408
Looking for something?
Try the search bar below.
Please enter valid search term.
Sign up to submit your stories, learn from our Pit Crew, find events near you, and get the latest news from BFGoodrich
Don't have an account yet? Sign up here.
Please sign in to the BF Goodrich Garage to like this story.
Don't have an account yet? Sign up here.
Please sign in to the BF Goodrich Garage to comment on this story.
Don't have an account yet? Sign up here.
Please sign in to the BF Goodrich Garage to RSVP for this event.
Don't have an account yet? Sign up here.
Please sign in to the BF Goodrich Garage to like this answer.
Don't have an account yet? Sign up here.
Please sign in to the BF Goodrich Garage to comment on this answer.
Don't have an account yet? Sign up here.
Please sign in to the BF Goodrich Garage to like this comment.
Don't have an account yet? Sign up here.
Please sign in to the BF Goodrich Garage to ask a question.
Don't have an account yet? Sign up here.
Please sign in to the BF Goodrich Garage to submit a story.
Don't have an account yet? Sign up here.