The racing world as a whole, and off-road racing in particular, is a lot less salty this week. Last week’s tragic loss of Pete Sohren has made our sport’s complex recipe a bit less bright, and a whole lot more vanilla.
A longtime Trophy Truck competitor and the founder of the Baja Racing Adventures, Sohren was killed while attending the recent San Felipe Desert Mayhem 175 race in San Felipe, Baja, Mexico when the UTV he was driving was struck by another side-by-side in the sand dunes near the El Cortez hotel.
The driver of the other UTV was also ejected from the vehicle and died. Sohren’s daughters Farrah and Paige were also injured during the accident, but both are expected to survive their injuries after lengthy recovery near their Phoenix, Arizona home. Pete Sohren was just 54 years old, and is survived by wife Cami, daughters Farrah, Blair and Paige and son Van.
Known primarily for his perfectly appropriate nickname of “Pistol Pete” and a horribly coiffed mullet, Sohren was that loud, opinionated guy who could ruin a dinner party faster serving a tofu entrée. His was at once the persona embodying the sport’s appeal to the everyday racer and the counter voice to almost any standard voice of reason.
No matter the subject matter, Sohren often patrolled the hallways of internet mainstays like Race-Dezert.com to impose his opinion. Or call and tell you in person. It was his unique schtick.
Loved or hated, right or wrong, in the end, what matters is that Pistol Pete was a great mentor and family man who passionately drove off-road racing’s overall dialogue. Along with that unforgettable hair, he used that voice to great effect, garnering him a loyal following with fans and sponsors alike. Sohren was the colorful David to the sport’s Goliaths, but he also had the talent to back up his on-track performances just as far as his underwhelming machinery would take him. His odd-looking yellow Trophy Truck – complete with two co-drivers and Sohren sitting in the middle – was cobbled together on hope, duct tape and bailing wire.
In a world of Snap-on tools, Sohren was the king of Harbor Freight.
But if pressed, he admitted several times to me that he really had no business competing in the sport’s most expensive category from a financial standpoint. But, really, that wasn’t the point.
“I think maybe they live vicariously through me because I am a regular guy like them,” he once shared with motorsports journalist John Zimmermann. “I’m living the dream everyone would like to live, driving a Trophy Truck. Regular guys can relate to me. We can’t all be Alan Pflueger or Carl Renezeder. We can’t all be rich and pretty.”
Certainly, Pistol’s personality was his calling card, especially contrasting his wide-open truth against the corporate blandness that often overrides the motorsports landscape. Frankly, NASCAR could use a Pistol Pete Sohren right now.
Thankfully, that aura wasn’t lost on television producers of late, as he was one of the main characters/judges on the History Channel series “Truck Night in America” (pictured above, at left). We should take solace that the mainstream audience got to see a glimpse of his magic, and it’s easy to imagine like-minded “Mullets” around the world sitting on their sofas, drinking a beer and completely relating to Sohren’s hair – and mouth.
It was the hair. He explained the mullet’s power to Zimmermann, who shared that everyone at Dirt Sports magazine was curious about the first impressions he and his locks garnered.
“They’re just jealous,” he laughed. “Trends come back every 20 years, and I’m going to be the first guy back, trendy. It’s coming back, the mullet is coming back! They’re just jealous because they’ve got to spray paint their heads. But, it’s my trade secret. It’s where I get my strength. I’m like Sampson.”
That strength was captured best by a photo shoot set up by camera artist Boyd Jaynes. In late 2007 we at Dirt Sports needed a big story on Sohren for our 40th anniversary Baja 1000 issue (I was the editorial director at the time).
Jaynes’ big idea was to dress Pistol in a mariachi outfit and join a real band outside of legendary Hussong’s Cantina in downtown Ensenada. The joke, of course, was the dollar-filled tip jar that was going toward his racing effort.
“I remember I rented the costume here in the United States, and I remember riding in the back of one his team trucks to Hussong’s,” recalled Jaynes.
“We paid the band to come outside, and he was playing for money because he was just such a low budget guy.
“The locals loved it because this [character] was out there playing up to them, mullet and all. Then we bribed a local cop to join us. It was the epitome of Pete.”
Vaya Con Dios Pedro La Pistola. Our world will miss that hair, that mouth and all that special flavor.