In racing terms, the reaction to Ryan Arciero’s long overdue victory in last weekend’s Lucerna SCORE Baja 400 is akin to the one might expect should Helio Castroneves finally win his fourth Indy 500. This week, there has been a universal feeling that one of the sport’s most amiable and humble talents was rewarded at long last for years of unrequited effort.
Much to the delight of offroad race fans, Arciero enjoyed a hard-earned return to the top of the desert echelon as he wheeled the No. 32 Levi’s/BNETH/BFGoodrich-supported Ford F-150 Trophy Truck to a 97s victory over Andy McMillin. McMillin was debuting a brand-new Red Bull/Toyo-tired Mason-built all-wheel drive Chevrolet truck and was attempting to claim three straight 2019 SCORE series wins. Just 47s behind in third place came the No. 21 Ford truck of Mexicali, Baja, resident Gustavo “Tavo” Vildosola.
Starting and finishing at the historic Riviera del Pacifico in Ensenada, the newly-created Lucerna SCORE Baja 400 saw a relatively modest starting field of 189 vehicles take the green flag in a variety of classes, with an impressive 146 official finishers. Arciero, 46, of Foothill Ranch, Calif., averaged just 46.20mph despite having no mechanical issues or flats, a testament to the rugged and dusty Baja 400 course. It was Arciero’s fourth career SCORE Trophy Truck race win.
Enjoying the moment at the Baja 400 was his legendary father, Frank “Butch” Arciero Jr., the son of pioneering racing icon Frank Arciero Sr. The Arcieros (including Frank’s Sr. brother Albert) have been a fixture in sports car and offroad racing for three generations. On Nov. 3, Butch Arciero will be inducted into the Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Las Vegas, along with Robby Gordon, Lynn Chenowth, Bobby Ferro, David Higgins and Steve Morris.
While Ryan and his father have taken eight wins at the annual NORRA Mexican 1000 (some teamed with the late Bob Gordon in his famous vintage Chenowth-Toyota Class 1 car), Ryan’s last major Mexican victory came at the 2004 Baja 1000 with former partner Mark Miller. He admits that the burden of not winning had become almost overwhelming, one that gnawed at his self-confidence.
“You just keep missing the wins, and as you get a bit older, all of this starts to fill your brain with doubt,” he shared. “When you’re running up front, but are still just missing a few pieces, it’s hard to stay confident.
“And, let me tell you, this sport has never been harder,” he added. “It’s not for a lack of trying, I can assure you.”
Despite the long dry spell, Arciero has maintained a positive outlook and set the bar for quiet and humble professionalism. It was more than a decade ago now that he and Miller campaigned a factory effort with Volkswagen, creating an uber-exotic VW Touareg Trophy Truck powered by the equally unobtainable 12-cylinder diesel also used by Audi for its 24 Hours of Le Mans victories.
After spending years cultivating the opportunity, though, their effort was a one and done deal, with Volkswagen pulling the plug after their inaugural run at the 2008 Baja 1000.
Arciero would rebound, finding drives with both Mark Post (in 2010) and later with Herbst Motorsports. It was a time that the historically successful Herbst team found themselves with less than competitive equipment, and Ryan would have to endure another period of less-than-expected results other than winning the 2014 Parker 425 with Troy Herbst.
Then in 2017, an unexpected opportunity came via team owner and offroad newbie Kyle Washington, a good friend of artist and entrepreneur Troy Lee. Washington’s business acumen soon landed a unique partnership with Levi’s and one of the Herbst’s potent new generations of Trophy Trucks. Lee came up with the red, white and blue paint scheme, and Arciero found himself back in a competitive ride.
After almost claiming the 2019 SCORE San Felipe 250 (he lost to winner Andy McMillin by less than two minutes), Arciero started the recent SCORE Baja 400 in 15th position. The route was defined by a single-track course and endless, endless dust. He and co-driver Travis Morres (filling in for Washington at this race) stayed patient, making up time in those rare moments of clean air. Doing his best to maintain a slim lead over an incredibly tight field, Arciero also used some creative strategy to just stay ahead of McMillin and Vildosola.
When the clocks stopped, it was Arciero standing at the top of the podium. Finally.
“You work so hard in this sport, and this is payback for San Felipe,” he explained. “No flats and no issues, which is the only way to win today. We also had a special new bullet under the hood,” Arciero sharing that an exclusive engine program with NASCAR’s Joe Gibbs Racing has yielded a massive 465cid, fuel-injected monster with proprietary blocks and heads that puts out a staggering 1,045 horsepower near its 8,500-rpm limit.
At a reported cost well past $100,000 per copy, Arciero admits it’s a game-changer.
“This is the first time our team had this package, although Tim and Troy (Herbst) ran it earlier this year,” he explained. “God, that thing is so smooth and drivable — it’s next-level stuff that bridges the gap to the four-wheel drive trucks. The guys at Joe Gibbs have discovered that they love this form of racing, and we are so happy to give them their first win.”
For sure, this week’s Ryan Arciero is not the same Ryan Arciero of a week before. Getting a lingering gorilla off one’s back can do just that. The best news for the rest of us is that sometimes the good guys can win — even if it takes 1,045 Joe Gibbs Racing horsepower to make it happen.