Regional sales manager gets roped into driving the Baja 1000, wins it
We'd all like to think we go fast on the weekend, but Polaris sales manager Eric Borgen has the ultimate proof: it turns out he's been stuffing about with his buddies in the Arizona desert at a Baja 1000-winning pace.
Given the chance to co-drive the race this year with one of his childhood friends, Borgen smashed the opportunity out of the park, putting a 45-minute gap on the rest of the field over a grueling 11-hour overnight driving session to dominate the top-tier Pro UTV Open class. Then he drove the 15 hours home to get to work in the morning, in the ultimate example of "win on Sunday, sell on Monday."
How did this all come about? We caught up with Borgen over a video chat to hear the story first-hand. What follows is an edited transcript .
Loz: So you're a regional sales manager for Polaris in Arizona.
Eric: Yep, I work with all the dealers here, anything they have to do with Polaris is all through me.
Does that involve getting out and driving these side-by-sides a lot?
Well, it involves driving a Dodge pickup truck quite a lot to visit the dealers. (laughs)
So how do you end up getting roped into racing the Baja 1000?
So I grew up here in Arizona with a few of my buddies. Branden Sims is one of them. We all grew up together riding dirt bikes and ATVs ... We've always ridden together, whether we're going out to have a fun weekend camping, or we're going to the dunes. Ever since he got factory sponsored by Polaris I've always helped him out. I would go to the pits and help them out, fuel the cars, navigate, whatever's needed.
I started riding dirt bikes when I was three years old, and I started racing them when I was six. I raced dirt bikes all through high school. Then I went to college and started a career with Polaris. I wasn't able to keep racing, I didn't have the funding, but I wanted to stay in the powersports industry. So last year, Branden asked me to drive the Baja with him, and I drove for half that race, and we happened to get second place. I guess it was a pretty good performance, so he asked me if I'd drive his car again this year.
Loz: So apart from the Baja, when was the last time you raced?
UTVs? Never. But we go riding pretty regularly together on the weekends, and our friends are all pretty competitive, so we all kind of ride at race pace. Every "play" ride we go on, we're all battling to push each other and see how fast we can go.
You're telling me you go d*cking around on the weekends doing Baja 1000-winning pace through the desert?
Yeah, yeah. And out of that group of friends, I'm usually leading everyone when we go riding. They've kinda picked me to lead the group, and luckily, knock on wood, I haven't wrecked any of these cars, even though my buddies behind us tend to wad up their cars and get in accidents. So I think that was the decision factor for Branden, he's seen me ride a lot, he says I'm smooth and he trusted me with his brand new race car.
"To finish first, you must first finish ..." I believe it was Mr. Miyagi that said that. So how much of the race did you drive?
Branden started, of course, at about 10-11 o'clock in the morning. He started last in our class, and about 100 miles (160 km) into the course he got stuck behind a trophy truck on the mountain while everyone else in our class got past. That put us about 20 minutes back, so for the next 100 miles he had to chase down everyone and try to get back to the front of the pack – which he did.
I got in at San Mattia, which was race mile 465 (748 km) at about 8.30 pm, and when he handed it over to me we were sitting with Craig Scanlon and Austin Wayland, and there was about three minutes in it. It was pretty neck and neck. Branden asked me to finish, so I did about 360 miles (579 km). But that's 360 miles of desert racing at night, it took about 11 hours. And with the pace we ran, I came in about 45 minutes ahead of second place.
You put 45 minutes on these guys?
I did, look, you're very remote out there, there's no communication. You don't know what's happening, so the first time I came in to pit, I'm asking how am I doing? Branden was like "you're 15 minutes in front, keep that pace up, let's put some more time on him and then we can back off a little bit."
So a few hours later I came in again, and I was 30 minutes ahead. So the guys were like "alright, let's just make sure we keep the car together ..." But at that point, I kind of had a point to prove, so I kept up the same pace all the way to the end and we gapped everyone by quite some time by the time we were done. My navigator Matt was sitting there laughing, saying "It's gonna be funny when we get out of the car and they see it was just a couple of rookies!"
That's pretty wild. I'm trying to work out if you're a superhuman racer in the wrong career, or if this is the kind of sport where weekend warriors can just come in and dominate the Baja 1000.
I don't think people can come in and just dominate. I've got a lot of riding experience. I've done thousands and thousands of miles in a RZR at race pace, just riding with my buddies on the weekend. And the Baja 1000 runs through very similar desert terrain to Arizona – it goes from coastline to sand whoops, to rock like King of the Hammers, to silt beds, this deep, loose dirt where you have to carry speed or you get stuck ...
Off-road, whether it's dirt bikes, ATVs, whatever, it's all about reading the terrain and knowing what the vehicle can take, picking the right lines so you keep the vehicle alive and you don't blow it apart. And I've always been good at night, I drive fast in the dark.
When the sun finally came up, we were at about mile 700 (1,127 km), and just hitting the roughest, most brutal terrain yet. Me and Matt were looking at it saying "man, this race just doesn't give you a break!"
It must be a trip having your own crew as a rookie in a race like this.
Oh, the team was just a small group of friends. I mean, we're factory sponsored by Polaris, and we have that factory support, but this isn't a race team, it's nine guys. Myself, Matt, Branden, Skyler his navigator, and Tommy... It's five or six guys at most of Branden's races. Every other race team, there seems to be a group of 20 guys, five or six trucks, they're down there pre-running the course two weeks in advance writing pace notes on their GPS, trying to pick the best lines and find shortcuts.
But we all have careers, we all work, so we can't go do that stuff. And we don't have five trucks, we went down there with Branden's truck and my truck. We got there the day before the race. When Branden's driving, I'm fueling his car and changing tires, and when I'm racing, even though he's been driving for 10 hours, he's changing my tires. And after the race was done, we got done Saturday morning, we packed up and started driving the 15 hours back from Mexico, because everyone had to work on Monday. (laughs)
Careful, I'm going to write this on the internet. Everyone's going to know your elite racing secrets now and they'll all be doing it that way next year. I hope you're giving Branden plenty of grief about the fact you put a bigger gap on the opposition than he did.
Well, you have to remember he started in last place and got stuck in a traffic jam and then had to pass everyone.
Sure, but if it was me I'd still be lording it over my pro-racer buddy pointing at the time sheet.
Oh, don't worry! On the drive home, I picked a different route than he did and we got through the border an hour and a half faster than he did. We were on the phone to them laughing our heads off, saying "guys, you should've jumped in with the driver that put a 45-minute gap on the Baja field!"
Excellent. So is there a thought in the back of your head that you should get your own team together and go up against Branden next time?
I'd absolutely love to race and have my own program. But it's not a cheap hobby! I mean, apart from what you need to invest in a vehicle, it's a US$20,000 entry fee just to get into the Baja. So unfortunately, I have to ride on my friend's coattails – but Branden's awesome, when people ask why he has some sales rep driving with him he'll tell them every time: "it's because he's the best driver. I don't want anyone else in the car." I can't afford to start a race program myself, so I'll get out and sell a bunch of RZRs for Polaris instead. (laughs)
Surely funding will come easier when people learn about your strike rate – two races in your life, one win, one second at the freakin' Baja 1000?
Yeah, maybe this could help! And just to give you some context on last year, we were out in front by about an hour and a half with about 100 miles to go, and a throttle body failed on our RZR. So the guys had to run a throttle body out to us in the desert, and we had to repair it and get back on the course. If we didn't have that failure, it would've been two wins in a row.
Good grief. So are you doing it again?
I will absolutely drive with Branden anytime he asks, no question, no hesitation! On the shorter races I'll sit in the passenger seat and navigate for him. So I'll technically be racing even if I'm not driving. The driving is a much better job, the navigator is always sitting there trying to read, so you don't know when the hits are coming, but I'll take anything I can get!
So what's it like going back to the office on Monday after winning the Baja 1000?
(laughs) The dealers are all super excited, they all wanna hear the story. And it certainly gives me some street cred when I'm explaining why Polaris is a superior product over our competition. But on the Polaris side, I don't think many people from corporate Polaris even knew I was racing. Some of the guys would say things like, "oh, you're friends with Branden? I see he came second in the Baja." Yeah, I drove half that race! (laughs)
This time, our race team manager Brett reached out and pretty much told everyone, "hey, Eric just won the Baja 1000." So the word is definitely out now, everyone's reaching out and saying how awesome it is.
Gotta be a good time to ask if there's any factory funding for your own team, surely.
If Polaris wants to put together a program, I'd absolutely 100% be jumping for joy. And I'll continue to sell those RZRs all week. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday, right?
This is the ultimate example of that! Is there a big difference between the ones you're selling and the race car?
That's the coolest thing ever. That car we just won the Baja 1000 with has 100% stock drivetrain, suspension, A-arms, axles, front differential, the transmission, the belt, the clutches, the engine, everything. That's all standard RZR Pro R gear, the way it rolls off the factory floor. It has a chassis with a roll cage and door nets, built by Lone Star, that's required for racing, and a 40-gallon fuel cell to give you extended range, and some stiffer springs because that 40-gallon fuel cell gives you much, much more weight to carry. We've got different wheels and tires.
That's a testament to how good Polaris is over the competition. You look at any of our competition, they strip that thing right down to the frame, reinforced gusset, aftermarket A-arms, aftermarket axles, aftermarket everything. Bro, our two-seat Ultimate is US$38,000 plus tax, and the drive train and suspension is ready to go out of the box. Our race car handled no differently to a stock car.
Well that's awesome. Congratulations mate, sounds like a hell of a weekend.
I haven't stopped smiling for a week. It's an absolute pinnacle for me. Just a super cool experience, it's something I'll be talking about for the rest of my life. And I'll do it again any time they let me!
Source: Polaris USA