LAKE WYLIE — Gentlemen won’t be the only ones starting their engines today when the 2008 Baja 500 rolls off in Enseñada, Mexico.
Billed among the toughest automotive endurance races on the planet, the Baja makes history with its 40th annual edition as the first female racer, Barbara Terry of River Hills, competes in the Score Light series hoping to outduel 12 other teams in the 500-mile, two-day event.
Her professional racing career includes stops in New York and Los Angeles, although she “fell in love” with Lake Wylie and quickly set up shop for Barbara Terry Racing in February.
“I grew up with six brothers in Texas, so it was pretty much Friday night at the football game and Saturday night at the dirt track,” she said.
Terry raced the Baja 1000 last year, but the 500 this weekend is the first official event for her new race team. In the automotive community, Terry’s name is well known. Just a few appearances include the “CBS Morning Show,” ESPN radio and CNN, as well as magazine covers, talk shows and news broadcasts throughout the country.
David Ifft, owner of Clover-based David Ifft Engineering, spent more than a week helping Terry prepare her buggy for the race.
“She wanted us to work on it to where nothing would fall off, and that’s what we did,” said Ifft, whose racing experience spans almost four decades including NASCAR crew chief and parts manufacturer, as well as former owner of Carolina Speedway in Gaston County.
Ifft, who worked out of a garage near Five Points before moving to his Clover location, knows a quality race team when he sees one.
“She must be pretty good,” Ifft said of Terry. “She’s got the sponsorships — all the parts, pieces and everything you need.”
What Baja racers need most, Terry said, is “umph.” The terrain in places can be so treacherous that traveling 20 miles per hour becomes dangerous. Some stretches feature an ocean on one side and a mountain range on the other, and drivers who are not careful can “fly off the side of a mountain,” Terry said.
There are other hazards, too.
“It’s public knowledge down there that some of the people in the Mexican towns near the race will booby trap the course,” Terry said. “If you come over a hill too fast, there might be a boulder right at the bottom. If you see a bunch of people standing around, you know to watch out.”
Three drivers will rotate during the event that also offers classes for ATVs and trophy trucks. The team will pit stop every 100 miles or so.
“It’s very different from running on a circular track or even on a dirt track,” she said.
She says her team is prepared.
“We could really build an engine in the middle of the desert if we have to,” she said.
While winning would be grand, Terry says all the months of hard work and preparation are for one goal — finishing the race.
“It’s more impressive to finish those desert races than anything,” Ifft said. “If you finish, you’ll come in the top five or so.”