"You want your butt firmly in the seat,” Rob MacCachren says as he helps me buckle into the bitch seat of his Baja prerunner, describing how to brace my body for a high-speed dash down the Mint 400 off-road race course. “You sit on your ass, and your body kinda rotates," he adds, demonstrating what he means by gyrating his torso from outside the vehicle.
It's a little odd being strapped down like a hungry toddler in a high chair by MacCachren, of all people. The 52-year-old has more than 200 off-road racing victories under his belt, including four Baja 1000s—not the least of which was last year, when he covered that year's brutal 854-mile loop in 17 hours, 12 minutes, and 58 seconds. He's been winning off-road races since he was eight years old, back when Richard Nixon was still in the White House. Having him help me climb into his high-speed scout machine is kind of like having Scott Kelly assisting you onto the Vomit Comet.
If the first thing the word "Prerunner" brings to mind is a trim package for the Toyota Tacoma, shake your head like an Etch-a-Sketch and get that association out of there. Modern-day Baja prerunners are stripped-down, overpowered off-roaders that look like something Delta Force would use to storm an ISIS compound in northern Iraq. MacCachren's personal rig is a 3,500-pound Alumi Craft-bodied terror with three seats, 22 inches of wheel travel, and an LS3 smallblock packing more than 430 horsepower mounted so far past the rear axle, it makes old Porsche 911s look even-keeled. The tires—BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain T/As lifted straight from the company's stock off-road catalog—would look large on the Ford F-150 Raptor that BFG brought along so the assembled journalists could take a turn behind the wheel in the Nevada wasteland, but they look comically huge on the wide-track, fender-free prerunner.
All that capability will come in handy on the 15-mile chunk of the Mint 400 course, located a few miles south of Las Vegas. Beginning at the race's original starting line in Jean, Nevada, MacCachren and his prerunner will haul my aforementioned butt across some of the roughest terrain this side of the Rockies. The short loop planned for us features all types of terrain—sand, silt, shattered rocks, and plenty of whoops capable of sending a speeding off-roader bouncing like a smooth stone across a pond. MacCachren says his trophy truck racer can hit those bumps so fast, the cabin stays level, held steady by a perfect harmonic oscillation. The prerunner, as capable as it is, can't come close to matching that speed. All I can do in back is plant my ass and try to keep my kneecaps from shattering against the steel tube of the roll cage's cross beam, which lies uncomfortably close to where my mammoth legs bend.
The sound of distant rifle fire echoes through the dusty air, the sound of a target shooter taking advantage of the laissez-faire attitude of the Bureau of Land Management towards the terrain around us: Pop, whoosh, thump. As we're getting ready to head out, MacCachren offers a word of advice to everyone planning to drive in his wake: We might have to drive between a shooter and his target as we lap the 15-mile loop, so if that happens, "just make eye contact before you do."