By Kelley Dupuis
Andy McMillin loves Mexico.
Ask the 18 year-old Poway High senior how he feels about Mexico and he very nearly waxes poetic.
“It’s a way to get away from everything that’s going on up here,” he said. “There’s freedom down there. It’s probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. It’s an incredible country.”
When he’s in Mexico, Andy is in touch with three things he loves: “Ocean, land... and racing.”
Yes, Andy McMillin likes to express his love for Mexico by tearing across its wild and rocky countryside just as fast as he can.
Andy is a third-generation off-road racing buff. He caught the bug from his dad, Scott McMillin, and his grandfather, Corky McMillin. (If the names sound familiar, they should: the McMillins are one of National City’s most high-profile real estate families.) And last November, for the second time since he was 16, Andy got to realize many a teenager’s dream: to race in the Tecate Score Baja 1,000, possibly the most grueling event in the sport of off-road racing. Racers trek at high speed from Ensenada to La Paz1,000 miles, of which perhaps 30 miles is paved road. The rest is the wild west: some of Mexico’s most rugged terrain.
And not only did Andy get to drive in the Baja 1,000, but he also got to participate in a documentary film about it. Dust To Glory, currently playing in theaters around San Diego County, is a fast-paced, blow-by-blow account of the race directed by Dana Brown, himself a second-generation enthusiast for what he does. In 2003 Brown and the Dust To Glory team won acclaim for the surfing documentary Step Into Liquid. Brown’s father, Bruce Brown, made the granddaddy of all surfing films way back in 1966, The Endless Summer, and also chronicled the world of motorcycle racing in 1971’s On Any Sunday.
Although the race took place in the fall, Andy was interviewed for the film in February.
“They wanted to interview me before, but it was bad weather and they couldn’t get the plane down there,” he said. “I had heard they were going to make the film, but had no idea it was going to be anything like this.”
Andy and his father covered the 1,000-mile course in just under 19 hours. Grandfather Corky, age 76, also was in the race, and by the way will soon be participating in a 250-mile race in Pahrump, NV, just south of Las Vegas.
“It’s hard,” he said. “You’re in the car for ten hours at a time, and you have dust, rocks and everything coming at you. You’re following other vehicles sometimes for two or three hours, and if you go off the road and break a wheel, you’re done.”
Although “anything with wheels on it” is eligible to try the Baja 1,000hard-core motorcycle buffs are part of the fieldAndy explained that off-road racers usually hit the track in uniquely-rugged vehicles designed to take unimaginable pounding and bouncing.
“Our car had a tube chassis made from scratch,” he said. “And these cars have A-arms that are huge.” (A-arms are the part of the car’s suspension system that gives it clearance.) “A stock vehicle has seven or eight inches of wheel-travel. Ours has 22,” he said. “You can be going 80 miles per hour, through three-foot holes, and you’re just floating. It’s amazing.”
Racers also wear specially-equipped helmets with air tubes to feed them fresh air as they race along through choking dust.
Andy got the off-road racing bug very early in life. His father and grandfather used to go to the desert frequently, in the 1970s before Andy was born. They first heard about the Baja 1,000 around 1976, he said.
“They watched it and thought it looked like fun. They bought a car, thinking they might race once and then sell it, but that didn’t happen,” he laughed.
Scott McMillin took a few years off from the sport to raise his family, but Andy said off-road racing managed to be present in the house even when it wasn’t. His Dad had some old racing videos that Andy and his friends liked to watch, and finally Andy asked his dad to teach him how to race. He said he began riding at age two, and first tried his hand at driving when he was 7 years old. In 2003 he got his first shot at the Baja.
Last fall Team McMillin was actually doing very well in the race, father and son sharing the driving. In fact they were leading the pack until they had a mishap.
“I drove for about the first half,” Andy said, adding that breaks in the race are few and far between. “You break for gas, change your tires, take quick drink of water, grab something to eat and then you’re in the middle of nowhere again. We were actually leading the race for a while. I got in with 120 miles left. That was after the break: there would be no more pit stops, we were just going to the finish line.”
But then their luck took a turn for the bad.
“We broke our lower A-arm bolt,” he said. “We had to limp the car 20 miles to a pit stop and we got lost, which is not good when you’re in the middle of nowhere. But we were leading the whole day up until then.”
Needless to say, after 18 hours and 48 minutes of pounding over 1,000 miles of the roughest terrain on earth, when they finally reached La Paz, Andy clocked up “A good day’s sleep.”
Next November, the Baja beckons again. He says he’ll be there.
“Baja has become like a part of my family,” he said. “We’re probably down there four months out of the year. In other months, we’re either testing or getting ready for races.”
Andy is thinking he would like to try other kinds of racing besides off-road, and hopes that his appearance in Dust To Glory might open some doors.
“I hope the movie will bring in some sponsors,” he said. “Maybe someone will discover my talent, give me a chance to try some other kind of racing. But it’s good with off-road for now.”