Rust To Glory
We recently sat down with Sean and Owen Barber after their podium finish in the NORRA Mexican 1000 race to talk racing, Baja and the father-son dynamic required to complete such a grueling course together in a vintage 4x4. Sean is a long time friend and owner of New Legend 4x4 and Anything Scout. Sean’s son Owen has worked in the InR warehouse since he was 16. The NORRA was the first race of any kind for both of them and both Sean and Owen were still beaming from the experience. In the spirit of Father’s Day, we thought we’d dig into the trials and triumphs they shared as a father-son team as they prepped their race truck together and put it to the test across the Baja peninsula.
INR: How did you guys decide to form a racing team together for the NORRA Mexican 1000 race?
Sean: I'm very interested in the history of Scouts and in particular I’ve been drawn to their history in desert racing for a while. I have the honor of being a caretaker and restorer of one of the factory IH race Scouts that ran in the 1980-82 seasons in Baja. While we are restoring that, Owen and I had the opportunity to buy an old rusty 1976 Scout Terra from Ventura. We found it sitting in a storage yard and it hadn’t run in about 4 years. So we bought it cheap and looked at each other over a meal one evening, and I said to him “you wanna go race in Baja in 8-9 months? He replied, what the heck! Why not”. We then started telling family and friends and our Anything Scout team. Once you verbalize a vision to others it somehow tends to stick! So we started down the path of building the Terra to learn how to race!
INR: Can you tell us about the Legends 4x4 class and why you chose to participate in that particular class?
Sean: Owen and I wanted to feel like the Baja pioneers in the 70’s. We wanted an old school visceral experience in a retro race truck. The Legends class has pretty strict rules to keep the vehicle vintage. From engine, axles, leaf spring suspension and shocks. It has to stay true to the spirit of the original Scout. Which we knew were built to be simple and tough farm machines. The biggest impact decision was to keep the Scout with its 4 cyl 196 CI engine! 100hp of torquey fury! This added to the fun and challenge of the experience. The vintage rigs embody the spirit of the Norra race and are the coolest in my opinion!
INR: What were the challenges you faced as a father and son team during the race preparation phase?
Sean: In addition to the labor and cost involved with building a race truck which has to withstand over 1000 miles of abuse, having to learn everything was the biggest challenge. We had the blue print from the factory race Scout we are restoring, but outside of that we were total newbs. We poured over YouTube videos and forums trying to learn likely failure points and follow the builder rules in the Norra guide. I started reaching out to other vintage class racers and they were beyond gracious and generous sharing insight and specifics on the build. Owen and friends new and old, and the team at Anything Scout, really stepped up in helping to build an amazing rig. Finding sponsors is also a critical part of racing and we fortunately have a great network of friends in the industry and they were very eager and generous in their partnership and sponsorship. Our friends at Scout Motors (the company launching the new EV Scout) really stepped up as a key race team partner. The other aspect that was a challenge was logistics and race planning. We had to buy an old Ford 250 to serve as a chase truck. We needed to learn about GPS, book camping spots and hotels, find a chase team...and more. It was an amazing big challenge all around. That’s what made it amazing! Another thing was mentors and I want to give special thanks to Mouse McCoy for being my driving coach! His insight proved invaluable to Owen and I. There are really amazing people in Baja racing!
INR: Did you have any prior racing experience, or was this your first time competing in such an event together? Pretty intense research for this or did you just wing it?
Sean: None at all. I’ve been off-road driving most of my life and that definitely helped. But its an interesting dynamic between man and machine. Owen and I knew the Scout very well from countless hours of building it, and that helped us stay in tune with it while racing. There is a saying in long distance Baja racing. “to finish first, you must first finish” And that is totally true. If you crash or push the old vehicle too much and break you will likely not finish. We researched and talked to everyone we could find. Owen did a great job learning about the navigation and communication systems and that was super critical.
INR: How did the dynamics between you guys change during the race? Did you face any unique challenges or advantages? Other father and son duos out there?
Sean: Owen and I are really close in our relationship. We surf almost daily together and enjoy working on old cars etc. That was really important. Racing can be stressful and specifically the relationship between driver and co-driver can be stressful. You need to implicitly trust one another. I’m trusting Owen when he calls out a danger or direction. I cant second guess him. He is trusting me, as he is looking down at his course book and GPS screen, with literally his life. One mis-step, coming into a corner too hot and flying off a cliff or canyon!, he has to trust me to push the pace while not wrecking! We definitely settled into our roles and got better and sharper as the race drew on. Someone said of Owen, “he entered Baja a boy, and came out a man” It's no joke down there. It was a tough experience driving 10-14 hrs per day for 5 days straight...Under stressful and challenging circumstances. That’s what made it amazing.
INR: Were there any specific strategies or techniques you employed to ensure effective teamwork and communication throughout the race? Sean, looks like you drove and Owen co-piloted. Could you see the reverse for the next round?
Sean: Just talk straight and have grace with each other. Also with our chase team Ben and Chris. the 4 of us had to sync up everyday and had to work as a team. Definitely could not have been successful with out those guys. Everyone having a role and a job was critical, and deferring to one another was a big thing. We started everyday with a coffee and then got into race mode. Owen and I had this amazing, hard to explain, transformation when we would get in the Scout...buckle up our seat belts (which is a multi-step process), put on our helmets, and finally, connect the in helmet coms. Then take a deep breath and our focus shifted to the immediate, almost like we took on personas. It was go time, mission time and we treated each other with a focused respect and seriousness. Same with the Chase team. When Chris would set our logistic plan for the day, we felt a sense of calm and direction, when Ben would put on his mechanic jump suit, we knew the Scout would get the attention it needed to keep her together for the next 200 miles or however long the day was. It was a beautiful experience.
Owen got a chance to drive and he did great. But we have more to learn and I feel like I have to drive another 1000. I want to shave 4 hours off our time. We finished in 33 hrs of race stage time. I want to get in the sub 30 range. He’ll drive eventually no doubt. You need a mix of focus, ability to stay in your ability while pushing just past your comfort. You gotta go fast, BUT you have to keep the rig together and not crash...
INR: How did you support and motivate each other during the more challenging sections of the race?
Sean: Owen was the hero here. I found it very helpful for him to constantly communicate with me. Direction, distance, engine vitals, dangers and what was ahead. I just wanted to hear his voice. It was difficult to stay focused for such long periods of time. It was a little like listening to a good podcast on a long road trip. Positive affirmation was helpful too. Encouraging one another to keep going. Also we strongly held to no anger outbursts or tearing each other down. This was a whole team dynamic that made the whole experience very awesome. It was magic. Day 3 was a 400 mile day and the second half was very technical rocky terrain. We lost our alternator, it was dark, we couldn’t use our bright KC auxiliary lights, we had headaches from hours and hours of aggressive bouncing over rocky terrain... We had to dig deep and keep negativity out and fight to stay focused. I was super impressed with Owen’s character and toughness. Its these circumstances that make and display character. Owen and my kids give me hope for young people today! it was rad to see.
INR: Can you share any anecdotes or interesting stories that highlight the bond and camaraderie between you and your father during the race?
Sean: The dust rag. We ran, at Mouse’s behest, no windshield with open face helmets. He said that’s the only way to authentically embrace the old way. (we loved it) Baja is an amazing and extremely beautiful place that is very dusty. So every time we would get passed by a faster race car, which was often, we would get loads of dust in the face. Over the course of the race I could just open my right hand, palm up, and magically a dust rag would be accurately placed in my hand so I could dust off my goggles. And then I would hand it back without taking my eyes off the track. It was funny and super cool. We would have been screwed without a dust rag system. it was something we learned from watching hours of YouTube videos. Another one of Owens jobs. Nav, Gauges, Dust rag duty for me, himself, and the go pros, snack getter, Red Bull cracker, encourager, slow down and go faster caller, and hype man!
INR: What were the emotions and feelings you experienced upon crossing the finish line as a father and son team?
Sean: More than words could express. I wish my oldest son could have come too. Next time! It was something we’ll share for the rest of our lives. And someday I know he’ll tell stories to his kids and grandkids about the time he and his old man got to race in Baja in an old Scout Terra. Then the grandkids will go out to the barn and find the old RaceTerra dubbed “el tractor” dust it off, rebuild it, and go race Baja!
INR: So what are the next steps from here? Is this something you guys can see doing every year?
Sean: We’re already signed up for the Norra 500 in Sept! This time we want to dial in our team with some custom I&R suits and uniforms. Fashion is a cool part of Norra with the vintage teams that I am excited to curate and dive into more! Haha. For now, we’re wrenching on the Scout and dialing in the suspension and getting a new 196 built for some more power. Thanks to I&R and the other sponsors. You are a big part of the team and lets keep ripping together. Happy Father’s Day all you dads. Go do something big with your kids! Memories and Legacy are things of value that never fade.