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Couples Who Baja 1000 Together, Stay Together: Meet the Matlocks

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Illustration by Dilek BaykaraCar and Driver

From the February/March 2022 issue of Car and Driver.

Kristen and Wayne Matlock were divvying up their stuff. He was loading a set of wheels into his truck while she checked off a list of tools that go to hers. The support team was split too: half Wayne’s, half Kristen’s. The Matlocks have been married 17 years, but they just can’t share anymore. All marriages go through rough patches, and the Matlocks had 1227 bumpy miles ahead.

They were preparing for the 2021 Baja 1000, a famously challenging race with a longer course than usual (it varies each year depending on conditions and permits). Plus, the Matlocks’ usual approach of running similarly equipped Polaris side-by-side UTVs (so they could share spares) was out the window net. Wayne was testing the newest offering from Polaris, the just-released RZR Pro R, while Kristen was in her tried-and-true RZR XP 1000. For the 2022 season, they’d both be in Pro Rs, but for the 2021 Baja, no crossover.

In the Baja 500 earlier in the year, both buggies broke. Wayne’s was unfixable, but his co-driver hiked back three miles with a wheel hub off the wrecked car to give to Kristen, who finished fourth in her class. “This race, all the parts are 100 percent different,” Wayne said. “Even the wheels,” Kristen added. “Normally, we can at least share wheels, but now he’s five lug and I’m four lug, so we even have to keep those separate.” You know, the usual relationship problems.

JASON STILGEBOUERCar and Driver

Wayne grew up in a racing family; Kristen had never even considered it until they started dating in 2003. During a break in race prep, they sat down to talk with me in the back-and-forth cadence of long-partnered folks telling a familiar story. “I was racing when we met. I think she quickly got tired of sitting around and watching,” Wayne said, grinning at Kristen. Wayne had bought her a quad just for fun rides, and in pushing herself to keep up, she realized she enjoyed the competition and wanted to race too. So she entered a local event, did well, and entered another. “I would pick a certain person out on the track, just to see if I could catch and pass them—each race, a new person who was a little bit faster,” she said. “I ended up with five women’s championships on quads over a 10-year span. Had to take some time off here and there when I was pregnant with our kids.” Now 10 and 12, the Matlock boys also race.

So does it help or hurt to be in an all-race-car-driver family? “Well, we fight about different things,” Wayne said. “You’re not arguing about putting dishes in the dishwasher the wrong way. You’re arguing over who chose what cam because it went flat. And there’s nobody to be the voice of reason. We both want more racing all the time.” And of course, they worry. One reason for running two cars rather than taking turns navigating for each other is to limit the possibility that they crash together. “Sure, I think we worry a little more than we would if we were sitting on the couch,” Wayne said. Kristen has her own concern. “I worry he’s going to pass me, because he starts behind me,” she said, illustrating another reason for two cars: They both want the thrill of wheeling it across the finish line.

JASON STILGEBOUERCar and Driver

Cams and crashes aside, they think racing together is a strength. No need to explain to a nonracing partner why you’re up at 4 a.m. reviewing maps of Mexico. There’s a morale boost in signing off radio communications with “Be safe, love you,” which, sure, you could get from a mechanic, but it’s just not the same. Over the next two days, which were one long day, the Matlocks never saw each other, but each knew exactly where the other was, sometimes more accurately than their own location. It was a tough race for both—33 hours for Wayne, nearly 37 for Kristen—but even when miles of dirt and twisting boojum trees separated them, they knew they weren’t racing alone.

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