LAKE WYLIE -- Gentlemen won't be the only ones starting their engines when the 2008 Baja 500 rolls off from Ensenada, Mexico, Friday.
Billed among the toughest automotive endurance races on the planet, The Baja event this year makes history in its 40th annual edition. The first female racer to compete in the Score Light series -- River Hills resident Barbara Terry -- hopes to outduel 12 other teams in the 500-mile, two day event.
Terry, originally from Texas, moved to Lake Wylie about a year ago. Her professional racing career includes stops in New York and Los Angeles, though she "fell in love" with Lake Wylie and quickly set up shop for Barbara Terry Racing in February. Racing, for Terry, is a lifelong love affair.
"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.
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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, though, Terry's name is well known. Just a few appearances include the CBS Morning Show, The Tony Danza Show, ESPN radio and CNN, as well as magazine covers, talk shows and news broadcasts throughout the country.
"I don't really have time for a personal life," Terry said. "It's so much about my team."
Terry also speaks for numerous automotive products, which fuel her race team with much-needed funding and parts. But her main motivation is working on cars and racing them. So Terry purchased a used racing buggy last year and, with the help of a local pro, fine-tuned it for the toughest challenge she could find.
"About 50 percent of the vehicles don't even finish," she said of the Baja event. "If you finish, you're a winner."
David Ifft, owner of Clover-based David Ifft Engineering, spent a week-and-a-half helping Terry prepare her buggy for the race.
"She came in and wanted us to work on it to where nothing would fall off, and that's what we did," said Ifft, whose racing experience crosses almost four decades.
Ifft, who worked out of a garage near Five Points before moving to his Clover location, knows racing. A former NASCAR crew chief and parts manufacturer, as well as the former owner of a local speedway, Ifft 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 course stretches 500 miles, but 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.
And not all the hazards occur naturally. When drivers take off from Ensenada, hundreds of thousands of onlookers watch them go. When drivers see crowds along the course, Terry learned from veteran drivers last year, they should know to be careful.
"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 waiting for you. 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. Just prior to the race, Terry plans to run a 200-mile test on the course.
"It's very different from running on a circular track or even on a dirt track," she said.
When Terry left for the event, a whole host of radio and television interviews in San Diego and Los Angeles awaited her. Shows inviting Terry to join them include "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson." She also had a speaking engagement held by the Mexican government honoring 40 years of the Baja event.
Terry's biggest concern for the event is mechanical failure, "because we're going to drive smart." With a wide assortment of sponsors providing equipment, though, the 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 the top prize, Terry wants to remain realistic in her goals. She put in months of hard work and preparation for one goal--finishing the race.
"It's like anything else," Ifft said. "It's more impressive to finish those desert races than anything. If you finish, you'll come in the top five or so."
For more on Barbara Terry, or to see how to follow the event live online, visit barbaraterry.com.