Off Road

TRANSCRIPT: TCF Interview with Cayden MacCachren

18 Mins read
Credit: Polaris

On 3 April, The Checkered Flag sat down with Cayden MacCachren to discuss being the top UTV at the San Felipe 250 in March, the development of his Polaris Factory Racing team, and how UTV racing has grown in recent times.

The full transcript of the interview is available below. Some text has been altered from the actual dialogue to improve readability.

An article on the interview can be read here.


TCF: You ended the SCORE season last year by winning the Baja 1000 and then you begin this season by winning San Felipe. How good does it feel to have this sort of little win streak going so far?

CM: Oh yeah, it’s great. The end of the year last year, winning the 1000, obviously the biggest race in the SCORE series by far, but honestly, before the 1000 I was kind of having not so great luck. I don’t believe in luck too much but not great results; not anybody’s fault, but it just wasn’t going right for me. Going to the 1000, was able to pull one off at the biggest, baddest, longest race of the year by far was cool, but after that, I wanted to make sure that nobody thought it was a fluke. Every race I’ve gone through with the whole Polaris Factory Racing team has been all in for me and I’m trying my hardest and everybody with the team—I’m actually at the shop right now and the boys are hard at work right now on a Tuesday. Every race, I try to go and win, but after the 1000, I really wanted to make sure that my name stayed at the top. Going into San Felipe, it was the same thought and new team-mate Max Eddy was going to elevate all of our games some more.

Going to San Felipe, I felt we had a good shot at it. I always feel that way, but did our work pre-running, the boys did the work in the shop, all the logistics were sorted. It was honestly super smooth sailing before the race and even after the green flag. Just had a pretty easy day and that’s kind of how they go when you win, nothing happens. It’s easy, You never get your heart rate up and just cruise and you get to the finish line and they tell you you’re first and you get to celebrate with the boys.

TCF: You started back in eighteenth, but made some pretty big gains in the last fifty or so miles; I think you were third at Mile 200. What was your mindset and strategy going into that final run to take the lead?

CM: San Felipe is pretty notorious for being the roughest race of the year. Obviously, it’s the shortest and a lot of people would think the shortest means the easiest, but it’s the far opposite. Honestly, it’s one of the harder races of the year because it’s short. Everybody kind of seems to get on it and they want to win the first 50 miles. After pre-running and knowing the course pretty well and seeing how rough and torn up it was, and a lot of people would say how fast the course was and it was fast, but it wasn’t necessarily fast mile an hour-wise. It was straight. A lot of the course was very straight, and that would go back to people thinking that it was easy. You know, everybody can drive down the highway in a straight line. But San Felipe is nothing like that. A lot of it’s three- or four-foot-deep bumps and when you’re not in that, you’re in a sand wash that’s all torn up from the Trophy Trucks ahead of you.

So my plan going into that was we’re going to get to Borrego, which was where Race Mile 200 of whatever it was, 283 miles, we’ll see where we are there and base our race off that. Honestly, I didn’t have a split time or know where anybody else was. I had been passing some competitors but really had no idea. I knew my two team-mates were ahead of me, didn’t know how much ahead they were. When we got to Borrego, got a split time and I think we were three-and-a-half minutes down to the leader, and I knew I had a great car still under me. I knew that we just kind of cruised the beginning of the day and had 90, 95% of the car still left under me.

That’s always a great feeling. What I just said about the bumps and everything, it’s a hard decision to know whether to go fast because these Polaris Pro Rs are so capable. They can go across the big bumps, but sometimes you’re worried about beating them up. They take a lot of abuse, but you’re always worried about that odd chance of something happening and a part failing. Luckily, we don’t have that issue too much, but back to when I got to Race Mile 200, knew I had a lot of car left and knew we had 80 miles to the finish line. It was a rough 80 miles, so I knew we could make up some time and didn’t try to go crazy or anything.

I knew that both my team-mates ahead of me, I think I was third or fourth and had both my team-mates and a Polaris team-mate Branden Sims ahead of me. Overall, with the whole team and everything, you want to make sure that Polaris as a whole has a great result, so it wasn’t anything like Kill Mode the last 80 miles, but it was picking up the pace a little bit and kept with that the last forty, fifty miles. As we got closer and closer to the finish line, kept picking up the pace a little bit and, nothing crazy, but just kind of cruised.

Car felt great. Wanted to go faster. It probably would go faster than I would even want to go some of the places. I handled all the bumps super well and was able to top speed mile an hour very, very well and got to the finish line. I wasn’t that worried about it. Normally, you get to the finish line and you’re really worried like, “Oh, where did we get? What did we get? Did we win? Did we get second?” I knew that no matter what it was one of us three, me, Heger, Max was going to win, so I honestly didn’t care too much. That’s a weird thing to say, like, “Why wouldn’t you care if you won or not?”, but I knew it was going to be a win for the team and a win for the team is a win for me in many ways.

Someone brought up the unofficial results and it had me ahead of Brock Heger by thirteen seconds. It’s rare that a race ever comes down to seconds. Normally, it’s a minute or two or sometimes even five or ten, but at the finish, we got word that we won by thirteen seconds. Again, it wasn’t over the top crazy. I wasn’t crazy excited because I just wanted a team car to win and it was cool to be me, but I’d be cool if it was any three of us. It was good to get the win. It was a pretty simple day and nothing went wrong and everything kind of seemed to go right.

TCF: How different is driving the Gen-2 Polaris Factory compared to its predecessor?

CM: It is different in some ways and in a lot of ways it’s the same. The explanation given is we had Generation One all last year and it was somewhat of a prototype, and Gen-2 came out and it’s basically a Generation One car that got went through with a fine-tooth comb and made our our little adjustments. It’s really only 10 or 15% different. Behind the steering wheel, it feels very similar. There’s some ergonomic changes that we’ve made, but nothing huge performance-wise. Everything is performance-driven in a race car, but it was really just Gen-1 went through with a fine-tooth comb. I’m stoked that we’ve gotten that much done, that much improvement made in a year, and it only makes me eager for what’s ahead and what we can improve upon on Gen-2.

It’s racing and there’s always something better out there and you’re trying to find it, and that’s what’s great with the team. We have so many people with their heads down trying to find what that next step is to get some more speed out of these cars. It’s small amounts different. The ergonomics and the look of the car are different, but inside the cab, they’re very similar.

We worked on a lot of shock setup over the winter with FOX, our suspension partner, and made some seriously big gains there. I think that speaks to winning San Felipe because, as I just said, how rough the race course is, your suspension is a huge deal. With the help of FOX over the winter, we made some big gains and steps forward there, so I would chalk it up to both Generation Two being a better car overall and our partners, whether that be FOX or BFG or anybody on the side of the car stepped up to over the winter and and just kind of came together and made a better Gen-1 and that’s what Gen-2 is.

TCF: Back in January, Max Eddy said the following about the team and I quote, “How do you top sweeping the races last year? You follow it up by sweeping the podium 1–2–3.” How confident are you in the team’s ability to pull off a goal like this for the rest of the season?

CM: I think absolutely. You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself and I don’t think when we say that, we are. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. Everybody’s been super, super conservative in the fact that we won all the races and honestly, I think it’s been said by the higher-ups in the team that none of us thought we were going to do that and I was probably one of those. I thought for sure we’d win one or two and have good showings at all the races last year, but after winning all four, that was a pretty big task because how do you get better than that? I guess everybody decided the next thing better than that was to sweep the podium and go 1–2–3 or 1–2–3–4 and yeah, I think that’s definitely possible. I think that’s way more of a tremendous feat than anybody could think it is. It’s super difficult to have three or four cars have a perfect day and that’s what you need in the UTV class to be 1–2–3–4.

Honestly, our first two races this year with King of the Hammers and San Felipe, we’ve been very, very, very close. It’s not something that I’m upset about if it doesn’t happen, I think it’s very possible. I think everybody here at the shop is wanting to do that and everybody’s working really hard to do that, but it is a tremendous feat that I don’t think people, not just within the team but outside the team, when that day comes and we do go 1–2–3 or 1–2–3–4, I think it’ll go tremendously unappreciated because it’s definitely a hard thing to do. To get three or four cars to the finish line with no issues and all have good days and good pace all day is tremendous and definitely something that I think we will do someday, but I’m not going to sit here and be bummed that we don’t.

TCF: How have guys like Max and Brock pushed you as a driver?

CM: Hugely. Obviously, it’s great to have team-mates and it’s not really something that you normally have in off-road racing. I’ve given the analogy that normally in off-road racing, you’re racing for the name on the door, which is your own. Sure, you may have a couple sponsors and supporters but they’re not all too involved in the day-to-day of the race team. This is completely different. 

You’re racing for not only your name. My name on the car is the smallest part, very small part. I get in the race car and I drive it on race day. That’s my job and that’s all I really have to do. All the blood, sweat, and tears put into every inch of that car is really what makes the team the team. That’s included with the other two drivers, they have their names on the car and they feel the same way.

Having a background like Max Eddy does in motorcycles and the amount of Baja experience he has, not only on motorcycles but the last two or three years in a UTV with Craig Scanlon, he’s hugely motivated as well, not only knowledgeable but motivated to win. It’s his first year with his name on the car. He’s got to prove himself and I’m sure he feels that pressure and he knows he can and everybody here thinks he can or else he wouldn’t be in the car. He feels the pressure, I’m sure, but I know for a fact that he’s up for it and he can handle his own and he can be up there with all of us. With his background and his experience, it’s great to have. 

As far as Brock goes, that guy is just a generational talent behind the wheel. He’s natural, he was born with it, obviously he’s been racing a lot, but he has something that not a lot of people have: it’s the link from his brain to his hands to, honestly, his butt in the seat. He just feels what the car is doing and can respond to that so well. That’s where I get a lot of help from Brock is actually the driving-wise and Max and the motivational aspect of it. I think they get some from me too, and the three of us working together along with Craig.

Craig’s got a huge background to be able to know how to win these races and we all kind of work together and nothing gets kept a secret. We all share our lines and that’s what’s going to make this team successful and that’s what’s been doing in the last year, all of us working together driver-wise and team-wise, sharing little bits and pieces. Everybody within the team has racing experience from somewhere or another, and everybody’s got something to bring to the table and nobody goes unheard and that’s what it takes to make a successful race team I think.

Credit: Polaris Factory Racing

TCF: Outside of SCORE, the team is also going to do Vegas to Reno and I think you’ve done it before as a truck co-driver, but how do you feel about racing it in the UTV this time around?

CM: [chuckles] Actually last night, funny enough, in the shower, I was thinking about Vegas to Reno. It’s still, what are we, five months away, four months away? That’s how you have to think about things to win these races. You got to think about them years in advance. But I was thinking about it last night and yeah, I haven’t raced Vegas to Reno in the UTV. I raced it twice in a truck, and I’m sure it’s very different in a UTV. Obviously I’ve been paying attention to the Vegas to Reno race when I’m there. The UTV class, I’ve been paying attention to how they race and it seems like it’s wide open all day. That’s something that we’re really excited to go do and not to have the pre-running and show everybody that it’s not the support we have but we’re also pretty good drivers and have really good vehicles because with a race like Vegas to Reno, the team can’t back you up that much. Once the green flag waves, you’re kind of on your own. So I think that’ll be a true test to the team and I’m up for it and the team’s super excited to do it. It’s definitely a hugely different race, doesn’t have anything like the terrain we have in Mexico. A lot of it’s very fast fire roads and graded roads and some washes and a lot of elevation change, so I think it’ll throw a little bit of a twist in our schedule and I’m up for it and the team’s up for it. 

But obviously, next is the Baja 500 which we’re very much at home at and focused on winning that one now. After the 500, we’ll focus on Vegas to Reno.

TCF: How similar or different is racing a truck compared to a UTV for you?

CM: It’s actually pretty similar. The trucks are purpose-built, handmade for these races. The UTVs are influenced and have the blood of these races in them, but they’re made to go on a dealership floor and be sold to the general public. A Trophy Truck will never be that way. It’s far too unattainable for anybody to go race a Trophy Truck as compared to a UTV or a RZR that’s way, way, way, way more attainable. You could go get a UTV from a dealership and throw some things in it, grab some sponsors, and be down there racing in Mexico or the U.S. and you can come beat us. There’s nothing really stopping you. The buy-in is not huge like a Trophy Truck. That’s the biggest difference. 

As far as after the green flag waves, it’s very similar. I think the competitiveness in UTV is inching its way towards the competitiveness of Trophy Truck. Some great, great drivers in UTV and also Trophy Truck obviously, but I don’t think that gets noticed enough is the talent that’s in the UTVs. Both Brock Heger and myself have won in Trophy Truck or Trophy Truck Spec and we’re racing UTVs and we’re at the top of our game in UTVs and it’s not easy for us to go win these races. I think that speaks to the level of competitiveness and drive and determination in the UTV class. It’s different but you still have a steering wheel and two pedals and you’re going whatever speed you want to go and you have the team behind you. 

So it’s honestly not hugely different. Going into Vegas to Reno, I’m not thinking about the fact that I just said that I’ve never raced in a UTV at all. I have a good amount of UTV experience and feel with the team behind me, we’ll do great at Vegas to Reno.

TCF: It feels like it’s been growing a lot more and more from OEMs lately, like Polaris with the factory team, Can-Am with the Maverick R, Honda with their Talon, SPEED UTV, all of those guys. What are your thoughts on how UTV racing has grown?

CM: Yeah, it’s grown hugely. I think it does speak to the attainability of it. A UTV is something that’s pretty easy to drive; someone’s 16-year-old daughter or son can drive it, a 65-year-old grandmother or grandpa can drive the UTV and go have fun in the forest at the cabin river house or anything like that. It’s super attainable, but also I think it’s something that’s neglected by, some would say, the higher level of our sport being Trophy Truck. The UTV game and the manufacturers being involved, and whether that be Polaris or whoever, them being involved in the sport is bringing value to those guys, a lot of value to those guys. Having a UTV on a commercial at home, you’re never going to see a Trophy Truck on a commercial—very rarely, compared to a UTV or something like that, so it’s bringing into the household way more. It’s making it attainable for that everyday guy that, maybe he’s never seen a Trophy Truck or has dreamed about a Trophy Truck since he was a kid, to be able to go play and get somewhat that feeling that a Trophy Truck gives you with the Polaris.

TCF: Looking ahead, beyond racing with Polaris, what else do you have planned this year?

CM: Not too much. I’m pretty head-down and focused on the race team and that they’ve given me the opportunity to be able to do that along with Max and Brock. We’re super focused on the team and that’s what it is. It’s a huge deal for everybody involved. If anything takes my focus away from that, it’s not fair to these guys that spend forty, fifty hours a week in this shop busting their butts to get us out here. I’m super focused on the race team and bringing home trophies to this team and I just walked in the race shot this morning with the San Felipe trophy and a dozen doughnuts, so whether it was the doughnuts or the trophy, their eyes lit up and they’re stoked on it, the trophy and probably the doughnuts. That’s what brings joy to me. These guys put the work in and it’s my job to prove it, and if I’m not proving their job, I’m not going to get the respect from these guys and I value that a lot. They put their lives and souls into this race team and I need to bring home the hardware for them, so I’m pretty focused on that.

TCF: So this might be a little too far in the future, but what do you dream of doing once you feel it’s time to try some other stuff? Like do you plan on doing a Trophy Truck full time or is there some other race on your bucket list like the Dakar Rally or whatever?

CM: I’d love to do Dakar and I think it’s something that’s been brought to the States a lot more, whether that be A.J. Jones, Seth Quintero, Mitch Guthrie, even Robby Gordon back a couple years ago going to race Dakar. The U.S. probably never really had much of its sight set on Dakar and now it’s kind of that thing that seems somewhat unattainable for some people, but as I work my way up in this in UTV racing, it’s definitely something that’s attainable and I have my eyes set on. I’d love to go do it.

I went to Sonora Rally last year which was actually an FIA-sanctioned event, same as the Dakar Rally, and it was down in mainland Mexico. I go to this race and it’s off-road racing and it’s a sport that I grew up with and love a ton, but it’s kind of a completely different genre of off-road racing, so that definitely raises my eyebrows and something to learn and become good at. There’s definitely a lot of interest there on the U.S. side now and definitely for me personally, would love to go run that and along with some of the smaller rallies. It’s very difficult to just go over there and go race Dakar and do very good. I think you need to make sure you put the work in and I’ve been doing that a little bit over the last couple of years, I’m getting familiar with how the races work, the navigation, the strategy to that because it’s day after day of racing and it’s basically like a San Felipe or a Baja 400 every day for twelve or fourteen days straight. There’s a lot of logistics and stuff that come with that and it’s honestly a completely different way of thinking for a driver, I would imagine. So it’s definitely something that I’ve had my sights set on and want to work towards and we’re actively working towards, but also focusing very much on this race team in the States.

I love being part of the UTV game and kind of what you brought up of, “Oh, do you have your sights set on Trophy Trucks?”, like it goes back to that attainable thing. I’ll probably never in my life be able to afford a Trophy Truck. It’s what it is. Would I love to do that someday? Sure, but I’m not sitting here thinking, ‘Man, I wish I was in a Trophy Truck.’ Not at all. There’s no team like this in Trophy Truck racing. Nothing that is, you know, I think we have five or six full-time guys. That’s that’s few and far between in Trophy Trucks working full-time. The amount of effort and engineering work with a Fortune 500 company like Polaris behind it, that doesn’t exist in Trophy Trucks. I like this racing and I give the example of racing with the UTV and with Polaris behind me, I’m not racing for my name on the door. I’m racing for a company that has however many employees, I won’t even take a guess, and each and every one of those employees is looking at me to display their brand and their product that they’ve worked so hard on for so long. So I really enjoy the UTV racing and that’s where I’ll leave that.

TCF: Just out of curiosity, how did you or the team decide this colour scheme for the cars? Like, it’s a nice shade, but why purple for you?

CM: You have something against purple?

TCF: [laughs] No, it’s a nice shade, I’m just curious!

CM: Last January or February, one of the first times I was in and out of the shop getting acclimated to everybody and the Gen-1s were first getting built, I walked into the conference room and our team principal Travis Clarke was sitting there at the table. He looked at me and said, “Hey, you want to see something?”, and I’m like, “… Sure?”, kind of curious. Obviously, it’s the beginning and I hadn’t had much of a relationship with Travis. He’s my boss, and it was kind of the first time your boss talks to you and you’re a little nervous like, ‘What’s he going to say?’

He brought up on the screen a rendering of the cars and it was a yellow, a blue, a red, and a purple. It had the driver’s shoes rendered there with it and I was ballsy enough to ask the question, “So who’s who? Which colour’s colour? Which one’s which?” There were a couple people, we had a little bit of a crowd around at the table and he looked at me and said, “You’re purple,” and everybody started laughing and I didn’t know why. I think purple’s pretty cool and it goes along with some colours and I think it’s very in right now. I have absolutely no problem with purple and I think it gets a lot of attention and I love that and can bring more attention to the team and the race car. I think it looks really good on the race car and also on the driving suits and some of the team shirts, so I think it’s a little bit different of a color that hasn’t been seen in off-road racing or any racing to be honest. I’m fully behind the purple and call me what you will, but the purple wins, it looks like, so I like it and I’m going to keep it for as long as I can. 

TCF: Yeah, totally get it. Totally good.

MG: It looked rad, love it.

CM: [chuckles]

TCF: Before we wrap this up, is there anything else you’d like to add?

CM: Just a thank you to everybody and not just SCi or Polaris, but there’s a lot of people. We’ve developed a new tyre with BFG—I don’t know if that’s supposed to be known or not, I think so, I think it’s fine. We’ve started developing a new tyre with BFG and some other companies developing stuff and I’m super appreciative of that. Everybody’s working hard to make our stuff better and we’re working hard to make sure their brands are properly displayed on the top of the podium. So I guess just a thank you to everybody that gets to or has been welcome to put their name on the side of the car along with mine.

Interview on YouTube

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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