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By Robert Janis

The Mexico Specialist -- Carmen Cafro

Carmen Cafro during the Baja 250.
Carmen Cafro during the Baja 250

Desert racing has become the forte of Carmen Cafro. He built a reputation of being “The Mexico Specialist” racing in SCORE INTERNATIONAL events including the Baja 500, the Baja 1000, the San Felipe, and the Parker 400. He has won the Baja 500 five times; the Baja 1000 four times; the San Felipe two times; and the Parker 400 once. He has also won the SCORE INTERNATIONAL championship five times and when he didn’t win he finished either second or third.

Cafro is not a native of California. He actually was born and reared in a part of the country where deserts are just a topic of conversation -- New Jersey. He was first involved in motorcycle racing. However, while preparing for an upcoming season of MX racing, he used a three-wheeler during the winter.  “When I was living in central New Jersey in the winter of 1984, I bought a 1985 Honda ATC 200x to ride in the cold weather to help prepare for the MX season of motorcycle races in the spring. After riding the three-wheeler, I never raced a motorcycle again. I have been racing ATC/ATVs ever since,” said Cafro.

The transition to desert racing began after he moved from New Jersey to San Diego, California in 1989. He found that there were no cross country or TT races. If he wanted to continue to race, it had to be in desert or Grand Prix events. He chose desert.

His first desert events were District 38 races. His first race was an eye opener. “I showed up on my 1989 Honda 250r which was set up for cross country. It didn’t work very well so I loaded the quad in my van after one lap. It was like racing on another planet. But I liked it!” He was now determined to make his mark. Because he wanted it to become a family affair,  he convinced his brother Mike, who was still living in New Jersey, to move out to California and participate in desert races with him.

He continued to race the 250r but he “stuffed” a CR500 engine into it and customized it with a complete Roll Design frame, arms, shocks, and performed some engine work on it. He raced it from 1989 until 2003. The modifications helped, and he began to win desert races.

Celebrating after winning the Baja 1000 in 2001 are (from left to right): Earl Thigpen, Jesse Wozniak and Carmen Cafro.
Celebrating after winning the Baja 1000 in 2001 are (from left to right): Earl Thigpen, Jesse Wozniak and Carmen Cafro.

He turned pro at the 1993 Baja 500 under the guidance of Doug Roll. It was his first race in Mexico. “I convinced my brother Mike and new friend and sponsor, Doug Roll, to race with me. I had never been to Mexico. I had never even eaten a burrito. We won that race, and I was hooked.”

Carmen and his brother Mike raced together as a team until 2003. During that stretch of time, they raced with others including Doug Eichner. The three were a team in the 1995 Baja 1000. It was Eichner’s first desert race. “He hit every rock in the desert and got eight or nine flat tires. He blew up the top end dragging three flats for about an hour. We had to rebuild the ATV,  and then we put my brother on it for the last 200 miles. At 2 a.m., Doug and I hadn’t seen my brother finish so we started backtracking the course for 60 miles with a truck to find him. We never did. At 6 a.m. when we got back to the hotel, we were shocked to see ‘Class 25 -- 1st place’ written in mud on our trailer.  Unknown to Doug and me, my brother had finished the race and was sound asleep in the hotel since 1:30 in the morning. With all those flats, somehow we still won.”

Today Carmen races a Roll Design XR650 powered ATV. “It’s faster than anything you can buy,” he said. It is fully customized with all sorts of equipment supplied by his sponsors. “It is a lot more fun to ride with all that power.” He pre-runs on a TRX 450r.

He is a member of the Temecula Motorsports Racing Team along with his brother Mike and Mike’s present racing partner Dan Prather. The companies that sponsor him have been with him for many years and include Roll Design, Fox Engine Works, Elka Suspension, Maxxis Tires, Ricky Stator, Douglas Wheels, Yoshimura, IMS, PWR, Universal, Works Connection, Fullbore, Tsubaki, and Oury.

Now 45 years old, Carmen races the Baja events with a team of friends who are 45 years old and older, and all of them are previous SCORE champions. The team includes Earl Thigpen, who is also general manager of Temecula Motorsports; Lance Schoonmaker; Allen Fox; and Scott Prather, Danny Prather’s dad.

Married with three kids--two daughters, age 8 and 10, plus a son, age 5. Carmen lives in Vista, California, and owns, a magazine and website. His daughters ride a Suzuki LT80, and his son rides a Suzuki LT50. So far, at least, the kids are not racing.

Carmen Cafro during the Baja 250
Carmen Cafro during the Baja 250

Carmen is still serious about ATV racing. He owns a place on the beach in San Felipe, Mexico where he goes to pre-run and practice, and it serves as a race base for the Temecula Motorsports team. He also owns 14 ATVs that include: a 2003 Roll Design/Honda XR 650r (race quad); a 2005 Honda TRX 450r, which he uses for pre-runs; a 1989 Honda TRX 250r/350 powervalve, his dune quad; a 2006 Honda Rincon 650; a 1985 Honda ATC 250r; a 1986 Honda ATC 350x; a 1984 Honda ATC 200x; a 1982 Honda ATC 250r; a 1984 Honda ATC 185s; a 1983 Honda ATC 185s; a 1985 Honda ATC Big Red; a 1986 Yamaha 225 shaft; a 1986 Max-2 6x6; and a 1994 Max-4 6x6.

Carmen’s favorite part of racing is seeing all the work that goes into a race pay off with a win or a good finish as well as “Beating my brother.”

The worse part of racing, said Carmen, is being beat by his little brother. “It’s just not right!”
His favorite race is the Baja 1000. “It’s a 24 hour adrenaline rush. It is going to be 1500 miles this year because of its 40th anniversary. We plan on winning.” So far, Carmen and his team are running third in the 2007 SCORE INTERNATIONAL championship behind his brother Mike and Team Honda.

As for the future of ATV racing, Carmen believes it will eventually surpass motorcycle racing in popularity “if the promoters can get their act together and actually ‘promote’ the races,” he said.

He plans to always ride ATVs,  and he expects to be racing ATVs for a few more years. “At least until I’m 50 or so. Look at John Galiger, Sr.,” he said. However,  he added that he is ready to go on to another form of off-road racing and is planning to race off-road cars or trucks.

Photos courtesy of Jesse Wozniak

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