Extreme use for the average consumer may amount to a midsummer trip to Vegas. Granted, the tarmac may shimmer with heat, but it's a smooth surface. While the speed limit will most likely be broken at some point, that still won't approach the 140 mph of Trophy-Class trucks competing in a SCORE race in Baja. The combination of high speeds and varying terrain makes a Baja race a natural for OEM extreme-use testing.

A case in point: Jamal Hameedi, Ford engineer and product manager for the TorqShift transmission, estimates that the 500 miles of desert racing his truck recently went through is the equivalent of 50,000 on-highway miles. "Clutches are black magic to most people," says Hameedi. Small wonder: The TorqShift has six internal clutches working in conjunction with the planetary gears to give different ratios and different gears. "These clutches don't work in progression. They work in conjunction, but don't provide a step-by-step through the gears as you might expect," Hameedi adds. For the engineers, a race always starts when the previous one ends. Constant refinement goes on in the Trophy Class and, for many, money is no object. Hameedi insists Ford was in Baja to find "root-cause fixes rather than symptom fixes."

However, not all of the teams were there to test products for manufacturers. Like many, the Terrible Herbst team races to win. Whatever the motivation, all teams must refine their cars with each race. Wally Kaiser of Advanced Machining Dynamics in Highland, California, worked with the Ford team in the past, but most recently helped redesign the Herbst transmission. The Herbst car is four-wheel drive, which Kaiser says is a departure from the norm at Baja. He notes, "Four-wheel drive is expensive, makes the car heavy, and gives it more reasons to break down." Hameedi adds, "The more weight you have, the more impact is transferred to expensive parts like axles and ring-and-pinion gears."