While most 18-year-old’s are gearing up for college and talking mountains of school work, Seth Quintero’s day-to-day is a little different. When the young man from Southern California picked up the phone around 10am on a Friday morning, he was cruising through SoCal transporting his race car as he prepares for an upcoming race.
From being the youngest-ever stage winner in off-road racing’s premier event, the Dakar Rally to being on the shortlist of American’s to ever win a Dakar stage, Quintero’s fun-loving personality coupled with his fiercely competitive nature has propelled him from a humble family racing environment to the international spotlight.
With the 2021 Dakar Rally in the rear-view, Quintero opens up about his first experience on the world stage, turning points in his career, and the family atmosphere that has groomed him into a multi-time champion and international off-road racer at just 18-years-old.
Quintero lobbed a few jokes and gave a brief update on recent happenings, but when time came to talk business he went from fun, youthful energy to well-articulated racing professional in the blink of an eye.
What’s is it you love most about racing off-road?
I think what I love most about off-road racing is that it’s something new every mile. I love road racing, I love every type of racing but with off-road racing, you don’t know what’s coming next every hundred feet and I think that rush of adrenaline is what keeps me going. And, honestly, the community around off-road racing is something else. You see all these other major sports everyone seems almost a little hostile, they have a nice setup for their car and if they have parts they’re not going to share them. But in the off-road scene, if somebody needs a part, everyone’s going to bend over backward to try and help them out to keep them going. Off-road’s really one big family.
What’s your earliest memory of being off-road? Either being in an off-road vehicle or being at a race or just being off-road in general.
I think my earliest memory of being around off-road was when my dad used to race dirt bikes. I think I was around four or five years old. He was racing dirt bikes and I ended up starting to race quads, so I think that’s probably my earliest memory. Then going to the Del-Mar fair and they used to host trophy kart events and all the 50cc races.
I’ve definitely been around it for a long time, my uncle has been building UTV’s for my whole life and I can’t remember a time without being around off-road.
When was your first race and how did it go?
My first race in a UTV was 2013, and I was the only person out there in a Polaris Rzr 170, racing against trophy karts. I think we ended up getting fourth place out of 10 to 15 cars. Honestly, we didn’t look at it as we wanted to start a career we just wanted to go out there and have fun. My dad had gotten hurt on dirt bikes so my parents didn’t want me on dirt bikes anymore, so it was kind of my avenue to start racing. I had a love for racing and it kind of all escalated from there. Started winning races and doing well, got the UTV World Championship in 2015, and then yeah, it really took off from there.
Off-road’s really one big family.
Is there a feeling you can point to that kept you coming back for more?
I think the adrenaline you experience when you’re sitting on the starting line is something you can’t experience until you’ve done it. It’s not a feeling you can get anywhere else. Sitting on the starting line, you’re freaking out, you’re trying to figure out what you’re going to do. Looking at everyone beside you trying to think of what they’re going to do. And as soon as that gas pedal hits the floor, everything completely goes away. It’s the craziest feeling in the world. You feel like the most stressed-out person ever and you’re freaking out, then you touch the gas pedal and all of a sudden you’re the calmest, smoothest person in the world. It’s definitely a feeling you can’t get anywhere else.
And was there a turning point where you knew things were going to progress and you could make a career out of racing?
For sure, I was actually talking about this not too long ago, I think there have been a couple of turning points in my career. I think the first one was when I won the 2015 UTV World Championship in a Polaris RZR 170. It was the first time they’d run that event ever, so it was pretty cool. Then we switched to bigger classes and that’s when Red Bull approached me. I think the second turning point was 2019 when I almost went undefeated in the Pro NA class. It was my third year in a pro class, I almost went undefeated and I was 16 years old. So that was definitely a turning point for me; we won the World Championship, Mint 400, Vegas to Reno, and a bunch of big-name races that year. Then as of recently, we were the youngest to ever win a stage of the Dakar Rally. I think that opened a lot of eyes for people to what my generation and really what younger kids are capable of doing behind the wheel of a race car. I’m hoping that everyone can get some more opportunities and we can get some more kids out there and try to help American’s eventually win Dakar.
Since that 2015 moment, what do you think has been the biggest key to making it a reality?
I think the biggest key for me to making this a career and making all of this a reality is honestly just staying true to myself. You see a lot of people try to get way too professional and way too business-minded to where they end up kind of having that personality attached to a blank face. So I feel like I’ve done okay at trying to be myself and make people laugh, really just making going racing a good time. I’m a strong believer that if I’m not having fun I’m not going to do it. So, as long as I’m having fun, I’m going to work my hardest and do what I can. I think that’s been a major factor of why I’ve been able to make it a career.
Had you set any specific goals—long or short term—or was it more so race by race after you got your first win?
I think after that first win we still were kind of looking at it as we’re just going to go out and have fun. I think that’s why we started doing so well because we were thoroughly enjoying it. A lot of people don’t really enjoy it, they’re going out to try to please sponsors and we had no sponsors at the time, we were going out there to please ourselves and put a smile on each other’s faces.
I think after that first win we definitely put our heads down a little bit and pushed because we wanted more, honestly just because we’re a naturally competitive family. We strive for more all the time. I think racing kind of taught me a lot about growing up. I feel like I grew up quicker than most, just because I was trying to be myself but also be professional and make this a career.
You got the call to race internationally, to take on the biggest races in the world a few years back, what were your emotions when you found out?
A couple of years ago I got a phone call from the guys at Red Bull as I was sitting in my backyard playing with my dog. My mom was like ‘Hey, you got a phone call’ and I started talking to the guys from Red Bull in Austria and they said, ‘We want you to come over and race Dakar for the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA, it’s a new program that we’re hoping to share with you’. So they asked me to be a part of that and of course, I tried to act all cool and say how great of an opportunity it would be with this whole speech. I hung up the phone and cried to my mom. [laughs] There was definitely quite a bit of emotion with that and I think everyone saw it while I was racing with how bad I wanted to win it.
It’s definitely been a wild ride racing internationally, it opens your eyes up to see how nice you have it at home and really how different it is everywhere else culturally. It’s been a really, really fun time and I’m hoping to go do a lot more international racing because that’s where my heart is right now.
How’s it been traveling? What have you learned from it and what’s been the biggest takeaway?
Traveling has been a little rough, 10 to 17 hours on a plane definitely gets a little grueling. [laughs] I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’ll take a 17-hour plane ride over anything to go and race Dakar. I think what I’ve learned is to really be grateful for what you have. I’ve seen a lot of different takes on life and seen basically every corner of the world now. So I’ve seen how rough some have it and how easy some have it, so I’ve kind of seen both ends of the spectrum. It honestly wakes you up and makes you be grateful for what you have, which for me is a loving supporting family, and yeah, it just makes you take a step back and smile.
Dakar, if you could explain it in one word, what would it be?
Ugh… That’s hard. I don’t know that I could do one word. If I had to do it, it would be ‘wild.’
And why is that?
It’s 12 days in a row, racing 200 to 500 miles. You don’t see that anywhere else in the world. You can be driving in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia, you come across a pack of camels that want to race you. So you’re trying to dodge those and then you come across a camp where people are sleeping in the middle of the desert, you’ve got no clue where they came from. It’s just crazy, you really see the craziest stuff out there and I have endless stories from Dakar.
How do you manage the pressures of competing at that level?
Honestly, I didn’t really feel any pressure, because it was my first rally. I did Andalusia rally, but I only got two stages there. I don’t know just kind of being that 18-year-old kid I was more excited than nervous. I didn’t really feel like I had pressure on me, even though looking back there was a lot of pressure after getting stage wins and stuff like that. But like I said I thoroughly enjoy the sport and when I’m having fun nothing else really matters, and I was having the most fun ever at that race. Racing for 12 days in a row, usually, we race 12 times a year, so I was just so stoked to get back in the car every day. Yeah, really didn’t feel any pressure, I was just excited.
Honestly, you could have a better personality than you are a driver and you could do pretty well in the sport. So yeah, keep it fun, enjoy it, and don’t let it get to your head.
Would you say that the way you and your family have approached racing, to kind of make it fun prepared you well for that or was dealing with pressure just something that came naturally?
For sure, my family and I have a big fun factor between us, even when we’re in the garage working on the car. It’s a small family group, there’s really only a couple of us, my mom, dad, grandpa, and my uncle. But it’s usually just me working in the garage or me and my dad in the garage. You know, we still look at it as fun, we’re not going to try and make it super serious. Obviously, we take it seriously and we try to do well, but we’ve always kept the fun factor coming from basically nothing. So yeah, the fun factor is a huge part and I think it was a big key to my success at Dakar.
Youngest Dakar stage winner, could young Seth Quintero have ever imagined that?
No, I mean 10 years ago, I think if you asked if he wanted to race Dakar he’d say yes. But even 16-year-old Seth Quintero when he first got asked was a little hesitant because he was nervous and wanted to do well. But I think after a couple of stages and getting a stage win, it woke me up and I think I definitely would have made my younger self proud.
If you could give advice to the younger generation of the sport that is aiming to take their career to the next level, what would it be?
Honestly, just to keep it fun and be yourself. You see a lot of kids these days on social media and honestly, their parents are running it and it feels a little too business-like. Sponsors like to see the fun side of you and I think you’ve got to have a personality. Honestly, you could have a better personality than you are a driver and you could do pretty well in the sport. So yeah, keep it fun, enjoy it, and don’t let it get to your head.
Next goal on your list?
The next goal is to win Dakar. I was really hoping to do it this year, we were doing really well, got some stage wins and we ended up starting to lead overall. Then, unfortunately, we had a gearbox failure. But yeah, hopefully, 2022 is my year. We’re going to be putting a lot of work in to get to that. But also stateside I’d like to get a UTV Pro Turbo win in my rookie year in the premier UTV class of the United States. There’s a lot of heavy hitters here, I’m only 18-years-old and a lot of these guys are 25 to 30. So yeah, If I could get a win in the Pro Turbo class my rookie year, I’d be pretty stoked.