At 19 years old, American Seth Quintero has been demolishing records left and right. Most recently, he took the record for the highest number of stage wins in a single rally with 12 victories at the recent running of Dakar. Make sure you remember Quintero’s name, because this Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team member is here to stay, and he’s one of the greatest racers America has right now.
Jalopnik had a chance to chat with Quintero just after he’d started decompressing from his rally success. He’d taken a few days to snowboard and just generally have a good time — something he’s earned after grinding for the past few years.
See, where some racers come from families that can pour millions of dollars into their careers, Quintero’s family is made up of “blue-collar workers” who provided a support network weaved primarily of passion. In order to pursue his motorsport dreams, Quintero’s family required him to stay in school and keep his grades above a certain level. When Quintero graduated in 2020 — yes, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant he didn’t get to walk at graduation or attend senior prom — he was able to boast a 4.2 GPA alongside wins at the Mint 400, Parker 250, and Silver State 300.
Not bad for a teenager.
Elizabeth Blackstock: I just want to say congratulations on an exceptional Dakar drive. How are you feeling now that the event’s all wrapped up?
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Seth Quintero: I’ve been trying to soak it all in and feel all the emotions, but I still don’t think it’s set in fully, what happened. After the last day, I definitely got pretty emotional realizing that we’re going to be in history for, hopefully, a long time.
But yeah, I’m obviously super stoked. It’s been really cool to see all the support from friends and family, even people that I don’t really talk to too much, that I’ve known for a while, that are coming out and saying, “Congrats.” Or even yesterday, I was out snowboarding. I met people on the mountain that were saying, “Congrats.” So it’s definitely been a trip.
EB: That’s really exciting. Tell me a little bit about what it’s to compete in a days-long event, where a single bad day can kind of cascade.
SQ: Yeah, for sure. Usually, when we’re racing in the States, we’re racing one time a month, one day out of the month. And Dakar, we’re racing 14 days long, with 12 races in the middle of it. It’s definitely mentally challenging. The first three or four days are pretty easy, just kind of getting in the groove. And then you hit day four, five and six. And you’re, man, there’s still six, seven, eight days to go. You’re kind of looking up. But for me, it really hit me hard at rest day, when I had a moment to take a second, relax, and take a breather. It hit me hard. I’m like, man, I got six days to go. But after the sixth day, you’re looking downhill. You’re like, all right. It’s going to get easier.
But yeah, you definitely got to change up your mindset for different styles of driving. You can’t be a hundred percent all day, every day, because you’re bound to make a mistake, and you got 12 days to go. So, it’s definitely a very different style.
EB: And you had a mechanical issue, but you guys recovered very well. What does that take, mentally and emotionally, to have that disappointment pretty early on? And then just rebound and come back?
SQ: Yeah, for sure. We had a front diff break and a rear diff break, Stage Two, so we were completely immobile. And this actually happened to us last year, in Stage Nine while we were leading. We’d already been through this. So, I think already being through it kind of made it worse, to be honest, because I knew what I was getting myself into.
Actually, funny enough, I said it in an interview not too long ago, but I had texted my Red Bull boss and said, “Dude, I don’t want to do this anymore. Every year, I just have the worst luck.”And I texted him, and I said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” He didn’t respond. And next morning after we won, he’s, “Oh, you’re done, huh?” But yeah. No, definitely it’s rough.
I think, if it wasn’t for all the people that had texted me that morning, or my family calling me and texting me that morning, there’s no way I would’ve pulled it together to go out for a win. Obviously, I’m a racer, and I want to win, but there’s only so much mentally that you can take to try to up yourself and go back out and do it over and over again. So yeah, after Stage Two, with it happening that early on, I’m like, all right, I’m probably going to break tomorrow too.
I think my co-pilot played a lot into it too, because he really wanted to win. He put a lot of time and effort into it, just much as I did. He’s like, “Dude, I’m not going to sit in this car if you’re not going to drive a hundred percent.” So I’m like, “All right, well let’s go have some fun.” So, that’s exactly what we did for the next 11, 12 days.
EB: Have you worked with that co-driver before?
SQ: Yeah. That co-driver I had met last year. Our first rally together was Andalucia, and then we did Dakar together last year. And now, we’re into our second year.
EB: Nice, nice. How do you get used to working with someone else, especially if it’s someone you don’t know? And I believe he is a different nationality. Is that right?
SQ: German. Yeah. It’s definitely weird, especially working with people out of your own country. Dennis [Zenz] and I, who was my co-pilot, we don’t talk on the daily, to be honest. It’s nice to give each other space. We’re with each other so much when we’re doing rallies, and we’re talking nonstop. So, it’s definitely a little weird getting used to it. He definitely works a lot different than I do. He’s a little bit more in the books and clean-cut where I’m just going with the flow and a California kid. But yeah, it is nice. We kind of balance each other out. I bring the fun, he brings a serious side. So, I think we’re a good combo.
EB: Yeah. I was going to say, it seemed like it worked out pretty good for you guys these past couple years. For you guys, it was almost a perfect year this year, aside from one issue. So, I’m assuming your goals for next year, if you’re coming back, are a clean sweep and an overall class win. Is that right?
SQ: Yeah, for sure. To be honest, I don’t know what the plan is for next year yet. We definitely made a little bit of a name for ourselves after this Dakar. So, I don’t know what’s going on. I could be driving something different next year. I could be driving a T3. I could not be driving at all. I have no set-in-stone plan. So yeah, obviously I want to come back. Honestly for me, I’d like to stay in T3. Third time’s a charm. And hopefully get that done so I can move up to the next level because obviously, we did really well. We showed we definitely have the skills and knowledge to win the race. But I just want the trophy. I just need the trophy. And then I can move on.
EB: That’s fair. That’s fair. How has it felt, just seeing your name get bigger and your profile grow a little bit?
SQ: Yeah. Watching my international or my worldwide profile grow has been insane. I’ve had a small following in the United States for a little while, but my following over the world has grown so much this past year. It’s really cool to see. I get a lot of people reaching out. A lot of times, I can’t even read the messages because they’re not in English, but it is super cool to read everything for everybody. And yeah, I think this past week, I’ve gained 4,000 followers, which is nuts. So, my profile is definitely growing, and I’m kind of still keeping it the same way. I respond to everybody’s comments, respond to DMs. But I’ll try to keep it that way as long as I can.
EB: Yeah. How do you emotionally prep yourself for something like Dakar? What do you feel as you’re getting into that car for the first time, about to take on that first stage?
SQ: For me, before Dakar, I tried to stay out of the car as much as possible, which is weird to say. Last year, I kind of screwed myself. We had spent, I think it was almost three or two months in Dubai, testing, right before Dakar. And I went home for the three days. I went home the day before Christmas Eve, and I left Christmas morning and then flew to Dakar. Last year, not this year. So last year, I realized that, if I drive the whole time before Dakar, I’m burnt out when I get there. And that kind of ruined me last year. That’s why I wasn’t focused last year. I was burnt out. I was tired. I spent so much time, so many hours, testing, for months before that.
And this year, I didn’t drive a car for almost a month and a half coming into the first stage. That kind of sounds crazy to some people. “Well, shouldn’t you be practicing?” But for me, you can only drive so much. You can only excel so much. And especially in a race like Dakar, where you’re not going to be driving one-hundred percent, you don’t need to work on your driving skills because you’ve already been driving the whole year. For me, it was more, I need to mentally get ready. I’m going to go hang out with my family, go hang out with my friends, go snowboard, surf, do all this stuff, so that way, when I’m there, I’m not thinking about any of it.
Because last year, that’s all I was thinking about. I was like, man, I really want to go ride my dirt bike. I haven’t done any of this stuff in six months. I’ve been just grinding it out. But this year, I did the complete opposite. I did everything I wanted to do — safely, because I didn’t want to get hurt, obviously. I did everything I wanted to do, but just kind of mellow. And the first day of Dakar, I’m like, dude, I’m ready for a month of work; it’s been a long time. So, I think that’s definitely what helped me this year, was just having fun before it, and keeping things fun.
EB: Yeah. I was going to say you don’t want to be driving 500 miles the day before you go on a big old road trip. That just ruins it for you; it’s over.
EB: I want to take it back a little bit now. Tell me about your childhood and how you first started really getting involved in racing.
SQ: When I first started getting involved in racing, I actually wasn’t driving anything; I was riding dirt bikes. My family, we’ve always been a very competitive family, no matter what it is. And I grew up in the desert, just going with my family and my family’s friends and uncles and whoever. My family’s always been into motorsports, but none of my family’s ever been into racing professionally. And we’re all mechanics. And we’re all just blue collar workers. And I don’t know, something in me just... my dad actually raced for a little bit, in the desert, riding dirt bikes. And then I started doing it when I was about four or five years old. Four years old. And he got hurt. I don’t remember what year it was. 2009, I think it was. He got life-flighted out of the desert. He got hurt.
And then my mom was, “All right, you’re cut off. You’re not riding dirt bikes anymore.” So she cut me off of my dirt bike. Well, it’s not necessarily that she cut me off dirt bikes; she cut me off of racing and trying to go as fast as I can all the time. And it wasn’t until, I think, I turned ten that I started racing again. My parents got me a Polaris 170, which is basically what I race now, but with a tiny motor.
And my uncle was working for a fab shop at the time. And he was building those cars, so he had built it for me; put a cage on it, put a seat in it. And we’re, “All right, well, we’re just going to go have some fun.” And then sure enough, being as competitive as we are, it turned into work pretty quickly. Very, very quickly.
I think after 2015, how old was I? 12, 13 years old. 2015? 12 years old? After that, it was getting real serious, and I became a full-time mechanic. But my dad became a full-time mechanic while, mind you, I’m still going to full-time public school; my dad’s full time working. And so, trying to balance it out was pretty nuts. But we definitely pulled through some stuff and did a lot of stuff that I don’t understand how we did, but we did it. And it was definitely paid off. We’re here. And definitely a little easier now.
EB: I was going to say, that seems like it was a really a whole family effort, to keep you going.
SQ: It was. Even to this day, racing in the States, my whole race team is my mom, my dad, my grandpa, my brother-in-law, and two of my best friends. That’s my whole race team. So they definitely keep it family-orientated. And I think it just keeps it fun and real.
EB: Yeah. I was going to say, and it must be nice to be able to see your family while you’re competing and not have to worry about what they’re up to.
SQ: Yeah, exactly. A lot of trust. And seeing my family smile and be proud of me is way better than any trophy or any amount of money, ever.
EB: Yeah. Were there any racers you looked up to when you were younger?
SQ: Yeah. It’s kind of weird to talk about that because a lot of them are now my friends. It’s like, now I share a shop with Andy McMillin. I looked up to him for a long time, just in the way that he brought business into racing, I admire. Obviously I like to keep it fun still. But when it comes down to business, I’m ready for business. So, I definitely looked up to him with that. But I was a dirt bike kid for a long time. I still am a dirt bike kid. So Travis Pastrana, Ryan Dungey, Jason Lawrence; people like that, I looked up to for a long time too. But in the racing industry, at least my genre of racing, it was really Andy McMillin, Mark and Luke McMillin, all the McMillins; the cousins, the dads. They’re all awesome because they were racing Class 1 cars when I was first getting into racing. So, seeing all that was super cool, where he got Bryce Menzies and people like that elevated the game so quickly.
Obviously, there are people before my generation that I looked up to, but now I can call all those guys my friends. I had Rob Mac’s son race my car while I was out in Dakar. So it’s definitely been a trip, getting used to knowing all these guys.
EB: That’s really fun. Yeah, that’s such a surreal experience when suddenly, the people that you looked up to, you can just text them whenever you want.
SQ: Yeah. It’s so awesome.
EB: And you mentioned a little bit about going to school at the same time as you were racing. That always fascinates me, especially because kids get started so young. What was that like? What did your schedule look like then?
SQ: If I didn’t have school, everything would’ve been a lot smoother and a lot easier. But my parents never knew if racing would ever work out, so they refused to let me be homeschooled. And they also wouldn’t let me race if I didn’t have good grades. And so, that was a lot of pressure, hopping on airplanes. Well now, in high school. We’ll go back a little bit. But driving to races, trying to bust out a week’s worth of homework, to go out and race for three or four days. And then coming back and trying to get back in the groove. I’m, “All right, what did I miss? I got to catch up.” So I was always playing the catch-up game. And then, it got really bad when I was in high school, my sophomore, junior year, when things started getting serious; when I didn’t have a lot of time. Getting in airplanes and missing two weeks of school and coming back, trying to pass all these tests.
And funny enough, because again, still, even at that point, my parents go, “You’re not racing if your grades aren’t good.” And I think that brought a lot of the work ethic, that I knew, into racing. And that’s why we’ve been semi-successful, is because I know how to work hard, and I know what needs to be done. And there’s no shorting it. No taking shortcuts.
And senior year, it definitely got easier because I had busted out so much work my freshman, sophomore, junior year, that I only had four classes, but two of them were an art class.
EB: Oh, that’s nice.
SQ: So, senior year... yeah. I basically only went to school for two hours a day, and I came home and worked on cars. But yeah, I ended up graduating with a 4.2 GPA, which was super cool.
EB: Congratulations. That’s exciting.
SQ: Yeah. I was a soccer player for a very long... That’s where I was going to be. I was an okay soccer player; I’ll put it that way. I had some fun playing soccer, and I was, “You know what? I’d rather go drive cars and travel the world and have some fun than kicking a ball around.” So glad I did that. But I was going to go to college. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to make it to college because I’ve been so busy traveling that it just doesn’t make sense for me to put all that pressure, again, on me and try to do online classes. Online learning, now, is so hard.
EB: Yeah. It’s a lot. It’s a lot.
SQ: Yeah. Also, my senior year that’s when the 19 hit, so I was at home. And I forgot; I didn’t get a graduation or anything after all that time working.
EB: That’s sucks.
SQ: Yeah. Yeah, that sucked. And I had never been to a school dance, and I was going to make it to my senior prom. Yeah. So I had never went to a school dance because I was always so busy. So, I never got to go to a prom or a homecoming. So, I missed all that. And then COVID hit. But it was kind of a blessing because it was about halfway through the year; we had just started second semester, and I had straight A’s. And the teachers told me, “Your grades cannot drop below what they are.” So I’m like, ha, I’m done. Obviously, I did some schoolwork just kind of busting it out every once in a while. You know what? I’ll do it; whatever. But I literally didn’t have to do a single thing my whole second semester.
EB: That’s so nice.
EB: So you’ve been all over the world. What’s been the best place you visited?
SQ: There’s been a few places that have definitely woken me up, for sure. Just seeing their culture and the way that things are. I think the coolest place I’ve ever visited: Abu Dhabi’s beautiful. Dubai is beautiful. I think I had the most fun in Austria.
EB: I love Austria.
SQ: Yeah. Seeing the castles. Red Bull headquarters, the big HQ, was there, so I got to go see all that. So, I think Austria was the most memorable. But I think the one that woke me up the most is: my first trip over the pond was to Morocco.
EB: Oh wow.
SQ: And I saw a lot of... yeah. It was crazy. We were going through all the markets, and the way that everything’s all set up there and kids just walking on the side of the road; that didn’t look too healthy. And it wakes you up pretty quick on how easy you have it. And one thing I always say is, I think a lot of racers and a lot of people in our sport do not like California at all. But every time I leave California, I just want to come back so bad. So even that, it puts into perspective how easy we have it. And yeah, I definitely don’t want to take anything for granted because I’ve seen some stuff for sure.
EB: Yeah. And what does your racing schedule look like this year? Where can we follow you?
SQ: For my racing schedule, that’s kind of up in the air just because I bounce around, and I try to do everything that I can. Maybe some Extreme E stuff this year. I don’t know if you guys know what that is, but it’s like-
EB: Yeah. I went to Greenland last year, to go to that race. It was so cool.
SQ: Yeah. I was a rookie driver for Team X44 in Sardinia. So I did that. Yeah. And so, I might be drive... It depends on if Sebastian goes WRCU mostly or Extreme E. I’m just a backup driver. I’m a reserve driver. And then, I want to do some Mexico races this year. And then I’m doing, I think, four more rallies internationally before Dakar next year.
Obviously a lot of testing, a lot of traveling. But I really want to keep it fun this year. Have some fun, do some video parts, ride more dirt bikes, surf more, snowboard more. And it’s hard. I’ve been doing this for nine years now, 10 years? I’m only 19 years old. So, I kind of burnt out my childhood just trying to be a businessman at such a young age. Being the team manager, driver, mechanic, all of it. Just trying to be the jack of all trades. So this year, I’m turning 20. Dang it. I’m not gonna be a teenager anymore. I’m getting old. So this year I want to keep it fun and just do a lot more, really, what I want to do. I want to make this year for me. And it’s a good one. So...
EB: I feel like you’ve earned it. Especially with the schooling and everything you’ve been doing. It’s time for a breather.
SQ: It was a handful. Yeah, exactly. I was just in Big Bear, snowboarding, the last two days, having some fun. So that was a nice decompress after Dakar. So, now I’m ready to get back to work. I needed just those two days, but now I’m ready to go.
EB: And now, you’re young as hell, even though you’re “getting old” at 20. And you’ve achieved some good goals so far, but what’s next on your racing bucket list?
SQ: Next on my racing bucket list. There’s a lot that I want. I want try some concrete racing, some asphalt racing. I want to get into that a little bit, just to try it out. Not necessarily go out and try to win some big race, but I want to dabble in that; have some fun. I’d like to win the Baja 1000 with the team. That’s a big one, just growing up, watching movies like Dust to Glory and seeing everybody. Following Baja 1000. It’s kind of crazy to say; I don’t want to sound cocky, but I’ve won everything that I want to win in the States.
EB: You’ve got it covered.
SQ: I’ve won a few races in the States now, at such a young age. And I think that’s what’s helped me bounce around and go to all these other events, is I’m not just focused on: all year, I got to win that one race. That’s all I want. We’ve won it, which is awesome. So now, I want to go dabble in Mexico, 500, 1000. I’m sharing a shop with Andy McMillin right now, so hopefully I can hop in his truck and go do some races with him. It’s kind of hard because I don’t really have the team or budget to go do a big race with them and help support it. But maybe I’ll hop in one of those. But yeah, I want to go out and do Extreme E. And I don’t know. I want to have a dominant year. We started off pretty well. We got 12 stage wins. A couple trophies.
EB: It’s not a bad start.
SQ: Yeah. Not a bad start. I’m trying to make this year my year. Trying to make 2022 a good one.
EB: Yeah. Well that was my last question for you. Good luck on everything. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do in your career.
SQ: Thank you. Appreciate it.