SAN MARCOS — In the middle of the desert, 19-year-old Seth Quintero had a choice to either quit racing or step on the gas.
During the second stage of the Rally Dakar in Saudi Arabia in January, the San Marcos native led the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team before his Red Bull OT3 racer broke down after losing a pair of differential boxes, which cost him 10 hours and took him out of contention for the overall title.
As hard as it was to accept defeat — Quintero and his co-driver Dennis Zenz finished ninth overall — the Mission Hill High School graduate still managed to make international headlines and rally racing history after winning 12 of 13 stages at Rally Dakar, the most ever in a single rally.
“This year I came in knowing that I had the confidence, the speed and I had the testing and training to win the race,” Quintero said. “That’s exactly what we tried to do. The first two days we won in style and in Stage 2 we had a mechanical failure that cost us about 10 hours. I really didn’t want to go through the race without any cause, so I just took it day-by-day and ended up breaking the record.”
Quintero competes in two different racing styles — desert off-road and rally raid — the latter of which is an international circuit with stops in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Morocco and Spain. Quintero is third overall in the T3 rankings, 10 points behind fellow Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team driver Cristina Gutiérrez, according to Red Bull.
Quintero’s racing journey into the desert started at an early age. When he was four years old, Quintero started riding dirt bikes and quads in the desert with his family.
As the years went by, Quintero eventually started competitively racing UTVs (utility task vehicles) at age 10 and quickly rose through the worldwide ranks. Although he wanted to race dirt bikes, Quintero was put in the car after his father was injured in a bike accident.
“I grew up riding dirt bikes my whole life,” he said. “I wanted to be a professional dirt bike rider. My parents pulled me off the bike and they didn’t want me to get hurt. They put me in an off-road car when I turned 11 years old and I never turned back.”
Quintero was a prodigy. At age 12, he won the youth class at the UTV World Championships. After blistering his way through other circuits before signing with Red Bull at 16 years old.
In 2018, Quintero added desert racing in the United States to his résumé, with second-place finishes in the MINT 400 and Pro UTV Vegas to Reno race when he was just 15. However, he wasn’t allowed to race internationally until he was 18.
By his eighteenth birthday, Quintero was the youngest-ever stage winner at Rally Dakar in 2021.
“Desert races in the states are one-day races between 150 to 500 miles,” Quintero said of the different styles. “They’re a lot rougher of terrain and don’t see a lot of sand dunes.”
Currently, Quintero is focused on the World Rally-Raid Championship at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge where stages run from 217 kilometers (134 miles) to 318 (197 miles). Quintero said the rally races can run anywhere from four to 12 days, driving up to 12 hours per day.
Quintero was recently honored by Mayor Rebecca Jones and the San Marcos City Council during a Feb. 22 ceremony at City Hall alongside Super Bowl LVI champion and San Marcos High grad Terrell Burgess.