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SAN DIEGO – At just 18, San Marcos native Seth Quintero projects a certain maturity. And after recently making history in the heat of the Saudi Arabian desert, he’s proving his racing acumen is far beyond his years as well.

Last week, the Mission Hills High School graduate finished his very first Dakar Rally, an off-road endurance race considered one of the most dangerous in the world.

In it, Quintero carved out his place in history as the youngest ever stage winner in the race.

“It’s been a milestone I’ve been working toward for a long time and I wasn’t too sure if it was (possible) these past two years just ‘cause last year I wasn’t old enough,” Quintero said, “and this year we weren’t even too sure if the race was going on ‘cause of COVID and with the travel ban.”

The road to finishing the rally was far from easy. Quintero won Stage 6 in the light prototype division, but he began having difficulties by Stage 9 that led to a gearbox failure. He was rescued after about an hour of waiting and sat in the back of a truck for another 13 hours as officials helped others experiencing issues along the way.

Without much food or water, Quintero also had a hard time breathing in all the dust.

By this point, he said he was sure his Dakar Rally experience was over. That is, until his crew whipped up a little racing magic, managing to correct his issue right before the start of the next stage.

Seth Quintero (USA) for RedBull off-road team USA at the finish line of stage 12 of Rally Dakar 2021 from Yanbu to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on January 15, 2021. // Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool

“About two minutes before we were supposed to hit the starting line, my team somehow started the car and said ‘Get out of here – if you want to,’” Quintero said. “I kind of just looked at my phone, looked at all the messages and how stoked everybody was and how proud everybody was and I decided that I can’t let anybody down – not this time, not at this point. I’ve come too far.”

Not only did he continue but he went on to win Stage 11 and finish the entire rally after 12 grueling stages. Ten pounds down from his starting weight and a battle scar on his chin, Quintero finally could say he finished.

In the end, Quintero finished 18th overall, though he says it won’t be his last time in the race. He expects to be back next year.

“I was in my hotel room by myself and really just looked around, looked at my helmet, looked at my race suit… looked at how beat up everyone was and how beat up I was and I kind of laughed for a second and realized what I had just done,” he said. “Definitely had my moment there for a little bit, broke down a little bit, not going to lie. I’m not going to put up a front.

“[I] definitely cried a little bit at the end when I was by myself hanging out. It was definitely an emotional one.”