Offroad Racing Champion BJ Baldwin Defends His Life and Life of His Girlfriend Tori Nonaka

Vladimir Onokoy
by Vladimir Onokoy

Thousands of people defend their lives with firearms every year, but unfortunately, we don’t hear about it in the news. Potential legal liabilities and concerns for personal safety usually prevent people from telling their stories. Fortunately, there are exceptions, such as the story of Jack Wilson from Texas, who stopped an active shooter in the church last year; or the recent story of famous offroad racing champion BJ Baldwin who had to defend himself and his girlfriend against an armed assailant.

BJ Baldwin is one of the most famous offroad racers in the USA and over the years won 5 US National Off-Road Racing Titles, 3 SCORE International Titles, 3 Baja Championships, and many other titles.

What few people know is that BJ Baldwin is also a very dedicated shooter, who, in his own words, usually trains “once every two weeks spending 500-1000 on every range session”. In a recent couple of months, BJ Baldwin started training even more often, going to the range “every other day”, shooting up to “4000 rounds a week”.

But despite a very impressive round count, he says that most of his proficiency comes from dry fire training: “Ninety percent of my skills set and honing that skills set I’ve done in my living room with an empty gun”.

An obvious question is – does training like this translate into proficiency in a real gunfight? Like many other firearms instructors, I keep hearing that “targets don’t shoot back”, “there is no shot timer in a real gunfight” and “those silly range theatrics will get you killed in a real world”. Let’s look at the facts and see.

On April 26, BJ Baldwin and his girlfriend, Tori Nonaka, headed for a late dinner to the In-and-Out Burger joint at the corner of Tropicana Avenue and Ft. Apache in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“Wait a minute!” – some TFB readers would say. THAT Tori Nonaka? Former Glock Team shooter, Multi-time National USPSA Champion, and one of the most famous female competition shooters in the world? Yes, that Tori Nonaka. She retired from pro shooting in 2017 and is currently dating BJ Baldwin.

Tori Nonaka at a shooting competition

This particular In-and-Out Burger closes at 1 AM, so both BJ and Tori were in a hurry. As a result, according to BJ himself: “No she (Tori) did not have it (her CCW handgun) with her that day. We rushed out of the house to get food before closing and she left it”.

This particular area is known to be a decent neighborhood and generally nobody expects any trouble when they go there. After the couple finished their meal, Tori notices two males coming from a distance to them through a parking lot. One of them had a pistol in his hand.

According to BJ Baldwin, one of the attackers pointed his weapon at Tori, there was no conversation or demands and he did not know any of the attackers. Most likely attackers also did not know BJ Baldwin, since he is quite open about his love of guns and defensive shooting on social media, and anyone familiar with his posts would think twice about getting in a gunfight with him.

In this situation, with a weapon pointed directly at him and his GF, BJ decided to take action and drew his handgun. The armed attacker started shooting right away, firing a total of 8 shots, and hitting a tire of BJ’s car. BJ fired back 10 shots and got all ten hits, 9 in the body and one in “the central nervous system.”

The distance between the attackers and BJ was very significant, which was even noted in a police report. According to BJ himself, who kindly answered my questions when I was working on the article: “Fight started at 14 yards, ended at 23.” Despite the relatively long distance to the attackers, low light conditions, and the fact that the threat was moving and shooting back, BJ “saw the sights at all times” and did not miss a single shot.

The handgun he used was a Glock 19 “Combat Master” from Taran Tactical Innovations. According to BJ, “it is a modified version of the Combat Master. I change a few things to my liking to better suit my defensive needs. My Combat Master isn’t as nice to shoot as Taran’s base model, but for what it lacks in performance it makes up for in reliability and consistency. If you order one and you want the same one I use – ask for Spec B.”

The Taran Tactical Innovations Combat Master. Source:

It was loaded with Speer Gold Dot ammo and had a Holosun reflex sight with a green reticle.

Since the original weapon is usually taken as evidence, after the incident Taran Butler built and gave BJ an identical “Combat Master” Glock 19, to replace the taken gun.

Fortunately, authorities quickly recognized that it was a justified shooting and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said that it was “a clear case of self-defense.”

BJ Baldwin EDC. Source:

From a police report, we know how the story looked from the other side, quote:

Baldwin and his girlfriend Tori Nonaka were sitting in their vehicle in the parking lot of a restaurant at around 2:00am on April 22 when two men approached them. An altercation broke out, and 18 rounds of gunfire were exchanged. Josef Smith, 43, was killed, and Smith’s brother Kevin, aged 40, ran from the scene and was later arrested. Neither Baldwin, who is trained in firearm protection and had a concealed weapon permit nor Nonaka were injured.

(…) the elder of the Smith brothers had become agitated after an unsuccessful attempt to purchase a gun from a store in the complex earlier in the day. The brothers noticed Baldwin and Nonaka in their vehicle when they returned to the area later. Kevin Smith later told police that his brother had instigated the shootout and that Baldwin had acted in self-defense and should not be charged.

What we learn from this incident? I think the takeaway is obvious and lessons can be applied by any responsible CCW holder.

  1. Training pays off. If you have solid shooting skills on the range, they do not magically disappear when you have to use your weapon in a self-defense situation.
  2. Practice situational awareness. If Tori did not notice the attackers, the whole story could have been different.
  3. Carry your weapon at all times, even when it seems unnecessary.
  4. Practice to ID targets before engaging them, good target discrimination helped BJ to avoid legal issues.

Perhaps his incident will go down in history as an example of how a prepared citizen can defend himself and loved ones and how remarkable shooting skills can make a difference in a self-defense situation.

Vladimir Onokoy
Vladimir Onokoy

Vladimir Onokoy is a small arms subject matter expert and firearms instructor. Over the years he worked in 20 different countries as a security contractor, armorer, firearms industry sales representative, product manager, and consultant. His articles were published in the Recoil magazine, Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defence Journal, and Silah Report. He also contributed chapters to books from the "Vickers Guide: Kalashnikov" series. Email: machaksilver at gmail dot com. Facebook: Instagram: YouTube:

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2 of 143 comments
  • Uncle Yar Uncle Yar on May 28, 2020

    Impressive hits. Dry firing, training, and good sights go a long way.

  • Homegunsmith Unger Homegunsmith Unger on May 29, 2020

    Just incredible! You have to be a true warrior mentally, being calm enough to hit so accurate in a situation like that, even with a lot of training.