The Baja 1000
Hola from Mexico, home of the Baja 250,500 and 1000
I realized that I never sent any kind of an update or report from the Baja 1000!! It was such a whirlwind of events that took place before, during and after the race that it all just go tangled in with every day life. For those with Facebook I’m sure you were able to see much of that went on, but for those that don’t have it,,well here’s a quick run by…
I finally got in touch with Eric Solorzano who has won multiple Baja Races, and in Class 11 and he’s a legend in Baja Racing, and amongst the Off-Road crowd he is well respected. He invited us to race with him and I accepted that invitation as who wouldn’t! I saw this as a great opportunity to observe and to learn. My time getting to know Eric started by spending my weekends running up to TJ and helping prep the car. The Car itself is also a legend in Baja Racing and the red 1100 would again be racing in the 1000. There was lots to do and the work on the car would take us all the way to the day of the race. The big unexpected surprise was the anchor driver from La Paz that would stand at 6’4″. The car is fabricated for drivers under 6′, Eric Stands at about 5’6″. 13 hours of cutting, welding and bracket fabrication to fit in a new seat. Also, during the grinding of metal the windshield was pitted and had to be replaced, just one problem,,no windshields in TJ. We went on a mad hunt here in Ensenada the day before the race to find a new one. At 3:30 am, the day of the race, I received a phone call from Eric Solorzano and he let me know the car was ready and was on it’s way to Ensenada. I got ready, headed out and at 5:00 am I met up with Paul Nauleau and Ryan Crook (fellow Co-Drivers) and we got the car over to tech inspection. Then,,,it was off to Las Tres Palmas where we’d finish up with last minute items. It was great having fellow H12:One team mate Mario Sandez with GLS spray and his son Nick with us to help out! Mario is a great deal of support and at times was there to give them much needed pats on the back.
I was scheduled to get into the car south of San Felipe, then I’d be co-driving all the way to Bay of Los Angeles, more or less about 4 1/2 to 5 hours. Mario would drive me to San Felipe, and Debbie headed south to Bay of L.A. with the Car trailer in tow (yea, Debbie, The Chase Driver!). We were thinking I’ll be getting in the car late Thursday night, but I ended up waiting until about 4:00 am until I knew it was time. 1102 suffered a major suspension failure which took about 3-4 hours of repair, and not to mention the time to get it to the pits for the work. So finally at 4:30 I climbed into 1102 and just could not believe it was happening–I’m in the Baja 1000! We took off and I soon learned that Eric needs information and he started to ask lots of questions, but soon he asked a very odd question that totally took me by surprise– “Hey,,,you wanna drive?” He threw me for a loop, and nobody else was in the car,,,so I said “Yea, sure”. He pulled over and he said “You drive, I’ll sleep”. You see Eric was working on about 48 hours with no sleep. It would also turn out that there were only two out of 7 co-drivers that got to drive, way cool. I guess the best part of the drive was when I came up on Coco’s corner. The sky had started to show signs of the mornings early dawn, Coco’s corner was all lit up, Eric was asleep and,,,and, well I was driving in the Baja! As much noise as the car made, it felt very peaceful and quiet. Watch Dust to Glory and they have a little segment that talks about Coco’s corner–and no,,,didn’t take time to sign his book, next time.
Everything was going great, Eric was awake, alert and he knew we had some catching up to do. I was in awe watching him drive and to really get him going I’d yell out “Drive it like ya Stole it!”, which was always followed up with a laugh and a few miles of intense driving. We made a quick fuel stop and we were off, next stop Bahia de Los Angeles, then,,,,BAM! Not like we hit something mind you, just the loud BAM! We drove just a couple more miles and Eric said “We’ve broke something,,,I can feel it” I felt nothing or no difference, but Eric knows this car like the back of his hand. Sure enough eventually we could feel a scrape here and there, and it just got worse. Eventually we’d feel every rock and the ride to the highway took forever. After getting to the highwayy I again drove so Eric could catch some sleep and we limped into the pits at around 9:00 am with a ripped up rear right side Torsion Bar housing. Again we were looking at a very timely repair, but the guys at BF Goodrich did a fantastic job at welding the busted housing, and Eric got it put back together and 1102 was on the way. There was a scheduled drivers change and now Eric and I would be in the van chasing the race. Funny though, we were not even out of Bahia de Los Angeles and Eric was sound asleep, and I lasted until the main highway and Debbie had to take over.
Chasing the race is literally doing that, you are trying to stay one step ahead of your driver and you need to be ready to do what ever it takes to keep that car rolling. There were times when we also would lose track of the car, and although there was a tracking device on the car it was still difficult to pin point their exact location. We would feel helpless as we would see a still and motionless blip on the tracking map and not be able to do anything. Or there were times we’d be on the road searching for them,,,but nothing. While in San Ignasio we had that kind of night and at times it did seem hopeless. You’d find yourself falling asleep, or out cold and then being woken up to the hustle and bustle of the “They are on the move and almost here”. On this particular leg of the race Orlando Lopez was driving and Paul Nauleau was co-driving and man, they were a mess. They battled silt, cactus and lots of down time. Right after they pulled in we quickly broke out the generator and work lights and set up our pits across from a hotel. The car was suffering from the build up of silt and everything had to be cleaned up. The Hotel also made for good place to take a sponge bath. I think at this time we were not sure if it was Friday or Saturday,,,,but it was Saturday.
We would now make the very long drive to some where south of Muleje. It was a long drive, we were dead tired, but both vans would wind their way over the dark highways as we drove to make it to the next check point. You would always tell yourself that you will for sure sleep at the next check point/pit stop, but you never do. You get to chatting with other people and before you know it the car is in and it’s time to get to work. On this particular stop we had to adjust the brakes and Eric called for an oil change, which means pulling all of the skid plates off, and let me tell you, there was plenty of hot oily dirt waiting for you. At this stage we knew the race was over. The official end to the race was just hours away, and we were only at the half way mark, or just a ways beyond. Neither less we knew we had to keep going. The goal switches from winning to race to simply finishing the race, to make the distance, no matter what!
Even as I write this out it’s confusing to think of who was driving what and at what time. It’s hard to recall which day certain events happened, and time would also get lost in those times you did get to sleep. The chasing continued and each time we would see 1102 you could see that the rugged terrain of the Baja 1000 was taking it’s toll on the car. Dents, dings, loose fenders, and eventually fenders falling off of the car. On our last night we found ourselves referring to course notes to find a good location for a pit stop. You see, at this time the race was officially over. That means, no check points and no BF Goodrich Pits,,,it’s just us. We found the race course just south of La Constitucion and again we set up our work lights and prepared for the car. But for some odd reason we all seemed to settle down and relax. Everyone was having a good time just talking, joking around, and sharing all that had taken place. In the Baja Race they would call this “Kicking up Dust”. There were bugs, mosquitoes, and a very wide assortment of flying biting insects, but now one cared as we were simply having a good time. We even did our only “Group Photo”. 1102 came rolling in and again we went to work on her in order to keep her rolling. We knew this was the last stop, so we had to make sure everything was in order. The jacks came down, the car was started, and off she went in to the dark night, alone,,,,no one to beat, no one to race, that is, except for the Baja itself. That is who we’re now racing against.
We pulled into La Paz some late that night and all we could think about is getting a hotel, but,,,no such luck. After driving around we ended up in the back of a Pemex gas station and everyone was fast asleep in the van, Debbie had found a place on the dirt to lay down a mate and catch some sleep and I eventually joined her. At this stage you did not care where you slept, as long as you could sleep. I feel fast asleep but only to be awakened with foot steps and talking, so I carefully got up to see who was creeping around us and there she was, 1102. Beat up, door crushed in, dirty, but still running very strong. I was so fast asleep that i nor did anyone else here it come in. There were no crowds, no cheers,,nothing. There were only tired smiles, hand shakes, and hugs for those that just happened to be awake. We were fortunate that the anchor driver was from La Paz and he was able to call on the aid of a friend that had a hotel, and some rooms for us.
With only a few hours of sleep I had 1102 loaded up and ready for the trip back to Ensenada, about another 22 hours of driving. We were able to take a shower for the first time in 3 days and not only had we not taken a shower, but many times we were on our backs in the dirt rolling around in it, and at times the grime and oil. We were all able to enjoy La Paz for a few hours and by that afternoon we were back on the road and headed for Muleje, which we’d pull into our hotel at about 11:30 pm. The next day was more of the same, but it’s always lovely to drive the baja and yea, it was nice driving home the second of the two Class 11’s to make it all the way to La Paz. Other teams would pass us and give us thumbs up, honks on the horns and Class 11 receives a level of respect like no other.
Our journey was long, it was tough, lonely, fun, and well,,,just many emotions piled all into one package. This was a special time as we also had our van full of special people. There was Cesar Sandoval and Fernando Gonzales who both for the first time got to be involved in the race in this way. It was great for them to get a taste of things to come. Eric Solorzano and his wife Diana rode with us and it was great having Eric there explaining much of what was going on, sharing his many many years of racing with me. Diana made up a complete circle of women that would endure much and they were always there to encourage us when things got tough. For Gabby, this was not only her first experience chasing the Baja 1000, but her first time ever with the Baja. We had our friends from San Francisco chasing with us as well. Jean-Luke drove his awesome 4×4 van while his son Paul Nauleau and Ryan Crook, fellow co-drivers. I’d also have to say that I was very impressed and proud of my wife Debbie. Especially hauling the car trailer around, taking care of me, feeding me, and putting up with on stinky dirty man for 3 days.
All I know is that I can’t wait until I can do it again. Thank you Eric Solorzano for inviting me to co-drive and I’m now blessed to have you as a new friend, and as my engine builder as well!