The Baja 1000, the Other Race…
It’s the 2015 Baja 1000, it’s Friday night. We just completed our pit stop in Erendira and now making our way to Check point two. BFG Relay checks in with us to make sure we are OK and moving. While driving on the highway to Colonet BFG informs us that we are officially out of the race as check point 2 will be, or has closed. By this time myself and CoDriver Art Penner with Mooch Racing had already encountered a very brutal ride up through Urapan, where we had to change a flat tire, and watch all the other Class 11’s roll by. Further down the course we watched the Cop’s car of Rene Rodriguez almost flip over backwards on to it’s back as it tried to conquer a very nasty up hill climb at around RM57. We ourselves struggled and thank goodness someone was there with a good tow rope. Due to low end horse power issues we just simply could not get up the hill. The silt for us was not an issue as two passes of pre-running helped us find the alternate route with no problems. Another hill climb gave us an issue, but going in reverse up the other way, then by slamming into a UTV, gently shifting into first gear, I then charged at the hill and scrambled right up it.
Then there was the busted alternator pulley, no not the belt,,,the pulley, it cracked in half. We had went back and forth with Cops (1101) and CBCSF racing(1116) many times, and at no time did you feel as if you were in the clear. We started out with seven class 11’s and by midnight, Friday night, there were 5 of us racing, and possibly only one of us still had a chance, and that was 9 time Baja 1000 champion, good friend and my Class 11 mentor,,Eric Solorzano.
So, as best as I can remember, here was the line up in order at about 12:00am. Eric Solorzano-Team Solorzano #1111, Rene Rodriquez-Cops #1101, Paul Nauleau-CBCFS Racing #1116, Brian Wallentine-Wallentine Motorsports #1113,,and trailing the pack,,,Dennis Hollenbeck-Team H12:One Racing #1121. Jim Graham and the Desert Dingos were out due to a Fuel Mixture problem, and Dave Bollis was out due to a Rock damaging his Valve cover and cylinder head. So there we are, 5 Class 11’s still in the hunt. By this time many fans have vacated their fires, check points will start to close, Pit locations will pack it up, and the course will become very lonely place to race. Technically the race for us is over,,,or is it?
Dave Forrest along with Kevin Schlecht are on a mission and it’s very plain and simple,,,catch up to those in front of us. Which at one time they were doing very well at that. They caught up to Wallentine, and also eventually caught up to, and passed CBCFS racing (fondly referred to as “The Frenchy’s”) and now we were closing up on Cops. As they approached Vicente Gurrero they noticed that they were not exactly on course, and they knew the course was about 100 yards to their left. So with what appeared to be a clear shot, they made the move to cut over to the course. Here is where the BAJA gets you, crabs you, and tries to swallow you up. A gulley was waiting for them and it was about 3-4 feet deep and about 5-6 feet wide. At there speed and the darkness of the night, there was no stopping and they hit the gully with a violent impact bringing them to a dead stop. The Frenchy’s stopped to make sure they were ok and even offered a tow, but Dave was like,,,”uhh, thanks, but you are in a race, our chase guys will find us”. Someone did find them, and pulled them out, and we eventually found them as well, but not after the Baja took the muffler off of my chase van!!,,,My oh my, the Baja was having it’s way with us. It took a little time, but Kevin, along with the Tapiz Racing crew had a new tie rod on the car, we pounded out the dents,,,gave the guys a hug and they were off.
By now I believe we were trailing the pack again and I think this is when we all knew we were clearly out of the race “officially”, but our own little “Class 11 Baja 1000” had officially begun. Our next pit stop at RM224. It was loaded with laughs, hugs, and good spirits and Kailen Hill and Paul Hartl would take over. We had become to know this pair as “The Odd Couple” and they were a kick to watch in action. Now as the sun started to raise they would be approaching RM 235, and just beyond that,,,some real nasty silt. Here is where everyone seemed to bunch up. Solorzano blazed through, Cops were having issues, Frenchy’s were doing good, Wallentine had issues,,,and then came 1121. Kailen was making good time, the car with it’s low compression motor was doing real good, but eventually the silt bogged us down. Mario Sandez headed in with his 4X4 Ford and hunted Kailen down. They had actually got themselves unstuck thanks to our Maxtrax, so now we just needed to lead them out,,,which is another story, but let’s just say Kailen wanted the “Jungle Adventure” way out,,,or he just wanted to trim down some bushes and trees.
Next to fall victim to the Baja was 1101, Cops Racing. Besides some motor issues it seems their front suspension was finished. Our next Pit stop was at RM 348, and Armando Salazar and Roberto Tapiz (Tapiz Racing) would now take over. Also pitting right in front of us was Wallentine, and sure enough, they took off about 15 seconds in front of us, but their motor was no match for our Montes built 1600cc power plant, and we caught them, and passed. A little battle was now taking place, and Armando did have to sound the horn a few times, tap our Class 11 brothers to ask them to kindly step aside. We knew that most likely the worst part of this whole race was coming. RM382,,,bad stuff, very bad stuff. This would become a turning point of the race, and a place of controversy, danger, and a story that will eventually be told,,. As chase teams gathered at the lonely cafe at Laguna Chapala we had neither cell reception or radio transmissions. There was only one way into the course,,,and hopefully one way out. All you could do is wait.
Eventually we could here the sound of that little 1600cc motor and off in the distance a cloud of dust, but who was it? We all stood there, like waiting for your car to emerge from a Black Hole,,,it was,,,The Frenchy’s, and man was Paul a mess. Face covered in Silt, and blood shot eyes. He gave Eric a status on his car, and sketchy as that because, there was no stopping in the section. If you were moving you had to keep moving, or you were dead in the silt. Now we waited again,,,then, a crackle on the radio, and eventually a sigh of relief,,”Race 1121, we are on the way out!” Sure enough the Baja spit us out from is jaws and allowed us to continue to race. I was next in the car, and we felt bad not having any news for Eric, and it is a lonely feeling as you stand there gazing into this empty void, of beautiful, but very dangerous Desert, and having no idea what is going on.
Now I took the wheel and had some HWY driving down to RM464. We got on course and I decided to hand the wheel to Roberto Tapiz. This would be his first time behind the wheel in the BAJA 1000,,,felt good to see his excitement. So we are off and a funny thing happened on the way to RM 493,,,Wallentine Motorsports was in front of us?? Funny,,,we were ahead of them at the cafe at Chapala,,, Whaaaaaaaaaa-magic! Anyway,,we put the hammer down passed’m up and after a while we lost them in our mirrors, but a driver change at RM586 would put them in front of us again,,,well kind of,,anyway…. Dave Forrest took over as Roberto’s Co-Driver ,,and again we passed Wallentine and this time we wanted it to stick, and clearly now it was time to catch CBCFS Racing. For Roberto it was literally like driving in his back yard as he had raced these roads before. With the darkness of the night upon us we knew that somewhere out there was San Felipe and it Whoops. Our Baja Design’s S2 Green Eye’s and XL’s had the night lit up, and #1116, we’re coming for ya!
We were making great time and we were closing up on Paul. At one point we were 10 miles behind, then 5 miles, then 4 miles—then,,,boom,,,busted spring plate, DOH!! But, Paul was having issues as well. Come to find out they had two complete roll overs! So, the question was,,,who was going to recover first,,,,and the winner is??? CBCFS racing and they on on their way. H12:One is repaired and on the way, but not before,,you guessed it, Wallentine passed us–again! Near Check point 6, RM 683 we would have another driver change,,,and oh yea, we caught Wallentine and passed them,,,again, and we’d now take the whoop section that ran next to the HWY. Then the course would empty out on to the HWY,,but wait, what’s that I see,,,It’s Wallentine’s car, and chase team,,,all on the HWY,,,wait, yea, race car not in the whoops,,but on the HWY,,,Alllllrighty then. A little drag race took place on the hwy as we came off of the race course (that is the part of the course that was in the dirt) and again the Monte’s Power Plant kicked into gear and made the pass.
Next up,,,the goat trail,,,at night,,,fun fun fun. I took the Cherokee chase up first and found a little notch to tuck back into, and waited to see if any assistance was needed. 1121 jetted up the trail with no problem,,,well, just one little hick-up. We waited to make sure Wallentine was in the clear and of no need of assistance and we followed behind until we came to an access road.
It’s now 2:24 am, which I’m shocked,,I thought it was like 11:30 pm. We are in Ojos Negros, Paul is in the lead, Brian is behind us and we’re in the middle, tired, cold, no brakes,,,but hey, how bad can it get,,we’re almost done, we got this! Wrong. It got bad, and so we have these big hill climbs, steep down grades (with no brakes), then I, the co-driver started to see things. I even saw a mountain lion hiding waiting for us and I actually screamed out at Armando–then calmly said “uhhh never mind”. Transmission low gears for brakes, and very skillful driving, that was the key, and at 3:00 am, Armando was on his game. We were not racing against Paul (well kind of), we were not racing against Brian (well,,,as long as he was behind us). We just wanted to get to the finish line. We could see the lights of Ensenada, but we found out from last year that it does not mean anything. We just kept going, then, the construction site, we passed near Federico’s shop and laid on the horn,,,We laid on the horn all the way through the river bed, we made the last turn at 4:00am, and there they were… Team H12:One, some of their family members, and CBCSF Racing and their friends and family! All lined up waiting for us.
There were no Trophies, no ribbons, no medallions, no speeches,,,just loved ones, hugs, hand shakes,,,and it’s always good to look up and see the other side of that Score International Baja 1000 sign that marks the end of the race. Did we finish? There are those that will say no, because we arrived late. Did we finish? There are those that will say we did, because we did make it back to the finish line. But while Ensenada slept, the quiet streets were filled with the sounds of our little horns, and a different kind of Champion was Made, the best one in my books. Because he raced with the heart of a Champion, Never Gave up, and raced the Baja 1000 with determination, and a lot of soul. The Record books will only say this “CLASS 11 (stock VW sedan)—(Starters: 7, Finishers: 0)” but some will remember The Race that took place within the Race… 1st place #1116, Paul Nauleau, 2nd place #1121 Dennis Hollenbeck, 3rd place #1113 Brian Wallentine.