2017, Score International Baja 500
I saw a Facebook post that said “Everyone needs a Giant in their life to bring out the David in them”. I’ve also made the remarks that the BAJA is our Giant and Bochito is our stone. Again we faced the Giant and due to our history with the 500 I must say that I was a bit nervous, but ready. You can sit and day dream of holding the trophy up high on the podium, but for us, this race, we just wanted to make it to the finish line, just the finish line. Pulling it all together seems to be a bit much at times and eventually you find yourself surrounded by your team. Some are new, some have been with you from the start, but you have your team and you are ready to go. Your team brings together a special kind of energy and unique spirit that is full of hugs, blessings and determination. We did have some issues before the race and they all revolved around the transmission, which was not able to hold 2nd gear. If you let up off the accelerator at 2500 RPM’s or more it would simply pop out. Federico our builder tried many things and we pulled and installed the transmission and motor 4 times. The final solution was to take out the aftermarket parts and just replace them with stock VW parts. During the test run we finally realized that we have a working transmission!!
So we are set, race day. The jitters are just about gone, feeling good and I just want to get started. It’s always an encouragement to have friends see you off from the starting line and this year a very special friend came by to wish us the best, and that was Dana Brown. Dana is the director/producer/narrator of the classic off-road documentary “Dust to Glory” and also of the up and coming “Dust 2 Glory”. This is also a time when we shake hands with our competitors, who are our very good friends. In this race we’ll again battle it out with our good friends Art Penner from Canada, and the king of Class 11 Eric Solorzano. Our Chase team was late so we were thankful that Omar and Alan from Cerveseria Double C happened to come over to say Hi and wish us well, because they ended up getting us buckled in and ready to go. The start was good, and the 5 finger count down to the Green Flag never gets old. A couple speed zones and chicanes to keep us and spectators safe and we were off. We rounded a corner and noticed that second popped out, but we had this huge roll of duct tape that seemed to hit and knock it out, and it had me a little worried. We rescued it as we drove on and everything was working great. Then, I let off the accelerator at one point at high revs and BAM… popped out. There was some disappointment and the discussion of changing it or dealing with it. Due to the time and location of our chase teams we just realized that we were going to deal with it. Kevin and I started communicating and had a good system going to make sure 2nd gear stayed in.
We came to our first hill climb that we were a little worried about, but we drove right up and the car handled it well. All seemed OK, but we could not get up at a different hill climb. Part was my fault for picking a bad line, but the car also seemed to just drop out of power. Eventually we got up the hill, but as the day went on it just seemed to get worse and worse. At a latter hill climb a couple fans noticed something and told me to shut it down. They went on to explain that the front wheels were not moving!! Yes, I was dragging the front wheels up the hills! Kevin adjusted the brakes and free’d them up and the wheels were now spinning. But then real good news, the rear end… it dropped. Hard to see what was wrong from where we were, so I backed up a bit and went right up the hill with no problems. We got 1121 securely parked and Manuel Espinoza with Baja Dust Photography was there to lend us a hand and it was good to have a familiar face in the crowd.
We started to take the rear end apart and got down to the spring plate and found that it cracked. Yes, again, cracked spring plate. Good, we found the problem, but the replacement was heading to Erendira for the first pit stop. No time to waste! I called Deb on the satellite phone and they were able to intercept Sergio in the Cherokee Chase and get him turned around, come find us, and bring the spare spring plate. Kailen Hill was the first one on the scene, but did not have the right parts. It was sure good to see a fellow team mate out on the course. It took some skilled engineering on Kevin’s part to get the Torsion bar free, and I was able to set the Bar and Plate, then lots of muscle to attach the Bilstein shock that had 280 lbs of pressure. We’re Off!!
By this time Art Penner was way ahead of us, and Eric had passed us as well when were stuck at the base of the hill, so my good friends were moving right along. However, disaster would strike them both and end their day. Eric ended up getting hit by two or three other cars, and one was a Class 7 that struck him from behind causing some engine damage. At race mile 120 the decision was made to end their run due to the amount of work needed to fix the engine. Art was racing on the road to Erendira and all we going good, I mean very good and Art was having one of his best runs in the 500. As he rounded a long left hand turn a spectator came out of now where, went wide on the turn and smashed right into Art. Art only remembers going as far to the right as he could, then slowly getting out of the car. The driver of the other car tried to escape the scene, but his damaged tire prevented him from going too far, and he was drunk as well. A very sad way to see both of my friends taken out of the race. Both were OK, and no one was harmed.
Car’s running good, quite happy with the rear suspension set up, and well… my first time resetting the bar and plate while in the field! Then we came to the MONSTER HILL. Stair steps, a couple big rocks, silt… it had it all, and to make matters worse, a tight left hairpin turn at the base that robbed you of all momentum. After 7 or 8 tries I realized that under my own power we were not getting up this hill. As I backed up for another futile run I had to pray for God’s help to get me up this hill, and, he answered, and he also said “But it’s going to cost you!” I backed up to try a different approach and Kevin gave me that “done, done, done, stop stop stop” as I backed up over a rock. What now? I PRAYED!!! And he answered! I thought I heard something and it was a Jeep coming down the hill. Of course as we negotiated he had the full advantage and at the moment the $100.00 seemed like a good deal, and it was. I mean what else was I going to do? I prayed, he answered, he towed us up the hill of rock and silt and we were on our way—again. It was actually a very pleasant and beautiful ride to Erendira as we were watching the sun go down. Then for the first time I got to race over the Rock Whoops!! Seen it done for many years as a spectator, but it was my first time racing through them. Erendira was our first pit and by this time the Cherokee had made it back and stationed up on a very big hill, and now our Young Guns would take the wheel. Armando would pilot 1121 and for the first time Luis Vasquez would co-drive. Luis has put in lots of time on 1121 in the shop and in the pits and felt it was the right thing to do, to put him in with Armando. They made it up the two difficult climbs and in the backs of their minds La Costilla (the Rib) was waiting for them.
We performed like a Circus, packed up our show and headed to RM 148 and waited there for Armando and Luis. We sat in darkness waiting, resting, and looking for their lights. Eventually you hear a crack on the radio, a spit of static and you know it’s them, but are they moving? Calling for help? You simply don’t know. In this case we finally heard Armando’s voice, “This is 1121 Race we are almost there and everything is good!” It get’s the blood pumping and the adrenaline starts to move again, but this was not a pit and we were there for the “Just in CASE”. So Bochito (1121) raced by and disappeared into the darkness once again. The Mothership (Debbie in the Van) and Papa Chase (Mario Sandez) would now navigate to HWY 3 at BFGoodrich pit at RM 248 and I would hop in Cherokee chase with Sergio and Edgar to shadow 1121 to the base of the summit where we’d turn them over to the care of Randy and Raul.
We didn’t get too far and heard the call for help and we were off! As we got close we entered the silt bed that got them stuck, but they called the radio to let us know that they got unstuck and were almost ready to head out, but we were right there so we got them buckled in and they were off—-again! Silt is horrible stuff and can swallow you hole, and makes quite the mess. Cherokee Chase got to the HWY and off in the distance we could see them moving through the overcast night that had a heavy mist falling on them, and we had for sure entered into what I call, “The Power of Last Place”,,, topic for another story. Anyway, we got another call for help and also a warning not to come in too far, or too close to them. We turned off the paved road and I could see where we had to go and I was calculating the line to take and then… ”BAM!!!” It was like the Jeep hit a concrete barrier, or something had slammed into us. A bit dazed I looked up and just saw the ground in front of me. Edgar was the first one out and warned me not to get out. You see, I totally overlooked a huge washout in the road and the front left side of the Jeep fell right into it. You then have that “how the heck are we going to get out of this one?!!? We came out of our dazed heads and came up with a plan. A power pole was just up the hill, and I think we have enough cable on the winch, and we also have tow straps. We got it all hooked up and began to winch. Slowly the Cherokee was pulled out, but we had to be careful not to go too far or there rear wheels would drop in. I had about 16” of room, and we slowly maneuvered the away from the edge of the washout and we were out. Now, where is Bochito?! We continued up the hill and there he was, stuck on a hill. You see it was not the hill, it was the water from a busted pipe that turned it into a muddy mess. Again, it was the winch to the rescue! Bochito was pulled up the hill and we were on the way—-you guessed it, again! We would race to Bochito’s rescue one more time thanks to BFGoodrich’s relay support. They contacted the team and we were happy to relay that we were only 5 miles away from them. We were actually heading back to the Highway One, when we found Armando and Luis stuck good in huge rut that was complicated with lots of silt. We had to slowly pull them out as a quick jerk might have tipped them over. We dragged Bochito out of the silt beds and this time we followed them for a little while and knew it was time to stop. It was a pitch black night with a fine mist falling and we sat and watched the lights of Bochito climb into a dark and misty night and it became like some kind of light show and someone not knowing it was a race car might think it was a UFO weaving around in the hills. You’d hear the rumble of the motor echo and bounce off the hills and it was really this weird beautiful mix of sights and sounds. We caught the sound of Armando and Luis a couple times, then just darkness and silence, it was time to let go and head out. Now, the climb to Mike’s Sky Ranch and getting up La Costilla. We knew from the prerun that this was going to prove to be the roughest part of the whole race. We were blessed to have Randy Hill with us on the team, and it just so happens that he has this tricked out Jeep Rubicon. Randy and Raul actually made their way to La Costilla on Friday, the day before the race and camped out. For them it was an adventure and they got to see the type of action that nobody gets to see. They also had the opportunity to not just help us, but to help other teams as well. It’s was a great feeling to know that the spirit of God’s love was going out to others that needed it. There are those that take advantage of those stuck and no way out, but we were there to help and serve those that needed it. I’m sure Armando and Luis worked hard to get Bochito to the bottom of La Costilla and it must have been exciting and comforting to see Rubicon Randy and Raul there waiting for them. The Rubicon gave them a bit of rest and towed them up the hill and sent them off into the Morning Dawn.
Down from Mikes Sky Ranch Summit Bochito found itself with almost the whole team and everyone quickly snapped into action to get Bochito ready for its next leg of the race. I must say that I’m extremely proud of our chase team and everyone really worked hard to keep Bochito moving. Kevin would now shift from Co-Driver to driver and Danny would climb in as his Co-Driver. They would have the excitement of the dry lake bed where you can put your foot down and go man go! But, they would have the torturer of the San Felipe Whoops and endless riverbeds of sand. Sergio, Edgar and myself were making the way to HWY 3 and by the time we showed up they were gone and everyone else was eating Machaca Burritos at one of the famous stands in San Mateis.
As Kevin and Danny battled the sands of San Felipe Randy would again come to the rescue and also give them a spare set of Maxtrax. They used the pair we had on the car, but when they got free of the sand bed, they did not want to stop for the fear of loosing forward momentum. We followed them along the HWY and every now and then you could see them racing over the whoops and the thick desert plant life. It was HOT, and it was getting hotter and the day continued on. They had problems keeping the car in 2nd gear, which is greatly needed in this area. So, the car was working extra hard in first gear and it was putting a great amount of strain on the motor. In the mean time, we tried to use the access road to get to the race course and ended up getting the Chase van stuck. Thankfully, Papa Chase was there and we worked through the intense heat and got out of that situation.
We were almost clear of the sand and whoops and then Kailen Hill would take over the wheel and get us to the finish line. We waited at the cross roads and then came in a message that got us a bit worried. The car was loosing power, running very hot, and that he was going to shut it down and wait for a tow to the visual pit stop. We followed Kevin’s instruction and prepped to change out spark plugs and check oil levels. As we changed plugs we saw some unusual gaps, however we continued to put in the new plugs and cranked over the motor. It sounded labored and missing, and then, clank’n Knock-clank’n Knock. It was over. We made it to RM380 and sadly there would be no finishing the Baja 500. There was not much to do except prepare poor Bochito for the tow home to Ensenada, let Kailen know he would not be driving his section, and let the kids at Casa know that we did not make it. Bochito fought hard and went further than others, but not as far as some that were bigger and stronger. Maybe they did not have the heart beat of Team H12:One. One Class 11 did make it to the end with only about one hour to spare.
A great accomplishment to complete the race and take home the well deserved 1st Place Trophy. Congratulations to Pancho Bio of Car #1119, you guys were smoking hot and drove a great race. We must also give a great big thank you to the President of Score International, Roger Norman and his wife Elise for the hard work and dedication to put on an event as great as this. Score Race Director Jose Abelardo, thank you Jose with your help and cooperation with the Class 11 drivers and all that is done to provide us with a challenging course. And to our Team, thank you all. You have given much time away from your families and work. You believe in our mission, our purpose, and you share the love and passion for not just this race, but for Mi Casa de Esperanza, and most of all, our Lord Jesus who is watching over us and guiding us.
So now it’s back to the drawing board to prepare for the big event in November, the Baja 1000. We will be racing from Ensenada to La Paz, some 1300 miles, 2 1/2 days, none stop… The race of all races.
Team H12:One Racing Team for the 2017 Baja 500
Dennis Hollenbeck, Armando Salazar, Kevin Schlect, and Kailen Hill
Luis Vazquez and Danny Perez
Mario Sandez (Papa Chase), Debbie Hollenbeck (The Mothership), John Vandenhaak, Sergio Lopez, Randy Hill (Rubicon Randy)
Mario Sandoval, NG Hollenbeck, Raul Pantoja, Edgar Martinez, Christopher Vandenhaak, Brooke Hinders, and our first-time Rookie Tim Sanguinetti