The Rainy 2019 Baja 1000
OK, I’m going to do my best to account for all that went on during this race and not try to sugar coat anything and just tell it as it happened. To understand this race, one must know all that transpired before the race, which mainly was a lot of rain. I’ve lived here for almost 25 years and we’ve been to almost every Baja 1000 and have never seen rain like this. I laid in bed wide awake at 3:00 am just wondering how this was going to affect the course and change everything. We even considered canceling our “Hand Print” party with the Casa Esperanza kids, but eventually took the Class 11 spirit and said GO FOR IT!! We had a great time with the kids, Bochito was blessed with the hands and hearts of the kids and this time really motivates you like nothing else.
The rain brought a rain delay of 24 hours as Score scrambled to make adjustment to the course, and I must applaud Jose Abelardo (Race Director/Score President) for coming up with a great plan, and actually little was done to the original course, but still, imagine having to deal with a flooded race course that is 800 miles long, and you need to get 265 racer’s,,,RACING!
Next was contingency and we even had some spitting of rain as we pushed Bochito through to final Tech inspection. We handed out 1000+ stickers, 1000+ hero cards, and a 100+ action bibles to the kids. That is our highlight on contingency day because nothing is better than seeing a face light up when they receive a simple sticker, or better yet, the word of God.
Woke up to sunshine, just like ELO sings, “Mr. Blue Sky!” We actually had a quiet relaxing morning as we had very little to do, and just last minute packing. When we got to the staging area I took the opportunity to not walk around not as the Driver on Record for H12:One, but as a Chaplin for Racer’s for Christ, and my first day as a Chaplin as well! Not much time, but I was able to pray for some of my fellow drivers. Excited for what is to come.
So, it’s time to go, time to race. Armando would drive Bochito off the line with Luis Vasquez as his Co-Driver. I opted for a rear start as I knew that’s what Armando prefers, and we all have our ways and what motivates us. As we tracked the race 1121 did not charge to the front but settled into his own pace. All the 11’s seem to be moving at a good pace until about Race Mile 55, where there was a pretty bad uphill climb and by this time 1121 had worked it’s way up to 3rd place. No way to get a running start at this hill and 1111, being driven by Paul Nauleau made it on his first attempt, but 1113 could not make it due to a Class 19 UTV getting stuck. Hence started out own little Class 11 bottle neck. So, Armando cut a deal with 1113, “we’ll help you, but then come help us”. H12:One did what we think is the best thing to do at the time, and they helped 1113 up the hill. When they stopped pushing and 1113 was clear, they sadly watched 1113 drive off and never return. Proud of my guys for doing the right thing, and that was after they cleared the hill, they returned to help 1152, our good friend and Suavecito Sponsor Elmer Cayetano. The Warrior Built team just needed room as Mark Due-Set powered his 11 up the hill un-assisted!!
With all that action 1111, Erick Solorzano now had a nice lead followed by 1113, Robalunches, then 1121 racing at a consistent pace. Armando would hand the car over to Diego Robles and co-driver, Will Watson. I would now head to H12:One Pit 2 at race mile 225. Diego had a straight run to 225 and did not seem to have any problems or delays. Some slow areas in the course, but he kept 1121 moving and we he eventually not only caught and pasted 1113, but 1111 as well, so Diego got us into the lead position. 1113 from what we understand was having some CV joint/Axle issues, and 1111 had some mechanical issues as well. By the time 1121 got to me it was about 9:30 and my co-driver Wes Smith was pumped and ready to go!We hopped in, got buckled in and off we went. Car was running great and Wes settled in and starting give me some good lines to take and our homework of pre-running was paying off. The rain in this area was kind of blessing as it settled down the course and loosened the rocks and helped some of the dry stream beds a little easier to navigate. We eventually started our gradual uphill assent and here is where it got difficult as we had to at times hop over rocks and the wet sand and dirt gave us wet tires, and wet tires don’t grip as good as dry tires, but Bochito was powering up the hills with no problems, but then, we got a warning light to let us know a vehicle was broke down and sure enough a Class 1 was off to the right side on a left hand turn, going on an up hill climb that was riddled with rocks and boulders. I made the error of over evaluating his position and let up just enough to lose my momentum and power and sure enough could not hop the car over a big rock, and, we were stuck! All I could do it roll back and hope to get another run at it, but I more or less backed into the other car—what a mess. Good thing is that I did not block the course and other cars were able to get by, including 1113. The call went out to Cherokee Chase and Sergio Lopez and Jose Santiago came to our rescue. Now back in the hunt!
We were moving at a good pace and our Baja Designs brought the day to night as they lit up the course for us. Our next little adventure would come in the way of a nice silt bed that had been turned in to muddy mush trap waiting for us and all the poor little 11’s. Sure enough we hit this mush pot and almost made it, but yep, got stuck. Soon some guys from Wide Open came over to help us out, and eventually the big happy face of Miguel Sandoval came over and towed us out, and we were again moving. Next we had the silt beds at race mile 258, then a huge double up hill climb. The silt beds actually became these nice soft pack trails, and Bochito made it up the hills with zero issues. Now we come up on the nasty of the nasty part of the mountain range we were crossing. We had been climbing and climbing up to some high altitudes and we were starting to notice the change in engine performance, and the cold air was not allowing the oil to stay at a decent temperature. We eventually came to a very steep down hill trail to navigate and nothing real hard, and maybe a time to relax a little, relive myself,,,I don’t know, I mean I don’t know what happened. We rounded a very steep hair pin turn, not going fast and I felt the wheel climb up the embankment to my right and I tried to turn out of it, but too late and over we went. It was a gentle roll, but none the less, Bochito was now on his lid, wheels straight up and my world was now upside down!
It was an odd spot, not much room to work with, I felt horrible, and yelled out my frustration a couple times, then got to work to find a solution. One team stopped to help us, but I think the smoke from a wire shorting out had them re-think, and they hopped back into their car and keep going, but man, they gave it their all. Eventually our chase vehicles would catch up to us and Kevin Schlect was first, followed by Toby Fray and Romy Freddrick. We engineered tow straps to Bochito and basically flipped him like a pancake, and that is the best way to describe it. Cheers went up as the wheels hit, and more cheers as he started right up. With Bochito on all 4’s, radio wiring repaired we were on our way, but now we’d get hung up on another hill, and a UTV would end up rolling over in front of us, and then a Class 5 would get stuck trying to go around us, so at this time all I could do is it there in Bochito and laugh at our situation, and the night we were having. Eventually the road was clear, we were on our way and the dawning of new day was on the horizon, and I could not believe that morning was knocking at our door.
I would hand Bochito off to the next team, and man, this car was a mess. Muddy, dented, door crushed, tail light busted clean off,,,just a mess, but running strong. Tobi Ostapchuk and Dennis Anglin would now head to San Felipe and they would drive a 170 mile section that would have the rock’n the woops and sand. By this time in the race 1113 was in first, we were 2nd and everyone else was dealing with what we had dealt with, but their mechanical issues. 1113 came to a stop at race mile 522 and again they would work at trying to repair their CV axle. Tobi and Dennis just kept 1121 moving over the woops and through the sand and they would eventually catch 1113 and take first place. You never know with this race how things will go. First place can only last, as long as it takes, for you to find yourself last place–again. As we sat at BFGoodrich Pit 5 we eventually got the news that 1121 was stuck in the sand, and ACTIONTRAX to the rescue! They worked at moving the car a few yards at a time as the they were in a powdery type of sand and they just could not achieve the momentum to get rolling. We knew it was coming and eventually we heard them say “Robalunches, 1113 just past us”. We were on the way to rescue them, but just as we reached race mile 565, Dennis radioed that they finally hit some hard pan and that they were off and rolling again. Now at BFG pit 5 a battle would start between the two teams as they would both leave the pits at the same time. Diego Robles was at the wheel with Luis as his co-driver and they were headed to a mountain pass, which some of the other teams would say “Class 11’s have no business up there!”—But we are Class 11.
The battle over the pass was intense back and forth racing with fender rubbing and everything. Sadly 1121 and 1113 would have some issues that cooled down the battle. Our hero Sergio Lopez was in Cherokee chase and he was able to help Bochito with the horrible hill climbs over the pass, and just happened to have the Ball Joints as one of them on Bochito busted. Oddly enough both cars would some how get rolling again at the same time and make it down to the valley floor, and racing hard as we were getting close to our cut off time. Diego would hand the car over to Armando and Will and they would drive a short section to Ojos Negros. They did get turned around as the GPS was full of access roads and farm roads and it was hard to tell which was which. 1113 got lost as well, but eventually Armando figured it out and worked 1121 out of the maze of dirt roads and got Bochito to the highway. We never saw 1113 again, and by the time Armando got to race mile 770 they were at least 20 miles behind us.
Now we had to finish this up! Put a bow on it! We were in first place, but just about the last car in a field of 265. Drive fast, but careful, stay alert, take nothing for granted and to finish 1st, first you must finish. Vision’s of our 2014 Baja 1000 ran through me when we broke down with 8 miles to go! As we got close to Ensenada I finally got to see a sight I’ve always wanted to see as Driver and team leader, The city lights of Ensenada. Just as awesome, you are almost home. Your mind wanders, you start to have your “vision’s of grandeur, acceptance speeches, my Rubia, my Trophy girl…STOP! You are racing you knuckle head, pay attention!!”. Then you hit pavement, street lights line the race course and the big question is “Did we make it on time?” I was not trying to get my hopes up. We passed the official time gate and there were a few people there waving flags and cheering, then the lady in the timing trailer had a big two thumbs up! So we had that going for us, but until I see that checkered flag on the car I’m not saying anything. The race was officially over but I had to get to the podium, and like a knucklehead I took the wrong turn and took the long way to get there. Now, let me back you up…
We are racing to the finish line and the Weatherman (Scott Stienburger) is watching this unfold and he see’s that plugs are being pulled to end the race. Live feed has been shut down, people packing up and calling it the night, and granted they know we are coming, and that we are not going to make the cut off time. Scott can tell that something is not right, so he calculates the time and realizes the timing is off. Scott calls Jose Abelardo and together they calculate the time and realize the same thing, we have time, not much, and we need to cross the finish line by 11:40pm. The Weatherman proceeds to tell them to turn the party back on, get live feed back on line, 1121 is going to make it to the finish line!!
We round the corner, and there it is, the podium, the ramp, and my good buddy, Rat Sult is waiting there with mic in hand and ready for an interview with the 2019 Baja 1000 1st Place Class 11 car, and the only Class 11 to finish on time! The victory flag was draped over the mud covered hood and it was like a dream come true. Our first Baja 1000 victory, and to just imagine that almost 24 hours prior I was stuck on a hill with Bochito on his lid. Rat paid us great prop’s and respect and he held on and kept a light on for us, and for that we are grateful to our buddy Rat. Score sure has the right man for the job.
We can’t begin to thank everyone enough for all their help. Our fantastic chase drivers, the Rescue Recover teams, the sandwich crew, pit crew, and all of you that were pulling for us and cheering us on. God get’s the Glory for his one and I pray we use this victory for his purpose.
Must give a shout out to some of our Sponsor’s
Baja Designs, much of the race took place during the night, you lights are awesome and lit the way. PCI Race Radios, the equipment was flawless and all vehicles outfitted and maintained by PCI worked perfect. BFGoodrich Tires, ZERO FLATS! USActionTrax, you saved us again! Cryoheat, the gears and guts shifted like butter all night long. Raceline Wheels, they hang tough and we give them tough miles in Cherokee Chase. Lucas Oil, making a huge difference in the dependability of our Engine and Transmission. Slime, Zero Flats! Navico Ensenada, the GPS got us home and such an awesome unit. And, if you are going to race, you might as well look good doing it, Get some Hombre- Suavecito and Suavecita!!