2009 Baja 1000 Race with the 101A team, 11-19-09 - 11-22-09 Share
For this years baja 1000 I invited any of my friends who wanted to go and experience it. I knew my primary chase truck would have my usual team of Adam and my dad so I was set. My friends Paul and Matt from my Mustang club came and Eric, Dave, and Rick from RidingArizona.com all came along for the journey in Matt’s truck. We left my house at 3am on Thursday morning in order to make it to Ensenada by 10am for contingency, tech and registration. The trip was uneventful aside from the directions/address I got off the internet to our hotel were completely wrong. We were driving around way too far west in the barrio when our hotel was a few blocks from the start/finish line downtown.
When we pulled up Brian was working on the race quad, it was a beautiful machine with brand new everything. We headed down to get the best tacos on earth from Tacos Las Brisas on the main road downtown. The lady there recognized us from the Baja 500 and it was like we had never left. The tacos were just as good as I remember.
The las dunas hotel was great. The parking spots are 3 feet from the door to your room and the rooms are huge. We fit 8 people in there no problem. The staff was very cool too. We had the team meeting and decided that I would go down to laguna salada, race mile 160 to be there when our rider Cody Mitchell came through. I would be ready to get on in case he was sick or hurt. This meant I’d have to leave early on race day and miss the start of the race but I am used to that, I still haven’t witnessed the start of the race. J Brian showed us the spare parts on the quad including a CDI, fuses and chain master link. I actually had one of Barry’s guys explain to me how the master link goes on because in my 3 years of racing/riding I have never had to replace a chain or fix one.
On race day we woke up at 5:30am and made it to Laguna Salada at 10:30am and we expected Cody to come through around 11:20 based on our estimated start time. He came through at 11:15 about 15 minutes behind 104A and 5 minutes behind Christy’s 100A team. Next we headed to Borrego pit to have lunch and watch the race. We took our time getting there and figured that we had missed Cody by a few minutes. But then after about 75 minutes Cody came through very slowly. The sprocket bolt had come out which caused all kinds of problems with the chain. He was able to untangle the chain with the help of a spectators jack handle and improvise a bolt to hold the sprocket in.
He rode 5 miles down to the baja pits and we hustled after him. The 101A team took the quad apart with the help of Josh Edwards, and Shiloh Strunks team. The shift shaft was bent pretty badly and we were lucky the case didn’t crack. They took their time and got it all fixed. It was close to 3pm but I knew if our next rider Pete Garcia left Borrego by 3pm he would make it to the next pit where the lights were waiting before it got dark. But just in case I mounted Rick’s trail tech HID helmet lights to the handle bars.
My team hung around at Borrego for a few hours since I wouldn’t be getting on the quad at San Matias until after 9pm. Watching the trophy trucks come through was very cool. This area is full of spectators and it was wild watching the crazy spectators get so close to the trophy trucks.
At some point we heard on the weatherman channel that our quad was broken again but I think that someone was just reporting our previous breakdown. Pete ended up making it to the next pit south of San Felipe where Barry Bennett got on. By this time we were up at the San Matias, baja pit #11 (race mile 418) where I was scheduled to get on. We were asking our baja pit to call the other pits to see when/if our guy had made it through. We learned that it had taken about 2 hours to go 41 miles from pit 8 to pit 9. It turned out the light rack had broken when Barry was riding and they spent a lot of time in the pits welding it and rewiring the lights. They did a good job though and Barry made it up to Borrego for the 2 nd time where Cody got on at 9:10pm. This small section is incredibly brutal and Cody made it to us at 10:30.
At this point we knew we were not in it to win but to finish. The race had claimed many casualties and half of entrants in our class were already out and the 104A team had over a 2 hour lead over the 2 nd place team. I decided to try to conserve the quad and just make sure to make it to the next rider exchange and race mile 530.
I decided to tie a sweater around my waist because it was pretty cold already and it would only get colder. I also made sure my dad threw some matches in my pack. We took our time at the pit to make sure everything on the quad was good and then I was off down the highway a few miles to make the turn for Mike’s sky ranch. My vholdr helmet cam footage starts right here. The highway sections are limited to 60mph and our handlebar mounted GPS kept me under the limit.
As soon as I hit the dirt I noticed the lights were pointed too low for my high speed section so I had to keep the speed down in order to not outrun what I could see. I passed a few motorcycles and a pro quad. My right hand was cramping up a little bit which was annoying. The 1 st water crossing at Mike’s Sky ranch was very mild I was very happy. From here on it is very rough and the trophy trucks and buggies had done a number on the race course. It was completely different from my pre run 2 weeks earlier. I had to take my time to dodge the giant rocks that were eager to take out an a-arm, wheel or skid plate. One of the lights went out but it wasn’t too bad because the other giant HID was putting out plenty of light for this low speed stuff.
I made it around another motorcycle and then came up to the 2 nd water crossing. It looked like a lagoon, totally different than the pre run. There were no spectators around so I have no idea why it was so deep. Brian mentioned to us many times not to get the quad very wet and to cross water slowly because of the airbox and electrical connections. I cautiously crept through and the water was deep enough to lift the quad off the ground a little bit and I got a little wet from it. I managed to stall it about ¾ of the way through. The motorcycle was behind me and he waited for me to make it through before crossing.
I made it to Rancho El Coyote and saw a big pit area with some very large semi trailers but I didn’t see Baja pits. This made me nervous so I stopped to ask another pit where baja pits was. They pointed me back so I headed back a few hundred yards and stopped again and this pit told me that baja pits was a mile up the course. So I hauled it up the course and made it into the baja pit. This is where my helmet cam footage ends.
I had the baja pit crew aim the lights higher and I found a loose connection on the headlight that they taped up and both lights were functional again. From here on my hands were feeling great and I was all warmed up and moving much faster. I was having fun making it through the silty, burned out area from race mile 460-465. I was going down a small hill and then up the other side of this wash when the power to the rear wheels stopped. I thought the tranny had slipped into the neutral. I looked down and saw the chain on the ground so I coasted backwards down into the small valley. I thought, “well I guess I will put that mater link lesson to use” so I popped the seat to get the master link but it was gone. The only thing left in the tool area was the CDI.
At this point I learned how hard it is to kill a quad that has no chain, no key and no killswitch. I tried covering the airbox, choking it, etc but it kept running. I finally managed to get it to stop after a few minutes of idling. I pulled out the GPS to see where I was exactly. I already knew I was in the worst possible spot to break. The trail is narrow and silty and there are no other roads I know of to get there. I pulled out my big Bendix King handheld radio to see if I could get the weatherman but I couldn’t hear him at all. I walked up a hill and I was able to hear him but he was not able to hear me.
I started stopping other quads and motorcycles asking for a master link and chain breaker and one of the first guys I stopped thankfully had a master link. After another hour of flagging people down another person gave me their chain breaker. I went to work on the chain but the chain breaker was too narrow for the chain. I was able to break one bent part of the broken link off but not the other broken link. I kept telling everyone I stopped to tell the next pit that 101A (me) had a broken chain at RM466. It was pretty cold and I thought I might be there all night at this point so I built a ring of rocks and started a fire with the matches I had. The area I was in had already been burnt badly by a brush fire so I was nervous about how dry everything was.
I kept stopping other riders asking for a chain breaker but nobody had one. One guy did have a sat phone that he let me use and it worked brilliantly. I was able to reach Adam in my chase truck and I told them exactly where I was, what was wrong but I also told them there was no way they were getting to me without some kind of pre runner or jeep. This was about 2am. The rider wished me luck and told me to get the fire going bigger so I wouldn’t freeze. I kept flagging people down and I was able to upgrade my matches for a lighter from someone named Rusty. Thanks Rusty!
At 4:30am 100A came through, he stopped for a while because his lights were flickering so I helped him work on them. He was a very nice guy and he told me how he had quit at the previous pit because his lights were completely out but a random pit team was able to get them working again. While we were working, the headlights for a full-size regular looking truck stopped above us on the race course and someone got out. I thought it was my dad and Adam but it turned out to be some locals in a full-size dodge 4x4 with good tires. I asked them for a chain breaker or chain but they didn’t have one but they did tell me what time it was and when the sun would be up.
I tried filing the pin down on the chain breaker so that I could fit it around the chain and I also tried filing the side of the chain down but those things are made from some hard stuff. lmao.
I was getting a little loopy at this point since I had been up since 5:30am the previous day and I had to stay up collecting and breaking firewood but eventually I had to lay down. I slept for a few minutes but I’d wake up and walk over to the course when I heard the sounds of a single piston 4 stroke. It was pretty wild sleeping about 20 feet from the race course in a ravine. Trucks and buggies were going by all night, glancing over and looking at my sweet camp spot.
The sun was coming up so I started walking backwards up the course a bit to a more open area where I could flag down trucks and buggies. I stopped about 15 of them but none of them had radio reception. I asked them to please call the weather man when they had a chance so they could update him on my status.
I knew that in order to beat the 2pm finish line cut off point I needed to be running by 9am. I kept walking from hill to hill trying to reach the weatherman with no luck. So finally when I thought the sun was high enough to be 9am I packed up my stuff, put out the fire, pushed the quad back into a hiding spot and started walking towards Rancho El Coyote which was about 7 miles away. While I was walking I made it up a large hill where I stopped to take off my sweater. I heard the weatherman on the radio and one of my chase teams was asking for an update. He said he didn’t have anything new. I hit the transmit button to talk to him and he replied to me! I was very happy to finally get through.
I told him the situation was the same and I needed to know what my chase team wanted me to do. He told me to stay put and my chase team would talk it over. After 5 minutes he told me they hadn’t made any decisions but they would all meet at Valle T to talk it over. I told him I wasn’t too happy with that solution since I had been out there all night and I didn’t want to stay out there another night. Also if I walked back to the quad I wouldn’t be able to hear him or transmit to him. He advised me not to leave the quad so I started heading back towards it when I thought I heard my name being called. At this point I was seeing martians and purple elephants so I didn’t really pay much attention to it. Then I saw some figures a mile away on a hill. I kept walking down the silty race course when my friend Adam came up to me. It was great to see someone from my team and he told me they got a spare chain from a baja pit but no master links and that my other friend Eric was at the quad working on it.
They had been driving since 2am to get to my location. They took all kinds of jeep trails and side roads to get to me without getting on the race course too much. I guess they drove up the summit behind mike’s sky ranch in our stock, quad cab GMC2500 diesel. They said they got a lot of looks at the summit. He also told me it was 8:30 so we still had time. Unfortunately the master link I had wouldn’t fit with the chain they had and once the broken links were cut off the race quad chain it was too short. We even tried my tiny 12 tooth front sprocket that Adam had brought but the chain was still too short.
They messed with it for quite a while and eventually my dad was able to smash the master link on the borrowed chain but we couldn’t get the keeper to slide onto it. It was only a 3 mile drive to the truck so I took off very slowly and made it to the truck at 10:00am. The master link was already 20% backed out after that short, slow ride so I knew it was over. We loaded up and headed for Rancho El Coyote and we ended up on some other butt clenching jeep trail. There were big cliffs off the side of the mountain and switchbacks. Luckily my dad is an experienced hunter/jeeper and we made it the 10 miles to El coyote but it took a few hours. The truck’s electrical system was a little freaked out by this 10 hour rock crawling marathon and the wipers started wigging out, the AC quit working etc. This entire time I was trying to reach the weatherman to give him an update on our situation but I was unable to reach him. I couldn’t even reach him at el coyote but I was finally able to get him at the asphalt road near the ranch and I told him we were headed back to the hotel via highway 1. He said that checkers and my other chase team was on there way to get me so I felt bad about that but I couldn’t reach him until now.
We made it to the hotel at 3pm or so and I tried to sleep but I couldn’t with all the sharing of stories going on in the other room. So I got up and listened to everyone’s tales of the night. It turned out that half of my other chase team from Phoenix had gone out looking for me too once the weatherman had broadcast where I was thanks to one of the racers I had stopped who told baja pits what was going on. Nobody ever got the message that my primary chase truck with my dad was going out to get me at 2am. So Matt drove his 2wd truck to Mike’s and then one of them hopped in with a Checker’s pit guy in a blazer to take the race course to my position. I guess they got stuck a bunch and when they got there they missed me by about 30 minutes. It wouldn’t have mattered much since they didn’t have a spare chain or a truck bed to take the quad back but they would have been able to rescue my sorry butt from out of there. The other half of my friends stayed at the Valle T pit just in case I came through. They said it was 21 degrees there too.
I finally got to bed at 10pm, so myself and most of my team was up for 41 hours straight. Wow. This year’s race had a 44% DNF rate, so only 56% of entrants finished within the time limit. There were 9 entrants in our class and only 4 finished. 2 of those 4 finished close to the 31 hour time limit. So we were in 3 rd when the quad broke.
I have been to baja 3 times and come back with one victory and 2 breakdowns. Baja is tough but it is always an adventure. This time our adventure could be a case study in poor communication. Next time we need to save up more money and buy some sat phones and ensure that each chase truck has at least one cell phone with service and a car charger. It would also be great if at least one of the chase trucks had a 4x4 auto tranny quad to get into remote areas with parts or to tow the race quad. Of course I will also be racing with a good chain breaker and extra chain from now on.
In 2010, hopefully we will be going back to Baja with an all electric racing machine. The landing page is up at www.eatvracing.com
A few days before the race I received a sponsorship from Vholdr; they make awesome wearable HD cameras. Since my section was at night I gave the new Vholdr contour HD to the rider who was starting the race in Ensenada with the sun up. I wore the older standard Vholdr camera. Unfortunately the HD camera was never activated but I did get over an hour of footage on my helmet cam. It shows the deep water crossing and other things:
Photos from DGP photography:
I will have more photos from others soon.
GPS and heart rate log:
Special Thanks to the company I work for ICM Document Solutions who sponsored the team for this race. Thanks!
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