The 2008 Baja 1000 on 2 hours notice
Miles Driven: 1490
Total hours running the truck: 38
Hours in Mexico: 96
Hours Slept: 15
On Tuesday November 18th at 10am I was sitting in my cubicle when my girlfriend JoLea called to say that someone named “Ramos” had called and left a message about a free trip to the baja 1000 if I call him back soon. Joe Ramos is a well connected guy who I ride with sometimes and I assumed he might have a pre run trip or a trip to help pit for a team. I had no idea the Baja 1000 was that Friday. I wasn’t all that excited to call him back because I knew I couldn’t go to Baja to just hang out on such short notice. So I called him in back and he told me that a pro quad team had a rider drop out and they were looking for a replacement but that replacement would have to leave that night. I was completely floored by what he was telling me. I have always wanted to race in the Baja 1000 and I just assumed it would never happen due to costs. I told him I could probably do it so he said to hang by the phone while he called the team manager back to let him know. I have never driven in Mexico and definitely never raced there so I knew this was going to be one helluva experience.
At 11am a member (Mike Crawford) of the AllFaysracing Kawasaki team called me and told me they would love to have me but I would have to leave that night and I would need to bring my quad and one chase truck so that I could pre run my section and have someone chase me during the race. When I hung up the phone I was speechless and really quite emotional. I would be getting the chance to race for a pro team in the Baja 1000. I have only been riding quads for 3 years and racing for 2. I have never entered a race as a pro or with a pro...I was stoked!!!
However Mike’s proposal did present a slight problem since I am way poorer than usual this month and I didn’t know anyone who could leave with me on such short notice. Normally my dad would be in but he is still limping around with a broken leg and foot and he hates Mexico, a lot. Mike told me to try to find someone to go with me and call him back ASAP because they had 2-3 other riders who were also possibilities. At this point I left work for lunch and started calling everyone I know and posting threads on the message boards looking for help. I also had a problem with my quad since I broke a few parts on Sunday pre running for the final race in our local desert race series.
I think I called everyone I know and nobody could leave work on such short notice and those who could were out of town on trips. Finally my dad decided he could make it and around 2:30pm my good friend Adam said his boss was letting him go too. So at 2:30 I told Mike Crawford I was definitely in and we planned to meet later in the day. Meanwhile from 12:30-4pm I was running all over town getting parts to fix my quad, I went to Lonestar Racing to pickup a swing arm pivot bolt (For some reason I have broken two stock Honda bolts in the past month), then to 1st Performance so my friend Steve could weld my bumper (he jumped right on it when I arrived and left a bunch of people standing around waiting for him, big thanks to Steve), then I went home and grabbed the Maxxis RZR 2 tires Adam had just bought for his quad and mounted them on my wheels (Discount Tire dismounted and mounted the new tires for free, they rule), and then I went to Coyote Honda to pickup the swing arm pivot nut. From 4-5pm I put all the parts on the quad.
At 5pm I left my house to drive 25 miles to Mesa for a
softball game. Normally I would skip the games but it was
the first night with a new team so I had to go. On the way
there my friend Jeremy called and said that even though
he was busy with work that he would be crazy to skip this
opportunity so he was in for the trip. We won both our softball
games and I went 7 for 9 so I was feeling good. From Mesa
I drove 15 miles to Gilbert to pickup Jeremy. From Jeremy’s
house I went 20 miles to Mike’s place in Phoenix so he could
dump several years of baja knowledge on me over the course
of an hour and to pickup his GPS so I would know where I
was riding on my pre running session on Wednesday.
I had heard of AllFaysRacing prior to this but I had never worked with them before and I had never officially met anyone from their team aside from their main rider Buddy Ray Fay. I met Mike Crawford for the first time at 10pm on Tuesday and he had prepared a baja book for me with maps, notes, hand written directions to Kiki’s hotel in San Felipe and more. It was awesome. We talked for an hour and solidified our pre running plans. He gave us our chase truck stickers and stickers to hand out to kids and cops while down there. Apparently the people down there love stickers and simply presenting some stickers can get you out of a jam. We left Mike’s at 11:30pm and while on the way home I realized that A. I hadn’t eaten since lunch and B. I forgot to get Mike’s GPS. So we continued on the 25 mile drive home and picked up a bite to eat then headed back to Phoenix to Mike’s place to get the GPS at 12:30am. From there we went to Wal Mart to pickup supplies for the trip. We left Wal mart at 2am and went home and started packing.
We were busy mounting the GPS on the quad and doing other prep when my dad pulled in at 3am. We packed the truck to the brim and headed out of Avondale at 4:05am. At 9am we crossed the border at Mexicali and drove through Mexican rush hour until we hit the Mexican Freeway number 5. At around 9:45am we hit the starting spot for my section of the race which was Race Mile (RM) 220.
RM 220 is in the middle of a dry lake bed at kilometer 74 on the 5. I would be running from RM220 to RM353 which is in San Felipe. The plan for the day was for me to pre run as much of my section as possible and then meet some of the other members of the team down in San Felipe at Kiki’s hotel. Adam, Jeremy and I had only slept about 3 hours during the drive down but we were all pumped on adrenaline and nobody was tired. I geared up and left the boys at 10am. It was more than a little intimidating to be leaving the friendly confines of the truck on a quad into the middle of a flat lake bed that was so desolate that you could see the curvature of the earth. I immediately realized I should’ve changed the gearing on my quad since I was pinned in 5th for quite a while on the lakebed.
At 11:30 I arrived at RM279 were my team was waiting for me so I could gas up and continue on. I didn’t encounter any other riders while pre running that section. I did pass by a VW bus in the middle of a wash in the middle of no where. I have no idea how they got out there. The 60 mile section I just traveled covered all sorts of terrain. The first few miles was dry lake bed, then sand just like the Glamis dunes, then a wash that didn’t have a grain of sand it was all small shardy rocks, then really rough mountain sections with hill climbs and giant rocks. The last 10 miles of this section was really brutal and nothing but whoops.
Along the next section I saw a marker for RM405 this really freaked me out since my section was from 220-353. I looked at the GPS and it said I was in the right spot. I didn’t realize I was on the part of the course that loops back onto itself. So I kept going and made my way out to about RM290 which runs along a giant lake bed that had some water in it. It is WOT for several miles along this road then a left turn up a weird wash/road where I passed a caravan of 6 VW’s coming at me. I locked up the brakes and they didn’t seem to flinch, they just kept going on their way.
At 12:55 I was at RM310 waiting for my team to catch up so I could get fuel again. While waiting I was swarmed by bees so I kept moving up and down the road trying to find a bee free zone. A guy on a KTM motorcycle stopped with me since he was waiting for his team to arrive too. Turns out he owns a KTM dealership in El Centro and he offered to give me a great deal on a KTM quad, I will be sure to take him up on that as soon as my money tree blooms. My team arrived and gassed me up and repaired my skid plate since I had hit some giant rocks and bent it into my rear brake rotor. I have been desert racing for 2 years and never bent a skid plate up so badly.
Along the next section towards San Felipe I caught up to a few motorcycles and got passed by a nice pre runner rail. Other than that it was uneventful. I arrived in San Felipe at RM353 literally in the middle of a trash dump and we loaded up and left for the hotel.
San Felipe is really small and quiet. The hotel we stayed at was right on the beach and it was tiny. It consisted of a few rooms which were really quite nice and a bunch of RV spots. Each RV spot had a tree house type deck / balcony thing. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. All of the RV parks down there have them. I was finally able to shower and sleep a few hours before dinner.
At 6:30pm some other members of the team arrived. DJ was another member of the 4 man riding team and he was accompanied by team mechanic Barry and buddy’s dad Ray Fay. He had been pre running his section all day. It was good to finally meet another part of the team. We all went down and ate at Fat Boy’s pizza which was a sort of Americanized restaurant where you could eat and not worry about getting a killer case of diarrhea. It was fun sitting in the restaurant and watching quite a few rails, trucks, buggies and ATV’s going right down the main street. After eating I went straight to bed at 9pm while the others stayed up and tinkered with my quad.
Thursday, 8am we were back at RM353 so DJ could start running his section again and I decided to back track and run the final 15 miles of my section over again. The last part of that section was pretty flat and open and I knew it would be covered in locals during the race and I would need to know that section in case anyone decided to change the course markings or anything. I found some really good hot lines while pre running again and I was excited to run that section of the race on Friday.
At 9am we loaded up and headed for RM425 to meet DJ and his team. This would be my first experience with a military checkpoint. My dad, Adam, and Jeremy had been hitting them all day the previous day. You pull up, roll down all the windows, and the AR-15 armed guards say a bunch of stuff to you in Spanish and most of the time you get out and they search the vehicle. After the first checkpoint we had to turn left onto Highway 3 where there is another checkpoint literally 300 yards from the first checkpoint. The guard at the 2 nd checkpoint asked us if we had any “steekers” so I gave him some stickers and he let us go without a search. Mike Crawford was right; these stickers do come in handy.
We met DJ and loaded up for Ensenada at 11am. We hit some crazy windy mountain sections where the semi truck we passed earlier had caught up to us and was tail gaiting us all through this section. The road is barely wide enough for our truck, there are drop offs along the side and the guard rails are literally 4 inches of the ground and this full size semi is on our ass the whole way. Driving into Ensenada for the first time was quite a barrage on the senses. The people drive quite a bit differently (crazy comes to mind), there are junkyards everywhere, farms, ghettos, wal mart, home depot. It was very strange for someone who had never been there and we were enjoying every minute of it.
The beach house we were headed to was southwest of Ensenada on a small peninsula called La Bufadora I believe. Along the way we saw some sweet horse drag racing in a field. We stopped at a taco stand and had some really good burritos; I think all 7 of us ate for $30. Along the way to the beach house there was an abandoned resort with a huge extravagant driveway, tennis courts, villas, etc all totally worn down, overgrown and abandoned. Right next door there were some really awesome houses along the beach then there was a security guard at the entrance to our subdivision of beach houses most of which were completely empty or occupied by fellow racers.
Finally at 2:15pm on Thursday I met the rest of the race team. They all thanked me profusely for coming down and racing for them. I couldn’t believe they were thanking me for coming down to race the Baja 1000 so I returned their thanks with more thanks of my own for giving me the chance to race the Baja freaking 1000 for a pro team. The entire Allfaysracing team was extremely nice and they made us feel welcome right away. We unloaded the trucks and headed for contingency and tech in downtown Ensenada. We arrived at 4pm, 1 hour before closing time and there were still probably 100,000 people down there. I didn’t get to experience much of the festivities because I was busy registering and teching but I didn’t mind at all. We passed tech, got our Iritrack system registered and headed back to the house.
On the way back to the house we noticed the whole peninsula was dark, this included our house so we stopped at the taco stand again for dinner since they had candles for light and gas for cooking. We still had a lot of race prep to do so the power outage really screwed us up. Lucky the team had an awesome huge trailer with a generator and plenty of lights so we finished our race planning and quad prep under the lights. I was getting tired and I think I went to bed around midnight but everyone else was up much later doing work.
The race starts at 6:30am for the pro bikes and the pro quads start right after that. We left the beach house at 5:30am to head down to RM220 where DJ would be passing the quad over to me at approximately 11:30am. We left that early in case there was an accident on one of the highways which would close the highway down. We got to RM220 at about 9:30am and started the long waiting process. We pitted right next to the Desert Assassin guys who were really cool.
We started getting text updates from Buddy’s sister and from our friends at home saying we were in 1st or 2nd place. Then we got an update that Buddy had run out of gas because the baja pits people shorted him on fuel at one stop. Luckily we had spare gas on the front bumper of the quad so it only cost us a few minutes. At RM115 DJ got on and starting making up ground. According to IRC we were still high up in the rankings, but the IRC was only showing 4 quads even though there were 9 in our class. I guess the other tracking units malfunctioned or were turned off. I was all excited and suited up to race for quite a while. I was not nearly as nervous as I thought I would be. I was just ready to get on the quad and do my best. We were expecting DJ around 11:30 and that time had come and gone. Then 4 of the pro quads came flying by so we knew something was wrong. Finally we got a message that he had engine troubles at RM 215, 5 miles from us.
I hopped onto the practice quad and headed out to tow him in. He said that when the quad died he was right on the tail of Wayne Matlock’s Honda team. Once we got back to the pits it was clear that the engine was not repairable so we decided to swap in the engine from the practice quad. Score rules state that you can not change the engine case or the frame and they mark each of them so you can’t get around the rules. We were down there to finish the race so we decided to swap the engine over from the practice quad. We knew we would probably still received a DNF or a DQ but we didn’t care we wanted to finish. Everyone had worked too hard and invested too much to give up so early. Mike Crawford and his crew drove down to us and we started going to work on the quads.
Around 3pm the top trophy trucks came flying by, and that was pretty wild. A few of them had chase helicopters and they would come flying down the lake bed and then bank hard right, it was cool to watch. Around this time Mike pulled me aside and told me I would be racing in the middle of the trophy trucks, class 1 buggies and other insane-o machines. He said if I didn’t feel comfortable he wouldn’t blame me and I didn’t have to race. I also found out I would be racing in the dark since it gets dark there at 4pm, that was definitely not planned. I told him I was still in so I started suiting up.
Once we broke down and we were basically out of the race I mentally switched from race mode to safety mode. I knew I would be racing with trophy trucks and then in the dark. I just wanted to get the quad safely to the next rider, regardless of how long it took. I believe it was 3:30pm when I got on the quad and headed off into the great unknown.
I took off across the dry lake bed and started getting accustomed to the machine since I had never ridden it before. The steering was much, much stiffer than what I am used to so that kept me in the middle part of 5th gear across the lake bed because it was very silty and it would pull the tires hard to the right or left and I was having trouble correcting it smoothly. The backup engine had puh-lenty of power. Every 30 seconds or so I would look back to see if someone was coming because I knew on this section I was doing about 75mph and they would be doing about 140mph. Finally I saw my first trophy truck bearing down on me in the distance like Godzilla crawling out of the ocean. So I pulled over to the side and waited for him to pass. After they pass you have wait longer for the dust to settle. They don’t kick up dust, they kick up the earth.
After the dry lake bed in the duney sand section I got a little lost following one of the motorcycle single track hot lines. I spent a few minutes wandering around and thankfully I found the course again. I was able to spot and pull over for a few more trucks but eventually one of them caught me off guard. I was flying through the whoops when I heard a siren and I jumped off the course like a scalded cat.
Eventually it got dark so I turned on one of the lights. The quad had 2 giant HID’s on it, one was a pencil beam the other a flood. The charging system allowed us to run one of the giant HID's only, the last thing they told me when I left the pits was “ONLY RUN ONE LIGHT!” I went with the single flood for a long time and it worked great. I passed a motorcycle and a quad. I made it up the rutted hill climbs and there was always a group of people at the top cheering me on and flashing pictures, it was really cool. Then I got to RM 274 where Mike would be waiting for me with gas. Coming out of the wash up onto the hill was just like the scenes from Dust to Glory. There had to be several thousand people there right along the race course and they would jump out of the way at the last second like parting the sea. It was WILD. I stopped for gas and had the team check over the bike, one of the heel guards had broken and that is why I was feeling something hit the tire in the big whoops. They told me to take it easy in the whoops and I took off.
The next section was covered in people for about 3 miles. Then it got dark and lonely and I thought I was lost again since I was on the section of the course that crosses over itself and the mile markers get all whacky, you would think I would’ve learned my lesson from pre running the day before but I still got really nervous when I saw that RM405 sign. I finally made it to checkpoint 2 at RM 286 and made the left turn toward the other lake bed. I was really moving across that hilly dirt road. The GPS showed 83 mph in this section. Luckily no trucks caught me here. At the end of the road you hang a left and go through a gigantic silt section where two buggies past me and I couldn’t see a thing for a few minutes.
Finally I made it to RM311 for gas. While gassing up the quad stalled. Adam and Jeremy were able to push start me and I headed up the road. After a mile the light started flickering and when I switched the fan on the quad would sputter and die. Then the quad started sputtering and finally it just died and the lights went out. I was going about 60mph at the time so it really sucked, it was pitch black and I had to get off the course because I knew a buggy was behind me. I turned to the right and hit the berm and jumped off the quad and pushed as hard as I could to safety. I was broke down at RM 315, 4 miles from my last pit stop. It was very dark and lonely out there.
I checked all the fuses and they were fine. The battery was just shot. I got on the sat phone and Buddy walked me through a few things to get it started but nothing worked. While I was waiting quite a few of the Class 1-2 VW powered rails came by. These things are the loudest, shriekiest vehicles I have ever heard. When they go by they assault your senses like a flashbang going off. After 20 minutes I finally got it running but it died again before I could suit up and leave. Finally my chase truck arrived and we towed it back to the RM311 Borego pits where DJ and his team had driven up to meet me. We swapped in a new battery and he put on his helmet lights and eventually he was on his way. We had lost another 2.5 hours or so here.
He made it almost all the way to RM425 where he was going to hand it over to Mike. But the battery died on him again. At one point he woke up some guy in a tent who helped push start it and later some other guy push started him in a truck. He arrived at around 3am and we swapped batteries again and checked everything over. Mike had 2 sets of helmet lights and we strapped a few mag lights to the quad too. He rode through the night to RM550 where Buddy got back on and rode to RM595 where he handed it back to Mike for the final section to the finish line. My team crashed in the truck for a few hours from maybe 4-7am. After Buddy came past us at RM593 we hauled ass up to Ensenada to try to witness the finish.
We were walking to the finish line right near the day before's tech area when we heard a buggy flying up. Turns out the street we were crossing was the end of the race course! We were at the finish at about 10am when Mike arrived safe and sound. It was great to see him finish the race. Sal Fish handed Buddy our Finishing pins but Buddy handed them back to him and told him we could not accept them because we had to change engines. Sal thought that was a real stand up move. We finished in around 26 hours 10 minutes and 44 seconds. The winning time was Wayne Matlock’s team in 14:47:25.
I had no idea what to expect when joining up with a pro team and over the course of those few days we worked closely with the Allfaysracing team and they were awesome. I think they are the nicest group of people I have ever met. When we woke up on raceday our truck was equipped with a few bags of food and supplies that we didn't pack. We still don't know how they unlocked the truck to put those goodies in there for us. Each member of the team was so generous and willing to help with anything it was truly great and each member of the team is GREAT at what they do. The amount of time, effort, and money put into the Allfaysracing program is phenomenal. I can't thank them enough for the opportunity to race the Baja1000 and to race it with a top level team of people.
The Kawasaki KFX450 was awesome. When I first saw it the day before the race I was in awe of how awesome it looked. The first thing I noticed was how awesome the frame was. I figured it was aftermarket but it was stock. The shocks were great, the engine was awesome, the clutch, cooling system, tranny, etc, all held up great.
The ride home was uneventful aside from the Mexican Maxim magazine Adam picked up. Apparently Maxim is playboy light down there, holy bejeezus. We waited an hour or more get through the line to cross the border at Tecate. The border patrol guy asked where we were coming from and if we had any passports. This was a nervous moment for us since my dad didn't have a birth certificate or passport. So we handed him our 3 passports (nothing from my dad) he walked away and typed some stuff into the computer then came back and handed us the passports and said have a nice day. The thing we were so nervous about amounted to nothing. No search, no lecture, no leaving my dad at the border with the quad and meeting him at buttercup dune range.
I can't thank Adam, Jeremy and my dad enough. Especially my dad. He did all of the driving when we were down there, I have no idea how he did it on such little sleep. Finally on the way back outside Gila Bend he pulled over and told me it was my turn. I was happy to take over the final 90 minute stretch.
Thanks again to the entire Allfaysracing team and to Joe for thinking of me when this came up.
Found a short vid of me on youtube from the race!