Baja 500, June 6, 2009
For this years Baja 500 I raced with 3 other Whiplash desert racers (Ray Arriaga, Ashley Hodge, and Nick Steinman) and we entered the Sportsman ATV class. We were racing on Ray Arriaga’s (the rider of record) Honda 450R that Nick put together. It had brand new everything including suspension, engine, bearings, etc. Our number was 58A.
My regular race team consists of my friend Adam and my dad. We arrived on Thursday, the day before tech so that we could try to take it all in. For last year’s 1000 everything was last minute and we were focused on pre running and the race. This year we tried to experience more of the festivities. The first thing we saw when we got into town was BJ Baldwin cruising down the street in his 850hp trophy truck, there is a photo on the photos page. We walked up and down the street that becomes tech/contingency row on Friday, the same street is part of the race course on Saturday. I got a pic of my Dad and Adam standing near a street sign on Thursday then another pic of Adam on Friday and there is barely any room around it. The hotel we stayed at was only a few hundred yards from the starting line/tech/registration so that was great, and they also had a mini putt –putt course in the front of it which was interesting.
Friday morning we woke up and went down early to watch the trucks and buggies line up for tech and contingency. I got a lot of pics of everyone who was lined up. We went to IRC to pickup our data recorders, while we were there I saw quite a few pro teams including the Honda 1A pro quad team. Towards the end of the day the rest of the team arrived and we all registered and then went through the contingency/tech zoo. It was really wild pushing the quad through all those people. They wanted photos, autographs, stickers, etc. It was really cool.
After passing through tech we headed back to the hotel to do one final run-through of the raceday plan. We were using the Baja Pits pit service. They had 10 pits spread out across the race course but we still had one of our chase trucks and crew at almost all of the pit stops just in case. I was scheduled to get on at Pit 4, race mile (RM) 160 (the big, hot, dry lake bed again) and ride down to RM198 where Ray would get on for the next 30 miles of whoops so I could get a break, then get back on at RM228 and ride up to Valle de Trinidad and then through the mountains to San Vicente near the coast. I would get off at RM292 where Ashley would get on.
We finalized the plan, took some team photos and then my chase team headed down to San Felipe to stay the night. San Felipe is only 80 minutes from Pit 4 where I was getting on the next morning whereas Ensenada was a few hours from Pit 4. One the way down to San Felipe we stopped at the Borrego pits (pit 5). This spot is right by the highway and it is the location of the video of me jumping through the crowd last year so we took some photos there which was cool.
We arrived in San Felipe around 8:30pm and it was completely dead. I had never been there on a non race weekend, it was weird but I liked the quiet. We walked down on the beach and found a few small sharks heads which was weird, one was a hammerhead.
On race day the first racer is off the line at 6:00am and each racer leaves in 30 second intervals. We were the 2nd to last class off the line and there were 129 entries scheduled in front of us so we would not be off the line until around 7:05am. We arrived at Pit 4 a little after 10 and began the tense waiting process. It was already getting warm, around 93 degrees. The other bad thing about the late start is the trophy trucks. They start 3 hours after the last rider leaves the line and the last rider would only be about 4 minutes after our start time. So that only gives us a 3 hour and 4 minute head start.
Motorcycles were coming in pretty steady and some 100 class ATV’s were coming through. I asked the Baja Pit boss to call Pit 3 to see when our rider had come through and they said he hadn’t yet. Pit 3 is about an hour from Pit 4 so I was a little worried and thinking about all the possibilities about why we were running late. The first ATV in our class came through around 10:40, and after a few minutes more and more of our class came through. The pit boss was having trouble reaching Pit 3 so I couldn’t get an update on if our rider (Nick) had come through.
While we were waiting, a lot of the 200 class motorcycles came by and they started just ahead of our class so I knew we had to be close. One of the Japan team riders came through complaining of back pain, he took a break in the pits and eventually took off. I was all geared up and itching to go. I really didn’t want a repeat of last year where I sat around in my gear for a few hours waiting for the quad that broke a few miles from our pit. Thankfully our quad appeared in the distance.
Nick came flying into the pits and told me the plans had to change because rider #2, Ashley did not get to Pit 1 in time so Ray rode from the start line to Pit 2 where Nick got on. Ray was tired and wouldn’t be getting on at Pit 5 so I needed to ride straight through to Pit 7 (Valle Trinidad) where Ashley would get on. Nick said the quad was running great but the front tires were mounted backwards so we switched them on the spot. The small army of Baja Pits people went to work and they did a great job. Adam and my dad were in there doing a lot of work too.
We were 5th in our class at this time and I think we were about 1 hour behind the leader. I didn’t keep good track of when I got on but it was about 11:45. I took off from the pits and tried to stay relaxed and get accustomed to the machine. I knew I had several silt beds to deal with right off the bat based on my pre running 2 weeks earlier. I was chasing down a motorcycle when I hit the silt and I was thankful to be on 4 wheels. He was really struggling through the knee deep silt. The silt beds had gotten about 5 times worse since my pre run. They were now a lot longer, wider and deeper. But the quad pulled through them no problem.
I was settling into a good pace but my right thumb was really cramping up, I have had this problem before so I just tried to stay relaxed and get through it. Within 10 miles I passed someone from our class who was broken on the side of the wash. I passed several motorcycles including one on the rocky, 1st gear, goat trail so I knew I must have been pushing a pretty good pace. I was flying down a big wash when I spotted another quad up ahead. It was another person from our class and I flew around them. After several more miles the gas cap vent tube came out and I didn’t want to lose it so I struggled to put it back in place without stopping. I really hate stopping but I had to do it because I didn’t want to deal with 2 hours of gas in my crotch. I was worried that one of the bikes I just passed was going to catch me but thankfully nobody passed me.
I dealt with the horrific, whoops leading to the Borrego pits and I hit the jump where we had taken some photos the day before. The pit stop went smoothly, Nick added a few more clicks of compression to the front shocks and they zip tied the gas tank vent tube down. Adam said I was doing great and they had just barely beaten me to the pits. During the pre run the truck had beaten me by 30+ minutes.
The next section was 30 miles of whoops, some big and others where you can lean back and just go. This section runs right next to the highway, it is the same section we took video of during the pre run. It is also the same section I made myself sick on by riding too hard in the heat. I passed a few more motorcycles along this section and Dave from DGP photography got some shots of me racing by the highway. I was feeling really good and the next pit stop at Pit 6 went smooth. While we were gassing up one of the bikes I had just passed got around me and I tried to pace him on the highway section. We had 2 miles of highway which had a strict 60mph speed limit which would be enforced by our data trackers and the penalties were steep. The quad doesn’t have a speedo or tach so I just stayed conservative.
I made the turn off the highway for Mike’s Sky Ranch and tried to chase down the motorcycle. The next 20 miles are really fast along a hard packed dirt road. The quad was equipped with 22” rear tires, 14 tooth front sprocket and 38T rear sprocket. This equates to a hypothetical top speed of 99mph. Unfortunately the quad wouldn’t pull my big ass in 5th. I could only maintain a mid rpm speed in 5th. So I couldn’t catch the bike until the road got twistier and rougher. This section was a lot of fun for me, I like hanging it out and sliding around the switchback turns. I managed to pass another bike while doing my top speed of about 76mph, he seem surprised to see me next to him.
This road leads straight into Valle De Trinidad but a few miles before town you turn right off the road and head onto a whooped out powerline trail. This turn was packed with spectators, it was really cool. Up until this point I was feeling like I could conquer the world and race to the finish. But the next 7 miles of Volkswagen swallowing, whoops did tire me out. I got around 2 more bikes and made it to pit 7 where Ashley got on.
The quad ran great for me and the GPS said I did 104 miles in 2 hours and 49 minutes with a moving average of 36.9mph: http://www.photoreflect.com/pr3/orderpage.aspx?pi=0JZ200HB000158&po=158
Unfortunately I had the GPS on when I was walking around waiting for the quad so I hope to have a better estimate of my riding time later.
Top speed was 76.5mph. I think with different gearing it would have pulled me to the mid 80’s without a problem which is great for a simple, reliable 450 build.
We stayed at Pit 7 for a while and waited for the trophy trucks to come through. The first truck through was really hauling ass and I was standing about 3 steps of the race course trying to take a picture when he came through. It was Robby Gordon. The sound of the trucks from that close it like a flashbang going off, it really assaults your senses and messes with you. We watched a lot more trucks come through and none of them were moving as fast as Robby was.
We drove where the course turns off the main road where all the spectators were and took in some more of the action from there. Then we hopped in the truck and headed for pit 10. Pit 10 is right off the highway and about an hour from where we were. While we were driving up the highway we were listening to the Weatherman radio frequency when someone said something about a wreck at RM394 involving Quad 58A or 59A It was very confusing and scary at the same time. One person on the radio was doing a relay for the Score doctor to the weatherman because the Score doctor’s transmissions where not reaching the weatherman. Then a Mexican guy got on and said there was an accident at RM390 involving two quads. The score doctor was calling for a backboard and immediate transport at RM394. The weatherman called a code red on the channel so that he could sort out these wrecks. During this time people were breaking in and asking for general racer updates so it was a really strange car ride trying to figure out what was going on and if one of our racers was hurt. Then someone broke in and said that 58A was just seen at RM400. So we were really confused.
It turned out both people were talking about the same wreck and it did involve 58A and the rider was hurt. But another rider had gotten on the quad and continued. They said the rider was going to be transported by the Terrible Herbst helicopter which happened to be in the field nearby. We got to RM394 and ran to the helicopter and they pointed us to the Score helicopter that was just landing. A rider was being carried over to the helicopter and it turned out to be Ray our rider of record. He was in a lot of pain and they were worried about his back.
He could feel all his extremities but his back and upper chest hurt. Ray was yelling at me to go finish the race while they were strapping him down and fitting him with a backboard, LOL. Luckily there was a doctor at the scene of the wreck which happened to occur in the Pit 10 area which was full of spectators. He was flown to the hospital about half a mile from the finish so we headed there.
It turns out Nick was pulling into pit 10 to hand off to Ray and when Ray got on he took off and collided with a motorcycle. Once Nick saw that Ray was moving and coherent and his chase truck was on the scene he pulled the quad out of the trees, hopped on and continued racing along a section he had never pre run. He navigated the city and made it to the finish in 2nd place! We missed the finish line by about 30 minutes but we celebrated with Nick, Ashley and the rest of the team in the parking lot before heading over to check on Ray.
Ray was doing great when we got there thanks to the morphine. The x-rays showed no damage to the collar bone but they weren’t sure about his shoulder blade. Ray is back in the states and the last update I got he didn’t have any broken bones just a lot of internal bruising.
Everyone rode a great race, we finished about 23 minutes behind 1st place. We were the 47th overall finisher. There were 267 entries and 195 finishers. Our finishing time was within 5 minutes of our rough spreadsheet plan!
Sunday, we stayed for the entire awards ceremony pool side at the San Nicolas hotel. The Honda team won the overall motorcycle race and the 1A Honda quad team won the quad race. Robby Gordon won the Trophy Truck class but he was already in Pennsylvania racing at the Nascar race during the awards presentation.
Even though we were in the sportsmen class Slime still paid us contingency money and prizes right there on the spot. They even filmed us for their youtube site. It was really cool. We all got to go on the big stage above the pool with Sal Fish and say our thanks on the mic.
My dad, Adam and I had a great time, the racing was awesome, the tacos at Las Brisas were great, the race fans were cool and the experience was really awesome. The baja pits people were really great. I got to experience more “chasing” which was cool. The roads were packed with awesome pre runners, buggies, and sweet decked out chase trucks. It is a really fun experience. I’d race every score race if I had the money to cover the entry fees, gas and hotels. Desert racing is awesome and 1000x more fun than short course racing. Thanks to the hippies of the United States we are stuck with almost all short course races here in the states and very few desert races.
Special thanks to the Collins chase team who helped Ray Arriaga at the scene of the wreck. They came over and helped the Score doctor setup Ray's IV, backboard etc. They were extremely nice and helpful. Also thanks to the spectator who happened to be a doctor who helped Ray on site.
Update 7-7-2009: After SCORE audited our class we moved up to 1st place. We received some small speeding penalties but the team that was in 1st received a lot of speeding penalties which moved them down in the standings!! We are the 2009 Baja 500 Class Winners!
All of the photos that Dave at DGP took are here:
Here are my photos: