December 08, 2007

Baja 1000... Skewing Way South Of The Cube

fresh insider perspective from agent heracean, who recently worked the pits at the Baja 1000:

    We were a team of one desert rat. Surrounded by novices. None but Tim had even driven in an endurance race before, let alone the granddaddy of them all, the Baja 1000.

    The Great Heracean Does Baja

    In this 40th anniversary version peninsula long off-road race, the course was set at 1,300 miles, its longest ever, and we were facing teams comprised of racing celebrities, Hollywood celebrities, Baja off-road tour guides, and other assorted veterans of the punishing 48 hour event. Our only hope was to embrace the challenge and finish the thing.

    The one consolation was that we were racing in the Baja Challenge class, which meant that all 18 cars in our class, against whom we would be timed, were virtually identical and had been prepared by the same company. In that sense, the playing field was level.

    So it was adrenaline striped with trepidation that coursed through us as we stood in the crowd by the dirt jump in Ensenada, waiting for the brothers Mike and Dave, the first driver and co-pilot in the car, to pass by and officially begin our journey. The others in our class noticably let off the gas before the jump, to the hoots and jeers of the audience.

    Mike, who had prepared his entire adult life for this race by jarring my bones over Baja and Central American dirt roads on surf trips too numerous too count, simply would not play it safe. He gunned the engine down the wash, hit the ramp at top speed, landed safely, and was cheered mightily by the saucy locals. We were off.

    Two hundred miles later, at our first driver change (the shifts would lengthen out as the terrain flattened out), we had not heard anything about our car over the race radio. But, we figured, no news was good news, as six cars in the BC class had already reported major problems, including the car driven by Patrick Dempsey (the man from Atlantis), who crashed in mile 55.

    We did not know when to expect Mike and Dave, nor did we know what shape the car was in. Then, some crackling on the radio, and Mike's voice booms out, "we're 12 miles out," sending us into a frenzy of activity. Mike was in first place! If he kept up his pace, he would be at the pit on about 18 minutes. Our next set of drivers had to change into their suits, our gas and tires had to be set up, we had to secure a place to...

    The Great Heracean Does Baja

    "Air One to BC4, are you guys ok?" everything came to an abrupt halt. The only time you heard the airplane above the race address a car like that was when they were in trouble, and that was the first time we had heard the name of our car all day. We held our breath as we learned that not 30 seconds after radioing in to us, Mike had flipped the car, putting it square on the roof.

    An hour later, oil soaked Mike and Dave limped into the pit in sixth place. In such a long race there were bound to be minor setbacks such as these, and, besides, we were still in sixth, which went a long way toward making us feel as though we belonged. Mike said that most of the type of terrain that he drove over in the suped-up dune buggy he had conquered previously in his friends' SUVs or Nicaraguan rental cars.

    The Great Heracean Does Baja

    Tim drove the next 200 miles skillfully, bringing our car into the next driver change in third place. We started to think that we were a solid team. The next time we saw the car was 300 miles later, at 7am the next morning, when Mike and Tim W. (subbing for Dave as co-pilot as Dave was going to drive the next leg) pulled in in third place, but not more than ten seconds behind the car running second. And, when that car had to replace a piece of their frame at that pit, a change that would take at least 20 minutes, we began to dream. We had 600 miles to go, and we were a finely tuned machine.

    Deep in the Baja peninsula, at the last driver change, while I lazily grilled some sausages, Terry checked up on the status of the cars on the internet feed with the race officials, and Tim and Mike napped in preparation for the final 360 mile shift. Dave and Tim W. were out on the course, holding steady. We had heard that the first place car, by this time about 45 minutes ahead of us, would need extensive repairs when it got to the pit.

    If Dave, ever excitable, could just hold steady into this pit, we would be in first place leaving the pit with our most experienced driver behind the wheel, and have a better than average chance of, could we even dream of it, winning the thing?

    The Great Heracean Does Baja

    The thoughts of what sort of party we could throw with the 5K USD prize money were interrupted by the guy on the computer. He was telling Terry and me that the first place car had just pulled in and that we, along with two other cars, were about 30 miles out. So we slowly started to prepare for the driver change and waited patiently over the next two hours as three other cars came in and our car was nowhere in sight, and nowhere on the radio. Damn.

    When they finally rolled in, we were in good shape, we thought, because the only thing that held Dave and Tim back were the five flat tires they had sufferd in the last 30 miles. Tiring for Dave and Tim having to change that many tires, but our car looked and felt (relatively) solid, as compared to the two cars in our class that were still being worked on in the pit. So, it was back to racing.

    As we took the van down toward Cabo on the final leg, we listened to the race radio for every scrap of informatiom. Every hour or so they would broadcast the last known mile marker of the cars in our class. We knew that Tim had passed the car directly in front of him and was closing on the leader. The second night in Mexico was upon us, and we heard that our car was less than five miles behind the leader, with about 150 miles to go. This was nervous ecstasy; we couldn't believe that we had a chance to ...

    The Great Heracean Does Baja

    "Air One to BC4, are you guys ok?" What? Was that what we thought it was? In the next few minutes, our entire race changed. The little car that had held up so well had blown its tranny, its clutch, its linkage, or all three, depending on who you believed. Our guys were stopped, luckily at a non-associated pit, awaiting support from one of the chase trucks. Still, all was not lost, if they could diagnose the problem and repair the car quickly and get us back in the race. We only needed to go 150 miles.

    Larry, Curly and Moe pulled up, driving a support truck and wearing official gear. Three times they "fixed" the car, only to watch it go for a mile and stop again. Finishing in the money was long gone, but, dammit, at least we were going to finish. A long, quiet night ensued followed by an 11th place finish at 7am the next morning.

    The Great Heracean Does Baja

    Congrats to team Burro Barracho for hanging in there!

    And so, how was your day?

ah, pretty good, thanks for asking.

Posted by bojon at December 8, 2007 01:41 AM