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Hola de Japon

My Baja 1000 experience was far different from years past, and unique compared to my teammates.  To put this in perspective some numbers are in order:

  • 12,000 miles flown, 27 ½ hours on 5 different airplanes, 9 hours waiting in airports.
  • 1,880 miles driven in chase trucks
  • 180 miles driving Monica
  • 6 border crossings
  • Not enough tacos, Mexican coke or time spent with friends!


Since I moved to Japan I wasn’t sure I would be able to race the 50th anniversary Baja 1000.  With a new job and demanding schedule, it was going to be difficult to make it work.  On top of that I would be the freeloader this year.  The guy who flew in, jumped in the truck to race and went home.  I devoted little time in the shop turning wrenches or arduously cleaning the dirt, dust and muck that finds its way into every nook and cranny of Monica.  I did what I could during my short time in Utah this summer and helped with the limited paperwork I could from Japan.  On top of all that, I missed one of the best parts of the Baja 1000 – contingency.  I arrived in Ensenada at 1 AM the day the race started, and would be driving about 15 hours later.

I got a little sleep but was up early.  It was nice to see the new wrap on Monica and see all my friends that I haven’t seen for many months.  The race nerves and jitters began to set in as Ensenada is surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of desert racing.  Chase 1 and chase 3 were responsible for getting Monica off the line.  We had time to watch some trophy trucks start, but it was pretty uneventful with a speed zone through town and in the beginning of the wash.  With about 250 trucks starting before us we had plenty of time to relax a little and chat with other racers as we staged for the start.  We helped Marc and Ryan Nakaya get in the truck and before long our Baja 1000 had officially started.

Having arrived late the night before, I had to get a turista and some pesos before heading South.  Once that was done we made the trek towards Ojos Negros to keep in contact with the race truck and get prepared for me to get in the truck.  Monica was running great and Marc was making great time.  We were able to watch Monica pass a couple times and were in almost constant radio contact.  Chase 1 and 3 made our way to RM 130, our first driver change and where I would get in.  The sun was just about to set and night was beginning to fall.  However, since I was still on Japan time, it was just about time to wake up.

The truck arrived and it was a quick and efficient swap with Marc getting out of the driver’s seat and me getting in.  Ryan Nakaya would stay in the co-driver seat until we handed the truck over to Dave and Darren.  The first few miles were rough, with large rocks, whoops and plenty of corners to keep it interesting.  It’s been one year since I have driven Monica so I wanted to get comfortable and familiar before I turned the speed up too high.  I knew the Rod Hall Hummer was about three minutes behind us as well and I certainly didn’t want to get passed.  On top of that I have been driving on the right hand side for the last year and this left hand drive stuff took a second to get used to.

By mile 140 I was feeling great, Ryan and I were connecting well and Monica was operating perfectly.  There was still plenty of competition on the course and it was fun to pass and be passed often.  We hit the dry lakebed and it was flat out up to 105 miles per hour.  The night was dark and I was driving faster than we could see; it required constant communication with Ryan to know when a turn may come up and when the high-speed lakebed would end.  We passed a few more competitors on the lakebed and it was back to the whoops and rocks.  The race course was pretty brutal but we were making good time and Monica continued to work flawlessly.  It was still early and there were lots of people cheering us on as we passed their small campfires.

I apologize for the next paragraph as it may be a little too much information, but not all of racing is glamorous.  Since you will be in the truck for a long time and you need to stay hydrated you have to be prepared to relieve yourself without stopping.  We all wear an external catheter, and although its difficult to pee sitting down, I have never had any problem with my catheter staying put and the plumbing working as it should.  Well about race mile 160 my luck changed.  We were on a relatively smooth and fast section and it was a perfect time to focus my attention and muscles to releasing the build-up in my bladder.  It always takes effort to “go” but this was different.  Once I started I could tell I was building pressure, instead of the unique feeling of urine flowing down your leg and exiting the tube near your shoe.  This pressure built until an explosion occurred as the catheter came off and filled my suit with my own urine.  Too late now, the rest of the race would be spent peeing my pants!

One of the things Monica excels at is powering through the deep sand and silt beds so common on the Baja peninsula.  Somewhere near race mile 295 we hit a huge sand/silt bed, it was pure chaos with trucks stuck everywhere.  We zig zagged our way through and past at least 10 trucks all stuck within 200 yards of each other.  Shortly after it was pure mayhem as the race course and highway traffic were both heading South on highway 5, which is under construction and poorly marked at best.  It was not a speed controlled zone, so we were trying to go race speed in the dust and passing semi-trucks, cars and other teams chase trucks.  Luckily, we made it through that mess and into checkpoint 1 at Coco’s Corner.

Shortly after checkpoint 1, things got ugly.  We crested a small rise and as the suspension compressed slightly on the other side things went South.  The truck lurched down and then skyward, and suddenly we were skidding off the right side of the race course as we watched our right front tire pass us and roll off into the darkness.  The truck came to a stop leaning badly to the right.  It was off camber enough I was slightly worried it was going to roll onto its side as the weight shifted with us moving around.  That moment seemed to last forever, I was devastated that such a great run had ended with me behind the wheel.  Thoughts raced through my mind: was I driving too hard?  Are we out of the race?  Where is the hummer?  Are we going to get hit by another race truck?  Can we get this fixed?

Ryan and I got out of the truck and began to assess the situation.  All five lug studs had sheared off, our brake rotor had broken out large pieces, the CV axle boot was torn open, our wheel had disappeared somewhere into the desert and I was completely soaked in my own urine.  I quickly realized there was no place I would rather be.  We sprang into action.  Communicating with chase crews to find the parts and rifling through the truck finding anything we could to patch the truck back together and keep it moving.  Once we got the rotor off we found the root cause of the problem.  The four bolts that hold the wheel bearing housing to the spindle had come loose and damaged the rotor and lug studs.  It was a relief it wasn’t my driving, but I knew we still had to get this thing back together and get to a chase crew where we could fix it properly.  We found some bolts to hold the bearing in place, had spare lug studs and decided the rotor would hold up for a few miles to get back to a pit.  Just as we put the truck back on the ground, chase 8 showed up to escort us the quickest way back to Coco’s corner where an army of chase crew was ready and waiting to fix the truck.  It was a slow ride back to coco’s but our team made quick work on the repair and before long we were bombing down course again.  The 35 miles from Coco’s to the next driver swap was incredible.  High speed, whoops and an incredibly cool narrow rock canyon with plenty of water crossings.  Before I knew it we had reached the next pit and it was time to hand the truck over to Dave and Darren.  My adventure behind the wheel of Monica was over and it was time to clean myself up and help chase another 800 miles down the peninsula.

The rest of the race really is a blur.  Little sleep combined with jet lag and a race high left me completely exhausted.  A type of exhausted that can’t be described or compared unless you have experienced it.  If you are reading this, you already know how our race went.  The repairs held up perfectly, and the rest of the race went perfectly.  Dave, Darren, Ryan and Kurt all made heroic efforts to catch the hummer.  Unfortunately, we just ran out of road and finished in second place a mere 16 minutes from 1st place.  I will take a second place versus a DNF anyday!!!

-Will C

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50th Anniversary Baja 1000

Every year I face the challenge of trying to summarize 37 hours of racing in one succinct post. It’s difficult to get 29 different stories into one. Also I struggle with brevity so I’ll try a different format. Here we go…

4 days of tacos and exploring Baja.

2 excellent days of Contingency.

IVAN STEWART!!!!!!!!!! Go watch our Facebook live video. He signed our truck and hung out with the team for almost 2 hours.  Truly an honor to spend some time with the legend.  It was awesome.

Will arrives from Japan 12 hours before the start of the race.

29 people and 8 rigs leave Ensenada for 1134 miles of chasing.

Marc and Ryan Nakaya at the Start. Nice clean start with zero issues and good speed east through RM 136.  Will hops in with Nakaya. As the sun sets on the desert they turn south into the whoops near San Felipe.

Fuel and Pit at RM180 then back into the whoops.  Making good time. Out in the lead in class by about an hour after 10 hours of racing.

Then disaster.  Passenger front tire comes off and slams against the side of Monica a couple of times as Will tries to keep the now skidding 7k pound Land Cruiser from sliding out of control.  Out they climb. Our entire right hub assembly is gone.  Such a small thing cost us the race. During prep we used the wrong torque setting on our unit-bearing assembly. Toyota uses an SST for assembly that has a lower torque rating than a standard wrench.  It was a simple oversight but in racing those are glaringly magnified.

A couple of satellite phone calls were made. Luckily we had chase teams nearby. Spare parts were about an hour away on the main highway.  All of them except the spare front rotor which was back in Ely, NV. We accidentally packed 3 rear rotors.  A quick plan was hatched to pull the rotor of Dave’s Tundra.  The other parts are Cruiser specific but the rotor is the same. Luckily Dave runs the exact same StopTech rotors on his Tundra that we do on Monica.  Dave’s truck now trailered up, parts headed down to Coco’s corner and within 90 mins we were back at it about 3 hours behind our competition.

Driver changed moved up from 360 to 340 because of Chase 2 being removed from use during the race.

Monica gets to 340 about an hour after the repair is finalized. A weird location made it hard for them to find us.  Will and Nakaya out. Dave in behind the wheel with Darren co-driving. An amped up Will tells Dave “the repair is 100% good to go, Monica is awesome. Get after it.”

Like that they were gone into the darkness.  With daylight imminent and high speed roads ahead there was a good opportunity to make up some ground. As I’m writing this and know firsthand I can say the sunrise over the Bay of LA was a truly sublime moment. The entire world was awash in pink. The dust hovering in the cirrios. The clouds over the Sea of Cortez reflected in the still bay. Everything pink. Venus and Jupiter piercing through the low light. It was incredible. We passed a half dozen cars in the first hour then, with good visibility were able to make great time.  If I remember right we cut the gap from 90ish miles to 28 over the next 185 miles.  Because we knew that speed was rapidly coming to a halt we pushed as hard as we could. It’s rare you get to drive 10/10ths during an endurance race but knowing what was coming we took the risk. We had the luxury of driving this section in the daylight while our competitors drove it in the darkness.

As this was going on Woody ran into a friend and the two of them were able to track down a new rotor for Chase 2 so it could be put back into service and the remaining 600 miles of chase plan could go back into effect.

At RM525 Monica took 22 gallons of fuel and out into what the locals define as ‘we call that hell.’ Our speeds came to a screeching halt.  8, 10, 12 mph vs 85 on the east side of the highway. Fog made for awful visibility and wet driving. Only positive  was no dust. We no longer could cut into the lead. It was just about getting through and surviving. As the truck swallowing silt and non-rhythmic whoops gave way to miles of rocky river bottoms the fog burned off and heat increased.

Monica finally pulled into San Ignacio, RM 604, our halfway point, around 11am. 3 hours to go the last 80 miles.  A great pit by our awesome team, Darren and Dave switched spots and were off through the town plaza and out to the ocean and dry lake beds en route to the west coast fishing town of San Juanico. A handful of water crossings a bit of pavement and we turned back east into the mountains and towards Loreto.  An hour before sunset Dave and Darren turned the car over to Ryan and Kurt.

I need to start moving the pits solely for the last two drivers’ mindset. Ryan took the wheel first at RM780 and turned south and was met by wash after wash after wash of rocks on his way to Loreto. Not a fun way to start. As the road turned west and climbed back over the mountains speeds picked up and the sky turned yellow, then orange, then pink, then blackness fell back over our race for the second time. A moonless Baja makes for incredible stars but poor visibility.  Ryan and Kurt were greeted by silt beds once they got over the mountains and they pushed through them onto RM952.  Monica doesn’t really balk much at silt. The power and 4wd give us total confidence in the silt. It doesn’t make it fun to drive however as it’s a lot of hunting blindly for a line but we’ve never been stuck. Ryan kept us close in spite of the rough start of his leg and pulled her into RM952 ready for the final push to the finish.

Kurt hops in the driver’s seat at RM952 and Ryan Nakaya got back in to co-drive. Giving him the fine distinction of being the first on the team to be in the truck at both the start and finish line.

Remember how I need to move the pits? Kurt turned south off the highway outside Insurgentes and was greeted with 40 straight miles of whoops.  Oh joy. Those are the sections of racing the separate the men from the boys.  There is no fun in it. It’s a chore. It’s hard on the body, the truck, the patience.  As usual Kurt made efficient time and we were starting to gain on the leader. We’d heard they were having some steering issues and between them slowing and the course finally speeding up after all the whoops we thought we had an outside chance to close the once 3 hour gap.  Sadly we ran out of course.

16 mins.

After 37 hours of racing we missed out on the top of the podium by 16 mins.  It’s hard to see the other team still be interviewed on the podium as we’re being greeted by the checkered flag.  I’m going to quote myself from an Instagram post. I  wrote it on the way home when the emotions were still vivid and not diluted by work emails and conference calls.

“The finish line at the Baja 1000 is a flood of varying emotions. The rush of adrenaline from seeing the checkered flag. The relief knowing that the brutality of Baja is behind you. The tinge of disappointment from missing out first place by a razor thin margin yet again and the joy and jubilation of knowing that you’ve finished yet another Baja 1000. Two days later, as we’re pushing to get home, there is just pride. It’s no small thing to safely complete a Baja 1000. Hundreds of man hours, 29 exhausted team members and far more tacos consumed than we care to admit combine for indelible memories and the reason we do all of this.”

Racing in Baja is  a very difficult thing.  50% of the teams that started this year did not finish. There is a growing consensus that the 50th anniversary of the Baja 1000 was the roughest course ever.  Quite appropriate. We’ve now finished 4 of 5 Baja 1000s but 3 Second Place finishes will keep pushing us to go back.  We can’t say thank you enough to our families, chase teams (and their families) and sponsors for helping us pursue this crazy dream. In this crazy world of entitlement and immediate gratification a Baja 1000 podium is only found through hard work, difficulty, emotional and physical distress and a few hundred tacos.  Choosing to be tired and uncomfortable (both race and chase crews) for 40 hours straight borders on masochism.  But you know what? We’d all go back next month in heartbeat.  Okay maybe two heartbeats. We’re all still pretty sore.

Lots of pics and video on Facebook and Instagram.

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So Close, Yet It Doesn’t Matter


It would take me about 32 hours of typing to fully describe the 32 hours and 26 mins it took us to race the Baja 1000 this year.  I’ll do my best to make this story short and enjoyable yet relevant and thorough.

Instead of staring at the beginning let’s start at the crux.  We get notification about 1am on Saturday morning that the truck is stopped. After a few calls on the sat phone and connecting the dots with all the chase teams a plan was hatched to get Monica moving again.  We had lost the passenger side front upper control arm (UCA) in the worst possible spot on the course to access. Yep, second year in a row we had a mechanical issue in the least ideal location.  Chase 1, with Will (fresh out of the driver’s seat) Dru and Ryan Nakaya and Topher picked up the spare UCA from Chase 4 and set off into the darkness. I’d found a route using google earth and my Baja Atlas and relayed that to Chase 1.  It would take a few hours to get there. Original thought was to pass the part to another racer at a BFG pit and send it down course but that would have taken 4-5 hours. With the crew headed back against race traffic we’d get the part there in 2-3. Seemed like a no brainer.

We carry a fair amount of spare parts on the truck but as the front UCAs are side specific we do not have them on board.  We always check the arms for wear/cracks after each race and the uppers looked good. From now on we’ll be replacing them before every major race.  Once Chase 1 got to Monica it was a 20 minute repair and Ryan and Kurt were back after it.  (After putting out their camp fire of course) Let’s go back to how we got there.

Marc started off the line with Will co-driving.  We had 6 trucks in our class and we went out second.  There were quite a few traffic jams in the first 70 miles or so and we got separated from the H1 Hummer of Rod Hall racing.  Eventually the racers spread out, our 4wd helped us get around a few of the congested areas.  The first 80ish miles went great and we swapped leads with the Hummer a few times.  Then Marc remembered he was in Baja and hadn’t gotten nauseated yet. Right on cue his pace slowed, his stomach churned, and eventually his helmet once again was filled with vomit.  Instantly he felt better and his pace picked up. At this point we were about 25 mins behind the leader.  We had a scheduled pit at RM119.  Part of our race prep for the 1000 this year was to improve our pit organization and efficiency.  We usually have 1 -2 more pits than most teams because of our team approach and number of drivers.  The plan at Pit 1 was Marc out, Will move to driver, Trent Taylor hop in to co-drive and a quick splash of fuel (about 10 gallons).  We only had Chase 2 there it was up to me, Darren and Brian Andreasen to get this all done quickly.  As Monica approached a call was received to adjust ARB Lights as well. As the locals gathered to watch we focused on the task at hand.  7 mins later Will took off up the Erendira wash and into the darkness.  With the pit stop we were now 36 mins behind the lead. Now before you go and make fun of Marc we’ve decided his inability to not get sick in Baja is our good luck charm. We are 3 for 3 in races when he gets sick. 0 for 1 in the race he didn’t get sick. Next year I’m feeding him chocolate milk and canjun trail mix at the starting line.

This was Trent’s first time in a race and he had a lot on his plate. Wil was determined to catch the leader before his leg was over at RM260 in El Rosario.  The next few hours they would be out of communication range of the chase teams so the two could just focus on making good time and reading the terrain ahead.  As the darkness settled in on the peninsula, and the fog rolled in off the ocean, min by min, mile by mile, Will and Trent closed the gap.  After a brief highway section, with some gamesmanship by the leader’s chase team Will reached the rear bumper of the H1.  As the course turned back onto dirt Will seized the moment and passed the leader on the inside of the first corner.  With dust billowing behind him he extended his lead on the H1 all the way to Pit 2.

Pit 2 was a very unique experience, especially in Baja, in that all of the chasers were there (except Chase 2 who were headed back North to rest and get ready to drive the truck in the morning) and therefore we had plenty of hands to do a full service including water in the Camelbaks and sd cards swapped out in the GoPros.  The rumor out of Pit 2 (this is Dave and I wasn’t there) is that the entire thing took less than 5 mins.  Kick ass.  The H1 also did a driver swap and full pit near El Rosario. At this point it felt like a 2 horse race. The other trucks in the class were either moving slowly or out of the race with breakage.  For those that desert race you’ll understand the significance of what I’m about to say. For those that don’t let me explain.  Unless you are racing in a Trophy Truck on the ragged edge seeking the overall victory desert racing is really about endurance and pacing yourself against yourself.  You have to know as a driver what equals a fast pace but not so fast you’ll break.  Extrapolate that over 866 miles, or 32 hours, and racing at 80% instead of the ideal 85%, is a HUGE difference. It’s part of the mental challenge of racing.  But every now and then, once every 15 races or so, you get to really race. As Ryan and Kurt pulled out of El Rosario it was on.  Kurt navigated through the dust and chaos while Ryan piloted Monica through the next 110 miles of race course, while swapping spots with the H1 for the lead 9-10 times. They even managed to pull out a fellow Toyota racer at one point.  It was exciting to watch on the web tracker so the rest of us can only imagine how much fun it was for Ryan and Kurt to be involved in such a head to head battle 8 hours into the Baja 1000. Ryan had the lead about RM364 when the upper arm let go.  By the time Monica was back rolling we were about 3.5 hours behind the H1.



Kurt took over driving shortly after sunrise as fatigue was causing Ryan’s pace to slow. Fatigue is much better than a helmet full of vomit.  An energized Kurt began to mow down the miles. However, all was not great at this point. We had 15 mins to cover 40 miles to make the Check Point cut off time.  Bryson and I chatted on the phone and the decision was made to just keep racing even if we miss the checkpoint but also do our best to persuade the CP to stay open for a bit longer.  Bryson must be one charming kat because his next call to me was that the CP would stay open for 2 more hours and we’d easily make the cutoff time. Darren and I had already prepared ourselves to not drive for the second straight year in the 1000. Needless to say we were elated about the news and rolled out to Pit 5 to prepared to get in the truck. Another crazy efficient pit at RM520 to fill the tank full and they were back into the desert, through the mountains and over to the other side of the peninsula.  Kurt was fast, hitting 97 mph at one point,  but keeping the truck in one piece.  We were about 2.5 hours behind first and 3 hours ahead of third. Finishing was our goal at this point.  At RM590 Kurt and Ryan turned over the reins to me and Darren. Our friend Andy was down in Baja on a moto trip and his group arrived at this single chase truck pit to lend a hand and they were a huge help.

A sub-5min pit and I was driving Monica down Highway 3 for about 10 mins of pavement before hopping into the whoops near Borrego.  Darren and I settled in with a similar focus to Kurt. Get the truck to the finish.  A worthwhile goal in any desert race. Even more so in a loop 1000.  Then something interesting happened. We passed the H1 going the other way on the loop back up Highway 3.  After some quick math we realized we were only about 80 miles behind them.  We hopped on the radio to confirm they were still racing and sure enough they were.  I decided to drive slightly faster than ‘just finish speed’ but the terrain didn’t allow for much. There were one or two sections where I could push the speeds but for the most part it was just about eating up miles and covering ground. Darren had an easy job navigating in that our speeds were usually so slow that he just had to call out rocks and not turns.  Fortunately it was a beautiful section of the race and the evening light made a not very fun section somewhat enjoyable. By the time we rolled into our final pit at RM 730 we’d made up another 30 mins on the leader but as night settled over the course we thought our chances slim of catching the Hummer.

Darren took the helm and after a few more miles of pavement we took off up the goat trail outside of Valle de Trinidad.  After a half dozen rough miles we hit the high speed farm roads we’d been hearing about all week.  Sirens blaring to scare off cattle and our lights creating a hallucinating effect of shadows and reflections Darren blasted through this section at 85 mph. I was full concentration on race notes and navigation. No time to for a break or to look up at those speeds. It was good practice for what would happen later on.  The terrain worsened and we slowed. We stopped to pull out another racer, got passed by a Class 1, then ate his dust for a while. As we rolled into Ojos Negros we were told we were now only 30 miles behind the leader. Sounds close but with the terrain in front of us that would be an hour.  They were only 30 miles from the finish.  Then about 15 mins later Ryan came over the radio. I don’t remember the exact communication but it was something along the lines of “Rod Hall is stopped. Do whatever you can to catch them.”  My reply was “we’ll do our best but we’re not in the best section for making up ground.” Finishing pace was 13mph.  All out was 16mph. Not much we could do at that point. Then we crested the mountain and could see Ensenada. The terrain opened up and Darren was in full race mode. Finishing was no longer the priority. We were going for the win.  Forget 85%. We were now 100%. Darren didn’t speak for the next hour. I just read out turns and called out obstacles. Concentration and focus. It was scary. It was fast. I missed a turn or two with the pace we were going but we were closing ground. The H1 was now moving but slowly. 6 mph. 11 mph. 9 mph. We were closing. We heard over the radio the rumor was electrical problems.  About 15 miles from the finish line we passed a support truck for Rod Hall coming down to the course to track us down.  Within seconds we were told over the radio that the Hummer was now going 31 mph and were only a few miles from the finish. We slowed down for a bit, relaxed and accepted that we’d done our best and that we’d come up short.  Moments later it dawned on us they might have time penalties and like that we were back at 100%.  We crossed the finish line 14 mins behind first place.  My first reaction was dejection. We were so close. We’d pushed so hard. Darren and I were both completely exhausted.  It took about 5 mins to realize that we’d just taken 2nd place in a race we didn’t even think we’d finish 12 hours earlier. Our team was ecstatic and we joined them in the reverie.  Finishing a Baja 1000 is a special experience. Having a chance to race for 1st on the podium is just gravy.

We have an incredible chase crew and getting better every year. Finishing 3 out of the 4 Baja 1000s is something to be damn proud of as a team. We keep proving that for a bunch of homegrown racers, figuring it out as we go, that our processes work.  Prep, logistics, execution, crew, driver skill etc are always improving.  Next year we return to a peninsula run and we have First Place in our sights.  I would be remiss if I didn’t give props to our web racers. For 32 hours they update our entire chase crew on the status of the race. It goes unsung but they are integral to our success in Mexico.  We’ve given a lot of shout outs on social media to our sponsors over the last week but I’m not sure it’s possible to thank them enough.  This adventure that we chase is not cheap, nor is it easy.  From the tools, to the parts, to the manpower and the money we are extremely grateful for all they do for Canguro Racing.  2017 is right around the corner and the Mint 400 looms.

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Fighting The Good Fight



I’ll do my best to summarize the race but not make this too long.  Having raced over 2500 miles in our first two successful attempts at the Baja 1000 we were optimistic headed into the race. We had our sights set on the top of the podium but fell short and suffered our first DNF in Mexico.

We were the third in our class to leave the starting line with Marc behind the wheel and Ryan co-driving.  Within 60 miles it was shaping up to be a two horse race between us and the H1 Hummer of off road racing and multi-time overall winner Rod Hall and his son Chad.  We swapped places in the lead a few times and by race mile 110, near Erendira, Marc turned the wheel over to Ryan and Adam hopped in to navigate with the 8101 Hummer just 8 mins in front of us.

As the sun sank into the Pacific the course turned into the mountains and Ryan hounded the Hummer keeping up a great average speed through a challenging and technical section of the race course.  Around 9:15, near RM249, in the wash just south of El Rosario, Kurt took the helm with Will taking over for Adam.

Kurt and Will were racing through the most remote section of the course and by all reports would be filled with vehicle swallowing holes of silt, steep climbs and more and more silt. Monica and Kurt tore this section apart. Not only did he pass the Hummer but put a huge lead on them.  After turning the truck over to Will the lead got even larger.  Nearly 2.5 hours now separated us and 2nd place.  That is when our race fell apart.

We’re still not exactly sure what happened and probably never will but they ran out of gas about 20 miles before their next fuel stop. Either the truck didn’t get completely full at RM249 or the deep silt destroyed our fuel economy.  Best guess is a little bit of both. Regardless the situation wasn’t ideal. If you look at this year’s course and were asked to choose the worst possible spot to have an issue it would have been within about 2 miles of where they ran out of gas. Even worse our chase teams were also in very remote areas.

Kurt made some phone calls with the Sat phone then he and Will went for a walk to see if they could find some gas. Finally they were able to track down Ryan and Chase 1.  A plan was set in place to get fuel to them. It would take 4 hours to get gas in the tank and some challenging driving for Chase 1 but it got done.  Back moving word spread across the peninsula to the rest of the team and we were all optimistic we could make up the time lost and retake the lead.  Sadly things would only get worse.

Our throttle body had taken on too much silt. The butterfly valve would get stuck every now and then. Not the worst thing in the world. Except in our class we have to run a stock motor.  A 2010 Toyota 5.7 V8 does not like it when the throttle gets stuck in place so the computer would default to limp mode and we’d lose all power. The solution? stop the truck, unbelt, hop out, pop the hood, kill the truck to clear the codes and tap on the throttle body to unstick the butterfly valve.  When working Monica was fast and making good time but rarely would  it last long enough to make real progress. Will drove as hard as he could and Kurt was efficient in his efforts to keep the throttle body working and they managed to make it through Check Point 5 just mins before closing. They took on fuel with our new logistics plan in place and turned the truck over to me and Darren at RM515 now about 2 hours behind the class leading Hummer.

The first 70 miles of our section was speed controlled pavement.  Monica ran flawlessly. Within a mile of hitting dirt the truck was back in limp mode.  Over the next 60 miles of whoops, rocks, silt and the occasional smooth high speed section we battled the throttle body issue. I was still having a blast behind the wheel when were running but the constant stopping was taking it’s toll on our progress and psyche. We were going to keep battling as long as we could.

In the meantime our spare had be located and Chase 3 was headed out to meet us on the course and swap it out.  We were too fast for them at the first location and they decided to follow us down course knowing they’d catch us if we kept having issues. The point came where it would be faster to wait for the spare throttle body and swap it out then to keep battling at our stop/start pace.  Darren quickly had the damaged part removed and we discovered a much larger issue. The stuck butterfly valve was the result of a cracked intake. Dirt sucking into a motor is a bad thing. We had a quick snack and waited. It was a beautiful afternoon in the desert of Baja but at that point we knew we were done.  Chase 4 arrived with Bryson, Micah, Kurt and Will. They quickly installed the new part but their opinion was the same.  Finished. RM640. It was far easier for Darren and me to call it quits if the two guys who had battled for 13 hours through the night were of the same opinion. We could have battled and tried to make the finish but more than likely we would blown our motor resulting in a much more expensive repair and much more difficult extraction.

A few miles of high speed access road lead to the highway and we had Monica on the trailer and headed back towards Ensenada. The entire team converged on our favorite taco stand. Smiles, laughter, handshakes, high fives and hugs ensued. Baja had beaten us but it didn’t matter. We fought valiantly and now we know what it feels like to not finish a Baja 1000.  It’s not a great feeling but the old cliche applies. It’s about the journey, not the destination. And the journey though Baja with Canguro Racing is about as good as it gets.

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2014 Baja 1000

In the dust outside Valle de Trinidad
In the dust outside Valle de Trinidad
Coca-Cola Jump in Ensenada
Coca-Cola Jump in Ensenada


Crossing the Finish Line; 230am
Crossing the Finish Line; 230am
Sunset Over Contingency
Sunset Over Contingency
Canguro Racing at the Finish Line
Canguro Racing at the Finish Line
Getting Wet In the Wash
Getting Wet In the Wash
The Course
The Course
37" BFG Swallowing Whoops
37″ BFG Swallowing Whoops
In the Darkness of Baja
In the Darkness of Baja

It would be nice to detail every moment of this year’s Baja 1000 but that would take far too many words and still wouldn’t do it justice. Let’s start with the basics. At 1275 miles this is the longest Baja 1000 ever. At 36:30 we averaged just over 35 mph. We took 2nd in our class and gave a factory backed Toyota Tundra a decent run for their money finishing just 40 mins behind them. Oh and we ran the entire race without a radio. Yep. That’s right. No radio. Exactly how did that happen? No idea so how about we start there.

Less than 5 mins before the start of the race the truck was lined up, leading our class off the start line, Marc was behind the wheel and ready to go while Kurt was working the GPS and Comms. Then the radio died. Darren, Dave and Bryson scrambled to get it fixed but they couldn’t transmit out.   No time to fix it, then a mistake made by SCORE officials with our tracking devices and Marc was late to the staging line. Instead of the normal 30 seconds to prepare for launch they had about 10 seconds. No time for a deep breath, no time to collect thoughts. Just a hurried frazzled start and they were off into the streets of Ensenada and the crowds gathered along the race course. The lack of comms and last second swap of our tracker meant the chase crew was pretty much blind to the progress of the truck for the first 30-45 mins. Perfect start to the race don’t you think?

About 70 miles down course a quick pit to check over the wiring resulted in nothing. No fix to the radio but a plan to communicate by clicks. The racers could hear the chase crew, and each other, but the only way to transmit out was keying the mic on the radio. Imagine something like this for the next 34 hours and 1200 miles.

“Canguro Race, you have a copy? Key once for yes”

“Canguro Race, if everything is okay key twice”

“Canguro Race, key the mic for the number miles you are out from the pit”

And so on and so on. Not the best way to handle any issues that might arise. Well unfortunately issues arose pretty quickly. About 100 miles into his 200 mile section Marc began to feel ill. This slowed his pace and made for an ad hoc pit at RM165. Kurt took the wheel 30 miles sooner than planned and quickly made up some of the time lost at the impromptu pit. A flawless fuel stop at RM200 and they were back into the desert.

Darkness had enveloped the peninsula by now and the uneven terrain made for some drastic swings in speed from 80mph straights to 10mph silt and whoops. Monica ran flawlessly, although slightly soft on the suspension, through the early hours of the race and Kurt and Marc turned the car over to Dave and Darren in perfect condition at RM398 around 230am.

After a very clean pit stop Dave took the wheel while Darren navigated what would be a very interesting morning. Instead of desert for the first 35 miles they followed a dark and twisty Mexico Hwy 1 in the cold and fog. The 60mph speed limit proved too quick at times with the limited visibility in the fog. They were forced to drive with visors up due to them fogging. Temps dropped into the 40s and they couldn’t wait to get back into the dirt and start working up a sweat.

The turnoff to Coco’s Corner provided no relief. Here the fog and dust in the air severely limited visibility and also speed. The Tundra having a windshield came up more than once during this stretch. After a few miles the road descended toward the coast and below the fog. The next few hours brought brutally slow whoops, another 35 miles of pavement, long fast sweeping turns, Hurricane Odile washouts, 5 miles of river crossings, an exquisite sunrise over the Sea of Cortez and speeds approaching 100mph.

They stopped for fuel a driver swap at RM655 and our ‘click’ communication strategy worked perfectly as they chase crew was ready and performed another efficient stop. Darren took over the reins, Dave hopped it the passenger seat and they were off into the silt. 30 miles of it. Deep silt, whoops of silt, fast silt, slow silt, rutted silt and just a little bit of silt. About an hour in they noticed a weird noise under full throttle. A quick stop revealed a clogged air filter. After smacking it with a wrench to clean it out, Dave constantly kicking it along the way (it’s in the passenger side footwell), Darren was able to make decent time to San Ignacio but had to work to keep Monica in the lower range of RPMs. Otherwise the truck would choke out and lose all power. They didn’t make great time but were quick enough that moving forward was better than pulling the filter on the side of the course. Then a thing of beauty happened.

Our crew was waiting in San Ignacio for a quick splash of fuel. As Monica rolled into the pit they were only expecting to do a 10 gallon dump of fuel but then Dave hopped out of the passenger seat. The chase team took only 12 mins to understand the problem, dig out, and install, the spare air filter in the truck. It was amazing how quickly they responded to the issue with no warning. Back on the road Darren had 35 miles of pavement before hitting the dirt including the awesome run through the streets of San Ignacio.

Once back in the desert they course wound its way through stagnant flood water, dunes, silt, boulder fields, river crossings and a beautiful 12 mile section of dry lakebeds and thousands of locals out cheering them on. After the 100mph stretch into San Juanico and a quick hop over the hills into La Purisma, the course left the Pacific Ocean and back into the mountains north of Loreto on the gulf side. Darren and Dave expected hurricane damage to the course similar to 2012 but it was much faster than anticipated and by 230 they were hopping out of the truck at RM 917.

The trailer with the fuel was late to this pit and we had to make do with what we had. We added 18 gallons to the truck and despite the error by the chase team the truck was back on the course in just a matter of minutes. Not an ideal stop and cost us some time but not a huge obstacle.

Only 360 miles of race course left and we were only 24 hours in. Those 360 miles would encompass steep mountain ascents, hundreds of washouts, hours of whoops, silt and forests of cactus. And of course the peculiar Baja sunset that seems to take only 2 mins. From gorgeous sunlight to pitch black in a matter of minutes. Will took the helm, Ryan took the comms and Monica took off into the mountains. After a long slow slog through the hills, they descended toward the Pacific Ocean and pushed Monica as fast as she could go into the darkness reaching speeds over 90mph. A quick waved to our chase team as they rolled through RM1060, and more high-speed desert, lined with plenty of excited locals, then the craziest pit of the entire race occurred.

At RM1080 Ryan would be taking over the driving duties. The crew set up on a corner where the race course joined the highway for a few miles. It felt like half of Ciudad Insurgentes had decided to join us. Our pit was surrounded by locals, some young, some old,  some very drunk, all very excited. When the truck rolled in (radio clicking still intact) Ryan and Will turned into rockstars. Posing for pics, requests for autographs, yelling and screaming. Rumor has it Will even got groped by a cute, buxom senorita. All this taking place while the crew top off the tanks, swap cards in the cameras, check oil, tire pressures, lugs nuts etc.

After a few miles of pavement Ryan turned Monica south and 30 straight miles of whoops. It’s impossible to convey to those who haven’t raced how exhausting, physically and mentally, a long straight section of whoops can be. Monica is an amazing machine but her shorter wheelbase does nothing to make these sections easier or even tolerable. They are brutal. But they make those high speed sections, or the times you get to air her out, or drift her through a corner at 60mph that much sweeter. We’d slowly been reeling in the Tundra in front of us but time and Baja was not on our side. The last 100 miles is not the place to make up time. Not if you want to keep the car in one piece.

At just over 36 hours Ryan and Will crossed the finish line. Second place in class, 79th overall. After some penalties for speeding on the highways we finished in 36:30 as mentioned above. 6 hours quicker and 150 miles longer than our previous Baja 1000. We overcame some decent sized hurdles in the process. No radio, illness, fuel, filter and locals caused for an imperfect race but a perfect race would be boring. Oh and this is only our second race in Monica. Give us time to dial in the suspension and some more seat time and we’ll be on top of the podium.

Last and most importantly a HUGE thanks to all of our sponsors, families, and chase crew. Could NOT be done without you. Our gratitude is beyond words for what you do. We are fortunate to have such great families and friendships.

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V2R, 2014 A View of the Race as a Chase/Pit Crewman.

brent tttow twlight chase cont crew dusk finish fix goates leaving pit monica pits purdy sgart

I have never really been one to document or write trip reports. I’m not really sure why. I believe it’s because when I go on a trip I mainly just soak everything in and that simply satisfies me.  I’m not a big talker when I am with groups I mainly just listen to what others say. The ones who truly know me know that I am a one on one kind of person.

Before I went to the 2014 Vegas to Reno race I said to myself I would document this trip. I’m not sure why but perhaps because it is something I really enjoy doing. So this is not a perfect report perhaps I missed something or it’s a little out of order but its what I remember.

I went to V2R last year with Canguro Racing to chase Mathilda. I had a hell of a time and should have written a report on it. So when I was asked to come again it was a no brainer.

Canguro Racing had purchased a new race vehicle that I kind of heard about through the grape vine.  About a month ago I was texting Dave Connors and I asked if they were running V2R? His reply: We are running V2R. Want to come chase a Land Cruiser through the desert? My response, A Cruiser! Badass count me in!

Soon I was texting Darren Webster about details on the Cruiser only to find out it’s the Lexus that has been running the Baja the last few years, which is just freaking awesome.

One thing that truly amazes me is Dave’s gift of writing up an itinerary of what each member of the team will be doing. I look forward to it each time and study the crap out of it so I know exactly where and what I should be doing.

Fast forward to August 13th, a day that I have looked forward to for over a month. I find myself at Wendy’s in Nephi with my beautiful wife waiting for Dave, Darren and Jason Goates to pick me up for the ride to Vegas. As we were loading up the truck Ryan Davis, Adam Tolman and Steve Davis pulled into the parking lot with the new Land Cruiser in tow. After drooling all over Monica (Land Cruiser) I said farewell to Kelsey, and we were off to Vegas. Soon we arrived at Ryan’s brothers house. Matt Davis and his wife Celeste are super nice to let us take over their home for 2 nights. Soon we were in bed looking forward to contingency the next day.

The next morning we all gathered and set off to contingency. This is where the racers register and get inspected for the race. Since every racer has to be there you get to see all the badass trucks in one area along with lots of venders with the latest cool gismos to put on your truck.

While the drivers went inside to register I stood guard of Monica only to soon be in the driver seat pretending to race. I got a few odd looks as passerby’s walked past.

After a hot stand in the parking lot we went for lunch to Raising Canes. If you have not been there you are missing out! We went back to Matt’s to hang out and then found some dinner at a great Mexican place. Dave and Darren went to the airport to pick up Will Carroll and Matt Russell in the meantime. After we went to do some final prep to the chase trucks. Goates is always providing a laugh.

Once we got back to Matt’s house we had a team meeting. We went over safety, who goes where and what to do. The Canguro guys are always prepared and are on top of their game. There was nothing to worry about because it was all covered and everyone was on the same page.

Friday, race day! Here is some insight for those who don’t know how we run for this race we had the following set up for chase/pit vehicles/people.

200 Series/Monica: Canguro Race

Ryan’s Tundra: Chase 1- Steve Davis, Ryan Davis, Adam Tolman

Dave‘s100 Land Cruiser: Chase 2- Dave Connors, Darren Webster, Jason Goates

Marc’s Duramax: Chase 4- Marc and Matt Van Tassell, Matt Russell and Brent Childs

We drove about an hour out of Vegas to the start line with Monica in tow.

My assignment was in Chase 4. I drove most of the race, with Matt Russell navigating and running the radio for half of the race, then Marc Van Tassell after he had driven Monica. We also had Marc’s son Matt on board also.

We got Monica, Marc (Driving) and Dave (Co-driver) all prepped for take off. I then went over to the start line to watch the trophy trucks take off from the starting line. There was a good hour of watching trucks and buggies blast off. It was awesome!

Soon Monica made her way up to the start line and Marc and Dave were off.

We made our way back to the trucks and started off for pit 1. The truck was running strong and going pretty fast too. There was a truck in front of Monica that would not get out of the way, so Marc gave them a nice get the hell out of my way hit. They got worried that the lights on the front of Monica got damaged from the hit so they had us check them out at pit 2. I stayed out on the highway with the truck and trailer so I did not have to find a place to turn around. But I snapped a picture of the truck coming into the pit. With everything in order and not harmed they took off again.

Matt, Matt And I took off for pit 4 to monitor the radios and be there in case something happened. While we went there the others went to pit 3 to do a driver swap in the race truck. Now we had Dave Driving and Will Carroll Co-Drive.

We lost radio contact with Monica after pit 3 as they were on the other side of a mountain range. In chase 4 Matt Russell and me were playing the get to know you game, as we had never met. Matt is a solid dude and fits in well with the crew and team. It was nice to meet you Matt. After a while we received radio contact. They were 2 miles from pit 4 and they had some engine codes show up that they were concerned about. We were once again on the highway since the truck was not supposed to stop. So we bolted into the pit and there was Dave and Will waiting for us. We did not have the scan gauge with us so they read us the codes and then took off. We headed down the road to the next pit relaying the codes to the other chase trucks. A quick Google search and we had found out the codes had to do with the exhaust and one with the air intake. The results were relayed to Master Tech Will whom said there should not be a problem running with those codes on. Dave and Will thought that a rock had hit the exhaust and decided to stop at pit 5 for a quick look. They got to the pit and an inspection was underway when all of a sudden water started leaking out from under the truck. Steve Davis Ryan’s Brother a chaser/pit man was trying to detect where the water was coming from as it splashed on him. Well it turned out it was just Will taking a piss. We all had a good laugh and sent the truck on with no damage to the exhaust.

Our next stop would be pit 6, where we do another driver change.  Will takes the wheel with Ryan as co-dawg. While they were switching drivers, I was checking engine oil and fluids. The other members were dumping fuel and going through the rig. With everything set they were soon gone.

The next 3 pits are pretty close together so Marc and I went to what we thought was pit 7 ended up being pit 8. After hearing that the race truck had passed pit 7 we were all sorts of confused because we never saw the truck roll by.  After a quick check of the truck at pit 8 we set off for pit 9 on our way while listening to Ryan name off race miles and their speed he started naming the miles off rather quickly…. 78mph…86mph…92mph…Everyone Will just topped out at 109mph! Holy shit I thought as they were hauling ass, they are going to be hard to keep up with at this rate.  This was a big motivator as everyone’s spirits raised at all the excitement they were having. A moment I will not forget. We got to pit 9 and watched Monica pass through and head off to pit 10 with no problems at all. Will, Ryan and Monica were on fire! They were doing some serious ass kicking.

At pit 10 there was once again another driver change with Ryan driving and Darren as co pilot.

Things again went very smooth throughout Ryan’s drive from what I can remember. I guess I can embark now about driving Marcs Duramax. I find it a rather badass truck. I like driving diesel trucks and Marcs has awesome power all over while cruising down the highway. Pulling a trailer does not even bug me. I feel really comfortable in that truck. Perhaps one day I will be cruising it around Baja for them.

Fast forward to pit 13. Darren takes the wheel and Ryan co-drives. After adding another few cans of fuel it was time for Monica to head off into the sunset.

Our assignment was now to head to pit 14. If everything went according to plan Monica was to just pass by pit 14 and go for the finish. I was going to jump out and snap some pictures while they went by.  We were out of radio range with the race truck but we had Adam Tolman in chase 1 relaying what was going on. Soon there was a crackle over the radio. We lost a tire and we are getting out to fix it. Marc and I though ok easy, we will dig out a spare to put on Monica and send her off. Soon Adam started relaying that it was more than a flat tire. It turns out while cresting a hill 2 rocks were in the course, Darren swerved to miss then but ended up hitting a shark tooth shaped rock. It sheared off a bolt that holds the coil spring and the bypass shock in place on the A-arm. The bypass shock went through the tire and got torn all to hell. Adam who was in connection with Darren and Ry ry relayed to me that when they get into pit 14 they are going to need a 5/8-diameter 9 inch bolt with a nut. I said we would see what we could come up with, while in my head I was saying where in the hell are we going to find one of those? Marc was outside getting the spare off the trailer. I walked back and told him about the bolt. He started unloading the truck saying he has a bag of bolts but who knows what kinds? Marc pulled out an ARB bag reached in and like it was meant to be he pulls out a bolt and said you mean one like this? I was in awe I couldn’t believe it. It was the exact bolt we needed. I quickly relayed we had found a bolt surprising Adam and his crew. By now chase 1 was close to pit 14 and the race truck was limping in. Ryan requested we find a welder to help with the repairs. Goates quickly located one and we were set for the injured Monica to limp in.

Once Monica made it, tear down began. The tire was pulled off and the assessment began. In the picture it shows everything repaired except the limiting strap for the suspension. I did not get a broken picture.  If you look at the bottom of the blue shock there is a bolt holding it in place. That is what sheared off when it got hit.

Ryan took charge as the lead mechanic. Its cool to witness Ryan work under pressured conditions. He handles it really well. We got multiple Jacks and straps in place and everything lined up to where Ryan could slip in the new bolt while pushing out the old. It went really smooth I thought.  We forgot to put the limiting strap on that bolt but decided to run the truck without it. We buttoned it all back up and sent Darren and Ryan off.

We reloaded the trucks and headed for the finish line.  We again lost radio contact. Marc Matt and I made it to the finish line. It was now about 4am. The rest of the chase vehicles trickled in soon after. We all went and stood at the finish line to see Monica come in. We stood there for a while, finally we could here them over the radio. Once again Monica got injured. The shock that previously broke had now broke at the upper mount. We assumed it had gotten weakened from the first incident. When the upper mount broke the shock took out some coolant lines and Monica started getting warm. Ryan and Darren dumped the water from their camel backs into the radiator to help cool her down.  They were able to once again limp her down the track stopping every now and then to let her cool off. After a bit Monica had made it! She coasted right into the finish.

We did it! 534 miles, we once again completed the longest off road race in the USA! It’s a very cool feeling looking back at all that had happened. There were quite a few trucks that did not finish but through the teamwork of Canguro racing we were able to get this new race truck to the finish.  After we got everything loaded up and a few pictures taken we went off to the Casino. After being up for 24 hours we were all tired and ended up in bed at about 5:30am

It was a true Honor to be selected again by Canguro racing to be apart of the team and help them fulfill their dreams. They also allow me to fulfill part of my dreams by exposing me to the racing world. My goal one day is to be behind the wheel myself of some sort of vehicle racing the Baja 1000.  These groups of friends are the key to their success. I know they know that but they really do have something special that links them together so well. One of those links for the drivers and the chasers that started everyone’s relationship together is because of our love for the Toyota Land Cruiser. And now to be racing and chasing one professionally is just straight up badass. Thanks Canguro Racing, I hope to be there again with these fine gentlemen.

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2014 Vegas to Reno

Vegas to Reno 2014 was the dawn of a new day for Canguro Racing and we couldn’t be happier about the way the day unfolded for us. Was it perfect? No. Was it awesome? Absolutely.  As most of you know this was our first race with our new race truck. Our Class 5 is still for sale but her replacement, a 2010 200 Series Toyota Land Cruiser, is an amazing piece of machinery and a well-built, race proven truck that fits the team far better than our beloved Trophy Beetle.  We are all friends because of our love of Land Cruisers, as well as our membership in the TLCA and Wasatch Cruisers.  With Monica (yes we name our race vehicles) we are getting back to our roots but also taking a huge step forward as a race team.

V2R was not only a test of the new truck but with Kurt out of the country we were racing with new co-drivers as an attempt to learn from each other and understand if there are better ways to communicate/drive/navigate. We settled on a plan of rolling teams. Marc and Dave would start, then Dave would drive with Will co-driving. Then Will driving with Ryan etc. etc.

As this was the first race with the new truck we decided to run Sportsman’s class to not put any pressure on ourselves and ease our way into the race and understanding how Monica performs. Truth be told outside of Marc none of us had more than 20 mins or so behind the wheel.  Then a funny thing happened. Everything came very naturally. Because of the high COG and underpowered brakes the truck behaved very much like an 80 series Land Cruiser. A more powerful, capable, awesome version of an 80 but still similar enough that our team of former and current 80 owners could very easily drive Monica quickly down the race course.  Running Sportsman meant we were at the back of the pack. And by back of the pack I mean the second to last vehicle off the line.  Marc and Dave saw this as an opportunity to pass 299 teams.  Within 3 miles they had already caught the first vehicle. A few miles later after plenty of lights and liberal use of the horn they decided it was time to nudge the truck in front of them to get around.  They were obviously faster but the driver refused to yield. Normally at the back of the pack nerfing is not needed as we are all privateers that want to preserve our equipment but in this case we were being held up.  Marc eased up to the back of the truck, and gave a noticeable but safe bump. They didn’t move. They didn’t speed up. They just stayed put.  They held us up for the next 15 miles, while both passing numerous other race vehicles, until we finally had a chance to get around in a silty 90 degree high speed corner. After a few miles we caught up to that truck’s teammate. This time Marc was a little less subtle in his nerf, frustration having got the best of him, and the truck was quick to move over.  Marc and Dave ran quickly for the next 75 miles or so, passing a dozen on course vehicles and another 20 broken down in the process.  During a 25mph speed/no passing zone they got stuck behind a slower car with a flat tire that allowed the field to catch up to the back of us. Once around the flat tire car Marc made really good time to distance himself from the stack of cars behind him with only a Class 1 and Trophy Truck getting around. He pulled into Pit 3 and hopped out. Dave moved over to the driver’s seat and Will climbed in to co-drive. Lug nuts checked, 5 gallons of gas added (not sure on the race fuel economy yet) and they were back out onto the course.

Dave and Will made really good time (despite some GPS and radio issues) for the first half of their section passing a dozen broken or stuck cars in the process.  Then after a noticeable back fire in a 90 degree turn the motor started to stumble. Will communicated to the pits that we had a ‘power issue.’ Somehow this was received as an ‘electrical issue’ by the chase teams.  He passed codes to the teams to check out.  Intake and exhaust was discussed, bad fuel, elevation, heat, all options.  After a quick stop at pit 4 to pass codes, they took off. At Pit 5 the exhaust was checked for damage/restriction. Still they made good time just with a little less low end power.  They continued to pass broken and stuck trucks taking the total to about 45 over the first 40% of the race. Then a funny thing happened. About 3 miles from Pit 6 the power all came back.  Dave took the opportunity finish off his leg very aggressively with full power at the ready.  Pit 6 meant 32 gallons of fuel, Will to Driver, Ryan as Co-driver and GoPro card swaps. Then the truck was back out on course. Awesome work by our chase crews in the pits all race.  The motor ran issue free until the end of the race. A text to the former truck owner confirmed he’d had a similar issue at a very hot Baja 500 and we kind of dismissed it at heat related and to look into it after the race.

Will and Ryan found some very good speed over the next 120 miles. They peaked out at an easy 110 mph after coming down out of the mountains.  Monica has a significant speed advantage over Mathida.  We would have been pushing hard to make 85 through the same area with the old car.  Will and Ryan ran incident free and had the pleasure of racing into the sunset. For those who have never raced there is something special about the sunset (or sunrise in the case of the Baja 1000) during the race. All the dust in the air magnifies the color and the whole race course begins to take on a different feel as the powerful HIDs take over the night.  Another quick stop at Pit 10 with Will hoping out, Ryan taking the helm and Darren finally getting in the car.  At this point our average speed was around 45mph and we were easily 5 hours ahead of where we were the previous year. The chase teams had spent the majority of the race to this point leapfrogging each other and joining together at the pits went off in three separate directions.

As darkness fell Ryan and Darren settled into a rhythm they would follow the next few hours; brutally slow course while playing leap frog with the same 5-6 cars.  They’d get us in the twisties, we’d get them back in the straights, whoops and silt.  Overall the going was slow but consistent.  At pit 13 Ryan and Darren swaps seats, the truck was topped off with fuel and out into the darkness they went to the finish.  Then our night took a turn for the worse.

The speeds had picked up and we were 2.5 hours ahead of the next car in class when Darren came over a rise and had to choose the best way around 3 rocks in the middle of the road. It was a lesser of two evils choice as there was no way to get around all 3 cleanly and a rock on the right got him. It was a hard hit but neither thought much about it at first. Unfortunately it was a well-placed hit that broke the lower shock bolt.  Not huge deal but the shock then took out the tire.  They swapped the tire and limped to Pit 14. At pit 14 a bolt was sourced and the shock reinstalled without the limiting strap.  Darren and Ryan took off again but a more controlled speed.  They made good time through pit 15 then up into the mountains and the last 30 miles to the finish.

The last 18 miles to the finish are brutal. For anyone who has driven it I don’t need to explain. For those who haven’t just imagine a road full of bowling balls, but they are sharp, now climb the side of a mountain on that road. It’s slow, it’s monotonous and it’s harsh on the vehicle. A finish at Vegas to Reno is well earned to say the least. In the middle of this boulder strewn road the top shock mount broke. It was obviously tweaked earlier and finally succumbed. Even worse it took out the tranny coolant lines in the process. This left Darren and Ryan with only one plan of attack.  Drive til the truck got hot. Stop. Let it cool. Dump in some water. Drive some more. Wait to cool. Over and over. It took them an hour to go 6 miles before the long coast down the hill to the finish line. Awesome patience and work by both of them. It’s hard to keep your cool in those situations.

We fell from first to third in class but we were still ecstatic with the finish. We’d raced fast and we’d also overcome some legitimate adversity and still managed a podium with the new truck. Not only that but we finished almost 5 hours faster than the year before.  We have high hopes for the Baja 1000.

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Vegas to Reno, 2013

Oh I know what you’re all saying, ‘Really? Vegas to Reno? What about the Baja 1000 write up?’ Look at it from my perspective. Baja was 15 people, 1100 miles and 42 hours. Not the easiest thing to wrap your head around. Although you can read about the chasing part here. V2R is simple. Only 545 miles and 19 hours. Piece of cake.

The race started out pretty much as planned. Marc behind the wheel and Kurt settled in as co-driver. The Van Tassel Family had made the trip down from Ely and set up close to the start line to watch their Dad kicking up some dirt. Marc spent his time out at Delle a few weeks earlier practicing nothing but starts so needless to say he nailed it. We were the 4th to last car off the line and by the time the rest of us had made it back to our chase trucks the construction crew had already started grading the road back to its pre-race plainness.

The Canguro chase crew was a mix of old and new with Baja veterans Jason Goates and Ryan Nakaya adding their experience to the enthusiasm of Brent Childs and Topher Maxwell. Rounding out the crew in Chase 5 were the Van Tassells. Darren and I were driving together again and for those who follow us on Facebook the news of Will Carroll joining Ryan is nothing new. After work took Dave Helm on the road for 3 straight months racing just wasn’t in the cards for him.

One of the great facets of Vegas to Reno is that the Chase trucks are constantly all over each other for the first half of the race. It makes for a lot of laughter and chatter on the radios as well as a lot of seeing each other. Well it also proved to be a huge benefit to the race car this year. The car ran great and fast through Pit 1 with Marc and Kurt passing a half dozen vehicles in the first 35 miles. Shortly after bombing right past Pit 1 Mathilda began to develop a grinding noise from the rear end. After a quick course-side assessment the noise was identified as a torn CV boot and the exposed joint was beginning to fail. The proximity of ALL the chase trucks resulted in an assault on Pit 2 and the CV was replaced within 20 mins and Marc and Kurt were back out on the course and lost to radio contact for the next hour or so as they went around the west side of a small mountain range. Once radio contact was re-established they had bad news for us. Our power steering was gone. We had lost our PS in Baja and after what we thought was a solid re-engineer of the set up this news was disheartening. Fortunately, again the entire crew was able to descend on Pit 3 for a fix and driver change.

Ryan tore into the cracked bracket with the welder. Then a larger more powerful borrowed welder/generator setup. We were ready to send Kurt and Marc back out when we realized our rack itself was cracked. Off came the broken rack and we installed our spare, non-power, rack. The entire pit took about an hour and Kurt took the helm of the now wounded Mathilda, powered by Armstrong. By now the temps were close to 110 and the wind relentlessly blasted the entire crew with sand. We were all a bit exhausted at this point and we were only a few hours into the race. Kurt summarized the perspective thusly…

“If you were to ask me what chance we had to finish the race as I rolled out of the pits… I would have given a 25%. We were just 20% done with the miles and the car was already in full limp-mode. Fast forward another 50 miles and we lose a second CV boot and subsequent joint, this time 25 miles out of the next pit. Would it hang on?”

Yep that’s right we lost a second boot less than 50 miles later. At Pit 5 Ryan and Will would be taking over the car and while doing our second CV swap a bent brake line was identified as the culprit. At this point something magical happened and I’ll speak solely to my perspective.

At Pit 5 the chase crews had begun to go our separate ways as the course starts to stretch out and the pits are farther apart. Darren and I had gone ahead to Tonopah to get some food and gas for my Cruiser, with the responsibility of going to Pit 6 to monitor the radio and be there to check the car just in case. Racing Mathilda without power steering is far different than driving on paved roads (for those of us old enough to remember) without it. The speed makes it easy to turn the car but the lack of any hydraulics means your hands are absorbing ALL of the impact. I was coming off a broken hand and was not looking forward to subjecting my hand to hours of abuse. Darren and I were both tired, dejected and not optimistic about us even driving the car. Then a funny thing happened. We were able to get Will and Ryan on the radio about 10 miles out of Pit 6. The car was running great and more importantly Will sounded like he was on the verge of laughter every single time he transmitted. His joy and enthusiasm were hilarious. Will had zero seat time in Mathilda prior to the race and the giddiness of his first miles of competition was contagious. Instantly my spirits were lifted and Darren and began to laugh and were now looking forward to getting in the car even though we had 5 hours of chasing to go prior to it. They rolled into Pit 6 and we did a quick check of the CV boot. With the cause of our issue identified the car was clean and ready to move. Our 30 second pit put our team back into race mode and they were off into the sunset.

About a week after the race Ryan and I were swapping stories about the race and he told me something that perfectly illustrates Will’s attitude during the race. This requires a quick digression however. I’m sure each race team has their own processes for communication and in-car responsibilities. One of the reasons we keep the same teams is that they become second nature. Race notes, communication, lights, gauges, etc all happen without discussion after you spend some time with someone in the car. Ryan had worked out with Dave Helm that when the driver needs a rag to wipe their visor you just hold out your hand where the co-driver can see it and he passes the rag over. Darren and I do the same (although in this race without power steering the co-driver would just reach over and wipe the driver’s visor so that two hands could stay on the wheel) and it takes place without talking. So about an hour into Ryan’s stint driving they hit their first silt bed. Ryan instinctively reached out expecting a rag in return. Will’s instinct was to high five him and proclaim through the radio ‘this is awesome.’ I was in stitches when I heard this story and I really hope we have video of it. Hysterical.

About an hour after dark that enthusiasm was tested when Ryan came hot into a silt bed, was blinded for the first 20 yards and in attempt to find clean air left the course and sunk into the bottomless sand. A 30 min effort of jacking, digging and sagebrush stacking and they were back rolling, very sweaty, dirty and tired but rolling. Less than an hour later they bombed into Pit 8 for their driver swap, huge smiles on their faces and in a flash they were gone. Will only stalled Mathilda twice on the way out of the pit. Ryan said Will was a natural behind the wheel and their ascent into the mountains went flawlessly. They ran incident free for the next two hours and came into Pit 10 still smiling and laughing despite the exhausting effort required to manhandle Mathilda down course.

Darren and I climbed in the car 8 mins after midnight with 193 miles between us and the finish line. We would be without radio communication for the first 40 miles or so as we climbed back into the mountains. One of the last things we heard as we wound our way up the rough, rocky and jack rabbit filled canyon was ‘hey the guy in the pit said there is a huge silt bed at Race Mile 371 and a few cars are stuck. Stay right to avoid it.’ Darren battled his way up the canyon for the first 15 miles or so then quickly down the back side. The clouds began to break up and the moon was a casting an eerie light over the landscape. We had a few dangers to avoid as we worked our way down from the saddle and I kept thinking 371, 371, 371. We came out of a sharp right and spotted 2 cars stopped in the road about a ¼ mile away, RM368. I told Darren ‘I think this is it, stay right, stay right!’ He tried to overpower Mathilda and she bit back snapping the wheel out of his hand as he tried to climb out of the silt filled trench. We were stopped. The 4 drivers of the two stuck cars were out and digging the silt, and according to Darren looked like zombies. The first set help push us out to the left and we made it out of the silt. We decided to return the favor and agreed to pull them out. On the second pull they came right out. We tried to pull out the larger truck but in our little car we had no luck. The car we pulled out crossed the finish line (spoiler alert) about 45mins after we did and they told us they’d been stuck for an hour when we got there and the truck had been there 3 hours. We got lucky.

To avoid the silt we edged down the left side of the road until eventually we got lost out in the sage brush. We came across a six foot ledge and I decided to get out and spot Darren back to the course. All told we spent about 35 mins in the silt bed/sage brush. Once back on course we made great time over some smooth and quick roads. We covered the next 130 miles in about 3 hours. Along the way we did a quick driver swap, nosh, and got gas (thanks Ryan Nakaya and Will), watched a blood-red moon set, passed a half dozen cars, and experienced a gorgeous sunrise. A creative course volunteer had marked a tricky intersection with Christmas lights with about 35 miles left. At that point I took a long pull on the Camelbak and thought to myself ‘that’s the last drink I need, we’ll be done in a half hour’ as the roads I had been on were superfast and with the sun coming up I could make even better time. Well 2 hours later and without an ounce of energy left Darren and I crossed the finished line at an enthusiastic 73mph. The first 34 of the final 35 miles were brutally rocky and steep. I couldn’t go slow enough to smooth it out without stalling the car so I just battled in first gear for an hour up one side of the mountain and was able to even get to second gear going down the backside toward the finish line. We passed two broken cars along the way and I’m pretty sure I lost the conscious mind of my co-driver for about 40 mins. The desert smelled of cookies, the light was sublime, the mountains looked, let’s say majestic, and all I could focus on was the finish line. So back to Kurt’s question. Would the car hang on? Well he answered it…

“Amazingly it did… as did the steering as the next two teams muscled her through the rough course and through the finish line. Matilda for the win. I attribute the finish solely to team work, each driver/co-driver race team worked together to pass the car off but our pit crew really came through with much needed repairs, spares, moral support and motivation to push it through to the next pit. Go Canguro!”

I couldn’t agree more. Our crew was awesome. Let’s not forget Cory Fillmore and Jason Call who stared at a computer screen for 19 hours and updated the entire crew via text throughout the race. A race team with six drivers is a unique situation and one that most people advise against. But I think we’re proof that it can work and that the friends we have crewing for us turns a unique situation into a special one. We’re proving that we can battle through our adversity and finish races despite them. Next up, start winning races.

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Mint 400: A learning experience

The Mint 400 is known as one of the toughest desert races in North America. 400 miles of grueling desert, washouts, ravines, rocks, silt and 800 horsepower Trophy Trucks reminding you who sits at the top of the food chain. Needless to say our Class 5 car does not sit quite that high in fact we were the last class to start the race, a reminder that we are the slowest and thus most vulnerable car out racing with the big dogs. We didn’t go more than 75 miles into our first lap before the leaders in the Class 1 cars and Trophy Trucks were already creeping up behind us on their second laps. The advice we received before the race was simple, “watch your mirrors, watch your mirrors and get the hell out of their way… other than that you’ll be fine”. Easy enough right

The weekend started off with contingency and tech along the historic Fremont Street in old downtown Vegas. I have some fond memories of skateboarding through the casinos and inebriated late night bouts of gambling and deep fried Twinkies along Fremont, this is just another chapter in what I consider my favorite Vegas stop Our car made it through tech without any problems and all our personal safety gear checked out, our last formality was a drivers meeting and we were officially starting amongst 150+ other vehicles in the big race.

Freemont Street

We were starting somewhere around 160th, literally a few cars from the back of the race, again based on our speed and our classes general ability. Team Canguro was off with Marc behind the wheel and myself co-driving, watching that mirror and occasionally the GPS too. The first few miles of the race course were nasty deep silt, like we were dragging our skid plate as we fought the silt, taxing our motor as we pinned it to get through. By the 10 mile mark we had literally passes a dozen broken rigs, a sign of things to come. By mile 20 we had already smacked our skid plate a what seemed like a hundred or more times, the ruts were deep and our car was set up with a pretty conservative stance in the rear. While it was hard going the car was working great and through running a slower pace we were feeling out the course. By the last quarter of the lap traffic in the rear view mirror was getting heavy, my primary job as co-driver is to navigate via the GPS, radio progress to the pits, watch the gauges on the car’s (Matilda is her name) vitals and watch that mirror! Soon enough I was blasting at Marc to get out of the way as we had big traffic bearing down on us. I can tell you its quite the chore to keep an eye on the GPS, watch for objects through the dust in the mirror and manage to brace up when the car is romping through whoops, ruts and washouts. We had a few hard hits that literally knocked the breath out of me, not because they were so abrupt but rather they were so unexpected as my concentration was fixed on what was happening behind us, not in front. Just as soon as I took my stare off the mirror and was checking the GPS for marked dangers and checkpoints we had been hit. Its officially called ‘nerfing’. A fast running trophy truck was letting us know he wanted us out of his way and now. Rather than wait for a second love tap, we got the hell out of his way and let him pass. While we are clipping around decent speeds, they are doing easily double our speeds and they pass with some serious aggression… that’s racing. The nerf was no doubt a shock, its about like getting rear ended as you sit gracefully at a stop light. Marc and I took it in stride, it wasn’t just a few seconds later we were laughing about it and radioing back to the pits that we had taken a hit but still moving strong.

The Start

Lining up at the start

Marc drove a solid lap and got us back into the pits, my turn to take the wheel. Our stellar pit crew made some quick changes to the shocks to try and squeeze a bit more lift out of the rear as we had been beating the death out of our skid plate. It was my turn behind the wheel and if we wanted to get out before the cutoff time for a 4th lap, I had some time to make up, like 30 minutes of time. I had Dave H. as my co-dog, his job again watching that mirror particularly during the 2nd lap as we had constant passing traffic. We were making good time, my familiarity with the course through lap #1 gave us some needed advantage to work up our speeds. Dave was doing a great job keeping us from becoming a trophy truck target, we took one more hard hit from a passing truck just as night was starting to fall. The truck had its lights blazing and we were glued to the mirrors trying to see him get up on our tail. Turns out he turned out his lights to be able to move through our dust and flipped them back on right as he pulled up behind us. He have us about 1.5 seconds of his siren and a couple horn honks and we were once again nerfed, this time more shocking than the last as we didn’t even have a chance to react. Its one thing when you have a place to pull out of their way, its another to be a sitting duck. All is well that ends well, we were still moving and the mirrors were clear. We had just rounded through the 25 mph zone of pit two at ~mile 89 when we lost our clutch, like zero clutch and stuck in gear. We were in some deep silt and I couldn’t downshift, the car stalled thankfully off the side of a wide spot. Dave deployed our flares to keep passing traffic from running us over and we tried to diagnose the problem on the side of the course. With little choice we drove the car back to the pits in 1st gear, making the passes even more sketchy as I couldn’t easily stop or accelerate to get out of their way. Before long we were back in the main pit and diagnosing the problem with our team. Sadly it wasn’t going to be a fix we could do in the pits, the problem was inside our bell housing and would require us to pull the motor to fix… we were officially out of the Mint 400 with just 2 laps under our belt. Sadly Dave H and Ryan wouldn’t get a chance to drive this time

We loaded up the car, tucked our tails and headed back to Vegas. It was a brutal course and I’m glad our car held up as well as it did, our skid plate is trashed, our clutch fried and our confidence broken but we will be back for the Caliente 250 in June. Between now and then we plan to fine tune our suspension, fix the clutch and get out and practice!

A big thanks to the members of Team Canguro (DCon, Dave, Darren, Mark & Ryan) and to our killer pit crew (Matt & Chats) for making this all a reality. While we didn’t finish the race, we learned from it and considering 2/3 of all entries had similar fate… we can’t hang our heads too low.

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Not our best day…

The Jackpot 230 could also be called the Jackpot Brutality. Or at least the 14 miles of the course I saw from the co-pilot seat of Mathilda. But before I get the pre-mature end to our race how about we find out how we got there.

Marc arrived early enough on Friday to join the drivers meeting and get an idea of what were we were info. Part of our pit crew, Troy and Scott, showed soon after. The rest of us; me, Darren, Ryan, Hampton, Helm and Trent arrive a little bit later. Like 2am. Not ideal but a late start out of SLC put us behind schedule.

Saturday we grabbed food, filled the car and rolled out to the pits. After teching in and setting up our command post we began the prep on the car. Warming the tranny and motor, checking comms, gps etc. Before we knew it staging was on us. And the one item we hadn’t checked, the parker pumper, wasn’t working. So off came the hood, and the cowl and some quick wiring magic by Ryan and we were ready to roll. Marc and Dave would be starting the race and running the first 3 laps. Darren and I would then take over and run the last 3. Marc was in El Salvador doing dental work during the Wendover race and Dave is a late addition to the team so we thought we’d let them have a go at it. In retrospect probably might have been a good idea to split them up but hindsight is always 20/20, right? The good news is Marc and Dave drove it like they stole it.
Despite a poor shifting tranny they made very good time on the first lap having passed 3 cars and getting up to 4th overall. Our GPS mount broke so a pit stop was required. A quick fix and they were back out. Marc, being a little too anxious, cut through the pit which would result in a 30 second penalty next time they entered the pits. Another quick lap, and a GPS mount fix now broken required another pit. However, by this time Marc had climbed to within 15 seconds of 2nd place and right behind the two 10 cars. So GPS fixed, Dave now behind the wheel (for the first time ever in the car), and they were back on the course. I think Marc had way too much adrenaline flowing because he pretty much talked on the radio the entire lap from the co-driver seat. Non-stop talking. Giving us mile by mile detail. Mainly about the brutal nature of the course and the hidden harshness Darren and I would expect on the next lap.

During the Wendover race our communication with the pits was non-existent. As a work around we had used a SPOT device to signal the pit we were close. Ham tech and uber-nerd (a compliment) Ryan Davis had gone through our system and fixed every bug and set up a fantastic command post at our pit. It made for a very different race, both in the car and in the pits. Can’t thank him enough for his knowledge and willingness to help out. Including towing the car to Jackpot and back. (that is me eating a lot of crow, btw. I’ve always made fun of ryan of his love of HAM radio because he’s the only person using it that’s not over 68 years old. I’ve now seen the benefits of his knowledge)

The next pit was the hardest logistically. Darren would be taking over driving duties with me climbing in as co-driver. I would also need to get my helmet from Dave, replace the water bottle and have the pit crew add gas. We were very efficient but overlooked some of the basics, like checking all our suspension and steering links for loose bolts. Very happy with a sub-four minute stop and we were rolling again.

Within about two miles I made mention to Darren that the car sounded different. Not quite the same as we were used to. He agreed but we both dismissed it as a result of the rough and rocky course. During the high speed section leading up to mile 12 everything felt and sounded fine. We could see the 10 car’s dust on the horizon and we were determined to catch it. After turning back north and entering so called Easy Street things took a turn for the worse. According to Marc and Dave it was one of the hardest sections of the course. Watermelon sized rocks filled the narrow two track for about 1.5 miles. Well somewhere in the middle the ‘doesn’t sound right’ turned into ‘darren pull over I think something is broken.’ I climbed out and instantly knew we were done. Our micro-stub, or rear hub, had cracked due to our swing arm bolts coming loose. We radioed the pits and told them our location. Fortunately we were only a few hundred yards up the hill from highway 93 so we were able to get our crew and tools to the car. Unfortunately we were unable to get the nut off the end of the CV and thus we couldn’t get the hub back together. Ryan and Trent Ashby worked non-stop for 4 hours and couldn’t manage to get it fixed . I was beginning to feel guilty about letting them do all the work then I realized that my skill is so inferior to theirs that I would do no good. So I helped by hauling gear and water up and down the hill.

Eventually the sweeper came through and told us the course was clear and we could get the trailer on the course and load up. Well that was quite an adventure in itself. Ryan showed great skill and patience in driving his Tundra down Easy Street to load up the car. A late dinner at the casino and we were headed home. About 4 am we were all home safe. It sounds so easy to type but it was a long exhausting day. Lessons learned. A lot of fun had and one more step along our path to Baja. We can’t thank Ryan, Trent, Hampton and Troy enough for their help. Although I think they feel as much ownership of our success as we do. Let’s just say we’re very happy to have them as part of our team.

(pics by troy and Hampton)