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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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