Baja 1000... crash and all
Now that the Driving Dirty episodes have aired on RedBull.tv I can officially share my 2015 Baja 1000 story that was written a year ago...
As always, Baja was a real challenge and test for (wo)man and machine, and this one truly pushed us. My participation was only put together a couple of weeks before the flag dropped when Pistol Pete (Sohren) called and asked if I was interested in driving alongside his daughter Paige in a bajaracingadventures.com Baja Lite truck in class 7 #722. Literally, it was just a few days before SEMA, and I was in the midst of prepping for my busiest week of the year... tho of course I had to partake! Being able to race with another kick-ass chick at the brink of making a name for herself in desert racing is something I simply couldn’t turn down. It is so very much in alignment with my life's mission. Straight after SEMA, I flew to Chicago for the FabTech tradeshow, only to come home for less than a day prior to heading down to the Baja peninsula. Needless to say I didn’t quite have a chance to catch my breath, although, as always, I was ready to race!
My pre-running for Baja 1000 started in San Felipe on Saturday where I met my good friend George Peters (Ultimatearm.com) and Pistol’s co-driver, Eric Clay. George was kind enough to let us use his brand-spanking-new Polaris Razor UTV for pre-running so his guys set it up with radio communications and GPS for us and we took off late Sunday morning to start making our course notes. I had never driven a RZR before, so it was was a weird adjustment from what I am used to driving off-road. After 900 miles of Baja carnage, they seem to be pretty impressive little machines.
Eric hopped in with me, where Eric’s dad Danny and my assistant Alana chased us to Ensenada. We made our way from San Felipe (approx. RM620) (RM = race mile) to Ojos Negros, near the end (approx. RM800), before dark. Finally, sometime around 5 am, Pistol and his team arrived with the race truck from Arizona. They had a hectic and late start when they discovered the engine block had a crack in it. After trying to weld and repair it, they ended up swapping it with another 4 cyl Ecotec engine from a junkyard... the very day they were supposed to leave Phoenix. So, come Sunday morning, the entire team was together and all loaded up to continue pre-running down, across and back up the peninsula... an already tired crew.
Paige was the first to take the wheel on Sunday with Eric making notes, while Blair (her 15 year old sister and navigator) and Jameson (team mechanic and go-to-guy) joined them in the back. We also had the pleasure of Chad Broughton #3032 and his dad Paul running a second 1000 RZR with us.
We made it to Erendira by Coyote Cal's before stopping to do some filming with Red Bull. They are creating a six hour documentary series currently titled "Six Hours of Baja" as they follow five teams on their journey of what it takes to try and win this race.. Funny enough, our part in the series is called “Beauties and the Beast,” – I’ll let you guess who the “beast” is.
Pre-running continued long into the night stopping in El Rosario to find good food at Mama's, as well as no vacancy in any motels... so we ended up doubling back 40 miles up the highway near Santa Maria to crash for the night. The next morning, I started pre-running that section as it was the original plan for me to take over #722 at RM200. Just prior to our re-entry into El Rosario, I got a flat and Chad’s ATV had a clutch issue, so we stopped momentarily to consider our options. Eventually, the team figured out it was just a loose bolt on the clutch housing, so they repaired it while the rest of us continued pre-running.
Then came the gnarly section… we left RM345 at about 4pm, knowing we’d be doing the trickiest section in the dark. We figured it would be good to pre-run in the dark, as we’d likely be driving it in the dark on race day anyway. At RM390, the upper and lower stock A-arms on the Razor finally screamed ENOUGH! Honestly, it was brutal out there for the low clearance on the side-x-side. After insisting I stay with the car and my team until it was fixed, I was forced to jump in with Chad and Paige and get to our chase team, while Eric and Jameson set up camp for the night.
Along the way we came across a quad with a blown engine and his team waiting in the same spot as our chase team. Paige used her Spanish speaking skills and determination to arrange both cars getting out at the same time.
That’s one thing I love about this sport. Everyone comes together to help out and we become inventive with problem solving. All you got out there is each other, a few tools, and a couple of spare parts. We parked Chad’s ATV in his trailer, pulled the A-arms off, strapped them to the back of the quad team’s extra rider who rode back in to where we broke. Once the car was fixed our guys then towed the stranded quad out to the road. A successful mission that ended at 4am in the Bay of LA.
I was in the chase truck the next morning, so we had the easy part of the “easy” section while Paige and Blair drove the course up to San Felipe. I finally had a chance to stop at the legendary Coco’s corner before carrying on to San Felipe, and then on to Ensenada, with a shock tuning session with King Shocks along the way. It was my first time ever in the BajaLite we would be racing in, and although I was driving at night, it was good to get some seat time and feel how the truck handles... especially at speed through the whoops.
Wednesday was fairly relaxing, yet still full of registration activities, pre-tech, an appearance at the local AutoZone and final preparations on the truck, yet I knew the short lived calm wouldn’t last for long. Thursday is all about the contingency parade downtown Ensenada and saying hello to friends, sponsors and the super excited fans.
Once the party dies down is when the personal preparation for the race really begins... camelback filled, snacks taped to the interior panels, helmet communications dialed, double checking the GPS, paper map glued to the roof, all safety gear ready, tool bags memorized, etc... mentally, there is a lot to consider. Paige had a lot resting on her shoulders, so her nerves were beginning to take over; her dad's truck, living up to his legend, the RedBull production, racing the start, with her little sister in the car... pressure cooker waiting to happen. I on the otherhand was experiencing my normal race day mojo... calm and ready to whoop some ass.
Friday – Race Day
Thankfully confidence killed the nerves and just as planned, Paige started the race with Blair to hand it over to me at RM200. However at RM80, near San Tomas, Blair wanted to get out. So, around 3:30 pm I jumped into the co-driver seat and did my best at navigating a section I hadn't seen in 4 years.
Disaster struck at RM 122. I’m sure you’ve all seen the photos; I promise it looks worse than what it actually was. The air was thick and wet being so close to the coast line, and the dust was just lingering from the other race cars ahead of us, meaning we were moving fairly slow as it was. The GPS said to go right, and we did. As it turns out, we went a little bit too far to the right, yet still couldn’t see a thing. We saw the giant crack at the last minute and had nearly stopped, though we simply fell into it. The inertia of falling into the ravine was what tipped the car ass over tea kettle. We were both unharmed and I radioed in to the chase team to inform them of the damage and how it could potnetially be a "race over" situation.
While waiting for the necessary tools and spare parts to arrive, spectators helped get us out of the ravine with, out of all things, a WARN winch on a Jeep with another team's chase truck as the anchor. I managed to jack the truck up and start pulling the broken parts off. The spindle was undamaged, tho the upper ball joint was ripped off the A-arm, and thankfully we had a replacement lower A-arm in the chase truck. The team showed up at just the perfect time and instantly got to work on the repairs. They pulled out the generator, welder and all the tools imaginable to fix it. It was really cool to watch Pete, Uncle Jerry and Brett work their magic and get the car back on course... it was obvious they've done this before. All together, we lost about five hours.
From that point, I took over the driver seat with Eric as my co-driver while Paige took a break and monitored some potential injuries. It was already 9.30pm so I knew we had a long night ahead of us. The truck was actually driving really well for such a magical fix, though soon we heard a terrible banging noise. Looking over the truck we could find nothing wrong, until we started to roll again and found it was the roof flapping harder and harder as we went faster and faster. This was only the beginning of Eric putting pain on the line to make sure we made it to the finish line. He literally held that roof until the next Baja Pits 40-ish miles later where we ratchet strapped the roof down so we could try to drive at a decent speed. The thick air worsened and we could hardly see a thing as we contiued to wipe mud off our helmet lenses. It was so bad, there were times we were driving at super slow speeds with our lenses open just to see the edge of the course out my door. At some point we got lost and stuck in a giant field... a field that was made of super soft ground that we could only drive on when we aired down the tires.
At RM200, we wiped our faces, shoved some food in our mouths and hammered down to try and make up lost time. No major happenings aside from silt beds, more silt beds and the blur of the night passing by. At some point an entire local family was helping push us out of some seriuosly gnarly silt beds right after the other where the truck just couldn't seem to get out of. When the sun finally rose above the horizon, it was like a burst of energy and I felt like I was back in the race. A helicopter followed us for about 30 minutes across a lakebed and through some technical course... nothing seems to bring it back to life like being chased by a helicopter.
Not gonna lie; I didn't think we had a chance of finishing in time. All the checkpoints were empty and what we understood as our cutoff time kept changing according to the rumors. Eric Clay is a saint, he had to have been tired of me and having to get out of the car. I give a lot of credit to that man. He was right there the entire way through the thick and the thin while never missing a beat and working his ass off. Always ready to get the truck out of any hairy situation. At 11:30 am, we made it all the way to the planned driver change at RM465 where Paige was refreshed and ready to rock out the next 245 miles before handing it back to me at RM710. Originally I was to get back in at San Felipe, tho after being in the car for 14 hours straight, we figured it better that Paige and Blair take it a few extra miles to let my body rest a bit more.
I was able to take a short nap in the chase truck up the coast, tho it didn't do much as I was still in race mode. The girls did really well and made great time, even quickly changing a flat tire before jumping out in Trinidad near RM700. Eric and I took over at that point and brought the car home around 9:10 pm. Those last few highway miles were brutally boring and plagued with speed restrictions. I was so tired, couldn't stop yawning, and my legs were j-e-l-l-o.
After all was said and done and penalties were added, we finished with little over seven minutes to spare. Seven minutes and twenty one seconds and we would have DNF'd!! It is crazy to think that after 32:52:37 hours of racing, it came down to seven lucky minutes. We placed second thanks to our amazing team. They proved that anything can go wrong and never-give-up attitudes will carry us through to the finish line... which is a feat in istself. We couldn’t have done that without all of you.
Baja tested us in ways we couldn’t have even imagined. I absolutely love that. It’s one event I will do time and time again (well, ask me again in a month ;). For me personally, this race throws me in with the wolves and allows me figure out what I am capable of... so far, I draw no lines.
Thanks to everyone who made it awesome. See you again next year Baja…