While I sit here and watch the Bay of LA sunrise from my race truck boasting an internally broken steering cylinder, I too am broken on the inside. There are so many people supporting this #ironwomanbaja mission, and I feel I have let them all down... myself included. I know “this is Racing” and “anything can happen in Baja”, though I was honestly feeling really good about it all. Once the green flag dropped, I was finally in my happy place... all the BS leading up to that very moment was gone and I was on my way to prove what people are capable of. Physically and mentally I was (and still am) in the the state of wanting to keep going. I wasn’t overdriving the truck, I wasn’t taking stupid chances, I simply was not getting the good Baja card.
Taking off the starting line was a fairly clean run. Our notes were good and I was settling into the groove of a truck I had only a couple hours of seat time in. The speed limiter decided to not work, so I probably had 36 penalties in the first 20 miles, even if it was 1 mph over the limit. Not one car passed us until we went wide on turn that was tighter than we marked. This was the first of many occurrences where I learned how heavy the truck really is and how that all works with 2WD. Within 2 minutes the locals had a side by side hooked up and we were off.
The first hit literally came out of nowhere. Blew the right front and sent us into the barbwire fence in a soft sand area. Locals helped us out by chopping down their fence and towing us out. Erica Sacks, navigator #1, changed the 40” BFG tire all by her little self. We left the Raceline wheel to those guys, which made their day, and we were on our way.
Our second stop was in a super dusty area, and we simply got stuck in the soft stuff. While trying to get out, the truck was hit from behind at least five times and sideswiped once. Avoiding the potential race traffic death took three times the amount of time it normally would have taken to just get out.
When we finally made it to BFG pit 1, we were dealing with a fuel fill issue we discovered when filling up at the starting line. Dump cans were supposed to be efficient, instead, fuel was not dumping and became a slow and frustrating ordeal. We were then dealing with massive communication issues between our helmets. Everything was cutting out or too quiet to hear, so hearing Erica’s call outs were next to impossible to make out. On top of that, our radio comms to our chase teams and our Nav stopped working.
Zoo Road and the giant whoops in San Felipe were the funnest I have ever experienced thanks to the Geiser TT. Those Fox shocks were soaking up the nasty whoops and the 850+ hp Dougans engine was owning it. It was literally one of the coolest things I had ever driven... to really feel the shocks working at their max right behind my head… unforgettable.
The third stuck was totally my fault mixed with all the issues we were dealing with. I took a left bypass and it ended up being way softer than it was in the pre-run... my “throttle out” was a throttle “in and deeper” and we ended up diff deep in it. This is where I was officially wishing I had 4WD or a WARN winch and I would have easily been able to drive out of it... but instead 2WD became my enemy. The chains to lift the axle with the chassis when the jacks were up were not in truck. So after well over an hour of McGyvering tow straps, digging, crappy plastic tracks, stacking rocks, ridding of weight, lowering tire pressure, and asking one race car to give a tug; I ended up driving out of it on my own. Poor Erica was over it.. and I get it.
By this time we were in no major hurry and stopped with Chase 1 on the highway just before BFG pit 2 to fix the fuel filling issue so we didn’t have to mess with it all the way down the peninsula. We fixed Erica’s seat belts and grabbed a new SAT phone as I had lost mine in the last rush. The truck started loosing battery power as we were motoring through the long nasty sand wash where it looked like a land mine of stuck race cars. Thankfully we made it out without any issues other than the charging issue.
At race mile 357, 30 miles from the 1st navigator swap, 5 miles from the highway, I hit a cactus trying to keep the voltage up. It wasn’t that bad in all actuality, no flat tire, but it was bad enough to lose steering. I had no left… most of the time… the wheel felt super choppy and was locking up more than it was working. Chase 2 made it to us as I simply did not have the tools and parts to make the fixes necessary. While I shut my eyes for about a 1/2 hour, the guys changed the steering servo I had prepped, replaced an alternator, and determined we couldn’t fix the truck there. I limped it to the highway with Robbie Hartman, my 2nd navigator, as an extra set of hands to try and make the steering wheel turn. It was the hardest 6 miles I ever drove. My arms are still sore and the blisters on my hands prove that I was working it as hard as I could.
From 4:45 AM to 5:30 PM, we did everything we could to rebuild the steering rack, find a replacement, and get the truck back on the course. Martin Castro and Theresa Contreras, my last 2 navigators, had made it up to us and really rallied to get a couple barrels of fuel since we knew the pits were closing soon. I even chased the Long Beach Racers down to secure a rack off their truck that burnt down. The break ended up being the piston snapping off the shaft, which was then sliding back and forth not allowing the fluid to push through. Without a welder or a spare set up, we had to call it.
Those 12 hours were more difficult than the race itself. More emotional than anything. I did not want to admit defeat. Especially for something so small, and replaceable if we had the part. All in all, I believe we gave it our all. My team worked their asses off, BFGoodrich knew we were trying and stayed open until we called defeat, Jesse Jones would have followed me into La Paz, everybody was rooting for us to make it to the finish line. For those who were not supportive and waiting for us to fail, at least I tried. At least I pulled it together and made it happen. There were 100 other cars that didn’t make it as far as we did. This is a gnarly race and it got the best of us this year. Thankfully I can rest in the fact that I have conquered it before and I will do it again.
Many thanks to…. Lincoln Electric, BFGoodrich, Prestone, WARN Ind, Torco, FOX, sPod, Industrial Metal Supply, Savvy Offroad, the crew from Area BFE, TubeShark, Sunoco Race Fuels, Geiser Bros, RealDeal, Kind Snacks and Macs’s Tie Downs. Of course I cannot forget my friends who helped fuel this mission by purchasing a spot on the truck and some iron[wo]man swag: Sean Rodriguez, Marty Rodriguez, Jason Jones, Todd Hainsworth, Catherine Dumolt, Troy Sakota, Tim Martin, Suzanne Shirley, Magnus Walker, Steven Elmes, Bob Bolieu, Lawnie Bishop, Frank McKinnis KXNM 88.7, Mark Shaw, Carl Martner, George Tsingos, Carlos Flores, Jennifer Gaskin, Karlee Cobb, Les Holm, Jim Dwyer, Sofi Tsingos, Machine Girl, Todd Gold, Richard Morton, Shannon Litz, Justin Daroczi Devion, and my parents Chuck and Nina Darrington. I am forever grateful for your love and support. Robbie, Martin, Theresa, I am so sorry you weren't able to experience this race from the right seat... next time... I promise... thank you for all the miles and smiles.