Race Day starts early for the Baja 1000 in Ensenada, we are on the balcony of the Hotel Mission Santa Isabel as the first bike runs down the wash to start the race at 6:30 a.m, just a block from the hotel, we can see it loud and clear. Big goes for coffee while I jump in the shower, we are headed out to Ojos Negro to watch the race go by.
We fill the Grand Cherokee at the Pemex station and pick up Birria (goat) tacos on the street just before the junk yard and the mountain road leading out of town. Ojos Negros is only about 30 kilometers out from Ensenada, we are expecting the Trophy Trucks to begin at 11:17.30, exactly four hours after the last bike/ATV leaves the start.
Ojos Negro is a large crossroads, the locals have set up a taco stand, a churro stand and port-a-potties. There are people lining the race course on both sides and lots of pit crews like us. We are listening to Weatherman on the Race Radio so we can hear the race, Weatherman will be our only constant companion for the next 24 hours. The race begins again at 11:17.30 and is stopped six minutes later. A semi truck has jackknifed at race mile 5 and is blocking the race course completely. Everything comes to a stand still until the course can be cleared.
At 12:30 the race is able to begin again, the Trophy Trucks are first, these are $100,000+ vehicles with the most professional teams and pit crews. Our friends from the #8 Norman team have been in country for three weeks pre-running the track. Over 3000 miles of pre-running to compete in a 700 mile race. The Class 1 cars are next, our team, the Class 4 #401 leaves the start at 1:40 p.m. on Friday, November 18, 2011.
We are at RM (race mile) 40 when the Trophy Trucks come through beginning at 1:16 p.m., Jesse James in the #54 is still first, Pistol Pete has moved up to 11th from his start at #16; Roger Norman has moved to 15th from 21st. The crowd cheers as we watch the #49 of Troy Herbst roll over on its side right after the intersection, he skids through a mud puddle too hot and powers in to correct it, it was just enough to roll him over. The crowd scatters as they see him coming their way, then everyone jumps up and runs over to help roll him back. The crowd cheers again when he is able to re-start.
The #401 comes through at 2:50.30 p.m. with its’ competitors 52 seconds and almost 6 minutes behind them. We pack our things and take off to shadow the car to the next stretch that runs past the highway.
Our next stop is RM 67, the #439 is 40 seconds ahead of the #401, we radio our driver to let him know, Mike doesn’t believe us, he has missed the pass in the dust. Our photographer, Josh, and Ben as Chase 6, are just up the road, they radio that the #439 is now 90 seconds ahead. Mike believes us now.
The next place we will see the car is at the Borrega Pits, this is the biggest pit area for our team, almost all of our pit crew will be here at some time or another throughout the night. This is the location of our driver changes, because the race course comes by here twice, first at RM 198.74, the second time at RM 449.80. I’ve got the laptop set up with the aircard in so we can follow the car on the IRC website www.racetheworld.com. All cars are equipped with an IRC tracking unit, it’s like watching the race live, the only hitch is that the race course itself won’t load with the aircard. I’m thrilled that we have cell service, but Telcel is not quite up to the task of downloading the course. What I can get is the positions of the race cars, ours and all of our competitors and with the help of the GPS (which does have the race course loaded) I can scroll their latitude and longitude to see what race mile we are all at.
Some time around 7:00 p.m. we notice the car is not moving, #439 is in front of us, #402 behind. We then hear from Chase 2, they are in communication with the race car and the car is stuck in the silt. Berne, Amber, and John head out to pull them out of the silt, it takes some time, but Chase 2 does an awesome job, after getting the #401 moving, they spend some time helping others out of the silt before they come back to the Borrega Pits.
The car leaves the pit at 21:52.48 after making the driver change, Mike Shaffer and Daniel Rosenberry get out, Shawn Twitchell and his son, Ian get in. #402 goes by us 18 minutes later. #439 is stopped about 10 miles away, they haven’t moved in over an hour.
Almost immediately, Race calls back with a problem, the lights are flickering and the GPS unit on the co-dawg side is flashing in and out. Our radios can hear them well, but the Race radio in the car is struggling transmitting our responses. After discussion in the pits, the conclusion is that the Master Switch has been kicked when the driver change occurred. So Hugo gets back on the radio to tell them what to do. “Turn Car Off, Flip Switch, Turn Car On” “Turn Car Off, Flip Switch, Turn Car On” over and over, looking for a copy from Race. Finally, we get a call from Race, they are stuck in the silt, Chase 6 and 7, Ben, Josh and Hugo head off to help. This gave Race the opportunity to “Turn Car Off, Flip Switch, Turn Car On” and the Master Switch problem was solved. Half an hour later, about midnight, the car is on course and everyone has returned to the pits.
The night wears on, quietly, race vehicles of all kinds continue to race by our pit, weatherman stays on the radio, everyone wanders off to nap, there is nothing we can do until Race #401 came back through the pit at RM 449.80. Throughout the night, I watch the IRC tracking, updating the crew with the Spot Tracker messages at least every hour with RM and time, occasionally giving the position of our competitors. #402 passed us as we sat in the silt the second time.
About day break, the alternator goes out on the #401, just after Zoo Road outside San Felipe, near RM 415, Chase 5, Jeremy, Brian, Doug, and Bob, have been shadowing the car since their pit at Matomie Wash, so they arrived first, they have the alternator out and are rebuilding it when Chase 7 arrives with a new alternator and are able to slide it in and get the car rolling again.
At the pit at RM 450, we change a tire, change drivers and splash fuel. Driver Daniel Aeberli and co-driver Berne Strom take over for the last 250 miles. Car #402 is ahead of us by 40 miles at this point. The pit breaks up and head up the road to catch the car at Valley T, when the race car passes Chase 3, Adam and John at RM540, Daniel has already made up 25 miles on #402. The car runs well as we all chase to the Finish Line.
When we get back to the hotel, the car is still at RM 600, we know we have about two hours, so we continue to watch and update the chase teams. By RM 660, all the chase teams have converged at the Finish Line, we don’t know where the #401 is in relation to the #402, but we know at one point they have gotton within two miles. At 2:11 p.m., the Sugar Racing team of #402 crosses the finish line in Ensenada, at 2:20 p.m. the Torchmate/Shaffer Off-Road #401 comes in to the cheers of all of their Chase teams. 25 hours and 40 minutes after the start, the Class 4 team finishes the SCORE Baja 1000. A huge accomplishment.
The first trophy truck has finished over 12 hours before, the last 1600 car finishes 12 hours later. A huge effort by all involved, I was proud to play a minor role in the running of a great race.