The 39th Tecate SCORE Baja 1000
Stories by Lance Clifford, Mike Shaffer, Jeff Mello, and Ron Stobaugh
[Click here to see the Baja 1000 Photo Gallery]
It's been a couple weeks since we returned from Baja, Mexico, for the 39th Tecate SCORE Baja 1000. I'm finally back to normal and can type for more than 2 minutes without getting distracted with random thoughts of our adventure. This article isn't going discuss the big dogs of Baja. Every other magazine and TV show will do that. You'll see Gordon, Post, McMillin, Pflueger, etc on TV and every desert video and magazine that comes out over the next year. We're going to talk about a few of the little guys in this monstrous race. There are so many little stories to tell, I'd simply run out of cyberspace if I were to tell them all. So here's my watered down account of what happened, along with a few accounts by others. I hope you enjoy them.
Lance Clifford's Story -
The race started for us a few weeks before the actual race; when we got this hair brained idea to enter the biggest race of them all. Since we had planned on running the 2007 Jeepspeed series in our newly acquired Jeep, what better way to get our feet wet than to team up with Mike Shaffer and run in the Baja 1000, right? So the race was awn....
Somehow I decided to take the reigns of planning this overwhelming undertaking. The first thing I had to do was study everything there was to learn about the Baja 1000. I didn't know much; I had never even been to a Baja 1000 race before. Hell, I had only been to Baja once before, when I drove my car all the way to Cabo San Lucas for a rock crawling competition. It was a great experience, but it was the only Baja experience I had. My other shortcoming was the fact that I had never chased, pitted, or driven a desert racer before. What the hell was I getting myself into?
Once I did some research on Baja and got myself familiar with how things work, it was time to figure out who would be on our team. Not only did we want quality drivers on our team, but each driver had to also be able to cover a portion of the massive cost of covering this race. My plan was to have all rock crawlers on our team. Of course Mike Shaffer was on the team, since he owned the Jeepspeed we would be battering for 1047 miles. Camo, the other half of Pirate4x4 expressed interest in wanting to drive as well. There was one minor problem with Camo driving - he has broken his neck twice in the past - once desert racing, and once pre running his rock crawler. Since he is my roommate, I had my doubts that he would be up to the task since I've seen him in serious pain doing things much milder than being in a race Jeep for a couple hundred miles. He insisted that he could do it, and if he couldn't, I could drive his leg and he would still pay. Camo was in. We now had three drivers, and had to decide if we wanted to keep it at 3, or go with 4. The decision was made to go with 4, for a couple reasons. First, it would allow us to have fresh drivers for the entire race. Second, it would lighten the load on our wallets to have a 4th driver. We thought about who would be a good fit for the 4th position for a couple of days. Names were thrown around, and then we decided on who we would call. Stock Modified champ Jody Everding was our man. Camo and I called him, and asked him if was interested. Without hesitation, he said he was in. I tell ya, I've been waiting for a call like that for 34 years, and I never got it!
Now that we had our drivers, it was time to choose our co-drivers. Once again we wanted rock crawlers who were experienced drivers and mechanics, should we have trouble in the field. Shaffer chose one of his best employees at his fab shop to co-drive with him. I couldn't think of the right person to be my co-driver. Then Bruce @ Roundeyes.com thought of the perfect person, and put him in touch with me. My long time friend and wheelin' buddy Mike Lyster would be my co-driver. It had been a life-long dream of his to race in the Baja 1000, and now he would live it in the passenger seat with me. Camo and I spent some time brain storming who would be a good co-driver for him. After a little thought, a phone call was placed to Bob Roggy, owner of C&R Motorsports and spotter for Stock Modified Champion Dan Patterson. He has been going down to Baja to pit and chase the 1000 for years. The last co-driver seat we needed to fill was for Jody Everding. A few phone calls to a few people turned up about 3 "I can't get the time off work, blah blah blah" answers. People, this is the Baja 1000 for God's sake, how often do you get asked to RACE in the BAJA 1000? Quit your job, if you have to!!! Just kidding... Then the answer to our 4th co-driver practically fell into my lap. An email popped up on my laptop from Jeff Mello telling me that he heard that we were going to race, and good luck. Jeff was PERFECT for the position. A champion rock crawler, pro arena racer, and Jeep EXPERT, he was the absolute perfect addition to the team. I emailed him back with a simple reply - "Thanks, wanna co-drive with Jody?" I think the phone rang about 30 seconds later with an enthusiastic Jeff on the other end telling me he was IN.
Once we had our team, it was time to move on to the logistical nightmare of planning the race. Planning chase vehicles, getting hotel rooms, renting satellite phones, signing up for GPS services for the race truck, getting GPS units for the chase trucks, getting helmets, driving suits, kidney belts, catheters (It's a 1000 mile race, after all) fuel, pits, passports, tourist cards, etc were some of the things that this rookie team needed to have taken care of before we would even cross the border. After many late nights, conference calls, and emails with team members and others with experience racing the B1k, we ended up with a pretty rock solid race plan. At least I thought so. It was time to race...
The two contenders.
We got a few good days of partying before race day. It all started in San Diego at Jody's house and eventually moved south of the border to Ensenada. There are some good stories here consisting of painted toe nails, paintball guns, fire crackers, sea weed, and kiddie pools. Ask us at a campfire sometime and I'm sure you'll get an earful.
It was finally sinking in. We were actually in a foreign country, ready to race in the biggest race of our lives. We got up early Wednesday morning and headed to contingency in downtown Ensenada where we would get our race Jeep tech inspected, our rally logger installed, and take care of any other loose ends. Words cannot describe contingency. Hundreds of race vehicles in all different flavors in a line miles long. From Robby Gordon's trophy truck to Eric Solorzano's Class 11 stock VW bug, everything was in line in random order waiting to get tech inspected. Did I mention the thousands of locals, the blaring Latin music, and the Coca Cola girls?
Contingency was rather chaotic...
After a long morning of hanging out at contingency and handing out "steekers", it was off to our pre-determined pits. Let me back up a bit, and explain what "steekers" are. In America, you would know them as simple "stickers". You know, like the cool Pirate4x4.com stickers you can get for free, if you're a red star member. Well in Baja, "steekers" are like gold. It is difficult to explain how we were practically mobbed at times for something as simple as a sticker. Well it was a good thing that we brought a couple of thousand stickers with us, as it was a lot of fun handing them out to kids all along the entire length of the peninsula.
Camo getting mobbed by kids wanting "Steekers"
We packed up the trucks, said adios to the part of our team who would stay in Ensenada (Shaffer, his co-driver Kyle, and two chase trucks) and headed South. While our convoy motored down the highway, we watched as the road slowly went from a 4 lane highway to a 2 lane road that was so narrow, there was literally about 1 inch to spare on each side of the trailer Camo was towing. Did I mention there were NO shoulders? Let's just say that when a crazy Mexican truck driver came barreling around a corner in the other direction and was a foot in your lane, it made for some excitement. To combat this very scary phenomenon, we sent a "scout" truck about a mile ahead of our convoy to radio back any oncoming semis, or other road hazards. This helped remove the element of surprise, but didn't eliminate the excitement completely, that's for sure. Other than crazy truck drivers and the occasional accident, there wasn't much action. We made it to Catavina and had dinner at this little funky hole in the wall pink hotel. Some of us questioned what kind of meat we were eating, but they turned out to be pretty decent tacos. The Coco's corner team and the Bay of LA team decided to stay the night at the funky pink hotel, and the San Ignacio team elected to continue on to San Ignacio. Our group was slowly shrinking and spreading out over the Baja Peninsula.
Thursday morning we woke up after a surprisingly good night sleep in the funky pink hotel (concrete floors, sheets for doors and questionable plumbing) and had breakfast. The Bay of LA team would break off and head to their destination (Bahia de Los Angeles) and the Coco's Corner team would head to Coco's Corner. We parted ways with the Bay of LA team and headed down the long bumpy dirt road to Coco's Corner. We were finally off the highway, and headed into the unknown. I was really getting excited. When we pulled into Coco's Corner, and were greeted by Coco himself and none other than Randy Ellis. Coco served us some ice cold cervezas (breakfast of champions) and we kicked back and relaxed. Since Mike wasn't even starting till 1:00PM, we figured he would be arriving at Coco's around 10:00PM or so. It was going to be a looooong day of anxiously waiting for Shaffer to arrive.
It didn't take long before we saw a helicopter come over the mountain. This could only mean one thing; the Honda 1x motorcycle was headed toward us. Sure enough, as the helicopter got closer, we could see a motorcycle heading toward us at an unbelievable speed. It was indeed the Honda 1x motorcycle. The superhuman riders of the 1x bike were Steve Hengeveld, Mike Childress, and Quinn Cody. We would not see another motorcycle for over an hour. Soon after the trophy trucks were upon us. One after another, these awesome 700+hp machines flew by us at warp speed giving us goose bumps and getting us pumped up for our leg of the race. As dusk fell over the desert, vehicle after vehicle raced by us. We were getting impatient and decided to give my dad a call. We had installed an IriTrak GPS logging device in our race Jeep before the race. This cool unit keeps tract of the the vehicle's location and speed, and broadcasts it onto a map of the race course on the Internet. Anyone with Internet access could then watch the progress of our race Jeep as it made its way down the peninsula. We asked my dad if he had been monitoring the rigs progress, and he gave us a full report on where our rig was, along with the Fatcity Jeepspeed. It looked like they were both running neck and neck with each other for quite a while, but the Fatcity Jeep was slowly falling behind. We would later find that the Fatcity Jeep had blown it's front shocks in the rough whoops, and needed replacements. We were finally able to make radio contact with our chase team in San Felipe, and find out what was going on. The Jeep was having some running issues, and would cut out above 3,000 RPM. Our San Felipe chase crew AJ, John, and Alyssia worked frantically to get the rig running right, but all attempts were futile. We would end up running the entire race under 3,000 RPM. We got word from AJ and John that Mike was on his way, and should be there shortly. Team 1702 Fatcity contacted us on the radio and asked if we had an extra shock or two we could loan them since they were limping along on two blown front shocks. We dug up our spare shock, and gave it to Ron Stobaugh who was also at Coco's waiting for 1702 to show up.
Around 9:30PM the radio crackled with Mike's voice. "1701 Race 1 to Chase 1... Do you have a copy? I'm about 30 minutes out. Get ready to get 'er done, mother f$@#ers!!! "
Lyster and I jumped up and got suited up. We were PUMPED. It was finally here, we were about to drive in the Baja 1000. I knew Mike would get that Jeep to me. Now it was going to be up to me to bring the Jeep to Jody. I was ready. We made a big sign to set on the side of the race course to show Shaffer were our pit was. Once we saw the HID lights of the Jeep grow near, our pit came alive. Randy Ellis had been adopted into our pit crew, and was standing at the ready with tools in hand to look over the Jeep. Bob Roggy was in charge of this pit stop, and would also go over the Jeep while we did our driver change. As Mike roared near, we flashed him into our pit area, and he came to a stop in front of our chase rigs. We unbuckled him and Kyle, and they jumped out. "HELL YEAH!!!! I told you I'd bring it to you!" Mike exclaimed. We high fived and I jumped in the driver's seat, and began buckling myself in while our crew went to work on the Jeep. Randy quickly found an issue with the O2 sensor, and began repairing it. Maybe that was the cause of our poor running engine? It turns out it was not, and we too would be plagued with a poor running motor. After a quick rundown from Mike on how to baby the motor to keep it running, we were off into the pitch black unknown desert that is Baja. It was an incredible and exhilarating feeling.
It didn't take long for Lyster and I to find our groove. We were cruising at a decent pace, winding along a fairly rough trail at about 45 mph. After a while the course winded down into a wash. We were clipping along at a brisk pace through the wash when we came across a large mud bog. It looked like a race car grave yard; there were trophy trucks, class 1 cars, and everything other type of vehicle stuck everywhere. I popped the Jeep into 4 wheel drive, and hammered down. It was like driving through a maze of cars, trying to find my way through without hitting anyone, and trying not to get stuck. Mud was flying, and we quickly became covered in a thick layer of mud. I had to get maximum power, but it was very difficult due to the fact that the motor would cut out above 3,000 RPM. After what seemed to be the longest mud bog in history, we made it through in one piece and without getting stuck. Lyster and I high-fived, and put the rig back into 2 wheel drive. Off we went. After about 10 minutes of rallying through the wash, we came up quick on another mud bog. We came into it so fast, I didn't have a chance to slip the Jeep into 4 wheel drive in time. I popped it into 4wd once we were in the mud hole, but it was too late. We were hopelessly stuck. After some cussing, we both jumped out and assessed the situation. Thank God we had a shovel on board because we sure needed it. We took turns with the shovel, one would dig with the shovel while the other would scoop the silty mud by hand. We were only 20 minutes or so into our leg of the race, and we were already stuck. I felt like I was letting the team down. We had to do whatever it took to get that Jeep out of that mud hole. I dug so hard with my hands that they began to bleed at every knuckle. After about what seemed like an eternity of digging, we were both completely soaked and covered in mud from head to toe. I hopped in the Jeep, and Lyster pushed. I put it in low range, and hammered down. We popped right out of that hole from hell which would surely swallow more race cars throughout the frigid night. We were very relieved to be back in the race. We were freezing cold and wet, but our spirits were high once again.
After we exited the wash from hell, we encountered some massive whoops. These whoops were like small mountains. It's hard to imagine being able to glide over whoops the size of Volkswagens in a trophy truck. Needless to say our little Cherokee would not glide over them, so we had to take our time. Up, down. Up, down... The whoops went from hard packed dirt to super soft sand. I popped her back into 4x4, as we went by a stuck motorcycle. Eventually we made it to the Bay of LA highway where we had 30 miles or so of pavement driving to our first fuel stop at the BFG pit at the Bay of LA. Gary and Rachel in chase vehicle #6 would meet us here to make sure everything was ok.
We pulled into the BFG pit and I asked the crew cheif if they had a pair of dry gloves they could spare, since we were still both soaked from head to toe. Gary hooked me up with a set of dry gloves and what a difference it made. After a quick visual and gas fill we were once again off into the night. The next section of the race course was very fast, and we were able to go flat out. Unfortunately with the motor problems we were having, we were only able to run about 75MPH full speed. We probably didn't need to go much faster than that anyhow. We were making awesome time and were cruising so fast that we were ahead of our chase vehicles. The rest of our leg went very smooth until we were about 10 miles from the highway to San Ignacio. There were tons of Mexicans camping in the desert. This could only mean one thing; booby traps! The locals would set up camp, and create some sort of booby trap for the racers; some would build a jump, some would dig a hole. The jumps were halfway easy to see from a distance, but the holes were much tougher to see. We learned to slow down whenever we saw a campfire next to the race course. This method seemed to be very effective.
About 1/2 mile from our rendezvous with the chase team, Lyster and I thought we were pretty much done with our leg of the race. How wrong we were! As we came over a blind hill, there was a lone Mexican sitting on a lawn chair. I didn't notice any boobie traps, so I didn't slow down. Well there was no man made booby trap, but a natural one in the form of a silt bed. Since we were in 2 wheel drive and low on power, we promptly got stuck in the bottomless baby powder. Lyster and I looked at each other and laughed and tossed out a few choice words. Time to dig again. The lone Mexican walked over and handed us a second shovel, and started advising us on how to get out of the silt bed. We went to work digging out the axles and after about 20 minutes of digging, we were able to get out. Lyster gave the Mexican $5.00 for shovel rental and we were on our way. A few more booby traps and we were on pavement were we rendezvoused with our chase team. It was now about 5:00am and it was extremely foggy. I really wanted to drive more but I happily handed over the wheel because the fog became so thick it would fog up our helmet visors instantly, causing zero visibility. Lyster and I got out and we instructed the pit crew to take a look under the front end since it was making some pretty good clunking sounds. Coincidentally, rock crawling king Tracy Jordan was getting strapped into his Baja Challenge car while Jody and Jeff were getting strapped into our Jeepspeed for the next leg. Unfortunately for Tracy, he wouldn't have as much success as team Pirate. More on this later. Once the race rig was fueled up and deemed ready to race, Jody and Jeff tore off into the foggy desert. They would drive 20 miles on the highway before heading into the rock strewn mountain roads towards the town of Loreto on the sea of Cortez.
Rock crawling champions Jody Everding, Tracy Jordan, and Jeff Mello await their race vehicles at the BFG pit at race mile 517.
Lyster and I changed out of our soggy mud encrusted driving suits and into something a little more comfortable. I carefully peeled my catheter off (did I mention I duct taped it on?) and we were off on what would be a very fun and intense chase. We had a dedicated chase crew camped out just south of San Juanico in case Jody and Jeff had any major issues. It was rather nerve wracking wondering how they were doing as they were in a very isolated area until they got to San Juanico. It would be very difficult to get access to them without driving on the race course. Since we had very limited radio communication with the race Jeep because of mountain ranges, we kept tabs on them by monitoring their position and speed via Internet.
Here's what you could see most of the time - nothing.
Jody and Jeff had the toughest leg of the race, no doubt about it. They encountered very rough rocky roads and many water crossings. One of the water crossings got the best of our transmission shifter and caused them to lose second and fourth gear. They limped along for about 100 miles before the shifter dried itself out. Our chase crews raced down to rendezvous with Jody and Jeff at race mile 724. With a call into race headquarters (my dad's house) to find out their position, we knew they were making pretty good time, and were on schedule. Since our chase rigs were a little ahead of schedule, we decided to make a pit stop on the beach at Buena Ventura to take a dip and have a few tacos. We almost felt guilty soaking up a little sun and cervezas while our team was getting battered on the race course. Note that I said we almost felt guilty!
After our awesome "pit stop" at Buena Ventura, we raced down the highway to meet Jody and Jeff at race mile 724. As we pulled up to our rendezvous point, we heard Jeff calling out for us on the radio. We made it just in time. They pulled into our makeshift pit, and they looked absolutely beat.
"Water, we need some cold fu#%ing water!" Said Jeff.
We got some cold waters out of the ice chest, douched their heads down, and gave them some electrolyte pills. Jody said that the motor was clunking around a little. It was discovered that both motor mounts were completely cracked around the frame rails. It was decided that they would have to limp the Jeep another 70 miles to Loreto were we could weld it back up at the BFG pit. After a cold water and a granola bar, Jody and Jeff were off. We crossed our fingers and headed south to Loreto, hoping that the motor would stay put in the Jeep until then.
It was a relatively smooth drive down to Loreto. We arrived there in about an hour, but we knew it would take the race Jeep a lot longer to get there. The stretch from race mile 724 to Loreto is one of the most brutal parts of the race. The mountainous region has lots of twisty, rocky terrain to really put Jody, Jeff, and the Jeep to the test. Since the Jeep had two cracked motor mounts, it was a little nerve wracking waiting for them to show up. We called my dad for a status report a couple of times to check their progress. They were going slow. At times they were only traveling 5mph. As long as they were moving, it was all good! Eventually they rolled into the pit, and we had them pull into the welding station so Shaffer could weld up the massive cracks in the frame where the motor mounts were ripping off. We fed Jody and Jeff some more cold water and checked over the rig while Shaffer finished up the weld job on the mounts. After about 15 minutes, they were good to go again. Their next stop would be race mile 855 where they would hand over the Jeep to Camo and Bob Roggy.
Once again the chase crews loaded up, and headed south. It was starting to sink in; we had a damn good chance of finishing this race. I didn't want to get too excited yet, but I couldn't quit thinking about it. Every time I said something about finishing, everyone would tell me to shut up, and quit getting ahead of myself. As the sun went down, we arrived at our final driver change location. We hung out, and waited. And waited. And waited. The suspense was absolutely agonizing. I felt in my gut that if Jody and Jeff could just make it to us, and the Jeep was in halfway decent shape, that we were going to finish this race. While we waited for Jody and Jeff to arrive, I had to change a tire on Jody's Dodge Ram. Let me explain. While I was driving Jody's KORE equipped chase truck just south of Loreto, I was passing a semi truck when I came across a man-hole sized pot hole that was about 2 feet deep. Since I was doing about 70mph and beside a semi, the only thing I could do was hammer down and hope the truck would soak it up. Well the truck made a very loud sound, but the hit was amazingly smooth thanks to the massive Fox shocks. I told Jody's wife Sarah "man, I hope I didn't bend a rim" and guess what? I didn't bend one rim. I bent two. The front driver's side rim was slightly bent, but was salvageable. The rear rim on the other hand, was bent badly, and wouldn't hold air.
Waiting for Jody and Jeff seemed to last an eternity. I am not even really sure how long we were there since I was getting a little delirious from lack of sleep. By this time I believe I was on about 48 hours of being up without sleep. Finally, the radio cackled with the voice of Jeff saying they were at race mile 850, and were looking good with no problems. Suddenly you could feel the indescribable energy instantly shoot through all of our veins. The crew came alive, and Bob and Camo were suited up, and ready to rock. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand, as the glow of the HIDs loomed over the desert.
"Where the hell are you guys at?" Jeff said over the radio, in a hoarse, throaty voice.
"We're just to the left, before the road crossing!"
"Ok, we see you."
It's hard to express how you feel after getting out of a race vehicle after a few hundred miles. Sometimes pictures say a 1000 words.
Here's Jeff Mello after running 350 miles of the roughest section of the race.
Lyster guided them into the pit, and our crew went to work like a veteran NASCAR team. It was awesome. At this point, I KNEW we were bringing it to La Paz one way or another. Short of something cataclysmic, we had plenty of time left in the race to fix any minor to major problems. Hell I'd carry that damn Jeep on my back across the finish line if I had to. We begged Camo and Roggy be mello and take it easy. Yeah right, we knew that Camo would drive it like Robby Gordon, no matter what. We had 5 chase rigs with us at this point so we decided not to take any chances. Each chase vehicle would leap frog along the race course, monitoring Camo and Bob's progress, to make sure there were no problems. Other than getting stuck in a silt bed and a small (ok, mabye it wasn't so small) fire behind the passenger seat at race mile 1000, they didn't have any issues.
Lyster, Mello and I were in the lead chase vehicle, and we were the first ones to see the lights of La Paz. We followed the GPS to the finish line, and parked the truck and trailer. The radio cracked with the progress of the rest of the chase crews, and reports of Camo and Bob's progress. Camo and Bob were about 75 miles from the finish line, so we decided to get all of the chase vehicles to the finish line to welcome their arrival. As the all the chase teams rolled in, the excitement grew. It was about 1:30AM, and none of us had slept in about 55 hours or so. But it didn't matter, we were just about to finish the Baja 1000. Then we heard Bob over the radio -
"1701 Race 1 to Chase.... We're almost there! Get your fu#$ing cameras ready, bit%#es!!!"
Camo and Bob being greeted at the finish line by Sal Fish.
We really did make it!
And then I could see the distinctive HID lights of the 1701 Jeepspeed blazing down the highway. They turned, and crisscrossed through the concrete barriers, and across the finish line. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, as I clicked pictures of their arrival. Sal Fish ran up to the Jeep, and congratulated Camo and Bob. The feeling was surreal. It was the biggest accomplishment of my life. My rock crawling brothers and I had done what everyone said we couldn't do. I don't think I was alone when I say I was overwhelmed with so many emotions. After taking about a hundred pictures, it was time to celebrate. Never mind the fact that none of us had slept in days. Never mind the fact that we didn't even have a hotel room. The cervezas began to flow, and we partied the rest of the night away. I got a phone call from my dad around 2:30am congratulating us for finishing. Man, what an awesome feeling...
Who needs hotels?
At about 6:00am the 3 day long adrenaline high began to wear off, and the lack of sleep began to take it's toll. It was time to crash. Since we didn't have any rooms to sleep in, we did the next best thing. We pulled out our sleeping bags, and passed out instantly on the beach...
There were tons of people at the awards ceremony!
Team Pirate collecting their first place plaques.
After a few hours of sleep, it was time to try and find a hotel. We found a decent hotel for about 50 bucks a night right on the main drag in La Paz. We checked in to our rooms and took some very needed showers. Once we were all cleaned up, we headed over to the closest cantina for some cervezas before the awards ceremony started. After a couple of cold beers, we headed over to the awards ceremony. The awards ceremony was just as impressive as contingency. There were thousands of spectators, live music, dancers, a skydiving show, the governor of Baja Sur, Sal Fish, and all the racers. When they called our names to come up and pick up our first place trophies, I felt like I did the first time I won a rock crawling competition. It was awesome.
After the awards ceremony it was time to take a nap and prepare for some serious partying. I tried calling Ron Stobaugh from Alloy USA and Precision Gear, but he didn't answer. Ron and I made a beer bet on Pirate4x4 before the race; The bet was between team Pirate and team Facity. The loser had to buy the beer for the winning team in La Paz. Here's a link to all the trash talk that was on the Pirate Bulletin Board before the race. Team Fat City encountered some shock issues early in the race which set them back considerably. We loaned them one of our spare shocks at Coco's Corner so that they could continue the race. They were able to replace the shock and continue on. That is until they were somewhere near race mile 789. At this point they come across fellow rock crawler Tracy Jordan and freestyle motocross star Kenny Bartram on the side of the road. It turns out that Tracy and Kenny were involved in a major accident, and rolled their Baja Challenge car off a 300 foot cliff. Tracy was pretty banged up and needed some medical attention. The Fatcity team decided to call the race quits and stay with Tracy and Kenny till help arrived (which wouldn't be for another 4 or 5 hours.) While Tracy and Kenny were banged up pretty badly, they would be ok. Unfortunately for team Fatcity, they would have to wait until next year to conquer the Baja 1000. Would they have been able to finish if they hadn't come across Tracy and Kenny? Ron speculates that it would have been close, but it was possible.
Team Fatcity replacing a failed shock.
Considering they called it quits some 300 miles north of the finish line, we didn't expect to see team Fat City in La Paz. We figured they would load up their trailers, and head home early. That's when I got the knock on the door of my hotel room. It was Jeff Mello.
"Dude, Ron and the Fatcity team are downstairs, and they are ready to get 'er done!"
Ron Stobaugh from Alloy USA/Precision Gear made good on the beer bet made on the Pirate Board.
It turns out that not only was Ron and the Fatcity team heroes in my book for rescuing Tracy and Kenny, but they were also crazy enough to drive 5 hours south from their luxury condo in Loreto to make good on a beer bet made on the Pirate Bulletin Board. Out came Ron's American Express, and we all got our drink on (even Tracy and Kenny made an appearance at the bar) till the wee hours of the morning.
Well that's the end of my tale. My first Baja 1000 experience was an incredible one. I still think about all the little things each day. I can't wait to go back and challenge the unforgiving terrain once again with my Pirate brothers.
Here is a short story through my eyes of our trip down to the Baja 1000. While I feel like most people won't understand how intense and how many stories we have while we are down there, I will try to explain how it went down. Monday we arrived at our hotel just north of Ensenada. As the next few days go by, more and more of our chase vehicles and drivers start to arrive. Wednesday rolls around and we take the rig to tech, and it checks out with no problems. After tech all of our chase teams with the exception of AJ and John Hall head South to where they will camp until the race vehicle arrives.
Wednesday night at 7PM we get to the drivers meeting. I was completely amazed at how many racers there were. It was unbelievable to see a room full of hundreds of drivers and co-drivers. As the room filled up, Sal Fish began the driver's meeting. A few minutes later a driver sits down on the steps at the front of me at my feet. I notice that the driver in none other than Robby Gordon. That is when it really starts to hit me, this is the real deal, were really here to race the Baja 1000. After the drivers meeting we take off and head up town with some friends that are racing in the sportsman's buggy class.
The next morning at noon we start staging the Jeep, we contact the chase team that will be following us which is AJ and John hall, we then find out where they’re set up at. 1:00PM rolls around and we are about 2 cars back from the start. We pull up on the starting line, and we get the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…GO!!! And the race begins... We drop into the first wash and I keep reminding myself to “take it easy, slow down I still have to get the rig to Lance.” About 10 miles into the race a Jeepspeed blows by us completely out of control (in my opinion) and is doing at least twice our speed. Shortly after the Jeepspeed passes, we get passed by two sportsman trucks. About another 10-15 miles down the road the Fatcity Jeep catches up to me. While he is not pushing hard, I decide to let him pass by and follow in his dust for a while. After about 20 miles or so into the race, the Jeep starts to have running issues; the same issues we have been fighting all year.
Shortly after the motor begins running like crap, we hit the first silt bed. We pull into the silt bed and there are two Class 5 Bugs stuck right in front of me, and a Class 1 car stuck off to my left. I give one of the Class 5 bugs a push and he gets going and picks a left line out through the bushes and motors on. At this time the first Jeepspeed that passed us, comes up on our right. I guess we must have passed him after he first passed us, I don't know. As he goes by, he's sliding onto the Class 5 bug right in front of me, since he is on a pretty bad side hill. About this time I get a call on the radio from the Fatcity guys, telling us they are stuck about 2 cars in front of us in the silt bed. Apparently as the Jeepspeed that passed us drove by the Fatcity guys on the right side, and they rolled over. I get behind Eric from Fatcity to give him a push, while he is getting a tug from the front. After he gets out they pull off to the right and we drive by, but we wait a little further up the road at a steep silty hill to make sure the Fatcity guys make it up okay since there are only 2wd. They get up the hill okay so we motor on. Fatcity radios to us shortly after that they are having some running issues, so we stop at the next road crossing where John Hall and AJ are waiting to work on our vehicles to try out find the running issues. We checked to make sure that our pickup in the fuel cell didn’t make it to the top of the foam, and we checked to see if our filter was clogged with foam. After AJ and John Hall finish getting our Jeep together they head on over to the Fatcity guys and find that their filter is clogged with fuel cell foam. We motor on while our chase team stays and unclogs Fatcity's fuel filter, and removed all the fuel cell foam. They radio to us and let us know that they fixed Fatcity's running problems. AJ and John radio us to let us know that they wanted to redezvous and pull out our fuel cell foam, and blow out our fuel lines in case any foam was in there. So we did just that. Unfortunately it didn't fix the problem, so we just dealt with the sputtering problem...
After that everything else went pretty much flawlessly, until we got to Coco’s corner and did our driver change. And while it would take another 3 hours to explain what else happened, the only other things we had to fix on the rig during the rest of the race was our shifter momentarily quit working on Jody, and we had 2 cracked motor mounts that had to be welded, and about 47 miles before the finish the rig caught on fire, but Bob and Camo managed to put out the fire. Other than that we didn’t have one flat tire or any major breakage issues.
If I had to pick one moment during my leg of the race that stands out in my mind, it would be running through the big whoops coming into San Felipe, just about side by side with the Fatcity guys. Oh yeah, I did clip a spectator with the drivers side mirror too! All and all it was more of an adventure than a race.
And I can say that I am very honored to have raced with the other drivers/co-drivers on our team. But most of all would like to thank the volunteer chase teams that made the race for us, and also our sponsors.
One more thing I would like to add. I can't believe I almost forgot about it. When we got to La Paz we didn't have a room, and couldn't find any rooms. We pulled in front of the hotel, and one of the guys inside our chase truck ran into the hotel to see if they had any rooms available. It was about 5:30AM at this point. While I was waiting outside a guy walked up to my window and asked if we had any room on the trailer for a Class 1 car. I told him no but if he couldn't find a trailer I told him to give me call and we will put it on our trailer and we will just drive the Jeepspeed back. I asked him if by chance he had any extra rooms, and he said "no, but you guys can have the key to my room and go get some sleep." Later on that day we ran into him again, and he gave me a key to the room informing me that it was paid for another night. The coolest thing about this was the guy that gave us his room was Malcom Smith (6 time Baja 1000 champion) and he raced the very first Baja 1000 on a motorcycle. Like I said before, everything about this trip was totally amazing.
Jeff Mello's Story
More so than just being a co-driver (passenger doesn't describe it properly anymore) for part of the race, this was an experience for me to not have to lead the team for a change, like when we go rockcrawling.
Because of that I'm in a position to comment on a few things that I was involved with just enough to see from the inside and yet not take any credit for. And give credit where it's due to the guys that can't give it to themselves.
First off the whole Pirate team kicked ass and were the coolest bunch of guys and gals to hang with for 10 days. We all clicked like a Rolex but some lead and should be recognized for it. I became good friends with some great people this trip that I wouldn't have gotten to know this well otherwise.
Mike Shaffer - Built and race prepped a truck that was for all intents and purposes flawless for this race. No parts came out of a chase truck or off the race truck to fix anything for 1047 miles, no tires, nothing. Now I believe this is Shaffer's first race rig ever built, and how cool is it that he also drove the same race Jeep on the Jeepers Jamboree on the Rubicon Trail this year? Really cool.
Lance - Did a bad ass job of orchestrating the whole thing in just two weeks. I know he delegated alot to Mike Lyster and Camo but I bet I still only know 10 % of what he had to get done. The information being sent to all us rookies was constant, and concise. It was like a crash correspondence course in racing, Mexico, GPS, chase, and everything else.
Jody F. Everding - I gotta tell you I don't like to ride. I want the wheel and didn't know how I'd handle it. But Jody did and awesome job. I'm sure the other drivers did too, but I can only comment on what I saw. Jody was the closest thing to feeling like I was sitting next to ME driving that I can imagine. He moved just like I would have myself, at the same time, picked the same lines and made the same decisions. Honestly I didn't think this was going to be the case, but it was. I never got scared, never got sick, and only had to yell at him once. Once! In 13 hours in the car, that's good. The other thing is he never showed any sings of brain fade in 13 hours; that was amazing. Good job buddy! Now if we can just tame him outside the car a little we can take him out of the tent and let the public see him without paying a quarter.
Thanks all I had a great time.
This is from Ron's perspective - sorry for the length!
Here are semi-random thoughts, observations and well-deserved thank yous from the 2006 Baja 1000. It’s been non-stop running for two weeks – but what an awesome time!
I’ll try to be as brief as possible – but please understand this is the most intense 48 hours between the race, communications, chase, and sleep deprivation and without help from many couldn’t be done. And apologies – I don’t remember or didn’t get everyone’s names or last names.
Stats: We made it to approx. mile 800 with about 10 hours left to go 250 miles; when Eric Filar (Fat City) and Scott (Dusty Booger) came across Kenny Bartram and Tracy Jordan, who had crashed about 300ft. down a cliff. It was about 10pm, they radioed the situation in and made the call to stay with them until help arrived. No one thought that would take over 4-hours – it was the right call at the moment, and turned out to be the right call of the race. We couldn’t have caught the Pirate4x4 Team, but we had a slim chance of making the finish. Not one of our team ever second guessed the decision – there will be another Baja 1000.
Thoughts: 2WD sucked!!!! We had mounted a 6,000lb winch, aluminum ramps, hooks and multiple straps – we used all of them and still got stuck for hours in silt, mud, silt, mud…
The highway sucks south of Ensenada.The people of Baja are friendly and honest (just stay away from TJ).The food is great! The highway sucks south of Ensenada. The views are great! The highway sucks south of Ensenada. The beer is cold! The highway sucks south of Ensenada. The music is loud! The highway sucks south of Ensenada. I’ll be back!
- My wife Tracy and son Austin - Pre running with my 13 year-old was a dad's dream. My wife stayed up all night with our calls on the sat phone. "Where's 1701? Are they moving?"
- All of the wives and significant others - This IS dangerous and expensive. Thanks for letting us play!
- Eric and Ryan Filar - We gave you no time for prep but you got it done; and for letting so many people race/trash your race car. You both drove great!
- Fernando/ Federico Ryan’s co-driver - How's that Mexican French Toast???
- Shannon Boothe - It was 11 years since my last Baja, so I called a friend that has been racing the last few years and asked him to co-dawg for me, and be our team leader. Thanks “old man”!
- Brad Lovell, UROC Champ - First time ever in Baja, and you did a great job; even welding on the car to keep it going
- Ian from Phoenix - He was waiting to get in the car and relieve Brad, and while helping another car pit he destroyed his ankle. He toughed it out about 50 miles in the car, and another 3 days of chasing. Get well!
- Chris and Scott - Two firemen from Nor-Cal that contacted Eric about wanting to help. You guys kicked ass – we couldn’t have done it without you.
- The chase guys from Phoenix - You guys took care of Ian and Brad, getting him back to the States on time. You didn’t even know us. All on a phone call from Shannon. Awesome!!
- My business partner and 18 great employees - We are still in the midst of the transition from buying Precision Gear, and the timing wasn’t the greatest, but you guys and gal rocked!
- The entire Pirate4x4 Team - You guys were pros. You took this seriously enough to finish and be safe, but had a great time along the way. I’ll never forget your 2006 Baja story. Cheers!
- Randy Ellis - Stayed at Coco's to help us even though he was on the 1701 Team - Thanks!!
- Lance and Camo - Thanks for making the “Baja Beer Bet” competitive, fun and friendly!
- Mike Shaffer - What can I say. He talks trash with the best of them, but he's a pro, a friend, and a champion. He helped Eric get unstuck, lent us his spare shock that kept us in the race (we would have been out at mile 299 without it).
- Dave Rittenhouse and Dave Simpson - Came through with Pro Comp HID’s at the last minute – they worked great!
- BF Goodrich Tires - No flats and the most unbelievable pit support!!
- Todd Steen and Jeff Cummings from BF Goodrich Tires - Thanks for bringing buckets of beer and the giving the un-official BFG sportsman of the race award to the 1702 team. Also thanks for the crash pad for me in La Paz!
- Kenny Bartram and Tracy Jordan - The cliff diving team came by in La Paz and shared some sincere thank yous to our team. It was great to see them smiling! Get better Tracy!
- Bob Bower – Thanks for the honest talks with all of our team, your constant support, and the IriTrak that let people follow our progress.
That’s already too long, sorry!
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