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My pics are here.
http://s562.photobucket.com/albums/ss68/welndmn/Baja 1000 11_2009/

YouTube - Baja_1000.wmv

On to the stories

Around the August time frame I was returning from my annual trip to Baja, Mexico for fishing when I heard that the Pirate4x4.com team was looking for warm bodies to help them race in the Baja 1000. I love Baja and being a part of the Baja 1000 was always a dream of mine so it seemed like fate has finally caught up with me. The Baja 1000 is known to be the hardest off-road race out there. Not only is the course long, but the terrain is very rough and even harder to navigate effectively at speed. They change the course every year and this years Baja 1000 would be 631 miles. Don’t let that fool you though; I feel very strongly that the course was only made 631 miles do to the difficulty of it. Pirate4x4.com has won their class the last 3 years in a row so I knew I was going to be with good experienced hands, and hopefully pull off their 4th win. They race in the Jeepspeed class. The Jeepspeed class says you need to use the stock Jeep Cherokee drive train and limits the amount of suspension travel you can use.

Once the plans were finalized, I would be riding down with my good friend Jeff Mello and his cousin Randy Mello. We would be driving in Jeff’s 1998 Ford F-350. Jeff’s truck is a road trip machine. It has over 180,000 miles on it and lots of little things have cased working on it, but the truck will always get you there. Jeff has been driving this truck all over the west coast, parts of the east coast and even to Cabo San Lucas 2 years for the Baja 1000. We loaded up almost every tool Jeff and I owned including 2 portable welders, air tanks, air tools, hand tools, jacks, and tarps, basically everything a full service auto mechanic would have we found a home for in the back of Jeff’s truck. The next thing we gathered were stickers or “steekers” as they are known in Baja. Steekers are part of racing in Baja. Everywhere you go children will ask you for your steekers. Baja is not a very wealthy county as you know and when the kids see a quarter of a million dollar race truck come into town, giving them a small trinket of racing always brightens their day. The race is so popular that many people pull their kids out of school to go watch the race. With tools and steekers in tow we left Randy’s house in Tracy, CA around 9pm Sunday. The plan was to be there as the border was opening so we could fly right though the process.

We made really great time and were in Chula Vista around 3am, even though we locked up the brakes in the ford so Jeff could pick up a piece of plywood on the side of the highway he saw. We knew the border did not open until later in the day so we looked up the local Wal-Mart and headed there for a quick nap. We had about a 3 hour nap, and a 3 hour nap in a truck is about 14 minutes of normal sleep. We ran into the Wal-Mart to grab a few last minute snacks. If you have never been to the Wal-Mart in Chula Vista I would suggest to stay the course. With our “fresh” Wal-Mart snacks we looked for a place to grab a last bite of American food before we crossed over. We failed at finding any good food and settled for Denny’s. With a few more pints of greasy Denny’s food flowing through our body, we waved good by to America and turned the truck towards Baja. The border crossing at Tijuana is one, if not the largest border crossing in the entire world. They estimate 26 million people cross right there every year, that’s 70,000 people a day! You can see our rush to get there first thing in the morning. In order to cross in Mexico you must first park in the lot with over 20 spaces, then walk into the office to purchase a visitors pass and present your passport. From there you get in line and hit a button that randomly flashes a light. Green for go, red to proceed to secondary inspection where they will look through your truck. They are looking for people that bring drugs INTO Mexico. It sounds strange to me too, but someone must do it. The best part about being in a race team is doing none of that BS. We pull up to a line, wave to an armed guard, and drive though. No passport needed, no visitor application, no pressing of the button.

As you drive though Tijuana don’t be fooled. This is not what Baja looks like. This is Tijuana. DO NOT STOP IN TIJUANA. Every bad story you have ever heard about Mexico, I would bet 90% of them happened in Tijuana. We hammered down, pushing the gas pedal though the floor mat and got the heck out of Tijuana. We drove down the coast and got to Ensenada around 11am and made a B-line for the bar at a Hotel we liked. Don’t judge me. Its 11am on a Monday in Baja, you’d be at a bar as well. As soon as we pop the top on our first Pacifico, in walks the rest of the Pirate4x4.com crew. You can tell your crew will all get along when you meet by random inside the hotel bar at 11am on a Monday. We sat at the bar, telling lies of past racing events and making our plans for the day.

Camo, who was driving the middle leg of the race and his Co-dawg Eric from MFS would load up Camo’s King of the Hammers buggy and go pre running their section of the race. Camo is a part owner of Pirate4x4 and Eric the owner of MFS. Together they put together a rig for the 2010 King of the Hammers race, and are letting one lucky reader of the Pirate4x4 website a chance to be the driver of that rig. How cool is that! The King of the Hammers race is what the Baja 1000 of Rock crawling, and one lucky person will have a chance to drive in this invitation only race. The rest of us would start making our way out to Mike’s Sky Ranch. Mike’s Sky Ranch is a tradition to most racers. It was 80 miles from Ensenada, and 20 of those miles are dirt roads. As we head down Hwy 3, Lance suggests we take in a stop to Horsepower Ranch on the way down. My brain is spinning into over drive. I mean, first I was finally going to go to Mike’s Sky Ranch and now I get to see Horsepower Ranch too! Horsepower Ranch is a private venu, but Horsepower Ranch is the Graceland for Off-road racers and I get to go there!

We got into Horsepower Ranch and I was just amazed at the place. It is gorgeous. It looked like it belonged next to pebble beach, not in the deserts of Mexico. Horsepower ranch was filled with legendary racing memorable. Everywhere you turned you saw names of people that were famous racers, Mickey Thompson, Rod Hall, Ivan Stuart, etc. I was still shocked I was surrounded by all of this!!! We got a drink at the bar and had the owner give us some history of the place. I did not make notes, so I have to go off memory, but Horsepower Ranch was a real ranch until the 60’s where it was turned into an off-roaders dream. Full shop for repairs, five star rooms, and 140 acres that you can play on. We sadly had to depart and got back on HWY 3 for Mike’s. When we reached Mike’s it was still 20 ish miles of dirt road we had to go. This dirt road was also part of the Race course, so it was not some smoothly graded highway. A few other people had well setup trucks for the bumpy dirt roads. Lance had a killer KORE suspension on his Dodge that was designed in the Baja, for the Baja. We had an F-350 with 180,000 miles on it that was bought with a salvage title and loaded with 2000 lbs of tools. Sounds fun huh? We were beat to Mikes by the rest of the team by what I would guess was close to an hour and a half. Driving a 1 ton truck down a severely rutted dirt road filled with steep climbs and deep ruts was beating us up, and to think the racers are going to drive down this same road at speed.

Once at Mike’s we unloaded our stuff in our room and headed to the lobby area. Mike’s is a real working Ranch that caters to Off-road racers during the race. It is one large dining hall, where everyone eats family style. Your meal is included in your stay. We sat down for a fulfilling steak dinner, and then headed into the other room, into the bar. I got a quick beer and went to stare at the wall. Just like Horsepower Ranch, Mikes is filled with a lot of racing memorabilia as well, but much more personal. There are t-shirts off some of the racers back signed and then pinned to the wall, some even still covered in dirt. At this point we were still running on the 14 minutes of sleep, so we packed it in and went to bed.
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