50th Anniversary BAJA 1000 Nov. 14-18, 2017
(Note: The 18 of us who were in Mexico supporting the Fire Guys Racing Jeepspeeds' 1134 mile race down the Baja peninsula could write a book reliving our adventures. Each of us had different perspectives and experiences in this incredible team effort. A lifetime of stories to tell over and over. This is a very abbreviated time line from my perspective.)
Three weeks prior to the 50th anniversary running
of the Baja 1000, Fire Guys Racing teammate Paul Blangsted and I towed the
Jeepspeed to Lake Havasu for an appointment with Gabe at the EFI Store. Months
earlier we had discussed the idea of installing a Haltech 750 in the race jeep.
Gabe worked his magic, methodically pulling the factory engine management wire
harness and installing the Haltech. The end result was a tunable computer and a much cleaner engine
compartment with miles fewer wires! After minimal tuning in the desert outside
of Havasu, we brought the jeep home to Colorado for a couple more weekends of
prep and then off to Baja!
Pre-race activities and festivities went smoothly, the cage
inspected, jeep teched, helmets and suits teched, team registered to race! 18
of us were in Baja supporting the Fire Guys Racing effort this time. Teammates Jason Hutter and Paul Blangsted were not racing their Toyota as it was in the middle of major drivetrain upgrades, so that freed them up to each drive a third of the way to La Paz. With their background of driving a variety of race vehicles and Baja savvy, I knew Fire Guys Racing had an unfair advantage this year! I would
start and drive 375 miles to Bay of LA road, Jason would get in and drive to RM 784
north of Loreto, Paul would race it to RM 1090, then I would get in
for the finish; the checkered flag that had been elusive in our teams' previous 5
attempts at the Baja 1000. Five navigators/co-drivers would rotate riding in
the right hand seat. Kyle, Roger, Shelby, Jake, and Mark G. would provide valuable assistance with GPS
navigation, diagnosing mechanical/electrical issues, providing moral support,
and keeping the jeep moving towards La Paz. The rest of the team (Richard,
Corey, Jim, Tanner, Geof, Roger, Jason Harvey, Tara, Sharon, and Jennifer) was split among four
chase trucks, each handling a critical need in support of the team effort of
getting to La Paz within the allotted 48 hrs.
Thursday, race day, finally arrived. We took the green flag
at 1:30 in the afternoon, 30 seconds after our Jeepspeed competitor #1744 Calvin Booth. As
soon as we hit the first bump the jeep felt down on power. We were still
hanging with the pack, but something was not right. We pushed on to RM
20 where Richard's chase truck was waiting. The guys checked a number of items and discovered the
#3 injector wire had come disconnected. Once plugged in we were at full power
and ready to make up lost time. The problem with that was we were now sweeping
the course, pretty much the last vehicle. In the next hour we encountered
hundreds of locals heading home, going the opposite way we were racing. Hard to
get too racy with oncoming traffic around every blind corner!
The 4wd was an incredible advantage over much of the course.
My previous three attempts at the Baja 1000 were all in a Class 11 stock VW
beetle. With that car it was all about momentum and RPM’s! With the jeep we
could slow down to survey the course, shift into 4wd high range and plug along, up the challenging hills, through the sand and silt. For the most part, the jeep
just went through every condition, eventually even it managed to succumb to the
deep rutted silt beds further down the course. With our new US Action Tracks
and a little shovel work the 4wd pulled the jeep out each time.
The second issue that caused us over an hour of down time
occurred a few miles past Coco’s Corner around RM 323. The Jeep shut down and
lost all electrical, coming to a stop along the dark course. #1744 raced by,
recognized our jeep, stopped, backed up to see if there was anything he could
help us with. Prior to the start of the race Calvin and I talked about our team goals.
They were the same, to get to La Paz. We agreed to help each other out if
needed. #1744 made good on this by stopping, a class act! After chasing a few
rabbit trails, we found the problem. A simple fix of a loose power wire going
into the accessories fuse box. Up and running again, eager to once again make
up for the down time, we pulled into RM 375, the road to Bay of LA just prior to
sunrise, 16 hrs after taking the green flag.
Jason and Shelby got in, I
reported to Jason the brakes were getting a little mushy, but everything else
was as strong as when we started. I passed the firefighter challenge coin I
had worn around my neck to Jason, which he would wear while driving. He then hand off to Paul, and
back to me to carry across the finish line. This way, Gary Helming, our team mate
who was killed 2 months ago in a vehicle accident, would be with us the entire
1134 miles. Gary and I got into racing together, purchasing a Class 11 VW bug at the 2005 SCORE Primm 300, driving it and racing it for the first time during the race, and winning! Gary had been a part of every Fire Guys Baja 1000, and he would be a major focus of this one. We could feel and sense Gary was with us; there were a number of
instances where it was evident Gary and the good Lord were helping us down the
Jason and Paul did an outstanding job of making up time and preserving the jeep. Neither had raced the jeep before but both had many hours of
racing a variety of vehicles in Baja and beyond. They encountered deep rutted
silt beds, miles of whoops, and muddy, wet fog in the dark Baja night with very limited
visibility. Looking the jeep over as Paul and Mark G. got in for the 3rd
leg, the right front had a loose wheel bearing and the rear 3rd
member was still leaking. Not a slow drip but a fairly steady stream. We tightened
the 3rd member bolts, added 90 weight and decided to press on. We
would stop at every Mag7 pit, roughly 60 miles apart, have them check the bolts
and add 90 weight, for the next 400 miles!
When I got back in for the final 40 miles, we had plenty of
time on the clock to continue our finishing pace. Our competitor, #1744 had not
been seen since the mid way point. (They had an electrical issue, presumed bad
CPS, and DNF’d). Paul and I talked about everything except what we were trying not to think about, finishing and winning the Baja 1000! We didn't want to jinx anything! For years I had heard
of the stair steps dropping into La Paz. It was awesome to experience these, a
little bit of Moab rock crawling! Paul and I wound down the hill into La Paz, a
few miles of highway pavement dicing with the locals, and unto the finish line!
The team was there to greet us and share in the celebration! Our finish and
class win was a solid team effort, one that followed our pre-race plan of
getting the jeep to the finish line. The down time slowed our average speed to just over 25
mph over the 45 hr. 15 min race time. The Haltech controlled the engine without a hickup or miss the entire race. The 4 General tires we started the race on
finished the race, the VisionX lights worked fantastically during the 24 hrs of
pitch black Baja night we raced through. The fox shocks / Rock Krawler suspension
worked flawlessly. A humble thanks to all who made this possible. No one does this alone. It takes a group of amazing, dedicated people, a huge commitment, an adventurous attitude, and a little luck. Some times you finish and win, sometimes you DNF, but either way there's a lifetime of memories!
(Note: The 18 of us who were in Mexico supporting the Fire Guys Racing Jeepspeeds' 1134 mile race down the Baja peninsula could write a book reliving our adventures. Each of us had different perspectives and experiences in this incredible team effort. A lifetime of stories to tell over and over. This is a very abbreviated time line from my perspective.)
Three weeks prior to the 50th anniversary running of the Baja 1000, Fire Guys Racing teammate Paul Blangsted and I towed the Jeepspeed to Lake Havasu for an appointment with Gabe at the EFI Store. Months earlier we had discussed the idea of installing a Haltech 750 in the race jeep. Gabe worked his magic, methodically pulling the factory engine management wire harness and installing the Haltech. The end result was a tunable computer and a much cleaner engine compartment with miles fewer wires! After minimal tuning in the desert outside of Havasu, we brought the jeep home to Colorado for a couple more weekends of prep and then off to Baja!
Pre-race activities and festivities went smoothly, the cage inspected, jeep teched, helmets and suits teched, team registered to race! 18 of us were in Baja supporting the Fire Guys Racing effort this time. Teammates Jason Hutter and Paul Blangsted were not racing their Toyota as it was in the middle of major drivetrain upgrades, so that freed them up to each drive a third of the way to La Paz. With their background of driving a variety of race vehicles and Baja savvy, I knew Fire Guys Racing had an unfair advantage this year! I would start and drive 375 miles to Bay of LA road, Jason would get in and drive to RM 784 north of Loreto, Paul would race it to RM 1090, then I would get in for the finish; the checkered flag that had been elusive in our teams' previous 5 attempts at the Baja 1000. Five navigators/co-drivers would rotate riding in the right hand seat. Kyle, Roger, Shelby, Jake, and Mark G. would provide valuable assistance with GPS navigation, diagnosing mechanical/electrical issues, providing moral support, and keeping the jeep moving towards La Paz. The rest of the team (Richard, Corey, Jim, Tanner, Geof, Roger, Jason Harvey, Tara, Sharon, and Jennifer) was split among four chase trucks, each handling a critical need in support of the team effort of getting to La Paz within the allotted 48 hrs.
Thursday, race day, finally arrived. We took the green flag at 1:30 in the afternoon, 30 seconds after our Jeepspeed competitor #1744 Calvin Booth. As soon as we hit the first bump the jeep felt down on power. We were still hanging with the pack, but something was not right. We pushed on to RM 20 where Richard's chase truck was waiting. The guys checked a number of items and discovered the #3 injector wire had come disconnected. Once plugged in we were at full power and ready to make up lost time. The problem with that was we were now sweeping the course, pretty much the last vehicle. In the next hour we encountered hundreds of locals heading home, going the opposite way we were racing. Hard to get too racy with oncoming traffic around every blind corner!
The 4wd was an incredible advantage over much of the course. My previous three attempts at the Baja 1000 were all in a Class 11 stock VW beetle. With that car it was all about momentum and RPM’s! With the jeep we could slow down to survey the course, shift into 4wd high range and plug along, up the challenging hills, through the sand and silt. For the most part, the jeep just went through every condition, eventually even it managed to succumb to the deep rutted silt beds further down the course. With our new US Action Tracks and a little shovel work the 4wd pulled the jeep out each time.
The second issue that caused us over an hour of down time occurred a few miles past Coco’s Corner around RM 323. The Jeep shut down and lost all electrical, coming to a stop along the dark course. #1744 raced by, recognized our jeep, stopped, backed up to see if there was anything he could help us with. Prior to the start of the race Calvin and I talked about our team goals. They were the same, to get to La Paz. We agreed to help each other out if needed. #1744 made good on this by stopping, a class act! After chasing a few rabbit trails, we found the problem. A simple fix of a loose power wire going into the accessories fuse box. Up and running again, eager to once again make up for the down time, we pulled into RM 375, the road to Bay of LA just prior to sunrise, 16 hrs after taking the green flag.
Jason and Shelby got in, I reported to Jason the brakes were getting a little mushy, but everything else was as strong as when we started. I passed the firefighter challenge coin I had worn around my neck to Jason, which he would wear while driving. He then hand off to Paul, and back to me to carry across the finish line. This way, Gary Helming, our team mate who was killed 2 months ago in a vehicle accident, would be with us the entire 1134 miles. Gary and I got into racing together, purchasing a Class 11 VW bug at the 2005 SCORE Primm 300, driving it and racing it for the first time during the race, and winning! Gary had been a part of every Fire Guys Baja 1000, and he would be a major focus of this one. We could feel and sense Gary was with us; there were a number of instances where it was evident Gary and the good Lord were helping us down the course!
Jason and Paul did an outstanding job of making up time and preserving the jeep. Neither had raced the jeep before but both had many hours of racing a variety of vehicles in Baja and beyond. They encountered deep rutted silt beds, miles of whoops, and muddy, wet fog in the dark Baja night with very limited visibility. Looking the jeep over as Paul and Mark G. got in for the 3rd leg, the right front had a loose wheel bearing and the rear 3rd member was still leaking. Not a slow drip but a fairly steady stream. We tightened the 3rd member bolts, added 90 weight and decided to press on. We would stop at every Mag7 pit, roughly 60 miles apart, have them check the bolts and add 90 weight, for the next 400 miles!
When I got back in for the final 40 miles, we had plenty of time on the clock to continue our finishing pace. Our competitor, #1744 had not been seen since the mid way point. (They had an electrical issue, presumed bad CPS, and DNF’d). Paul and I talked about everything except what we were trying not to think about, finishing and winning the Baja 1000! We didn't want to jinx anything! For years I had heard of the stair steps dropping into La Paz. It was awesome to experience these, a little bit of Moab rock crawling! Paul and I wound down the hill into La Paz, a few miles of highway pavement dicing with the locals, and unto the finish line! The team was there to greet us and share in the celebration! Our finish and class win was a solid team effort, one that followed our pre-race plan of getting the jeep to the finish line. The down time slowed our average speed to just over 25 mph over the 45 hr. 15 min race time. The Haltech controlled the engine without a hickup or miss the entire race. The 4 General tires we started the race on finished the race, the VisionX lights worked fantastically during the 24 hrs of pitch black Baja night we raced through. The fox shocks / Rock Krawler suspension worked flawlessly. A humble thanks to all who made this possible. No one does this alone. It takes a group of amazing, dedicated people, a huge commitment, an adventurous attitude, and a little luck. Some times you finish and win, sometimes you DNF, but either way there's a lifetime of memories!
2017 MINT 400 March 4, 2017
The MINT was the 1 year anniversary of racing the FIRE GUYS Jeep. Since racing Parker a month ago I adjusted the FOX shocks a little stiffer on compression, put a new Spidertrax fill cap on the rear axle housing (and checked the 3rd member and axles for any surprises, none found, everything looked normal inside). We were ready to go racing!
SIMCO and VIGIL and a huge entourage would be there supporting Larry Schmueser and his Trophylite. Richard did not race his Class 1 but was there to oversee Pit A activities. Jason and Paul were excited to race their Toyota in the afternoon race. The Fire Guys entourage was out in force as well to support a group of vehicles and experience the pre race activities that make the MINT the MINT!
I convoyed out to Vegas from Grand Junction on Thur with Schmuesers bunch. Most of the Fire Guys arrived in Vegas earlier for the Wednesday parade and Fremont St. pre race party on Thusdayr. I would meet Gary Helming at Primm late Thur. night, looking forward to getting back in the race car with him.
We got our money's worth of Tech/contingency this year! After rolling through it by noon the last couple years, we just made it by the 7pm drivers meeting this year! The horn decided it would cost us another 45 min or so by not working at the Tech inspection. Thanks to Harvey and Pepsi Jim for getting it to beep again! Jeepspeed pits were close to the start line which would be great for minimizing our 5am staging, Trophylite pits were at the beginning of the main pits, and our Toyota was pitted mid pit so logistically our 3 main race cars were pitted all over the main pits. We would have a big group at each of the two remote pits. Any needs away from the three pit areas would be up to the occupants of the car, or a tow from BITD officials back to a pit.
We started last in Jeepspeed class 1700 as requested, 9th out of 9. Sunrise was 30 min prior to our green flag, so the VISION X lights on the front bumper could keep the covers on. It was even light enough for me to start with my new sunglasses on, avoiding any issues we had at Parker! A bunch of cars started behind us, the Legends, Class 11's, Stock trucks, and anyone pre-running for the afternoon race.
We took the Green flag and in the first 10 miles had passed three Jeepspeeds pulled off the course. Our #1788 was feeling good and running well. I wasn't sure how the suspension would react to the bumps, having tweaked it a little since Parker but no test time on it. We settled into my normal survival pace, pulling over for the faster Legends cars. Pretty cool to see some of the cars I had watched race decades ago on the same track as us!
We were scheduled to stop once for fuel after the first lap, if we got the same mileage as Parker we would take 17 gallons of pump gas. We scooted around the first lap, seeing various cars pulled off, rolled over, broken in various ways, some terminal, some temporary and would see again when they passed us. The desert part of the course was identical to last year in configuration, but was a little rougher. Dust was not a problem due to the moisture that had occurred prior to race week and the winds that went from light to strong on race day. The dry lake beds were fun, we hit 82mph on lap one, one mph less then last year.
Around RM60 a loud metal on metal noise developed and I pulled over for Gary to investigate. All the critical components checked out okay, tuned out to be the floor jack had come loose from its mount between the spare tires. Gary reengaged it and we took off again. While stopped the first 3 Class 11's went by, as did a couple other non jeeps. We passed one of the Class 11 bugs on the short sections of pavement, then hit spectator area #2 at the quarry a few miles later, four of us bumper to bumper coming out of it. The crowd should have enjoyed that, I know I did!
We pulled into Pit B for a look at the jack. It started banging again and I didn't want it to do any damage, especially to the fuel cell. They were ready for us, with ratchet straps in hand. After diagnosing it, it was determined it's not going anywhere so we headed back out. A couple other non jeeps passed us in the pits, one being the stock Toyota Jay Leno was driving. We came over the hill looking down at Spectator area 4 and the long straight aways with small whoops. A helicopter was 50' off the deck filming the Leno truck on the right line. We took the left line, closer to the spectators and under the helicopter. We slowly overtook him and pulled away once the two lines came together. Another fun race within the race!
We had a race with the #1759 Cherokee the last few miles of lap 1, back and forth a couple times. We pulled into Schmueser's pit for fuel (17 gall) and a quick visual check. Everything looked good and we took off for lap 2. My normal routine is finish faster than starting. I picked up the pace as we saw the same real estate for the second time now. The track was a little rougher, as usual, on lap two. The Trophy (Trick) Truck race in the afternoon so their 39" tires and 800hp hadn't chewed up the track yet, (Jason and Paul would experience this!), but the 100 plus UTV's made small chops that now felt like a paint shaker as we raced over them! The second lap was a little less congested. We logged miles as we worked our way around. Not sure where we were in relation to our competition, we knew we were a long ways behind the Parker winning #1710 Randall Jeep, but not sure who else was between us.
At RM 84 we caught the Legends Class Rod Hall Bronco, the one he won the 1969 Baja 1000 in! Rod's granddaughter Shelby Hall started this race in it. It was pretty cool to have a race with it! We hit the dry lake bed side by side and we pulled away, briefly, on the right. With the strong head wind now our top speed was only 74 and the V8 Bronco slowly passed on the left. We just hung to the right, outside the huge dust plume, The last few miles to the finish we stayed behind it until the final high speed straight into left turn lake bed where we caught another non jeep and passed them both going into the finish.
We took the checkers, turned out only 8 min behind the 2nd place Jeepspeed, #1724 Seubert Cherokee. Congrats to Randall on their 2nd dominant win in 2017. Our 4th podium in 5 Jeepspeed races in the Wrangler, I'm very impressed with the durability of the Jeep. Thank God for a safe race. Next on the radar is the 50th anniversary of the Baja 1000 in November where we hope to see the allusive checkers in LaPaz!
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2017 PARKER 425 Feb 3-4, 2017
Looking at the 2017 calendar we inked in the 50th anniversary of the Baja 1000 in Nov. We wanted to race a few races early in 2017 to learn the Jeep some more, but not break the bank (or the Jeep) prior to the always epic adventure in Baja. We penciled in The MINT in March and maybe a local BOR race.
Then I got a phone call from Jeepspeed's Mike Barnett in early Jan. informing me that being named Jeepspeed Rookie of the Year for 2016, I received a free entry to the Parker race, courtesy of Perry Cohn Racing. I couldn't say no to free entry, so made a few quick phone calls to James Vigil and Jason Hutter to see if they were interested and able to tag a Parker weekend prior to our planned trip to KOH. Both said yes (of course!). Jason would ride with me in the Jeep and James would pit, along with other help I'm sure we could find once we got to Parker. My wife and I had a long-planned vacation on a big boat, cruising the Caribbean just prior to Parker, so the normal car prep time was less than ideal, and some would occur the day before the race in the main pits.
Once word got out that we were racing Parker, I got calls from the normal cast of desert rats that love racing, saying they would be there. A compilation of Fire Guys Racing, Simco Racing , Schmueser Racing guys that are fun to spend a weekend racing with! Ten total, we had ourselves a legit crew!
We rolled through Tech/Contingency Thur. morning after spending a very brief time at registration. I purchased a new 2015 helmet from PCI, got the annual suspension travel check at Jeepspeed, stamped the new KMC wheels with 1788, and were done by noon. We staked out a pit along the 6 mile "Python" Main Pit area and got things ready for tomorrow's race.
0530 staging comes early, more so for half our guys that had rooms in Havasu (I couldn't find 2 rooms in Parker on short notice). Jason and I got strapped in and waited our turn for the Green flag. We started last, as requested, next to Trevino's #1723. Trevino got the hole shot but we got around him in the rough soon after. I had not raced Parker before, but Jason had a bunch of times so it was nice to have his knowledge of the course and GPS navigation / co-dawg skills in the right seat!
The beginning of the race was looking at the rising sun through the dust. Once the sun was high enough I did my awkward juggle of changing into my sunglasses. This was complicated by my new helmet which was tighter and the glasses did not/would not seat properly. After fighting it for a few miles, with bouncing blurred vision I told Jason we'd have to stop at Pit 2, RM 53, for adjustments. A few miles later our guys were ready for us, doing a visual and lug nut check while I continued to fight the helmet and glasses. It turned out it was fortunate we stopped, a couple lug nuts were loose and the fill cap on the Spider Trax rear axle had come off, dragging from the vent hose. The crew rigged up a duct tape fix and off we went.
We saw a few of our 1700 Jeepspeed competitors along the wayside and deducted that after starting 8th we weren't doing too badly! The 2nd half of the 140 mile lap was relatively smooth and very fast, the first half slower with sandy washes, tighter turns and hills. Not near as many rocks as Pahrum had! Our pre race plan was to stop once for fuel after the first lap in the main pits. We cruised around the first lap, the Jeep running better then it had in the previous races. Changing the sensors helped, the engine was happy!. The Rock Krawler suspension was better too, needing just a little more Fox shock adjustment.
After a quick stop in the main pits, the driver took 20 oz. of gator-aid and the Jeep took 20 gallons of high octane pump gas. The duct tape fix holding the rear axle fill cap was holding, the lug nuts were tightened, and off we went into lap 2. Lap 2 is always quicker. My driving style is start slow, then pick it up the second half. The first time Jason rode with me in the bug he described it as "flipping a switch". One of these races I'll flip the switch when the green flag drops! The other reason lap two was faster, even though the course was chewed up more then lap one, was we knew at some point the unlimited Horse power of the afternoon race would be tearing up the course behind us, gaining ground on us at an an exponential speed, and God help us if the Trick Trucks caught us! Chappy Steve did a pre-race prayer with us during staging (always nice to refocus that way), the last half hour of our race I said a few more prayers!
We passed a limping #1724 30 miles from the finish and figured we might be a podium finisher at this point. We had no communication with the whereabouts of the first Truck, so Jason continued to focus on the rear view and for side ways flying helicoptors just above deck height! We cruised in for the checkers and on the interview ramp learned we were the second Jeepspeed to finish!
We drove over to Jeepspeed for a post race inspection of our limited components. Mike and the guys met us there with the tools and did the dirty work-Thanks again! We checked out okay and found out the Trick Trucks had started a half hour after we thought, so we had plenty of time before they would have caught us.
Congrats to class winner #1710, Rick Randall on the dominate run. I was happy with our third 2nd place out of four Jeepspeed races. The Jeep has held up well and picturing driving this survival pace in Baja this Nov. makes me smile!
'till next time,
2016 BITD Pahrump Nugget 250 Dec. 2-3, 2016
The third and final Jeepspeed race for the Fire Guys Wrangler happened to occur the day after Jennifer's birthday and on my birthday, giving it that extra special feeling. My Fire Guys Teammates were all in Baja racing the CODE Mexicali to San Felipe race , Jason and Paul in their Toyota and Richard in his Class 1. Larry Schmueser was racing the full TrophyLite series this year, and generously offered up whatever assistance I needed during the race. Mike, of SIMCO Racing, was heading up the pit support again and I was in good hands. Gary Helming and his wife were expecting twins and Gary wisely missed this race to be with Andrea. That left an open seat in the Jeep which was enthusiastically filled by Ruxton Noble. He happened to be free on short notice and looked forward to the adventure that I promised!
Since the last race we stiffened up the shock valving to accommodate the new triple rate ROCK KRAWLER coils. Wayne at Fox sent me the shims he thought would be optimal. After installing them we tested a couple weeks prior to the race and the Jeep felt ready to go. One additional item was the Jeep had no lights other than the stock headlights. Sundown occurs at 4:30 and we better be prepared for some night racing. My teammates had 3 VisionX HID's they weren't using and Jason Harvey spent a few hrs. getting them wired up, thanks guys!
We convoyed out to the race with Mike and company, an uneventful trip which is not always the case crossing Utah this time of year. We checked in our respective lodging and the next morning met for a team breakfast prior to registration and Tech/Contingency. It was good to see everyone, all looking forward to a fun weekend in the desert!
We were first in line for registration, breezed through Tech/Contingency and were done before noon! This didn't feel like a big time race, it was too casual! Part of this thanks to the Baja 1000 being two weeks ago, entry at this race was 150. We had time to go back and hang out at the Jeepspeed booth, meeting Mark and Clayton Kammerlohr. They were racing for thee first time after purchasing the Wrangler T&J Performance was building for Dave Bolles
Race morning came early as it always does. The race would finish in Pahrump but the start was 15 miles north which made for an exceptionally long staging. We got in proper starting order in Pahrump, then had a police escort through town and up the highway to the re-stage in Johnnie. The escorted parade was pretty cool, seeing a lot of folks along the road with cameras and thumbs up! It was also pretty cool at highway speed on Dec. 3 at 8am, downright cold!
I didn't have a good baseline yet on mpg with this rig so the guys topped off our fuel cell just prior to the start. We had one scheduled stop at pit 4, 118 miles in which we could then determine our fuel consumption and know if we could make it the rest of the way or need to stop for a splash at pit 7.
I failed to request my usual rear start so we were lined up 2nd, behind the Kammerlohr Wrangler, driven by Mike Barnett as far as pit 4. Mike checked out as did everyone else once the green flag dropped. The first 10 miles were very rocky. We had heard on the radio Schmueser's TrophyLite had it's driveshaft taken out at RM3 by one of these rocks. Our suspension that was dialed in for the bumps in Colorado didn't feel quite right here in the real world race conditions. The motor acted just like it did at the Mint, under load there was a miss. It ran this way the whole race, between the two issues we set a slower pace than planned, but it was a pace the vehicle could handle.
We passed a couple 1700 competitors changing flats, then a variety of cars with various issues scattered throughout the first few miles. A buggy with driver standing along side holding a tow strap was off the course, looking hopeful as we approached. I pulled over, he had a dead battery and needed a pull start. We accommodated his request and were off in no time, happy to help a fellow racer out. We pulled into Pit 1 for a quick shock adjustment, stiffening the high speed compression a couple clicks. It was barely noticeable, still a little soft in the big bumps. The course alternated between rocks, gravel washes, silt, woops, and more rocks. Near the upper end of the course we hit some smooth high speed sections that lasted a few miles, then back to the rough. Larry got the driveshaft replaced and passed us around RM 100, we had lost radio commo at this point and didn't have it for the rest of the race. We pulled into Pit 4 for our scheduled gas stop, Ruxton hopped out for his own pit stop. Parker gave me a gator-aid, Mike checked over the Jeep and said it looked good. The guys did another adjustment on the Fox shocks, a couple more clicks to stiffen it up a little more. We headed out after taking 19 gall, not bad for all the 4wd we ran.
We were curious what the EXTREMELY DANGEROUS downhill was at RM141, at the drivers meeting Casey said it goes from 5000' to 3000' .We popped over the ridge and saw the big valley below, pretty cool vista! Pit 5 was closed due to the silt on the access in and out. Our support crew was great at being at each of the pits, just in case we needed them. The jeep felt better now with the latest shock adjustment, rolled through the woops much smoother.
Past RM 200 we caught the 1785 Kammerlohr Wrangler in the woops, we passed on the left and stayed on the left line. A bit latter he passed on the right line and we had a fun race going on! The multiple lines merged into one and we both slowed to let the other have the line. We dove in first, then picked up the pace a notch. We pulled into pit 6, unannounced due to our radio issue, to have the VisionX light covers removed. A few miles later there were two big rocks, one left, one right. I shot the middle and hit them both. After a short conversation related to “Do we have a flat”, we decided the answer was yes and pulled over. We had gone over the plan for changing a flat, and now put it in motion. The left front was flat, we got it swapped out and buckled ourselves in when the 1785 passed us. We tucked in behind, staying just out of the dust thinking we'd stay there for the next 30 miles, then the last few miles have a fun finish! The jack was making loud clanking noises, I must not have clamped it in place right and the Jeep felt funny, again. Pulled over and discovered the right rear was not flat, it was gone, or at least all but the inside sidewall. With the spool and TrueTrac it wasn't that noticeable we were racing on 3 tires and a rim. After just changing a flat 10 minutes ago we were experienced now and did this one in no time. Now we were way out of the dust of the 1785.
We pulled into pit 7 to swap out a flat spare for a good one, the guys put two good tires on the back, said there were 3 jeeps in front of us. We thanked our awesome crew and set off to find the 1785 Wrangler. We rounded a right hand corner and there it was in the middle of the course. We pulled up to the right, asked Mark if he was ok, he said the studs sheered off, broke the wheel and spacer. We didn't have anything that would help him, but he had communications with his crew and said he was good. We motored on, substantially slower now through the rocks. The VisionX lights did a great job with the darkness,and lighting up the rocks- two flats was enough!
The lights of Pahrump grew closer, we turned right onto the final high speed section to the finish. The #4521 of Garey Leavitt in his Class 11, aka Stock bug was the next vehicle behind us. Awesome job getting the bug around this course! We had no idea we finished second until Mike Barnett called saying he missed us at the finish and we were unofficially 2nd! We pulled the Jeep (just loaded it on the trailer) over to JeepSpeed for a post race inspection. All our paint marks from the post MINT teardown were intact so this one was quick. As we were leaving to join the crew for dinner, the 1785 came into the finish line, good job finishing their first race. Congrats to Tim Martin in the 1772 on the win.
First overall went to fast qualifier Apdaly Lopez in the RPM Trick Truck, averaging 63 mph! That speed is mind boggling for this course! We averaged a good Class 11 pace, after 11 years in a Class 11 it comes natural!
Thanks to Ruxton for agreeing to an 8 ½ hr. roller coaster ride and a fine job in the right seat! To the Schmuesers for their TrophyLite finish, to Mike and Parker Sims, Roger and Ty Bowers, Roger Ball, Jake Manis, and Dave Nippes for the fun weekend in the dirt once again! Thanks to God for a safe event with no injury accidents to racer or chaser!
Till next time,
MINT 400 March 12, 2016
I was anxious to race the '98 Wrangler Jeepspeed after purchasing it 3 months ago from Bill Frey. I had driven it in Barstow after purchasing it with Mike Barnett of Jeepspeed showing me the ins and outs of driving a Jeep fast. Fireguys Racing had taken all three of our race vehicles to Plaster City prior to the Nov. 2015 CODE race for FOX testing and tuning. So this was my third time driving the Jeep, first time racing it, on a MINT course we had finished third in 2015. We destroyed much of the car last year getting a podium finish. My goal this year was to drive conservatively, get a finish, and learn more about the Jeep without killing it.
Team SIMCO was helping Larry Schmueser in his TrophyLite, Project Baja Class 11 team was out in force ready to tackle the MINT for the first time, and KC was here with his Class 11 to have a run at it with a Green Beret, courtesy of the Special Forces Charitable Trust. We also were happy to have a Green Beret riding in the Fireguys Racing Jeepspeed, hoping to give him an enjoyable ride in the desert, and a break from his job of protecting our freedom. We all pitted in the same neighborhood of the main pits so we could help each other out as needed. We had a lot of support from a great bunch of folks ready to enjoy a weekend in the desert.
On Fri. morning we towed from Buffalo Bills in Primm to Downtown Vegas to get in line for Tech/Contingency on Freemont St. The crew offloaded the Jeep as I went with the Schmueser and Mike Sims to registration. We got there as it opened, and our long wait kept getting longer as the line kept getting reformed. Mike had to bail out and go back to assist with diagnosing the TrophyLites gremlin of not wanting to start. Once registered I met the Jeep and crew most of the way through contingency line. Bob Bowers was interviewing everyone as the cars proceeded towards Tech inspection, pretty cool!
Race morning would start early as our staging time for the first race was 0530, with a 0600 start. We met our Green Beret for the first time as Canadian Paul was getting suited up as a back-up, just in case. We gave him a very abbreviated briefing, got strapped in, and headed to the staging line. The sun came up 30 min prior to our start time, so no lights were needed for this race.
I requested a rear start, our #1788 would start 10 of 11 Jeepspeeds. We took the green flag and as soon as we hit third gear realized a burble, kind of a rev. limiter feeling which stayed all day. The Jeep didn't have top end capability all day, at max. RPM under load the motor would cough and fall flat- no power.
We cruised up the rocky, windy climb directly behind Primm. This was the section of course that historically has concerned me in the bug. If a faster car catches us here there is no where to get out of the way. When SNORE first brought back the MINT in 2008, this is where on our third lap, trailing leader Ed Mahoney, a Trophy Truck appeared in the rear view mirror. I slowed, pulling over into a small area free of boulders waiting for the truck to scream by and I could pull back on course, catching its vortex and not get stuck. The truck hesitated long enough to make me come to a complete stop as it went by. We were stuck. For over an hour of down time by the time we got racing again. Went on to finish 2nd in the 300 mile MINT. This section of course no longer concerned me in the Jeep, with 4WD. It's very comforting to be in a vehicle you know you can drive the entire course, stop if needed, and not get stuck. (Here we come 2017 Baja 1000!)
The strap holding the driver's side spare tire was working loose, finally falling off around RM 25. The tire stayed put and I hoped the brand new General Tire and KMC rim would continue to hold on for 5 miles until Pit A where our guys could fix it. We radioed ahead what was going on, pulled in and got the strap reattached, then took off.
We passed many vehicles from all classes broken down the first lap. Last year I was amazed at how fast the course was compared to previous years. This year's course was fast as well, not a direct comparison being in a different vehicle this year, but was faster than it was rough. The biggest issue I had driving the jeep was shifting the AX-15 5 speed trans. I'm used to a longer throw, more space between gears, this is much closer and tighter, I felt like a student driver!
We pulled into the main pits starting lap 2, the crew dumped 18 gallons of 91 Octane pump gas into the fuel cell as I sucked down a gatoraid. The Jeep looked good, got the thumbs up from the crew and we headed out for the second half of the race. We gave the thumbs up to the crew as we passed Pit A. We needed an emergency human pit stop shortly after, allowing a half dozen cars in other classes to go by, including the 1st place and eventual winner in Class 11, Alex Rivas. We got going again and had an uneventful rest of lap 2. The dry lake beds were fun to see how fast we could go. We hit 83mph in 5th gear, knowing there's more once the little top end hiccups go away. We reached the checkered flag after seeing the Trophy Trucks in Race #2 along the first few miles of their race. Much safer than seeing them in the rear view mirror!
While waiting in post race line for the interview with Bob Bower, it was nice to chat with my Class 11 brothers and see Jennifer sneak into finishers row! Getting a podium finish required a post race Jeepspeed inspection. Huge thanks to SIMCO guys for the wrench work!
I was happy to get a podium finish and not hurt the Jeep my first time out. Congrats to Jeepspeed winner Skyler Gambrell.
We'll see you in Laughlin!
Wow, what a great ride! The final race of the MAXTRAX WSOB would also be my scheduled final race in the Fireguys /Racing Class 11. I recently purchased a Jeepspeed Wrangler and look forward to a new chapter racing a 4wd Jeep, a dream I've had since the 1982 MINT 400.
This grand finale started out with the three Fireguys Racing race vehicles headed to Plaster City to meet up with the master FOX technicians for shock tuning of the recently rebuilt (and mutated) Class 7 Toyota, our newest team member Richard Nowlin's Class 1, and my Jeepspeed Wrangler. After a very successful day of suspension tuning we took the short drive across the border to our host Hotel in Mexicali and pre-race Tech/Contingency. The bug and truck would race, our first CODE race, and the team was excited about being back in Baja for another adventure.
The truck had been working through "new truck" issues after the multi year conversion from 7S stock to 7 open. Jason and Paul were very eager to get back into their "old" truck and feel the results of their blood, sweat and years of hard work. Jason Harvey would get the right hand seat from the start with Jason Hutter driving to the halfway point where Paul Blangsted would take over the driver's seat and Galvin Seedorf would navigate to the finish.
I would team up with Gary Helming in the Class 11. A fitting final race in the bug as we started this Class 11 adventure 10 years earlier, winning our first race at the 2005 SCORE Primm 300.
As is the case in every race, our pre-race planning went out the window at the drop of the green flag. The truck lost 3rd gear immediatly and would experience alternator problems soon after. Just short of the halfway point the truck lost all electrical and came to a stop. One of the awesome things about racing in Baja is the enthusiasm of the spectators andtheir ability to assist a race vehicle. A battery was borrowed and the truck limped on to the pit stop where a new alternator and battery were swapped out. Driver/Co-driver swap was made and the truck powered on to the finish line, a very respectable 3rd place finish.
Meanwhile, Gary and I were having our own Plan B as our race and plans were changed at RM10 when we drove over a big rock (the size rock you can hear and feel under your feet as the car plows over it). The motor immediately sputtered and died. I investigated the damage and saw none, only a dry fuel filter indicating the mechanical fuel pump had given up the ghost. No problem, just flip the toggle switch to turn on the secondary electrical fuel pump. We used the MAXTRAX to get unstuck. The first 30 miles was pretty sandy with intermittent whoops thrown in. A Class 11 is all about momentum! Don't stop unless you're on firm ground, preferably facing downhill! We took off, powering through the terra not so firma at max RPM The brand new Blaine Beecher built motor feeling incredibly strong. In fact, with the new cam and other little tricks Blaine did this time the car could pull another gear through the uphill sand-very nice!!
At Max RPM, when needed the most, the car sputtered and was stuck, again. I switched the fuel line over to the back up (to the back up) fuel pump. Deader than a doornail. I bypassed the dead mech. pump and ran the fuel line to the carb. That was the ticket, car ran flawlessly for the next 100 miles. But this time we were stopped (stuck) in a really sandy uphill area which took multiple MAXTRAXing. I did the unthinkable in a Class 11 and put in in reverse thinking I would back onto the MAXTRAX. Yep, grernaded reverse gear. The gear shrapnel banged around in the RCTRANS for a few minutes until it found a quiet place and settled down. John's building me a heavy duty trans. with T2 Diffs, heavy duty stuff. It wasn't done for this race so looks like the new owner of the bug will get it! Gary was driving now, when we finally MAXTRAXed near the top of the sand crest and it looked like the car could get enough momentum to keep going, I told him to go until he found firm ground. I'd catch up. Two miles later I did, he had swapped out a flat for a good tire as I walked the two miles to the car. We got buckled in, Gary hit the go pedal and we got stuck. Easy MAXTRAX out, did a big loop to park on solid ground and try again. This time we got going, back to the race!
We finally made it to CP1, an hour after they closed, and out of the loose stuff. We could settle into the race now with the fuel delivery issues no longer stopping us. We knew we were too far back on time to be able to make it up and get a finish, but the car was running better than it ever had, we were racing in Baja, life is good!
We had zero communication with Jake, our sole chaser of the Class 11, all day. Not too worried knowing Jake is very Baja savvy and knows the reality of race plans changing, he's been down this road a time or two. We got to CP2 long after they were gone. Stopped to take the covers off the KC lights and try Jake on the radio again. No word on the radio so we kept going to RM120 at Chinero where our planned gas stop was. The car felt stopping 10 miles prior to this was more appropriate. Very dark narrow canyon, no communication all day, no tracker for anyone to know our whereabouts. This was old school Baja racing! As I was thinking about a 10 mile walk to the highway we saw lights slowly coming our way. A chase truck was pulling a wounded buggy down the course, too rough to go up the course. The very helpfull team siphoned 2 gall. of 110 from their race car on a rope and dumped into our bug. After many Thanks and offering to pay for the fuel (no worries, happy to help) Gary and I slowly drove on to RM120, then a few more miles to the highway access. No sign of Jake, but another race team's chasers were there. They offered to help, we bench raced and talked politics for a while. One of them offered up his cell phone, I called Jennifer in Colorado to get a hold of our guys and tell them our whereabouts.
While we waited, Team Hendrickson came out of the night, trailering their Class 11 up the course. Motor had blown up, ending their race and very strong run at the MAXTRAX WSOB $10,000. Ouch. Congrats to Cisco Bio and his very fast car for claiming the prize!
As Jake was driving by on the highway we caught him on the radio. We loaded up the car as it was well beyond the time limit of the race, headed to San Felipe and our rental house. We spent a couple days relaxing at the house, enjoying the company of good friends and the non winter conditions of the San Felipe area!
The rest of the adventure was getting the truck prepped for and to the SNORE RATR the next weekend, but that's another story!
Thanks and see ya at the races!
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2015 MINT 400 March 13,14-2015
Jim Graham contacted me a couple months ago about racing the MINT 400. He wanted to revive Class 11's at the MINT and put on a good show. It didn't take me long to say count me in, it is the MINT after all! Maxtrax America agreed to help get the Fireguys Racing/Maxtrax car there and we were on! This year's race was back in the Primm area, a 120 mile loop where we would do two laps and the faster classes would do three. For safety reasons race day would be split into two races. The unlimiteds would race in the afternoon, the rest of us in the morning. While this format mirrors the old SCORE Primm 300 and not the historical MINT 400, I fully support it-the last thing I want to do is be on a loop course with 54 Trophy Trucks and the same number of Unlimited buggies!
The 2008 MINT 400 raced on a similar course. My car had good results then, finishing 2nd out of 11 in class. Our very first race was on much of the same course in 2005 and we managed a 1st, so my car likes racing in Primm! I was expecting a long, rough course for the 240 miles or so we would race!
Rod Hall (yep, that Rod Hall!) was scheduled to drive my car on lap 2 after he got out of the "Vintage Class" Dodge D-50 pick-up truck he would drive on lap 1. This would be worth bringing the FireGuys Class 11 to the MINT, Rod Hall driving my car and me sitting next to the legend, absorbing as much knowledge as my smiling face possibly could!
We got the car in line 0800 Fri. morning for Tech / Contingency, up close to the front. Registration was a breeze and we were through tech. by 1100. The pre race festivities are certainly what makes the MINT the MINT! Las Vegas, Fremont street closed down all day for the endless line of race cars being pushed through, the vendors booths and crowds of fans and curious gamblers. Pretty cool, you just have to absorb it as it's happening!
We had a great team for this race! The SIMCO team with Mike (Carrey couldn't make it), their kids Tyler and Parker, Momma and Pappa Bear, Dave, and Lindsey all rode out in the RV from the Glenwood Springs area. Ty came up from Phoenix, Gary from S. Cal, Jason and Marissa were in S. Cal on vacation prior to the race. Jennifer made the race, first one in a few years. Shelby, first race for him, Canadian Paul from the Front Range, and me. A great group of folks! My Fireguys teammates loaned me the use of their 35' enclosed trailer again, nice to have a garage on wheels!
Gary and I belted in the car for the long staging process to the start line. First car was off the line at 0600, sun came up at 0648 so I ran just 2 of my KC HID's to get to the start line. By the time we started it was light and no need for lights. I didn't request my usual rear start, so the luck of the draw had us start 3rd, next to #4701 Johnson/Mahoney. We started 30 seconds behind the #4721 H12:one Hollenbeck team and #4716 Wallentine. Behind us were #4707 Grahm, 4713 Maxtrax KC, #4749 Rivas, and #4722 Straight.
The green flag dropped and we went around the CORR track, then out into the desert. I did my usual slow start, not wanting to break the car flying the jumps the first mile of the race. We had just raced this same infield 3 weeks ago at the Battle at Primm and I was amazed at how well the car held up; I didn't want to push my luck!
After a few miles everyone had gone by and we were settling into the lap 1 pace. By mile 30 I pointed out the obvious to Gary that this was a fast track! Pit 1 at RM 39 we honked and waved as we went by Lindsey and Shelby pitting KC's car. KC's Maxtrax car has a stock tank and would pit at all 3 pits, not wanting to risk running out of gas on the course (been there, done that!). A few miles down the course KC's car passed us at speed, Gary and I thought two things; how big of a smile KC must have seeing how Jeremy (King Dave's son) is handling his car, and that car will never hold up!
All the rough and slow areas of the course I remembered from previous races, the "woopville" section at RM 26, the boulder field at RM52, the rutted out rocky 2-trac coming down the pass at RM 105, were non-existent, non-issues, not even much of a slow down! Where'd they go? I thought. That with the 4 or 5 sections of high speed dry lake bed crossings, and the paved road where we reached an all time high speed of 77 mph it changed my assumption of this being a survival course to a FAST course!
Rod Hall's Dodge passed us mid lap, he was on the gas dancing the truck as it pulled away from us. We went by pit B, waving at Ty and Canadian Paul through the 25 mph zone. A couple of our competitors had pulled over on lap one to change flats, we passed them thinking stick to our plan of "slow in the rough, fast in the smooth."
We came into the main pits at the end of Lap 1 with the #4716 Wallentine car pitting directly in front of us. Half of us in Class 11 were pitting in the same area, nice to share resources and knowledge. King Dave was there helping out as well. No Rod Hall, he had just come in with the truck and didn't have time to reconfigure in the bug. Gary was good to stay in the right seat for the second lap. We shut down to check the oil level, there was a slick under the hood but oil level was fine. We told the crew we had hit hard on the drivers front (hard enough to rattle my teeth, but no flat!). They tightened up the ball joint, added 13 gall of Sunoco and waved us out. We took off and discovered the brakes had locked up. The crew pushed us back to the pit and started fixing it. I got out so Dave could check the adjuster behind pedal. The left rear adjuster wouldn't back off far enough, but enough to free it. I buckled back in, thanked the crew and we took off, this time not dragging an anchor!
The long pit stop allowed me to get hydrated again. I had forgotten to put my camelback in the car (it was in Colorado) so Gary did a good juggling act getting me water bottles and using a plastic hose for a straw I managed to get a little water in me on lap 1! We didn't have the GPS course download so lap one was old school (it is the MINT!). Starting lap 2 now we knew the course and what to expect. We had more dust free miles at the start of lap 2 then we did Lap 1, with the still morning air and heavy traffic. It was nice to be able to go faster with clean air! The other classes were coming around us, the leader had fought us 20 miles from the end of lap one. On a loop race half our race is concerned about what's coming in the rear view mirror, the other half what's in front of us. My priority was to get out of the way of another class vehicle ASAP, but a lot of times it's not immediately possible to move over without ruining our race. Some folks behind us understand that and have better patience than others! We did get our driver's side rear fender and tail light smashed by a Class 10, I moved over as far as possible and he came by, his right front hit us on the way by. That happens a lot, always on the lookout for driver's side fenders and tail lights!
The car was feeling good on lap 2, the brakes were not locking up, they were a little looser due to the adjustment in the pits. I'll take that over coming to screeching halt! We cruised on by our Pit A and Pit B. We were having a race with the #4716 Wallentine car, both of us mid-pack. The Johnson/Mahoney Superteam had checked out. We were following the #4716 for most of the first half of the lap, then they followed us the second half of the lap. Around RM 100 KC's Maxtrax car was off to the side, Jeremy waved us on. I was thinking that's a tough part of the course to get help if they need it (reminded me of a helicopter ride I got from SCORE in 2006!). About the same time, I stepped on the brakes and the peddle went to the floor, nothing! I told Gary we'll have to slow down and when the #4716 gets on our bumper I'll let him by. That's my normal passing philosophy, early in the race I'll pull over and let anyone by. Late in the race they have to want it, get on my bumper and then I'll move over. We discovered in the loose just lifting off the brakes slowed the car down enough we didn't have to slow down too much. Going into a couple sharp corners it was exciting with the car dancing in the brake whoops! We rolled through a checkpoint, through the flag hitting the A-pillar (sorry-no brakes. How many times have I heard that working check points!) The #4721 H12:one car was on it's side in the middle of a rutted turn a few miles from finish, we just got around the high side, roosting the approaching recovery vehicle. Gary thought we were now in third place. We passed through our pits just a few miles from the finish line, with #4716 about 15 seconds behind us. Pretty cool to see everyone cheering us on. The crew radioed we had a flat right side rear but at this point there was no stopping. Approaching the dike jump we could hear the tire shredding, hitting the fender. We lost a lot of speed in this high speed section, down shifted and kept peddle to the floor! We navigated the final infield turns and jumps, made it over the RedBull leap with the checkers in sight as the Trophy Trucks were starting side by side in the CORR track next to us.
We got in line with the other finishers, motor running rough at idle, then I shut it off patting the dash telling Tortuga thanks and sorry! Gary got out of the car and came over to my side saying "don't look at your car." The right rear shock mount had ripped out of the mounting plate, breaking the brake line, and eventually cutting into the tire. The tire was basically gone, remnants of a tire on a beat up rim. The smoke I thought coming from the tire was motor smoke resulting from a shredded fan belt, (a surprise discovery when we opened the deck). The other surprise discovery was made later, the right side front upper shock mount had torn from the beam! The car wanted to get to the finish, but now it was dead. We couldn't follow the line of other finishers and drive up the podium ramp and tell our story. We put the spare tire on and with the assistance of our support truck, towed it back to the pits.
We had a great race with #4716 Wallentine for 3rd. Congrats to #4701 Johnson / Mahoney on their win, and #4749 Rivas on second place. Madmedia and BITD put on a fun race! A lot of stories will come from this one! Thanks to my wife Jennifer for being part of this one and for the continued support of my passion. A great weekend in the desert with a bunch of people that made it all happen! Great to meet some new faces and see old friends!
(Photos by Shelby Bates, Canadian Paul)
2013 Baja 1000 Nov. 15-16,2013
The Fireguys Class 11 was happy to be back in Baja for the longest, toughest loop race in its history. Maxtrax came on board and gave us the boost to make the 46th running of the Baja 1000 a reality. Our adventure started the week prior to the 1000 with a trip to the SEMA show in Las Vegas. Tortuga was sporting a whole new look, wearing Maxtrax black and orange and 4 "new" fenders for the occasion. The '69 bug with TONS of race character looked somewhat out of place at SEMA, sitting behind a little green BMW and next to a Rally x-games looking ride. I did get a lot of positive comments regarding the car all week!
After SEMA half the team headed to Baja, more specifically to our rental Casa south of Ensenada, arriving Sat night, 5 days prior to the start of the race. We had time and rigs to do a little pre-running for the first time ever! Paul and I headed out in his Rescue Ranger for the section from Colonet, up and over to Mike's Sky Ranch, and on to Hwy 3. In this 70 mile stretch was roughly 10 miles of brutal tight, rutted, silty, rocky, climbs that by race day would be virtually impossible for Tortuga to make under it's own "power" (or lack there-of). We'd have one of the 4wd chase trucks in this area for assistance. The Mitsubishi with J. Harvey and Roger pre-ran from BFG #5 to Hwy 1. In this 100 mile stretch they encountered 2-3 silt hill climbs that also had potential to be problems for the bug. We'd have Gary's Mitshu, a stock mini Baja 1000 class winner a few years ago, be in the neighborhood during the race. Due to SCORE allowing Class 11 and a few other limited classes, to bypass the miles and miles of DEEP siltbeds at the south end of the course, we had the luxury of pre-running and seeing the worst sections of the course prior to the race.
Team Maxtrax meeting was Wed night prior to the Fri. start of the race. Jason, Canadian Paul, Tara, and Handcrank Film guys Chris, Erik, Jim, and Diego all arrived, along with Maxtrax KC and Melissa. Maxtrax Brad, as it turned out, had border crossing issues and wouldn't make it for the start of the race so Paul would co-drive the first 209 miles. The final race plan was penciled in our team binders and the BFG "bibles."
Thur. morning the team got the car in line for the 10:00 Tech/Contingency start. Jason and I took his Raptor from the Start to Ojos in the pre-run parade. Afterwards I joined the Tech/Cont. party while Jason and Jason went back to work on the Mitchu's 4wd issues. Tech/Cont. is always a crazy busy congested atmosphere in Baja, something you gotta experience!
Race morning! Paul and I staged in our 2nd rear start position, with 4 Class 11's in front and 1 behind us. A boat load of sportsman and UTV cars started behind Class 11's this year, more reasons to watch the rear view mirrors the first few miles. We took the green flag at 10:40am, squealing the tires on the pavement. We dropped into the dry wash (nice!) and settled into the technical beginning of the 830 mile race.
We felt a loss of power pulling 2nd gear around RM 12. A spectator gave us the flat tire sign and Paul determined we were close to our chase Raptor at RM 15. We pulled the bug over and started to change tires when Jason, Tara, and Chris pulled up and took over. Tortuga doesn't get flats too often, hopefully this was it for the race! We took off again, hearing the Raptor was pulling up to the course at RM 20.5 just as we rounded the left hand sweeper. The car quit sweeping and kareemed into the burm in front of a group of startled spectators. The Raptor pulled us off the course where we saw the upper right side torsion arm had worked it's way out. The crew and some eager spectators assisted in the repair as Tara tended to my bloodied finger (due to an eager spectator helping me take the wheel off). Nothing was broken on the car so we tightened and checked all the arms, then went on our way. All right, a flat and a mechanical issue right off the bat, I was hoping for smooth sailing now, for a while anyway. We had that, settled into a Baja pace through Ojos and across Hwy 3. Spectators were heading home, towards us on the course so we had to expect oncoming traffic around every blind corner. Urban racing for sure untillwe got further out of Ojos. A few miles later the steering went away. We pulled off the course and discovered the long side tie rod had broken in half. We put the spare on and adjusted it close to where both front tires pointed the same general direction.
Around RM 60 was the first steep hill we didn't make on the 1st try. Second attempt was good with Paul pushing, then smooth sailing onto BFG #1 at RM 75. We gassed up with good smelling SUNOCO and took off for the next leg up and over the summit area. Unique Baja country here, scattered Jeffrey pine trees, steep rocky canyons. We plugged along up and down the rolling hills, then started up the biggest final hill. 300 yards from the top we lost momentum at a big rock. Paul pushed, used the Maxtrax as a bridge between rock gaps, winched (an experiment for this race), worked his butt off in this section. A fast buggy squeezed by to our inside, horsepower and suspension making it easy. One more push, pull, and Maxtrax on the final climb and the bug was at the top. I pulled over far right to gather everything up and let Paul catch his breath. the noise of another buggy was climbing the hill behind us. I fired up the car while Paul waved at the buggy to stop while I moved forward. BC1 ran over the rear of Tortuga as I moved forward, not wanting to wait 5 seconds. Fortunately the damage was cosmetic and a broken tail light, scars of the adventure.
We slowly banged and clanged down the other side, finally hitting the flats and silt around RM 150. The Raptor was waiting for us, assisting a broken race truck in the silt beds. We made it past them and a few miles later got stuck. The Raptor pulled us out and we got stuck again. Raptor pulled us to the next hard surface and unhooked us. Got stuck again in the sand and Paul Maxtrax'd us out. I kept going to the next hard surface at RM 165 while Paul hitched a ride in the Raptor.
With all the issues, we were pushing the closing time of checkpoint #1. We left the silt/sand and back to slow rolling whoops, loosing more time getting to CP1. Crossing Hwy 3 CP1 was not to be seen, having closed a few minutes earlier. Not as big a deal now that CP's don't stub, since the GPS tracker magically keeps track. We raced on down course 17 miles to BFG 2 that was staying open for us. A ticking noise started but with no loss of power I suspected an exhaust leak. The noise got louder the closer we got to BFG 2, but still no loss of power. RM 209 we pulled into BFG 2 and after gassing up, diagnosed the noise as being a rocker arm wave washer/clip issue. KC swapped out our spare rocker arm, strapped in the drivers seat with J. Harvey now navigating. Paul and I hopped in the Raptor as the car headed down course.
We heard "1108 at RM 215, AOK", "1108 at RM 220 AOK", then "oil light is on". The motor locked up and we were done. The Raptor towed it to San Felipe and we retrieved it the next day with the trailer back to Ensenada.
We had a good plan in place with the Team Maxtrax resources available. Our team was a great group of enthusiastic people with the same goal of getting the bug around the course to the finish line. The car had other plans this time from the get go, but that's Baja! I felt bad KC and Harvey had a short ride, Gary and Roger never got to get in the car, Melissa and Brad and Canadian Paul didn't get an opportunity to get in the car. But we will be back! Maxtrax is a product that works as claimed, it really is the easy way out! We had fun hanging with the Hand Crank Film guys, can't wait to see their footage (the last two pics in this write-up are from them)!