Day -45 – Thirty Six Hours of Racing Baja

bajaHave you ever gotten confused when someone said they were going to Baja California? You know that is in Mexico, right?  The little spit of land referred to as Baja, is the peninsula, it runs south from San Diego for about a thousand miles.  Baja has two states, the northernmost one is Baja California; the one south is Baja Sur.  We spent the last week in Baja California, the wild, wild west.

When you think Mexico, most people think of Cabo or Cozumel with the beautiful beaches; Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta with the ruins and lush green…when I think Baja, I think paradise – but that is for an offroader, the predominant color is brown, or better described as dust.  Baja is home to the SCORE 1000 race, the final event of each year for Score International.  It is an epic event that has been captured on film, think Dust to Glory, and has captured the hearts of many.

Each year we attend as part of a Chase team.  Our race team is the 1066 of Shaffer Motorsports.  This year there were about 20 people on the team.  We have six drivers that move the car forward, this year through 888 miles of course, starting at Ensenada and ending there as well.  It took 35 hours and 57 minutes, not our best showing, but we finished within the timeline of 36 hours; and a finish is almost as good as a win.  The attrition rate at the thousand is horrendous.

The other dozen of us were chase teams; our goals were to be where the race car would pass through sometime during that 36 hours to provide support.  There were three teams on the Sea of Cortez side; Chase 10 – that’s us, we run communications; Chase 2 – Shawn and Bror were stationed towards San Felipe; Chase 1 – Hector and friends (locals to Ensenada).  Our first challenge came providing an additional tire to the 1066 after they had to change one in the first leg of the race, Chase 1 met them at Pit 1 and dropped the tire; the second challenge came when we ran out of gas thirty miles from Pit 2.  All of us on the Cortez side got involved in that one, strapping down extra fuel cans we were carrying and sending them off with Chase 1 to find the car at race mile (rm) 173.  By rm 340, our team had moved away from the Cortez side and was running strong but we wouldn’t see them for what we estimated would be another 14 hours, they had moved to the Pacific side.

Driver change occurred at Coco’s Corner.  Coco is a legend in Baja, he lives in the middle of nowhere on a road that crosses the peninsula from east to west.   Coco has been a host to thousands over the years with a cold beer and many stories, all of the legends have been a part of that history.  San Felipe to Gonzaga has been almost completely paved; then there is another 30 miles of dirt until you get to Coco’s, this is race course in this event.  After Coco’s is another 20 miles of dirt to get to Highway 1, this year that 20 miles was slow going, so no easy task to get in there.  Chase 3 was waiting at the driver’s change, new drivers in, old one’s out, it had taken our team about 14 hours to this point. 

So at midnight, the 1066 was on its way headed to the infamous silt beds.  The silt this year was unbelievable, a 100 mile section of deep ruts with sand washing over the car; it wasn’t until daybreak that we started having an easier time of it.  Stuck in the silt at least nine times, because we had issues earlier in the race, we got the worst of it since it had all been run to death and powdered up even more than we had seen in prerunning.  The team forged on, Chase 4, 5 and 6 were on the Pacific side, since there are no roads that cross the peninsula easily, it is important to stage people on both sides.

No significant issues arose outside of the silt, but it was still very slow going.  Another driver change at rm 567 put the last of our drivers in the car.  We anticipated seeing the team at rm 750 when they finally made it out of the Mike’s Sky Ranch road around noon.  Chase 2 and Chase 10 were staged and ready.  It wasn’t until almost 6 p.m. that we saw them.  Chase 5 had helped with a change of GPS some miles back and then we hit a logjam at rm 735.  It took hours to clear the logjam with various race vehicles helping each other get through.  It doesn’t matter what team or what class you were in, everyone pitches in. 

By the time our car was cruising through, we had transferred Bror from Chase 1 in with us and Chase 2 had gone home, we were the last bastion of support on our side of the peninsula with 100+ miles to go.  Our concern now was time, SCORE checkpoints have very specific closing times.  Checkpoint six was set to close at 6:38; at one point, that time had been moved to 5:38 pm, but thankfully Weatherman fought for the time to move back to the six mark and he won.  Our car would have missed the checkpoint.  Checkpoint seven was set to close at 7:09, we were the last car through the checkpoint on time at 6:37.  The last checkpoint was crossed with plenty of time, but now we had to meet the 36 hour deadline, and we still had plenty of mileage to cover. 

We saw the car go past us three different times, after checkpoint 8, there was nothing further we would be able to do for them, so we headed to town, through the twisty mountain pass to meet them at the finish line.  By this time, we had added over 500 pounds to our vehicle and she wasn’t handling beautifully.  It wasn’t a good day to die, so we slowed down and took our time.  Pulling in to Ensenada, we parked and ran for the finish line, and there we waited anxiously for the racecar.  Watching our clocks, we knew that we just had a short window, we hoped our drivers knew that as well.  With a scant three minutes left, they crossed the line.  All of the team was there to greet them.  Finisher pins handed out by SCORE, pictures taken, this is what it is about.  The first finishers in the fastest trucks had finished before dawn that day in less than 24 hours; we were done an hour before the finish line closed, but within our 36 hour time limit.  So proud of our team, it takes everyone to make this kind of effort happen.

While all of our team arrived safely, we listened to Weatherman, the communications guru of the offroad community throughout the race and heard many Code Reds called.  Code Red is the radiospeak for an emergency is in progress.  Our first night out, just after dusk, Code Red had been called for a bike down; the KTM 2X rider was within 100 miles of the finish; he was leading the race; he died that night.  Kurt Caselli was a 30 year old legendary rider, he lost his life in the pursuit of his passion.

It happens every year, someone will die in Baja at the 1000; not often is it a competitor, it usually is a chase crew or spectator, but it happens every year without fail.  All of us going in country know the risk, but we do it anyway.  There is something to be said for being part of an event as epic as the SCORE 1000, for being part of something bigger than yourself, for being surrounded by people who push themselves so hard in pursuit of a goal, for living with that passion.  I can’t wait for next year.



Day 321 – Baja, 2012, Day Six

Whew, time to relax, finally.  Race week has been a blast, so much fun, so much intensity.  These are good people we’ve been with.  We finally saw some of our team this morning, that we haven’t seen throughout the race.  It’s funny, in a point to point, not everyone starts at the same location, so there’s no time for the whole team to be together.  Others we didn’t see at all because they took off going north again already.  Next year the Baja 1000 will be a loop race again, so it will mostly stage and focus between Ensenada and San Felipe.  We’ll see them all again then.

We are staying at the Araiza Palmira Hotel in La Paz, a quiet little unassuming hotel at the end of the Malecon.  It is really very nice, the beds are comfy, the staff is friendly and it’s just enough out of the way that you feel like your stuff is safe.  We walked down the Malecon for dinner, along the beach, just a sliver of the moon out reflecting on the water.  Very peaceful.  The little place we found was much bigger than we thought from the outside, but it was early so it wasn’t very busy.  As we perused the menu and talked about our choices, the chef came out and spoke with Big.  It’s a Mexican thing, he wouldn’t really address me.  Big asked about scallops, of course, he said, would you like with shrimp too.  Of course, was the response.  I could see the guy opening the shells, the scallops were huge and fresh, about an inch and a half in diameter and grilled to perfection.  Throw in some grilled shrimp (with the heads on) and we had an incredible meal.  First dinner we’ve had sitting down since we got to Baja.  Taco stands are where we usually eat.

We are taking off after another good night’s sleep and headed to the beaches, our first trip to Scorpion Bay is on the agenda on the Pacific side and then back to the Sea of Cortez side to Buenaventura.  But who knows, there might be a beach along the way that demands our attention.  The area south of Loreto was so green and beautiful when we sped through the other day, I’m looking forward to seeing it without tired eyes.

Day 322 – Baja, 2012, Rest of Day Five

9:22 p.m. Friday, La Paz, Baja California Sur – 849 miles from Ensenada on Highway 1 plus all the miles driven to and from the pits.  We began our day 8:00 a.m. on Thursday.  Our team has finished, we took second in our class.   So proud of the effort made by all to make the trek and follow through to finish.  For us, it was an uneventful race, some minor mishaps that kept us out of first place, but nothing serious, blown fuse, etc.  For some other teams, it wasn’t as nice.

Baja is like the wild west, crazy shit happens and when things go bad, they can go very, very bad.  Early on race day, a chase team was in an accident near San Felipe, one man died, another woman was seriously injured and transferred to Scripps in San Diego.  By the description it reminded me of the accident on the Rubicon last summer that took the life of Rachel Anne Gray.

Yesterday a class one car was fueling at RM 835 when the car and the chase truck both caught fire and burned to the ground.  The driver and the fuel man ended up in the emergency room at Loreto.  Those were the only major incidents we heard, but there were plenty of minor ones.  Our prayers and thoughts to all affected by these accidents, the victims and families, the responders and emergency personnel.  Hug your family and friends close and remember that “I love you” can never be expressed too many times.

There were also some funny things that happened to some of the teams that would only happen in Mexico, a trophy lite truck was impounded by the federales yesterday when the tow vehicle wrecked off the side of a cliff outside of Mulege.  One of the BC Challenge cars rolled in the race course, reports are that the police detained the driver (rumor has it our friend Jessi Combs was in that car- they probably just wanted her autograph), two of our friends were scammed at ATM’s in Ensenada by guys that told them – after they had put in their PIN, that the machines were out of money – then walked them to another one around the corner while their buddies withdrew the cash.  Another guy was fined $50 per shell for shotgun shells he had in his truck after his last hunting trip – they finally settled on a $100 bribe and let him go.  All of these things really happened, this is the lawless west, anything goes.  The right way to look at it, is Caveat Traveler, Traveler Beware – This isn’t the US where you have more than your share of rights, you’re on your own down here.

Day 323 – Baja, 2012, Day Four and Five (so far)

It’s 4:14 a.m., on 11/16, an extension of the day before that began at 8:00 a.m.  We are still awake, and will be for another 15 hours or so.  Right now we are parked at the second Pemex at Visciano, our race car began the race at 12:19 p.m. yesterday.  The IRC tracker hasn’t worked since they left the start line.  At Coco’s corner we were able to get a Spot Tracker mounted on the car.  For two hours the SPOT has been in the same location, RM 470.  That’s not a good sign.  We have chase teams stationed at RM 501 and RM 531 waiting for word.  It’s been a long night already and we are not half way done yet.

The first half of the day was pretty eventful, lots of wrecks by both the cars and the chase teams.  Some of them very serious.  We hate to see that.  La Carrerra Mil or the Baja 1000 is an incredible race, so much time, money and heart goes in to the race.  Our team has at least 25 people in various capacities, Big and I are handling communications, we are talking to chase teams, Weatherman and the race team.  We send messages by Spot tracker/GPS, Facebook and Pirate, not to mention the radio(s) and cell phones, it’s been busy.  When we have a TelCel signal, we are checking all the data so we can share.  It’s a fun job and I am glad we get to do it.

I’m tired and a little rummy, we keep trying to get some rest, but we’re in the XJ so a comfy spot is a little hard to find.  Oops, I think I’m rambling now.  Gonna sit and wait some more and see what happens, our goal is La Paz at RM 1121 – wish us luck, we hope to get there.

Update:  It’s 4:41 a.m., we just heard from the car, they are passing RM 501 and headed to the BFG pit at RM 531.  They rolled at RM 470, all is well, but they lost the SPOT tracker.  So hear we go again, no tracker on the car to figure out where they are.  Damn.

Day 324 – Baja, 2012, Day Three

It’s race day, I didn’t sleep last night, probably in anticipation, since I know I won’t get to sleep tonight.  My last all nighter was Grand Nationals in Tennessee, one of these days I’ll figure out I’m too old for this.  My driver went to bed early and seemed to sleep well, so that’s a good thing.  There are lots of places to follow the race, but these are the places that we will be with the #401, class 4 car:

Race the World – Baja California – first half of the race

Race the World – Baja California Sur – second half of the race

Our spot tracker will post updates here at TajMahauler – this includes tweets

More info on Facebook at Shaffer-Motorsports

And the following are Spot Trackers for various members of the Chase teams so you can see where they are, this is our Spot, Berne’s, John’s, Shawn’s, and Mike’s.

Wish us luck – it’s going to be a fun 30+ hours against the elements that Mexico can throw at you.

From yesterday:

Contingency is one of my favorite parts about races in Mexico, or desert races in general.  A route is set up through a vendor area in which all cars must pass.  This is an opportunity for the public to see the race cars and trucks, to get posters and stickers.  In Mexico is the place to party.  It lasts all day, here in Ensenada, it’s a four block long affair, thousands of locals poured in to a small area, add to that the race teams and the people from the Carnival cruise line currently in port and there a just a ton of people milling about.  The food and beer are plentiful, the atmosphere is fun.  We cruise through looking for people we know, and there are plenty of those.  Monster and Speed Energy have hosted parties this week for their sponsored drivers, the shops have been busy, Ensenada is bustling, just as the small towns along the way will be too.

Day 325 – Baja, 2012, Day Two

Pre-running in Baja is a tradition, all the race teams are down here for the SCORE 1000 race, it is a point to point race from Ensenada to LaPaz.  Total mileage is 1121.55 by Race Miles, 845.9 Highway miles.  We’re doing the highway section, Highway 1 for the entire race if all goes well for our race car.  Rich and I are responsible for communications for the Class 4 #401 car owned by Shaffer Motorsports and driven by friends, Mike Shaffer, Berne Strom, Daniel Aeberli and Shawn Twitchell.  All the boys have been pre-running for at least a week already, Rich and I began our pre-run today.

First stop Ojos Negro, just 40 kilometers from the start, next stop Valle de Trinidad, 117 km, then the road across from Hwy 3 to Hwy 1 through the actual Valley.  It was a steep, ridge laden road, narrow and gravelly.  We won’t do too much offroading here in Baja, so this was a nice drive for us.  We then took Hwy 1 back to Ensenada, but not until after a stop in Santo Tomas for some birria tacos.  Our goal today was to figure out how best to shadow the race car when it takes off from the start line on Thursday a little after noon.  Turns out that all of our options are about the same distance and time, so we get to pick our route.

Now, in case you are worried that we only got birria tacos today, don’t stress, we added pescada, camaron and carne asada to finish out our night down in the barrios of Ensenada and then topped it all off with a crème filled churro.  I am sooo lucky.

Tomorrow morning I will post info on how best to follow the race.  Stay tuned, it’s going to be an adventure.

Day 337 – I thought November was a sleepy month

It seems every one of my friends started something new today to celebrate November.  Three people (all women) on my FB began a Thank you campaign – celebrating Thanksgiving with 30 days of gratefulness.  A couple of men I know started Movember clean shaven.  “Movember is all about bringing back the moustache, having fun and doing it for a serious cause; men’s health, specifically prostate and testicular cancer initiatives. Mo Bros commit to growing a moustache for the 30 days of Movember, and in doing so become walking and talking billboards for the cause. The moustache is our ribbon, the symbol by which we generate conversations, awareness and raise funds for men’s health.” (from the Movember website)  Having just completed the pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer, Movember is the perfect followup.

Then there are thousands of us who began NaNoWriMo, an international campaign to write 50,000 words in 30 days, the size of a small novel and also NaBloPoMo – National Blog Posting Month, it’s a way to publicize your blog and get more people to read it, as well as prompting you to write more.  Apparently the writing community wants you to be prolific this month.

The NaBloPoMo event is right up my alley, I’ve been trying to write daily as it is to share my 50th year.  Read “What’s it All About” for details, but essentially, I’m celebrating the journey to my 50th birthday right now, and it’s going famously.  Already I’ve started meeting goals – I figured I’d take stock of those on the 4th, a month in to make sure I’m on track.

NaNoWriMo – or National Novel Writing Month is my second attempt.  Last year I stopped on the 15th with 15,892 words – I was already 9,113 words behind by then and didn’t know where the book was going.  This year I’m off to a good start, at least for the first day, but I really haven’t thought through the whole book yet, so I may run in to the same problems I had last year.  We’ll see, I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, life goes on, the SEMA show is happening here in Las Vegas right now, we will be headed to Baja soon for the SCORE 1000, and I’ll have to figure out how to keep my blog going south of the border.  It’s not so much the technology challenge as the mental challenge of wanting to meet goals when the Sol (both beer and sun) are flowing.  Ahhh, Baja, I can’t wait!