2020 Baja 1000 - Race Summary
After prerunning for 2 days we were pretty sore and tired. We knew there would be some long hours ahead so sleep was at a premium each night.
To start off, the racecar was having a hard time getting into reverse so the guys worked on the transmission linkage the night before the race as Rob and I were a couple hours to the south where we'd be getting in the racecar tomorrow.
Race Mile 0 - 160 went really well. The guys said it was rough and we could tell by the amount of racecars missing body parts as they passed. I'd never seen such beat up Trophy Trucks so early into a long race. Hoods and fenders missing all over. We pitted the car at RM160 and we changed out a slow leaking tire and off they went. Looking good!
The racecar got stuck in some silt around a corner at RM262 and so Kirk and Tim S (First driver/co-driver) got out and called on the sat phone for help. We sent some pit crew in a prerunner their way, but they kept working on it and eventually a competitor stopped to tow them out.
We got into the racecar a bit later than planned at 7PM on Friday at Race Mile 275. It was right about when our bodies were used to calling it a day and starting to think about finding a bed, but not tonight. Immediately, I realized the course notes we'd worked so hard to input were not showing. We had points, but no detail to know if the race ending hole was on the right or left or if it was something like the big sharp piece of farm equipment we'd seen prerunning in the course around the next turn. We just treated each point as a general hazard and kept moving.
Suddenly all the detailed notes were back, thankfully.
The big horsepower motors of the Trophy Trucks and Class 1's running up to 42 Inch diameter tires had cut in deep ruts and made everything into a perpetual silt bed. (Silt is the dry talcum powder like dirt that can swamp your car and make it hard to see or breathe). As we battled through the slow rough miles of this section we started to see race cars stuck. Lights from cars were strewn about an otherwise pitch black landscape. Some had missed a corner and were off to the side, others turned upside down, some were down in a valley next to the race course having slid from the off camber trail and still others were stuck dead in the middle of the course. We heard that one Trophy Truck was "Unrecoverable" because it went down such a cliff.
We navigated around each one looking for a clean line to avoid their fate. The stuck competitors helping guide us and the other racers on the best line around them.
At one point we drove up onto a side hill around what we thought was one racecar and as we started to slide back down onto the course just ahead of that stuck car we realized there was an overturned racecar in front of it. We slid down and hit this car and barely kept from getting stuck. (They got it flipped back over and continued to race later) Up the steepest hills we were flooring the gas pedal and then dumping the clutch again and again since first gear wasn't geared low enough to make it. I was picturing us stuck out here with a burnt out clutch. It held, although again and again we abused it.
Around one corner at low speed we slid off course. It was an off camber section and we could tell our tires followed the ruts of so many cars ahead of us that also slid off. We were stuck. First I hit the "Stella" safety beacon that signals race organizers as well as nearby cars that there was a stopped racecar. Then I removed my pumper (Pumped in air that goes through a filter to try and give you decent air to breathe), radio connection and 5 point seat harness. I lowered the window net and crawled out. It was like moondust and my shoes sunk deep into the silt. I removed the ratchet strap and pins holding the plastic traction boards and felt all at once like I was in a class I do at Overland Expo. Come on boards! Don't make the instructor look stupid! WORK!!!
We made a little progress out of the hole, but we were still stuck. It would take some more tries. Just then a race car came over the hill and I made sure to get on the other side of our car to have something in between us for protection. Not thinking clearly, I was too close to our car. The oncoming racecar hit our car and then our car hit me and threw me back a bit. Stupid, I know better. It was smart to get out of the race course and put our car in front of me as a block, but I needed to get as far away as possible. I thought "Lucky Tim, no more stupid mistakes." I got back to digging with the boards and we tried again. Each time I saw more lights I stood far back as another racecar passed us. One more try and we were out! I yelled at Rob to go ahead and find a spot where he could get out of the racecourse. I dug for the now sunk traction boards, re-attached them and got back into the racecar.
(SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH for family friendly reading. I include it because it happened and it was just a small part of the things you go through to race) ...As I got back into the car and started the lengthy procedure to strap and wire myself back in I tried to use the restroom. (We wear a race catheter so you can go #1 when you need to while racing) Quickly I realized that it wasn't attached anymore. It had fallen off during all the climbing around and digging... It may not be fun to hear, but this wasn't the first time I'd have to "go" in a racecar in the seat. Almost every baja racer has had to do it at one time or another. Not fun, but I did it. You have no choice when you're racing unless you want to stop and get out again.)
We kept racing and around a corner was a large drop off in the middle of the course we'd marked. It was the remnants of an old bridge that was long gone. If you went off of it the race was over. We snuck around the edge as planned, but at the bottom we couldn't make the 90 degree right turn and the tires just kept pushing although they were at full right lock steering.
Stuck again. This time I knew we needed to go into reverse so I put the boards behind the tires and yelled at Rob to go back. He was nervous since at last years Baja 1000 a hard reverse had broken the transmission and ended their race. We eased back, but worried we could break the trans we moved the boards to the front. Rocking it back and forth we made progress in inches. Eventually we had enough traction to go for it. Rob gunned it forward this last time and the car jumped up onto the traction boards and out it went right over the top of a bush and boulder.
When he hit the trail there was no choice, but to keep momentum going through the silt bed and up the big silt hill. There I was all alone in the dark with my headlamp digging out the boards and watching for racecars. The headlamp hit a wall of dust making me feel like I was in fog. I ran up the hill, but the silt was too much. I couldn't breathe so I had to walk. Eventually I caught up to where he'd pulled off and re-strapped/bolted the boards and started to climb in. I was drenched in sweat. It was very cold out, but I was overheating. Thankful to be back in I got my belts on and told Rob to hit it. I got the window net, electrical and pumper back on as we raced.
Around the very next corner was a UTV racer that we'd passed and then just gotten passed back by while stuck. Rob got up on his bumper and I hit the "request to pass" button on the Stella car to car GPS. Rob went a bit left to make sure the racecar saw our headlights in his rear view and it happened. We jumped left off the course. The left tire had slid off the left side crown of the shelf road and we were stuck. Left rear tire hanging in the air in a bush. Center skid plate stuck on the raised lip of the road and a small tree/bush stuffed against the front bumper. I got out a third time.
Boards under the tire I knew we had to go a little in reverse. We tried it several times, but the gear shifter popped out of Reverse each time. We made a go of it between racecars passing. Each time we saw lights I'd run off the course and try to direct and slow down racecars with the light I'd taped to my helmet. Eventually reverse gear let out a screech and we knew it was finished. We had to go forward, over the bush or tree or whatever it was. I started taking limbs off of it. With boards under the tires we rocked forward, but each time we slid further off. The limited slip that had recently been installed gave some power to the tire on the ground thankfully, but it wasn't enough to get out.
We were done trying that because soon we'd be so far off the course that we'd never get back on. It hit me that this was absolutely going to be my next few hours. Digging, stacking rocks or whatever. I was drenched in sweat. I jumped off the course for another racecar feeling dejected.
This time it looked and sounded like a trophy truck, but it was one of these several hundred thousand dollar prerunners built like a trophy truck. The three smiling guys inside asked if we needed a tow. YES, YES, THANK YOU, YES!!! I pulled the tow strap off and attached it to our front bumper. I was moving so quick fearing they'd drive off I was clumsy in my movements. On the prerunner there was no open end to tie it to so I broke every safe recovery rule and tied a knot. We had maybe seconds until a racecar came over the hill at us and hit both vehicles. I ran far out of the way of what could be a flying strap and yelled GO GO GO!!! The big V8 prerunner yanked our racecar up and over that tree and another one back onto the middle of the course. I half rolled and jumped down the hill onto the race course and untied my knot. With a smack on the rear fender I said GRACIAS and GO GO GO to the prerunner and he was off. I threw the tow strap to Rob and told him to hold onto it and find a safe spot to pull off the course. After a couple racecars came up and passed I caught up to him and removed our tow strap and got myself settled back in.
I was roasted. I couldn't breathe very well and my eyes felt like they were full of sand... and they were. At this point we knew we couldn't make any more mistakes even though we'd really only made one so far. This course was rough enough to still get stuck fairly often even with no mistakes. No need to add to it. Like a light switch we were back to racing and I was calling out every turn and every hazard.
It seemed like this section never ended. The highest gear for these hundred miles was second, but mainly we stayed in first gear. We waited at hill climbs for stuck cars to move, we passed idling Trophy Trucks wondering what they were doing and when they'd come back to haunt us in the future race. It was a melee out there. People were everywhere. You could tell that many had not prerun this section. Every time a course note we'd made saved us we were happy. All that prerun work was paying of.
After what seemed like a day... and it almost was in hours, we reached Valle De Trinidad. We had a few miles of mandated 37MPH section through town and a full half hour of 60 MPH mandated speed section on highway. Time to eat and drink water. We tried to eat our caffeinated clif bars, but we barely had enough moisture in our mouths. The ice cold air at this speed was making my wet fire suit freezing cold. We hit dirt and right afterwards we pitted. Filling the fuel tanks and checking the car, all seemed well besides the transmission and lights that all seemed to be loose. (We'd already had one fall off).
We left the pit and were finally bashing through a "whoops" section. This is a normally hated section because it's so rough, but being able to hit higher speeds and a section that felt "fast" seemed easy to us. Over a rise the front tires went hard left as we were moving very fast. The car hunkered to the right and it felt like we were going to roll. Rob was trying with everything he could to straighten the wheel. We came close, but never rolled. At a stop we fought the wheel back straight and as we rolled forward the wheels went back to left lock. We got off the course for safety and started to radio the last pit location. After discussing and trying to drive we knew we needed to limp the 10 miles backwards to the pit.
We found a side trail to cautiously and slowly make our way back. Rob was using both hands to hold the wheel straight and occasionally we'd stop and fight it back straight. It was determined to go hard left only. At the pit, we were lucky to find the person who built our particular racecar. How's that for luck in the middle of the night at one of many pit areas. Out of the racecar and hood off we tested the power steering servo and figured out that fluid was powering into the side to turn the car left, but blocking any fluid from going right. So we had a car that was over assisted with all pressure one direction. Determining we had a spare in San Felipe, Kelsey and Steve (Rob's Father in law) were on their way with it after a radio call.
I couldn't stop shivering. It was maybe 40F out, but sweating out so much moisture I was dehydrated and cold from the cool air rushing into my wet suit for hours. I walked over to a nearby fire and tried to talk to two Mexicans who were waiting on their racecar. They welcomed me closer, but I could barely think of words.
We seemed to just enjoy sharing the fire. They brought me over coffee and some cookies and I sat there trying to dry off my fire suit and warm up. I also drank all the water I could find at the pit. When Kelsey showed up we knew the install would go quick so we re taped our ear plugs with fresh Gorilla tape since the old tape came off with so much pulled off hair from my head, it was worthless. We got our helmets and neck restraints back on and started to bolt ourselves back into the racecar. The photo above was taken by Kelsey as we waited to go back at it.
We had half of our miles to go and we'd been racing for 9 hours. We were beyond tired or sore. Off in a la la land sort of place where we were accepting of our future and what we had to do. We had no feelings about it one way or the other. Without a more eloquent way of putting it... we were dead inside.
It's funny what can change. Within minutes of leaving the pit we were talking to each other more. "We're delivery guys. Professionals. We need to get this car to Brady (Son of the owner and final driver). We need to do it fast and with no mistakes." We were like a machine. A delirious machine. Calling out every turn, every rock and every line choice. We were getting to hit 3rd and once even 4th gear at 70MPH. We were racing again. It felt like a different race. It was a new day after all. The steering felt great. I could tell Rob was able to thread the tires around every "gotcha" sized rock. (The size and shape of rocks that give you flats or could break the car)
The brakes were fading. Maybe it was air in the line or maybe it was a leak. We didn't care because it was minor as long as we pumped the brakes BEFORE we needed them. I'd call out "hard left into a medium right coming up at end of straight away, pump the brakes!!" Just add that little fact into the course notes. After pumping they'd come back each time. No point in worrying about what would happen next. Just deal with the now.
We were smiling even. Doing work. We felt good. We knew that we were leaving everything out there and holding nothing back. No self pity, no questioning decisions, just keep working. As we hit "Zoo Road" (A famously rough long straight with big "Whoopdeedoo" bumps) we passed Kelsey, Steve and Tom who were there to make sure all was okay. We were blasting the horn and feeling good.
A while later we started to see the first bit of sunrise. We were ripping through canyons and working as a well oiled machine. Even commenting about how epic this was, how beautiful. Stopping mid sentence to call out a rock or turn. Then right back to how this was it, this was the epitome of racing Baja. How we could be on our couch at home. Laughing at what we'd be missing almost with a mix of envy for a couch and knowing we were exactly where we wanted to be.
We saw dust ahead. We passed a 10 car in our class! We'd caught a competitor. The way they were driving we could tell they were demoralized. I bet they hadn't seen someone in their class in hours. We hadn't even seen another race car in hours. We'd all been there, but we were pushing it. Abusing ourselves through the rough stuff to keep the pace quick. They were taking the pace all our bodies wanted to take through this rough stuff.
We caught a 1600 car which is the class I'd always raced. They should be behind us, but after the race we'd had we were just glad to be passing them back.
Matomi wash was coming up! This is the only "rock crawling" section of the race and it's notorious. (You can find videos of it online.) This year everyone was talking about how the rains had cleared out sand making the rocks "taller". We slowed way down, put the car in first gear and talked about how this was time to "do work." We weren't racing through here, we were just surviving. The race can't be won here, but it can easily be lost. After all, we had a delivery to make. We NEED to get this car to the Owner. That's what we're here to do.
(You play psychologist as a co-driver as much as you watch the gauges, rear view mirror, GPS, corners and change tires/get unstuck. It's a lot going on. I don't think anyone LIKES to be the co-driver. We're all control freaks and prefer driving, but most co-drive because being in a racecar is better than not being in one, period. Driving my own share of races I know some of the things I wish a co-driver had said to me to keep me thinking straight and not letting the tiredness or fury of "Red Mist" take over your brain where you go too hard and make poor choices.)
We followed our notes. "Stay right here. Middle line in this section. Right tire on that tall rock. Trust the spray painted rock here! Hard right and then stay left, way left. Good, straight ahead to hard right, stay right."
We were out. We had almost 20 miles of racing left. Plenty of time to make mistakes, but we were smiling. We were going fast. The fastest we'd been going. We knew that we couldn't celebrate or relax. We were flying along working like a machine knowing that we had so little left in our mental and physical tanks that we could almost black out. So, stay focused, don't relax until pavement. We saw crowds yelling and honking.
(I can't tell you how much a yell or a horn makes you feel awake and alive. Somehow you're out there pandering and begging for a thumbs up and it absolutely feels like gold when you get it. As if they know, they know what you've been through and are giving you a little high five in appreciation.)
We hit pavement. Hard left. 2 miles to pit. We could hear our team guiding us in. We started to get ready to jump out. We radioed all of the issues with the car. Reminded them the brakes needed bleeding. I got into the tool bag and cut our feed bag with supplies off. Lowered my window net and the second we rolled into the pit our belts were off and we were climbing out. Brady and Adam climbed in and we told them about the car.
"It's running great, it's working well and no issues besides the brakes. Pump them when you can, make sure they are still there. We changed the air filter when we changed the power steering, have them change it again at your next pit. GO GO GO!"
It was so still. Was the world always so still and quiet. I felt like I'd just gotten off a long boat ride. My body was sensing movement, but I was standing still. The world seemed so much quieter too. I drank whatever was handed to me. I think it was water and powerade type things and then a beer. It had the effect of 5 beers. I stared off at the Sea of Cortez while the team loaded up the chase trucks. "Time to go!"
I put on swim trunks and sandals and sat in the truck. Dazed and confused. We spent the rest of the day chasing the race car here and there. We checked on the guys in the racecar at each pit and got them water. We listened to the race radio. We watched some other racers pass by. I saw a Motorcycle Ironman racer (A motorcycle racer completing the entire race ALONE) go by and he looked lost and half drunk missing the race turn and nearly falling over. It reminded me that there were more levels of hurt well beyond where I was.
It was all surreal and I was only partially there. Finally we heard the racecar was crossing the finish line. We tried to get there, but Ensenada traffic was too much. We stood around the racecar back at the house we were renting chatting and celebrating while wearing our giant medals. Everyone had a story. I couldn't remember most of mine. No one will know, no one will really understand. The closest are those that just lived through their own story, the racers. It all seemed fake anyhow. How can you explain to someone how important to you a race is that is of no consequence. How do you make sense of the effort and risks you put in to gain nothing, but a cheap metal necklace. It defies explanation, but if you know, you know.
41 hours awake. 13 hours in the racecar. 332 miles raced.
We pulled Goose over near the racecar and finished one more beer to numb the pain. These, mostly, strangers I'd met a few days before were now buddies, good friends. We popped the top on Goose and covered in silt and dirt, I didn't care and didn't have energy to shower, we went to bed.
A few hours later we woke at 4am and headed for Tijuana to avoid the hours long crossing later in the day. We made it to my parents place in San Clemente.
We slept. We're still half asleep. We're already talking about what we want to race next. Scheming, making plans, looking at how we can make this happen in our own racecar. Will we never learn? I hope not. I'm the luckiest person on Earth to have a teammate like Kelsey.
Thank you to Rob and everyone on the team that allowed us to be apart of this race.