Gary Newsome. Editor
Baja Racing News
LIVE from San Felipe, Baja Mexico, we are here reporting on the start of the Desert Race season in Baja California! Contingency is going well here on the malecon, with mostly high clouds, but very nice temperatures and of course, the fish tacos are in the air! About 25% of the Race vehicles have passed inspections so far. The BFGoodrich Tires meeting this morning noted some important details about this years racecourse. Most of the race will be run in the opposite direction of past races. Making it one of the most dangerous courses in years! We will give another LIVE REPORT in minutes, from Baja, Mexico for the Baja San Felipe 250!
Remember this event: Cabo Rock crawl!
Baja Rock 2003Rockin' and Crawlin' in Cabo San Lucas
After covering rockcrawling events throughout the United States for the past few years, you can only imagine our keen interest in an event that allowed us to travel outside the usual rock obstacle venue, let alone an event that brought us to Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico, situated at the tip of the Baja California Peninsula. The 1st Annual Baja International Rock Crawling Association (BIRCA) competition.
Before the two days of rockcrawling action got underway at the course located just outside of Cabo, competitors and enthusiasts were treated to a two-night off-road expo held in downtown Cabo San Lucas. The expo featured vehicle displays and offered locals a chance to meet the drivers and see the vehicles close up. Competitors were also allowed the opportunity to sell their own T-shirts to the public, which quickly gathered autographs from the excited drivers.
The Tecate- and Coca-Cola-sponsored competition began the following day in a canyon north of Cabo, near the town of Candalaria. Two series of obstacles consisting of upper and lower courses were designed to test the drivers' skills throughout the two-day event. Each challenging obstacle put its best effort forward in hampering the drivers' performance, resulting in plenty of spectacular rollovers and crunching sheetmetal. When all was said and done, one clear winner was decided: Tracy Jordan, with a massive points spread, harnessed a First Place finish. Next in points was Jason Paule who nabbed Second Place. After these positions, however, scoring deficiencies and other issues clouded the results, leaving the other competitors no indication of where they wound up in the standings. At time of publication, organizers still hadn't reached a resolution.
Despite the scoring problems, the 1st Annual Baja Rocks competition was a big hit for all of those involved. Participants enjoyed the opportunity to explore a new 'wheeling venue and showcase their abilities among an international crowd. Organizers are optimistic that a 2nd Annual event will follow sometime during 2004, but it was too early to tell for sure at time of publication.
Driver/Spotter: Jason Bunch/Steve HastingsVehicle: Jeep YJSponsors: Tri County Gear, Goodyear, ARB, CTM, Warn Industries, Weld, OMF, Advance Adapters, Premier Power Welder, Summit, Klune-V, Black Diamond Suspensions
Driver/Spotter: Mike Palmer/Greg NossVehicle: Campbell Enterprises tube frameSponsors: Dynatrac, Tractech, Campbell Enterprises, ARB
Driver/Spotter: Brian Hamilton/Ron MaxioffVehicle: Toyota Land CruiserSponsors: Goodyear, CTM, Teraflex, Tractech, Bilstein
Driver/Spotter: Dustin Webster/Bob RoggyVehicle: '01 Chevy S-10Sponsors: ProComp Tires, Red Bull Energy Drink, Dynatrac, J.E. Reel Drivelines, CTM, Trailer Equipment, CalRocs, JSA Off-Road Center, King Shocks
Driver/Spotter: Jason Paule/Travis WadesonVehicle: CJ-7 BuggySponsors: Twisted Customs, Tecate, Coca-Cola, Goodyear, Teraflex, ARB, Warn Industries, Rock Runner Racing
Driver/Spotter: Tracy Jordan/Don RobbinsVehicle: '03 Twisted Customs Toyota Matrix BuggySponsors: Twisted Customs, Coca-Cola, Tecate, High Angle Driveline, BFGoodrich, CTM, Sway-A-Way, Teraflex, Tractech
Driver/Spotter: Neil Lillard/Kimi LillardVehicle: "Round Hound" rock buggySponsors: Dynatrac, Goodyear, Bilstein, Tractech, Warn Industries, ARB, Coca-Cola
Driver/Spotter: Elizabeth Wayas/Steve BullochVehicle: '77 Jeep CJSponsors: Team SheJ, AGR, Goodyear, Ramsey, Tane, Kuroda San, CLN Jeans, Super Pollo, Zeta, Postres Del Valle, Tractech, Superlift, Yukon Gear & Axle
Driver/Spotter: R.J. Brown/Lance CliffordVehicle: '83 Jeep CJ7/Brown's Fabrication tube chassisSponsors: Brown's Fabrication, Fox Racing Shox, Teraflex, BFGoodrich, TrailReady, pirate4x4.com
Driver/Spotter: John Gilleland/ Brian HansenVehicle: Jeep Liberty BuggySponsors: Dynatrac, BFGoodrich, Tractech, Warn Industries, Avalanche Engineering, Summit, Coca-Cola, Hella
Driver/Spotter: Randy Ellis/Jesse KeierleberVehicle: Randy Ellis Design "Red Racer"Sponsors: Randy Ellis Design, Goodyear, Warn Industries, ARB
Driver/Spotter: Daren C. Runion/Joel KelseyVehicle: Mercedes MOG BuggySponsors: BFGoodrich, Marlin Crawler, High Angle Driveline, Tri County Gear, Warn, Power Tank
Driver/Spotter: Al BerikoffVehicle: Jeep TJSponsors: Trail Ready, Goodyear, S.N.O.R.T.
Driver/Spotter: Eric Bills/Deb BillsVehicle: '87 Jeep TJSponsors: Independant
Driver/Spotter: Charlie CopseyVehicle: Just 4 Fun Motorsports tube chassisSponsors: Just 4 Fun Motorsports, Transmission Ltd., United Body Works, Goodyear, Gaylons Drivelines, Advance Adaptors, King shocks
Neil Lillard buries the nose of his custom Â“Round HoundÂ” rock buggy.
The only Land Cruiser entered in the competition, Brian Hamilton did his best to make the TLC fans proud.
Mike Palmer landed in one of the Top Five finisher slots in his Campbell Enterprises tube buggy.
A one-time competition cliff diver, Dustin Webster now gets his thrills on the rock course in his Red BullÂ–sponsored Â’01 Chevy S-10 rockcrawler.
Piloting his Tecate/Coca-Cola-sponsored, Twisted Customs-built CJ-7 buggy, Jason Paule captured Second Place in the two-day event.
Jason Bunch of Tri County Gear wowed the crowds with some spectacular Â’wheeling stunts, including a backwards rollover during the first day of the event.
Continuing his healthy streak of finishing on top of the group, Tracy Jordan landed a First Place finish in his Twisted Customs Toyota Matrix buggy.
Charlie Copsey spins the tires of his Jeep CJ as he crests the peak of Obstacle Three.
This was a one-time event. Something having to do with the money and the promoter!?
Remember this event, "1000 Miles To Glory", at the Peterson Museum in 2000.
It's really amazing what the vision of one man can accomplish. It can set a new record for attendance at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Hollywood CA. It can bring together the fans and legends of the sport, on a scale previously unequaled. It can bring a level of mainstream "legitimacy" to what many have long considered a niche market. And perhaps most importantly, it can pay a long overdue tribute to one of the greatest races that has ever been. The "Baja 1000".
"Toyota Presents - The Baja 1000 Tribute Night", the brainchild of Marty Fiolka and the Rennsport Group, brought out a crowd of well over 1400 to the doors of the Petersen Automotive Museum, breaking the record for previous fundraisers at the motorized Mecca by a substantial margin. It would be the first of many surprises throughout the evening. In addition to the record crowds, well over 100 members of the press stood by to chronicle this celebration of the Baja.
Where to begin?
It began in the parking garage at Petersens, where attendees were greeted with the ultra-modern lines of Bob Gordon's Chenowth Millenium, displayed at the facilities' entryway. It continued with Four Wheeler Magazine's Jeep CJ, as patrons passed through the museum doorway. An escalator rose up to the second floor, revealing slowly the fully restored "Big Oly" Bronco made famous by motorsports legends Parnelli Jones and Bill Stroppe.
Legends of the sport, including Parnelli Jones, came out in force to make the Baja 1000 Tribute Night at the Petersen's Automotive Museum the great success that it was.
Throughout the museum, the ghosts of Baja past met face to face with those of it's future;
The "Banshee", with it's tractor type "flotation" tires and off the shelf Monroe shocks, sat alongside "Arnold", the multi-time Baja 1000 winner and technological Tour de'Force driven by Larry Ragland.
The original Funco "Wampuskitty", the pioneer of single seat, tube chassis technology, with it's radical camber-changing front suspension, and the Toyota/PPI Tundra, Ivan Stewart's mid-engined, V8 Trophy Truck that set a whole new standard for custom fabrication.
And of course, there was the "Baja Boot", Steve McQueen & Bud Ekins' custom creation that turns as many heads today as it did so many years ago.
For many, seeing these vehicles would be worth the price of admission alone, but the Baja 1000 Tribute Night was about more than just titanium, trucks, and technology. It was about a breed of man that would dare pit himself and his machinery, against "The Baja".
"Dare" is the right word to use, for as harsh and unforgiving as the Baja peninsula can be to the race teams and equipment of today, it was a far wilder place in the 60's, 70's and well into the 80's. As we were reminded in the footage and video clips provided by ABC's Wide World of Sports and Shoemaker Productions, the racers of days gone by, men like Jones, Steve McQueen , Bud Ekins, and Malcolm Smith had a whole different size of "huevos".
The "Baja Boot", driven by Steve McQueen and Bud Ekins, has a couple pieces of modern hardware, but remains largely unchanged from the days it raced the peninsula. Many historical vehicles came out of the mothballs and private collections to show their stuff before new fans, and longtime followers of off-road racing.
The trip down the peninsula was measured in days, not hours. There were no 50 man "chase crews". There were no fully equipped fab shops parked in 18 wheelers along the route. There were just men, their machines, and an indomitable will to "survive" the journey a little faster than the next guy.
Many of these true "survivors" were in attendance at Petersens'. Some looking as fit and ready as the day they set off from TJ, Ensanada, or Mexicali, others looking a little rougher for the miles. Man by man, these Heroes of the sport took the stage, recounting their memories of races past, and each looking forward to what will be the granddaddy of'em all, "The Baja 2000".
From the crowd emerged Ed Perlman, the father of the Baja 1000, Sal Fish, who along with Mickey Thompson, built SCORE into the world's premiere off-road racing organization. Motorcycle legends Malcom Smith and Bud Ekins, whose converted street bikes paved the way for dawning of the "dirt bike" industry, and the millions who've since taken part in 2 wheeled off-highway activity.
As the night went on, we moved ahead in time, with legends from the 80's, 90's, and today. Imagine a stage with Baja champions Rod Hall (now of Team Hummer), Baja, CORR, and soon to be Rockcrawling champion, Walker Evans, and Ivan "The Ironman" Stewart, who earned his reputation for his short course and solo peninsula victories. There was Larry Roseler, the motorcycle champion who made the move from two wheels to four. Larry Ragland, whose made it a hobby to collect 1st place Baja trophies, Corky McMillin, the 72 yr. old construction/Real Estate baron who is as competitive today, as he was when the sport was young.
The Father of the "Baja 1000". Ed Perlman brought us back to a time when races down the peninsula were measured in days, rather than hours. Could he have ever imagined what the "Mexican 1000" would one day become?
The Adventure Continues
While the night belonged to the Baja 1000, talk of the upcoming Baja "2000" was on the lips of many. Among many B2k related topics, SCORE CEO Sal Fish announced that Autozone, a longtime participant (via the "Duralast" marque) would be coming aboard as the event's flagship sponsor. Fish, along with the men and women of SCORE also announced that course marking, all 1700+ miles of it, would begin within days. With miles of course marking tape to lay, thousands of stakes to pound, and tens of thousands of directional/warning arrows to put up, this crew has it's work cut out for it. But when their job is done, the excitement really begins. Among the many announcements made at the Baja 1000 Tribute night, there were a few real eye openers.
After a several year absence from the desert, the trademark Stetson will be coming off one more time. Walker Evans announced he'd be competing in the upcoming Baja 2000's Trophy Truck class. It will be another page in the history books, marking what may be the last time we see Walker, Stewart, and Hall on the same course, if not the same class, in the desert. With Walker's retirement from short course racing coming to a very positive end with the 99 CORR Championship, he's looking to make victory at the Baja 2000 the crowning achievement of his stellar career.
Back to the podium, there was Bob Gordon, who despite many wins on the peninsula of his own, still laments being recognized as "Robbie Gordon's Dad". Of course, "Bob Gordon's son" wasn't far away. The current NASCAR and sometime Indy car racer is never too far away from a Baja 1000, and this one will be no exception. As we learned this night, he'll be teaming up with another of the sport's true legends, Las Vegas' own Rob MacCachran, to vie for the overall title in a remodeled Ford F-150 Trophy Truck.
Bruce Oglvie, the long time leader of Team Honda's wildly successful desert racing effort, announced big Red's lineup for the B2K. While it's no surprise that Johnny Campbell and Tim Stabb will be heading up the "A team", the "B team" left the crowd both in awe, and applause. Oglvie himself is coming out of retirement, along with another Honda legend, Chuck Dixon, to prove that the old dogs can still throw a whoopin' on the young pups. With nearly 2000 miles of racing ahead, old age and treachery may well prove to overcome youth and skill.
The car that changed the face of racing - Funco's original "Wampuskitty". With it's tube chassis and camber changing suspension, the 'Kitty could be a handfull. It's pioneering technology paved the way for cars like the Chenowth Millenium, popular in the sport today.
And what would a Baja get together be without a few cold Tecates, bench racin', and a couple fish tacos? Throughout the night, guests of Petersens', and Marty Fiolka's Baja 1000 Tribute enjoyed some of the finest Mexican dishes and brew this side of Ensanada. The fully catered event mixed the fans and the racers together , in a casual and relaxed atmosphere.
It was the first event of it's kind, and we all hope that it won't be the last. Fortunately, Fiolka is already working to build on the event's success. Aside from bringing in Indy Car greats like Roberto Gurrero to race the Baja 2000 in Wide Open Baja's "Baja Touring Car" class, plans are under development to create a much needed "Hall of Fame" for off-road racing. Other plans allude to a tribute night for another of the great events in the annals of Off-Road Motorsports - "The Mint 400", in Las Vegas NV.
As I stood in the crowd watching history unfold before me, I felt a bump on my arm, turning to see Parnelli Jones looking on, a smile etched on his face.
for a VHS or DVD copy of the entire event.
The Baja 2000 Race Poster/Map
Baja 2000, Baja California mexico and a great race primer.
It's 2000 miles of pure hell cleverly disguised to look like a desert race course. Ladies and gentlemen, may we present, the Tecate/SCORE Baja 2000!
Some years back, SCORE C.E.O. Sal Fish got together with the Mexican government and proposed a 2000 mile event to commemorate the year 2000. Details were sketchy, but the concept was sound. Finally, after much negotiation, countless hours of hard work, and more than a little head scratching, the Baja 2000 is about to become a reality.
In a race like the Baja 2000, anything can, and likely "will" happen. There's so much to consider. The logistics of the chase crews, weather, the competitors health, experience, and of course, the ten thousand odd things that can go wrong with the race vehicle itself. Say nothing of the occasional range cow that might just pop up on the course at the most inopportune time.
For well over a year now, the men and women who compete in the SCORE series have been laying down, revising, and finalizing their strategies for the assault on the Baja peninsula, trying to prepare for every contingency. It's a seemingly impossible task to accomplish. Regardless, it's that preparation that may well result in the difference between victory in Cabo San Lucas and a whole lot of "If we'd only...."
So who'll win? We'd be rich men if we could answer that one. There's a lot of talent in desert racing today, and many teams could win any given race at any given time. Unfortunately, this isn't just "any given race". That said, we thought we'd give you a quick look at those teams we think have a good shot at taking home the trophy in what is sure to be the granddaddy of them all, the SCORE Baja 2000!
Dan Smith and Dave Ashley will be pushing the Duralast Ford F-150 to it's limits and beyond. Though the "Roughriders" have ridden off into history, there's still a lot of R&D going on under the carbon fiber at Enduro Racing.
Enduro Racing / Duralast
Dan Smith and Dave Ashley, collectively known as Enduro Racing, have built a reputation for winning races, whether it's aboard motorcycles, or behind the wheel of unlimited desert trucks. Former members of Ford's "Rough Riders", Dan and Dave have taken home season championships in both the SCORE and BITD desert series.
Enduro's choice in weaponry is the Duralast Ford F-150, a state of the art "Baja truck" chassis modified to take the added stresses of Trophy Truck level abuse. One of the most "high tech" vehicles on the circuit, the orange and white Ford is powered by a fuel injected 32 valve 5.4L Triton motor, featuring an 8 into 1 exhaust, and an electronically shifted automatic transmission. The sound of the 5.4 revving to over 8000 RPM is more akin to an F-1 car than a desert truck, and there's no mistaking it.
The "minimalist", lightweight design of the chassis is further enhanced by the one man, center seat arrangement similar to that used by Ivan Stewart's PPI Toyota Tundra.
Enduro Racing took much of the 2000 season off, choosing to concentrate their efforts and resources on the Nevada 2000, and Baja 2000 events.
This ain't so "soccer mom" SUV! 5 time Baja 1000 champ "Lightning" Larry Ragland will be heading up the Vortec attack, with Nevada 2000 winner Mark Miller at the wheel of truck #2. It's a combination that Team Vortec hopes will prove enough to beat the Baja once again.
UPDATE! 10/5/00 Trouble in Paradise GM / Herzog Motorsports rumored to part ways on the eve of the Baja 2000
In a move that came as a shock to most involved, GM is reported to have pulled the plug on Herzog Motorsports. The good news is that it appears Herzog's participation in the Baja 2000 will go on, with Larry Ragland, and Mark Miller as lead drivers of the Vortec Trailblazers.
Our sources inside the General's camp tell us that the move revolves around the cost/result benefits associated with GM's Cadillac/LeMans race effort. There appears to be no direct connection between GM's decision to "cut back" the recent ramping up of it's presence in the off-road racing world, and the MacPherson / Fodor accident earlier this season.
At this time, there has been no "official" announcement from either camp, however it is known that several members of Team Herzog are actively seeking other employment. Off-Road.com will keep you abrest of the situation as it develops.
Team Vortec - Larry Ragland / Brian Stewart, and Mark Miller / Ryan Arcerio
We've just learned that Ricky Johnson has been replaced as Larry Ragland's do-driver. In a surprise move, Nevada 2000 winner, and former pilot of "Vortec #2", will be stepping up into the #1 truck to meet the challenge of Baja.
After Johnson's crash had ended the #1 Trailblazer's hopes for victory in Nevada, many wondered if he'd continue on as the 5 time champ's co-driver in the B2K. Those questions have now been answered.
Replacing Stewart as the driver of record in Trailblazer #2, Mark Miller steps up a notch, along with his partner Ryan Arcerio, to try and translate their N2K glory into B2K gold.
Aside from their unorthodox engines, the Trailblazers feature a unique power train design, featuring a "V-drive" straight out of a boat! The mid engine Trailblazer is mounted backwards in the chassis, with the transmission pointing forward into the V-drive, which in turn feeds power to the offset Chrissman rear axle. This unique design was pioneered on Ragland's Baja 1000 winning "Arnold" Chevy C/1500, where it proved to be stone reliable.
With decades of combined experience in desert racing, and the full commitment of Vortec to winning off-road racing's premiere event, the one-two punch of Ragland/Stewart, and Miller/Arcerio may prove too much for the competition to overcome.
With 4 wheel drive, nearly 800 horsepower, and the championship on the line, Tim and Ed Herbst are looking to clinch back to back season championships with a win at the Baja 2000.
Terrible Herbst Motorsports - Ed & Tim Herbst
There's an all new "Terrible Trophy Truck" prowling the desert, and this one has 4 wheel drive! With the 1999 Trophy Truck championship under their belts, Tim and Ed Herbst are back in Baja with all new weaponry to take home the title in what may well be the greatest off-road race that will ever be.
While 4 wheel drive trucks have met with mixed success in the top levels of desert competition, the Herbst brothers have put their faith behind the seemingly endless talents of uberbuilder Mike Smith to "make it work". With a mere handful of races under it's belt, the F truck has a win, and some high finishes to it's credit, while avoiding many of the bugs that are expected in such a radical design.
Under the aerodynamic fiberglass, and maze of chro-moly tubing, the Herbst team relies on traditional American muscle, nearly 800 horsepower worth, to propel the red racer to speeds upwards of 145 mph across open terrain. Gobs of torque feed through a computerized transfer case, which puts all that power to the wheels where it will do the most good.
While the all new truck has proven to be remarkably reliable thus far, The Herbst "throttle through the floorboards" driving style will be an incredible challenge for Smith's latest creation over the 2000 mile haul. Will they hold it together, or scatter little pieces of exotic alloys all over the peninsula? Time will tell, however, the Herbst' earned their championship through smart driving, not rash driving. Considering what's at stake, they are sure to be at the peak of their game.
Doug Fortin & Jerry McDonald are banking on the McPherson Chevy's 4 wheel drive to gain them ground in the rougher sections of the Baja peninsula. Will the newfound reliability of the "Beast" hold?
Team McPherson - Doug Fortin
The former Class 1 unlimited racer stepped up to Trophy Truck in 2000, taking over the wheel from desert legend Larry Roseler. The Chevrolet "Beast" has had a checkered history since it's debut at the Laughlin Desert Challenge in 96, with most of it's problems centering around the 4WD system.
Among the more radical designs on the dirt today, the Beast employs the aforementioned 4WD system, a host of composites and alloys, and a torsion bar rear suspension. Combined with it's aerodynamic design and long wheel base, the McPherson Chevrolet is very stable at speed, which will prove a decided advantage in the southern half of the course.
With one win to his credit in 2000, Fortin has shown a talent for keeping the notoriously fickle truck together for extended periods of time. That, combined with the experience of co-driver Jerry McDonald, may well prove to be exactly what it takes to emerge victorious from the grueling Baja 2000.
With the combined talents of Ivan Stewart and Larry Roseler behind the wheel of the Toyota/PPI Tundra, the competition has reason to worry. Separately, these two racers have more wins in Baja than any team in the desert. Together they may well prove unstoppable.
Toyota/PPI - Ivan "Ironman" Stewart & Larry Roseler
The team of Ivan Stewart and Larry Roseler seemingly has it all. Speed, endurance, and decades of combined talent that have resulted in championship wins in a variety of off-road motorsports racing venues. Having the most unique, yet proven vehicle in the SCORE desert series certainly won't hurt their chances.
Hand built by Precision Preparation Inc., the Toyota Motorsports Tundra combines a mid engine, 4 wheel independent suspension design, with a 5 speed manual transaxle, and a high revving 32 valve V8, to produce a combination that's won both the Baja 500, and 1000. The single seat Tundra is constructed of chro-moly steel, exotic alloys, and amazingly, utilizes far less wheel travel than it's competition.
"We simply don't need anymore to get the job done", says Tom Morris, PPI's Team Manager. "When we start getting beat on a regular basis, then we'll look at other options".
With Ivan behind the wheel, those losses don't happen too often, but the addition of Larry Roseler to the Toyota/PPI team is added insurance toward victory. Roseler comes to the team after utterly dominating Class 7 in the McPherson Chevrolet S-10, and taking the "Beast" to it's first ever win in Trophy Truck in 99.
As for Stewart, his name speaks for itself. "The Ironman" is one of the sport's true legends, earning his reputation for his solo runs down the peninsula at a time when such feats were unheard of. Perhaps the greatest driver in the sport's history, Ivan is always a threat to win. Combined with Roseler, whose own Baja wins aboard a bike and behind the wheel are legendary, the Toyota/PPI team may well write the latest chapter in the history of off-road racing.
After striking out on his own, Brian Collins made the jump to Trophy Truck in an all new Chevrolet. Right out of the box, Collins and Co. gave the competitors in the Nevada 2000 all they could handle. Now in the Baja 2000, he intends to give them more.
Collins Motorsports - Brian Collins
The former Class 8 champ moved up to Trophy Truck, and brought all his winning skills with him. Las Vegas' own Brian Collins brings an all new Chevrolet Trophy Truck to the desert wars, that proved it's reliability, and competitiveness over the course of the BITD Nevada 2000.
The step up was a natural for Collins, who has "owned" Class 8 in recent years. The one time "White Lightning" alumni made the move to off-road racing's premiere class after the Heavy Metal trucks say a marked decline in participation. Strangely enough, the 2000 races have reinvigorated the class, and Collins' old ride is now in the ever capable hands of teammate Billy Goerke. Collins took delivery of his new truck too late to be a threat for the season championship, however he remains a very real threat to be a big winner in Cabo.
Collins Motorsports has launched an aggressive marketing / PR campaign to draw attention to both the team, and the sport of desert racing in general. Between his talents behind the wheel, and a very professional racing organization, you can expect to see the red, white, and black team colors in a variety of venues throughout the southwest. Just be sure to check the winner's circle first!
With Gordon gone, Mark Post has yet to announce his replacement in Riveria's Baja 2000 Trophy Truck effort.
Riveria Racing - Mark Post
While Robbie Gordon was scheduled to co-drive the black Riveria F-150 in the B2K, we've learned that he's chosen to field another effort, and Riveria has yet to announce his replacement. As we draw nearer to the start date, lines continue to be drawn, and redrawn throughout several of the Trophy Truck camps.
Fortunately, Riveria is nothing if not resourceful, and you can be sure there will be some qualified people lining up to grab the seat vacated by Gordon.
Built, re-built, and built again, the Riveria F-150 is perhaps the fastest truck in the desert. the big inch American V8 puts it's power through a very stout, but conventional drive train, and over 3 feet of rear wheel travel. A truly "classic" design in the Trophy Truck sense of the word, the stout, Gordon built racer keeps it simple, using proven parts, designs, and materials to wage it's brand of desert warfare.
Terrible Herbst Motorsports - Troy Herbst
While Trophy Truck is the premiere class of the desert, Troy Herbst and "Truggy" have long had a habit of stealing their thunder. This Class 1 Unlimited buggy uses anything but "conventional" buggy design, employing 37 in. tires, a solid rear axle, 785 HP worth of All American V8 muscle, and a chassis that dwarfs the competition.
Landshark! Troy Herbst & "Truggy" are looking to make it 2 in a row for the SCORE Class 1 championship, but the real prize here is victory at the 2000.
To date, Herbst has left many a Trophy Truck in his dust, taking not only his class win, but the Overall title more often than many truck guys would like to admit. Nowhere was that more apparent than at the recent "Nevada 2000", where Troy and "Truggy" put down the entire field, to overall the grueling 5 day event.
While Herbst' crew has expressed concern that the massive wheel travel and horsepower could prove a liability on smoother, less brutal terrain, the Mike Smith built racer proved to be truly versatile, adapting well to the unfamiliar environment. That adaptability, combined with it's proven record for reliability, will ensure that "Truggy" and 1999 Class 1 champion Troy Herbst will be major contenders for the Overall win once again.
"I've made it my personal goal to win both "2,000's", said Troy. "If you're gonna' have goals, you might as well set them high!"
Can he achieve goals so lofty? With a team and family that dominated the top to classes in '99, he may well do that very thing.
Oregon is a long way from Cabo, but Gary Weyhrich will be making the trip a little faster than most. He'll need to, since Troy Herbst holds a narrow lead for the 2000 Class 1 points championship.
If Troy Herbst wants to keep his championship, he'd better keep a very close eye on Gary Weyhrich. In just a couple short seasons, GW has worked his way from the beginning of class 1 to challenge the champion for the title. With a mere 3 points separating the two going into the Baja 2000, it class title is very much up for grabs, and Weyhrich is poised to be the grabber.
Gary's Weapon of choice is a conventional Chenowth buggy, relying on the tried and true principles that are a hallmark of the class.
The Weyhrich boys will be a long way from home, making the trip down to the peninsula from their home in Gresham Oregon, but it could prove well worth the trip. With the potential to take home the overall, class win, and season championship, the pressure is on, and it's turned up high!
It's Damen Jefferies last hurrah in Class 1. The talented young driver will be stepping up into a Trophy Truck, giving SCORE's best all the grief they'll ever want. If you think that the premiere class was competitive in 2000, you ain't seen nothin' yet!
One of the hottest young drivers to come up since Robbie Gordon, Jefferies has raced up the ladder to Class 1, and soon will be making his debut in Trophy Truck. With multiple wins and a championship under his belt, Jefferies will be campaigning his "prerunner", AKA "the old car" in the Baja 2000, having recently sold his Porter built rocket to Team McMillan. Not that anyone should think of this as a disadvantage mind you. Jefferies "prerunner" earned him a #2 in class, and a #4 overall in the recent Nevada 2000!
While Jefferies isn't in serious contention for the class title in 2000, he is among the drivers with the capability to go all the way in the Baja 2000. With the 2001 season scant months away, and a Trophy Truck under construction, look for great things to continue coming out of a little place called Temecula California.
Team McMillan - Corky, Mark, and Scott McMillan
The old man of the desert. Don't let that gray hair fool you. Corky McMillan isn't about to give up his Class 1 for a game of shuffleboard anytime soon. In fact, the only "shuffling" he'll be doing is in and out of the driver's seat, as Team McMillan vies for the title of Baja 2000 Champion!
One would think that a man of over 70 years who's built his fortune in the construction/real estate business would be taking a plane, or a boat to Cabo San Lucas. Most probably would, but not Corky McMillan. After seven decades of livin' Corky is as competitive behind the wheel of a Class 1 buggy as he's ever been.
Oh, he's going to Cabo all right, but he's taking the road (or lack thereof) less traveled. Along with sons Mark and Scott, the McMillan racing team will be going heads up against Herbst, Weyhrich, Jefferies, and the cream of the Class 1 crop as they vie for the Baja 2000 crown.
While out of contention for the class championship, the McMillan's posted a 3rd and 4th in class at the recent Nevada 2000 against some of the best competition in the desert today. Consistency and smart driving learned over decades of competition keep the McMillans' at the forefront of desert racing, and it's those two qualities they'll need to bring into play in their quest for Baja 2000 victory.
The old man of the desert. Few men have seen more of the Baja peninsula than Bob Gordon. With enough energy to power 3 or 4 city blocks, "Robbie's dad" is hell on wheels once strapped into the cockpit of his Chenowth. The question is, will it be the single seat Millenium, or his tried and true 2 seat "beam car"?
Bob Gordon / Frank Arcerio
One of the classic parings in desert racing, Bob Gordon and Frank Arcerio teamed up for more desert races that many can remember. As a result, these two racers are likely more familiar with the inside of the winners circle than the outside.
As for their choice in weaponry, that's a good question. While Gordon was largely responsible for the testing of the all new Chenowth "Millenium" car, Gordon has been known to pull the old two seat "beam car" out of storage for the long distance events. About the only thing for certain is that Gordon will be racing a Chenowth!
PCI Racing - Scott Steinberger
When he's not wiring the helmets and adjusting the radios of his competition, you can find PCI's Scott Steinberger at the wheel of his Ford F-150 Protruck. The former Class 7S champ has been Protruckin' since the class was created, and he's proven to be one of it's fastest, most consistent drivers.
Can a Protruck win the overall? That's quickly becoming an important question as their speed, and overall finishes continue rising. Among the Pro Truck racers today, Scott Steinberger stands a good chance of eventually making that dream a reality. Keeping a truck alive under a record setting pace will be what it will take, and fortunately Scott has shown the ability to combine the two quite often, and quite well.
Since it's inception, Ivan Stewart's Protruck class has gone from high breakage to high reliability - from a holy handful to high speed. Today they stand with Trophy Truck, and Class 1 as being among the most popular classes in the desert. The former champ will need to draw on those skills, that reliability, and even a little bit of luck, because competition comes hot and heavy in the Protruck ranks, and second place is only a heartbeat away.
Larry Plank / Greg Foutz / Mike Griffiths / Pete Esler
After the loss of Larry Plank, the Foutz / Griffiths / Esler team have joined forces with Scott Douglas, of CORR fame, to campaign the F-150 Trophy Truck. Douglas has spent much of his recent career behind the wheel of trucks in the short course CORR series, but has been known to take the roads less traveled....
With Douglas on board, work continues at a furious pace, prepping the former Herbst F-150 for it's reentry to the competitive scene. Headed up by Gordon DiCarlo, the Foutz Motorsports shop will continue burning the midnight oil.
Robbie Gordon / Rob MacCachren
The Dream Team? For years many fans dreamt of a Robbie Gordon / Rob MacCachren pair up, but few believed it would ever happen.....
In a recent development that's sure to bring smiles to the faces of fans all across the country, Robbie and Rob are paring up to take on the Baja 2000. Work is currently underway to refit Gordon's Toyota Tundra with furious amounts of Ford power, and fiberglass, as November draws ever nearer. What will be most interesting, is the sheer difference in styles behind the wheel. Gordon, long known for his WFO approach to winning races, stands in stark contrast to MacCachren's methodical, and "smooth" approach to victory lane.
Combine decades of experience with two of the sport's top talents, and what will you get? Perhaps a sneak peek at the winners of the Baja 2000!
Team Honda - Johnny Campbell / Tim Stabb
Team Honda's Johnny Campbell is the favorite to overall the Baja 2000, along with his long time co-ricer Tim Stabb. After a come from behind win fraught with problems, the dynamic duo are looking for a much easier time on the peninsula.
Having practically owned Baja over the past several years, Team Honda is making an all out effort for the 2000. Aboard the all new XR 650, Honda's Johnny Campbell will be on a mission to make it "2 in a row" after he and teammate Tim Stabb pulled off their come from behind win at the Nevada 2000.
Bizarre it it may sound, the Baja 2000 will serve as a "warm up" event for Campbell, as he will be off to represent the United States in the upcoming Dakar Rally, compliments of Acerbis. Yet Johnny isn't one to put the cart before the horse, and all of his current attention is being devoted to adding the Baja 2000 class victory, and overall title to Honda's already monstrous cabinet of Baja trophies.
The Baja 2000 Race Story
It lived up to the hype. What more can we really say about the longest race ever held in the proud tradition of Baja? But the real story of the Baja 2000 began long before the green flag ever fell on that chilly Ensenada morning. It began decades ago when a mere handful of men took to the wild peninsula aboard their bikes, trucks and buggies, searching not for fame or fortune, but for the right to say they'd taken on the Baja - and beaten it soundly.
As the years turned slowly by, Sal Fish and SCORE, off-road racing's premiere desert promoter have elevated the Baja to legendary status amongst the world of motorsports, but he didn't do it alone. The true greatness of the Baja events come from the racers themselves who keep coming back year after year. It may be SCORE who hands out the trophies at days end, but it is the peninsula itself that truly bestows the title of "Champion" upon the deserving.
For all the thrill of the win, there exists a much darker side to life on the edge of disaster; But what lies in wait for the unaware can be a very hard thing to grasp. Many armchair racers around the world see the sport as "trucks and bumps" lacking any "real" danger or consequence. But there is a very real danger. Danger you have to live with every time you cross the border on the way to San Felipe or Ensenada. It's part and parcel of racing the peninsula - the very real possibility that maybe, just maybe, you won't make it back. Yet in the face of the unthinkable, you press on.
With the Baja 2000 expected to draw the largest turnout ever to the remote desert land, that danger level rose considerably. The numbers and sheer magnitude of the event virtually guaranteed that one of us, whether racer, crew, or other, would not return. One long time Baja vet, Bob Bower, had indeed written a very thoughtful and informed piece on the subject that was widely circulated throughout the internet, and was even featured prominently in the "Bible", the BF Goodrich Chase / Pit handbook.
For the Baja 2000's title sponsor Autozone, the win came especially sweet. The Duralast F-150 of Dan Smith and Dave Ashley took home the 4-wheel overall, and Trophy Truck titles against the best competition in the off-road racing world. Can a monsterous ad campaign be far behind? Hey, when you got it, flaunt it! But despite all the warnings and preparedness, disaster struck early in the form of a crash that left one chaser dead and two others injured. In that crash, Class 10 racer Rick Ellison lost a father, and the sport lost another friend.
Avoidable? Who's to say?
The Reality? It could have just as easily been any of us.
Knowing the risks, and their consequences create a mindset - a state of being in the desert crowd. At the Baja 2000, you didn't have to look very far to find it…
With ORC staff fanning out across the peninsula, one past Baja champion and current editor type, Rick Sieman, stalked the starting line. He knew the mindset - He'd been there before. And so it came as no surprise when the racer/journalist came face to face with the current Baja 1000 titleholder, and top pick for victory in the 2K; Johnny Campbell. Sieman and Campbell, old friends, exchanged a few words as the bikes finished their lineup before the start of the Baja 2000. The time for the green flag grew nearer, yet Campbell maintained a relaxed, almost casual demeanor. It was almost as if he was embarking on a recreational, if brisk ride to Cabo.
With Jimmy Smith behind the wheel, Troy Herbst' "Truggy" entered Cabo San Lucas a winner in more ways than one. With victories in both the 2000's, a class championship, and the overall season championship to their credit, Terrible Herbst Motorsports is on top of the world. Yet as SCORE CEO Sal Fish gave the signal to light'em up, Campbell underwent a sudden transformation. Gone were the smiling eyes of a young father; In their place, the cold, hard orbs of an assassin with a job to do.
Racing is his business - and business is good.
With the drop of a flag the job had begun, and Campbell quickly left the city of Ensenada far behind. Leading the pack into the cold, dark morning, JC began building his lead from the onset, and by the midway point in San Ignacio, the Red Riders had maintained an average speed of over 56MPH. Even with the absence of Jonah Street who'd broken a wrist just prior to the B2K, it was a near certainty that teammates Campbell, Tim Stabb, and Steve Hengeveld would emerge victorious.
With Team Green choosing to sit out the Baja 2000 for reasons still not entirely clear to anyone (including a good many of their loyal fans), the main threat to the Campbell/Stabb hurricane came from an unlikely source. "Mr XR" himself, Bruce Oglvie along with Team Honda's Chuck Miller, Gary Jones and Bob Rutten, had pulled themselves out of retirement to give the Baja one last hurrah. Though these wiley vets have been out of the saddle for a few years, they're a long way from unfamiliar with a race bike - and the proper way to use one. That said, it came as no surprise when the "old guys" tore through Ignacio mere minutes behind Campbell. Some things you just never forget.
When the trucks and buggies pulled up to the line, a clear victor was far from certain. In fact, there were any number of four-wheeled warriors capable of besting Team Honda for the overall, let alone winning their respective classes.
In Trophy Truck, Ivan Stewart and Larry Ragland were the odds on favorites; each capable of victory under any circumstance. But the two frontrunners would have their hands full. Dan Smith and Dave Ashley in the Duralast F-150; Baja legend Walker Evans and Brendan Gaughn; Tim & Ed Herbst in the 4WD Terrible Herbst Super Duty Ford: The "dream team" of Robbie Gordon and Rob MacCachren. . . The list was a long one.
Dean Sundhal rode the Bombardier to victory against the strong running Honda EX 400s and the all new Yamaha Raptor. The beefy bike has now proven it's mettle over two 2000 races and seems ready for more. In the Unlimited Buggies of Class 1, there was the front runner Troy Herbst and "Truggy" who were fresh off their BITD Nevada 2000 win and looking to make it a 2'fer. Mike Julson's Jimco; Gus Vildosola; Damien Jefferies; The McMillins. Here the list was even longer. With the ultimate in desert technology at the hands of the sport's top drivers it really was anyone's race, for the overall as well as the class.
When the 4-wheelers hit San Ignacio it was the Ironman himself in a narrow but comfortable lead. Screaming his Toyota Tundra's 32 valve DOHC V8 through the quiet little Mission town, Ivan was met by hundreds of ecstatic fans who'd braved the chilly night air and the late hour to see their hero through. Unfortunately, the scream of the engine was accompanied by a more sinister sound - the sound of metal on metal. Stewart was in trouble, and there was a long, long way to go. Within minutes of his departure, the Toyota's motor was heard once again as radio traffic lit up in the near-by Yokohama pits; Ivan was coming back in, and things weren't looking good.
When Stewart emerged from the darkness he was trailed by a cloud of blue smoke that nearly obscured the crippled Trophy Truck. The engine knock, so faint just minutes before had become deafening. Within seconds the PPI crew was on the scene and had made the determination - the Ironman's race was over. The question remained. Who would inherit the lead?
The answer came shortly thereafter. The Duralast F-150 of Dan Smith and Dave Ashley rounded the Mission corner and tore off into the night, leaving little to mark it's passage. At the midway point, the V8 Ford looked and sounded healthy. As their namesake suggests, they were in it for the long haul, yet their early lead showed a pace that could lead to trouble as the miles racked up. Adding to their potential for disaster was Larry Ragland somewhere behind, whose late race charges have become the stuff of legend.
After a disappointing conclusion to the Nevada 2000, Ragland was determined to avenge the loss, but his maniacal pace had already resulted in early race difficulties. He was coming up hard, and could challenge Team Duralast for the lead before the hour had passed.
Between Smith/Ashley and Ragland, two Class 1 Unlimited cars made the trip through the midway point. In the lead was Troy Herbst, announcing his presence with 785 HP worth of authority, and sending echoes of V8 thunder down the streets of Ignacio well in advance of his arrival. Once into town, Truggy rocked over on it's considerable suspension and made the left-hand Mission turn in a fair imitation of an F1 car. Herbst was a man on a mission.
Kevin Gorzny, Mike Childress and co. finished the B2K, but a loss of lighting kept them out of the competition. With a couple more races like this, we'll hook Gorzny on this "desert stuff" yet! While Herbst maintained the class lead, 2nd place Gus Vildosola was hard at work whittling it away. The Baja native was jonesin' for the top spot and giving Troy no quarter. Among the leaders, it was obvious that all pretense of a "conservative" race had been abandoned, and an all-out dogfight was the order of the day. Time would tell if such a course would result in elated victory or supreme disappointment.
Throughout the night the racers came through San Ignacio, and surprisingly there was little attrition as the second half of the race began. In Protruck, Scott Steinberger and the Lycos/PCI/Off-Road.com F-150 held a narrow lead, with the second place truck coming in mere minutes behind. With his season long engine problems apparently behind him, Steinberger's experience and familiarity with the peninsula would play a strong role as the miles added up.
Much as expected, Class 8 saw a large turnout, with entries coming in from across the American Southwest and Baja. One surprise came in the form of Curt LeDuc who contested the 2000 behind the wheel of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. LeDuc had been scheduled to co-drive alongside Craig Turner in the Class 7 Ford Ranger that was built in his home shop - California Pre-Fun, but last minute changes left the former Trophy Trucker pursuing a different path.
Other highlights of the Heavy Metal class were Tom Bradley Sr. and Baja 1000 Class 8 champ Chris Wilson, who pressured LeDuc from the start in Ensenada. The most immediate threat however, came from Fransisco Monroy. Yet another competitor for the crown, the "Cow Truck" of the AZ VanDerway brothers had a hired gun aboard. Whiplash Class 8 champ Mike Dorghty took over the wheel after an extended layover in San Ignacio left the Zonies with a practically rebuilt truck. In Class 8, the race was far from over at the midway town.
Stock Full saw "the rookie" Jeremy Spirkoff holding the fort for the Ford camp, with Team Hummer back in the pack, but still in the hunt. With an already stellar season behind him, the young buck was well on his way to glory at the B2K.
Stock Mini was another Blue Oval stronghold as Dr. Macree Glass and his 4WD Ford Ranger held the lead over the Isuzu Vehicross of Bob Land. Up to San Ignacio the mostly stock vehicle had shown no signs of breakage, and was on the fast track to the finish line. But would the back Doc's luck hold out?
The face of defeat.
Larry Ragland mounted a furious late race charge at the 2000, but came up second best. With "Arnold" waiting in the wings, and enough driving talent for 2 racers, look for a comeback of epic proportions at the 2001 Baja 1000. Class 1/2-1600 was a slugfest between Nevada 2000 and former SCORE 1/2-1600 champ Bekki Freeman, and another rookie with the potential for greatness - Kash Vessels. With her last Baja race ending in controversy, Freeman was eager to return to a clean slate with a definitive win at the B2K.
Class 5 saw longtime rivals George Seeley and Mike James locked in a heated battle. For either man, a win at the 2000 would be a crowning achievement to their careers, but for Seeley, a mere finish would secure the SCORE Class 5 Championship for the 2000 season.
Class 7 was shaping up to a battle between Class champ Jeff Lewis in the McPherson Chevy S-10, and Perry McNeil, whose 3-seat Ford Ranger was keeping Team Mac on a short leash. Dirt Pilot Magazine publisher Craig Turner and Class 7 vet Rick Taylor remained in competition, but for how long?
In 7s, the 5 way battle was going Joe Custer's way early on, and he showed little signs of giving it up. Custer was setting a rapid pace that left many wondering just how much abuse his truck could take in one sitting. Fellow competitors Marco Novelo and Doug Siewert were locked in their own battle for 2nd in class, but were experiencing bouts of down time for a variety of reasons. If Custer could keep it together, he'd enter Cabo victorious. Time would tell.
Class 3 held few surprises at the midway point with Darren Skelton blazing a trail toward the finish line. The dominant vehicle in the class, Skelton's Kia faced challenges from across the manufacturing spectrum with 8 vehicles in contention. While turnout was less than predicted, the B2K saw several new Class 3s adding fuel to the fires of the once sparse class.
Class 5-1600 remained frighteningly close from the start. With 11 cars contesting the highly competitive class, you'd have to a little quicker than the average Palm Beach Voter to determine the ultimate outcome. Yet that outcome remained several hundred miles away. Class Champ Dave Gasper was a narrow favorite, but another vet of the class, Vic Orellana could quickly take it all away. The only certainty in 5-1600 was this. The racer with the least / no down time would likely emerge the victor.
Scott Steinberger and the Lycos / PCI crew overcame a rough season to take the win in the highly competitive Protruck class. Said Scott, "It was a race from the begining." In the Class 10 / SCORE Lite ranks, it was another case of "anything goes." With only 10 "10 cars" and 17 of the Lites on the course, competition was extremely tight. The one standout entry came in SCORE Lites, where Jim Dizney entered a modified 1/2-1600 car into the foray of supposedly faster vehicles. Call him crazy or a brilliant visionary, but don't call him late to Ignacio. By the midway point, the former 1600 pilot was in the thick of it, and showing serious promise to come out on top.
With seven cars on the course, Class 9 was down over expected turnout as well, but it did little to dampen the drive to win among the racers. Long known as one of the most competitive classes, these limited vehicles most often turn in some exceptionally close finishing times. Despite the extreme distances of the Baja 2000, it looked likely that history was well on it's way to repeating.
Throughout the contest thusfar, Joe Sheble, Bill Rodriguez, Eric Fisher, and Hector Sarabia nipped at each others heels, each never far from the other. With the heat of the dogfight intensifying as the miles rolled on, the limited "9" cars were pushed well beyond their design parameters. It remained to be seen if they could withstand the continuing punishment.
Class 11, the most limited class of them all, saw even fewer entries. Perhaps the thought of 1700 miles of physical torture strapped into these short wheelbase workhorses scared many of the usual suspects off. Perhaps no one dared sacrifice their kidneys. Then again, perhaps a few did.
Among the brave was Eric Solorzano. The Class 11 Champ has long displayed a "never say die" attitude that's part and parcel for a competitor in this class. He wasn't about to let a little thing like an entire peninsula stand between him and the brass ring (or glass trophy as the case may be) in Cabo. Through the muddy start of Ensenada, the mountainous terrain of Santo Tomas and the rocky fields of Catavina, Solorzano pushed the little "peoples car" ever onward.
Ivan Stewart wasn't the only "Ironman" at the 2000. "San Felipe Bob" covered the course sans partner, and crashed from exhaustion a mere 1/8th mile from the finish line. With just enough left in him to make it, he crossed the line none the worse for the wear. There was another class in the deserts of Baja this year, and it brought out everyone from Indy car racers to the average Joe. The "Baja Challenge" cars of Wide Open Baja put sponsors Yokohama, Bosch, 4Wheel Parts and others, together with pavement racing greats like Roberto Guerro, Mike Groff, and Jimmy Vassar, making for a unique way of racing the peninsula - all in the name of charity.
By the midway point, the pit crew at the Yokohama trailer were growing concerned. All the cars were overdue and there was no word as to their location. Finally, reports came in that the lead car was currently undergoing repairs at a nearby Terrible Herbst pit. It seemed that they'd lost a brake line and had been racing sans stopping power for many miles. With repairs made and the car back on track, several more of the Wide Open Baja cars emerged from the desert and the race continued towards Cabo.
The Pro ATV's of Class 25 were engaged in a 7 way battle throughout much of the event, with the Midway point of San Ignacio giving little clue as to the ultimate outcome of the race. With the all new Yamaha Raptor and increasingly competitive Bombardier pressing hard into the fray, the Roll Design Honda EX 400's were getting all the competition they could stand - and perhaps more.
At the finish line in Cabo San Lucas the crowds began forming early, and there was no shortage of taco and Tecate vendors to let the masses go malnourished. As the finishers drew ever closer, SCORE's Sal Fish looked like an expectant father pacing the halls outside a delivery room - This was after all "his baby." After several years of planning, amending, negotiating, plotting, marking, and doing it all over again and again, the man was on the verge of a serious medical episode. "Where are they?" asked Fish, "They ought to be here by now."
Over the years it's become almost a forgone conclusion that Baja racers will encounter closed gates - sometimes they're closed by accident, and at others on purpose. It's not unheard of for a disgruntled rancher to hold up a race at gunpoint. Such are the perils of racing the Baja. It was just such a scenario that Fish feared now.
Time marched on.
Then off in the distance a dust trail could be seen rising against the backdrop of the mountains outside Cabo, a lone rider at it's head. As the bike drew nearer, the distinctive sound of a Honda thumper could be heard testing the upper limits of it's RPM range. But was it Campbell or had Oglvie and Miller managed to close their small gap from Ignacio?
Through the sand wash that lead to the famous Tecate archway the rider came on hard, giving no quarter up to the very end. As he approached the finish, the number plate came into focus - it read "1x". in 30 hours, 54 minutes and 12 seconds, with an average speed of 54.348 MPH, Johnny Campbell met the checkered flag as the winner of the Baja 2000, and established a tie between Team Honda and Husqvarna for the most wins at Baja's greatest race.
It didn't stay clean for long! Rod Hall of Team Hummer added to his string of Baja finishes, but some unexpected breakage left him out of the winners circle. Said the Baja veteran, "Those Fords were fast today."
It also established the double crown for the Red Riders, adding the jewel of the B2K to that earned in a hard fought battle with Team Green's Destry Abbot during the Nevada 2000. For Campbell, it was win #4 in the long course of Baja, for partner Tim Stabb his third; And so the legacy established by Oglvie and Miller continues with Honda's brutish XR650 leading the way.
Visibly relieved, Sal "Pescado" met Campbell at the line with a handshake and a smile. "Honda keeps the keys to all the gates of Baja," said Fish. "And I just opened one about 15 miles back," replied the reigning Champion. "No problems, it was just shut."
"Well there was a change of plans," replied Sal. "It looks like the race is finishing in Ensenada after all. You'll have to go through it on the way back!"
Campbell called his bluff. "Well Sal, I'll tell you what. The bike is in great shape. I think it would make it back with no problem".
Fortunately, he wouldn't have to test that theory. Had Campbell looked behind the bike, he'd have noticed a very bald Dunlop that was now more suited to pavement racing than the desert sands. In his zeal to reach Cabo, the rapid racer had worn the knobs entirely off of it!
"We had a tremendous race," said Johnny, " "Up north things got pretty cold. There was ice coating a lot of the mud puddles, and it was in the 30's. My fingers were frozen solid! We all rode very well and none of us had a get-off. In fact, we didn't have any problems at all. The bike ran flawlessly."
Campbell continued, "I really love Baja. I love the country, and I love it's people. This is the race I've wanted to win my whole career."
With the 2000 behind him, Campbell's setting his sights on an even longer, if somewhat different kind of race - the Paris to Dakar. Said Johnny, "Thanks to Acerbis and Honda I'll be flying over to race the Dakar. It's not what I'm used to but I'm really looking forward to it." Can he repeat his Nevada and B2K performance on foreign shores? Time will tell.
With the class win going to Campbell / Stabb, the countdown began to determine the ultimate victor.
"We want to beat the trucks," sad Stabb, "We want the "Overall"
Again time crept slowly by. And again the scene repeated.
A lone dust trail off in the distance. The shriek of a high-strung 4-stroke Honda. The image of a rider growing larger. Finally, the numbers could be read - "8x" - the #2 Honda XR650 of Bruce Oglvie and Chuck Miller crossed the finish line in a solid second place, but could those times stave off the brute horsepower of the oncoming trucks and unlimited buggies?
Bob Rutten - "The last 40-50 miles it was so loose in the back," Rutten said of the now bald rear tire, "But this bike is the best bike I've ever ridden."
SCORE CEO Sal Fish spent many hours at the Cabo finish line greeting the riders as they came in. The big guy overcame everything from bad weather to disgruntled environmentalists in order to make the Baja 2000 a reality. He deserves a big round of applause from us all! Chuck Miller - "All I've got to say is old guys rule. You know, we didn't want to say anything, but the first team cheated. They're all too young to be racing Baja. We're going to be taking this up with Sal later."
What did it take to make him throw a leg over a race bike one more time?
"Baja itself it what it takes to push you the distance. The competitors are one thing, but it's Baja which makes you give what it takes to go the distance."
So spoke the man with an elbow full of cactus.
Out on the course, the answer to the building drama was being played out. The Duralast F-150 was holding it's lead over the Vortec Trailblazer of Larry Ragland. True to form, Lightning Larry was floorboard deep into another late race charge, but had already inverted the orange and white SUV in the attempt to catch Smith and Ashley. He couldn't afford a second such episode.
Ragland had other problems to consider as well. Between the Chevy and the Duralast Ford sat another major obstacle to the Overall - and this one had teeth. Literally. Troy Herbst's "Truggy" now piloted by Jimmy Smith was enjoying a solid lead over the Unlimited Buggies, and intended to be the first four wheeled vehicle to Cabo. Not only would Ragland have to catch the Landshark, he'd have to pass it on his way to chasing down the Duralast truck. Unfortunately for Team Vortec, the Trailblazer was giving up nearly 300 HP to Smith. It would likely take breakage or other downtime to give Ragland a clear shot to his direct competition.
Meanwhile, the 32 valve cammer Ford maintained the pace, drawing ever nearer to the finish line. At this point, the race was theirs to lose.
Back at the finish line, word came in that the trucks were on their way in. Within minutes the size of the crowd nearly doubled, and the local policeza and Mexican military on loan for security detail were pressed to contain them. Soccer be damned - Off-Road Racing is the national sport in these parts, and you'd find it about impossible to locate a more dedicated group of fans!
Know a good Chiropractor? We do and his name is Dr. Macree Glass, winner of the Stock Mini class at the Baja 2000. The ol' back Doc came loaded for bear with more parts than his chase crews could carry. He broke one bolt the entire race. It figures. Long before the vehicle came into view, it was obvious as to which it was. There's only one "8 into 1" exhaust systemem in desert racing, and you'll not mistake it's high pitched scream. Resting comfortably against it's rev limiter as it covered the last couple miles of sand wash, the Duralast F-150 entered the city of Cabo San Lucas much as a conquering hero to the deafening cheers of the crowd.
For the title sponsors of the event, "Autozone", the win was especially sweet. For Dan Smith and Dave Ashley it was the high point of careers that have spanned both the two and four-wheeled worlds.
With the Baja 2000 bringing the total to 10 long course wins between Smith and Ashley, they've firmly entrenched themselves into the annals of off-road racing history - a place hard fought and richly earned.
There was a pause in the action after the Duralast F-150 crossed the line, and the scorekeepers went to work. When the tally came in, Team Duralast had covered the peninsula in a time of 32 hours, 15 minutes, and 39 seconds at an average speed of 52.061 MPH. It was a trulyncredible accomplishment, but it wasn't good enough to take the Overall away from Team Honda's Johnny Campbell and Tim Stabb.
With the F truck headed for the trailer and the overall winner determined, all eyes looked at the road to the horizon and the next racer it would bring. That vehicle was Truggy, and still Ragland was nowhere in sight. Jimmy Smith pulled the Landshark across the line in a winning time of 32:50:59, at 51.127 MPH, and looking ready to go at it again. But no sooner had the crowds converged on the Unlimited class winner, than the sound of Ragland's I-6 Vortec could be heard over the din.
Ragland and Co-driver Steve Bothwell kept the throttle pegged to the bitter end, but it wasn't enough to make up for the downtime earlier in the event. When the numbers came up, Team Vortec had locked down 2nd place with a time of 32:59:24, at 50.910 MPH.
Said Bothwell, "We were going to win it or wear it. Unfortunately, Smith and Ashley won it"
Asked about the Cabo run, Ragland replied, "It was just incredible. It was so beautiful. I'll be coming back down here on my bike to enjoy it - but a little slower this time!"
Just mere moments behind Ragland's 2nd place finish, Mark Miller brought the #2 Vortec Trailblazer home in a time of 33:05:02, at 50.766 MPH. Miller had experienced his own problems along the way, but was determined to catch teammate Larry Ragland and back up his win at the Nevada 2000 with a second place showing in Baja. He barely missed his goal. Had the race gone on any longer, who's to say he wouldn't have achieved it?
In all, it was a fantastic race for both Vortec teams, and but for the financial maneuvering of General Motors, they'd doubtlessly be a serious threat during the 2001 season. Unfortunately, barring some minor miracle, we've likely seen the last of the unique mid-engine, I-6 Vortec trucks.
But have we seen the last of Ragland and Miller as well? Don't bet the farm on it. After all, Larry is still the proud owner of one of the greatest Trophy Trucks" of all time - "Arnold" - and finishing a career with a 2nd place isn't really Larry's style.
the 2nd Class 1 car across the line was the Gary Weyhrich in a time of 33:38:07, at 49.933 MPH. Weyhrich had put down Vildosola somewhere between San Ignacio and Cabo, taking over the 2nd place slot and powering onward to challenge the Terrible Herbst Motorsports "Truggy". Unfortunately time ran out with a gap of 45 min. separating the two.
Continuing a long standing tradition, there were many Japaneese racers at the B2K. After the races many of the bikes are crated up, shipped back to Japan, and put on display as the ultimate symbol of achievement for their riders.
Racing remained tight throughout the upper regions of Class 1 with less than 4 hours separating the top 5 finishers. On the heels of Weyhrich, Steve Sourapas posted a 34:58:28 - 48.021 split, with the "Grand Old Man of Baja" Corky McMillin, securing 4th for the SoCal clan in a time of 36:29:46 at 46.019 MPH. 5th place belonged to Gustavo Vildosola, with a time of 36:37:17, at 45.862.
For a former 7s champ and veteran of the Mini-Mag wars, the 2000 SCORE season was a rough one. In race after race, Scott Steinberger and the PCI crew nibbled at the edges of Protruck victory, only to taste the bitter flavor of defeat - time and time again.
It began a promising season at the Laughlin Challenge, with Steinberger finishing a solid second, but devolved quickly after mysterious engine failures traded record pace runs for DNF's and lower than expected finishes. Ultimately, the source of the problem was tracked down, and the crew prepared for one last shot at redemption - The SCORE / Tecate Baja 2000. That's racing folks, and after years in the game, Steinberger buckled up and began the long, meticulous process of prepping the Lycos / PCI / Off-Road.com Protruck for the most punishing race in off road history.
When the checkered flag fell in Cabo, all their hard work paid off. Scott crossed the finish line in a time of 40:33:45 with an average speed of 41.406 MPH, besting the 10 truck field, and 2nd place Rick Johnson by a full six hours. Throughout the event the Protruck class remained very competitive, with a mere 10 hours separating the top 5 finishers by race end. In the final standings, the Lycos / PCI / ORC Protruck finished 35'th overall, and 16th among 4-wheeled vehicles.
"Overall, we had a fantastic race," said Scott, "Aside from getting stuck a couple times and losing a few minutes, we were just about problem free.It was a race from the beginning. We were on the gas from the get-go. It was either that, or lose ground early on, and I didn't want to have to try and make it up later. There were too many opportunities for things to go wrong."
As the finish line drew nearer, Steinberger was passed by Curt LeDuc in the Class 8 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Jeremy Spirkoff in the Stock Full F-350.
From across the Pacific to across the Atlantic. While a mostly stock Citroen may not be the ultimate desert racer, that didn't stop the Brits from giving it a go. Jolly good show, chaps!
"By that point, we were several hours ahead, and there was nothing to be gained by racing guys who weren't in our class. We weren't going to win the Overall, so it didn't make much sense to take the chance of breaking something and losing it all. We figured that we'd get the class win if everything held together, and that's what we had set out to do. We weren't going to risk it."
"I can't thank my crew enough," said Scott, "I'd also like to thank my sponsors Lycos, Digital Negibors.com, Joe Explorer.com, Off-Road.com, and Globalstar. If it wasn't for them, there's no way we could have had the race that we did. It was about as close to perfect as you can get."
After passing Stienberger, Curt LeDuc took his Jeep Grand Cherokee to victory, besting the best of Class 8 with a time of 39:08:35 at 42.907 MPH. Though the desert and CORR series champ hasn't been a fixture of the desert scene throughout the 2000 season, he appears to have lost none of the skill and finesse that has put him in the winners circle so many times before.
Francisco Monroy took up the #2 spot nearly 5 hours back with a time of 43:52:21 at 38.282 MPH. Though Monroy's accomplishment was a great one, it put into perspective LeDuc's utter dominance of the class. Back in 3rd, Baja 1000 Class 8 Champion Chris Wilson wasn't far off the mark, with a time of 45:57:51 at a 36.540 MPH average. For Wilson, the 2000 was a race run on a shoestring budget, and with a skeleton crew. Regardless, the top 3 finish is one he can take back to his ElCajon California home with pride.
I left my hood in San Felipe?
This Sportsman buggy piloted by a group of Gringos out of San Flip had a rough run to the finish. Said one crew member, "We're still talking to each other - sort of."
For a limited class, 1/2-1600 sure generates a lot of excitement, and attracts some of the sport's finest talent. Witness Bekki Freeman. The first lady of desert racing has spent the season hopping in and out of the #2 Vortec Trailblazer, in which she co-drove to a BITD Nevada 2000 win just a few short months ago. Now, back in her familiar white, blue and pink 1/2-1600, the firey Miss F was well on her way to backing up that win with another chunk of 2000 gold.
Her main adversary, Kash Vessels, son of the legendary Frank "Scoop" Vessels, was in hot pursuit, and the two had been in close quarters as they traversed the peninsula. But in the end Bekki prevailed, besting Scoop Jr's 38:49:11, at 43.265 MPH with a slightly quicker 38:37:20, at 43.486 MPH.
Along with the Terrible Herbst "Truggy", and Team Hondas Johnny Capbell / Tim Stabb, Freeman became a member of the elite "2 for 2000" club, but her win at the B2K didn't stop there. Freeman secured the 1/2-1600 Championship, and narrowly lost to Troy Herbst for the overall season points title. All in all a pretty good year for the young lass.
Said Bekki, "We started with the same set of BFG tires we finished with. The race went real well. It was an easy day. The only problem we had was that our pit crew couldn't catch up to us. When I got in the car, Kash Vessels had 30 minutes on me. I caught him. He took the left line. I took the right."
Mark Bunderson - "On the way to the Bay of LA we were down 20 minutes." Then the crew took a turn for the worse, heading off the side of a cliff. "How can you do 4000 turns picture perfect and then blow turn 4001. I exited the turn and swung around way too far. I said, "son of a bitch, we're going over!" Dale Ebbert, Class 1, bailed us out as soon as he saw the pink car. He knew it was Bekki and hooked up the tow strap."
Class 5 finished off much as it began with Mike James and George Seeley battling it out over every square inch of race course. Although James won the "Battle for the B2K," winning the event in a time of 45:42:44, with a speed of 36.741 MPH., it was Seeley who ultimately won the war, regaining his Class 5 Championship with his finish less than 10 min. behind the Outlaw car. It was just what he set out to do.
"Look, I've just driven 1700 miles through rain, rocks, cows and cactus. Trust me, I can do this"
Before the race we had the opportunity to talk with Seeley during a lull in the action on contingency row.
"Oh, we definitely are out here to win this," opined the soft-spoken racer, "But make no mistake, the important thing is to finish this and wrap up the championship. Mike's (James) always been a really tough competitor, and we think we'll come out ahead, but the finish is the important thing here. Just finishing a race like this is an incredible thing."
Stock Full racer Jeremy Spirkoff has done his own share of incredible things this season, with wins at every Baja event including the Baja 2000.Although he grew up in a desert racing family, the 2000 season was the first time Spirkoff had built and campaigned a vehicle of his own.
In the depths of the Spirit SoCal race shop Jeremy slowly built up his Ford F-350, hoping to have all the bugs worked out for the Baja 2000. He needn't have worried. From the start, Spirkoff and his F-350 have proven to be the terror of the stock full class, and it's little wonder he's up for the SCORE "Rookie of the Year" honors.
While he's had easier races in his short career, Spirkoff's B2k experience was largely trouble free.
Said Jeremy, "We had alternator problems off the line, along with a few tire changes. After that it was a smooth, clean ride to Cabo. We've won every Baja race this year in this F-350. This is one tough Ford Truck."
Spirkoff laid down a decisive win in a time of 40:01:12, at a 41.967 MPH average, leaving 2nd place to Al Hogan nearly 6 hours behind. Brothers Mark Stein and Dave Sykes pulled down the 3rd and 4th slots in their Fords, followed up by Baja legend Rod Hall of Team Hummer, who'd seemingly done the impossible; He'd broken a front spindle off the brutally rugged Hummer, losing several hours while repairs were being effected.
"I didn't think I could break it like I did," said Hall, "But I did. Overall, the Hummer worked really well out there, but today those Ford's were pretty fast."
The "Baja Challenge" cars of Wide Open Baja overcame early problems to post a respectable finishing rate. The class bordered on a "celeberty" event, bringing some of the greatest pavement racers out to play in the desert. There's real potential here.
In Stock Mini, Dr. Macree Glass faced brief competition from the Vehicross of Bob Land before the Isuzu went down for the count with parts breakage. Glass however brought an H-bomb to a knife fight, loading down his pit/chase trucks with 4 complete front and rear end assemblies, 2 spare trannies, an entire motor worth of spare engine parts, and most of the rest of the parts needed to assemble a completely separate truck.
He broke exactly 1 bolt throughout the entire event.
"We still have the original rubber bushings on there," said Glass, "And they look brand new!. After loading up all these spares, we broke 1 freaking bolt. Can you believe that? One bolt!
We had a great run all the way down the peninsula. No problems to speak of, no hassles. We just put it into gear, locked in the hubs, and hit it. Hell, even our hubs are still in perfect shape!"
As you could probably tell, the good doctor was fairly enthused with his B2k victory.
"We're just going to clean it off and go Run the BITD race in December up in Vegas. The truck is ready to go. We're hoping to see the Sheriffs (Deputy Steve Williams LASD Ford Ranger) out there. We're ready for them!"
Moving up the Mini-Truck ladder, Joe Custer dominated the field, posting a time of 43:22:51, at an average speed of 38.716 MPH. While Custer's problems over the course of the event bordered on non-existent, the same could not be said for the competition. Marco Novelo crossed the line a full 17 hrs. behind the winning truck, with 3rd place Doug Siewert over 8 hrs. back.
Walter Prince and the "Candy Cane Car" were just one of the vehicles supported by the Checkers Off-road Racing Team. The Checkers have been a staple of desert racing since it's inception, and show no signs of slowing down.
The two other entries in the 7s class, Eric Harden and Eduardo Gonzales fell to mechanical problems, DNF' ing the race.
Class 7 saw "Lil'Mac", the S-10 Chevy of Jeff Lewis and Team McPherson fight their way to the top of the class in what became a 2-way battle with Perry McNeil's Ford Ranger. In a class fraught with breakage and downtime, Lewis emerged victorious in a time of 50:15:25, at an average speed of 33.419 MPH.
It would be over 4 hrs. before the #702 of McNeil would enter Cabo.
"All within a five mile stretch at San Quintin, we had one tranny swap, brakes went bad and had only one flat," said Perry. "A motorcycle wouldn't let me by. If he had a bumper, I would have hit him. The guy has balls bigger than a watermelon."
Although there was plenty of time remaining until the cut off point, McNeil's Ranger would be the last of the four starters in the class to finish. Somewhere on the course Craig Turner and Rick Taylor had each broken down, and sufficient repairs to continue were deemed impossible. It was a heartbreaker for Turner whose 2000 season has been either feast or famine since stepping up from 7s.
Class 10 proved to be as competitive in a marathon race like the Baja 2000 is it is on the short courses of Laughlin. Over the near 1700 mile distance, Steve Myers pulled out the win by the narrowest of margins - a time of 41:44:49, at 40.231 MPH that held off 2nd place finisher Don Hatch's 41:45:08, 40.226 MPH.
Think about that one for a minute. At the end of 1700 miles and over 41 hours of racing, a mere 19 seconds made the difference between victory and defeat.
Class 10 also boasted a 50% finishing rate, with 5 of the starting 10 entries making it to Cabo. Among them, Mark Hutchins, who earned a solid 3rd place with a time of 42:34:18, at 39.452 MPH, Dennis Hunter, who locked down 4th place in 55:47:28, at 30.104 MPH, and finally Ron Brookshire, whose 59:26:20 finish at 28.256 MPH performance wrapped up the class.
In SCORE Lites, Jim Dizney shocked the class, pulling off an upset win in his "converted" class 1/2-1600 car. The desert veteran grabbed the brass ring nearly an hour ahead of 2nd place Pat Shea with a winning time of 44:27:52, and an average speed of 37.772 MPH. Back in 3rd, class fixture Jerry Penhall was under 7 min. off a 2nd place pace, giving up a time of 45:38:59, at 36.791 MPH, to Shea's 45:26:09, at 36.965 MPH performance.
He may have lost the battle, but he won the war. George Seeley wrapped up the Class 5 Championship for the Checkers with a 2nd place finish to Mike James at the Baja 2000. One of the sport's true ambassadors, Seeley always takes time to talk with his fans.
Class 3 was well represented at the B2K with a total of 8 short wheelbase vehicles pulling up to the line in Ensenada. By the time the caravan reached Cabo San Lucas, they'd lost three along the way. To put it into perspective, there were more Class 3 finishers at the Baja 2000 then there were entries at each of the previous SCORE races throughout the season.
And as usual, Darren Skilton was their leader. Well on his way to replacing Dick Sasser as "The King of the Class 3's", Skilton drove his Kia to yet another win in a time of 49:16:39, at 34.083 MPH. On his way to Victory, Skilton's time bested that of the mighty Class 7 trucks, and came dangerously close to that of the Class 5 Unlimited VWs.
While Skilton maintains his stranglehold on the Class 3 Championship, Darren's father Clive wasn't about to let the kid just walk away with the B2K trophy. Just to keep his son honest, the elder Skilton got together with his long-time friends in the Southern California Jeep Dealers Assoc. and built up a Grand Cherokee. No stranger to the wheel of a desert truck, Clive matched Darren mile for mile down the peninsula, pitting good old American tech against the dominant import of the class. In the end though, it was wasn't quite enough. The Grand Cherokee crossed the finish line with a time of 51:33:15, at 32.578 MPH, locking down 2nd place ahead of 3rd place Ikuo Hanawa.
Class 9 turned in an over-50% finishing rate with Bullhead City AZ's Joe Shaeble leading the pack into Cabo. Shaeble's 51:42:18, at 32.483 MPH finish came a half hour ahead of his nearest competitor, Tijuana's Bill Rodriguez, whose 52:12:46, at 32.167 MPH time garnered him a solid 2nd place slot in the count. In 3rd, 34 yr. Old Ensenada resident Eric Fisher established a solid finish; 53:53:15, at 31.167 MPH, over Hector Sarabia, whose 59:32:19, at 28.209 MPH run closed out the class.
Class 5-1600 saw 8 of 11 cars finish the B2K with Vic Orellana way out in front (relatively speaking) of a class that routinely posts razor thin margins for victory. Orellana's 46:15:07 time and 36.312 MPH average speed put the Rancho Auto Parts/Carquest/BF Goodrich sponsored VW a full 1hr. 15 min. ahead of the 2nd place Samuel Martinez entry. Posting a time of 47:58:19, Martinez raced away from his San Diego home at an average speed of 35.010 MPH down the peninsula.
No, really! we went to Baja to cover the race! Honest! The girls of contingency row are another mainstay of the Baja races. Companies like Akron and Tecate go all out with displays, live music, and of course the lovely senoritas to attract row goers in to see their wares.
Third place in the 5-1600 class went to Arturo Cervantes in a time of 49:37:42, at 33.842 MPH, while the odds on favorite and Class Champion, Dave Gasper had to settle for a hard fought 4th.
To the surprise of many, there was indeed a Class 11 finisher in the Baja 2000, but Eric Solorzano wasn't too shocked. He'd just spent the last 69 hours, 54, minutes, and 12 seconds of his career getting the mostly stock VW to Cabo. Call it an act of will, call it an experiment in masochism. Call it anything you like. Just be sure you call it one hell of an accomplishment; Oh, and be sure to call Eric a true Champion.
After their scare in San Ignacio, the Baja Challenge crews finished 50% of the eight-car class. Jay Culbertson was first across the line in a time of 62:34:05, at an average speed of 26.843 MPH, followed a good distance back by Kevin Doyle's 73:26:12. In 3rd, Bruce Chernoff clocked in with a time of 76:05:34, followed by Matt Autterson whose 77:07:58 time brought the final Baja Challenge car in just under the mandated 80 hr. time limit.
Jess Soldana, Culbertson's co-driver in the BC-4 entry looked quite the worse for the wear after the winning run, but was immediately set upon by a mob of autograph seekers and one ORC reporter - Fidel Gonzales.
"Have you ever raced Baja before?" asked Fidel
(He slowly shook his head.)
"How did you like it?"
(He slowly shook his head.)
How did you like it (Louder)?
"I'm tired, and my ass is sore. I want a hotel room."
Fidel hoped the thrill of victory would set in after a hot shower.
The effort to provide pit support for the Baja racers required armies of men and wonen, and thousands of parts filled vehicles. It made no difference if you were in a truck or buggy, or astride a bike or quad; No one raced the 2000 alone.
When the winning ATV crossed the line, it wasn't the Honda that many expected. It was a newcomer to the ATV scene that laid waste to the competition in the longest continuous off-road race in history.
The mud and dust couldn't hide the distinctive yellow of the Bombardier 650 piloted by multi-time Champion Dean Sundhal, and the winning rider couldn't mask his enthusiasm for the machine.
"Hey, that thing still sounds bitchen," said Sundhal as he chugged an ice-cold Tecate. "It was a long ride. I broke a swing arm pivot bolt, and I had to hold it in with my foot for about 60 miles. It was fantastic. The ride was fantastic. I was thinking about it here. This 650cc paid its dues through two back-to-back 2000s."
High praise for a new bike indeed. Greg Row and Sundhal took the yellow screamer to victory in a time of 41:34:44, at an average speed of 40.394 MPH, besting the 2nd place Honda of Gary White by just over 15 min, and the 3rd place EX400 piloted by John Gregory by considerably more.
On the other end of the finishing spectrum, Wes Miller and the all new Yamaha Raptor experienced something less than a stellar run, but the determined racers managed a finish none the less. Said Wes,
"Well, the whole frame busted in half - twice. The bike broke a lot. We rebuilt the motor in Catavina, broke the radiator in La Paz. . . We were thinking of just launching it into the water and finish the thing off. Because, it's done!"
With more R&D work the massive power of the Raptor could prove a threat to the Bombardiers and Hondas, but with so little time on the new machine, such difficulties aren't unexpected - though still unwelcome.
Johnny Campbell takes Sal Fish for a "Victory Lap" atound the finish line. As the festivities came to a close, there was already talk of another 2000 miler at some point in the future. "Johnny, get me outta' here!!!
After the final car pulled across the line and the banners came down, Cabo San Lucas lit up with the sights and sounds of thousands of racers, crews and fans filling the restraunts, taverns and attractions of the oceanside city. You can probably imagine the scene. After months, even years of preparation, the costs and sacrifice of the people involved, and the 80 hours of competition that it all led up to, these folks were ready to party! And party they did. After putting a serious dent in the Tequila and Tecate stores of the San Luc establishments, the raucous racers slept it off in the many hotels along the coast before making the long trip back up the peninsula - and home.
There was a lot of history made during the Baja 2000, and even more memories. For some, it was the thrill of victory. For others, loss and sadness. Yet as "the greatest Baja that ever was" moves farther into history with each passing day, it will always remain a part of the lives it touched - no, "consumed" during it's time with us.
Perhaps, the spirit of the Baja 2000 was summed up best by another long time racer and patriarch of the sport, Jerry Herbst. Said Jerry,
"They never let it down, they never gave it up. Never!"
From us here at Off-Road.com, we'd like to extend our sincere thanks and congratulations to Sal Fish and the staff of SCORE International, and especially the racers and crews of the desert racing community. It was one hell of a race guys, and no one will ever forget it.
"Baja or Dust"
There were a lot of memorable stories that came out of the 1997 Baja 1000. Larry Ragland's record setting "3 in a row", Johnny Cambell's 2 wheeled desert dominance, the untimely death of Dave LaPraik during pre-running.......the list goes on and on. This is one of those stories, but this one is different. Really different.
"Picture if you will, two men in the state of Maine. They have a vision. Drive a early Ford Bronco across the country to the Baja peninsula, enter it in the most brutal racing event the world has ever seen, run the race, and drive it home again".
An episode of "The Twilight Zone"? No it really happened, and many of us who bore witness to this display of raw determination are still shaking our heads in amazement. The experience drew many in the racing community together, and took them back to a simpler time. A time when the trophy meant more than the Trophy Truck. A time of a true family sport. A time long behind us, yet one that could be again if only we would try.
Brian Carver & David Irving became far more than an obscure team from Maine, they became the talk of the 1000. At the Award ceremony on Saturday night, as Larry Ragland took the podium to accept his well earned trophy, He asked the crowd if anyone had news of what became of the young men in their old Ford. His was a question on the minds of many, for word had spread through the event like wildfire after the pair appeared on contingency row Thursday morning. Few people thought they'd make it, others swore they would, but all admitted these guys had an abundance of "cajones". When Brian and Dave finally arrived at the awards, they were greeted with an ovation that topped Raglands, and Larry wasn't the least bit offended.
I had the pleasure of spending a little time talking to these two brave souls from their homes in Maine, and it was a truly enlightening experience.
Brian & Dave spent considerable time and money preparing the old Bronc for the long and torturous miles ahead. A rebuilt 289 C.I. Ford mill bored .040 over, and rebuilt drivetrain ensured solid, reliable power and durability for most any off-road excursion, but then, this was Baja. Having spent their share of time around the local drag strips, Brian & Dave know well the benefits of additional power, and went after a "little extra" without sacrificing that all important reliability. All the power in the world does little good when it leaves you broken down alongside the course.
"We passed a few of those on the side of the road, and Ivan Stewart was one of them. It made us feel really good passing him!"
The 289 sported 10-1 compression, roller-rocker arms, Crane cam, Edlebrock 600 cfm carb mounted to an Edlebrock intake. For the long haul, a 32 gallon fuel cell made the pairs fill ups few and far between.
"A week before we left for Baja, we blew the engine. We put this one in a couple days before we left. It was brand new and didn't have any time on it. We broke it in on the way across the country. We like this engine, and we're going to run it again."
Underneath the all stock body work, BFG Mud Terrain 30 x 9.5 x 15 tires provided the traction, and were bolted to the stock Dana 44 and Ford 9 in. axles. 8 RS9000 Rancho adjustable shocks and a 2.5 inch lift, via National Springs, provided the Bronco with a solid suspension.
"We had the shocks set on 4, and we probably could have gone softer in a lot of areas. We were worried about bottoming with the small tires. We wanted to go bigger, but we had 3.54 to 1 gears. Next time we'll go with lower gears and 35 in. BF Goodrich tires. We didn't have any flats with the 30's, and we won't use anything but BF Goodrich."
A 10 point roll cage and 1 3/4 inch - 5 point safety harness and window netting kept Brian and Dave safe in the event of a collision, but did little to protect them from the elements.
Heater? What heater?
In true pioneer fashion, Brian and Dave set out across the country, and into the unknown. With winter already upon the north east, the guys were faced with a long cold ride to the warmer climes of the west. The fact that the Bronco's heater was non-functional, and the truck being devoid of weather stripping didn't help their predicament. As the saying goes, "That which does not kill you, makes you stronger", and by the time they got to Vegas, driving and riding in their sleeping bags, these two men could only be considered "Bionic".
"We drove with one leg hanging out (of the sleeping bag) for the throttle, plus we had extra blankets. We woke up one morning in Tennessee and the inside of the windshield was covered in ice. We had to wait for the sun to come up before we could leave"
The trip to and from Baja was far from a direct route, as Brian & Dave took advantage of the trip to do a little sightseeing. Stops at the Air & Space Smithsonian in Washington DC, The Grand Canyon, Petrified Forrest, and the Hoover Dam gave them a chance to experience some of our country's national treasures.
Loving Las Vegas
The glitz and glamour of the Vegas strip has attracted people from across the world for a goodly number of years, and Brian and Dave were no exception. A stay at the luxurious "Excalibur Hotel and Casino" provided the pair a warm bed, a much needed break from the elements, and the last "good nights sleep" they expected to see for some time.
While in Vegas, a stop at noted Bronco specialists KbarS for a replacement driveshaft left the guys with the needed parts, and a few new friends.
"KbarS are great people. Real down to earth folks. I highly recommend them", said Dave.
It had been quite some time since KbarS proprietor and Baja veteran John Karp had worked on a Baja 1000 bound Bronco, and it did his heart good. Patti and John from KbarS were likewise amazed and impressed. "These guys have a lot of guts", said Patti. Mike could only nod his head in agreement.
"When the factories got involved, off-road racing lost something" , said John, "These guys are doing something I haven't seen done in 10 or 15 years. It used to be a family sport, but what family can afford $300,000 to compete? It's just not the same.".
With the Bronco back together, many words of advice, and a lot of encouragement, Brian and Dave set out on the last leg to Baja.
Trouble in Mexico
When the guys arrived in Ensenada, they ran head-long into the language barrier. Many veteran Baja racers speak at least some of the language, but Brian & Dave were not so fortunate. The simple act of getting the Bronco onto the starting line proved to be a major hassle.
"SCORE didn't send us any info, so we went down there pretty much blind. When we finally found contingency, one of the Mexican Police refused to let us onto contingency row! I Tried to explain to the guy that we were racers, and we needed to be there, but he refused to let us go in".
Eventually the problem was resolved, by Bob Bower, who escorted Brian, Dave, and the Bronco onto Contingency without further incident. It was an unlikely way to begin a friendship, but in Baja, anything can happen....and usually does.
Dan Newsome and BF Goodrich took the guys under their wing, and went on to cover the pairs accommodations at the luxurious Estero Beach Hotel.
"We had our picture taken with Dan and the truck, and he asked us where we were staying. We were camping in our tent, so he asked us if we'd like a room. We said sure! The room we got was more like a suite. It was great! We stayed there the night before the race and the night after. Dan Newsome is a really great guy, and we really appreciate everything he did for us."
Brian & Dave returned that generosity, and spread their share of good will in Baja, pulling several stranded racers out of some pretty hairy predicaments, Dick Sasser, the "King of the Class 3's" among them.
Along the way, Brian & Dave encountered very few (for Baja) problems.
Battery box collapsed during race and we lost our lights.
Front Skid Plate jammed up against the drive shaft . We had to remove it 350 miles into the race.
Blew a hole in muffler the size of the grand canyon.
Lost a spark arrestor.
Dent in left quarter panel while pulling out a stranded racer.
As day wore into night, one of the perrils of Baja reared it's head, and the hallucinations set in. The strain of racing in Baja, combined with a lack of sleep have taken their toll on most every Baja racer..
"After a while, the cactus began looking like people. We knew it was just from exhaustion, but it sure does get your attention!"
Back on contingency, several members of the BFG Pit crew had placed side bets on Brian & Dave's ability to reach Checkpoint 1. There was a lot of money lost.
"When we got to check 4, the BFG guys were psyched that we had beaten Ivan Stewart! They really cheered us on."
"At one point, we were running 3rd in Class 3. Not 3 Sportsman, but 3 Pro. In the end, we "timed out" (didn't reach a checkpoint in the allotted time) and it resulted in a DNF., but we finished second overall in the points for 1997 Class 3 Sportsman. You cant beat that for our first time out!"
Pikes Peak & Beyond
With the Baja 1000 behind them, where will Brian & Dave go from here? Why, Up of course! The thrill of the Pikes Peak hill climb is next on the dynamic duo's agenda, and Dave's Jeep is in the final stages of completion foe an assault on the summit.
"Pikes Peak is by invitation only, and fortunately a good friend of Dan Newsome is on the Pike's Peak Hill Climb Challenge committee. If the Jeep will pass tech, He'll make sure I'm invited."
And what about another run on the peninsula?
"BFG has agreed to give us our tires, and we're looking for more sponsors. We want to approach Rancho. We used their shocks, and they worked great all the way down, all throughout the race, and all the way home again. We're also going to approach a local radio station for a "call in" deal all the way down and back, with progress updates during the race as it happens."
A big part of Dave's future involves the Peace Corps. Dave was scheduled to enter the Corps this fall, but had to pass up his chance in order to take part in the 97 Baja 1000. Like many jobs today, there are only so many positions to go around, but Dave is hopeful that another opportunity will present itself soon.
"I spoke with the recruiter on the way home. There's nothing definite yet, but there's a good chance I'll be able to get in at the next availability. Joining the Peace Corps is something I've always wanted to do", Says Dave
Taking the time to say "Thank You"
From Brian & Dave ...
"We'd definitely like to thank Dick Sasser & the Becker Brothers, Bob Bower, BF Goodrich & Dan Newsome. There's a lot of people who helped us, and we don't even know who they were. We'd like to thank the pit orgs. like MAG7 and Baja Pits, who gave us a lot of help even though we wern't paying them. They told us if we needed anything to just stop. They were all really great guys".
While they may not have won, or even finished the Baja 1000, Brian and Dave accomplished something very special. They've shown us that with enough determination, willpower, and maybe just a little bit of luck, you can achieve your dreams, no matter how big or small they may be.
The semi from hell! Over 9000 pounds of Cummins raced across Baja in 1994.
"El Burro Grande"!Translation? "The Big Mule"
Heart of the beast is a type M-11 diesel engine that put out staggering torque at ultra-low rpm.
Mike Lund and Marty Sigfried were given the driving chores.
Practice sessions in the Mojave desert revealed a top speed of over 110 miles per hour.
Minds were blown when The Big Mule roared off the line at the Baja 1000.
Construction took over half a year at the T-Mag shop.
Serious loading ramps were required to get the big semi up on the flat bed.
Oddly enough, the semi was not top-heavy, even with the long travel suspension.
A custom painted International Eagle was prepped to haul the racing semi.
Here’s what El Burro Grande looked like before it was made into an off-road racer.
In late 1994, Cummins actually entered a highly modified semi in the Baja 1000. It caught the imagination of the race fans and blew the minds of all who saw it rumble through the desert. No, there’s no story-book ending; El Burro Grande (The Big Mule) didn’t finish, but they gave it one hell of a try. For those who missed El Burro Grande in action, sit back, and prepare to be amazed!
Bill Savage (owner of T-Mag) was given the job of turning a Cummins semi into an off-road racer. The idea was the brain-child of a joint effort between Cummins and Navistar. Cummins wanted to promote the reliability of their new M-11 engine, and Navistar is a moving force behind the growing Global Positioning technology.
UNDER THE HOOD
What's the fuss about a diesel engine? Study the spec sheets and check out these numbers: The single turbo-charged, inter-cooled, diesel powerplant puts out 370 horsepower … at 2200 rpm!
But here's the real stunner! It twists out a whopping 1350 ft/lbs of torque at a mere 1200 rpm! At a point of about 400 rpm higher than most engines idle, the Cummins M-11 puts out 1350 foot/pounds of stump-pulling torque!!! Compression ratio is right at 27:1.
This is not a small motor, by any means. When put on the scales, the engine/transmission package weighed in at a whopping 3000 pounds!
THE DRIVE TRAIN
The stout powerplant is hooked up to an Allison 6-speed automatic transmission. Stall-speed on the torque convertor? A mere 800 rpm! Another amazing fact is that the trans/torque convertor in the racing Cummins is totally 100 percent stock. They chose to run it that way to demonstrate the reliability of the unit.
Instead of the regular cooler for a trans, the Allison uses a true heat exchanger. Shifting is done electrically and this set-up is also Allison-based technology. Just in case you wondered, they had no trouble at all with the stock trans.
A Dana/Spicer diff is used at the rear, running a 3.80 ratio. It's from the Diamond Series, which is a normal 5-ton item regularly found in larger box vans. If you want one, the part number is S-150-5.
Bill chose not to use the stock frame as a base, but because of SCORE rules and regulations, would have to conform the racer to a 9200 Cummins body style, and stick to the 152 inch wheelbase, plus or minus a few inches.
A tubular frame was hand made from chromoly steel tubing (1 3/4" OD by .120" wall thickness), and complete construction of the frame and running gear took six solid months of work!
Up front, Bill made a twin-beam concept front end similar to a Ford. At the rear, a standard 4-bar link was used. Since the Cummins was huge to start with, Savage could have literally built in as much travel as he wanted, but instead, chose to keep it conservative. You can find 22 inches of travel up front and 28 inches at the rear.
At first, it was feared that the finished package would be too tall and top heavy, leading to flop-overs in rough off-road racing conditions. Since the Cummins taped in at 9 1/2 feet tall, they had a right to be concerned. But once out in the field, they found that flop-over was a non-issue and that the semi was amazingly stable.
FACTS AND FIGURES
The Cummins carried 160 gallons of regular old pump diesel fuel in two separate 80 gallon fuel cells. It was estimated during testing that they would get six to seven miles per gallon under normal race conditions, meaning they could run the entire Baja event without refueling.
Coil-over air shocks were used at the front and regular hydraulic shocks used at the rear. Two shocks per wheel seemed to be right during testing, but on race day, it was not quite enough.
Hefty heim joints were used at all pivots; most of then were 7/8 inch bore aircraft quality stuff.
Wheels are aluminum slugs from Alcoa: they're 22.5 x 7 items. The Goodyear tires are 42 inches tall and are labeled 385/65/x22.5 Super Single 8 plies. Each tire weighed 180 pounds and a complete tire/wheel assembly hit the scales at a whopping 260 pounds! Tire pressure was run at 40 p.s.i., which must have been a savvy guess, since they had no flats or wheel problems in the race.
This was good, since a tire change would have been equivalent to any Olympic-level workout. A jack was built into each side of the semi, just in case.
Modine radiators (brass, not aluminum) were used. The front ran an electric EFE 24 inch fan for cooling and the rear used an hydraulic drive fan that ran off a remote power steering type pump.
Steering chores on the big rig were handled by a Tommy Lee Saginaw box. Custom tie-rods and pitman arms were fabricated from hefty chrome-moly tubing.
To keep dirt out of the powerful engine, Cummins used a heavy duty element filter from Fleet-Guard. Bill Savage reported that not only did the filter do an excellent job keeping the dirt out, it was unaffected by rain and splashing water. Bill noted that he would not hesitate to use this type of filter on a regular race vehicle.
That slick looking cab is fiberglass; molds were taken off the stock steel parts. All that trick work was done by Vec-Pro, a custom glass shop in Anaheim, California. The great looking paint job was applied by Bill Bushling, who can be reached only through T-Mag.
Important details: Seats by Mastercraft, lights by PIAA, belts from Simpson, gauges by Autometer. That whopping big skid plate up front was fabricated from T-6 aluminum alloy by Bill Savage, as was the wrap-around front bumper. The engine electrics are stock Cummins stuff and they worked just fine.
The all-up ready-to-race weight of the Cummins race semi was a touch over 9,000 pounds. Since a stock Cummins cab weighs 11,500 pounds, it's obvious that Savage managed to save a bunch of weight.
HOW DID IT WORK?
Rather than string you out, we'll tell you up front that the Cummins racing semi retired from the event at the 300 mile mark. They had shock problems due to incorrect valving, which led to harsh forces on the shock mounts and some mount breakage.
Shocks were replaced, but the spares were valved wrong, too. After the team ran out of shocks, the semi was driven back under its own power to a pit and put on the trailer.
But when it ran, it ran great! Bill, who spent some time behind the wheel during testing, said it was surprisingly quick. Top speed, measured on a dry lake bed, was over 110 miles per-hour!
Bill noted that there was so much torque, that they never needed to use the bottom two gears. Acceleration, he said, was faster than a good Class 7S truck.
Mike Lund, a long-time veteran driver, was chosen to pilot the big rig, and the plan was to drive quick, but not hard.
All three chase trucks were equipped with GPS, and at any time they could check the following things on the race truck, by glancing at the read-outs: mile-per-hour, engine rpm, all engine temperatures, turbo boost pressure, shock temps, rear end temps and tranny temperatures.
The drivers said that the driving position let them see "forever" sitting that high up in the air. The only draw back was that tree branches kept filling up the cab. Oddly enough, a low hanging tree branch wasted the front fan and the engine ran hot for a short while until the fan was replaced.
Everyone connected with the project mentioned that the huge truck handled extremely well, and the long travel suspension really handled the bumps.
WAS IT WORTH IT?
Sure. It cost a cool half-million dollars to complete the Cummins racing semi, but Cummins/Navistar were happy with the positive publicity. Even better, they felt that the new M-11 engine was more than capable of handling anything that could be thrown at it,
The Big Mule has been retired, and is put on display every now and then. It’s gone, but certainly not forgotten. Just ask those who saw the big beast run!
25 Years In One Night"The Checker 25'th Reunion"
The "#1" says it all. The Checkers place as the winningest team in off-road racing history is a well deserved one.
The Class 1 of the 60's. Imagine the pounding taken! Less than 80 HP, 10 in of wheel travel, and no wheelbase to speak of. In their day such vehicles were state of the art.
"Vedi, Vidi, Brewsky"Translated - "They came, they saw, they drank Gaughan's beer"!
Checkers past and present came to the Gold Coast casino to celebrate 25 years of fun, fear, and friendship in the desert.
This vintage Rickman was but one of the many prizes raffled off at the reunion bash. Would you believe it was won by the owner of Honda of North Hollywood? There is no justice in the world...
Televangelist? Used car salesman? No, it's Checker "Smiling George" Thompson!
Don't you know that alcohol is bad for you?...Now here, let me help you with that beer....
"What can I say.....Thanks"?
SCORE CEO Sal Fish was presented with the dubious honor of "Butthead of the Quarter Century".He took it well.....
The Dr. Checker Masturbation Kit was another of the highly coveted awards of the night....I think.
Rascals in Baja! As the saying goes, "With age ya' get a cage". When Checkers get too old, they, well, do REALLY strange things.
The infamous Dr. and his lovely bride. Steve Kassanyi has been presenting his fellow checkers with their just deserts for over 24 years.
Cat - hat. In French - "schat chappeau". In Spanish your "el gato in a ......er, sorry. Got carried away.
BITD's Casey Folks Jr. was one of the Checkers many friends in attendance. The Checkers and Casey will be seeing a lot more of each other in 99 as they continue to expand their desert presence.
Ivan Stewart and the checkers go back a long way, and the 98 Baja 1000 champion was proud to be on hand to share in their celebration.
"Whaddya mean we're goin' to the Crazy Horse? Oh, all right, I guess I'll have to go and keep an eye on them...er...I mean Bartolotti"!
"And another thing Bower...." ORC's CEO Pat Chicas shames the colorful Bob Bower of ESPN fame into going to the Crazy Horse to keep an eye on them...er..I mean....Uncle Max!
Mike "Man of Steel" Bartolotti and , believe it or not, BLM Ranger Jack Waldron. Jack got the Vic VanElla award for his unending fight (with his superiors) to keep the desert open for us to enjoy. Mike got to go to the Crazy Horse to keep an eye on them ....er...oh nevermind.....
Many moons ago a group of die-hard desert rats got together and hired out a hole in the wall in a low rent section of North Hollywood CA. They worked on their bikes and cars, drank some beers, told each other lies and passed the time between the desert races that were their one true love in life.
It was a different time back in 1974, a simpler era when $500,000 vehicles and multi million dollar team budgets were the province of Indy car and Formula 1 teams. A time when the love of the sport, and the camaraderie it engendered were all that mattered. From these humble beginnings arose the winningest, most well known off-road racing team in the history of the world - The Checkers. Over the years their numbers grew larger , and the stories surrounding this collection of misanthropes, wild men, enteurpeners, and intellectuals grew wilder, becoming the stuff of off-road legend.
It is said, only half jokingly that the Checkers eat their dead, for "Once a Checker, always a Checker". In fact, the team follows a code of honor that has escaped the attentions of the "Politically Correct Police" on luck alone. Not that they'd particularly care. Their "No Women" policy has inflamed the emotions of several lady racers and reporters over the years, their antics in Baja range from the incredible to the perverse to the unreal, and their up front, pull no punches battles with race promoters would make a NASCAR owner cringe.
Feminists scream loudly "Men are Pigs!"
Checkers reply proudly "Yes we ARE!!!"
And that's the beauty of it. In an age where most of America runs in circles like a dog chasing it's tail, trying not to step on toes or offend the oh so sensitive "victims" in society, the Checkers tend to seek out toes to run over, revel in offending damn near everyone in one way or another, and hold true to what they believe in. A good race, a good time, and good friends to share them with. Political Correctness be damned.
On With The Show
Checker, author, and all around pot stirrer Jeff Hibbard once said that "getting off-road racers to agree on anything was remarkably like trying to herd cats". That being the case, you can imagine the fun in trying to get 25 years worth of these characters together for the "Checkers 25th Reunion" hosted by fellow Checker Mike Gaughan, owner of the Gold Coast Casino in Las Vegas NV.
Uncle Max Norris, Vance Scott, Mike Bartolotti, and the aforementioned Jeff Hibbard - the brains behind the program certainly had their work cut out for them, but despite odds that would make a veteran gambler run screaming from the tables, they pulled together an event that will long be remembered even after the hangovers are forgotten. Mike Gaughn pulled out all the stops at the Gold Coast for his brother Checkers, with an open bar, wine compliments of fellow racer and California wine baron Frank Arcerio, dinner, dancing, rooms and more. With over 150+ current and "inactive" Checkers, their friends and families (nearly 500 people in total), this was no small thing. In fact, it was the largest event of it's kind the sport has yet seen.
Where to begin? The pre-game festivities started on Friday afternoon at the Gold Coast bar, where travel weary Checkers stopped to quench their thirst after a long, hot trip across the burning sands of the Mojave.
Well OK....that's stretching it just a mile or so past credibility. They came in air conditioned cars, and trucks in the dead of winter, with the temps a comfy 65deg., but as any Checker will tell you, the best place to find another Checker is at the bar. Ergo, it wasn't long before there were a few dozen of the wild and woolly breed bellied up for a bit of liquid refreshment.
And then the bench racin' began.
Way into the wee hours it continued as the latecomers straggled in, each adding their own tales of races past to the growing collection of remembered wisdom. And like a fine wine, the stories of woe and greatness tended to "improve with age", leading to a few spirited discussions that were definitively settled with.....you guessed it....more beer.
Saturday brought the main event in the Gold Coast Ballroom, where in addition to the awards and dinner to come, many vendors in the off-road community stepped up to the plate, contributing many thousands of dollars worth of prizes and "contingency" for the Checkers raffle and silent auction.
Organized by Mike Bartolotti, the auction included parts, prizes and services from the likes of PCI Race Radios, Sway-A-Way, BF Goodrich, F&L Fuels, McKenzies, Pyrotect, Signpros, Beard Seats, BITD, Whiplash, SCORE, and Carrera. For many, hopes of a winning ticket rested on the restored vintage Rickman Metisse dirt bike, a blast from the past circa 1970ish. Regardless of the prize they coveted, the assembled masses bought tickets by the thousands (in some cases over a hundred each) with proceeds going to benefit the Checkers favorite cause - the Checkers!
As dinner was served, the lights went down and after an ongoing slideshow documenting 25 years of Checker racing, Dave Dash and Shoemaker Productions debuted their Checker Tribute video; a 15 min. extravaganza of desert racing footage centered on the Checkers and the lives and careers of those they touched.
Once the awards got underway, a moment of silence was observed for the Checkers who went before them. Then the debauchery began. Alternating Master of Ceremony duties, Butch Dunn, Big John Hastings and Uncle Max Norris who paraded a deserving group of specimens to the podium to accept their well deserved awards / or get what they had coming to em' depending on your point of view.
Among the highlights of the award presentations were ...
"Butthead" (in polite company) of the 1/4 century. This award presented by desert promoter cum' watergeek Lou Peralta , went to SCORE CEO and longtime Checker nemesis Salvador Fish - who for what was likely the first time in his adult life was left completely at a loss for words. Laughing all the way to the podium, Fish raised the award (a photograph of the man in his younger days, framed by a toilet seat) and pondered thusly...
"What do I say....Thanks?"
Needless to say, he took it well, and the crowd burst into uproarious laughter.
Another highlight, and perhaps the most profound award went to...of all things...a BLM Ranger. No I'm not kidding. While the BLM has had a "mixed" relationship with desert racing throughout the years, more often as adversaries than allies, One BLM ranger stands alone as a tireless supporter of the sport. A combat veteran of the Korean war, and former flat track racer "One Eyed Jack" Waldron has been a lone voice arguing loudly for our right to use public land in a bureaucracy struck hearing impaired by special interest groups and a corrupt administration.
For his efforts in ensuring the continuation of of the sport, Waldron humbly accepted the "Vic VanElla Award". It was a move that suprised all in attendance, most of all Jack himself. None the less, you'd be hard pressed to find a single person in attendance that didn't agree that he deserved what is the greatest award that the Checkers can give.
Throughout the proceedings, several guest speakers took the podium including off-road racing luminaries Judy Smith of the long time chronicle of the sport "Dusty Times", SCORE CEO Sal Fish, and racing legend Ivan "Ironman" Stewart. Topics ranged from the lighthearted to the serious, but most of all dealt with the Checkers more than considerable involvement in shaping the sport throughout the years. As somber as it all sounds, you gotta remember that this was a "Checker" function and none were above mentioning a Baja story or two.
Like the time that Ivan forgot to take the hose of his catheter out of his shoe before getting into the truck. It was a bitterly cold race, but his foot stayed warm.
Like the time a woman (Judy) pulled into that testosterone filled piece of the peninsula called a Checker pit....
Like the time one checker duct taped his catheter in place and had to .....well, lets just say that 2 locals went running out of a Baja bathroom screaming something about crazy gringos. (Hey, catheter stories are always good for a laugh ;-)
To recount them all would take literally pages. Aside from the stories from the checkers them selves, the great many people who race with, or have known them each have stories of their own. The impact these guys have had on the sport can't be measured on trophies alone. It goes into the very lives of those around them.
When the last award was handed out; the last tale told, the bench racin' fired up again at points throughout the casino and continued well into the night. Just when we thought it was over and were headed home for some sorely needed recuperation, Mike Bartolotti & Uncle Max decided to lead a Checker assault on the "Crazy Horse".
Oh hell, we weren't THAT tired anyway......
The Men Who Made it Happen
Max Norris (Uncle Max) - Party Chairman & Hotel LiaisonVance Scott - Decoration & RegistrationMike Bartolotti - Promotion & RaffleJeff Hibbard - Reunion CoordinatorMike Gaughan - Owner of the Gold Coast Casino & Hotel
Masters of Ceremony
Butch Dunn - (Past Prez)John Hastings - (Current Prez)Max Norris - (Past Prez)
Appreciation Awards to Out-Going Club Officers:
Prez - Big John HastingsVP - Roy MooreTreasurer - Peter RosensteinSecratary - Dan MartinSpecial Appreciation Awards to:Vance & Shirley ScottRoberta LaVelle
Introduction for In-Coming Club Officers:
Prez - Jimmy HookVP - Roy MooreTreasurer - Tom AngermanSecratary - Vance Scott
Year End Performance Awards
Pit Captain of the Year - Roy MoorePitter of the Year - Greg HewlinDriver of the Year - Fred NelsonRookie of the Year - Mike BartolottiChecker of the Year- The Reverend Roy Moore
Judy Smith - Dusty TimesIvan Stewart - Toyota / PPI MotorsportsSal Fish - SCORE CEO
Steve Burak Dr. Checker Lou PeraltaWalter PrinceUncle Max Norris
VIC VAN ELLA AWARD
Desert Offroad Racing Classes
Trophy Truck (Unlimited Truck)
"Unlimited 4 wheel single and two seat vehicles. Vehicles must have a production appearing Utility or Sports Utility body. Engine must be of the same manufacture as that of the body."
Trophy Trucks are purpose built performance machines that must be seen to be believed. Capable of speeds in excess of 145 mph, these 4500 lb. trucks have recorded jumps of over 200 feet, and can plow through 4 foot "whoop-dee-doos" at over 60 mph!
Often costing upwards of $250,000, these trucks often feature over 30 inches of wheel travel thanks to coil-over shocks, torsion bars, A-arms, 3 and 4 link rear suspensions, and over 700 horsepower. Exotic metals, composite materials, and fiberglass bodies round out the premier class in Desert Racing.
Class 1 (Unlimited Buggy)
"Unlimited 4 wheel single and two seat vehicles. No production bodied vehicles allowed in this class."
Lightweight, high horsepower, and brutally fast, Class 1 is on par with the Trophy Trucks in terms of overall performance. These "bucks up" tube chassis desert monsters are the Unlimited class of the Buggy scene and have in fact, beaten the Trophy Trucks for the overall title on several occasions.
A-Arm / Coil Over front suspensions, regularly push 22 in. of travel, although the more traditional VW style front ends with dual coil-over shocks haven't totally been abandoned. In the rear, 22 in. of wheel travel is common, with longer and wider arms being employed. The rear is fully suspended by several nitrogen charged coil-over/reservoir/bypass shocks per wheel.
Porsche 934/5 and larger custom CV's are pushed to the very limit with kind of movement, but they have generally proven reliable. The transmissions are of the "Hewland", "Fortin" , or "Mendola" type, since the venerable Type 2 VW "Bus" tranny is not up to the task of handling the power of the engines used in this class. Those engines have moved steadily away from the flat 4 cyl. air cooled VW/Porsche type and into the realm of liquid cooled in-line 4 cyl., V4, V6, and yes even V8 power!
"Vehicles built from a 2 or 4 wheel drive full size pickup or sport utility vehicle. Vehicle must have been series produced in quantities of at least 5,000 units within a 12 month period and be readily available to the general public in the U.S.A. Vehicle must be marketed as full size pickup or sport utility vehicles."
Call them what you will, these heavy metal brutes remain among the favorites of desert racing fans. Recent rule changes have greatly narrowed the gap between Class 8 trucks, and the unlimited "Trophy Trucks". Although the Class 8 vehicles must still utilize a full frame, the rules governing suspension types and modification have been blown wide open. Today, it's not uncommon to see wheel travel in the 25in./front - 36in./rear range. Power? How about 600 - 800 horsepower mountain motors, and high-reving small blocks!
The past several months leading up to the 2000 have seen a rapid increase in the number of Class 8 entries around the various desert series. Whether they've been taken out of mothballs, or simply updated with state of the art desert tech, these once dominant vehicles are among the most exciting vehicles in competition - for racer, or spectator!
The Protruck is a cost efficient, durable "spec truck" designed with the latest technology. These trucks are designed as a dual purpose, low cost racing vehicle. It works both as a short course and a long course high speed racer. Based on a full size utility vehicle, the Protruck is a full blown, space frame constructed, high performance race truck, disguised under a stock appearing body. The trucks race in a limited class, meaning that all of the trucks are built the same, using all of the same components with the exception of the body style and engine.
The Protruck has state of the art suspension with adequate wheel travel to traverse the toughest off-road racing conditions. With 21 inches of front wheel travel and 24 plus inches in the rear, these vehicles are in the same category as the current, fastest racing vehicles. Due to the space frame construction of these vehicles, along with their fiberglass bodies, the power to weight ratio makes them a very high performance off-road race truck.
The bodies are based on full size trucks and the make of the body must correspond with the type of engine you install. The appearance of the trucks is "stock". It's very important that the vehicles look just like the one's that the manufacturers sell. The production of the bodies is closely controlled in order to maintain this stock appearance. They're made totally of fiberglass in order to maintain a low cost.
"Open Wheel single or two seat vehicles limited in engine size"
Class 10 cars share much in common with their Class 1 counterparts, including in some instances, the chassis. Significant differences include much smaller engines than their unlimited brethern, and lighter, yet very strong construction. With a minimum of complexity, and respectable power to weight ratio, Class 10 cars are extremely fast, often challenging the Class 1's and Trophy Trucks for the top overall finishes.
A-arm front and VW Type 1 derived rear suspensions are proven designs that provide well over 20 in. of wheel travel at each end, resulting in a car that appears to "skip" across the most rugged terrain like a rock across a pond. Multiple coil-over / bypass shock arrangements are standard issue, contributing greatly to the car's overall off-road performance.
"Open Wheel - Air Cooled. Single or 2 seat vehicles limited to air cooled engines."
Originally "Class 10" cars, the SCORE Lite class came about with the advent of the new breed of "A-arm" cars, and liquid cooled engines. Once considered uncompetitive with their higher tech brethren, the older beam cars (named for their Type 1 VW style front end) were given a class of their own. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell their drivers, and the SCORE Lites continue to post average speeds and times on par with the 10 class.
Aside from the obvious difference of the Type 1 front end, the SCORE Lites depart significantly from the 10 cars in other ways. Air cooled power is required, and can result in greater affordability, although it leaves the 'Lites at a power disadvantage in comparison to their more-modern cousins. Rear wheel travel is on par with the Class 10 cars, however the Type 1 derived front suspension results in several inches less vertical movement.
In all, The SCORE Lites continue to grow in popularity, as more and more older 10 and Class 1 cars are being modified to fit the class rules. As a result the SCORE Lites (AKA "Class 12") has has become a "Drivers Class", and anyone looking for an easy win should definitely be looking elsewhere!
Class 1/2 1600
"Open Wheel, Restricted Suspension - Single and two seat vehicles limited to 1600cc VW engines and VW Type 1 suspension systems."
Hands down, the most populated class in all of desert racing, Class 1/2 1600 brings high performance racing to the masses. Averaging mid 40 mph speeds over the course of an event, with top speeds bordering on 100 MPH , the class is fast, affordable (relatively speaking), yet basic (using VW based technology.)
Raced in both single and 2 seat configurations, these cars rely on an air-cooled VW 1600cc engine, Type 2 VW transmission, VW / Porsche CV joints, and Type 1front and rear suspensions.
Wheel travel of 11-12 in. front, and 14 - 16 in. in the rear provide efficient, useable action, coupled with bypass and/or traditional shocks. In the motivational department, the limited 1600 cc engine is tweaked to put out nearly 100HP - a far cry from the 50 HP stock configuration. Trust us, it'll get your adrenline pumping!
In all, the 1/2 1600 cars give the racer a very significant "bang for the buck". While no threat to Class 1 cars, the level of competition makes this a true "drivers class", and one to watch for some of the closest racing in the desert!
"Open Wheel, Unlimited Baja Bug - Vehicle must be a VW Sedan Type 1 Hardtop or Convertible as delivered from the factory. 181 Safari's, 900 Series Porsches, and Karmann Ghias are included in this class."
Class 5 Unlimited Baja Bugs thrill the VW loving crowds at races across the South West. About the only stock part left on a Class 5 car is the steel sheet metal of the body, and even that has been cut, trimmed, altered and augmented with fiberglass pieces. Purists beware!
The Class 5 suspension delivers up to 18 inches of travel in the front, and over 22 inches in the rear. Stock it ain't, but if you look real close, you can still see the suspension's factory roots. On the greatly widened front end, torsion springs are abandoned in favor of longer trailing arms (4 in.), and coil-over/reservoir shocks. Out back, the rear suspension consists of multiple coil over/reservoir shocks, widened and lengthened trailing arms (up to 6X6 in.) HD torsion bars/spring plates, and air stops to help decrease the harsh impact of bottoming out (Yes even with all that travel available, it still happens).
Engines are most often Type 4 Porsche designs, although a smattering of Type 1 blocks are still in competition. Dual carbs, radical cams, ported heads, and big displacement all combine to put a significant level of power into the relatively short wheelbase chassis. The unlimited VW's are jokingly referred to as "Trophy Bugs", but that's exactly what they are. The ultimate expression of the VW performance art!
"Open Wheel, 1600cc Baja bug - Vehicle must be VW Sedan Type I hardtop or sunroof as delivered from the factory. Vehicle must have the external appearance of a "Baja Bug". No convertibles, Karmann Ghias, 181 Safari's, variants or super beetles."
Don't let the "cute" factor fool you - Class 5/1600 are true race cars, offering high speed, good suspension travel, a heavy duty structural roll cage, multiple shocks, and a strong but limited motor.
5/1600 requires the use of a 1600 cc single port, single carb engine, and 95 to 100 HP is common. Wheel travel is on the order of 10 in. front / 13 in. rear, utilizing a stock type suspension. Rather than the ultra beefy transmissions of the larger classes, these bugs use a built Type-2 "Bus" transmission. Porsche CVs have largely replaced the "Bus" versions once popular in the class.
While not really a "low budget" vehicle, these cars can be built and raced competitively for a fraction of the cost of the Funny Cars of the VW world, the Class 5s. because of their ultra-short wheelbase 5/1600s can be punishing at high speed, but who said winning was easy?
"Open Wheel, 100 in. Wheelbase - Single and two seat vehicles with a maximum wheel base of 100". Vehicle parts are based on a Type I VW."
Class 9 allows the low budget racer a chance to shine. These single or twin seat cars are severely limited by their short travel, single shocks, ball joint front ends, swing axle Type-1 trannies, and relatively stock engines, but that doesn't stop many first time racers from building them up and hitting the dirt. While very limited in suspension, their light weight, and longer wheelbase often place them ahead of the 5/1600s at the finish line. Average speeds of the 9s are in the 35 mph range, with top speeds approaching 85 mph!
"Open Production, Mini Pick Up - Vehicles built from a 2 or 4 wheel drive mini or mid-sized pickup. Vehicle must have been series produced in quantities of at least 5,000 units within a 12 month period and be readily available to the general public in the U.S.A. Vehicle must be marketed as mini or mid-sized pickup."
In reality, Class 7 is the mini truck counterpart to the unlimited "Trophy Trucks". Imagine 500 horsepower & 30 inches of wheel travel, wrapped in fiberglass, and looking remarkably like Rangers, S-10s, Nissans, and Toyotas you see every day on the street.
With top speeds in excess of 120 mph across the desert floor, and the inbred ability to swallow 3 foot deep "whoop-de-doos" like they were small bumps in the road, Class 7 has long been, and will long be, a crowd favorite!
"Open Production, Mini Pick Up - Vehicles built from a 2 or 4 wheel drive mini or mid-sized pickup, having a maximum stock wheelbase of 125". Vehicle must have been series produced in quantities of at least 5,000 units within a 12 month period and be readily available to the general public in the U.S.A. Vehicle must be marketed as mini or mid-sized pickup."
Class 7s combines good suspension travel, high revving engines, and mini truck bodies for some exciting racing action. Unlike their "little brothers" in Stock Mini, Class 7s trucks have a far greater range of options available to them, including greater wheel travel and chassis modified to take the punishment that only the desert can dish out.
"Stock Production, Mini Utility - Vehicles built from a 2 or 4 wheel drive mini or mid-sized pickup or sport utility vehicle having a maximum stock wheelbase of 125". Vehicle must have been series produced in quantities of at least 5,000 units within a 12 month period and be readily available to the general public in the U.S.A. Vehicle must be marketed as mini or mid-sized pickup or sport utility vehicles."
Stock Mini is basically a carbon copy of Stock Full, but on a smaller scale. With millions of mini trucks on the road today, Stock Mini draws a lot of fans to the desert who are eager to see just how well "their" truck will do when pushed beyond it's limits.
One of the biggest misconceptions about a Stock Mini are that they're slow & inexpensive. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Building a competitive Stock Mini can cost well over $40.000, but the results are well worth it. In races that average 60 mph for an "Unlimited" class vehicle, a Stock Mini will come in at about 35 mph. Very impressive when you consider that the other 25mph cost anothable modifications that increase their performance far beyond anything your dealer has on the lot. The 97 Parker 400 was proof positive of that assertion, with the Andataco Stock Full F-150 finishing the race with an average speed within 12mph of the winning Trophy Truck!
Engine and suspension modifications are severely limited, and factory components must be used in most areas. The rules allow for mods like multiple bypass shocks, which contribute dramatically to the vehicles' performance.
The bodies of a Stock Full truck retain all the factory sheet metal, making them among the heaviest trucks in the desert. Contributing further are parts like the factory dash, which add to the weight, but maintain the "stock" nature of the trucks.
"Prosuction Short wheelbase 4x4, 108 in. Wheelbase Maximum - Vehicles built from a 4-Wheel drive utility type vehicle. Vehicle must have been series produced in quantities of at least 5,000 units within a 12 month period and be readily available to the general public in the U.S.A. Must be a 4-Wheel drive vehicle capable of being driven through all four wheels. - No Pick Up trucks allowed in this class."
Class 3000 is the domain of short wheelbase vehicles like the Early Bronco, Bronco II, Jeep, Kia Sportage, and Chevy Blazer. Known for a brutally rough ride, Class 3 none the less remains popular in desert racing at large.
Often built on a low budget, Class 3000 makes an ideal entry point for new racers. The broad, open rules of the class have resulted in some impressive suspension configurations, and surprising performance.
"Stock VW Sedan - Vehicle must be stock VW sedan as delivered in the U.S.A."
The Bug! Here it is in all it's utilitarian glory. The Volkswagen Beetle has played many roles in it's decades long lifespan, but it's roughest has always been that of a desert racer.
Unlike it's bigger brothers in Class 5 and Class 5/1600, the Class 11 VWs remain almost completely stock. In fact, they are the most "stock" of the stock classes. The list of mods that the class allows is a short one. Roll cage, fuel cell, skid plates, reservoir shocks, and as big a tire as you can stuff into a fenderwell. With a couple minor exceptions, that's all you get to do, and getting them to the finish line is up to you!
Motorcycles - 126cc to 250cc
Class 21 is the premiere class for bikes up to 250 cc. Still dominated by 2 strokes, the class is expected to see increased competition from the 4-stroke world with Yamaha's release of the all new 250 cc YZ that's descended from the mighty YZ426.
Light and nimble, Class 21 bikes will offer a real advantage over their bigger brothers as the miles add up. Combined that with an excellent power to weight ratio, and we could well see a major upset in the Pro Motorcycle class!
"Motorcycles - 250cc or Greater"
Here's the one to watch! Long dominated by Team Honda's legendary 4-stroke XR series, Class 22 represents the pinnacle of the motorcycle class. With displacements ranging from 250cc to 650cc, there's plenty of wheel spinning power on tap. Add over 12 inches of wheel travel to that ground turning torque, and you've got a combination that can suck up anything the Baja peninsula can throw at it.
While the Trophy Trucks get the lions share of the attention, Class 22 bikes are the regular winners of the "Overall" title when truck and bike meet up at the finish line. Capable of speeds in excess of 120 MPH, these big 2 and 4-strokes are among the fastest machines in all of desert racing.
"Motorcycles of any displacement - Riders 30 yrs. or older."
Class 30 is the class for riders over 30 years of age. Any size and type of bike are fair game, and most often the Honda XR is the weapon of choice. Far from being the place where Class 22 riders are put out to pasture, Class 30 is perhaps the most competitive class in the bike world. Open displacement rules, and a choice of 2 or 4 stroke power open up a variety of combinations for the riders, with each team having their own preferences.
"Motorcycles of any displacement - Riders 40 yrs. or older."
Class 40 is identical to Class 30 with the only difference being the age requirement. 40 yr. old riders can "go backwards" and compete in Class 30, but the younger riders will have to wait until they meet the age requirement before stepping up into Class 40.
"Motorcycles of any displacement - Riders 50 yrs. or older."
Class 50 is identical to Class 30 or 40 with the only difference being the age requirement. 50 yr. old riders can "go backwards" and compete in Class 30 or 40, but the younger riders will have to wait until they meet the age requirement before stepping up into Class 50.
"Motorcycles of any displacement - Riders 50 yrs. or older."
Class 50 is identical to Class 30 or 40 with the only difference being the age requirement. 50 yr. old riders can "go backwards" and compete in Class 30 or 40, but the younger riders will have to wait until they meet the age requirement before stepping up into Class 50.
"4 Wheel ATV'S with engines displacing 250cc or greater."
Class 24 is the class for 250 cc and under ATVs. Although open to both 2 and 4-stroke bikes, the 2-stroke machines are often found at the finish line.
Although the factories haven't put out a 250cc performance quad in many years, that hasn't stopped enthusiasts, racers, and the aftermarket from developing their own solutions for the performance problem. Suspension approaches 10 inches of wheel travel at each end, with an abundance of custom fabrication work throughout the bike.
"4 Wheel ATV'S with engines displacing 250cc or greater."
Class 25 is the top of the line in the Quad/ATV desert scene. With displacements up to 650cc and wheel travel nearing 12 inches, these demons of dirt never fail to put on a show. With the reintroduction of the open class performance quad from several manufacturers, Class 25 is seeing a dramatic increase in popularity. With the new Bombardier 650, Honda EX400, and Yamaha Raptor available on the dealer floor, racers are stepping up from the 2-stroke Banshees and Honda TRX that once ruled the roost.
Gary Newsome is responsible for the content of Baja Racing News