Sunday, August 12, 2007

Baja Champion Baja Safari Team Solorzano Helps Desert Dingo Racing for Baja 1000 2007

A local Santa Cruz, California team, rebuilt Volkswagen headed for Baja 1,000-mile off-road race in Baja, Mexico. With the help of World Famous Baja Champion Baja Safari Class 11 Team Solorzano.

The 1969 Volkswagen Beetle is in a million pieces in a San Jose backyard right now.

The Volkswagen Beetle Dingo is using will be used for marketing and promotion of the Baja 1000 race. The 1969 Beetle that will be driven in the race is in a million pieces in a San Jose backyard right now.

By November, though, it'll be ready to rev, rattle, clatter and roll 1,300 miles through the gnarled and rutted Mexican desert, the dust and the heat in a race that's been described as "a 24-hour plane crash"

Desert Dingo Racing, a team with members in Felton, Scotts Valley, Boulder Creek, San Jose and Washington, D.C., is taking its Bug to Baja California to compete for the first time in this year's Baja 1000 off-road race in Baja California and Baja California South, Mexico.

Memorialized in the 2005 film "Dust to Glory," the Baja 1000 is an annual off-road race through Mexico's Baja California Peninsula. The event, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, includes various vehicle classes such as motorcycles, stock VWs, production cars, buggies, trucks and custom-fabricated race vehicles.

The local group will enter the Class 11 category, comprised of stock VWs, CLASS 11. The least costly category in the race to enter and the one reserved for the toughest, most hard-core, most charmingly underdog racers in the event. Class 11 cars must be pre-1982 Beetles with minimal modification.

"I like the challenge," said Charlie Reynolds of Scotts Valley, a driver with Class 11 experience and a mechanic for the 10-member Desert Dingo team. "It's more about figuring out problems and overcoming hurdles than it is about driving fast. You're more interested in not getting stuck and defying the odds of making a little car go a thousand miles it's not supposed to go"

And you get cool nicknames.

Desert Dingo was founded by Jim "RJ" Graham of Felton and friends Mike "Skid" Aquino and Cary "SCary" McHugh, both of San Jose. Other members include drivers, mechanics, team managers and PR folks.

The team is putting together the engine for its race car itself; it has another Beetle it will use for marketing and promotion. It hopes to find local artists to paint the cars.

Hundreds of thousands of people are known to line the race course, which uses combinations of private, ranch and paved roads and could at any time be blocked by various obstacles including people, a broken-down race vehicle, a fan's car or a cow. This year's race is Nov. 10-16. It starts in Tijuana with a parade to Ensenada; the race is from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas. Between six and a dozen Class 11 racers entered last year, said Graham. "Dust to Glory," directed by Dana Brown of "Step Into Liquid," was the inspiration to enter the race, said Graham.

He called his friend Aquino, a motorcycle racer, who was initially reluctant. But once Aquino saw the movie, he was in, said Graham. "Dust to Glory" also inspired Reynolds. "As corny and cheesy as it sounds, I absolutely saw that movie and was moved," he said.

In addition to the thrill and challenge of the event, Desert Dingo Racing has linked up with the International Diabetes Federation to use its cars to promote diabetes research and awareness. World Diabetes Day is Nov. 14, which coincides with the race. Team member Aquino has Type 2 diabetes, and two other team members have diabetes in their family history.

Graham noticed other race teams did drive-a-thon fundraisers � donors sign up to give a certain amount per mile the team gets through in the race � "so I said, 'Well, we gotta do this,' " said Graham.

They're getting help with rebuilding their car's engine and with logistics from the World Famous Baja Champion Baja Safari Class 11 Team of Eric Solorzano, a nine-time Class 11 winner of the Baja 1000. The team members will rotate driving responsibilities; Graham estimates the full race will take his team 60 hours to drive if they make it to the finish.

Does he think they'll make it? "I don't know," he said.

What he does know is the ravaging effects of diabetes, which will cause 3.8 million deaths worldwide this year, according to the International Diabetes Federation. That's roughly 6 percent of total world mortality, about the same as HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

He wants to pass out information about the disease during the race. And he wants to raise some money for the cause. "I would love to set a goal of at least $100,000 or more," he said.

The team is sponsoring an art-car contest that includes $100 for the winning artist, plus supplies, food and drinks during the painting session. The team will document the painting process and use the images and video on the Desert Dingo and World Diabetes Day Web sites. Interested artists should submit a graphic showing the proposed design and three samples of previous work. The deadline is Aug. 7.

For information, contact Graham at