Sunday, November 30, 2008

UTV Finish Baja 1000 2008 Bi-Polar Extreme Racing

Bi-Polar Extreme Racing of Yacolt drove the first two UTV-style vehicles to complete the desert endurance race. There were hills of all sizes. There was a cliff-side goat trail. And there was dust. Lots of dust.

None of that was a surprise to the Yacolt-based Bi-Polar Extreme Racing team. They have experienced the Baja 1000 endurance race several times.

What did surprise was the trouble-free nature of the Nov. 22 ride across the desert of Baja California.

Driving Arctic Cat Prowler utility terrain vehicles, Bi-Polar teams were the first two UTV class vehicles to reach the finish line. First, as in the first UTVs to ever complete the event.

UTVs are a cross between all-terrain vehicles and pickup trucks that were developed as work vehicles but in recent years have gained popularity as sport vehicles. Arctic Cat has been producing its Prowler UTV for two years.

Jim Creagan and co-driver Tim Wagner drove the winning UTV for the first 409 miles of the race, then handed the wheel to Chris Fallon and co-driver Aaron Bonner for the final 222 miles. It took 27 hours, 57 minutes and 20 seconds to finish. They averaged 22.6 mph.

Their top speed was near 40 mph, but the drivers spend most of the Baja race at lower speeds. Tight spots, hills, and silt, silt, and more silt challenge both the drivers’ attention and the vehicles’ durability.

The 2008 course was shorter than many of the previous 40 Baja 1000 desert races. This course was a 631-mile loop that included among its challenges a 60-mile stretch of small, mogul-type hills, and a narrow zigzag road down a 2,500-foot cliff.

“It was the most extreme terrain you can imagine,” Creagan said. “It was everything from mud, to solid rock, to dust so thick you could barely see beyond the front of the vehicle.”

Eight UTVs entered the 2008 Baja 1000. Three of them finished.

The Creagan-Fallon vehicle led its class by a comfortable margin most of the way. When Creagan turned over the wheel to Fallon, the team had a comfortable lead and plenty of time before the course closed to reach the finish line.

“I was pretty nervous,” Fallon said. “I knew when I got in we were in first and second place, and I didn’t want to be that guy” who made a race-ending mistake.

A year ago, the Bi-Polar team entered the new UTV class and ran for more than 800 miles before mechanical breakdowns. Another year of testing by Creagan and his team, and another year of improvements at the Arctic Cat headquarters in Minnesota provided a vehicle that not only became the first UTV to finish the grueling desert race, but did it without any breakdowns.

“I was just blown away that we had just done what no one had done before, and it was so easy,” Creagan said, describing the emotional reaction at the finish line.

Not far behind was the team’s second vehicle, driven by Shane Morgan, Scott Sorensen and Casey Squires, with co-drivers Tabor Cresap, Justin Serface, and Mike Conners. The second vehicle finished in 28:17:40.

Nine of the 10 drivers and co-drivers are Clark County residents.

Ted Bettin, the director of ATV engineering and ATV race manager for Arctic Cat, called the victory a tribute to teamwork.

“It is quite an honor to be the first side-by-side UTV to finish the Baja,” Bettin said, adding that getting two vehicles to the finish line in a class that had never before finished the race was special. “This is an historic accomplishment.”

Bettin said the time the Bi-Polar team invested in testing the vehicle and communicating with the staff at Arctic Cat headquarters in Minnesota is an example of how success can be achieved through teamwork across time zones.

“We came up with a package that worked, and it worked better than we could have imagined,” Creagan said.

While many of the vehicles that enter Baja are much-changed from a stock version, the only after-market part on the Bi-Polar UTVs was the shock absorbers.

Creagan’s Bi-Polar Extreme Racing also competes in snowmobile racing. Bi-Polar first entered the Baja 1000 in a dune buggy class four years ago. They also raced in a truck class before their snowmobile-racing connection led to an association with Arctic Cat for the UTV class of desert racing.

After investing thousands of hours in the project, Creagan said he felt the team needed to finish this race to reward Arctic Cat for its sponsorship.

“It was a make-or-break race for us as far as sponsorship (from Arctic Cat) was concerned. If we didn’t have some kind of success this time, we were probably done,” Creagan said. “I think it turned out OK.”

Bettin noted that many factors can keep a race team from finishing endurance races such as Baja, from mechanical failure to wrecks.

“In any kind of racing, any little nut and bolt can break” and end a team’s effort, Bettin said.

In this case, a perfect run led to a breakthrough result.

Paul Danzer
Columbian Staff Writer