Baja 1000, Ensenada to LaPaz, Nov 15th, 16th, 17th 2006
I was in my office one day when a friend/co-worker walked in. Steve’s been a motocross buddy of mine for many years and he had an proposal for me. “Would you be interested in running the Baja 1000 this year” he asked? My
bike or yours, I replied? Not with a bike, with a Yamaha Rhino he said. That’s when things started to get interesting. Apparently, Steve’s cousin Eric has had an urge to do some offroad truck racing for awhile. That’s expensive
stuff, $100k min for a good used Trophy Truck or Class 1 buggy. But their idea was to break into the sport on a smaller scale using the new UTV class as their stepping stone. The UTV class is primarily designed for the Yamaha
Rhino, Polaris Ranger, and vehicles like that. It’s a new class so the rules are bit sketchy, just the way we like them. To date, not many (if any) of the entries in this class have made it to the finish of a 500 mile race yet alone
1000 miles. But Steve and Eric had an ace up their sleeve. They were having an offroad fabrication specialty shop custom make them a “mini” Trophy Truck using the Rhino as its basis. In the end, the only parts left from the
original Rhino were the engine (modified) and the drive line (trans, drive shafts, diffs, axles). So what’s my part, I asked? Well, class 1800 (aka Rhino class) is a side-by-side class, meaning you need to have two people in the
truck. Since Steve and Eric would be doing all the Driving they needed co-pilots or navigators to be legal. Will all the new GPS equipment it kinda boils down to being a human ballast weight. Whatever, it sounded pretty
exciting so I agreed.
We spent the next three months watching the Rhino being built and giving design and technical input as we deemed fit (this isn’t our first barbecue, after all). About a month before the event we went down and pre-ran about
600 miles of the course. The Rhino was not ready so we used chase vehicles and a Ford F150 pre-runner. This was just a glimpse of things to come.
Two weeks before the race and the car still wasn’t done. One week before the race and the car wasn’t done. Two days before the race the car make a hot lap down the street at the shop but it still needed a bunch of small stuff
done to finish it up. Decision was made to delay departure and continue working on the truck (what else could be done). Finally, at 2 AM Tuesday morning the car was ready to load up, still not seeing any offroad testing.
Driving all night to Ensenada the truck finally arrived just in time to get a few hours of testing pre-running the first 20 miles out of town. Good thing too, as several major problems were found. Gas tank wasn’t venting properly
causing the engine to die after running for awhile, fuel pressure was too high forcing gas past the needle/seat and into the overflow and causing an overly rich mixture/poor fuel mileage. In addition, the gas tank venting issues
wouldn’t let us fill the tank completely. After these issues, we needed to re-test so we had time to re-evaluate our pit stop strategy which was based on an assumed mile/per gal average. Working at night in the Hotel parking lot
is standard procedure during races like this and it’s necessary. Weds was tech day so we had just enough time to get in some miles in the morning and still make tech. Turns out that all the fixes worked and our mileage was
back to where we thought it should be. Now, onto tech inspection.
Tech inspection at the 1000 is crazy. This was the biggest field in 1000 history by far, over 450 bikes, ATVs and trucks. The line to get into tech was so long it had to be routed like a figure 8 with an intersection in the middle.
Just when you thought you were getting close you got directed to head off in another direction. In the meantime, there’s a million people walking around, various forms of entertainment on each corner, vendors selling
everything from $3000 bypass shocks to tacos on each side of the street, and we’re stuck in the middle. It took about 5 hours to make it into the tech area where we were politely told that our roll cage needed additional
gusseting. Back to the Hotel and out with the welders and saw-alls. Luckily, we brought everything we needed but it was too late for normal tech. We’d need to do a 5:00 AM late tech inspection the day of the race. Since
everything else was already looked at, this went smoothly and we got our tech band and SCORE data logger. I guess over the years the locals have been complaining about the crazy speeds some of the competitors reach on
the public road sections of the course. Surprisingly, there are quite a few miles of these type of streets/roads on the course this year, about 70 miles or so. In order to protect the locals SCORE enforced a posted speed limit rule
which would be verified by the GPS data loggers after the race. If you speed, you lose. We weren’t too concerned about exceeding 60 mph in our car so it wasn’t a big deal, but it sure was funny watching big ass TTs going
down the road at the same speed as everyone else.
Due to the fact that the class is new and suppose to be relatively slow, SCORE puts the UTVs at the very end of the starting grid. We were the absolute last vehicle on the course that day at about 1:30 in the afternoon. Of
course, I didn’t witness any of this since I was already 100 miles down track waiting at our first pit stop. I did get to see the first TTs come down the “goat trail” onto the first long stretch of highway around Ejido Gral. Our pits
were about 6 miles down the road, so after watching most of the Class 1 buggies go down the goat trail we headed down the road and set up our pits.
Setting up a pit in our case was pretty easy. Pull off the highway anywhere you wanted, break out the Eazy-up and wait. We watched most of the classes that started in front of us on the grid drive on down the highway (at legal
speed). Not very exciting. We did get to see a team swap an entire transmission and engine out of a class 1600, however. The race radio and SATphone were both very quiet. We had a chase truck paralleling the race
car/course from the highway most of the time. They were our eyes and ears for what was going on as the Rhino’s radio was good for only about 5 miles. The SATphones were suppose to be good wherever you were but we
found that they worked only about half the time, particularly bad if you were in a moving vehicle. Day turned into night so we broke out the generator and lights. Still no information. About 6:00 PM we saw the class leading
UTV go by. Damn it!
Then around 6:30 our chase truck called and informed us that the Rhino had experienced two flats already and were running behind. Oh really. They were about 5 minutes down the highway and the Rhino was probably
another 10 minutes from them. I got my driving gear and helmet on and prepared for an Indy like pit stop. About 5 minutes later the chase truck pulled in. This was good because Steve was in the chase truck. He had all his
gear on as well and was ready to go. Finally, we see some lights coming down the road and the Rhino pulls in. The flailing begins. Off comes the two spares and on goes two new tires, off comes the two flats and on goes two
new spares (we carried two spares). Out comes the quickly fading batteries, in goes new batteries. Fuel, the standard bolt/nut checking, etc was next. It didn’t quite go like the Indy, but given the circumstances the crew did a
pretty good job. With course notes in hand, Steve and I headed out into the night after that 1st place UTV that passed about an hour earlier.
We had pre-run this same section several weeks before, but things look completely different at night. We took it pretty easy, knowing that we had a LONG way to go and that to win you need to finish. With the excepting of a few
silt beds, the Rhino’s four wheel drive, modified suspension and motor were working alright. We were in an electrical power savings mode so I had to keep toggling the various blowers, lights, etc, on and off as needed to
conserve voltage. We still needed to switch to our redundant battery about halfway so that was a concern as the Rhino would just die if the voltage dropped below a certain amount. We’d be stuck for sure.
As you may or may not know, the Rhino has its engine mounted between the driver and passenger. On a stocker, there’s lost of sound insulation and the seats are mounted much higher than in our modified version. With just my
helmet and a thin piece of sheetmetal between my left ear and the motor it wasn’t long before my ear started ringing so bad that I could barely understand Steve on the intercom. Not good. On the other hand, the GPS system
worked great and kept us easily on course even though you couldn’t see a darn thing past your headlights and dust.
This section of the course is not that far off the beaten track so there were quite a few spectators lining the course, camp fires glowing in the dark. The combination of dust clouds, noise, low lighting, fatigue, scratches in your
visor, and all the bouncing around creates a truly eerie sensation. Then, about half way as we were negotiating a particularly nasty silt bed we noticed the 1st place UTV stopped off the course. Couldn’t tell it they were stuck or
broke and we weren’t waiting around to find out. Steve pinned it and we made some dust. The remaining part of this section was someway unremarkable. We got passed by a few larger buggies that obviously broke and were
catching up and we passed a few cars slower car. The main thing is that we were in 1st and still running.
Upon our entry into Puertecitos (about at mile 215) I turned my seat over to Eric and away they went on their way to COCO’s corner. Our job (myself and my cohort Jeremy) was then to sweep the course behind the Rhino to
COCO’s and then go onto the Bay of LA. It wasn’t 10 minutes down the road when saw the Rhino pulled off the right. This can’t be good we thought. Apparently the main drive belt broke as they had absolutely no forward
motion. This was a contingency we planned for and the Rhino had extra belts and the tools needed to change it. What we didn’t foresee was that in the process of disintegrating all the Kevlar thread that gives the belt its
strength would get wound up around both drive shafts. Kevlar is tough stuff to cut under ideal conditions and Eric and Steve weren’t having much luck with the basic tools stored on the Rhino. We broke out the lights and tools
and got them going pretty quick after that, but not quick enough as the UTV we passed in the silt bed passed us back. Damn it again!
We never did see the Rhino again that weekend. On our way to COCO’s we sustained two flats and it took most the night to drive those sixty stinking miles. This wasn’t your average road. It’s listed on the map as an unpaved
graded road. SCORE officially stated that no chase vehicles were allowed on this section of the course. Unfortunately, the only way around is to drive west to the other side of the peninsula and head south. Besides, who's
going to be checking at 10:00 at night! Well, we were right, nobody was checking so we headed down the most rock stewed, washboarded out dirt road I’ve ever been on. After several hours I wished we would have been
turned back, but we kept on going all night long. It was several hours after sun up when we actually reached COCO’s, by then the race car was way down course. Limping along with no spare and flatfix in one tire already, we
decided that discretion was the better part of valor and headed back north. We’d been awake for over 24 hours already and we didn’t stop until we got home some 14 hours later. Saturday morning 6:00 was when that last
checkpoint in La Paz closed. I check the internet and didn’t see our number 1819 car on the finisher list, so I assumed something happened. As it turned out, the guys had another drive belt break outside of Bay-of- LA and had
to fix it on the course. That took awhile. Next, a rear drive axle snapped so they had to go full time four wheel drive to continue. Finally the front wheel drive shaft decided to part ways with the engine. This was the last nail in
the coffin as even if they could fix it they’d never make it to the next checkpoint in time. The race was over. In all, it was pretty exciting in an exhausting kind of way. I’m even thinking about building a truck for my own. Stay
That was us, # 1819
After my Baja adventure with the Rhino I was hooked and started looking for my own race car. I bought this
"wanna-be" Class 1 before I knew what to look for. The owner claimed he was an expert on building all classes of
offroad race vehicles, etc. He told me that the rollcage was SCORE legal and the thing would do 100mph in the
whoops. I found out differently in both cases. Now I'm building a new one completely from scratch, my design. I
can use a few items off this roach. All I can say is "buyer beware" when dealing with this offroad/Baja group.
EVERYTHING is way overpriced except for the people doing the building. Buy a tube bender, a mig welder, know
a little bit about triangulation and you're in business building race chassis. I put the suspension geometry of this
beast into my kinematic computer program and the results were terrible. Way too much scrub, track change, bump
steer, I could go on and on. I realize that we're dealing with 20 to 30 inches of travel and that's difficult to
optimise with any single setup, but 6 inches of track change stop to stop is unacceptable. No wonder these cars
look spooky when hitting a small bump while driving straight down a paved road. The front wheels are fighting
themselves for traction as they scrub across the pavement. On the dirt it's not a pronounced as there less grip to
begin with but it must be just as scary. I guess you live and learn, sometimes it's a very expensive lesson.
Frame in construction. Note trailing arms in the
rear. Better, worse, can't tell ya, but it did cause
some issues with the rule book. Since UTVs are not
as regulated (at the time), they let us go.
Just some of the equipment I hauled down to
Mexico "just in case"
The usual Hotel parking lot thrashing about trying to get the last little times ready before start
The line for tech was a mile long but we finally
arrived just to fail tech!
Trophy Trucks coming down the "goat trail" Our firts
pit was about 10 miles down the highway.
It was late in the night before our initial driver and passenger team arrived
to the first pit. That's where I jumped in. We raced all the way to San
Felipe before we switched teams again.