Preference: Charlene Bower and Ladies Offroad Challenge winner Megan Stevenson will be reporting live from the 50th Anniversary of the Baja 1000 as they expose the complexity of the BFGoodrich Tires Pit Support Program, highlight all the ladies racing, and of course, talk racing! This article is by Charlene Bower:
The most sought after book in Baja is the BFGoodrich Tires Pit Book. I’ve heard of solid money being offered for one, and I’m talking about cartel money. Running BFGoodrich Tires doesn’t just offer you the best tires in the desert, but it also offers you logistics, tools, and maps to be extremely successful racing.
Course planning for the 50th Baja 1000 presented by BFGoodrich Tires started over a year ago. Did you know that Frank DeAngelo and Nate Hunt from Jackson Motorsports Group are the main men behind the scenes of creating the courses? BFGoodrich Tires provides this assistance as part of their sponsor partnership with SCORE International.
At the very early stages of planning, Frank goes to SCORE and works with them to set a schedule of when they need data by to be successful. A plan is formed and then it is executed.
Pre-Running Sounds Fun, These are Mapping Trips
The first run of the course was in April 2017, right after the San Felipe 250, with Frank, Nate, and SCORE Race Director Abelardo ‘Jose G’ Grijalva in one truck: F2. The goal of this mapping trip is to run sections of the racecourse that they have had issues with in the past, or if they are trying to open a section. For this year’s Baja 1000 race they were trying to run areas of pavement by Coco’s Corner, and there were other places where they wanted to add in dirt sections. Once in San Ignacio they knew there were three ways they could take the racecourse. It just depended on how tough they wanted the race to be. For this trip, they ran all the way down to Loreto.
In preparation for this first mapping session, Nate spends a lot of time coordinating all the old racecourses to figure out what might be the best options. These GPS files are used while on course. This trip could be considered a scouting trip because they are working on generalizing the course with no specific notes or GPS plotting.
Abelardo ‘Jose G’ is asked to join the team for these trips, so he can report directly to SCORE on the challenges with the course. He makes notes on sections of the course that need a crew brought back to work on. The list can include anything from washed out, impassable roads needing to be fixed, discovering new fences that weren’t there before, dealing with ranchers that may have been a problem, and so much more.
When the group returns to the USA, they work on their notes and a submit a final plan to SCORE International so that SCORE can get approval through the different government officials in addition to the farmers and ranchers whose property the race course crosses. Usually, this takes quite a few months to secure all the different parcels of property and receive final approval from the government offices.
Time to Get SERIOUS
With the course route approved, now it is time to get serious and lock in the actual route. For this year’s Baja 1000 race the last week in September was declared a mapping trip. This trip is five straight days of mapping, plus additional days for travel from South Carolina, where the team is based, to Ensenada.
During the mapping trip, there are three vehicles – one running the racecourse with Frank, Nate, and Abelardo ‘Jose G’. The two other trucks are Jeff Cummings and Wild Bill who run every access road. There are multiple goals for this trip: 1. Run the full racecourse and plot the trail. 2. Mark the race miles anticipating Virtual Check Points (VCPs). 3. Create race notes for BFG drivers. 4. Get chase access notes for BFG chase teams.
This trip is a solid 5 days straight of up early, out late, and to bed later. The team starts early to make sure that they use the full day to their advantage. “It is about getting quality work done while down here. We don’t have extra time,” said Nate. At night, after a long day, the team sits at the table and reviews the race and chase notes to make sure that the mileage is as correct as it can be. There are probably about 50-60 pages of notes to review!
The GPS drops a point every 1/100th of a mile, so they also have to go through all the files while the day’s actions are still fresh in their minds, deleting any wrong turns or backtracks. F2 was equipped with 2 GPS units for tracking on the racecourse. Wild Bill ran one GPS for access roads, and Jeff ran two more GPS devices for access roads. There are trails on top of trails when you go in a road and come back out the same way. “It takes a lot of time to edit, and sleepless nights, but we have to do it perfectly,” added Nate.
While on this mapping course, they are also dropping the SCORE VCPs (Virtual Check Points). For this race, there were a total of 170. The point of VCPs is to keep the racer on the course, so if the mapping team sees where there can be multiple options, or a cheater’s line, they drop a VCP. Racers must hit these VCPs or they are penalized time.
When the team reaches the bottom of the race course in La Paz, they take a solid half day to review all their notes to see what holes are left that they need to fill. This allows them the opportunity to fix anything on their way back up the peninsula.
Approximate mileage on the F2 that is responsible for the racecourse notes is 800 miles in April and 1,200 miles in September, which does not count driving back up the peninsula. They average about 150-300 miles of mapping a day. In the south, the racecourse is much faster, so they plan on 300. In the north, it is much tougher, so they plan on around 150 miles.
During the September mapping trip, they also add the two additional vehicles for scouting all the access routes. The chase from Ensenada to La Paz is 900 miles of pavement. They estimate an additional 1,500 miles of access roads. Some are a short couple miles in and out, others can be a 140-mile round trip.
Back in the Office
When Frank and Nate get back to their desks in South Carolina, the work continues. The end result is two-fold. They produce a final GSR file for SCORE, plus one for BFG, which includes all the access road. Alongside that, they produce a final set of Race Notes for SCORE and then one for BFG that has an additional column with all the information for access roads.
Also on the task list is dealing with the VCPs in a little more direct manner. Using the new Stella tracking program, one of the requirements is that the VCP is directly located on the GPS tracking line. That took Nate just under two days to complete.
When the files are completed, the final files are exported into three versions: USR file for the Lowrance, GPX file for LeadNav, and a KML file for Google Earth. There have been changes to every racecourse, but most of them are made before they go back down in September. Once they go through the markings in September, there are very few changes, if any. For this year’s Baja 1000 there were only a couple very minor changes that luckily didn’t change much on the GSR file. Even adding a simple VCP at the beginning section of the race will cause havoc throughout the whole file. Not only do they have to change the GSR file, but they also have to change the BFG race notes and the BFG pit access notes. Having an accurate GSR file takes a lot of work, but it is the most important product produced.
The map books are part of the task list associated with mapping. All the race notes need to be organized for printing. The access road maps need to be made. The pit location maps are drawn. Even the road mileage is updated. Although you may not think it, these pit books are made from scratch year-to-year, race-to-race.
At the end of the trip, Frank and Nate know for sure where the course is going. This gives them the opportunity to plan their pits and confirm all of our hotel needs for our crews. Yes, this is a benefit to BFGoodrich, which is a nice trade off for all the effort put into mapping.
Sponsored by BFGoodrich Tires
Part of BFGoodrich Tires sponsorship and support of SCORE International is the mapping and pit services. There are a lot of racers in the Baja 1000 and Baja 500 that would not be able to race without BFGoodrich Pit Support. “We are really out here for the little guy. The truth is, by providing these pit services SCORE gains entries because we can help them be successful,” said Nate.
“A different tire company may give a team a set or two of tires, and that may help a little team a lot. But, they still have the cost of teams of chase crews and all the elements associated with that and pre-running. We take all that planning away,” said Frank.
A lot of racers feel that they are entitled to free products because of their finishes. Instead, BFGoodrich takes a different approach with this program. “You hear all the thanks to BFGoodrich Tires on the podium, and these are all teams that have bought tires, but they understand the importance of the tools we are giving them to race, which are priceless to most teams.”
These notes are for the little guys. A danger that is marked wouldn’t be a problem for a Trophy Truck, but it is for a Class 11. The goal with the book is not to keep a team from pre-running, but as a tool that they can use while pre-running, so their time is concentrated on adding their own race notes and not wasting a lot of valuable time.
“A lot of people don’t realize the detail, time, and planning that goes into this opportunity. Frank has years of experience and he takes the time to spell out the details; the book even has SCORE’s schedule in it. We are hoping that these services make the race more enjoyable and help the racer know how to plan. We even help you get your fuel safely delivered and dumped. Some race teams just don’t know what to prepare for or have the resources available to complete a race like this,” said Nate Hunt.
Just for BFGoodrich Tires Racers
Only BFGoodrich Tires racers are given the pit books, but they are heavily sought after by other teams that know the benefit of this book, as they had one in the past. It is very clearly stated in the pit meeting that if a team chooses to hand off a book, they are hurting their team, their other BFG teammates, and the opportunity to have this as a strategic advantage.
“I believe that the team principal would never do it, but someone attached to their team may not understand the significance,” said Frank. “It probably happens, but I don’t want to know about it. We have given warnings before, but if we find someone that has deliberately passed one out they would be immediately dropped followed with a conversation about how they abused their relationship with BFGoodrich Tires. They will be black balled and will never receive a pit book from BFG.”
Nate added, “I believe in karma. These notes were made for really good tires so these notes may not work for others,” he shrugged with a smirk.
Frank DeAngelo, Nate Hunt, and Jennifer Ignacio
“I don’t know how many miles I have in Baja and if I am a member of the Million Mile club yet or not. Figure this is my 39th Baja 1000. For the first four races I only came down once, then we started coming down twice for pre-running and racing. The last 25 years we have been coming down for two pre-run mapping trips. But it’s also every SCORE race, not just the Baja 1000. I would have to sit down with someone with a slide-rule to figure out that number! I would say I have as many or more miles in the dirt as I do on pavement,” said Frank DeAngelo.
“Jennifer has been helping us produce these races for 5 years and is now also crazy and passionate about Baja. She helps handle all the logistics from lodging to crossing the border and more. You might call us the three stooges, but we have a really cool relationship, and we get it done,” said Frank.
“I have been doing this for a long, long, long time. Years of experience of what needs to be done,” said Frank DeAngelo. “Everything is truly a work in progress. Nate has been doing this for 7 years and has taken over the whole motorsports program but Baja. I hope that I am still able to teach him something. With that said, he is a master of Baja. His passion and drive has made him one of the leading experts in GPS. No one is as good as Nate at working with the files in the manner and speed of which it needs to get done. I would call him the ZAR of the GPS!”
“I’m always proud of our finished product. I wouldn’t have it less than as perfect as I can physically get it. I am pretty darn happy with the chase and race notes, and the GPS file were really, really good,” concluded Nate Hunt about the 50th SCORE Baja 1000 presented by BFGoodrich Tires.
I finished getting the information for this article over the race radio as our group was headed north the day after the 2017 50th BFGoodrich Tires Baja 1000. We all stopped and were sitting at lunch when Frank starts talking about the race course for the 50th Baja 500 this coming year. Yes, he already has a plan in his head. I hope that you are there to experience what these guys have in store for you – it sounds amazing!
Charlene Bower is the owner of Bower Motorsports Media since 2008, Ladies Offroad Network and Offroad Marketing School among other projects. Bower is a Performance Team Member for BFGoodrich Tires in addition to other honors and certifications. She has been working in the offroad industry for 23 years and has recently focused all her attention on supporting the ladies who love offroading. For the 50th SCORE Baja 1000, Charlene ran the 2nd Annual Ladies Offroad Challenge where anyone from across the country could enter to be her media assistant or participate in two other events. Megan Stevenson from CA earned the opportunity and is helping in the execution of this exciting project in coordination with BFGoodrich Tires.