Baja Bust

The agony of not finishing the Baja 1000 is becoming all too familiar. The Torchmate desert team returned to Baja after defeat last year in the early stages of the race. A large rock broke the transmission pan costing us valuable hours before the truck lost power and spent most of the night stuck in a sand wash. Eventually, we were forced to throw in the towel – an act we were determined not to repeat this year.

The 43rd Baja 1000 was truly an epic race. Due to logistics and costs, it is not every year that a peninsula run takes place and the scale of such a race is hard to explain without firsthand experience – 1062 miles of remote and brutal off-road terrain in roughly a straight line from Ensenada to La Paz. Our plan called for four drivers to relay the #601 truck to the finish line within the time limit of 45 hours. I was invited to navigate during the second leg (race mile 242 to 542) with driver Mark Levrett.

It may be hard to imagine, but do to the scale of the operation, there were team members that I didn’t even meet until after the race. The team was spread out over the whole peninsula with limited communication so preparations can often feel solitary. Mark and I were responsible for pre-running our section and did so with the help of Pepe and Joanna Rodriguez, friends from Ensenada. We soon found ourselves bouncing around in Pepe’s Class 8 desert truck trying to mark hazards and learn Spanish all at the same time.

More organization, packing, and repacking led up to the point that we all had been waiting for – the green flag. Mark and I were staged near RM 200 to watch the trophy trucks come through which was our signal to head to BFGoodrich Pit #2 for the start of our leg. Trophy trucks might best be compared to an out of control freight train. In the air more than not, they spew dust and spray rock. The combination of violence and finesse is truly an amazing sight.

Between our sat phone, cell phones, computer tracking in the US, and 55w radio we got a report that the truck was stopped at RM 6. Our hearts sank. We moved around to try and establish any form of communication and learned that the rear suspension had broken after an impact with a wall and the truck was getting a new transmission. It was going to be a long night. We headed for the BFG pit to wait and help out other racers. It was quite literally a field hospital for wounded vehicles. We did what we could and sent them back into battle. The action slowed and we got word #601 was now near RM 151 and not moving. Unbeknownst to us, the driveshaft had fallen out and the team was hopelessly stuck in silt. Help was on the way and all we could do was wait. Around 3 a.m. we got word that the truck was close to us but the replacement transmission had failed and only had 1st gear (note: not an Art Carr unit which we use in our trucks).

Undeterred, Mark and I readied for the driver change with hopes to repair the transmission 60 miles down course with the main Torchmate chase crew. We changed the air filter and hastily emptied a quart of AMSOIL (who supplied any fluid racers might need at the 7 BFG pits) into the truck. We sped off with a long anticipated chance to do the team some good! Our top speed was only 45 mph in 1st gear but quick math told me we only needed to average 25 mph to finish. Maybe there was still hope… Unfortunately, only 45 miles into our leg the drive pulley broke off the motor. We worked to make repairs but with no spare parts the damage was terminal. Unable to reach our support team we were forced to again admit defeat. With heavy hearts we stood in a silent desert and watched the sun rise over the Sea of Cortez.

Not finishing is a tough pill to swallow. It’s easy to look back at mistakes made but more important to focus on tactics that will get us to the finish line. Even with a disappointing race, the adventure of Baja is as grand as any I have ever experienced. I could fill pages with our stories of adventure in Mexico. There is no doubt that each failure, setback, and lesson learned will make our first Baja 1000 win even greater.

– Brad Lovell