By Jose Garcia
Co-Pilot and Galpin Motors’ Retail Marketing Manager
In this Baja 400 race recap, it’s going to start a bit different. We as racers, sometimes forget why the hell we do this in the first place. So, to give you an idea of why we do it, here’s a little analogy of that. We’ve all had that one person in our lives. Some of you can relate and others just can’t. Loving someone who doesn’t love us the same way, not only hurts, it kills us. We get hurt; get our hearts broken; get our hopes up; and as much as we try to change them, they don’t change. Somehow, in a weird way, we just keep coming back to them. It’s like we like it and we accept it because it makes us happy. Racing in a 5/1600 feels the same way. For as much pain we endure in racing, we keep coming back to it — like a broken relationship. We stare at 5/1600’s with admiration; get turned on when the engine fires up; cry when they leave us dead broke and yell at it when they leave us stranded in the middle of nowhere. “La Mala Vida,” as in most Latin sayings means that we accept loving that person regardless of how much pain they put us through. In the 5/1600 Class, one of the most punishing and toughest classes to race in Baja, is not for the faint of heart, it’s for the real Baja lover. The ones who love to suffer. The Negrete Boys and Herrera Prepwerks power team prove that racing and winning is not an easy task to achieve. It’s perseverance, determination, sacrifice, and most importantly, love.
“Zeus” and the Team.
For Negrete Boys Racing/Herrera Prepwerks, the SCORE International Baja 400 it was a successful race despite some minor setbacks. There will be struggles in every race, some big, some small, but as a team we promised to each other to “Keep battling, no matter what.” We always vow to get the car to the next crew…THAT is always our primary objective. Below you will see some of the challenges we faced during the race.
RM 0 to RM 120 recap by Jose Garcia
● During the first stretch of the race, Driver of Record and defending SCORE champion Luis “Luey” Herrera, and Team Manager, Michael Murray, settled into a brisk, but comfortable pace and managed to get “Zeus” through Ojos Negros, RM 40, leading the pack of “bolchos” by a few minutes. At about race mile 60, the motor started having power issues and they got passed by the #571. As the race went towards Valle T and down the Goat Trail, Luis and Michael managed to stay on the heels of Heredia in the #571, and our #550 regained the lead right before coming off the Goat Trail and was first on the road going towards RM 120. Larry Negrete, younger brother of 5/1600 legend Ernie Negrete, was anxiously waiting for Luey to arrive to take a turn at the wheel of Zeus. Larry was tasked to drive up Mike’s Sky Ranch due to his incredible technical driving ability through this treacherous part of Baja. Luckily for me, I was assigned to be Larry’s co-pilot for this tough section. The whole morning prior to taking my turn at the seat, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Navigating for a Negrete was a dream come true for me.
Luis Herrera and Michael Murray arriving first on the road at RM 125 in Valle T.
Photo Credit: @murraymediaconsultants
RM 120 to RM 150 recap by Jose Garcia
● This part of the race was truly something special which I will never forget. For my-first-time-ever going up Mike’s Sky Ranch, it was an unbelievable experience. The ride up Mike’s was truly something else. Endless switchbacks, breathtaking views, and rough terrain. Before we started our section to Mike’s, Larry and I got strapped into the #550 at RM 125 with only a minute lead on the #571, which we then lost during pitting. After losing the lead, were quickly got back on the road and into a designated 37 MPH speed zone which took us straight into Mike’s road. Three miles before hitting the dirt, Larry’s patience was wearing thin.
“How long is this speed zone? Can I go fast already?!
“Three more miles?! Ahhh, man. I want to go fast already!”
What felt like forever in that long speed zone, we were quickly making up through the first 30 miles heading into Mike’s. We didn’t pass any vehicle class for the first 30 miles. #571 was hot all day and there was no signs of catching them. Once we crossed the small river at Mike’s, we went right and started to climb uphill towards one of the first of many Ultra 4 style lines that led to the difficult part of the course. As we were ascending up the rocky hill, we both started to notice a lack of torque in the motor. Soon after, Larry and I got stuck midways uphill near some spectators.
“Damn it. We’re stuck, man. I can’t burn the clutch.”
Knowing that I was riding in one of the most famous 5/1600 teams in Baja, it wasn’t long until one of the spectators noticed the famous Negrete Boys Racing logo on the side of the car:
“Negrete Boys! Is that you, Ernie?”
“No, it’s Larry Negrete, brother.”
“Okay, we’ll get you out, don’t worry!”
Within a minute of getting stuck uphill, a crew of five spectators came around the back of the engine cage and started to push the #550. The Bug would not budge, we were stuck midways up the hill, Larry yelled at one of the spectators to bring a 4×4 to give us a tow. Within 5 minutes, a 1994 F-150 4×4 driven by one of the Solo Motorsports crew members, drove up the hill and around the front of the 5/1600 to get positioned for a tow and got us out within a few seconds. After being stuck for about 6 minutes or so, Larry and I continued to trek towards the rest of Mike’s and into Rancho Simpson. For the next few miles, Larry was still in disbelief for the crowd of spectators who miraculously pulled us out.
“Thank you, Lord. Thank you.”
RM 150 to RM 161 recap by Jose Garcia
● After an early setback at Mike’s, we were pressing on and with hopes of regaining lost time on the leader. Larry and I conquered the rest of Mike’s with zero mistakes and were heading into Rancho Simpson with positive expectations. Just as we thought the worst was behind us, RM 161 brought us back to reality and why Baja is common for unforgettable challenges. Race Mile 161 was made up of a small muddy creek that led into a sharp right uphill turn filled with rocks the size of basketballs. As soon as Larry drove through the muddy creek, the car started losing power in the mud disabling it from getting any momentum going uphill. We were stuck again. We had no choice but to find another 4×4 to tow us out. Right before I went into panic mode, I quickly remembered seeing a few 4×4’s about a quarter mile before going into the muddy creek. Being the runner that I am, former collegiate distance runner, I re-tied my shoelaces and started running backwards on the course to find the 4×4’s I had seen before getting stuck. As luck would find it, I found an upfitted Toyota FJ Cruiser that was perfectly equipped for the task. I ran back to Larry to find him moving rocks and convincing a few spectators to help him push the car. Being the salesmen that I am, I went ahead and tried to help Larry convince the three guys to help us push. One of the three spectators happened to be friends of the owner of Rancho Simpson, and the other two just tourists who came down to watch the race. Finally, after a few minutes of discussion, we convinced two out of the three to help push the car up the hill, unfortunately, it didn’t help. A large rock was jammed under the rear right tire which kept the car from moving uphill. After a few pushes and clutch-irking moments, we decided to let the car rest. After a few more minutes, the FJ I spotted finally showed up.
“We’re here! Where are the Negrete Boys?!”
It wasn’t long until they noticed who was behind the wheel of the SCORE Championship-winning 5/1600, Larry Negrete, of course. Help was finally here and we can already see ourselves on the top of the hill. Not so fast, though. As soon as we felt a bit of relief, the Baja magic goes away and bites us hard in the ass. The FJ gets high centered on the creek and gets stuck. It doesn’t move an inch. To make matters worst, two Trophy Truck Specs come to a screeching halt behind the FJ, creating a three car bottleneck. I look at the FJ driver and his face turns pale from fear of getting rear-ended by a 6,000-pound Trophy Truck.
“No mames! Ahora si nos chingamos!,” yells the FJ Driver.
So, what do you do when there’s a three car bottleneck with a race going on? I yelled at the Trophy Truck driver to go around the FJ and make a new trail. And, that’s exactly what happened. After both Trophy Trucks passed, another Class 5 and souped-up Jeep Gladiator passed, along with two trailing Class 12 cars, and one UTV. It was a scary scene to watch all those race cars pass by our little Bug that was stuck on the right side of the hill. Since the FJ wasn’t going anywhere, I ran up the hill again and found another 4×4, this time a ‘90s Ford Explorer 4×4 which belonged to the father of the gentleman driving the FJ. The driver of the Explorer yelled at me to get the strap from the FJ, and I started strapping it to the rear of the Explorer. As I tried to tie the recovery strap on the Explorer’s tow hitch, I suddenly felt a sharp pinch my index finger. A large bee, almost the size of a Wasp, bit my index finger twice.
“Damn, that f@*#ing hurt!”
The pain from my finger made it difficult for me to wrap the strap on the hitch, but I couldn’t let the FJ driver down. Being the Baja racer that I am, I Cowboy’d up and finished strapping the recovery strap on the Explorer. With a gentle pull, the FJ was out and ready to face the muddy creek again. With no expenses spared and no time wasted, the FJ driver drove hard through the creek and upwards towards the hill like a sprinting billy goat. Man, that was a sight to see. Never have I ever seen a stock Toyota FJ climb up a steep rock-jagged hill like that. I was impressed. Even for a die-hard Ford guy like myself. As the FJ driver got to the front of our car, our motivation and hopes were turning back on. Larry tied the recovery strap in front of the car and the FJ pulled us up the hill without hesitation. We were back to business. After enduring that forever-long feeling of being stuck at Rancho Simpsons, we felt blessed and thankful for those guys. They saved our day, and possibly saved our campaign to win back-to-back SCORE Championships. After getting rescued from the nightmarish-hill, Larry looked up towards the FJ driver and says:
“You’re part of the Championship, brother.”
The Peninsula Trails Crew, our “Guardian Angels.”
The Peninsula Trails Crew of Jorge Montano, Raymundo Montano Diaz and Ray Montano were our guardian angels that day. Without them, we probably would have been stuck there all night and without hopes of finishing within the time allotted. That was one of the biggest highlights of our day.
RM 161 to RM 230 recap by Jose Garcia
● After getting stuck at Mike’s and Rancho Simpson, Larry and I were focused to finish the last part of our section without any additional problems. For the next 70-miles, Larry was still in disbelief and couldn’t stop thanking the Peninsula Trails Crew.
“Those guys did it for us, man. Those guys saved our Championship. Thank you, Lord.”
Larry Negrete and Jose Garcia charing hard towards El Vicente.
Photo Credit: @murraymediaconsultants
For the last 30-miles of the race, Larry asked me how I felt and what I thought about the race and all I could say is: “Larry, not to make you feel uncomfortable or anything, but today, is one of the best days of my life. You’re an incredible driver and an incredible person. And to be honest with you, I feel really sad about getting out of the car. Thank you so much for this opportunity.” My final pit stop finally came, and my excitement hit a wall. The race was over for me. Larry’s first son, Larry Negrete Jr., would get in and co-pilot for his dad for about 65 miles to race mile 295 where he got off and hand the car over to his uncle Ernie Negrete and co-driver Jim Yourdon. Larry Jr., a young force to be reckoned with in the 5/1600 class, is the current 5/1600 points leader in the M.O.R.E Desert Racing Season. The apple doesn’t fall from the tree. Just like his dad and uncle, Larry has a bright future in off-road. What better way to gain more driving experience than to see his old pop’s and uncle wheel his family’s racing jewel. Larry Jr., now strapped in, was heading into a dramatic story of his own.
Jose Garcia taking a quick selfie after getting out of “Zeus” at Race Mile 230.
RM 230 to RM 295 recap by Larry Negrete Jr.
● There’s a lot more Dust than there is Glory, that’s for sure… but the unforgettable life experiences are what keeps me coming back to off-road desert racing and Baja. Sixty-five miles may not seem like a lot and in all honesty, it really isn’t, but those 65 miles are forever instilled within me. I got in and out of Zeus more times that night than I ever have in any race car my entire life — pushing, digging, running up and down hills, and doing anything and everything I could to make sure we got that car to the next driver and co-pilot. You’re in the middle of nowhere at night stranded on a long, silty up-hill with nowhere to go but back down and with nothing left to do but attempt to go up it again. In the corner of your eye you see a campfire and dark silhouettes running towards you. Those silhouettes who you would never expect to be out in the remote areas of the race course turn out to be distant family members of yours. Of all places in the world to meet family, you meet them in the middle of the night in a remote section of the Baja 400 course. Talk about an unforgettable moment. Those people helped my dad and I reverse down the hill and called out an alternate line up the hill that was not marked on the GPS. We made it up the hill and made sure to cross back over to the main line to hit the VCP and avoid any penalties. We get going again and zone into a really good rhythm, everything is going well and the car is feeling good. I’m hitting all of the notes on the GPS and the translation into my dads driving is spot on. We approach another huge silty uphill and see another race car stuck on it. We come to a stop, clean out the motor and make sure we have enough run up distance to get up to speed to make it up the hill. My dad looks over and says:
“Alright this is it, I’m going for it.”
Here we go, 8 more miles to the next pit and one more obstacle standing between us — we didn’t make it up the hill and were stuck all over again… helpless, in the middle of the night and with the clock ticking. My dad screams:
“F&$K! We’re done dude. We’re done. We’re not going to make it up the hill.” F&$K!”
At this point in the race, the Win is out of the picture and all you want to do is get that race car to the finish line. It’s frustrating knowing how close you are to the the next pit yet how helpless you can find yourself to be. My dad says a final prayer:
“Please God. Help us. Por favor Diosito. Por favor. I don’t want to let them down.”
Time goes by and few cars do as well. Among them: a TT Spec, Class 12, Class 7 and a few others that barely made it up the hill. The driver and co-pilot of the other car that was stuck walked over to us and told us that it’s going to be impossible to go up the hill without a 4×4 chase truck. As we are trying to figure out what to do another car comes by and gets stuck right next to us. They try to go up the hill from the point they were stuck at and failed. They reverse all the way down and attempted again, this time taking a creative line to the left and cutting back over to the main line. With the help of the driver and co-driver of the car that was stuck there before us, we backed all the way down the hill, cleaned the motor out again and took a creative line up the hill. My dad jumped out of the car and ran back down the hill. We tried tirelessly to help the racers who helped us get out, but unfortunately, their car was severely stuck in the silt. We pushed, we pulled and even tried to carry the car, but failed. Sucks, because they were winning their class only to be passed by three cars in that section. We realized the car was not going to make it out without a chase truck and tow strap so we decided to let them know that we had to leave. At this point we’re still running in 2nd place and can salvage a podium. It’s a crappy feeling knowing you’re leaving someone behind, but they encouraged us when they let us know that they had a chase truck on the way and that they knew we could still make it. We run back up the hill and strapped in. Such a relieving moment to be back on course after having a mental breakdown and nearly giving up. All of the emotions came together and you embark on the final stretch of your section before the baton hand-off to the next driver and co-pilot. We’re going as fast as our race car can go through the dark night and see reflective vests in the distance, it’s our next pit! I unbuckle my seatbelt, disconnect my forced air tube and intercom, opened my door and jumped out of the car before it even came to a complete stop because I knew we were going to be tight on time and still had about 100 miles to go. I help Jim Yourdon, the team co-pilot from Oregon strap in and quickly check all of the lug nuts before sending off Zeus into the late night. You wouldn’t think that all of that happened in the short distance of 65 miles, would you? Well it did. That and much more. I just want to say that I’m extremely humbled to have been a part of this team for such an iconic inaugural event and I’m very proud of every single person who volunteered to make this happen. This was a hard fought podium and will definitely go down as an unforgettable experience for me. Everyone put their part in and in the end we made it to the finish line with 13 minutes to spare, no penalties, a podium finish, and most importantly, the points lead heading into the season finale in November.”
RM 328 to 400 recap by Michael Murray
● Finally, after getting stuck twice through Mike’s and Rancho Simpsons, enduring silt beds in Colonet, and being stuck for about an hour at RM 368, the #550 finally made it to finish ramp in Ensenada with only minutes to spare. We were the second to last overall finisher, barely making the time allotted by 13 minutes. As it turned out, we missed the “dusty times award” for the last official finisher by less that 30 seconds. One other class did it a little slower than us… but not by much. To conclude, a solid and well-earned second place finish in the Baja 400, and now current points leader for the SCORE International Championship. At the end of the day, Baja showed us a good time, roughed us up a little but ultimately made us stronger. Stronger personally, but more importantly, stronger as a team. The chasers are family-sisters, brothers, fathers, friends, wives and girlfriends, all waiting anxiously for news. We persevered as a team because they held the line. The race depends on them, and they were waiting for us, no matter what. Water, fuel, check on the car, and we all move on… to the end.
The Negrete Boys and Herrera Prepwerks Racing Team on the finish line stage with Rat Sult.
La familia all in smiles after finishing second in class and leading in points for the SCORE International Championship.
To conclude this incredible Baja 400 experience, we ask ourselves: “Was it all worth it? Hell yes!” Bring on the Baja 1000. The Negrete Boys and Herrera Prepwerks Racing Team would like to thank the following sponsors for their unwavering support:
Baja Designs, Yokohama Tire, Blud Racing Lubricants, King Shocks, AutoPasion Mexicali, Malabanan Racing, Galpin Auto Sports, Transaxle Engineering, Traffic Supply Inc., Apparel Graffix, Miller Signs, Courtesy Chevrolet, Casa Coronados, Sammy Garcia Painting, Team Impulse Events, My Medic, Trackside Performance, Secure Funding Group, Baja Pits, Rulo @ ORAF, The Best Bajas, Raceline Wheels, Papas and Beer, LeadNav Systems, Murray Media Consultants. It is you that make this team go, and we thank you for the partnership.
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