Pre-running is the best part of off-road racing, especially when you are doing it with 13x Baja 1000 winner, Larry Roeseler.
Last week we headed south from Oceanside, CA to meet up with Roeseler south of the border at Punta Colonet. After getting lost in Tijuana for a bit due to a missed turn at the Otay border crossing, we headed South towards Ensenada. Just after the border crossing the cell phones stop beeping due to the constant barrage of text messages, Facebook notifications, and e-mail. Sorry, we’re in Baja. We’ll have to get back to you Monday, I thought in my head. I love running a business but sometimes I love being in a place where there is just, “No Service.”
We arrived in the early evening to Hotel Paraiso, just south of Colonet and settled in for some sleep. Since this was this was the first of multiple pre-runs for Roeseler, we were taking everything slow and trying to see as much as possible. Our pre-run began there in Colonet. The course is brutal. Rocks, massive rain ruts, g-outs throughout the course, and… The silt. Nowhere is the silt as gnarly as in Baja. We got up and had the mandatory Machaca con Huevos for breakfast, then de-trailered our RZR’s loaded with camera equipment and headed out through a series of farm roads to the beach.
Our RZR’s have a few key add-ons to make pre-running a bit easier. The first is tires. On our four seat and two seat RZR’s, we are running KO2 truck tires that have actually been on since the beginning of the year and have over 3,000 off-road miles. They are far from being used up. We are also testing S&B Filters particle separator. Basically it’s an air intake that separates dust before it get’s to your air filter. Since we were going to be running in dust and through silt beds, I wanted to take extra precautions. A dirty air filter is a sure way to ruin an engine.
Race Mile 100 through 190 is one of my favorite sections of the racecourse. It has stunningly beautiful views running alongside the Pacific Ocean. We stopped several times to take shots and soak in all the beauty. Roeseler has a story for pretty much every location in that area, so it was like a moving history lesson from a man who has been at the top of the field for over four decades.
Roeseler’s truck is a true old school pre-runner. Starting as a Curt Leduc rolling chassis, Roeseler finished it himself with the help of several friends and it has done tens of thousands of miles in Baja. It’s not a half-a-million dollar pre-runner, but it sure works well and was super reliable during the few hundred miles we did. Traveling around Baja, people sure know who he is. At nearly every stop, people asked him for autographs and frequently swapped stories.
At the end of the first day, we stopped at Mama Espinozas, one of the original pit stops for the very first Baja 1000. I am told Mama Espinozas just turned 109, so you can say the place is truly “Old School.” A hotel and restaurant, Mama’s has always had some excellent food. The lobster burritos are divine. I ate them so fast I forgot to take a picture. The interior of Mama Espinozas is an off-road museum. Pllastered with off-road racing posters, stickers, and signature cards from the past fifteen years or so, it’s a history lesson looking at all the different teams who have competed in Baja.
To me, El Rosario is the magic line separating the true beauty of Baja. It’s where the Boojum trees begin and massive forests of Cardon Cactus line the course. It’s the last stop for gas and pretty much the last point your cell phone will work until Guerrero Negro. It’s a reward only for off-roaders and the occasional farmer – a sight the rest of the world will only ever see in photos of video. It’s incredibly beautiful, well worth the earned price of admission.
The first twenty or so miles leaving El Rosario is what we lovingly refer to as “dog shit!” Sandy, rocky whoops only giving you a momentary rest in the occasional wash crossing. It’s rough, nasty and sure to eat up tires and suspension. Once you get through that, the course is still rocky but opens up and gets faster. You can start getting your rhythm going. The new section of the course is barely cut, yet to be worn in – lots of silt, rocks, and dust. Race day is going to be a battle with patience. Passing is going to be tough. We stopped for a few shots and made our way down to Catavina.
Years ago there were several La Pinta Hotels built throughout Baja. The Spanish colonial style they were built with just feels like Baja. High curved entry ways, with wood and clay tile floors. The curved brick ceilings feel more like a church than a hotel, bar or restaurant. Old school barn door style windows with hand blown glass lights make the rooms feel authentic but not cheap. I hope they never update these hotels. Catavina is also one of the places you don’t want to be caught with no gas. Local vendors sell gas out of plastic drums, but I wouldn’t do it unless you have to.
The next morning we got up and shot an interview with Larry. It took him a while to warm up to the questions. He’s is not the type that brags about his copious amount of accomplishments. He walks it instead of talking it. Believe me, he has had his fair share of failures as well, but he is known for not backing down from a challenge. He said some pretty prolific things during the interview, one being that he feels fortunate to have made such a long career in off-road racing, one that is far from over.
On our way home as we headed North past Ensenada, the clear blue skies gave way to the cloud cover and the light rain that hit the windshield were symbolic of the text messages, e-mails and Facebook notifications that we left behind when we crossed the border. That momentary rush of anxiety was extinguished when the thought of returning to the warm embrace of Baja a week from now for the 2015 SCORE Baja 1000. We will be back to bear witness to the 24 hour battle known as, “The Baja 1000”.
Check back soon for the BFGoodrich Tires Heroes and Legends video that will drop before we take off.
Photography by Ernesto Araiza