Jim Graham is co-founder of Desert Dingo Racing – http://www.desertdingo.com. They are making their fifth attempt at the Baja 1000. They are avid supporters of grass roots racing and we asked him to write a diary of the team’s experience at this year’s Baja 1000.
It’s 9:31 p.m. on the first night of the race and I’m sitting in the back of the Westie at RM 203 with my Iridium Go! chiming away with updates. It’s mostly bad news. We’d already swapped out a leaking valve cover gasket at the Mag 7 pit at RM 70. Not what we wanted this early in the race.
Now we’ve got a transmission issue and the team is planning to swap it out.
I felt good about our chances this year. Maybe too good, and that might have been the mistake. The team was in the best shape it had ever been in. Everyone had been to Mexico before, so that first year culture shock wasn’t going to be an issue.
The car was in great shape, too. It pretty much rolled off the trailer ready to race and the team could relax our first night in Ensenada. We’ve got a 18 page checklist we developed with the help of a process engineer to go through the car to prep it for a race. The team started working through it on Tuesday and wrapped it up Wednesday night.
Naturally you look at your competition. Project Baja was the new guys, running their first race. Dennis Hollenbeck (our host) was only in his second year of racing, but his car was solid. Nine-time winner (and our mentor when we got started racing) Eric Solorzano is always a wild card. And there was another late entry I didn’t know much about.
By 10 p.m. Chase 3 had reached the car, attached a tow rope and gotten permission from BFG Pits to use their pit to do the transmission swap. Most of the rest of the team with me piled into Chase 1 and headed back north on Highway 1 to help with repairs.
The math wasn’t looking good. The leader, Dennis Hollenbeck, was nearly 70 miles ahead of us, it was probably going to take a couple of hours to swap the trans out, and checkpoints and pits would start closing within an hour. On the plus side, the folks at Mag 7 Pit 3 told us they were spending the night on site and that we should honk when we pull in and they’d wake up and get us our next seven gallons of fuel. Still, if our average time to complete the race climbs over 30 mph, we’ve realistically got no shot at finishing, and then it’s a question of how far we want to go before we run out of gas.
The team never gives up. Gil Medrano and Chuck Gianni, who’d take the car off the start line, drove 158 with a break. The team get the engine out and realize that the transmission was good, but the clutch had disintegrated. First time we’d had that happen in seven years of racing. They swap out the clutch from the spare trans, get the engine back in and 1107 is moving again.
It’s almost 3 a.m. when 1107 makes it to the Mag 7 pit. As promised, they came out and filled us up. Toby (driving) and Cyrus (co-dogging) drove another couple of miles and met us all at the road crossing at RM203 to look at our options. At this point the odds of us finishing the race within the time limit was about zero, but we decided to make a run for Mag 7 Pit 4. If they were there and we could get fuel, we might be able to keep going.
“Just go,” I said. “We’ll figure something out.” It’s starting to feel like that first Mad Max movie where you attack people for their fuel.
1107 takes off into the dark. Chase 3 shows up a few minutes later and Romy and Jenn, who’d been driving it, climb into the back of the Westie and are immediately asleep in the back. I pull out for San Quintin where we’ll meet back up with the car and Romy and Jenn will swap in for the next leg.
Naturally, I didn’t check my phone for updates til I got there, only to learn we busted a front spindle six miles after leaving us at the road crossing.
We all agree to meet at the Pemex in Colonet. There’s a taco stand next to it. The team eats. Some local kids come by and climb on the car, which is parked next to the trailer. I sit in the Westie by myself for a bit. I’m not mad we’ve timed out, but when you’ve spent the last two months prepping for one race like it’s your second job, I just needed a little time alone to let go of the frustration.
Eric Solorzano says “If you’re not in this to win it, what’s the point?” That’s where I’m coming from, too. I don’t like losing. But there’s no money in being mad or depressed when it happens.
We’ll win it next year. Now it’s time to eat some tacos.