I have been to Mexico to race the Baja 1000 twice and both times the truck broke before it was my turn to race. This fact left a bad taste in my mouth whenever the thought of racing the Baja 1000 was brought up. When I was given the chance to race with Wide Open there was no bad taste as I have wanted to race with them for a long time. They have a 92% success rate in finishing the Baja 500/1000 races over the past decade. The guys at Wide Open do things right. We set out for Horsepower Ranch and upon arrival some of the Baja Challenge car fleet was parked out in front of the rooms. As I walked by the cars they seemed to whisper ďdrive meĒ in my ear. When you walk into the bar and eating area of the Horsepower Ranch you can see years and years of Desert Racing History. If only the walls could talk. There are pictures of all of the racing legends on the wall. In fact just after I snapped some pictures of the inside and took a picture of Robbie Gordon, guess who showed up? Robbie of course in his new bright orange trophy truck. The ranch was busy. The mechanics were in the shop getting the race cars ready. The different teams were working with their designated crew chiefs, going over the cars and making sure that the drivers knew how to work everything. Later that night we had little gathering at the Ranch where all of the teams were able to introduce themselves, Dirt Sports gave out a few awards, we had a great dinner, and watched a race movie. The next day we went into town to tech inspection of the cars and contingency. It was awesome to see all of the people and all of the cars driving through town. The Mexican people really love and appreciate the desert racing community. No one in my group had been acquainted with one another until we met at the ranch. Most teams rent the whole car, but our team was 4 different groups put together.The team of drivers for our car (BC-4) consisted of Christian and Mark from Pennsylvania, Ira and Dean from California, Ed from Atlanta and myself. This is where the team building component became apparent. We started out talking with each other like we were in a business meeting and ended up being great friends and teammates.
On Race morning I had some butterflies in my stomach, but was ready to go. All 6 Baja Challenge cars got in a line and left our hotel for town just after 11:00. We seemed to be ushered through the line a lot faster than I had anticipated and before I knew it we were minutes away from leaving the starting line and were scrambling to get ready to go. There is no explanation of the feelings you get creeping up to the starting line and watching Sal count down and the flag drop. There were people everywhere, but I donít remember anything other than watching the flag drop and remembering to reset both GPS units. Driving through town was awesome. The people were waving and cheering as we made our way to the wash. We made our way through town and through all of the people and dust. At one point the onlookers threw a bunch of bottles and sticks at us. Thankfully none of them hit either one of us. Ed drove 250 miles from just after 1:00 pm until 9:00 pm. Those 8 hours seemed to take forever. Maybe it was just because I wanted to drive so bad. I got in the driverís seat around 9:15 pm. All of my driving was done when it was dark. The dark seemed to allow me to be more focused on driving because all you could see was the road right infront of you. In the daylight it was fun to look around and enjoy Mexico when we were prerunning. The first 80 miles of my section were fast and windy trails. We occasionally saw crowds of people and pits open waiting for racers to come in. The most interesting part of my leg was the river bottom. The trail markings were scarce in this area. The first water we crossed soaked us. We went through a few more water crossings then were lead astray by the crazy spectators watching us. They led us off the trail about 15 feet to a dead end. I thought for sure that we were stuck in 2 feet of water. Fortunately I was able to back us out of the dead end and get us back on trail. I have no idea how many water crossings we did. It seemed like you came to dry land just long enough to see the next dry section 30-60 feet in front of you. You looked ahead, pointed your car in the direction you thought you should go, and then stabbed the gas. The water blinded you. You couldnít see anything and had to keep both hands on the wheel. When the water stopped pouring all over me, I wiped my face shield, looked for the next dry spot, aimed the car, and dropped into the next water crossing. We finally made it through all of the water crossings and it seemed like we were finally on our way and making really good time. When we came around the last corner there was a truck stuck to the right of the trail. One of the drivers was standing in the middle of the road about 3 feet from the truck bed and about 5 feet from the tree on the left. He didnít even budge as though he was the only guy in the race. I chose to stop rather than drive at him or hit him. When I tried to go again the buggy sank, just like we were in quicksand. We got out and jacked the car up while throwing rocks and debris under the tires. The first try wasnít good enough so I had to do it again and go higher with the Jack. We finally got out of the hole. All of the water caused our radios to stop working and we couldnít tell where the chase car was. Needless to say they showed up right when we got unstuck. It would have been a lot easier if they just pulled us out, but thatís not the real Baja experience. My gloves were soaking wet and my fingers were frozen. It was 40 degrees and we had about 23 miles of dirt and 20-25 miles of pavement after that for my leg to be finished. I kept moving my fingers trying to keep them warm as I focused on the trail and trying to make up lost ground. We pulled in to BFG pit#3 kind of happy to get out of wet gloves and a wet driving suit. The seats felt like cement when they were wet. I felt bad handing off the car wet and dirty, but it could have been worse. Dean and Ira seemed excited to just get in and go. The Wide Open crew had hot food waiting for us then hauled us off to the hotel. It was hard to sleep. I was tired but wanted to keep racing. I often thought about how cool it would be to Ironman the race, but wondered how you could go the remaining 600 miles soaking wet and freezing. My hat is off to all of those that Ironman this race. The next morning all of the first leg drivers got in a bus and headed to the small city airport where we boarded a 12 passenger plane and flew to La Paz. One of the pictures that I took that I thought was cool was a dust cloud winding over the terrain below. The dust trail marked the race trail below it. Right after we landed we went and checked our bags into the hotel room, then headed back to town to wait for the BC (Baja Challenge) cars to cross the finish line. The cool thing about the finish line was the excitement of the families and teams waiting for their drivers to cross the line and it was pretty cool to watch all of the people and their actions and emotion at the finish line. BC-2 was the first to cross the finish line. We congratulated them and patiently waited for our team to join us there. 28 hours, 18 minutes, and 24 seconds after the flag dropped and we started the race out team crossed the finish line. It was a proud moment watching Christian and Mark bring the car across the finish line. I had complete faith that they would. The finish line was a Baja experience that had eluded me along with never being able to drive. The Wide Open Crew allowed me to live a dream. I canít thank them enough for that. Our car had no mechanical or tire troubles. Both are a testament to the commitment that Wide Open and BFGoodrich have for the racing community and to the participants of their programs. BFGoodrich had 17 class victories at this years Baja 1000 race. This was a great learning opportunity for me and will come in handy for my responsibilities as an instructor at Miller Motorsports Park. I was happy to come home from the Baja, but before I thought about leaving I was already planning how and when I am going to come back! Thatís part of the mystique of Baja. I now know what all of the drivers are talking about when they discuss the mystique of Baja, You love it, you hate it, but ultimately it becomes a part of you and you canít let it go! Another mention of the caliber of the Wide Open group is the fact that 3 instructors were notified 2 days before the race that they had the opportunity to race a regular BC Car in Class 1. They are out motored in that class and are the only car in class with a 4 cylinder engine. They ended up finishing 3rd in class crossing the finish line in 22 hours, 21 minutes, and 17 seconds. The Baja Challenge cars are amazing. Watch for future Wide Open opportunities in the United States in 2010. There will be Wide Open Pennsylvania, Orlando, another possible new opportunity that will be discussed later and Wide Open Nevada that is already operating. If any of you have an interest in racing its money well spent to run with Wide Open and to be able to experience and watch how a professional team makes things happen and ensures you the opportunity to finish the race and live a dream!
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