Ivan’s final words of wisdom to Andrew were, “No matter what you commit to, follow through and you will make it happen. Do it to the best of your ability, then go to the next challenge. Keep challenging yourself and keep learning.”
Since Ivan and Andrew had bonded so well during their day together, it seemed only fitting that they should share one more characteristic: a nickname. I asked The Ironman—who has been called that since the late ’70s, when Valvoline was a sponsor of SCORE and awarded the Valvoline Ironman to anyone who could drive the entire Baja 500 or 1000 alone. He won the first three—what he thought Andrew’s should be. He considered this for a few minutes.
“Mr. Confidence,” he finally said. “He’s a confident driver, but also realizes he’ll make mistakes. And that’s the thing about confidence: knowing your limitations.”
And with that, we began to part ways. But Ivan suddenly had a thought. “You know, you should try Wide Open Excursions. It’s like the next step in off-road racing—the most economical way to do an off-road race.” Mr. Confidence was already dialing the airlines before we made it back to our truck.
Wide Open Excursions (www.wideopenbaja.com) is this totally cool concept in which you get to drive an actual race truck. You can do one of the guided tours, lasting anywhere from three hours to three full driving days. But don’t let the word “tours” throw you; it’s you alone or with a co-driver, GPS, a radio, and a guy in a truck ahead of you, out of eyesight, relaying coordinates for turns. It’s just you, the truck, and the open road. Or, you can actually race. “Our arrive-and-drive programs include a fresh race car, designated crew chief, pit crew, and chase crews,” said Brent Fenimore, VP and Managing Director of Wide Open Excursions. “We offer the Baja 1000, which includes everything for a six-man driver/co-driver combination, except getting into and out of Mexico, for $85,000 per vehicle, or the HDRA Fireworks 500 in Reno for a four-man team at $17,500 per car. The shorter races in the U.S. are approximately $5,500 per car.”
Wide Open locations are each comprised of 102,000 acres of private land in Cabo San Lucas, Baja; Ensenada, Baja; and Reno, Nevada. Andrew and I opted for the latter and a day trip.
After watching a safety video and getting an overview on how to operate the truck, what the switches were for, and which gauges were most crucial in this terrain and heat, we suited up with helmets (complete with radio inside) and got harnessed in. Andrew would be driver and I would be co-driver. We had talked to Ivan about whether he preferred driving solo or with a co-driver. He preferred solo. “I really never wanted to ride with someone or drive with somebody else because I didn’t want them to let me down or vice versa, especially when I was in good shape,” he explained. “Not only that, I would hate to get out but still felt like racing.” However, Ivan also stressed the benefits of a co-driver, mainly “having one so good, you’ll have respect for them and listen because they aren’t in the ego that you’re wrapped up in since they aren’t driving. So, they can slap you on your leg and say ‘slow down.’”
As his speed increased while getting more comfortable with the terrain and the vehicle, I’ll admit I did slap Andrew’s leg one time. But, The Ironmini was definitely in his element and a capable driver. Reacting quickly to unexpected turns, avoiding rock piles, sliding sideways, blasting around a short course, jumping the truck—Andrew no longer found being off-road boring. Even having to take three tries to get up a steep hill didn’t bruise his ego. “I knew he’d take to it like a duck to water,” Ivan later told me.
Two things I’ve admired about Andrew since I’ve known him are also the things I think are the foundation of any Real Man: having drive and also that confidence Ivan spoke of. “I get those from my grandfather,” Andrew told me on the flight back. But then he became quiet. Ivan had said the number one thing to be aware of when racing is what’s making you physically and mentally tired so that it wouldn’t hurt your competitive edge.
But he said that wasn’t it.
“I thought a lot about Ivan today and what he said to me and his beliefs. He reminds me in many ways of my grandfather, who would tell me the same things.” Howard had passed away in 2005, and Andrew was extremely close to him. The void was palpable. Although Howard and Ivan were not remotely of the same age, there were definitely parallels, and they shared many traits Andrew has spent his life trying to emulate.
“My grandfather was an amazing person, who was very confident that he didn’t have to impress anybody, and he was talented at what he did. And he found my grandmother, who was the love of his life,” Andrew reflected. “He worked very hard to reach his goals and I think he would say he achieved every one of them. He was a Real Man, who lived a real life. I just loved that man so much. And Ivan too is very confident about his abilities, but he’s not trying to impress you with who he is or what he’s done. He doesn’t get how impressive he actually is. I think that makes anybody a Real Man.”
When we started this journey, Andrew didn’t believe Real Men took a beginner’s class. But I think it has become clear that sometimes you need to start at the beginning to get to what’s real.